SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
Doubling in Brass = WAGNER: March in Homage of Ludwig II of Bavaria; Funeral Symphony in Memory of Carl Maria von Weber; MENDELSSOHN: Overture for Wind Music; Funeral March – Musique Des Guardiens de la Paix/Desire Dondeyne – HDTT 96K DVD-R or CD-R
Published on February 24, 2009
Transferred from a 1964 Westminster 4-track consumer tape, this audio-system “tester” features eloquent brass band music by two classical masters led by Desire Dondeyne, noted at one time for his rare inscription of the Berlioz Symphonie Funebre et Triomphale, Op. 15. The music for King Ludwig II of Bavaria definitely points to harmonic similarities in Tannhauser and Rienzi, a combination of processional (with snare) and lyrical impulse in the middle horns. The high brass dominate over pedal tympani and cymbals that yields to the lighter woodwinds, trilled flute, and triangle. The sonic spread soon fills anyone’s festival hall in stratified, brass counterpoint, now rife with shades of Die Meistersinger. The pageantry might be likened to what Tchaikovsky gives us in the 1812 Overture. The repetitions try to distract us with a series of trills and roulades in the horns as the music crescendos into a Teutonic strut cadences at 10 minutes, dies down in a false dawn, only to explode once more into a salute for the most lucrative and gullible of Wagner’s many patrons.
The Funeral Symphony for Carl Maria von Weber is less ambitious at only 8 minutes’ length. Wagner openly admitted a fierce jealousy for the popularity of Weber’s Der Freischuetz, whose Huntsmen’s Chorus may have been the most-whistled tune in the history of German opera. Rather staid for almost half its length, the Funeral Symphony proceeds as a tender dirge; suddenly, a melody appears that might hint at Weber’s Euryanthe, though the harmonies point to aspects of Wagner’s Ring. A long drum roll under high winds and trumpets signals a drooping theme that dissolves then expands into a melos similar to Schumann, and a drum roll ends this quizzical homage.
Mendelssohn proves a more natural melodist in the context of wind and brass music. The natural chorale of the Overture resembles moments of heraldry in the Lobgesang Symphony No. 2. The music breaks down into two-bar sequences, back and forth, to land on a full cadence. At once, the mood changes into a charged flurry of figures, especially in the clarinets and oboes, a dancing tune Rossini would be proud to claim his own. The punctuations become quite animated, a la von Suppe; now, Mendelssohn, innate classicist that he is, develops the tunes in sonata-form, although the buoyant theme has become a ritornello. The spirit of bravura jubilation continues to the end, the triangle’s ringing high above a flurry of activity that, for want of a better comparison, sounds like Weber’s Jubel Overture.
If one must have music played at his funeral, Mendelssohn would be a person to commission for it. Doubtless familiar with Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music, Mendelssohn borrows pedal and harmonic devices to invoke a similar sense of valediction. Some tender moments in the woodwinds, with minimal brass support, so the texture proves diaphanous, a lovely albeit lachrymose cassation for winds. The brass return with splendid pomp and circumstance, with a four-bar hymn indebted to Haydn for balanced phrases. The middle winds with brass ostinati move us to the sullen coda.
While not my musical cup of tea, these brass pieces caught my ear; but the brevity of the audiophile experience makes me wonder why the aforementioned Dondeyne Berlioz Symphony couldn’t have been supplemented, for a richly musical and economical package.
[I still have that mono Dondeyne LP of the Berlioz Funeral and Triumphal Symphony and this DVD-R brought back the amazing aural experience of that recording back in the 50s. True, the acoustics are a bit hollow, but what a sound! Never mind that neither of these composers are French; this is the sound of La Gloire Francaise, certainment! The 96K DVD-R does provide a very identifiable boost of fidelity and clarity over the CD version - especially when decoded thru my Benchmark DAC1 which upscales the signal to 110K - and I find this disc provides the most amazing surround field via ProLogic II that I have heard from any two-channel source in many months. Wow! However, I must report - perhaps due to the increased fidelity of this version - that for the first time I am hearing on a HDTT transfer occasional evidence of what engineers refer to as "sticktion." This is the very momentary - perhaps a microsecond - hesitation in the smooth flow of the tape over the playback head. We have been spoiled by the rock-steady timing of the digital process. The artifact is understandable considering the age of the original tape and it doesn't ruin the listening process as it does in some of the Classic Records DVD-A reissues...Ed.]