SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

LEOS JANACEK: Glagolitic Mass; Sinfonietta – Soloists/ Jaroslaw Malanowicz, organ/ Warsaw Philharmonic Choir/ Warsaw Philharmonic/ Antoni Wit – Naxos Blu-ray

One of the two November audio-only Blu-ray releases from Naxos.

Published on November 27, 2011

LEOS JANACEK: Glagolitic Mass; Sinfonietta – Soloists/ Jaroslaw Malanowicz, organ/ Warsaw Philharmonic Choir/ Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/ Antoni Wit – Naxos multichannel DTS-HD audio-only Blu-ray NBD0026 *****:

This, together with the Lancino Requiem, comprises the November audio-only Blu-ray release from Naxos. We’ve already reviewed the Schumann Faust Blu-ray from September and will be shortly reviewing the Schubert Overtures Blu-ray from last month.  Naxos briefly issued some hi-res multichannel releases on both SACD and DVD-Audio, but soon abandoned them due to poor sales. They feel the greater penetration of Blu-ray players and surround sound home theater setups will make their classical audio-only Blu-rays more successful. I’m personally not convinced, and they have had a 25% discount sale of the Blu-ray titles already, which seems to indicate they are not performing quite as hoped. [I’m putting them in the Hi-Res section rather than the Blu-ray section because they may be of interest to many not interested in movies or concert videos.]

Nevertheless, the releases thus far have all been excellent, priced right, and though no better sonically than multichannel SACDs, they offer a fine audio experience and are filling in some important areas of the repertory in multichannel that have been missed so far. The masters all derive from either 88.2K or 96K/24-bit masters, not upsampled older analog or digital recordings. There is no need to have a display operating in order to hear the Blu-rays; if you just press the play button a few times it will cycle thru the on-screen display and begin the first track. Simply hitting the red or green buttons on all Blu-ray deck remotes will switch instantly between the DTS-HD Master Audio multichannel track and the PCM stereo mix. (There are some experts who claim that although the DTS-HD codec—and the DolbyHD version—are lossless, there are still some losses incurred which sonic comparison between them and, say, 96K/24-bit uncompressed tracks will demonstrate.  I must admit in comparing the PCM stereo tracks on this Blu-ray with a stereo mixdown of the DTS-HD Master Audio tracks on the same Grado headphones, I heard a somewhat cleaner and more detailed sonic on the PCM track.)

To the music: Janacek was known mainly for his operas, which used a distinctive method of representing human speech in songs. From childhood he was surround by music of the Catholic church and sang in the choir of an Augustinian monastery. Although in his adult life he was a staunch atheist in the year of his death he wrote a completely unique and striking non-liturgical mass, using a Ninth Century Slavonic text rather than the usual Latin setting. He said he was inspired to write it by an electrical storm he witnessed. It is full of repeated motives, surprising groupings of instruments, and short bursts of voices or instruments following by silent pauses. Its penultimate section is a bold pipe organ solo. In general the work celebrates life overcoming death. The quartet of soloists are Christiane Libor, sop.; Ewa Marciniec, alto; Timothy Bentch, tenor; and Wojciech Gierlach, bass.

Janceck’s Sinfonietta of two years earlier is probably his best-known strictly orchestral work, and in its five movements communicates a strong statement.  He wrote it upon hearing a Czech military band and shortly after being commissioned to wrote some fanfares—which grew eventually into the Sinfonietta. A pair of tubas stare a motif at the beginning which provides the basis for most of the ensuing work, which uses the largest orchestra of any of the composer’s instrumental works.

There are many competing recorded versions of both Janacek works, but this is the first in hi-res multichannel.  The 1990 recording of both pieces with the London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas was what I had on hand, and is very good.  But the sonics of this new audio-only Blu-ray are so superior (in both options) I found it difficult to make a comparison.  Antoni Wit has conducted his Warsaw musicians in a number of excellent recordings for Naxos and other labels. His previous Naxos Blu-ray audio-only efforts were all four symphonies of Karol Szymanowski.

—John Sunier




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