New Classical XRCDs - April 2002
Step right up, Living Stereophiles! Here's a neat half dozen of the best combination of superb classical standards, brilliant performances and rich and natural stereo sound ever committed to vinyl grooves during LP's Golden Age. You don't need a $5000 analog front end to enjoy them to their fullest anymore, and you don't even need an HDCD decoder or an upsampler. Plus you'll be totally delivered from unavoidable LP distractions such as surface nose, speed instability, groove echo and inner-groove distortion. Those of you who bought any of the Japanese Living Stereo CD series, read this and weep, because the xrcd versions are better.
CHICAGO SYMPHONY/FRITZ REINER
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade - JVC xrcd JMCXR-0015:
MUSSORGSKY-RAVEL: Pictures at an Exhibition - JVC xrcd JMCXR-0016:
From a 1958 Red Seal Living Stereo LP comes the Mussorgsky classic suite of 15 movements. Chicago's Orchestra Hall reverberated to the strains of the composer's musical gallery show, and the super-clean JVC processing gives us more of the reverberations in that hall than we have ever heard before. Try any of these Living Stereo reissues via a good ambience retrieval processor such as Circle Surround or Pro Logic II - you might feel it's just as good as most of the discrete surround high-res. discs now being issued. I keep a number of two-track stereo pre-recorded RCA reel tapes of some of these Living Stereo gems. There's no Dolby so there's hiss and the extreme highs are rolled off, but the natural ambience is uncanny. With the xrcds you get much less hiss and plenty of extended high end. I wonder how they did that - there isn't even a hint of the use of dynamic noise-reduction software or filtering of the highest frequencies as can be heard on some CD reissues - especially on headphones. Only 33 minutes - same as the original LP - and no filler. But you get the original cover art and it's packaged much like a miniature LP.
Most of the above goes for the musical CinemaScope/Technicolor/Ray Harryhausen oriental extravaganza that is Rimsky-Korsakov's four movement tone poem. Others such as Beecham may put a more humanistic face on this charmer of a chestnut, but none boast the sonics of this great recording. Reiner is in his element. During the opening and closing sections depicting the Sea you almost get splashed. This reissue gives us both the original cover art and also the back liner notes. However, you need an electron microscope to read them. At 44 minutes plus you get a bit more for your premium CD fee in this case, and it's well worth it.
- John Sunier
RESPIGHI: Pines of Rome; Fountains of Rome - JVC xrcd JMCXR 0008:
BARTOK: Concerto for Orchestra - JVC xrcd JMCXR-0007:
Another pair of classic symphonic tone-paintings that also qualify as widescreen programmatic extravaganzas. In fact, I'm just realizing how five out of these six Living Stereo xrcds are the epitome of orchestral tone-painting - just the ticket for the classical-leaning audiophile and perfect for showing off the amazing abilities of the Living Stereo engineering team back in the late 50s and early 60s. Toscanini's mono LP version of this pair just made a list of the best mono recordings ever in LISTENER, and what that demanding conductor achieved with a lousy studio and primitive recording equipment is phenomenal, but Respighi's glorious movie-music really demands stereo if not surround sound. The equally demanding Reiner got the utmost out of the scores and his Chicagoans in this l960 session.
The Bartok is an abstract work but plenty colorful on its own terms - its widescreen canvas is the symphony orchestra itself! The Concerto might be considered a more modern introduction to the instruments of the orchestra as that served by Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. At 37 minutes on this disc there would have been plenty of room for pairing up with that work, but Reiner didn't record it and it wasn't on the original LP.
- John Sunier
BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA/CHARLES MUNCH
DEBUSSY: Images for Orchestra - Gigues/Iberia/Rondes de printemps - JVC xrcd JMCXR-0004:
DEBUSSY: La Mer; IBERT: Escales (Ports of Call) - JVC xrcd JMCXR-0003:
These Living Stereo sessions date from l956 and 57 in Boston's acoustically-acclaimed Symphony Hall. Munch was regarded as a master of the French repertory and his versions of these three standards have seldom been bettered, even without consideration of the advanced sonic achievements of these recordings. The magical atmospheric moods of the opening and closing sections of Images are perfectly delineated with a crystalline clarity that even the original LP version lacked. And the three sections of the middle Image - Iberia - fairly glow with Iberian fire. It's another example of the success French composers seem to have in portraying things Spanish.
The pairing of La Mer and Escales is perfect - three views of different aspects of the sea followed by three visits to exotic ports on the Mediterranean. Again Toscanini conjured up some compelling sounds from his NBC Orchestra in the Debussy work, but the complex micro-details of Debussy's musical impression of the ocean really require the higher-res abilities of stereo to be completely immersing. The much greater dynamic range of the newer version (even if it is 40-something years old) adds an impact not to be found on the older mono recording, and that goes for all six of these xrcd reissues.
- John Sunier
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