xrcd2 & DTS discs - Dec. 2002

NEW XRCD2 DISCS

These are the latest releases from the 1950s series of RCA Victor Golden Age Living Stereo masters...

RAVEL: Daphnis & Chloe (complete ballet) - Boston Symphony/Charles Munch - JVCXR-0222-2:

I’ve been waiting for this reissue for some time, not having the original LP nor Classic Records’ reissue (not even sure they did one of it), and the RCA CD reissue I do have being pretty bad. As I recall the LP was problematic because the complete ballet runs nearly 55 minutes - stretching the fidelity capabilities of the LP format which is happier with only around 24 minutes per side. This was Ravel’s most imaginative, colorful and sensuous work of all. In addition to the large orchestra it uses a wind machine. It is surely a towering masterpiece of French orchestral music. And this is probably its most perfect combination of conductor, orchestra and recorded sound. Munch was a master at this genre. Who would believe it dates from 1955? And it has never sounded this good from a digital source. If you appreciate Debussy and Ravel at all you must have this in your collection!   Purchase Here

- John Sunier

OFFENBACH: Gaîté Parisienne - Boston Pops/Arthur Fiedler - JVCXR-0224 2:

Many of the same musicians are on this session as the Daphnis above. One of the most successful recordings by the great Boston Pops, the music fairly bubbles with verve and dash that makes all other versions sound tame. Manuel Rosenthal arranged music from Offenbach operettas into the complete ballet score. I made a comparison with Classic Records’ reissue LP of this same recording. I was hard put to decide which I preferred. Both had amazingly rich and deep bass end as well as wide dynamic range. The soundstaging differed somewhat - the vinyl creating more depth and the xrcd more stage panorama. The xrcd had the edge in crispness and clarity, yet the LP boasted that familiar vinyl quality of sounding a bit more like real musicians playing in a real space. I’d say at the present state of both my CD and TT sources it’s a toss up, but this sort of A/B-ing can spur future enhancements to both that may cause one or the other to pull ahead slightly in playback. Only 36 minutes length but what an action packed 36 minutes!  Purchase Here

- John Sunier

SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D Minor - Jascha Heifetz/Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Walter Hendl - JVCXR-0223-2:

This one’s only 26 minutes long, so you’re paying about a dollar a minute for this classic recording that some of us purchased for around $5 back in l960 when it first came out. No matter, that was then and this is now, and you don’t have to deal with the vinyl ritual, not to mention not having to turn over the disc for the second half. Who said it’s patently impossible to get satisfying violin tone with the 44.1 digital format? JVC has done it, and in fact it’s not just a single timbre but a whole spectrum of different timbres that Heifetz coaxes out of the strings. Granted you probably wouldn’t hear this in a concert hall but this is a superb recorded concert of one of the most melodious and accessible works from the craggy Finnish master.   Purchase Here

- John Sunier


BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E Flat, “Eroica” - Boston Symphony Orchestra - JVCXR-0019:

This l957 Symphony Hall recording was one of the many classics recorded there during that decade. Munch delivers a rich and rather speedy interpretation that never lags, building the excitement movement by movement to a satisfying finale. The stage depth has never sounded quite so palpable on most CDs - certainly not on the earlier RCA-issued CD iteration of this Living Stereo gem.  Purchase Here

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 in F “Pastoral” - Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner - JVCXR-0020:

Reiner and the Chicago have been the favorites of audiophiles for over four decades now, and this greatly improved digital version of one of his many superb recordings easily shows why. While no slouch at the pastoral subtleties of Beethoven’s familiar score, Reiner lets loose the thunderbolts for the very programmatic thunderstorm section. The original LP of 1963 was processed with RCA’s misguided Dynagroove technique, so even if you should have a mint copy of the original you’ll probably find JVC’s digital updating superior. Interesting that while the Third above has notes in English in a readable font size, this disc has notes only in Japanese, unless you have a magnifying glass to peruse the five-inch reduction of the original 12-inch back jacket.  Purchase Here

- John Sunier


DTS-Only DVD Discs

We had a few DTS-only discs left in our to-review stack and this is the last batch we’ll review since the format has now been superseded by the DVD-Audio releases from DTS (which also include a DTS layer). The greater storage capacity of DVDs means that less lossy DTS data reduction is used on these discs, and in truth here were no noticeable artifacts heard, as had been heard with some of the CD DTS efforts.

Chick Corea and Friends - Remembering Bud Powell (with Roy Haines, Kenny Garrett, Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, Wallace Roney) - DTS Ent. (DTS only) DVD 71021-51004-2-5:

It’s only natural that one of today’s stellar jazz pianists has found inspiration from the music of bebop’s greatest pianist - Bud Powell. In fact, Corea speaks of Powell’s inspiration in the same tone as he speaks of L. Ron Hubbard’s inspiration... Anyway, Chick delved deeply into Powell’s music and assembled a group of fine performers with which to create this ten-track tribute. Some of the tunes are delivered close to Powell’s original versions and others sort of use his tune ideas as themes for improvisations of the group’s own. Young Joshua Redman is a standout on tenor sax and Wallace Roney - a new name to me - has some great trumpet solos. The album made me want to go back to some of Powell’s originals, because as loving a tribute as this is, one certainly never feels like you’re in a Paris jazz club in the 50s - there’s a strong fusion infusion here. As with most DTS efforts the surround mix is aggressive, but that’s appropriate here and really involves one in the music. Fidelity seemed on a par with DVD-Audio, and as with many of them, I hankered to see the performers on the screen too, even though in this case I wasn’t required to have a video display in order to navigate the disc. Tracks: Bouncin’ with Bud, Mediocre, Willow Grove, Dusk in Sandi, Oblivion, Bud Powell, I’ll Keep Loving You, Glass Enclosure, Tempus Fugit, Celia.

- John Henry

Studio Voodoo - Club Voodoo - DTS-ES DTS-only DVD 69286-01094-2-1:

This is the second album from the techno-duo known as Studio Voodoo. The first was varied and quite creative in spite of a heavy hip-hop rhythmic foundation under most everything. This one is mainly only that - pounding, throbbing super-low-bass thumping throughout. And not much else. But boy, is this ever a subterranean test for subwoofers and even better for tactile transducers - it’ll shake your booty without you even having to get on your feet! DTS had seven different “remixers” come into Studio Voodoos studio and do their voodoo on some of the same paltry original material. One called “After-Hours Euro Club Remix” features an operatic sort of area accompanied by pounding electronic drumming. The only track which seemed somewhat imaginative to my ears was Singh Song - probably because the defending thumping was abated a bit. But hey, I’m not a dance club habitue - so if you are you’ll probably dig this the most!

It appears DTS wasn’t quite committed to releasing in DVD-Audio at this point (though the disc carries a 2002 date). The cover states it is encoded in 6-channel surround sound and the inside jewel box is clearly labeled “DVD-Audio;” but it is definitely only DTS, though it is the ES variety used in a few films - employing a center rear channel. (Which is totally unnecessary for music in surround.) I could well imagine a user cranking up the volume in front, expecting some good loud rhythmic stuff, and instead getting a searing blast of high-frequency DTS datastream that instantly orders up a half dozen new tweeters for his speakers!

- John Henry


David Benoit, piano - American Landscape (with ensemble and The London Symphony - DTS Entertainment DTS-only DVD 71021-51011-2-5:

Benoit, if you haven’t heard him, is in the “smooth jazz” bag but more individual, creative and swinging than that appellation might indicate. Benoit says he was influenced by the “American Music” styles of such as Copland, Gershwin, Bernstein and Sondheim. This entire production was composed and arranged by him, including the arrangements for the tracks with the London Symphony. He used the Yamaha Disklavier Piano in the pre-production of the album, and brought in a raft of guest performers including Bela Fleck, Eric Marienthal on saxes, Poncho Sanchez and Luis Conte on percussion and Tommy Morgan on harmonica. The surround mix is enveloping but not overly aggressive. The closing track, Speed Racer, may carry a title inspired by Japanese pop culture but it couldn’t be more American sounding, down to a sudden and unexpected bluegrass break in the middle. An altogether delightful light-jazz/symphonic surround experience.

- John Henry

Herb Alpert - Passion Dance - Almo Sounds/DTS Entertainment, DTS-only DVD 71021-51016-2-0:

This almost strikes me as a “whatever happened to?” presentation. And trumpeter Alpert doesn’t dissuade one from taking that tack in his note on the back cover, saying “...dedicated to all the Tijuana Brass Fans who always ask ‘When am I going to make another record.’ This one’s for You.” It’s a ball - great Latiny tunes by Alpert himself, Brazilian composers and even Stevie Wonder, and some terrific sidemen with Spanish names unfamiliar to me. Clever arrangements. A couple nice vocals from Brazilian Lani Hall, and a completely surrounding surround mix in the DTS tradition. Nothing very Tijuana Brassy, and not missed. Tracks are; TKO, Slinky, Beba, Passion Dance, Creepin’, Que Pase Mr. Jones?, Baila Commigo, Dance with Me, Until We Meet Again, Stormy Sunday, Route 101, Brasil Native.

- John Henry

Paul McCartney-Venus and Mars-DTS Entertainment DVD 71021-54401-2-5:

What were these people thinking? This is an expensive reissue of a very mediocre McCartney album. All Music Guide gives the original album 3 stars. I think this is very generous. It probably was because of the artist and not the music content of the album. Paul McCartney is one of the greatest songwriters and artist of the century, but this is not one of his better albums. There is one semi-memorable song and filler. That song being: Listen to What the Man Said. The engineers have deconstructed to master tapes and eliminated any sense of a live concert. Track one starts out with most of the sound, including Paul singing, in the rear channels. After about 30 seconds, the engineer decides that maybe he should be in the front channels. He suddenly appears there. The whole album is this way. Voices and instruments popping out from everywhere. A human being naturally turns his head toward a sound to properly hear it. If you did that with this album, you would have whiplash. There is no sense of harmony or the blending of instruments. The sound is very variable because of the way the music was taken apart. The sound can be fairly realistic at times and dull and boring at other times. It gives me a headache trying to listen to this mess. If you like the music on this album, the CD is probably a much better way to go.

- Clay Swartz

Steve Lukather-Candyman-DTS Enterainment DVD 69286-01092-2-2:

Steve Lukather was the lead singer and guitarist for the group Toto. He is a renowned session guitarist. He has played with many of the greatest artist of rock This is one of his solo albums. Most of the songs on the album were written or co-written by him. There are 2 Jimi Hendrix songs on the album. I would describe the music as guitar driven rock with a jazz tinge. I like the sense of pace of the music, which is often accented by what sounds like bongo drums. The music varies from upbeat to more relaxed. The sound is clear and crisp. His guitar is solid and well placed in the soundstage. There are definitely times when he shows his guitar virtuosity. He voice is also well placed. The surround mix is much more tasteful and listenable, than on the McCartney album. Most of the main components of the music are left on the front stage. The upbeat music has lots of drive to it. My favorite song on the album is Borrowed Time. The music and arrangements are both well done. The album does not have much bass impact, but this blends with the music very well.

- Clay Swartz

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