BEETHOVEN:  Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125
Anna Tomowa-Sintow, soprano; Agnes Baltsa, contralto; Peter Schreier, tenor; JosČ van Dam, bass; Wiener Singverein; Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Herbert von Karajan, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON SACD 471 640 (F) (ADD) TT: 66:54
 

DVORÁK:  Slavonic Dances, Opp. 46 and 72
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer, cond.
PHILIPS 470 601 (F) (DDD) TT:  70:28
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This Beethoven Ninth has been around for well more than two decades—It was recorded in September 1976.  Now, perhaps as an ill-advised homage to Karajan, a major money-maker for the label, DG has released it in "SACD surround sound."  The merits of Karajan's Beethoven symphony recordings (one complete set on EMI, three on DG) have been expounded endlessly, the general consensus being that his 1961/2 DG set interpretively is his finest. It's difficult to understand why DG elected to issue this 1977 recording in the new super-audio format. The added dynamic range and clarity of SACD cannot improve sound of the original recordings. Stereo spread is adequate, but there is little bloom to the sound. CD notes refer to "New surround mix and new stereo mix" (credited to Gernot von Schultzendorff), but on my system there is no sound whatever from rear speakers.  Surround sound playback information on-screen indicates 5.l channels, but this is not true.This is a distinguished recording and it is welcome to have it in improved sound, but it is not "surround."

From an audio standpoint, the release is another story.  It is an original multi-channel recording made in the Italian Institute in Budapest in March and May 1999.  The CD doesn't give any information about the surround sound, but this one is 5 channel, not, for whatever reason, 5.1.  This means there is no "low frequency effect" channel, a channel mostly used for videos when loud, low effects are required.  This LFE channel perhaps isn't necessary generally for music but there is no question that it could, on occasion, help provide super-low bass. One wonders why there is a low-frequency channel on the Karajan Beethoven Ninth mentioned above. On the Philips Dvorák release, surround channels provide a splendid amount of hall ambience—none of the instruments come from the sides, but their reflected sound does. You won't find quite the snap and authority in some historic recordings of these dances, notably by Ancerl, Sejna, Szell and Kubelik, but Fischer and his Hungarian forces do a fine job.  This Philips SACD is highly recommended.

R.E.B. (December 2002)