SAINT-SAËNS: Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op.
78 "Organ." DEBUSSY: La Mer. IBERT: Escales (Ports
LEONTYNE PRICE sings arias from Aida, Il trovatore, Madama
Butterfly, Tosca, La Rondine and Turandot
BARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra. Music for Strings,
Percussion and Celesta. Hungarian Sketches.
MUSSORGSKY-RAVEL: Pictures at an Exhibition. MUSSORGSKY-RIMSKY-KORSAKOV:
A Night on Bald Mountain. TCHAIKOVSKY: Marche miniature.
BORODIN: Polovtsian March. KABALEVSKY: Colas Breugnon Overture,
Op. 24. GLINKA: Russlan and Ludmilla Overture.
CHOPIN: Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23. Ballade No. 2 in F, Op. 38.
Ballade No. 3 in A flat, Op. 47. Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52. Scherzo
No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20. Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 31. Scherzo
No. 3 in C# minor, Op.. 39. Scherzo No. 4 in E, Op. 54.
BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61. MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto
in E minor, Op. 64.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 "Pathétique."
RAVEL: Daphnis and Chloe (complete ballet).
STRAUSS: Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30. Ein
Heldenleben, Op. 40.
RCA's publicity for their new series is somewhat misleading. They state they are using "only three of the available six channels (two when the original recording was two-track stereo) in order to remain faithful to the sonic image created by the original producers." To clarify, what they mean is they use only three of the available SACD six channels. Most of these RCA recordings were originally made in three tracks (left/center/right/); some of the earlier ones in only two tracks (left/right). What is heard on RCA's new SACDs is what was on the original recordings, two tracks (left/right stereo), or three tracks (left/center/right). Nothing is heard from rear or low-frequency speakers. This is commendable. RCA could have provided an artificial "surround sound" via various engineering procedures, and perhaps it would have been effective. Let us hope purchasers of these new reissues will understand just what they are getting, and not expect to hear multi-channel sound. RCA advises they "have used the DSD (Direct Stream Digital) process for there remasterings but no signal processing has been used to "improve" the original tapes...." John Newton, an expert in the audio world, supervised this project and has done his job very well indeed. The recordings sound superb with no audible difference between RCA's transfers and those by JVC of the same recordings. It is to RCA/BMG's credit that they have provided generous compilations with each SACD usually containing the equivalent of two original LPs. And RCA's SACDs are mid-price (!), which means that on one disk you can hear all of Reiner's Chicago Symphony Bartók recordings for about $12, while the same on JVC would cost about $60 as that label uses two premiuim-priced disks for the same recordings. Likewise, the Munch recordings of Saint-Saëns, Debussy and Ibert listed above also take two JVC disks; they are combined on 61387. There's no question that there is an "audiophile class appeal" about JVC issues, and they are luxuriously packaged (although program notes are in Japanese), but I doubt many, if any, will notice a difference in sound between those and the new RCA issues.
Most of these read as 5 channels on my player, even though, as mentioned previously, in most cases only the three front channels are used, in a few instances only two. The Bartók CD is a combination of two and three channel recordings: the Concerto for Orchestra, recorded in 1955 is two channels, but the other works of this composer, recorded in 1958, are three channel. Beethoven's violin concerto, recorded in 1955, is two channel; the Mendelssohn concerto, recorded in 1959, is three. On the Reiner Mussorgsky disk all music is three channel except Marche miniature—it is explained that although no documentation exists to explain it, it may have been because the work is scored for a small ensemble in "the treble register" that there was no center channel. It would be helpful to listeners if RCA would identify on each disk how many channels there on each work so one would know what to expect—and not think something was wrong. They do this on the Reiner Strauss coupling stating that both Zarathustra and Heldenleben, recorded in 1954, were only recorded in stereo. Artur Rubinstein's piano has never sounded as natural as it does here in the three-track masters. The only recording of the ten I find disappointing (not in the transfer, in the original taping), is Monteux's Pathétique, a rather commonplace performance recorded too brightly—this is the one SACD in this group I'd advise you to skip.
With the exception of the Pathétique, all of these performances are superb, the original recordings magnificent. Now collectors (even those without SACD at the present time) have the opportunity to hear them anew, and at medium price. Let us hope there will be many more! RCA/BMG has previously issued SACDs in true 5.1 surround sound including (Bruckner Symphony 9 (REVIEW), Mozart Requiem (REVIEW); these Living Stereo reissues are even more important to the collector.
R.E.B. (September 2004)
NOTE: Pierre Paquin of HaydnHouse, a company that
has produced many fine LP/tape to CD transfers,
advises he has listened to the center channel
only, for experimental purposes, on the new RCA SACDs. He states, "What
is present is a very close array of mics - yes, more than one
- for woodwinds, brass,
tympani, and other percussion, with a very mininum of violin,
viola and cello. Listening to the Munch Saint-Saëns
Organ Symphony, Debussy La Mer and
Ibert Escales SACD in center channel
only reveals that RCA wanted to
have control over specific instruments, to add or reduce at
will, their "presence" in the final
two-channel stereo mix-down. In the first
As for the Mercury SACDs (not yet reviewed on this site; they
are being released in October 2004), and having not done the
above experiment with
them, I can only assume that the center channel is a true overall mono