SAINT-SAËNS: Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 "Organ." DEBUSSY: La Mer. IBERT: Escales (Ports of Call).
Berj Zamkochian, organist; Boston Symphony Orch/Charles Munch, cond.
RCA LIVING STEREO SACD 61387 (M) TT: 74:04
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LEONTYNE PRICE sings arias from Aida, Il trovatore, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, La Rondine and Turandot
Leontyne Price, soprano; Rome Opera House Orch/Oliviero de Fabritiis and Arturo Basile, cond.
RCA LIVING STEREO SACD 61395 (M) TT: 46:18
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BARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra. Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Hungarian Sketches.
Chicago Symphony Orch/Fritz Reiner, cond. RCA LIVING STEREO SACD 61390 (M) TT: 76:07
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MUSSORGSKY-RAVEL: Pictures at an Exhibition. MUSSORGSKY-RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: A Night on Bald Mountain. TCHAIKOVSKY: Marche miniature. Marche slave. BORODIN: Polovtsian March. KABALEVSKY: Colas Breugnon Overture, Op. 24. GLINKA: Russlan and Ludmilla Overture.
Chicago Symphony Orch/Fritz Reiner, cond.
RCA LIVING STEREO SACD 61394 (M) TT: 70:57
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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.
Artur Rubinstein, pianist
RCA LIVING STEREO SACD 61396 (M) TT: 71:24
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BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61. MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64.
Jascha Heifetz, violinist/Boston Symphony Orch/Charles Munch, cond.
RCA LIVING STEREO SACD 61391 (M) TT: 62:05
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TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 "Pathétique."
Boston Symphony Orch/Pierre Monteux, cond.
RCA LIVING STEREO SACD 61397 (M) TT: 44:14
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RAVEL: Daphnis and Chloe (complete ballet).
New England Conservatory Chorus and Alumni Chorus; Boston Symphony Orch/Charles Munch, cond.
RCA LIVING STEREO SACD 61388 (M) TT: 54:29
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TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, OP. 23. RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18.
Van Cliburn, pianist; RCA Victor Symphony Orch/Kiril Kondrashin, cond.(Tchaikovsky)/Chicago Symphony Orch/Fritz Reiner, cond. (Rachmaninoff)
RCA LIVING STEREO SACD 61392 (M) TT: 69:02
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STRAUSS: Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30. Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40.
Chicago Symphony Orch/Fritz Reiner, cond.
RCA LIVING STEREO SACD 61389
(M) TT: 75:40
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Collectors will treasure these initial ten SACDs from RCA/BMG. They have gone into their back catalog for classic, important older recordings using the latest super-audio transfer equipment for the SACD format. Keep in mind SACD processing is capable of wider frequency response and greater dynamic range than a regular CD—but all SACDs are not surround sound even though the format is capable of 5.1 channel surround sound. Most SACDs, including these new releases, also contain a high-quality 2-channel stereo version of the program—although not all of them do. With the advent of SACD several years ago, Sony issued a series of SACDs of older recordings (particularly with conductors George Szell and Bruno Walter) meant to be played on an SACD player—and were not compatible with a regular CD player—they were not "hybrid" which means that they could be played both on SACD and regular CD players.

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
section of La Mer the center channel reveals sudden shifts in loudness. One can only presume why this is so - I tend to conclude it was Munch who wanted these "bursts in loudness" as a matter of preference in the overall two
channel mix. All in all, this experiment in center channel listening was quite fascinating - and it is evident that much of the IM distortion in the Organ Symphony recording resides in the center channel mic mix..

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
recording of the entire orchestra.

(For a listing of private CDs issued by Pierre Paquin, visit http://www.HaydnHouse.com/home.htm)