Concertante in E-Hat Major, K364.
Sony's choice of a relatively tame
concerto for violin and viola as its first classical multichannel
SACD is both surprising and refreshing. The real strength
of SACD multichannel is not tracking the aural fireworks coming
from all directions, like the cannon shots in the 1812 Overture,
but to allow the listener to perceive the "air," or space,
that is present in a concert hall. Here, producer Steven Epstein
succeeds brilliantly in enhancing the ambient sound of Midori's
delicate violin and Imai's darker-hued viola. (Mozart has
the player retune the instrument, a technique known as scordatura,
in the Sinfonia Concertante.) Creating a more natural space
between the listener and the performers gives the instruments,
especially Midori's violin, a remarkably palatable presence.
This works extraordinarily well in the final Rondo, in which
the violin and viola pursue each other in a chase that becomes
Mozart never completed this violin
and piano concerto. just 120 measures remain, and the work
performed here was reconstructed by Philip Wilby. Both Midori
and Eschenbach play it with great virtuosity, with the decaying
reverberations of the piano adding greatly to the sonic illusion
of real world space. The center channel, when used at all,
is employed with wonderful subtlety in preparation for the
violin's magical entry. Recorded directly through Sony's newly
developed Sonoma DSD system, which allows the flexibility
of editing and mixing eight tracks, this magnificent program
demonstrates the potential of multichannel to change our perception
of recorded music.
Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique. "Love
Scene" from Romeo et Juliette. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra;
Paavo Arvi, conductor. Robert Wood, producer; Jack Renner,
engineer. Telarc SACD 60578
Conceived as an orchestral expression
of his own unrequited passion for actress Harriet Smithson,
Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique unfolds as a series of images
in an opium dream that slowly veers out of control. As conducted
by Paavo Arvi on this Telarc dual-layer SACD, it's a consummate
aural pleasure in both stereo and multi-channel versions.
In the peaceful section of "Scene in the Country," when shepherds
pipe back and forth to each other, I could not hear any enhancement
in the multi-channel version. However, with the protagonist's
imagined execution, "March to the Scaffold," the illusion
of space is greatly expanded with surround. When I returned
to stereo, the space collapsed, and sounded too confined for
the music's creativity. In the "Dream of the Witches Sabbath"
passage that follows, there is a swirl of demons, ghouls,
rattling bones, screams, and other sound effects. The multi-channel
fosters an involvement that the stereo version simply cannot
match. Whether or not the listener wants such involvement
is another issue, but this is certainly what Berlioz intended
when he imagined the Symphonie performed by an orchestra of
250. The "Love Scene" from Berlioz' Romeo et Juliette is a
sublime bonus on the disc.
Concerto in D Major for Violin and Piano, KAnh.56.
Nobuko Imai, viola;
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor and piano;
Steven Epstein, producer;
Richard King, engineer.
Sony SACD 89488