SACD

The Silver and the Black

The Silver and the Black

Before I grabbed my wife’s aging Powerbook, complete with Norwegian keyboard that I struggle to understand, and settled down to write, I first put on a record, followed by another, and then another. Of course when I say record, I mean a good, old-fashioned LP and not a shiny, silver digital disc. I chose vinyl over the more convenient CD because it’s what I fancied listening to. I like the covers, I love the sound, and I adore the way it looks, spinning away on whatever turntable happens to be around. read more…

The Jazz File: Happy Music…or not.

The Jazz File: Happy Music…or not.

Interesting couple of albums have taken over my system for the past few months. There’s something of a unified thread running through these…acoustic, improvisational, crosscultural, cross-genre, slow tempos, and not exactly the cheeriest music I’ve ever spun. I’m not sure what this says (if anything) about the current state of jazz or my own psychological state this spring, but I hope you find something to enjoy in this month’s selections. Comments always welcome read more…

Boston Symphony Orchestra (Munch) – ‘Saint-Saens: Symphony No.3 in C minor, Organ’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Boston Symphony Orchestra (Munch) – ‘Saint-Saens: Symphony No.3 in C minor, Organ’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

The place where most performances of French composer Charles Camille Saint-Saëns’ ‘Third Symphony’ go wrong is on the podium. For such a well-known and popular piece, it is astonishing how truly few outstanding, idiomatic recordings there have been. I have about twenty recordings in my collection, but I would call only a handful of them worthy performances. What’s even more amazing is to see some of the star conductors who have missed the target completely: Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein, Eugene Ormandy (at least in his later versions), Jean Martinon, Ernest Ansermet, Seiji Ozawa, Michel Plasson. What most often happens is that the conductor approaches the work as a high romantic blockbuster and attempts to make it as grandiose as possible. But despite the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel of the finale, Saint-Saëns’ ‘Organ Symphony’ is actually a lithe work. The composer was responding to the spirit of the times in giving his work a grand, often turgid surface, but at heart, Saint-Saëns was a classicist. Conductors who look for a psychological probing of the depths end up bloating the work with baggage that it shouldn’t have to bear. Those few conductors who see past the stereotype of nineteenth century romanticism and treat the work leanly actually end up revealing for more about this elegant yet elusive composer: His reticence itself speaks volumes. The other perennial problem of successfully performing this work is one of virtuosity. It is an orchestral showpiece, but a potentially treacherous one, to be sure. Many performances obsess about hitting the right notes and thus end up missing the “music” completely. Fortunately, the RCA reissue of Charles Munch’s classic Boston Symphony recording from 1959 brings one of the few insightful recordings of this piece to Super Audio Compact Disc, in three-channel sound. read more…

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Gatti) – ‘Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.5, Romeo and Juliet Overture’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Gatti) – ‘Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.5, Romeo and Juliet Overture’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

This is a review of what comes very close to being the first recording ever made of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Symphony No.5’. Anyone who is familiar with classical recordings will think I’ve gone stark raving mad, since there have been countless recordings of the work in the last century, but hear me out: If a piece of music over the years gradually grows into something other than what the composer originally had in mind, that’s fine. That’s how art remains pertinent to later generations. But what if a piece of music has never, or at least not in documented memory, been performed as the composer meant it to be? In that situation, can it really be said that we’ve ever heard that piece at all? We’re hearing someone else’s concept, and we may love it, but don’t we at least owe it to the genius of the composer to listen at least once to what was actually written? read more…

Cincinnati Pops Orchestra (Kunzel) – ‘Rozsa: Three Choral Suites: Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis, King of Kings’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Cincinnati Pops Orchestra (Kunzel) – ‘Rozsa: Three Choral Suites: Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis, King of Kings’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Just as the sweep and pageantry of the great mid-twentieth century Biblical film epics were more concerned with high drama than with authentic historical detail, so the musical scores for these grand productions had more to do with the great late-romantic composers such as Mahler and Strauss than with the music of ancient times. Indeed, to this day, epic film music remains a highly developed branch of post-romanticism with many devoted followers. But this new Telarc SACD gives a chance to hear a luscious presentation of three suites arranged for chorus and orchestra from the evocative scores of Miklos Rozsa as independent works, an approach which is bound to attract a wider audience for this music which has been shamefully underrated for far too long. Rozsa may have been no Mahler, but he certainly can hold his own against many far more honored names in the classical pantheon. read more…

Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (Susskind) – ‘Holst: The Planets’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (Susskind) – ‘Holst: The Planets’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Where would modern science fiction movie soundtracks be without Holst’s ‘The Planets’? Ripping off something else, I suppose. But this new Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab restoration of the wonderful recording by Walter Susskind and the Saint Louis Symphony serves to remind us that Holst’s most famous piece is far more than a mere showpiece. Susskind was one of the few conductors to recognize and respect the subtle, mystical soul of this music. His performance may be more for connoisseurs than for the casual fan, but it is the sort of the performance that could turn the latter into the former. And the recorded sound captured in this reissue is enough to turn any listener into a permanent fan of Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab. read more…

Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chorus (Mackerras) – ‘Mozart: Requiem Mass in D minor, K. 626 (edited by Robert Levin)’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ is surely the greatest “what if” in the history of classical music. If Mozart hadn’t died before completing it, we could have had one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. read more…

London Symphony Orchestra (Hickox) – ‘Vaughan Williams: Symphonies No.6 and No.8, Nocturne’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

The tide has turned, and Vaughan Williams is riding the wave. Where all the mid-twentieth century experimenters once seemed so daring, and the stubborn Vaughan Williams and his modal chords seemed a relic of the past, now a huge portion of the dry leaves of academic serialism and kook-level avant-gardism have withered and fallen off the trees. read more…

San Francisco Symphony (Tilson Thomas) – ‘Mahler: Symphony No.4’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

There are two main roads that conductors of Mahler’s ‘Symphony No.4’ tend to travel. One is more strictly classical and focused, with a narrow range of tempos and a smooth flow from one section to the next. read more…

Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra (Boni) – ‘Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence and Serenade for Strings’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Is it possible for a composer to have too many well-loved works for yet another one to squeeze itself into listeners’ hearts? How can we otherwise explain the relative obscurity of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ‘Souvenir de Florence’? read more…

Hilary Hahn – ‘Mendelssohn and Shostakovich: Violin Concertos’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Half of why I dislike the sound of this disc is due to the difficult acoustics of the concert hall, though other companies have recorded in Oslo’s Konzerthus with more success. But the other half is due to a disagreement in recording philosophy: I have boundless admiration for great musical performers, but they are performers, not gods. read more…

Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (Slatkin) – ‘Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

It depends. That’s my answer to the inevitable question this review will raise: Who will want to rush out and buy this disc? Fans of Mussorgsky may not find any new ground covered in this reissue of Leonard Slatkin’s conservative performance of ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, and devotees to modern digital sound might find that this analogue recording is smoother than an orchestra really sounds live in concert, but aficionados of fine analog sound will be in heaven to hear the creamy richness of this 1975 recording engineered by the legendary Marc Aubort. read more…

Philharmonia Orchestra (Zander) – ‘Mahler: Symphony No. 3 in D minor’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Now this is the real thing. Here is a disc to remind classical lovers why we got so passionately attached to music in the first place. Mind you, this is not to say that this new hybrid SACD from Telarc will be welcomed in all corners… Let us save Benjamin Zander’s detractors the trouble of writing another clucking review by writing it for them: “Though Zander is a committed Mahlerian, his performance of the ‘Third’ misses the long line of the piece, breaking down into a series of dramatic episodes without an overlying architecture. read more…

David Bowie – ‘Reality’  An SACD review by Nicholas D. Satullo

David Bowie – ‘Reality’ An SACD review by Nicholas D. Satullo

David Bowie’s recent multichannel SACD release, ‘Reality’, poses the same challenge for a reviewer as many college professors must confront: How do you assess the mixed-bag term paper, the one with just enough high quality elements to flirt with that “A-”… but where the quality of the whole not only fails to exceed the sum of its parts, but may not even equal them. read more…

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