The Decca Music Group division of the Universal Music Group, has announced that the first 10 of the long-awaited Mercury Living Presence Super Audio CDs will be available in September in European markets. The new SACD series will have a staggered release that starts in Germany, followed by releases in the U.K. and then the U.S. market.
Ever since the folks at Decca Music first asked Classical Music fans if they had an interest in seeing this catalog transferred to Super Audio CD last year (see linked story from High Fidelity Review below), there has been strong interest in this series of releases. Using the Hybrid Disc and Multichannel Audio capabilities of the Super Audio CD format, 10 of these well known albums will be released as Hybrid Multichannel SACDs. Following the example of the Vanguard Classics label, the reissues will feature the original 3 Channel Stereo editions of each album on the SACD Surround Sound track of the disc as well as separate Stereo SACD and Stereo CD versions of the music on the album.
Comments from Decca Music
In announcing the September release of this series in Europe, Decca Music officials said that “The Decca Music Group, which owns the celebrated Mercury Living Presence classical catalogue, is proud to announce the imminent launch of Mercury Living Presence recordings on the new high-resolution digital audiophile format, Super Audio CD (SACD). For the first time, these legendary 3-channel recordings become available in their full glory.
Mercury Living Presence continues to enjoy a special reputation as one of the most enterprising and prestigious labels in the history of classical recording, with many of its famous 50s, 60s and 70s recordings never leaving the catalogue. At the start of the 21st century, Super Audio CD has established itself as the preferred new high-resolution, multi-channel format, and offers the perfect new medium for revisiting and revitalising these unique recordings.
Each Mercury Living Presence SACD offers several major advantages over the previous CD release. Firstly – and most excitingly – every SACD features a 3-channel (left, right and centre) transfer of the original 3-channel recording. This will be the first opportunity for Mercury Living Presence enthusiasts to hear their favourite recordings in their original 3-channel format. Secondly, every transfer is a direct DSD (Direct Stream Digital) analogue-to-digital transfer from the original analogue master tape. And, finally, every SACD includes a new DSD 2-channel stereo mix, as well as the original CD mix prepared by the label’s legendary producer Wilma Cozart Fine.”
Packaging and Labeling of the Mercury Living Presence SACD Series
According to Decca Music, the Mercury Living Presence SACD Remaster Series will be packaged in the familiar Super Jewel Box with the rounded corners that are used in earlier Decca Music and Universal Music Group Super Audio CD releases. In recognition of the familiarity of the Mercury Living Presence name, each SACD will appear on that label in the European release.
In addition, the familiar “SACD Surround Sound” labeling usually found on Hybrid Surround Sound SACDs from the Universal Music Group will be replaced with the wording “SACD 3 Channel Stereo”. This will be done to emphasize to music buyers that the SACD Multichannel track on each album will contain a transfer of the original 3 Channel master tape and will not utilize the 2 Surround Channels and the .1 Subwoofer Channel on these releases. (See album cover art shown below for a look).
A Word About The Production of the SACDs
Decca Music has also released information about the production of the new Living Presence SACD remasters. They note that “As with the CD transfers in the 1990s, only original masters have been used for these new SACDs. For the transfers themselves, Saki Magnetics 3-channel heads (specially built for this series) were mounted on a Studer A80R Ѕ” or Studer A820 1” recorder. Both machines were substantially modified to optimise tape reproduction. The analogue-to-digital conversion was done exclusively via DSD, using dCS equipment. This combination of superior head construction, high quality electronics and transport, and direct-to-DSD conversion, results in a very high quality transfer: there is less risk of wow and flutter, a better signal-to-noise ratio, and because the signal path incorporates no transformers, there is less possibility of distortion. Throughout the entire process, repeated comparisons were made both to a playback of the original masters on an Ampex 300 machine previously belonging to Wilma Cozart Fine and to the original CD transfers which she herself produced. These original CD transfers are included on all Mercury Living Presence ‘hybrid’ SACDs (thus making the discs compatible with all existing CD players). As with the CD transfers in the 1990s, the distinctive logo, livery and liner notes of the original Mercury Living Presences LPs have been retained for these new SACDs.”
A Staged Roll Out
As noted earlier, the first 10 albums in the Mercury Living Presence Super Audio CD series will be rolled out in a staged fashion. All 10 will be available in Germany on September 7th and then a week later in the U.K. on September 13th.
U.S. Classical Music fans will have to wait a bit longer for the Living Presence SACDs to appear. In the U.S., the first 5 albums in the SACD series are due in stores on October 12th with the balance due in November – perhaps as early as November 9th. Here is the list of all 10 releases with the U.S. in store dates.
October 12, 2004 Release List – Mercury Living Presence SACD Remasters Series
November 2004 Release List – Mercury Living Presence SACD Remasters Series
More Mercury Living Presence SACD Remasters to Come
While the first 10 Mercury Living Presence SACDs are on the way, Decca tells us that more are in the planning stages. According to a statement from Decca Music, the future SACDs now in the planning stages “include Antal Dorati’s top-selling disc of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and the amazing disc of balalaika favourites from the Osipov Russian Folk Orchestra”.