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 absolutely thrilling.
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
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.
Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante in E-Hat Major, K364.
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