Recordings Review

Four recordings of Gustav Holst's "The Planets" demonstrate how diferent the end results could be.

Sir Georg Solti. London Philharmonic Orchestra. (London 414 567-2). The production dates from 1978. The sound may put you off, but the fault is not in the recording. Anyone who has heard a live Solti performance will know what I mean. For all his musical excitement, Solti pushes the orchestra to such a feverish pitch that the brass take on a uncomfortable edge and the strings become hoarse. The sound, which is analog original, is what many anti-digital people used to accuse digital recordings of. About the only really pleasant thing in the sonic texture is the Kingsway Hall pipe organ (most of the other performances on CD make use of electronic instruments). The recording used London's usual technique: A main pickup array plus many accent microphones operated at reduced level. The only problem is the hard-driven performance.

Herbert von Karajan. Berlin Philharmonic (Deutche Grammophon 400-028-2). On this digital recording dating from 1981, von Karajan turns in a hard-driven performance that remind one of Solti. Von Karajan's conception on the score is almost completely subverted by the grotesque recording approach, in which accent microphones completely dissect the orchestra ansemble. Fore/aft perspectives are so out of proportion that the front row of strings across the stereo stage can almost be counted! In addition, the low end under 50 Hz, has been attenuated, and the sound made gutless.

Andrew Davis, The Toronto Symphony (Angel CDC 47417). This CD was digitally recorded in 1986. Davis turns in a stunning performance, and the orchestra is up to all his demands. The recording is remarkable in another way as well. One person is responsible for both recording and producing. In any event, Kwiatkowski does a beautiful job for Davis and the orchestra. With subtle use of accent microphones supplementing a main pickup array, he gets back-of-the-orchestra detail without destroying natural perspectives. The notes states that this recording was made on a 24-track Sony recorder, presumably allowing the producer/engineer to be unconcerned with details of balance during the session and to concentrate on matters of performance and covering the score. Subsequent mixdown was made to two-track. We can be impressed with all aspects of the recording as unorthodox as the basic approach was.

Andre Previn, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Telarc CD-80133). Previn's identification with English music is well established, and he understands it to the core. This performance, digitally recorded in 1986, demonstrates his affinity for the score.
The recording approach is as orthodox as Andrew Davis was not. Here we have typical Telarc minimal spaced-omni miking, with the expected natural perspectives. As with many Telarcs, it helps to raise the volume a bit to make-up for the fact that there has been little, if any, manipulation of the dynamic range during the recording. I am impressed with all aspects of this Compact Disc.
(John Eargle, Audio/October 1987)

Teleman: Horn Concertos.Iona Brown-cond; Hernann Baumann: horn The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-fields, (Philips 412 226-2). A digital recording made in London in February 1984, this absolutely delightful CD is outstanding for its clarity and its superb balance among strings, horns and harpsichord in a warmly resonant ambience. Hermann Baumann, on principal horn, is a virtuoso player, in fact he performs these ingratiating concertos in the manner of the original scoring, which is without "stopping"- putting a hand inside the bell of the instrument. The resultant sound is very well projected with a big , brassy, gutteral quality.
Four concertos and a horn suite may be a bit too much for nonstop listening. Sampled individually, they can be most tasty musical hors d'oevres!

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons. Andrew Parrott; John Holloway, violin. The Taverner Players,( Denon 38C37-7283).The Taverner Players are a group of exceptionally talented musicians who perform on original instruments or copies of same. Andrew Parrot, their founder and conductor, has had the benefit of studying under such luminaries as Claudio Abbado, Sir Colin Davis and even Leopold Stokowski. In fact, in his finely wrought performance of this work, the very expressive string playing is reminiscend of Maestro Stokowski's renowned string sound
The engineer who recorded this music is Britisher Tony Faulkner. Tony, one of the best classical recording engineers in the business, espouses the use of such "purist" mike techniques as Blumlein (Coincident figure-of-eight) or M/S (figure-eight/cardioids "middle-side"), although he has resently been using a pair of the new Bruel & Kjaer omnidirectional condenser mikes. He achieves a lovely, clean sound, with precise localization and a lot of depth, all clothed in a warm ambience of Rosslyn Hill Chapel in London.

Tchaikovsky/Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos. Charles Dutoit; Kyung Wha Chung, violinL'orchestre Symphonic de Montreal, (London 410 011-2)
Kyung Wha Chung recorded these same two violin concertos for London /Decca early in her career. If I recall, this was in the early 70s, and her interpretation were very well received.
In this splendid new digital recording, her performance clearly reflect growth and maturity as a violin virtuoso of international renown. She has always been secure in the technical mastery of her instrument. Now she adds a new dimension to her artistry with her richly expressive playing and deeper involvement with the music.
Engineer John Dunkerley has developed a recording technique which fully exploits the fabulous acoustics of St. Eustache Church. This is evident from the notable series of recordings he has made with the Montreal Orchestra in this locale, and he has provided Kyung Wha Chung with a recording of equal stature. It is a very natural, open sound, yet it never lacks in orchestral definition. The violin is projected just forward of the orchestra and clearly reveals the richness of the artist's tonal resources.
Dutoit's Montrealers get better and better, and his accompaniment for the violinist is nicely balanced, displayng a good raport between these artists.
How nice to have this kind of wonderful music making on CD, where the high harmonics of the solo violin will remain pristine and audible forever, instead of expiring at the grinding stylus/groove interface of a vinyl disc !
If you are fond of these two great staples of the violin concerto repertoire, you will find this CD particularly rewarding from both musical and sonic viewpoints
Bert Whyte, Audio/October 1986


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