BERLIOZ: The Damnaion of Faust
BERLIOZ: Symphonie fanastique, Op. 14
Here are four of the initial releases in Pentatone's exciting new releases in their QUAD series of four-channel recordings made in the late 1970s and 1980s. All of these are Deutsche Grammophon recordings long available on regular stereo CDs. Now for the first time we can hear them as originally recorded in discreet four channel audio. It should be clarified that these disks contain two versions of the recording, one stereo for regular CDs containing the same tracks as on original releases, the second track, played on SACD players contains the four quad channels as originally recorded. The latter is identified on monitor screens as as 5.0 channel as in order for an SACD player to select the multi-channel version on the disk, there must be at least 5 channels. However, to preserve the integrity of the original recordings, the front center channel is silent; producers have resisted the temptation to create a center front channel. These famous recordings are now heard in a rewarding, bright, natural sonic perspective—and there is no question that the sound is remarkably enhance d..
Seiji Ozawa (b. 1935) surely has enjoyed a remarkable career, having been music director or associate conductor of many of the world's top orchestras, mentored by Charles Munch, Leonard Bernstein and Herbert von Karajan. In 1973 he became music director of the Boston Symphony, a position he held for 29 years. He has been highly honored with many awards and has made numerous recordings However, few of his recordings are memorable, and these two reissues of Berlioz are examples. The Damnation of Faust is a colorful work for four soloists, large chorus and orchestra, and this recording was made in Symphony Hall in October 1974. Symphonies fantastique was taped in the same venue in in February 1973. The Boston Symphony plays beautifully, but there is little excitement in these performances. The final two movements of the symphony should be a fiery listening experience, not experienced here. However, the four-channel sound on both recordings is elegantly pristing with silky strings, strong brass and a fine replication of the warm acoustics of Symphony Hall.
This Carmen was recorded in the Metropolitan Opera House in September 1972. Although it is far from an ideal performance of Baize's masterpiece, it won a Grammy Award as best opera recording of the year, which proves the fallibility of the Grammy Awards. Horn is a strong Carmen but she only comes to life in the final act. Tom Krause is an excellent Escamillo, and Adriana Maliponte a satisfying Micaela. However, James McCracken is a poor José who often resorts to falsetto with disappointing results. Bernstein's conducting ranges from too slow to too fast. The Met Orchestra and Choruses - and the fine .children' chorus - are superb. The aural picture is bright and clear, well-b lanced, and often the four-channels are used with imagination. A complete libretto is provided. This is a class reissue, but hardly an outstanding Carmen.\
Scott Joplin's only known opera, Treemonisha ( the first, A Guest of Honor, was lost), was a failure at its premiere in 1911. It was not performed until a number of composers including Gunther Schuller discovered the piano score and orchestrated it. A number of performances were given with enthusiastic audience and critic reception. and even had a successful run on Broadway. It also won a Pulitzer Prize for "contributions to American music." This recording was made in RCA New York studios in October 1975, a production by the Houston Grand Opera conducted by Gunter Schuller. The opera tales place in in a former slave plantation near Texarcana (Joplin's home town), and the Red River in Arkansas. Treemonisha is an 18year old woman who is taught to read, then leads her community against conjurers who prey on ignorance and superstition. She is kidnapped but rescued, and he opera ends with a joyous chorus in praise of the value of education. The music surely is pleasant enough, but hardly memorable. There are no big arias, and the opera does include a few ragtime interludes. This performance is surely excellent, and the recorded is remarkably clear and well-balanced, although no particularly "surround." A complete libretto is provided, but this is hardly an operatic treasure.
Cover art work is difficult to read as can be seen by the images above. It seems odd such abstract designs were selected for these major releases. The other negative feature is that the disks are in jackets attached to covers and rather difficult to extract. But these are small quibbles in outstanding reissues.
R.E.B. (March 2015)