COPLAND: Appalachian Spring Ballet Suite. El Salón México. Billy the Kid Suite. Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo.
New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, cond.
SONY CLASSICAL SS 87327 TT:74:50 (5.1channel)
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TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36. Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a
New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, cond.
SONY CLASSICAL SS 87982 TT: 65:57 (5.1 channel)
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Here are two more worthy issues from Sony Classics. The Copland SACD is outstanding in every way. Bernstein always was one of the finest interpreters of the composer's music, and this CD contains four of his most popular works. Originally these were included on two LPs (which are reproduced on the front and back covers) with only the Dance from Music for the Theatre missing. These are dynamic performances beautifully played by the NYP. It seems odd that Billy the Kid was recorded (Oct. 20, 1959) in Symphony Hall in Boston instead of the two usual recording sites for the orchestra, Avery Fischer Hall or Manhattan Center. However, producer John McClure and his crew did a superb job in capturing the warm acoustics of the famed hall. It's interesting to compare this sound with the other "surround sound" recording made in Symphony Hall, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which can be heard on a Pentatone CD recorded in January 1976 with Sir Colin Davis conducting Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 (REVIEW). Of course Copland's score with its explosive percussion is more of a sonic showpiece than the rather gentle Mendelssohn, but both recordings have very natural sound and presence; I think the Pentatone issue has a more natural multi-channel effect. McClure and his staff also were successful recording the three other works (Appalachian Spring, Oct. 9, 1961; El Salón México, May 20, 1961; Rodeo, May 2, 1960) in Manhattan Center. Again it seems the orchestra is in front with only ambient sound coming from the other speakers—a very pleasing effect. Probably the greatest gain in this SACD release is the cleaner definition of sound throughout because of the ability of SACD to convey more of sound on the original tapes.

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 is a natural for Bernstein and this performance, recorded in Manhattan Center April 28, 1975, is far superior to his 1989 DGG recording with the same orchestra, which takes almost five minutes longer. The Nutcracker excerpts were recorded much earlier—May 2, 1960, but both sound pretty much alike. Sony states both of these are from original multichannel tapes, but what we hear from the back is primarily ambient hall sound. Surprisingly, Nutcracker is a touch better than the symphony, but there is no question both recordings benefit greatly from the improved sonic capability of SACD with its wider dynamic range and broader frequency response.

R.E.B. (June 2003)