MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D "The Titan."
TCHAIKOVSKY: Romeo and Juliet Overture. Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat
minor, OP. 23. Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake Ballet Suite
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68. Variations on
a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a.
BACH: Brandenburg Concerti: No. 1 in F. Concerto No. 2
in F. Concerto No. 3 in G. Concerto No. 4 in G.
Concerto No 5 in D. Concerto No. 6 in B flat.
PROKOFIEV: Peter and the Wolf. Lt. Kije Suite.
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphony No. 6 in E minor. Five Variants
on Dives and Lazarus. Dona Nobis Pacem. Flos Campi.
Here are nine Silverline audio DVDs, all original Vanguard recordings. Beginning in the '70s, Vanguard made many of their recordings in four-channel sound, and these Silverline reissues have utilized those four discrete channels from the original sessions. Silverline boasts "Advanced Resolution Surround Sound (96 kHz/24 bit)" and indeed there are six channels (5.1, the "1" representing the low-frequency channel). However, these are not original 5.1 surround sound recordings. The center and low-frequency channels have been created by a skilled team of producers/engineers all of whom are identified in the DVD booklet—and they have done their job well. The "surround" sound heard on these audio DVDs is very satisfying, with plenty of concert hall ambience.
The menu on each disk begins with the "Playlist" (listing of all tracks) followed by a very brief bio of the composer, "Behind the Scenes," (narrated by chief engineer Chris Haynes) tells of how the original tapes were transferred using the latest technology—but, surprisingly, there is no mention of the fact that these are not 5.1 original recordings.On the "Audio Setup" page the listener can select surround or regular stereo. "Technical Notes" lists equipment used in the transfers. Of great value to many listeners is "Speaker Setup," in which a diagram shows ideal speaker setup for surround sound, and a voice message announces a speaker check. "Album credits" is the final page with much information—but there are no original recording dates. There are occasional other features. The Maurice Abravanel recordings include a memorial tribute to him and a feature on the history of the Utah Symphony. Silverline could use an editor more knowledgeable about music. Music listings printed on the back of the DVDA and booklet notes often are awkward and sometimes incorrect. The Prokofiev DVD disk notes state (sic), "Prokofiev's Lt. Kije Suite performed by the Symphonic Suite, conducted by Mario Rossi, Vienna State Opera Orchestra." Among the "Album Credits" there is a line: "Lieutenant Kije Chorus: Chorus of the Vienna State Opera." Of course there is no chorus in this music.It also would be helpful if total playing time for each disk was included.
From a performance standpoint, primary winners are Sergiu Comissiona's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra recordings made in 1981 in National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D. C. This was about a year before Baltimore's Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall opened. Dry acoustics of the Lyric Theater, where the BSO had played for decades, made it an inadequate recording site.In the D .C. church naturally there is plenty of resonance (almost too much for timpani), but clarity as well. The performances show that the Baltimore Symphony is indeed an upper echelon orchestra. Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 receives a vivid performance magnificently recorded with a fine sense of space and presence. The pizzicato third movement is not overly miked in this recording which makes the fortissimo opening of the finale quite shattering—as it should be—and there's plenty of sizzle to brass and percussion. When originally issued on CD (Vanguard VCD 72029) the disk also included Berlioz' Le Corsaire overture and Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnol; here it is all by itself. A more sensible programming decision on the part of Silverline would include these or some of the other works the BSO recorded, particularly Respighi's Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals. The BSO recording of Saint-Saëns' "organ" symphony is grand indeed, with massive organ sonorities. I wish there had been a bit more edge to the overall sound, but what is there is highly impressive. Producers have coupled the Saint-Saëns with Comissiona's Houston Symphony recording of Franck's Symphony, a far less attractive coupling than other works mentioned above.
The Utah Symphony isn't quite up to performance standards of the Baltimore Symphony but they play very well and their sound has been superbly captured. Mahler's Symphony No. 1 was previously issued on two Vanguard SACDs (VSD 507/8—see REVIEW) coupled with the Berlioz Requiem, a work that calls for a huge orchestra with brass bands in each corner, a natural for surround sound, and mightily impressive—yet to be issued by Silverline. This SACD set has been discontinued. All four Utah SO/Abravanel DVDAs have superb sound, with the Swan Lake excerpts and Vaughan Williams particularly successful.
The Bach Brandenburg Concerti disk offers very close-up, rich sound, perhaps too resonant. The chamber ensemble sounds rather elephantine in the highly reflective Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. The big harpsichord cadenza in Concerto No. 5 is recorded at a surprisingly low level compared with the rest of the instruments. An intriguing fact about this DVD disk is the fact that it has a playing time of almost 98 minutes, which shows how much music can be included on a DVD audio disk if producers wish to do so—and raises questions why so many have less than half that
Mario Rossi's Prokofiev LP has long been a favorite with audiophiles although Boris Karloff's stately narration of Peter and the Wolf has a cavernous sound. An "extra" on this disk, although not included in printed material but listed in the on-screen playlist, is a copy of Vanguard's signed contract with Boris Karloff dated April 1, 1958 for his recording from which we learn he was paid $1,000 for his efforts.
A major issue in this series is Pierre Monteux's Tchaikovsky concert recorded during the Vienna Festival May 31, 1963 but not released until about three decades later when it appeared on the Vanguard label. I would doubt that the original recording, from a radio broadcast, was done in more than two channels, but it always has boasted splendid sound. The previous stereo CD issue (Vanguard OVC 8031/2, now discontinued) was superb, and on this remastered multi-channel version it sounds even better (even though the stereo channels are reversed). It was a magic night in Vienna on that evening in May, everyone was in top form, and these are brilliant performances of three of Tchaikovsky's most popular works.
The Silverline issues are of great importance to collectors. The Vanguard catalog contains many other treasures, and let us hope Silverline will continue with this admirable series which, in spite of comments above, are of major importance.
R.E.B. (May 2004)