BACH: Six Brandenburg Concertos
Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra
TACET DVD 101 4 channel TT: 94 min.

PROKOFIEV: Peter and the Wolf. SAINT-SAËNS: Carnival of the Animals
Polish Chamber Orch; Ladies Swing Quartet; others/Wojciech Rajski, cond.
TACET DVD D114 5.1 channel TT: 72:01 + 78:51 + 51:09

STRAVINSKY: The Soldier's Tale - Animated film by R. O. Blechman with narration by Andre Gregory

Tacet is an imaginative, relatively new company not afraid to experiment. Their concept of Real Surround Sound offers you a 360 degree perspective in which the music is heard discretely from all speakers instead of the usual surround sound that places performers in front usually only with ambient sound coming from the rear. There is no question that the "standard" engineering approach to recording surround sound is quite natural and convincing. However, in these recordings of Prokofiev and Saint-Saëns we have various instruments coming from specific speakers—and sometimes moving about. I find it highly effective indeed. It's rather like sitting right in the middle of the orchestra—and the players are sometimes moving! Both of these stories for children are narrated by Bradley Cole, telling the stories as an old owl, in a rather mod versions by Christoph Ullrich. The owl also does a great deal of moving about. There's nothing to view on the monitor screen except at the beginning when the listener can select the presentation in English or German, with another option of listening only to the music.

The Bach Brandenburg concertos are given outstanding performances by the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra which apparently plays without conductor. There are diagrams in the DVD booklet that show instrument placement for each concerto (i.e. for Concerto No. 2 the trumpet is rear right, the oboe rear left, flute front right and violin front left, with the remainder of the orchestra on the sides). This recording utilizes only four channels which provide a totally satisfying listening experience. Pentatone has already proven, with their issue of four-channel recordings of the mid-'70s, that four channels are, indeed, capable of fine surround sound is properly utilizedd.

On both of these recordings instrumental sound is totally natural, although the narrator sometimes was rather low in volume. I found the experience of hearing these Tacet releases a delight in every way. It will be intriguing to see how Tacet deals with larger performing ensembles. In the meantime, if you're looking for a DVD to really show off "surround sound," get the Prokoviev/Saint-Saëns disk, and of course it's for the kids, too. If you cannot find these DVD disks in the U.S. you can contact Tacet:

R. O. Blechman's film of Igor Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale was produced for the PBSGreat Performances series, and this DVD release marks the 20th anniversary of the television premiere. The film, narrated by Max von Sydow, won an Emmy Award in 1984 for Outstanding Individual Achievement, Animated Programming, and rightfully so—although animation has come a long, long way in the past two decades. The DVD can be programmed so that one can hear running comments by Blechman and others involved in the presentation. Even with the addition of commercials Blechman created for Alka-Seltzer, Perrier, Volvo and others, total playing time is only 51 minutes, not much for a DVD with a list price of about $25. One has the choice of either regular stereo or 5.1 surround sound, although the surround sound is not very effective.

R.E.B. (June 2004)