SURROUND SOUND REVIEWS

DVD AUDIO MULTI-CHANNEL

(There is a separate Feature - Dolby Digital vs. Digital Surround/Theater Sound including reviews written by Howard Ferstler.  To read it, click HERE)


The DVD Audio (DVDA)  medium is not easy for the consumer.  There seem be no set standards as to content, format and procedures for playing DVDA disks.  It  isn't just a matter of loading the disk in the machine and pushing "Play."  Most disks contain two audio versions of the music program - multi-channel (which can be from 2 to 6 channels) and a high-resolution stereo version of the program.  Some disks have programming on both sides.  

These brief commentaries will give you some idea of content,  performance quality and playing time of many of the DVDA multi-channel disks currently available.   If the performance has been reviewed on this site, click on REVIEW to read it.  For more information read the feature story on SURROUND SOUND on this site.  Capsule reviews of SACD MULTI-CHANNEL releases can also be found on this site.

The two major companies producing DVDA disks are EMI CLASSICS and TELDEC.  

EMI DVDA disks are two-sided and contain:

      Side A: DVD-Video-compatible Dolby Digital AC3-encoded Surround Sound & 24-bit Linear PCM Stereo
      Side B:  DVD-Audio-compatible MLP-encoded 24-bit Surround Sound & Stereo. 

TELDEC DVDA disks are recorded on only one side with the statement:

     "This disc can be played as Advanced-Resolution surround, Advanced-Resolution stereo and DVD-Video-compatible Dolby Digital (AC-3) and will only play on players with a DVD logo.  Advanced-Resolution audio and related visual content require DVD-Audio-capable players."

All EMI DVDAs have four channel sound as well as stereo, unless otherwise indicated

HANDEL:  Music for the Royal FireworksWater Music Suites.
London Symphony Orch; Prague Chamber Orch/Sir Charles Mackerras, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVDA424409 TT:  79:42
(4 channel)
Mackerras is a master of this repertory.  We have his edition of Royal Fireworks, which includes 26 oboes, 14 bassoons, 4 contra-bassoons, 9 trumpets, 9 horns and 6 side drums.  The augmented LSO plays enthusiastically in this 1976 recording, as does the Prague ensemble in their 1978 performance of Water Music.  The sound is basic stereo with much ambience coming from other speakers.  A fine recording.
MESSIAEN:  Turangal”la-Symphonie
Michel Bèroff, pianist; Jeanne Loriod, ondes martenon; London Symphony Orch/Andre Previn, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVDA 923989 TT: 80.16
(4 channel)
Turangal”la is a lengthy, heavily-scored ten movement celebration of the divine games of life, love and death.  Instruments include a huge percussion section, a prominent part for solo piano and the electronic ondes martenot, invented in 1928 by Maurice Martenot, which produces a most mysterious sound and was used later in many sci-fi movie scores.   Previn's recording was made in 1977 by which time EMI had improved their multi-channel recording.technique.  This is an impressive disk in every way.

STRAUSS:  Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30.  Alpine Symphony, Op. 64
Dresden Staatskapelle/Rudolf Kempe, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVDA 923969 TT:  82:47
(4 channel)
Both of these heavily-scored symphonic poems should be sonic showpieces but here they are not.  Recorded in 1971, these were early EMI attempts as multi-channel sound, but they are not impressive.    Deficient in low bass (so important in Zarathustra), and with overly-harsh highs, these do not impress, in spite of the superb performances by a master Strauss conductor.
MAHLER:  Symphony No. 10 (Cooke edition)
Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Sir Simon Rattle, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVDA 923949 TT: 77:23
(6 channel)

A memorable performance (see RD's REVIEW).  Perhaps because of being recorded live, microphones are very close - and there is little Philharmonie resonance, which means steely strings and a stark audio representation of the famed Berlin Philharmonic.  The multi-channel sound is 5.1 but there is little concert hall atmosphere and one does not hear the massed sound of a large orchestra performing in a good hall.

BACH: Magnificat in D. Missa brevis in A. Other works
Soloists; Choir of King's College; Academy of Ancient Music/Stephen Cleobury, cond.
EMI DVDA CLASSICS 924019 TT: 152:35
(4 channel)
A lovely recording with committed performances of some of Bach's finest works.  Only a touch of stridency in louder choral passages mars the sonic picture, which otherwise puts you right in the center of the performers.  The playing time listed above is correct - more than 2 1/2 hours of music in multi-channel sound - why aren't other DVDAs as generous in playing time?
HOLST:  The Planets.  The Perfect Fool, Op. 39.  Egdon Heath, Op. 47.
Ambrosian Singers; London Symphony Orch/Andre Previn, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVDA 923999 TT: 76:54
(4 channel)
Here EMI gets everything right in these recordings made 1973/4.  The London Symphony is brilliant in The Planets; ballet music from The Perfect Fool is wonderfully played, with Egdon Heath a welcome relief from the other's orchestral fireworks.  Superb, wide-spread sound as remixed here, and highly recommended.  One would never suspect these were recorded a quarter-century ago.

WAGNER:  Orchestral excerpts from Die Meistersinger, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Flying Dutchman and Tristan and Isolde.
Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Herbert von Karajan, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVDA  723979 TT: 77:48
(4 channel)
These 1974 recordings were highly touted when originally released but they have not aged well.  The Berlin orchestra plays superbly under Karajan, but from a sonic standpoint  this is not impressive: bass is muddy, the sound overly resonant.  The multi-channel sound has been artificially produced - and it really doesn't do justice to the sound of this magnificent orchestra.
RAVEL:  Daphnis and Chloé.  Boléro.  La Valse.
Orchestra of Paris/Jean Martinon, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVDA 923959 TT: 83:46
(4 channel)
These recordings were made in 1974, the same year as Karajan's Wagner, but here the engineering is far more successful.  The French orchestra is presented in a highly resonant ambience, yet there is sufficient clarity to reveal Ravel's remarkable orchestration.  What is lacking is significant impactful low bass; still these are fine performances by a conductor and orchestra appropriate for the repertory, and the sound is very pleasing.

 

WALTON: Belshazzar's Feast.  Symphony No. 2.  Portsmouth Point Overture.  Scapino - Comedy Overture.
John Shirley-Quirk, baritone; London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus; André Previn, cond.
EMI CLASSICS DVDA 924029 TT: 79:44
(4 channel)
Here is a generous collection of magnificent performances.  Previn's account of Walton's Biblical cantata is among the finest recorded and now we hear it in new clarity and impact. Originally recorded in 1972, it has been remixed for 4.0 surround providing a richer sound than before, but without directionality that could have been used effectively for the two off-stage bands.  The two overtures and second symphony are equally well done.  A worthy collection.
 

DVD MUSIC BREAKTHROUGH
DELOS DV 7002 TT:  93 min.
(5 channel)
A magnificent disk in spectacular surround sound!  Track I, an 8-minute suite from Korngold's score for The Sea Hawk with James DePriest and the Oregon Symphony, is the first of many sonic treats, with music of Bizet, Berlioz, Kern, Gershwin, Copland and Mussorgsky with conductors Zdenek Macal, Andrew Litton, Dennis Keene, and organist Wayne Marshall.  This fine disk apparently has been discontinued; it's worth looking for.
STRAUSS:  Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30.  HOLST:  The Planets, Op. 32
Dallas Symphony Orch/Andrew Litton, cond.
DELOS DV 7003 TT: 83:28
(5 channel)
Appropriately called A Space Spectacular, this coupling of these heavily-scored favorites is a multi-channel sonic display - albeit a touch overly resonant -  from the opening low organ pedal notes of Zarathustra through the huge climaxes of both works. These aren't among the finest performances of either works, but they are the only ones now available in surround.

TCHAIKOVSKY:  1812 Overture
Dolby Trailers, Audio and Video Test Signals
DELOS DV 7001
(5 channel)
An odd disk as it doesn't contain much music - but what it has is terrific.  This Dallas 1812, with chorus and artillery, is superior to the Telarc recording. The Dallas Symphony under Andrew Litton, with chorus and cannon, give a vital performance, more full-bodied than the Kunzel version; it is a sound spectacular as you would expect from engineer John Eargle.  Most of the rest of this DVDA is devoted to Dolby Trailers and Audio/Video Test Signals.  It's been deleted, but is worth getting just for 1812 - or to set up your surround system.
GLASS:  Koyaanisqatsi
Philip Glass Ensemble/Michael Riesman
NONESUCH 79506  TT:  73:30
(6 channel) 
This is a re-recording of Philip Glass' score for the 1983 film Koyaanisquatsi which had no dialogue, but numerous vistas.  The film is about the Hopi Indians and the sections are Crazy life, Life in turmoil, Life disintegrating, Life out of balance and A state of life that calls for another way of living.  I've never appreciated Glass' "music" with its endless repetitions, but if you enjoy this sort of thing here it is - and in impressive 6 channel sound.  There are some quite staggering masses of sonic power here.

ORFF:  Carmina Burana
Sumi Jo, sop; Jochen Kowalski, alto; Boje Skovhus, br; Southend Boy's Choir; London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus; Zubin Mehta, cond.
TELDEC 86597 TT:  63:15
(6 channel)
This recording was made September 1992 in Snape Maltings Concert Hall in England, a resonant site that is perfect for small-scale performances.  Orff's big-scale cantata, with its large chorus and orchestra, overloads the hall - the excessive reverberation clouds detail - it is a big wash of pleasant, rather undefined sound.  All three soloists are first-rate, as are the choruses and orchestra.  The multi-channels do little to differentiate soloists, chorus and orchestra.
MAHLER:  Symphony No. 2 in C Minor "Resurrection"
Nancy Gustafson, sop; Florence Quivar, contralto; Prague Philharmonic Choir; Israel Philharmonic Orch/Zubin Mehta, cond.
TELDEC  94545 TT: 78:29
(6 channel)
This massive work was recorded early in 1994 in Fredric R. Mann Auditorium, Tel Aviv.  Mehta's hasty interpretation misses much of the score's grandeur, the concluding orchestral pages disappoint.  Sound is huge and reverberant, with an impressive organ (dubbed in?).  A work such as this is ideal for multi-channel sound but there is little presence in spite of the 6 channels.  It isn't indicated if this was recorded in multi-channel sound in 1994,  but I doubt that it was.  

BACH:  Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Prelude and Fugue in E Flat.  Passacaglia in C Minor; other works
Ton Koopman, organist
TELDEC 82041 TT:  72:23
(6 channel)
The rebuilt Christian MŸller organ of Grote Kerk, Leeuwarden, is heard in these superb performances by Koopman.   The CD booklet contains an article by engineer Adriaan Verstijnen about the advantages of higher resolution and sampling available today, and how this permits more accurate reproduction of sound including acoustics of the recording site.  He's right; this is an extraordinary listening experience.
DVORAK:  Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 From the New World. The Water Goblin, Op. 107
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Nicholas Harnoncourt, cond.
TELDEC  25254 TT:  64:11
(6 channel)
These commanding Dvorak performances were recorded in October 1999, the New World in concert, Goblin in "studio" sessions.  No question that in this multi-channel format  sound is superior to the regular stereo CD issue; in the Symphony there is a more natural hall presence, and for Water Goblin sound opens out even more.  Bass is rather overpowering, but in a rather pleasing way.  

   
BEETHOVEN:  Symphony No. 4 in B Flat, Op. 60.  Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67.
Berlin Staatskapelle; Daniel Barenboim, cond.
TELDEC 82891  TT:  72:27
(5 channel)
Barenboim recorded all of the Beethoven symphonies in Berlin May-July 1999; while these surely are efficient performances they do not challenge the finest available.  Teldec's surround sound is broad and resonant, with some obvious overmiking (the double basses in the third movement of Symphony 5).
BEETHOVEN:  Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 Pastorale
Berlin Staatskapelle; Daniel Barenboim, cond.
TELDEC 83061 TT:  45:00
(5 channel)
Another in the Teldec Beethoven symphony series - and a puzzling issue on a single DVDA with minimal playing time.  All nine symphonies occupy 5 disks when they easily could have fit onto four with considerable savings for the consumer.  

GROFÉ:  Grand Canyon Suite.  Mississippi Suite.  Niagara Falls Suite.
Bournemouth Symphony Orch/William T. Stromberg, cond.
NAXOS 5.110002 TT:  67:41
(6 channel)
This is the first "budget" DVDA, and a huge success both as a performance and recording (see REVIEW).  Superb surround in every way although one could quibble about the solo violin in On the Trail being overly prominent.  Splendid big-hall effect and presence with lots of impactful low bass  - check out Thunder of the Waters from Niagara Falls Suite. The production was by K&A Productions - they have made about forty recordings in multi-channel.  Let's have more of them!  There's no news yet that Naxos will issue multi-channel SACDs so if you want to hear this in surround, this DVDA is the only way.
"The Ultimate DVD Surround Sampler"
(5.1, 6 and 4 channel)
Self-explanatory, and living up to its title with surround setups for 5.1 and 6 channel setups to check phasing, response and levels, all clearly explained.  A NYC Subway Ride will shock your neighbors.  The disk also includes about forty minutes of samples of Chesky surround recordings - all magnificent sonically although they are in 4 channels instead of 5.1 or 6 as Chesky feels the center and low-frequency channels do not add to the sound picture.  For more about their philosophy on surround sound, go to their SITE and click on "Forums."

  TCHAIKOVSKY:  1812 Overture. Marche slave. Capriccio Italien, Cossack Dance, Polonaise, Coronation March.
Cincinnati Pops Orch/Erich Kunzel, cond.
TELARC DVDA 70541 TT:  61:43
(6 channel)
This remake of Telarc's 1978 best-seller doesn't amount to much as a performance (see REVIEW)  The Cincinnati Pops sounds very undernourished here, and if you're getting this for the cannon, bells and chorus, it seems this DVDA issue has a bit more impact than the SACD surround issue mentioned above.  It is impressive to have the spatial effects of the chorus, bells and artillery coming from all sides; too bad the orchestra isn't better.