STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps
Chicago Symphony Orch/Sir Georg Solti, cond.
JVC JVCXR 0225 (F) (ADD) TT: 34:03

BRITTEN: Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10.
London Symphony Orchestra (YPG); English Chamber Orchestra (Variations)/Benjamin Britten, cond.
JVC JVCXR 0226 (F) (ADD) TT: 42:28

JVC continues their super-high-quality of reissues with this Britten coupling and Solti's 1974 recording of Stravinsky's barbaric ballet. Solti would record this score again in Amsterdam about 1991 (the London CD issue, 436 469, coupled with Symphony No. 1 of Shostakovich, is longer available). Both of these were recorded live in concert and disappointing sonically; Decca engineer were too close resulting in a non-Concertgebouw sound—the Radio Nederland broadcasts were superior in capturing the rich sound of the orchestra playing in its own famous hall. This performance of Sacre is about a minute longer than the 1974 recording here reissued. Solti is a high-voltage conductor bringing great power to this famous music, and he has the virtuoso Chicago Symphony to work with. The problem here is that the recording was made in Medinah Temple in Chicago, a make-shift problematic site chosen as Orchestra Hall was no longer a choice venue for fine recordings. Even the combined efforts of two masters in the art of engineering—Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock—cannot overcome the unfocused low-frequency sound in Medinah. Low percussion, so important in this music, lacks impact and clarity. No question whatever that this JVC reissue sounds superior to previous releases of this recording, but London has other versions of this music that are truly sonic blockbusters: their 1982 recording with Antal Dorati and the Detroit Symphony, and their 1987 recording with Riccardo Chailly and the Cleveland Orchestra, both of which currently are available as imports. For sound buffs, either of these would have been preferable to the Solti recording. The CD contains just what was on the original LP: 34:03 isn't very much music for a premium-priced CD. It's a mystery why JVC didn't elect to track separately the thirteen different episodes of Sacre; they offer only two tracks.

The Britten CD is quite remarkable, with the composer conducting two of his most famous scores in superlative performances. Both were recorded in London's Kingsway Hall, Guide in 1963, Variations in 1965. Engineers were "G. Fletcher and E. Burken," two names new to me, but they fulfilled their tasks magnificently. Clarity and definition are outstanding with some of the most realistic string sound you'll hear, brilliant brass and percussion in the Guide, and a natural stereo spread. Performances are, of course, authoritative, and the two orchestras involved are first-class. This is a magnificent CD in every way, and wisely, the producers have provided separate tracks for the eleven sections of Variations.

R.E.B. (November 2003)