RAVEL:  Boléro.  Alborada del Gracioso. La Valse.  Rapsodie espagnole.  Valses nobles et sentimentales.
Boston Symphony Orch/Seiji Ozawa, cond.

DG ELOQUENCE 469 628 (B) (ADD) TT:  72:47

These performances were originally recorded in stereo-groovy analog during the Boston Symphony Orchestra's 1974-75 season when, Ozawa-wise, the bloom was still on the rose. The original producer's and engineer's names have been eliminated from this newest remastering , along with program notes and the lambent sounds of yore at levels louder than mezzo-piano and in few places mezzo-forte. But it's safe to guess that Thomas Mowrey was in charge, and if he hasn't already left us to record the Heavenly seraphim and cherubim, this bastardization could hasten a journey cloudward.

From the Musical Heritage Society just last month I bought a remastering (by DGG) of Ozawa's 1973 recording of La damnation de Faust—the Berlioz take on Goethe that remains, for my money, the finest ever. Yes, I know the versions by Georg Solti, Charles Munch, Colin Davis, Jean Fournet (a wartime Pathé original "almost complete"on American Columbia 78s), Pierre Monteux (a 1962 BBC broadcast), and Eliahu Inbal, in declining order of preference, although I somehow missed Myung-Wha Chung's version with the Philharmonia Orchestra on DGG.  I bring up the matter because Thomas Mowrey produced Ozawa's Damnation in the same concert hall, and it has been digitized faithfully with the bonuses of clarity and dynamic range missing from the original stereodisc issue.

This Ravel collection—subtly inflected if not, perhaps, choice performances of everything—has been subjected to "Ambient Surround Imaging" (AMSI for short). DGG tell us it was "developed at the Emil Berlinerhaus, Hanover...an optimized sensurround sound experience for audio surround systems. But with stereo systems you can also experience greater presence, more brilliance and a stereophonically refined panorama of sound." In other words, a latterday version of what Sony (when it was still CBS) tried to do with Carmina burana in Cleveland with Michael Tilson Thomas guest-conducting, back when "quad" was the newest buzzword coined to goose a stagnant market. RCA did the same thing to Charles Gerhardt's "Film Classics" series, albeit second-hand instead of on-the-spot, while London/Decca dabbled madly with something called "Phase 4" that was deep-sixed and the performances (those worth preserving) were remastered in conventional analog stereo.

So what is the difference between "quad" and "audio surround" systems to this fossil-age stereophile since 1957, without plans to change? Nothing I heard from AMSI above mezzo-forte seduced my ears or caused my credit cards to quiver. At double-forte levels on my main rig, Boston's elegantly silvery strings were unrecognizable as such—in fact damn close to computer-generated sound. Character and body have been messed with, genetically as it were, and the only bonus seems to be a Total Timing of 72:47 priced to compete with Naxos.

For the hell of it, I tried this on my computer (ESS Audio Drive; Koss HD-50 speakers) and it sounded even worse as the music got louder. The end of La valse became the end of that experiment. There are performances galore of this repertoire in Schwann Opus Volume 12, and many are superb! You'll pay more, and may have to hunt for the best of them in cutout stores or on the net, but they're out there for the having, some of them for cherishing.

DGG's "Eloquence" label is worse than a merchandising misnomer; if this disc is typical, it is an oxymoron.

R.D. (Aug. 2001)