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Reviews: Bach: The Six Cello Suites - Casals

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Reviews: 1

Review by Joseph Ponessa December 12, 2011 (10 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
People have been asking whether the 101 SACD releases from the EMI vaults are better sonically than the prior RBCD releases. I can answer now for several of the releasesóCasals' pioneering recording of the Bach Cello Suites from the 1930's, Walter Gieseking's recording of Debussy's Preludes from 1953/54, and Schwarzkopf's recording of Strauss's Four Last Words from 1965. In each case, I have compared the new imports with the Great Recordings of the Century CDs, and found qualitative improvements:
I always found the CD of the Bach Suites to be harsh listening, and the new SACD has overcome that hurdle to pass the threshold of listenability. There still is some pitch fluctuation, but the resonance is now truly that of a cello. I have not compared the SACD with the LP set that I have in the basement. Of course, the LP will have surface noise, but the SACD also has audible tape hiss. That is a sign that there has not been any scrubbing of the sound, and so the musicality of the recording has been preserved. The recording is mono, and that is fine with me, because a solo instrument hardly needs 5.1 microphones. Elsewhere I gave a positive review of Tortelier's tour-de-force performing all six suites live in 1990, and found that the sensible microphone placement made the mono sound of that release preferable to my ears than most stereo recordings of these pieces.
Gieseking's recording of the Debussy Preludes is also mono, but coming from two decades later has much less tape hiss. The pianistic qualities of the recording are much enhanced on the SACD release, over that of the GROTC CD. The recording no longer stands in the way of the performance. Sixty years later this set still holds a prominent place in the catalogue, and this remastering makes that likely to remain the case.
Szell conducted Schwarzkopf in stereo, in the lush Four Last Songs of Strauss, and the GROTC CD was very fine already. The soprano seems to sing with greater ease on the SACD, and there is less congestion in the orchestral passages, but the sonic improvement is not as great as in the case of the other two, mono recordings.
Extrapolating from these releases, and proposing a gross generalization, it would seem that the older the recording, the more benefit has been obtained from the SACD remastering. Casals benefited the most, Gieseking very much, and Schwarzkopf to a real degree. That seems to confirm, as the Furtwängler releases have already demonstrated, that the old mono archives contain many treasures that deserve high-resolution mastering. One does not regret purchasing these three discs; one only regrets not being able to afford the 98 others.

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