Review by Jonalogic November 21, 2011 (11 of 18 found this review helpful)
|Oh dear, this is a truly wondrous performance, but manifested in notably poor sound. At least Polyhymnia is consistent when it comes to the sonic characteristics of its RCO Live recordings.
This is a quite wonderful and deeply intense performance of Shostakovich's enigmatic last symphony, stunningly sensitively played. It's even better than his already superb - and justly praised - recording of the piece with the LPO. I am in agreement with HF, therefore, that this is probably the best Shostakovich 15th performance on disc.
The second and final movements, in particular, are quite majestic in their brooding intensity.* And, needless to say, the playing of the RCO is impeccable throughout. In fact, Haitink gets under the skin of Shostakovich better than anyone since Mravinsky.
But that's where the good news ends, together with my agreeement with HF, I'm afraid.
Health warning - I report here what I hear on my system. What you hear, and how tolerant you are of some of these issues, is your own business.
PCM, DSD or whatever; it's all irrelevant here, because it's Polyhymnia's approach to miking that I hold responsible for the problems heard here. I might dub this recording as an abject lesson in how not to mike an orchestra - in the Concertgebouw or anywhere else, for that matter. What a waste of its wondrous acoustic.
Multi-miking can be done well, as we know, but this is certainly not an example of the breed. There is some blatant spot-lighting in evidence here, with each soloist and group separately miked in its own fake bubble of air and swung backwards and forward in the mix whenever required. This is particularly noticeable, because the piece has many exposed solo passages, which are clearly at odds - sonically - with the tutti.
Frankly, this sounds very much like the same approach used by Phillips Classics for over 40 years, albeit with much refined analogue electronics in the signal path, and the benefits of DSD recording.
Focus is very poor, with considerable vertical and horizontal 'smear' to the instrumental groups - for example, low brass manages to subtend a blob encompassing 40 degress in the stage. That's just silly. Moreover, the dynamic range is severely constrained by some pretty obvious dab hands on the mixers. As a result, climaxes underwhelm. Sloppy, and pretty inexcusable gain riding in this day and age.
There is no spatial or temporal coherence at all to the sound or stage. And it's tonally thin in the mid-range, albeit smooth up top. Bass is spongy and under-damped- again, a frequent Polyhymnia/Pentatone characteristic.
Yep, it's bad.
Get it for the great performance, by all means; you will certainly not be disappointed - but you might consider ripping the CD layer to MP3 and listening on headphones - that way you won't be able to tell the sound is quite so amateurishly crappy.
Needless to say, it pains me to be the bearer of such mixed tidings.
* PS - one effect of this pacing is that the performance weighs in at 47m, the longest I have heard. But it never drags. Still, 47m is pretty poor for an SACD. There is no fillup.
PPS - bugger it, have now added this as a review. Even though it will surely get me accused of audio fascism/ purism/ being a congenital liar/ prima donna/ serial British bomber of innocent Libyan babies/ being a clever clogs/ overweening arrogance/ being a shareholder in 8-track cartridges/ stone deaf/ centre of the universe/ ritual killer of Christian babies/ closet Wall Street Derivative trader etc.
And, yes, I admit, any recording with more than one transistor in the signal path or more than two strictly Blumlein-configured mikes makes my ears bleed and gives me seizures. And I further admit to only listening to a total of three commercial all-valve Blumlein recordings, made by a Patagonian goat-botherer called Pedro for the litle-known 'Ay Caramba' label. I play them on continuous loop, eschewing all others.
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