Review by Joseph Ponessa October 17, 2013 (7 of 7 found this review helpful)
|I have received my first two classical Universal BD-A's and am not impressed. The main characteristic of Karajan's Beethoven Ninth and Kaufmann's Wagner album is that they are loud. Kaufmann is so loud that it sounds like the microphones were placed on his epiglottis. He may be singing Siegfried, but he sounds more like the Dragon. I do not have a CD of that album with which to compare, but I can make some comparisons of the Beethoven, which I have owned on LP, CD, CD box set, SACD and now BD-A.
The LP is acclaimed as one of the finest presentations of the Ninth Symphony ever. Although I recently dispossessed myself of 90% of my LPs, I could not part with the Karajan Beethoven cycle from the 1970's. Not only is the vinyl well pressed, the enclosed glossy booklet has fine articles along with a listing of all the members of the Berlin Philharmonic who were present for the recording sessions.
Last night I listened to the Ninth from the CD box set, and was struck with what a good job of mastering was done for that release. The music really propelled with a sense of dynamism and rhythm, gathering steam as it went. The final track shows both the voices and the orchestra to advantage, with little congestion in the loud and busy passages.
I compared the stereo and multi-channel audio of the SACD and found, to my surprise, that some different takes are incorporated into the multi-channel audio. The engineer, Gernot von Schultzendorff, obviously had access to multiple master tapes, and for the multi-channel chose what could best be adapted for that format. Listen to the beginning of the second movement on both stereo and mch, and you will see what I mean. The stereo goes TOOT-toot, TOOT-ta-toot, TOOT-toot-toot. The mch goes TOOT-ta-toot, TOOT-ta-toot, TOOT-toot-toot. These are different takes, and the mch is more faithful to the score.
What this tells us is that the mch is not just an electronically dispersed version of the stereo, but a remix with access to good, even better source materials.
I note that the reviewers on this site panned the disc, with 3.5 stars for performance (quite a lower estimation than the 4.5 stars on Amazon), and only 2.5 stars for sonics. Only one of the reviewers explicitly referred to the mch sound, and his review was higher. The principal objection was that the sound volume was set low for the release, but when turned up a bit the speaker separation on the mch is quite delicate and sublime.
I will be posting these comments on the page for the SACD release, but I thought I should put them here too for people who are interested in BD-A as such. If the SACD was volumed low, the BD-A is volumed much higher. The result is less sublime, more garish. In checking the beginning of the second movement, which is my reference point for all Beethoven's Ninths, I find that the BD-A matches the stereo tracks of the SACD. In other words, it represents the less successful of the two mixes on the SACD. Someone who listens in mch will want the SACD; someone who listens in stereo may find the CD, stereo SACD and BD-A options each having their own qualities. I find the CD fine, the SACD stereo not that much better, and the BD-A an awkward disappointment. If this is the way Universal engineers today are treating one of the great Beethoven Ninths of all time, what likelihood is there that they will know what to do with the other titles expected to come through the chute?
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