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Reviews: Saint-Saens: Symphony No. 3, Debussy: La Mer - Munch

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Reviews: 9

Review by fotodan September 18, 2004 (4 of 13 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Be very careful when you play the *2-track SACD version* of "Escales". There is a pronounced rumble that pulsates so strongly at times that I thought I'd better stop the disc before I blew a subwoofer cone. And the sound of the orchestra is very diffuse and cloudy. This is the only disc I've heard in the RCA Living Stereo SACD release that's not up to snuff. I'm returning it to the store. . . .

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Review by sgb October 9, 2004 (5 of 20 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I didn't think much of this one from the sonic perspective either. If there is any truth to what I've read elsewhere on the internet about the Saint-Saëns portion having been produced from a newly-found 3-track tape, RCA would have been well-advised to use what they had for this album when they released the Living Stereo CD back in the 1990's.

So as not to sway my own opinion about this one's merits, I copied the 2nd and 4th movements on the SACD's CD layer as well as the earlier CD onto a single CDR, then played them in random order on my SA-14. By doing so, I was, in effect, doing a double blind test. Inasmuch as the differences were many, it was an easy task to then listen to the CDR again knowing which was the DSD and which was the original PCM. The results were that I found a harshness to both the CD and the SACD, but that the DSD exacerbated the problem.

I cannot say whether or not this results from having used a different tape or not, but I can say that the older CD is slightly preferable from a macro perspective. There are some superiorities to the SACD, but none of them sufficiently outweighs its distractions.

I must say that in consideration of this release, the single most worthy point I can make about the majority of transfers of vintage analog to DSD/SACD I have heard is that the engineers who are performing this work are their own worst enemies. I would imagine that many younger audiophiles who have never had the good fortune to hear the early shaded dog LP versions of these recordings would call into question the hearing abilities of their predecessors. They would be wrong. As a whole, these sound nothing like the shaded dogs. They have only a little of their musical soul hinting at what their hobbyist ancestors prized so highly no blood, no real sense of dynamics. As with most transfers of vintage analog, I find that despite the digital capability to offer greater ranges, we get more compression instead. Listening to these recordings and then thinking that they might adequately provide a sense of what the master tapes might sound like would be akin to looking at a famous painting in a dimly-lit art gallery through dark sunglasses. Caveat Emptor.

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Review by Monteverdi October 13, 2004 (10 of 12 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
It is a thrill to have the Saint-Saens performance on SACD in its original three-channel, unsurpassed performance glory. It is, for someone who has lived with this recording from the first vinyl release, a thrill beyond words to have it now in Super Audio. I recently heard this piece for during the dedication performances of the new organ at Walt Disney Concert Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic lead by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Certainly, no recording can duplicate the experience or aural splendor of hearing this symphony live. And as wonderful as it was, Charles Munch in this 1959 recording is still able to bring more glory, sensuality and abandon to this music. The SACD betters the JVC remastering of a few years back, with more brilliance and air. This is truly a landmark performance. Also, hearing it live revealed that the organ can and does, save the brass, completely obliterate the orchestra during the final page of the work. Richard Mohr and Lewis Layton were able to balance the organ by moving the orchestra out from the stage and onto a platform over the seats. As you can hear, it was a brilliant solution.
Dating from December 9 & 10, 1956, La Mer and Escales are less sonically brilliant, but no less satisfying as performances, full of enthusiasm and commitment.
The sonic issues others seemed to have experienced were not in evidence on my copy.
©AE 2004

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Review by regnaD kciN November 26, 2004 (18 of 20 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I utterly fail to understand sgb's review. This record (at least the Saint-Saens portion of it) has been a favorite of mine since the original LP. I think I have owned a copy of every version ever released on black or silver disc, most re-releases of which have diminished the sonic experience in one way or another. This SACD is the FIRST re-release I've yet heard give a full taste of the sonic glories of the original "shaded dog," and quickly earns a place on my "desert island" list.

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Review by thepilot November 28, 2004 (10 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This is another fabulous transfer of the original Living Stereo master tapes, and the sound quality is quite sensational. The sound quality is as good as the Ravel Daphnis and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra Living Stereo SACD's, and the performance now sounds better than ever, thanks to the added resolution of the DSD format. Munch conducts the symphony and Debussy's La Mer better than any other conductor. An essential disc and along with the Ravel and the Bartok, the best SACD in the RCA Living Stereo catalogue.

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Review by ~~Phil~~ March 1, 2005 (7 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
The Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 is the real reason to buy this SACD...Great depth and understanding of this piece are fully evident under the direction of Mr. Munch....I think it quite nearly deserves a 5 star rating on its own....Unfortunatley the "La Mer" is not quite the performance - very good, yes - just not great, IMHO...Sonically speaking this above average - especially when you consider it is nearly a 50 year old recording!!!...Finally, after a few rotations - this is a fine addition to any sacd collection...

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Review by Ivymike July 30, 2005 (7 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
First: I can still remember the evening I played this recording in its original Shaded Dog vinyl. I fully expected the entrance of the organ in the fourth movement (or second half of the second movement if you prefer) to be compressed and rolled off. I recall equally well flying for the volume control when the room started shaking...

The original RCA Living Stereo CD from 1993 always mystified me. I liked the performance but the sound was just not of legendary status. It was okay, but nothing more. Then the we find out that the transfer was from a two-track, later generation safety master. The sound was always a bit opaque to me, a bit foggy, and there was distortion on the fff entrance of the organ mentioned above.

This SACD has been (if one believes the liner notes) transferred from the three-track master that was apparently misfiled at RCA for years. I don't know for sure if this is true or not but one thing is clear to me: the sound on the SACD is definitely superior to that on the original CD. The veiled, opaque quality is missing now; the treble seems more open. The entrance of the organ mentioned above is without distortion and is absolutely thrilling--keep the volume down if you value your lease! The dynamic range of the second half of the last movement is of reference quality; like some of the better Mercury 35 mm transfers the levels get higher and higher without obvious strain or distortion and it's almost scary, a true tribute to the art of high fidelity recording. Bravo, Lewis Layton! Some subtlety in the stereo imaging has been lost, probably due to concerns with miking such an ambitious piece, but it doesn't make much difference in the end.

The other recordings of the works by Debussy are, in my opinion, not regarded highly enough. The sound is somewhat thinner, but still of excellent quality and of similar high dynamic range.

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Review by chopchip September 3, 2010 (4 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
i think the cd version sounds better than the sacd one on this disc. and the channels are mixed up. in sacd 3 channels version the center and right channels are switched around and in the stereo version the channels are switched. really good performance of the symphony but strange cd

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Review by Kapharios December 8, 2011 (3 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
What a marvel. This CD sounds so good, it's hard to believe it was done in the 1950s. The recording of La Mer has so much energy, and the audio quality is incredibly clear. That extra, center channel makes such a difference! The Saint-Saens is another wonderfully balanced recording; both are examples of that old BSO sound, with lots of honesty and also quite accurate technically! Particularly loved the flute, oboe and trumpet solos in La Mer.

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