|Review by drdanfee November 27, 2006 (12 of 13 found this review helpful)
|Davis, BSO: Tchaikovsky, Sibelius: Lotta Fun, Waaay Musical
Since their first release in vinyl, all way back when, these performances of Tchaikovsky and Sibelius have proved themselves, and then some.
For starters you have the elegant and venerable musicians of the BSO playing with polish and verve under one of their main former Principal Guest Conductors, Sir Colin Davis.
The disc starts off with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. The version we have here is the one with chorus added, though not with the real live cannon shots from Fort Somewhere added by the old Telarc wowie zowie in the early days of digital masters for vinyl grooves.
John Oliver’s chorus – the disc cover says BSO Chorus, but I seem to remember that this may as well have been the Tanglewood Festival Chorus – musters weight en masse, along with finesse and electricity. I cannot comment on their Russian, say, as compared with the Kiev Chorus under Eric Kunzel’s Cincinnati Telarc Remake. But their festive presence adds to and offsets the masterful command of the Boston Symphony, all yielding a sense of special occasion that does this overture proud, occasional genre piece that it is. Drums in surround sound ambience stand in for the real live cannon shots, but the effect is still fun, fun, fun, and more fun.
In the Boston celebration of the USA Bicentennial, I lounged on the rooftops of an apartment building in Beacon Hill with the Charles parkway wending beneath us, while we all psyched ourselves up to stare in bewitched country bumpkin wonder at the millions of dollars worth of elaborate fireworks being shot from barges that floated in the Charles, while the Boston Pops fired up the overture to very good effect.
This surround sound performance doesn’t match the chemically enhanced visuals of that celebration, but it will do just fine, nonetheless. What other USA orchestra could conceivably equal the tonal sheen of the BSO? Philadelphia, fall back into line with dear Cleveland.
After the flash of the opening 1812 overture, we get the pulsing, yearning embrace of that other, better overture, dedicated to the romance of Romeo and Juliet. All sensuous fire, all still elegant. It was fine when it first got released on vinyl, and it is really fine, now, in four channels of sumptuous surround sound.
The only better recorded performance of Romeo and Juliet I know is the zinger done under visiting conductor Claudio Abbado with the BSO in simply amazing mettle. So far as published, that one wasn’t captured in surround sound, but if you find it in a used bin somewhere, snap it up. Meanwhile, sit back and let this one remind you what a fabulous melodist the composer was, uncannily fresh, eternally wise and young at the same time.
Then the disc moves to Sibelius. We get the tone poem, Pohjola’s Daughter, full of that unfathomable dark northern forest mysticism and legend, springing right from the Finnish epic, Kalevala. The sheer depth and color of the orchestral fabric continues to fascinate, both as sound and as music. Conductor Colin Davis is unerring in his pacing of this Sibelius gem, beginning to middle to end. Like his complete set of the seven symphonies, this is just Primo Stuff, speaking Nordically as it were.
Finally the disc finishes up with so-called lesser Sibelius, passing on to Valse triste and the Karelia suite. Are these diminished in musical value, played to the nines as they are played, here? Listen and make up your own ears.
The invisible stars of this recording must include the pioneering surround sound engineers who ventured into this Quad territory, long before Quad had found a reliable and practical home carrier, not to mention a home system to play it. Bravo. Neither can we omit a cheer for the enduring air and balance and warmth offered by the deservedly famous venue of Boston’s Symphony Hall. This hall must be one of the oldest USA venues still in use, and so, Bravo again.
Interested in further displays of this conductor with this orchestra? Take a look at the SACD quad disc of the BSO doing Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony.
But back to this disc.
Five stars for wowie fun. Five stars for musical value, lotta musical value. Five stars for quad surround sound that temporarily turns your room into Symphony Hall, Boston. And don’t forget the fun, either. While you are at it, check out the quad refurbished disc of Stokowski leading the LSO in Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini and the Serenade for Strings. You know, just so this lovely single disc won’t get too lonely on your fav shelf.
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