|Review by jeff3948 August 30, 2014 (8 of 8 found this review helpful)
|Hindemith Comparison Neschling/BIS vs Stern/Reference Recordings
I just bought and received directly from Reference Recording the "Miraculous Metamorphoses" SACD (which contains Hindemith's Metamorphosen Hindemith, Prokofiev, Bartok - Stern ). Since I already have Hindemith's Metamorphosen on a BIS SACD I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the two performances and recordings of just this piece on each of these two SACDs.
Neschling takes a slightly more intense and exciting interpretation of Metamorphosen than does Stern. But these two conductors were more similar than different on this score. I found Neschling's interpretation a little more compelling, interesting, and satisfying than Stern's, but Stern's is still very good. Neither of these interpreters quite give the bite, humor, energy or excitement that Bloomberg, Levi, Kubelik, Milton Katims, or Bernstein brought to this score. Both orchestras play beautifully. The major difference I found was the recording quality.
For the first time in the past 30 years of listening to recordings by Reference Recordings, I was a little disappointed. "Prof" Johnson (the recording engineer for this and other original Reference Recordings) usually has great bass response and general orchestral detail and managers to balance the string and winds to the rest of the orchestra very well. Unfortunately, in this case, he emphasizes the bass drum, string basses a little too much, because they tend to over power the strings and winds. The strings, winds, and at times the brass tend to sound too distant. It sounds as if I'm sitting in the upper balcony in the last row, and detail and stereo pinpointing suffers because of the more distant microphone technique, were as the BIS recording sounds like I'm close to the front seat on the main floor and it has more detail and stereo separation. But here is the interesting thing, even though the BIS recording sounds closer and is better balanced, the orchestra in the Reference Recording is spread wider yet still sounds more distant except for the string basses and bass drum, very odd and unrealistic. Also, I must note that if I turn the volume up more for the Reference Recording, the balance does become a little better. One particularly frustrating section in the Reference Recording comes in the 4th movement March where the strings begin a pizzicato. One can only hear the violin pizzicato occasionally during the loud passages otherwise they are drowned out at any volume level, but in the BIS recording the pizzicato can be clearly heard throughout the pizzicato passage. Also the timpani sound particularly muddled in the Reference Recording, but in the BIS recording the timpani sounds much more life like. In the Reference Recording the bass drum, and string bass notes are a little too loud. The BIS engineer, Ingo Petry, has struck a much better balanced between strings, winds, brass, and percussion. BIS has captured the strings particularly well and they shimmer just like they should, Reference Recording strings are too soft as are the winds. Both recordings capture nice hall reverberation with Reference Recording's being warmer and BIS being a little brighter and more detailed. Reference Recordings gives more hall reverb from the rear speakers than does BIS which is characteristic of the two. (FYI - BIS seems to have lost the snare drum in the March or my ears are deceiving me)
Both recordings are satisfying and there are things I like and dislike in both. I would give BIS a slight edge over the Reference Recording Metamorphosen, because Neschling's interpretation is slightly more interesting and exciting and the recording is generally more detailed. Also, I like the feeling of being closer to the orchestra and I like to hear inner details, both of these things BIS does a slightly better job at. The Reference Recording version is a little too distant for the strings and winds compared to the BIS. I do like the warmth and reverberation of the Reference Recording. I'm keeping both recordings.
BIS = 4 stars performance and 4-1/2 stars for Multi-channel Recording
Reference Recordings = slightly below 4 stars for performance (but still 4 stars) and 4 stars for Multi-channel Recording
(as soon as SA-CD.NET allows reviews on the Reference Recording, I'll post it there as well: Hindemith, Prokofiev, Bartok - Stern)
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