Site review by ramesh June 28, 2009
|Review of both the SACD and bluray discs in stereo.
I very much enjoyed the earlier Mozart/Grieg SACD from this source, finding the recording exemplary and the performances as fine as the Sviatoslav Richter/ Leonskaja CD of similar repertoire.
The lavish new 2L production contains a hybrid multichannel SACD and a bluray. The performances were recorded in an Oslo church in 24 bit 352.8 kHz. The SACD contains the customary DSD transfer of the digital source. The bluray contains both a DTS 5.1 PCM channel 24 bit/192 kHz section and a PCM 24 bit 192 kHz dedicated stereo section. 24 bit 192 kHz PCM digital is the maximum under the bluray standard. The dedicated stereo mix on bluray is superior to DVD-A, for which the stereo signal was usually derived, in the DVD player, as a downmix from the multichannel tracks.
Artistically, the performances are superb. The programming moves naturally from Mozart's great sonata for two pianos, to Grieg's turbo-romantic arrangement of the Mozart C minor fantasy, [ however, without the associated sonata in C minor with which it is usually paired]. The recital concludes with a work unfamiliar to me, a Grieg work for two pianos. This was also orchestrated by the composer.
As I commented in my review of the earlier Mozart/Grieg 2L disc, the Dena piano duo offer vibrant and technically polished performances, with less extreme tempi compared to the heavyweight Russian duo on Teldec's CD. The andante of the sonata is kept as an andante, whereas Sviatoslav Richter often preferred a more deliberate speed in Mozart's slow movements, especially in the pianist's later years. The music is allowed to speak for itself, without any expressive underlining. The church acoustic, as recorded, is ideal. It is neither dry like the 1990s Teldec CD, nor over-reverberant. Grieg has lodged the Mozart fantasy in Peer Gynt's Hall of the Mountain KIng. Here I suspect the piano duo's slower speeds compensate for Grieg's thicker, hammier harmonics. This arrangement is interesting to hear a couple of times, though doubtless Mozarteans will feel it more than encroaches on avuncular lugubriousness.
The sound is of demonstration quality on SACD. In stereo, each separate piano is distinct, whilst at the same time contributing to a merged, wide and deep sound field.
I played the bluray's stereo layer on my relatively new Sony BDP 350. This is the entry-level player in Sony's current line up, with stereo-only on-board decoding. Despite its cheapness [ less than cost of the analogue interconnects I utilise ], its CD audio performance has generally garnered favourable reviews, placing its analogue audio decoding nearly par with dedicated CD players its price bracket.
The bluray disc took the same time to load as other blurays. Whereas DVD-As generally required a video monitor for navigation, I could access the stereo tracks of the bluray without any need for the TV. Once the bluray started playing, I could access the other tracks quickly, though not as fast as on a CD player.
Although the Sony player's analogue outs are compromised by the Barbie-doll casing robustness and the other usual price point compromises, I was pleasantly surprised by the sound, when run through the same set-up as my SACD and CD players. In terms of harmonic richness, the stereo bluray PCM layer was significantly superior to the CD layer of the SACD played through my CD player, a unit which originally cost fifteen times the price of the Sony, and which does not need to pass through a preamp and its associated set of additional interconnects. Compared to the SACD, the latter was superior, avoiding the tinge of digital hardness which is endemic to mass market disc players. However, as the numbers of audiophile grade bluray players are minuscule, and this situation is further hamstrung by the almost universal region coding restrictions of bluray players, this comparison is valid taking into account consumer realities. [ Music-only blurays such as this issue, and music/video blurays are generally non region coded]
Furthermore, I compared the stereo tracks of the 2L production to the stereo tracks of my classical music blurays. All these other discs are live productions, with varying production compromises for this reason. This 2L music bluray was clearly the best sounding of the lot.