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Category:    Home > Reviews > Jazz > Instrumental > Standards > Rock > Pop > Classical > Opera > Ballet > Documentary > Politics > Cuba > Leslie Pintchik: True North (2016/Pintch Hard CD)/Naxos SA-CD/SACD/Super Audio CDs: Aaron Copland: Billy The Kid - Rodeo; Colorado Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton (2015)/Andrers Hillborg: Sirens (201

Leslie Pintchik: True North (2016/Pintch Hard CD)/Naxos SA-CD/SACD/Super Audio CDs: Aaron Copland: Billy The Kid - Rodeo; Colorado Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton (2015)/Andrers Hillborg: Sirens (2015)/Allan Pettersson: Symph. No 12/Lyndberg (2015 2-disc set, all BIS Records)/Prokofiev: Symph Nos 4, 6 & 7/Piano Concertos Nos 4 & 5/Gergiev (2015/Mariinsky)/Tchaikovsky: The Seasons/Grand Sonata - Kempf (2015, BIS Records)/Secundaria (2013/First Run DVD)

Picture: C Sound: B/B B- C+/B+ B B-/B B- C+/B B- C+/B B- C+/C+ Extras: C- Main Programs: B/B-/B-/B-/B-/B-/C+

Here's our latest round of music releases, including an increasingly rare listen to some quality audio-only releases.

The latest album by a Jazz composer/pianist who has become a favorite of mine has arrived. Leslie Pintchik: True North (2016) this time out offers ten tracks, including Pintchik originals Let's Get Lucky, Tumbleweed, Just Sayin', Crooked As A Dog's Hind Leg, Discreet and the title song. This continues an almost instrumental stream of thought for her and the new works are always fresh and welcome to hear, like a gift package you get to open up every year or so. We also get a clever cover of John Lennon's overplayed Imagine, the standard Falling In Love Again, the theme from the 1963 Stanley Donen/Audrey Hepburn/Cary Grant thriller Charade (by Henry Mancini) and a live recording of For All We Know, the J. Fred Coots/Sam M. Lewis standard made a big pop hit by The Carpenters and really delivered in a few truly underrated versions by Dame Shirley Bassey.

Of course, there are no vocals here and they don't need them, because the playing is so naturalistic, skillful, fun and joyful. I hear more music than I get to write about, but Pintchik's recordings are some of the smoothest out there and I highly recommend this as another gem in her remarkable catalog.

Now that we have looked at and listened to our first 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray releases with more to come, it struck me as ironic that there was now a video format that really matched the best audio out there 15 years later. Before you had lossless DTS and Dolby sound for films, TV and concerts, you had the highly advanced audio format Super Audio CD (aka SA-CD or SACD) and despite not catching on like its video counterparts, it has found enough of an audience to continue production, even if a few key titles have been discontinued and many are limited editions as we see often on Blu-ray. Miss Pintchik has issued work in the format (among others) that were great and now, we have five new releases by the Classical Music distributor Naxos to consider.

Unlike the CDs we covered from them about a month ago, all the recordings are brand new, though definitely, amazing, even stunning 5.1 & 5.0 SA-CDs have come from albums going back to the 1960s (The Who's original Tommy is still stunning, see our review elsewhere on this site). This time, we have five releases that are very good, but all come up just a bit short of excellent for their own reasons despite the many good thanks that work in them.

Aaron Copland: Billy The Kid - Rodeo by The Colorado Symphony Orchestra with Andrew Litton conducting (2015) is a pretty decent, traditional rendering of the classic instrumentals we still hear played often today. Of course, when I listened to this one, Keith Emerson of Emerson, lake & Palmer had passed away and his trio had done a great Progressive rock version of Rodeo that became one of their signature pieces live. This is not as Rock-oriented and one would not expect that, but even for the version attempted, I wished it had a little more pep. Still, nice to hear it in 5.0 and it is worth a listen.

Andrers Hillborg: Sirens (2015) includes four tracks that conclude with the title instrumental composition, but it starts with the Beast Sampler, then moves on to two pieces: O dessa Ogon with vocals by soprano Hannah Holgersson and the all-instrumental orchestral Cold Heat. Miss Holgersson joins fellow soprano Ida Falk Winland on the final title track as well conducted by no less than Esa-Pekka Salonen. Sakari Oramo conducted the first two tracks and David Zinman the third. This is the work I was least familiar with and it is a nice disc, the best of the SA-CD releases overall and the one I would start with if you were interested in tackling the releases in this group.

Allan Pettersson: Symph. No 12 (2015) conducted by Christian Lindberg with the Norrkoping Symphony Orchestra has the entire work the only piece here at 66:46 and plays as a solid representation of the work of the late composer. It is good, but a little long for me and a few parts just don't do it for me. Otherwise, this is a fine work worth your time.

Prokofiev: Symph Nos 4, 6 & 7 + Piano Concertos Nos 4 (Alexei Volodin on piano) & 5 (Sergei Babayan on piano, all 2015) is here with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra. He has previously impressed us with his Les Troyens Blu-ray we covered at this link...


Though not quite as good, this is still pretty good at capturing the legendary composers works here, but it just misses playing as definitive for me. More surprising is that the first disc is just over 81 minutes, rare for any part of the CD format, leaving SA-CD 2 at 72:22, so you sure get your money's worth making this the longest offering on the list.

Incredibly, we've never covered these key works before, but we did catch Piano Concerto No. 3 and you can read more about it at this link...


Tchaikovsky: The Seasons + Grand Sonata (2015) pairs one of the composers most famous works with one that might not be as much, but pianist Freddy Kempt does a fine job here, though taking on one of the most famous instrumentals of all time was not going to be easy. The result is that he is good here, but it is not always definitive and is arguably not supposed to be. Still, he is very talented and I hope we come across his work again soon.

Ironically, the only other time we covers The Seasons was on SA-CD a while ago sat this link...


Mary Jane Doherty's Secundaria (2013) is an interesting documentary that starts as a simple one about ballet in Cuba a few years ago. It looks at the lives of the young people working hard to be in the artform as we have seen in many (and a few memorable, recent) releases, but this takes an interesting turn (Spoiler Alert, to some extent!!!) when one of the dancers defects to the United States! Of course, you immediately wonder what happened to her and this is already 3+ years old. Still, I wanted more exposition and interviews before that twist and we did not get them, so outside of that unplanned shocker, this is not as good as many such documentaries on ballet. However, now it is a curio and is worth a look for more than just ballet fans or those interested in Cuba.

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the documentary was shot on basic digital video which looks like standard HD at best, but it has its share of location flaws and is softer overall than I would have liked. The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on Secundaria has location audio issues, come in the most compressed format and thus, is going to be the sonically poorest release here.

The PCM 2.0 16/44.1 Stereo on North is more proof that Pintchik and company understand the needs of seriously good recording. In the recoding, mixing and mastering, her every recording is solid and now more than ever, far above the auto-tune-no-talent pop hits that have never been so disposable. Her support of higher fidelity formats put her ahead of her time and I bet this would shine even more that way, but the CD is among that rare list of releases in the older format that sounds so good, too-rare recordings like this have keep the format alive more than it might be otherwise. Nice!

On all five SA-CD releases, we get three choices for playback, the maximum the format can offer: DSD (lossless Direct Stream Digital) 5.0 mixes (oddly, none are 5.1), DSD 2.0 Stereo and PCM 2.0 16/44.1 Stereo. Needless to say all the 5.1 mixes are superior, but Sirens is the superior multi-channel mix with it depth, detail and articulation that puts it just above its still-viable counterparts. Some were originally recorded in PCM sound, so the DSD is showing their flaws and limits. All have some demo moments, but Sirens is just that one step above the format was famous for early, even over the many releases in its now-dead DVD-Audio (with a capital 'A'; both were meant to replace CDs, but the music labels (to their infinite regret) did not back a single format) with a soundstage that has a truly live feel you want to listen to again and again.

Extras on all six music-only releases include informative booklets on each release, while Secundaria includes text bios and a Photo Gallery, but with Cuba opening up again, an updated featurette would be a great idea (obviously).

- Nicholas Sheffo


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