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Category:    Home > Reviews > Ravel - Bolero (SACD/Mobile Fidelity)

Ravel’s Bolero – Stanislaw Skrowaczewski   (Super Audio Compact Disc)


Music: A+     PCM CD: B+     DSD Stereo: A     DSD Multi-Channel: A+     Extras: C



Maurice Ravel was a French composer, and one of the few that could combine melody in such a way that reached right to the heart.  His compositions contain some of the most advanced harmonic writings.  His ability to use harmonic shift, yet balance out the melodies and tonal expressions are matched by very few, especially being a composer going through the turn of the 20th Century.  Only Claude Debussy might be a fair equal. 


Obviously Ravel’s music was an important part of the first half of the 20th Century bringing to mind a period in time prior to both World Wars, and a time when music was hopeful, sensual, erotic, and at the same time intoxicating.  In November of 1974, one of the most important recordings took place.  That would be Stanislaw Skrovaczewkski’s and the Minnesota Orchestra’s recording of Ravel, which was released in 1975 by Vox.  The recording took place in Minnesota (University of Minnesota), which is a better choice than Carnegie Hall, which is not particularly a good place for microphone recording, despite its amazing acoustic design.  At this time, quadraphonic recordings were becoming popular, so this piece had always been though of with some sort of surround setting to capture the actual live performance.  Therefore, microphones were situated near the front and rear of the hall in order to have the discrete channels capture some ambience from different distances.  The choir was placed at the rear of the hall singing towards the stage, which meant that the sound was coming from the front and rear and meeting in the middle.  Cardioid microphones (heart-shaped pattern that picks up sound from all directions, except behind) were placed near the rear of the hall, while four omni-directional microphones were placed across the stage.


Already, we understand that this recording was one of a kind, and it is no wonder that it has always been a recording sought after by audiophiles.  Now, this landmark recording is available on yet another format, SACD.  The original master tapes were recorded on 4-track ˝” analog tape, which was initially encoded with both stereo and quadraphonic tracks, but only those with a decoder for the quad tracks could get 4-discreet channels.  The only problem with this though was that the stereo mix had elements from the quad mix, which gave a limited stereo effect by throwing in some of the surround material, making the mix somewhat unbalanced.  With this SACD though, we finally get all 4-channels discretely reproduced. 


Resurrected now for the SACD format by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, with their focus as it had always been, to bring forth the best in sound and bringing the original master recordings to life, it offers demonstration-caliber playback.  This particular SACD takes the DSD signal and using their Gain 2 (Greater Ambient Information Network) mastering system allow for greater precision in the analog-to-digital transfer.  This is also an Ultradisc UHR (Ultra High-Resolution) Hybrid SACD, which preserves the DSD and CD layer and brings forth its sonic integrity, allowing for the best in reproducing a pure capture of the information. 


Indeed there have been many steps taken to deliver this recording with a superb attention to detail and enthusiasm in recreating the original as well as the idea of a live performance.  Take away all the technical jargon and lets just say that this SACD/CD sounds amazing!  Amazing only does some justice.  The CD tracks alone are exemplary, and that’s without experiencing the SACD section. 



Track Listing




Rapsodie espagnole

La Valse


Additional Tracks


Daphnis et Chloe (Suite 2)

Daphnis et Chloe (Suite 2: Segment, Chloe is Accosted) 5.0 mix


Bolero is a standout composition and its presentation on SACD is nothing short of exhilarating and hypnotic.  It is a lesson on swells as the entire piece emerges out of nowhere, like a ghost.  Instruments are added, harmonies introduces, gracefully the song picks up and spreads more sound.  We become infatuated with its grace.  Its unwavering appetite to seduce us, perhaps this is why the song has been so overused in film.  A slave to its design we cannot help but listen on, listening for each detail as the music becomes more intense, but still subtle.  Become louder and louder, with even more instruments coming forth and various arrangements on the main melody.  The percussion is steady, gently coming more into existence as time moves on.  The channels bring this display into its full glory.  Sound moves across the room, dancing like a snake.  Slithering this way, then that, the mood never changes and we are still, just waiting and waiting.  The song is a dance, a dance of life. 


Pavane was written in 1899, and was one of Ravel’s early successes.  It was dedicated to the Princesse de Polignac, which was then played all over in its original piano-only version, which was later upgraded to a orchestral version by Ravel himself.  The piece is certainly nostalgic and fits well with the rest of the sections.  It is moody, but relaxed and brings forth a sadder atmosphere as a follow up to Bolero.  The DSD Multi-Channel and Stereo mixes for this both demonstrate how a quiet piece can still bring forth a strong dynamic range.  Most people assume that only larger, more aggressive pieces can show off a recording, but that is quite untrue.  In fact, the subtlety here is one of the occasions where (if you close your eyes) you never know where the sound is coming from.  The mix is balanced so accurately that the sound never emerges stronger from any direction, therefore the focus is dead center, making the experience quite realistic, if not invigorating.  Pavane is also the shortest selection as well, running only 7-minutes. 


Rapsodie espagnole will instantly make any listener think of some of the arrangements and compositions made for some of the 1950’s melodramas.  However, this selection was originally designed out of Ravels interest in Hispanic things.  Unlike the first two selections this one is more dynamic in nature going from slow and subtle to faster and more intense.  It also incorporates moments and melodies that are very Spanish in nature, which brings to mind some of the ideas that were used on soundtracks to two particular David Lean films, Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965).  What this means is that a certain phrasing or melody line is used randomly through the composition that upon hearing intentionally brings the listener into the culture of that particular piece.  In Lawrence we have melodies that are deliberately Arabic, whereas in Doctor Zhivago we have melodies that are Soviet in their intent.  Rapsodie espagnole certainly moves around, with certain sections calling to mind Ravels interest in the Spanish culture. 


La Valse is the only Waltz here, with its original name being Wien, which means Vienna.  Here we are given a sentimental look at Ravels compositions bringing a very fleeting mood and certainly showing grace with a great deal of dynamic undertones.  This is perhaps the most active selection on this disc, which powerfully penetrates through the mix, either in Stereo or Multi-Channel.


There are two bonus tracks included on this disc.  Daphnis et Chloe (Suite No. 2) runs approximately 17-minutes and then the following track is the segment from Daphnis et Chloe entitled Chloe is Accosted, which runs 4:33.  This segment however is remixed in 5.0 and is the finale movement, which essentially takes the center channel and processes information from the left and right channels in order to make a matrixed center and distributes the information across all front three speakers. 


There are three audio options for this Hybrid SACD.  With a conventional CD player, the disc has a Stereo mix, which is quite good, but nothing quite like the other two options:  DSD Stereo or DSD Multi-Channel.  In Stereo, you are essentially hearing what most heard back in the quadraphonic recording, but without any surround activity.  While this sounds good, the music is never spacious and feels trapped.  Once the Multi-Channel mix is heard, very few listeners will find any need to go back to Stereo.  The Multi-Channel brings life and energy back into each track, with sound escaping from all corners of the room.  Instruments now thrive in the ability to move through the room.  The mix does not seem stuffy, but loose.  More ambience is picked up as well, bringing the listener into Carnegie Hall, or at least close to it.  


Not only are the selections for this disc superb and not only is the actual recording of this material a benchmark in quality, but the combination of those two elements make its appearance on the SACD format a vital disc for anyone interested in higher end audio and recording.  If anyone needed a place to start a serious SACD collection, let it begin here!  The package includes original cover art and liner notes as well as more notations on the recording and mastering.  Information is also given on the conductor and orchestra, plus Ravel background.  Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs is back in action, taking integrity up just another notch the company is sure to flourish with its SACD lineup, what better way to start their multi-channel releases than with this definitive recording of Ravel’s work.



-   Nate Goss


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