Naxos Classical SACDs Wave
# 3 – Kronos Plays Holmgreen, Beethoven Piano Sonatas No’s 1, 2, 3, Beethoven String Quartets, Carlo Ponti/Mussorgsky’s
Pictures at an Exhibition (Penta
Tone), Brahms Symphony No. 4 (Naxos SACDs)
B DSD 2.0: B+
DSD 5.1: A- Extras: B
Kronos Plays Holmgreen B
Beethoven Piano Sonatas A
Beethoven String Quartets A
Pictures at an Exhibition A
Brahm’s Symphony No. 4 A-
previous reviews for the Naxos-distributed (and sometimes produced) SACD
releases, this one took a bit longer, not for any other reason than the simple
fact that I couldn’t stop listening to the material long enough to start
writing! It’s that good. Of course, this particular wave includes some
truly terrific material and in particular one of my favorite works – Pictures at an Exhibition.
our previous coverage of the Naxos catalogue:
get some truly fabulous works, in particular I was interested in the recording
of Pictures at an Exhibition, which features the Russian National Orchestra
under the direction of Carlo Ponti, which raised my curiosity and expectations,
even more so since I own and cherish my SACD copy of this masterpiece released
through Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs under Leonard Slatkin’s guide, this of
course is a recording from 1975, so it’s a bit more dated, but still an
exceptional recording that has stood the test of time and remains one of the
strongest SACDs on the market. The Ponti
recording took place in March of 2008 in Moscow and features Pictures at an Exhibition, plus Night on the Bare Mountain, the
introduction to The Sorochinsky Fair,
and two excerpts from Khovanshchina.
first begin by saying that Mobile Fidelity is not an easy studio to out-do,
they certainly put the finest into their recordings and continue to raise the
bar of excellence. The Slatkin recording
is a fine example of the work that can go into an older recording and bring the
sonics to a whole new level in a format like SACD. That being said, the Naxos release of Pictures is phenomenal. Jaw-dropping.
Astonishing. There are some truly
fine recordings in the world and this one is full of emotion, Ponti’s handling
of the content is calculated, articulate, raw, and passionate. It’s evident by the handling of this
material, especially an orchestral piece that is so demanding. Pictures
goes through such a wide range of emotions from start to finish and its
dynamics are fully realized here. I
would easily say that this recording needs to be in the hands of any serious
classical fan immediately, it’s that good!
such excitement from Mussorgsky I was eager to check out the two Beethoven
pieces, especially since one release was the Piano Sonata’s Op.2 Nos. 1,2,3 and the other release was String Quartet’s Op. 59 No. 1 and Op. 18 No. 6. Mari Kodama is featured here on piano and
this is not her first entry on Naxos, she has several other Piano Sonata’s also
released on SACD from this label. This particular recording took place in early
2008 in the Netherlands Concertboerderij Valthermond with recording producer
Wilhelm Hellweg. Kodama uses a Steinway
& Sons D-274, which is a truly fantastic piano with versatility and
remarkable tonal quality that accurately defines the best of the Piano Sonatas
get to experience the best that SACD has to offer even in a more minimal setting. The piano can often be buried in so many
mixes that feature other instruments; here we get the piano front and center
with all the beauty of its range featured in a recording that finds each and
every nuance of the instrument. Kodama
commands the pieces in excellent fashion with artistry, passion, and a true
love of the material that shines through a wonderful, expressive, and emotional
mix. This is not a mix that is playful,
it’s designed to simply capture the music in such a neutral and natural sense
that it gets out of the way and just lets the music exist.
contrast to this, we have the String
Quartets performed by the Quartetto Italiano, which features Paolo Borciani
(1st violin), Elisa Pegreffi (2nd violin), Piero Farulli
(viola), and Franco Rossi (violoncello), which was recorded in the Musica
Theatre in La Chaux de Fonds Switzerland.
This recording is from 1972 and has a more dated feel, yet is still
surprisingly dynamic and sonically challenging as well, but also busier with
more instruments in the mix and demonstrates some of the advanced writings
Beethoven pieced together for quartets.
Featured here is String Quartet in
F, Op. 59 No. 1 and String Quartet in
B-flat, Op. 18 No. 6. Both
demonstrate some of Beethoven’s finest writing and movements.
Brahm’s Symphony No. 4 is a real highlight too,
especially being from Pittsburgh and this recording featuring the Pittsburgh
Symphony Orchestra. It’s a shame that
much of Brahm’s work is still underappreciated or unknown, but a release like
this brings his name to the forefront where it belongs. In addition to Symphony No. 4 is Hungarian
Dances for Orchestra, which concludes part two of this release
Kronos Plays Holmgreen turns out to be the only
disappointing release out of the bunch, although there is nothing wrong here on
a technical side, but the performance is not exactly up my alley. I really enjoy the Kronos Quartet and have
enjoyed many of their outings, but this one left a lot to be desired. The pieces chosen here are a little too experimental
and abstract for my taste, but that’s just a preference. The SACD shines
through with a truly remarkable mix that encompasses the listener with a full
gamut of genius sound design and mixing.
Featured here is David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank
Dutt (viola), Jeffrey Zeigler (cello), plus Paul Hillier (baritone vocals) and
the Danish National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Thomas Dausgaard, which is
only appropriate for Holmgreen’s material.
Concerto Grosso (for string quartet and symphonic
Moving Still (for baritone and string quartet)
Last Ground (for string quartet and ocean)
previous titles released on SACD from Naxos on various labels, these are hybrid
SACD’s capable of being played on both standard CD players and SACD
players. There are three audio layers,
which feature a CD layer, DSD 2.0 layer, and a multi-channel DSD 5.1
layer. Even the compressed CD layers are
good mixes; in fact I started there for this review and was quite pleased with
the overall performance. There were
times though when the mix definitely showed signs of fatigue and it was evident
that much of the mix was being compromised.
Certain passages sound cluttered and are unable to articulate,
especially when compared to the DSD tracks, which are both exceptional
here. While each of these titles offers
slightly different sonics, the end result is nearly the same. The DSD 2.0 tracks feel very faithful,
natural, and present the material with a huge front soundstage that quickly
surpasses the limitations of the CD layer.
There is more fidelity in this mix that showcases both the upper and
lower range with a great balance overall.
the DSD 5.1 mixes are impressive throughout and demonstrate a slightly deeper
soundstage that fills the room a bit more.
These are not ‘playful’ mixes like you sometimes find on certain SACD
releases; instead they are natural mixes that simply use the surround channels
to help alleviate much of the ambient sound.
Because of that fact, the mix has more room to breathe and opens up more
in the front allowing for more of the music to come through in a forward
motion, which is a huge plus! I give a
slight advantage to the 5.1 mixes, but the 2.0 mixes will please just the same,
especially for purists.
title comes with a decently sized liner note that fully detail the recordings
and provide great insight into these particular artists, which is a phenomenal
bonus in addition to already terrific titles to own. Classical fans usually need very little
convincing when it comes to exceptional recordings and while many are slowly
converting over to SACD, which is still a niche format, it shouldn’t take long
for classical lovers to make the transition and these are just a handful of the
fine titles available through Naxos, we continue to be amazed at their
attention to detail and ability to release some of the finest works around,
we’ll look forward to more and we know you will too!
- Nate Goss