This release had me salivating in anticipation. And after giving it a listen, I am most perplexed.
All the beauties of Boston's Symphony Hall are on display here, with superbly refined orchestral playing. But somewhere along the way the bite, powerful impact and decisive articulation so necessary in Bartok have been smoothed over and smothered out. Especially in Kubelik's Concerto for Orchestra. His mellow, lyrical approach sounds so very matter-of-fact and lacking character. And this is not quite how I remember it from its original DG CD release.
The problem here seems to be the fault of Pentatone. The recordings are transferred to SACD at such a low volume, it is nearly impossible to achieve any impact or a sense of musical involvement. Indeed, the first few minutes of both works are all but inaudible. I kept reaching for the remote to turn up the volume to ensure the disc wasn't just empty space. Thinking this was cause for concern, I plopped in another SACD to see if the problem persisted. But no, everything snapped back into focus with the volume back down to typical levels.
In the Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta, Ozawa's flair for detail, well-defined articulation and a full-bodied, brightly-lit and colorful orchestral palette fares slightly better. However, there is an even more pronounced cavernous acoustic than in the Concerto, which manages to blunt much of Ozawa's efforts. (And his too-slow 1st movement has always been detrimental to this reading). The microphones sound to be placed very far from the orchestra. The percussion bite through the murky distance pretty well, but string articulation and, especially pizzicatos, are all but lost.
It's very difficult to appreciate all the positive qualities which may be inherent in either recording due to Pentatone's low-impact transfer levels. I remain mightily perplexed at such a production coming from this reliably high-quality label. As I listen to stereo SACD (on a very high-quality system), I will be interested to read other reports on this disc from those who have the 4-channel capability. I can't imagine that there is enough significant recorded information in the rear channels to make a difference. It certainly won't change the overall low transfer volume level and I suspect will actually exacerbate the reverberation problem. But perhaps not.