I am baffled by the overwhelmingly positive reviews (on Amazon) I've read regarding this release. I just don't hear this the way others do. Oh, I have nothing but the highest praise for this performance. Tilson Thomas totally nails it in this score and the Boston Symphony plays magnificently. But I have some serious reservations about the sound. These observations are not reflective of Pentatone's remastering. They are inherent in the original DG recording and they can be heard on previous CD incarnations, but to a lesser degree. Pentatone's SACD simply reveals them to have a more detrimental effect than before.
I was immediately struck by the very distant recorded perspective and the resultant cavernous, murky acoustic. This is now clearly revealed to have been recorded in a gigantic, empty hall with the orchestra way back at one end and the microphones way back at the opposite end. This sonic perspective can be advantageous (and even lovely) in Debussy or Delius or just about any Impressionistic piece. But I'm not sure why DG thought this would work well for a bold and barbaric work such as Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Perhaps they were going for a more atmospheric approach than normal? I would venture to say that that would be in stark contrast to Tilson Thomas's approach. Not only does this limit power and impact, but much orchestral detail is completely inaudible in the distance, obscured by the acoustic.
Even worse, I was very bothered by an extremely limited dynamic range. The louds just never get much louder than the softs. Confirming my concerns, the pianissimo opening of the 2nd half was nearly the same volume/loudness as the aggressive, fortissimo orchestral outburst which immediately preceded it at the climax of the 1st half. Something is seriously wrong when the opening solo bassoon is nearly as loud as the full orchestra playing all out. I kept turning up the volume during the big parts just to try to get some oomph out of it all.
I'd like to stress again, this is not Pentatone's fault. It obviously was recorded that way. But for me, that extremely distant, murky perspective combined with severely limited dynamic compression take much away from the otherwise stupendous performance. Hearing this anew, I understand why Tilson Thomas re-recorded this nearly 30 years later for RCA. His interpretation hadn't changed much, but the modern recording provided a much more powerful and realistic experience, replete with a full dynamic range. As a matter of fact, to this day, I count that RCA Rite as one of the best ever recorded. As fondly as I remembered the earlier DG recording as a performance, the recording leaves much to be desired.
The coupling is interesting and thoroughly worthwhile, if very short. It is a miniature cantata for male chorus and orchestra: The King of the Stars. Lasting just 5 minutes, it brings the total playing time of this SACD to just under 40 minutes. While the SACD duplicates the original LP, surely Pentatone could have found something to fill up this disc a bit more, especially given the shortcomings in recording quality of the main item.
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