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Classical SACD and Conversation

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by layman, Jun 13, 2021.

  1. layman

    layman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    New York, NY
    I would like to start a new thread to discuss Classical SACD. I have seen the subject discussed or touched upon in many other threads (that are spread widely) but the subject has never been the focus on an entire thread. I would like to see that.

    In general SACD threads, Classical SACD may be touched upon 5% of the time (even though the genre accounts for at least 50% of SACD releases) and in general Classical (discussion) threads SACD may be touched upon 5% of the time (even though in my opinion the format was in many ways designed specifically with Classical listeners in mind).

    A little background...I discovered SACD 22 years ago now (if I recall correctly it was the Fall of 1999) almost by accident. At that time, I was an employee of the Philips Consumer Electronics Company which was heavilly involved (along with Sony) in the creation and marketing of the new format. In an unfortunate twist, Philips had a year earlier (May 1998) sold Polygram Records (including Philips Classics, DG and Decca) to Seagrams, which deprived the company of important leverage in getting Record labels (and the general public) to support SACD. As you may recall, Philips was also heavilly involved in the creation and marketing of the CD and was able to coordinate support for the CD through their Consumer Electronics and Music Divisions.

    Based on what I saw, SACD lost out (at a corportate level) at Philips to competing interests and the company decided to put all it's effort into DVD-Video and Flatscreen TVs while leaving SACD a virtual secret (a secret not even shared widely in the company).

    So it was that I read about SACD (in a magazine) and was curious enough to arrange a private audition at a Hifi Shop (while I was working for Philips...if things had been as they should have been, I could simply have gone to the audition rooms upstairs and heard the product demonstrated in-house by the (co)creator). This was October 1999.

    I was not expecting much. At that time I had gotten heavilly into live Classical music (for the first time) and a steady diet of live music had lead me to become increasingly dissatisfied by what I heard on CD. I had a hard time identifying what it was that bothered me about the sound of CD so much. I found that the longer that I listened to the format, a sense of "disengagement" would creep in. The sound of instruments and voices as heard on CD failed to involve me in the same way that live performance did. I would find myself starting a listening session and then half-way through it becoming distracted (or disengaged). I would get fidgety and restless and often abandon my listening sessions before I finished them. The sound seemed to fatigue me greatly. I found listening to CD taxing and tiring. Something about it really rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps it was a digital "edge," a glaze of (semi-transparent) digital distortion that seemed to overlay the music. The distortion seemd to bother me much more than it did other people who often failed to hear it entirely. Yet, it was there and it bothered me. Crucially, I did not hear this (subtle but pervasive) distortion at all while listening to live music.

    Nor did I hear it with SACD. I was not expecting this at all, but listening to selection after selection that subtle but pervasive distortion that had always bothered me about CD was gone. So, this realization came upon me gradually. The people at the Hifi shop (for that first audition) were kind enough to set up the SACD playback system (using the Sony SCD-1) and then leave me alone for a good hour while I listened to the demonstraton discs (there were a several of them as I recall...two of Sony SACD selections that would later appear on Sony single layer SACD discs and one of Philips selections, these included early SACD tracks produced by Polyhymnia -which later became Pentatone Records- for demonstration discs that Philips included with their first SACD player).

    I felt a sense of excitement rising gradually as I listened to tracks on the demonstration discs and by the end of that hour, I was conviced that SACD was one of the most Revolutionay music formats that I had ever come across because it managed to combine the naturalness and lack of fatigue of analog and live music with the convienience and lack of gross distortion of digital!

    Crucially, I think the improvements that SACD offers are most noticeable when recording live and unamplified music, that is music that's manipulated less in the recording studio, so the end result is very close (if not identical to) what the mics picked up. The genre of Classical music falls into this category and it's no surprise that Classical makes up the lion's share of SACD releases.

    It saddens me that many Classical music lovers are unaware of this and I was witness to the spectacular failure on the part of SACDs creators to get the message out. So, since that first audition 22 years ago, I have become something of a (one man) SACD Evangelist. Not in a loud, shouty or pushy way, but simply through discussion and getting the word out to Classical music lovers about what the format can do.

    I started out with about a dozen or so Classical SACD titles (by early 2000) that were all the albums from which tracks were taken for those early SACD demo discs and the collection has grown steadily to about 2000 titles (the majority of them Classical) today. Last time I checked there were upwards of 10,000 SACD titles released. If I had the resources, I would collect each and every one of them. I don't have the resources though and I am ok with settling for 2 out of 10.

    I envision this thread as a place where we can freely discuss Classical SACD and continue to get the word out, especially to those who might be curious about SACD and may be wondering why a format that has been pronounced dead every year of it's existence continues to thrive 22 years after it was (poorly) introduced to the public and long after many competing formats have disappeared.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2021
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  2. Jerry

    Jerry Grateful Gort Staff

    New England
    These two blew my mind:
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  3. yasujiro

    yasujiro Forum Resident

  4. yasujiro

    yasujiro Forum Resident

    My list

    Ansermet - Royal Ballet Gala (Stereo Sound)
    Ansermet - Petrushka (Stereo Sound)
    Barry - Dances with Wolves (Sony)
    The Bay Brass - Sound the Bells ! (Harmonia Mundi)
    Bernstein - Carmen (Pentatone)
    Bernstein - Britten (Sony)
    E. Power Bigfs - Bach (Sony)
    Bosc - Stravinsky Les Noces (Radio France)
    Chailly - Turandot Symphony (Decca)
    Daniel - Elgar Symphony No.3 (Naxos)
    Davis - Beethoven Overtures (Esoteric)
    Dorati - The Firebird (Mercury)
    Dorati - Liszt (Mercury)
    Dorati - Respighi (Mercury)
    Fennell - The music of Leroy Anderson (Mercury)
    Fischer - Russian Violin Concerto (Pentatone)
    The Florestan Trio (Hyperion)
    Gens - Canteloube: Chants d’Auvergne (Naxos)
    Gerhardt - Spellbound (Dutton)
    Gerhardt - Sunset Boulevard (Dutton)
    Goossens - Villa Lobs (Vanguard)
    Harnoncourt - Verdi Requiem (RCA)
    Horner - Titanic (Sony)
    Jacobs - Le Nozze di Figaro (Harmonia Mundi)
    Janis - Mussorugsky (Mercury)
    Janis - Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto no.3 (Mercury)
    Jarvi - Histoire du’soldat (Pentatone)
    Kofman - Shostakovich complete symphonies (MDG)
    Kosler - Janacek (Denon)
    Manze - Mozart Night Music (Harmonia Mundi)
    Mehta - The Planets (Stereo Sound)
    Mullova - Beethoven and Mendelssohn (Philips)
    Numajiri - Japanese Orchestral Favorites (Naxos)
    Paray - Chabrier (Mercury)
    Paray - Symphonie Fantastique (Mercury)
    The Romeros - Rodrigo and Vivaldi (Mercury)
    Skrowaczewski - Ravel (2 vols) (MFSL)
    Slatkin - Gershwin (MFSL)
    Solti - Le Sacre du Printemps (Stereo Sound)
    Starker - Bach (Mercury)
    Starker - Paganini variations (Stereo Sound)
    Strobel - Prokofiev Alexander Necsky (Capriccio)
    Temirkanov - Mahler Symphony no.5 (Waterlily)
    Living Stereo SACDs in its entirety (Sony)
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2021
  5. jwoverho

    jwoverho Licensed Drug Dealer

    Mobile, AL USA
    I bought all the early RCA Living Stereo and Mercury Living Presence SACDs as they were being released.

    I’ve since gotten all the Analogue Productions titles that aren’t duplicates of the earlier series.
    Acoustic Sounds gets a lot of business from me every month.:D

    I’m glad that the classical (and jazz) world is still keeping SACD alive!
  6. Blank Frank

    Blank Frank King of Carrot Flowers

    There are a few sneaky buggers out there though. For example, a Concertgebouw "Live" SACD of Mahler 1 is actually a PCM recording re-processed for SACD. As to the "liveness" of it...

    That said, the RCA and Mercury ones I have are great (can't be bothered to walk across the room to check which ones...), as are all the Pentatone ones, whether transfers from old analogue sources or recent recordings.

    Chandos have been pretty good at releasing SACDs over the years, not to forget BiS (some of those Vanska/Minnesota Beethoven discs are fabulous).

    There are also a couple of good EMI ones, such as the Gieseking 4 disc set of Debussy's piano music.

    Will have to have a rummage through the classical section to check which are SACD (quite a few).

    Coincidentally I happen to be playing the MoFi SACD of Music From Big Pink...
  7. Kal Rubinson

    Kal Rubinson Forum Resident

    Unusual for that source but quite common elsewhere.
  8. layman

    layman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    New York, NY
    1st Listen Liszt Dante Symphony, Tasso, Leon Botstein & the LSO, Telarc SACD:
    I came across this disc two weeks ago at my local record shop and I am sitting down for a first listen. I am not familiar with Liszt "Eine Symphonie zu Dantes Divina Commedia."
    I am loving the music so far. I love the dramatic opening of the first movement (Inferno). The piece sounds very romantic and evocative (in the manner of Mendelssohn). This sounds like one of Telarc's best efforts. I am impressed with the great dynamics and luscious, true string tone. I like the mid-hall perspective as well. It gives a nice illusion of depth and dimension.

    I like the gentle, romantic opening of the 2nd movement (Purgatori0). I once again hear very true and life-like string tone and the brass and woodwinds choirs also sound very convincing. I like the way the piece builds and develops (once again puts me in mind of Mendelssohn). Wow! The entrance of the chorus surprised me. This piece seems to have inspired the soundtrack for the "Lord of the Rings" in the way that it combines the choral and orchestral parts. The child's choir sounds very angelic. The latin text sounds Mass-like..."Hallelujah, Hosanna...." The piece concludes with a horn and drum fanfare.

    I like the dark, mysterious, romantic and dramatic opening of "Tasso." It puts me in mind of Tchaikovsky's "Romeo et Juliette Fantasy Overture." I love Liszt's use of woodwinds as "story-tellers." I can also hear how this piece "inspired" Wagner. The orchestral cellos sound exceptionally true to life...I have the sensation that I can walk onstage at any moment to shake hands with the players. I like the fanfare that concludes the piece.

    I am impressed with the beautiful sonics that Telarc captured on this recording. I am not sure how the recording flew under my radar for so long, but I am glad to have discovered the recording late rather than never.
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  9. layman

    layman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    New York, NY
    I witnessed 20 years worth of arguments (mostly on the message boards of the defunct site SA-CD.net) over the digital provenance of SACD recordings (DSD, PCM, Analog...). It really does not matter. SACD preserves the fidelity of Hi-rez PCM just as it preserves the fidelity of Analog. I no longer care about the provenance of the recording (so long as the source material was Hi-rez or Analog) and just concentrate now on the performance and the skill of the recording engineers in capturing the performance.
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  10. Gary_Stewart

    Gary_Stewart Forum Resident

    Los Angeles
  11. layman

    layman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    New York, NY
    1st Listen Beethoven Symphony No. 3, Coriolan Overture, Stokowski and the LSO, and Brahms Academic Festival Overture, Stokowski and the New Philharmonia O, Dutton-Vocalion SACD:
    These were originally RCA Quadrophonic recordings. The Beethoven was recorded in 1974 in Walthamstow Town Hall London. The Brahms was recorded in the same venue in the same year. I am listening to the stereo-mix included on the Dutton SACD disc.

    So far string tone in the opening Allegro con brio sounds a little fierce, but I am enjoying the energy of the performance (as I often do listening to performances conducted by Stokowski -born April 18, 1882- in recordings he conducted in his 90s). My favorite recording of Brahms Symphony No. 4 was recorded (Quadrophonically) by Stowkowski and RCA during this same period and the energy and passion that Stokowski invested in these recordings is something I very much admire. I hope that if this Beethoven recording (and Stokowski's recording of Mahler's Symphony no. 2) sells well, that Dutton will also release Stokowski's (unmatched) Brahms Symphony No. 4 recording in it's original Quadrophonic format.

    I love the way that Stokowski (and the LSO) handles the dramatic shift in mood that marks the 2nd movement, Marcia Funebre. ........I know a performance is captivating me when the computer shuts off while I am reviewing it! I got lost in the music!

    I like the energy and brio that Stokowski and the LSO are bringing to the Scherzo. I love the trombone parts! The instruments (and their mutes, which change their pitch) sound exceedingly realistic.

    I also hear a sense of excitement and brio in the concluding Allegro molto. I am dancing and air conducting in my seat. I love the lively woodwind playing. There is an oboe solo towards the middle of the Allegro molto that sounds especially captivating! Stokowski really has a way with this piece. I have rarely heard more passion and drama! The man was an absolute conducting genius. Even at his most perverse (when he would re-write and re-orchestrate pieces - he does not do that here- ) he was never less than fascinating!

    He brings these same qualities to his interpretation of the Coriolan Overture. The fire, the drama and energy (that he brings) are exceptional! It sounds like a Rock Concert! I want to through the computer across the room (with excitement)!

    Stokowski's interpretation of Brahms Academic Festival Overture sounds (as befitting Brahms) well...a little more academic (at least to begin with), but I hear fire and brio here too! Stokowski (and the New Philharmonia) seem to relish the rhythms and sweeping melodies in Brahms. I love the pizzicato string plucking. The piece concludes in burst of orchestral exuberance.

    I am thankful to Dutton-Vocalion for bringing these (quad) recordings back.
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  12. layman

    layman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    New York, NY
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  13. layman

    layman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    New York, NY
    I would love to get some of the Stereosound SACDs but they have not been delivering to the US in over a year and now it looks like their site is being re-designed (and is unavailable for orders).
  14. yasujiro

    yasujiro Forum Resident

    That’s a shame. Maybe UNI doesn’t want to sell these outside Japan.

    I am sure these Decca CDs sound just incredible.
  15. layman

    layman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    New York, NY
    1st Listen Beethoven Symphony No. 9 and Egmont Overture, Ferenc Fricsay & the Berlin Philharmonic, Tower Records Japan SACD:
    Whoah! I was expecting the disc to open with Symphony No. 9 but it actually opens with the Egmont Overture. Those powerful opening notes startled me! I can hear tape hiss indicating an analog source for this recording (and no noise reduction). I like the interpretation from Ferenc Fricsay and the Berlin Philharmonic. It sounds very exciting.

    ...and now here is the subdued (orchestral rehearsal) opening of Symphony No. 9 that I was anticipating. The recording sounds quite similar to the Egmont recording indicating these were made by the same Orchestra and recording team and probably the same venue...yes, according to the liner notes both recordings were taped in 1958. I hear the tape hiss and the lively and vivid "color" of the Orchestra. Just a minute or two in (to the Allegro ma non troppo) and it's obvious to me why this recording is so well regarded. I like the distinctive timber of the Berlin brass choir...mind you this was the Berlin Philharmonic before Karajan got his hands on the orchestra and all the distinctive choirs and orchestral lines started to blend together (and hide behind the strings)...so this is the pre-Karajan-blended Berlin Philharmonic. As such this recording represents a great document of a recording era. I hear this same (pre-blended) quality in Cluyten's Berlin Philharmonic Beethoven recordings. I love the excitement and energy in the interpretation.

    I like the drama and again the distinctive rasp of the Berlin brass choir in the opening of the Molto Vivace 2nd movement. The drum lines (in addition to the string and brass choirs) also really stand out here. I hear the same sense of vivid orchestral color (as I did in the Allegro ma non troppo). I love the interpretation.

    I love the sense of serenity and repose in the 3rd movement Adagio. I fear the computer may shut itself off (again) because I have closed my eyes and am now simply enjoying the interpretation. The sound of the Berlin woodwind choir really captures my ear in this performance of the Adagio. I love the pizzicato plucking from the strings. Now the Berlin brass choir are blazing out (I have never heard them do so like this under Karajan). The movement concludes just as it opened on a note of serenity and repose.

    ...Which heightens the sense of contrast and drama in the opening of the Presto Finale. It's another of those performances where I get so swept up in the music that I can barely write. I like the subdued orchestral introduction of the "Ode to Joy" theme. Now the brass choir have taken up the theme. I am clapping along with the music. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sounds fresh-voiced and powerful in the choral introduction. Tenor Ernst Haefliger also stands out, as does alto Maureen Forrester. I like the hurdy-gurdy music. I am impressed with the clarity of the recording which allows me to hear details of diction and intonation from the soloists (and instrumentalists) that are often blurred. The interpretation sounds intensely exciting! The soloists are singing with extraordinary energy and passion. Moreover, the clarity and unblended sonority sound breathtaking! For those who feel that this piece has become too routine and staid (not to mention overplayed), this recordings is the antidote! Everyone involved approach the piece with the passion, joy and inspiration of a new discovery! Standing Ovation!

    The liner notes say that this was a new DSD transfer done for Tower Records Japan by Emil Berliner Studios 9/2017.
  16. layman

    layman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    New York, NY
    I actually ordered from them around the beginning of the pandemic but they contacted me shortly afterward and said that the EMS shipping service they used was temporarily suspending service to the US. They had to cancel my order. That was a year and a half ago. A week or two ago, I saw on their site that EMS was shipping again to the US but before I could order, the site went down (for repair). I hope this is resolved soon. I have been waiting so long.
  17. J.A.W.

    J.A.W. Music Addict

    I recently got two StereoSound Contemporary Jazz hybrid SACD boxes that were mastered by Steve Hoffman in 2016. Ordering them from StereoSound was a bit too complicated, so I got them via CDJapan's proxy ordering service. Expensive, but worthwhile.

    Here's their current site:
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  18. layman

    layman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    New York, NY
  19. NorthNY Mark

    NorthNY Mark Forum Resident

    Canton, NY, USA
    I was just checking out the Stereo Sound site, and noticed that they have their own branded versions of Mercury Living Stereo SACDs available. Does anyone know if these are the same as the much-loved older (and long out of print) versions, or in any case if they are well mastered?
  20. yasujiro

    yasujiro Forum Resident

    Possibly different.
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  21. layman

    layman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    New York, NY
    Same recordings but different masterings? I wonder what masters Stereo Sound used?

    I know that the Mercury SACDs came from different (at that time new) masters than the ones (masters) that Wilma Cozart Fine used when the Mercury catalog was remastered for CD.
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  22. yasujiro

    yasujiro Forum Resident

    Yes, Mercury SACDs were mastered from the 3 track masters while Stereo Sound used the 2 track masters that may be different from the ones that Wilma mixed down for Mercury LP CDs.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2021
  23. bruce2

    bruce2 Forum Resident

    Connecticut, USA

    I was inspired by layman's review of the Fricsay Beethoven Ninth Tower SACD, so I am now listening to the Tower SACD of the Ninth by the Paris Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Schuricht. This is the stereo recording from 1958. I once saw Schuricht's Paris Conservatory Beethoven cycle described as 'The holy grail of French orchestral music", in a listing for sale of the original vinyl release. Compared to prices I saw of the original vinyl release, this Tower SACD box set is a bargain. This is an excellent Ninth in my opinion, in great sound quality. I love the tangy brass and woodwinds of the Paris orchestra, and I find many parts of the Symphonies in this set to have a lively and dancing quality to them. Critic David Hurwitz often raves about this set, and I am glad I bought it. It is mastered by the same guy who did many of the Esoteric SACDs.
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  24. Mr Bass

    Mr Bass Chevelle Ma Belle

    Mid Atlantic
    Some recent SACD purchases have been the Blomstedt Bruckner cycle (Leipzig Gewaundhaus Orchestra ) which has good sound with good performances.

    I think the principal issue were reports that a fair number of SACDs were just upsampled from CD bit rate recordings, i.e. Not PCM hi rez. It is also true that the DSD sampling rate like CD was set too low. DSD 2 or 4 would have enabled noise shaping out of proximity to the audible range. I hope that DSD2 or 4 recordings will become more available in the future. The confusion is multiplied by players that reconvert DSD to PCM and players that reconvert PCM to DSD.

    I put a lot of blame on the Sony Philips mgt for washing their hands of SACD rather than overseeing it and maintaining consistency. I have heard many poor sounding SACDs though uncertain why they sound bad. This still goes on as my recent purchase of the DG SACD of Karajan's Tchaikovsky Symphony 3 sounded worse than the poor sounding LP. BTW I have an Esoteric SACD player.

    I think it would be helpful if people indicated the sonic quality of the SACDs posted. I fear many have been turned off by a mediocre SACD mastering and didn't get to hear the good sounding ones. So a benefit of this thread could be warning potential buyers off on particularly bad sounding SACDs chilling their interest. But yes SACD or DSD has always seemed the way forward to me and I hope the quality level becomes more consistent.
  25. layman

    layman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    New York, NY
    I agree that there have been a few SACD duds but there are duds in every format. Out of thousands of SACDs, I can count on 1 and 1/2 hands the number of duds that I have personally come across. I would say that's an outstanding ratio (for any format).

    Moreover, of the duds that I have come across, many resulted from lousy performances or the recording team having an off day rather than indicating any problem with the format itself (the numbers don't back that theory). I have no problem calling a dud a dud and in 22 years I have openly discussed and reviewed duds whenever I have come across them. So yes, sharing your experiences about a recording that disappointed is valuable to the (SACD-loving) community.

    I must give Sony credit. They could have launched the format with a bunch of rushed, half-assed (possibly even fake) new recordings but instead they cherry-picked the absolute best (analog) recordings from the Sony/Columbia/RCA back-catalogs and carefully remastered them in DSD. The resulting (SACD) recordings spoke for themselves (those original discs have stood the test of time and are still classics 20 years later) and did a great deal to publicize the benefits of the new format.

    I started listening as an SACD agnostic but those recordings converted me into a believer (in the benefits of the format). To give even further credit, the practice of carefully remastering classic analog material for re-release on SACD has continued at Sony Music right through the present day, as I discovered with recent Sony (Japan) SACD releases.
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