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CD Review

Claude Debussy

The Three Mers

  • La Mer
  • Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune
  • Nocturnes
  • Nuages
  • Fêtes
  • Images for Orchestra
  • Gigues
  • Ibéria
  • Rondes de printemps
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
RCA Red Seal "Classic Library" 2876-59416-2
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon JapanOrder Now from Find it at JPC

Al Franz, a friend of mine, used to say about LPs, "There's more music in those grooves that can be brought out by the right equipment." To that end he put together one of the finest systems I have ever heard. We would go to his house, he'd hand me my set of headphones, and we'd listen to record after record. Unfortunately I didn't have another system to compare it with, but my impression was that, indeed, his equipment brought out music I didn't hear otherwise.

These memories came to me as I was listening to these discs. I purchased the featured disc because I had listened to a Stokowski/Wagner release in this same series and found that it was a much better sounding transfer than the one released in the Stokowski Stereo series several years ago. I have the "Mer" from the "Living Stereo" series and found the brass a bit too brassy. Except for the brass the sound was warm, however. I also purchased the XRCD issue and whilst it had details you had to strain to hear in the previous incarnation it lacked any warmth at all. So, given the cost of this new RCA reissue I took the plunge.

Well, as Cliff's Notes would put it, to make a long story short, there IS more music in the ones and zeroes than I had heard. This time the sound was warm and slightly reverberate, but there were the details I had to strain for in the "Living Stereo" disc which were so better defined in the XRCD. Whilst there is no direct comparison for the other items I can attest that they sound fantastic (the PTAF is just delicious, you have to hear the harpist) and the performances, from the 'best French Orchestra in America' under the baton of the French maestro are memorable and moving. In my first notes I wrote, "an aural delight".

In my research I noted that Jon Samuels was the producer and engineer. I have to say that he consistently does the finest transfers around. He was not involved in the "Living Stereo" or the XRCD release, which may explain why they don't sound as good. I was told by an unnamed authority (to borrow a phrase from the press lately) that in the "Living Stereo" issue RCA did not have access to the original tapes which the XRCD issue did. I imagine that Jon utilized that source in this production, which may explain why this is superior to both. I am not sure what the 24-bit process is but my experience is that it produces a warmer sound, a better sound stage and the inner details so essential to classical listening.

When I started seeing ads for the XRCDs and the price (around $30) I wondered if the sound was better enough to justify the price. Given that this disc is less than a third that price and sounds better I think I can safely save any more outlays for another XRCD. Just think, you can buy about 5 of these discs for the price of the one. This disc is part of a "Classic Library" series from RCA. There are several other titles offering some performances, which are considered classic, like the Horowitz/Ormandy recording of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #3 with the New York Philharmonic. The price for these discs is around $7.00 and well worth it.

So there is the story of the Three Mers, not to be confused with the Bears, but one is too hard, one is too soft and the other is just fine.

Copyright © 2004, Robert Stumpf II