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SACD Review

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

Symphony #6 "Pathétique"

Boston Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Monteux
RCA Victor Living Stereo 61397 Hybrid Stereo SACD
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Debussy's "La Mer" See Post-Post Script.

This is one of those SACD Hybrids that will play on regular CD players. The performance was issued as part of the Monteux Edition released in 1994. I consider Monteux among the finest of the conductors of the last century but was really disappointed in the Tchaikovsky Symphonies (the set included 4-6). At the time I thought that perhaps Tchaikovsky just wasn't Monteux's cup-of-tea (to really mix nationalities!).

When this release arrived I wondered if it would change my mind. I have been impressed with most of the SACD Hybrids (but not all). I picked up the previous release (issued in 1994) and pulled out the "Pathétique" and listened to it several times. Nothing. Then I put on the latest. At the opening of the clarinet my head popped up. I smiled. Then I leaned back and really enjoyed what I now hear is one of the finest recordings of the Tchaikovsky 6th. I could sense the rippling of the strings as part of the texture in the opening whereas before it just wasn't there. I was stunned and amazed. I don't think I have ever heard such a transformation due entirely to a change in the sound picture.

As I have said before, part of what has improved the sound in the newest releases of classical recordings (ART on EMI is another example) is that they are transferred at a higher level. There is much more going on here than merely turning up the volume however. If you do that on the previous incarnation all you get is louder mush. Now there is more detail, more body and richer sound. On this new recording (and it is a NEW recording) there are lovely details, an orchestra that imbues the "Pathétique" with all of the passion you can imagine. The strings sigh, the woodwinds are poignantly beautiful. I am listening to it as I write and keep muttering, "Damn that's good."

This has been a revelation to me in every sense of that word. I might even go so far as to call listening to this recording and interpretation as an epiphany.

For those who go to the last line before reading a review… shame on you.

Post Script: The back cover of the insert is a picture of a line of the backs of LPs. Looking closely I noticed the back of one read, "More Classical Music For People Who Hate Classical Music." I laughed my ass off!! The 50s version of "Monotony from Mozart' and 'Beethoven for Boredom' stuff out now. Things haven't really changed.

Post-Post Script: Try this for an experience. I am reading Homer's The Odyssey and listening to Debussy's "La Mer" at the same time. I came to the final lines at the end of chapter two it coincided with the climax at the end of the first movement… !? Pull out The Odyssey and read it whilst listening to Debussy's "La Mer"!!!

Copyright © 2005, Robert Stumpf II