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Every Day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor: Rob Barnett  
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Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839 – 1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition orch. Maurice Ravel (1922)
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)

March miniature, (from Suite No. 1 in D minor) (1879)
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839 – 1881)

A Night on the Bald Mountain (orch. Rimsky-Korsakov) (1886)
Alexander BORODIN (1833 – 1887)

Prince Igor: Polovtsian March (1890)
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)

Marche slave (1876)
Dmitri KABALEVSKY (1904 – 1987)

Colas Breugnon Overture, Op. 24 (1938)
Mikhail GLINKA (1804 – 1857)

Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture (1842)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner.
Recorded 7 Dec 1957, 14 March 1959, Symphony Hall, Chicago, U.S.A. SACD (ADD).
BMG-RCA LIVING STEREO 82876 61394-2 [70’57"]

This is much better value for money from BMG. It has, emblazoned on the sleeve, "Two complete Living Stereo LPs on a single disc!" In fact RCA some years ago issued this self-same coupling on an RCA mid-price release (RCA 09026-67958-2). In the CD format there is absolutely no difference in sound quality between the audio CD in the older coupling, and the SACD version played on a standard CD player. Any difference is said to be dependent on having an SACD player.

Reiner’s recordings in this series have been enthusiastically received by music-lovers. At last they have now been allowed to appreciate what superlative playing Reiner was able to conjure from the Chicago orchestra.

On this well-filled disc we have performances of Russian orchestral repertoire. These would be difficult to better anywhere and with recordings which now more than adequately show what the engineers were able to get from Symphony Hall in Chicago. Let us hope that BMG will eventually issue all of the Living Stereo series of recordings. They often seem to start, and then fizzle out in mid-stream. There are many wonderful goodies still waiting for us in the RCA vaults, some of which have yet to see the light of day on CD; a tragedy for all, listeners, artists and the company itself, through lost revenues.

The Living Stereo recordings were originally mixed down from three tracks to two. Now that Surround Sound has arrived, BMG is reissuing these recordings with the three discrete channels, left, right and centre being separate rather than mixed down to the two channel sound which we are all used to. Having the central channel available improves the sound quality somewhat, but the effect is minimal. Indeed in some of these recordings, the original engineers only recorded the left and right channels, so the SACD and CD versions are identical. One good check of your equipment is a blind test to see if you can pick out the two channel recordings – I failed.

Like many of Reiner’s recordings, the performances have never been surpassed, and the Pictures is one of these. I know that there are many first class performances around, by eminent conductors and ensembles, but for me, this one can hold its head up against any comers. I would never say that this is the only performance to get because in such a work there are so many perfectly valid ways of presenting it to the public. Nevertheless, the whole programme is in this category, and if I was to single out one choice from this disc it would be the Kabalevsky. There has never been a performance to compete with this one. It is simply superb.

John Phillips

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