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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975)
Symphony No. 7, Op. 60 Leningrad (1943) [74.05]
Beethoven Orchestra, Bonn/Roman Kofman
Recorded 2004
Notes in English, Français, and Deutsch.
Hybrid SACD also playable on CD players

high resolution stereo 2.0, and the 2+2+2 surround sound system; compatible 5.1
MDG 937 1203-6 [74.05]

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Comparison Recordings:
Dmitri Yablonsky, Russian Philharmonic Orchestra. Naxos DVD-Audio 5.110020
Bernard Haitink, LPO [ADD] Decca 425 068-2

The news may or may not be good. With this series MDG launch a new system of surround sound playback, "2+2+2". This offers two front channels, right and left; two rear channels, right and left; and, in addition a front upper and left upper channel to be placed above the front two channel speakers. The two extra channels are programmed into the centre channel and sub-woofer channel which are not otherwise used. Theoretically any 5.1 system decoder and amplifier should be able to provide the correct six channels. It would then only be necessary to buy two new speakers to place on top of your existing right and left front speakers and make the appropriate connections. Reports are that this is a superior system to all others tested.

For over thirty years surround sound has meant a right and left front channel and a right and left rear channel. The addition of a front centre channel and a sub-woofer channel did not change the basic geometry of the system which was originally developed for films and marketed for home playback as the CD-4, SQ, and QS quadraphonic LP records of the 1970s and 1980s.

Recently the International Telecommunications Union has established a standard for European broadcasting which moves the "rear" speakers around to the side, just behind the listening position. Disks engineered in this ITU 775 system sound less ambient and have front channel sound source information in the rear when played over a conventional "four in the corner" system.

However, we are advised that 2+2+2 is fully compatible with conventional 5.1 listening; at worst, if you have only four speaker channels, you just donít play the two upper front channels. But, if you have four speakers in the corners of your listening room and have your 5.1 system decoder adjusted so as to blend the centre and sub-woofer channels into your right and left front speakers, a 2+2+2 recording might exhibit poor front channel separation. To play back 2+2+2 recordings on a "four in the corner" system, you might prefer to adjust your decoder as though you have a full range sub-woofer and a full range centre channel, and then refrain from connecting those channels.

I suppose for completeness one must mention yet another surround sound system which never quite made it out of the laboratory: Left front, centre front, right front, with a single rear ambient speaker (actually early Dolby Surround was very close to this system since the rear channel information was monophonic even though it was played back over two speakers, which in some instances, were connected out of phase with each other.) One could achieve this arrangement with careful connection of four identical speakers to a two channel stereo power amplifier, but many amplifiers would become unstable and distort or operate their circuit-breakers, so the idea never caught on.

The documentation with the disk is unclear. This is a Hybrid SACD, yet according to the web-site and the documentation in the booklet, the real 2+2+2 tracks only appear on DVD-Audios, not SACDs. I suspect the truth is that the SACDs and DVD-Audios have the same 6 channels, but thatís not quite what the documentation says, at least not in English, as I read it.

The notes by Iosif Raiskin refer to performances of this work in the USA by conductor "P. Monte" an obvious reference to Pierre Monteux, well known for his performances of this work. I checked to see if the French translator had caught this, but no, the error is repeated faithfully in the French and German versions of the notes.

At the time of the premiere, the story was on all the news, of Shostakovich, brave volunteer fire-fighter in Leningrad, being spirited away to a safe haven in the Urals to write the symphony, then the score, microfilmed, sent by a blacked-out night train to Odessa, by solo fighter plane to a safe Mediterranean port, thence to London and New York. Then there was the battle between Toscanini and Stokowski as to who should have the privilege of the first U.S. performance. At the time the critical consensus was that the music would be long forgotten while the story would remain a legend. Well, many of youíve probably heard the story here for the first time, but the work remains as one of Shostakovichís most successful and beloved scores. The first movement is an ingenious double parody on a tune from Die Fledermaus and Ravelís Bolero, the long final movement is a textbook on innovative orchestration. By the time Iíd heard the first four bars I was hooked and Iíve loved the music ever since.

To avoid being overwhelmed or having to dive for the volume control, set the opening passage at a slightly boisterous mp, not mf as you might with other recordings. Adjust your surround speakers so that the offstage band at 15 minutes is at centre rear.

You will note in the recommended recordings above that I have chosen very "cool" performances of this symphony. Missing from my recommendations is the Bernstein performance, for instance, which some consider the best ever done. But I like my Leningrad in Winter dress as does Roman Kofman. Unfortunately, this recording is almost too cool for my taste. Then the conductor rushes the final coda, which I compare to the finale to Götterdämmerung*, and which I feel should be played the same way: with majesty and finality. Orchestral detail, even on the SACD tracks, is not so well delineated in this recording as in either the Yablonsky dts tracks or the Haitink CD.

I hope soon to be set up for 2+2+2 surround sound, to listen to this disk as it should be heard, and if my opinion changes you may be sure I will change this review to reflect it; so watch this space for possible future developments.

*Hum both tunes, ignore the timpani notes, and youíll hear the similarity.

Paul Shoemaker


After this review was completed, Werner Dabringhaus kindly offered his comments which not only answer some questions raised in the review but also extend the information available on the website. This has been included here nearly complete (but with some editorial adjustment):

"SACD and DVD-Audio both have six channels with full range frequency response. The booklet commentary should be clear on this point.

In contrast to these high definition formats the DVD-Video has only five channels with full range and a reduced additional ".1" effect channel to use with a subwoofer only. DVD-Video can handle music only with Dolby Digital or DTS - both are systems to reduce the original data and you need a corresponding decoder in the player or the receiver. But otherwise you could not have best video quality and multichannel tone at the same moment. (Thus DVD-Video has a rather poor sound quality compared to high resolution DVD-Audio or SACD).

The loudspeaker configuration for the DVD-Video set-up is fixed to 5.1. That
means front right and left, two surround speakers and one centre and one subwoofer. The sub is only for cinema effects: earthquakes, detonations... And the centre originally had the effect of fixing dialogue exactly in the centre of the screen in cinema: Wherever you are seated you will always hear the spoken words from the same place (which normally defines the place of the main actors as well)
because of its strict monophonic reproduction.

But for SACD and DVD-Audio you have different possibilities: On the one hand
you can achieve the best available technical quality that is much superior to normal CD stereo. But then you have the chance to use 6 independent full-range channels.
Now you can use them in the same way as cinema configuration invites: 5.1.

You will have noticed that most of the music discs are not using the .1 effect channel, some even play in quadro 4.0 or - if you consider the Living Stereo Recordings - in 3.0. Here the sound engineers are free to decide what is their best system. Our idea was to use the 6 channels for a 3x stereo - the so called 2+2+2
Recording - which means: you use the ordinary stereo, then add the ordinary surround for room impression, then add another pair of channels in order to reach the third dimension in sound reproduction. Note: all sounds the human ear can detect are three dimensional with a definitive height content. And in the orchestra you will detect the woodwinds a little bit elevated and the timpani even more...

Here are the main effects of 2+2+2:

You are completely free from the sweet spot (one of the biggest disadvantages of stereo and 5.1 as you know) You are completely free in the choice of your loudspeaker configuration: be it 5.1, 5.0, 4.0, stereo: just put the disc into the
player and it will work properly fine.

In case you use the 2+2+2 set-up you will have the natural three dimensional sounds just as in the concert hall. And if you come closer you will hear more detail. If you are at a greater distance you will hear more room ambience...

Note: It is not necessary to have any decoder for 2+2+2: Every DVD-A or SACD
(my favourite choice, the multiplayer for all formats) has six analogue outputs that only have to be amplified and connected to the correspondent loudspeakers. In this case you need a 6.0 amplifier at least. You only have be careful to set the same level of all the loudspeakers.

Even if you decided to use the mixdown facility you will achieve a proper sound image with a good front separation.

I personally do not like artificial sounds coming from elsewhere in the listening room. But here the effect of the "red army" entering the scene from behind was I thought very convincing. A number of our recordings of Schütz choral works use the same technology to evoke the sound of singing in Dresden during Schutzís day.

Best regards

Werner Dabringhaus"

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