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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Swan Lake, Op.20 (1875-6) excerpts [54:59]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
rec. 1972
DTS HD-MA stereo and 4.0 surround, reviewed in surround
HIGH DEFINITION TAPE TRANSFER BD-A (no catalogue number) [54:59]

Ormandy recorded Swan Lake at least twice with the Philadelphia Orchestra and this selection of fourteen extracts was first available in the UK in 1974 as part of a boxed set of 3 LPs each devoted to one of the ballets. It was never regarded as one of the "must have" issues. That accolade seems to have gone to the Suisse Romande under Ansermet on Decca who had the huge advantage of a good recording and a top acoustic. Whilst the Philadelphia always had a reputation as one of the great orchestras even they had their off days and this was one of them. It all sounds like an enthusiastic run-through rather than the product of careful thought. I stress the 'enthusiastic' because this is quite fun to hear but there is more than a touch of the fairground in the playing, greatly enhanced by one of the worst recordings I have heard in some time. Let no one fool you into thinking this is a fantastic chance to hear a previously unheard surround recording of a crack orchestra at their peak. This period did see some superb early experiments in surround, the Boston/Ozawa Berlioz Faust on Pentatone made in 1973 is one example. Ormandy's circus performance is raucous and distorted, and furthermore much of the sound seems to come from the front left channel which is dominated by shrieking strings. I do not doubt that HDTT did the best they could but this was one tape that could have been safely left in the vault.

HDTT issues are available in various forms, as downloads and as physical discs. They are derived from commercially issued 7 ips pre-recorded consumer reel to reel tapes, either 2 Track or 4 Track, from the so called "golden age" of recording. This issue is from an RCA Quadraphonic 4-track tape. The disc reviewed is a standard Blu-ray Audio disc which carries the programme in both 4 channel and 2 channel versions. The stereo is less dreadful than the surround but neither is good to hear. I am sure most collectors will have good RCA vinyl issues from this period and I wish I could be a tiny bit enthusiastic about this one. Sadly I cannot.

Dave Billinge



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