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20th Anniversary Limited Edition hybrid SACD: Beethoven Overtures

Sir Colin Davis, Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks

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To many music connoisseurs, the golden era of classical music ended when maestro Leopold Stokowski died in 1977. To some others, the consecutive deaths of conductor giants beginning as early as in the 50’s, such as that of Wilhelm Furtwängler and Arturo Toscanini, followed by Bruno Walter in the 60’s, Otto Klemperer in the 70’s and Karl Böhm in the 80’s, had already cemented the time we are living in as the twilight of classical music. To someone like me who was raised during the height of the digital classical era, the death of Herbert von Karajan in 1989 signified a closing point in classical music’s greatness, which was further entombed most categorically with the death of Sir Georg Solti in the late nineties.

Except for a few of his Mahler and Wagner readings, I find many of Solti’s recordings to be too arbitrary and prone to interpretations highly personal in nature, while von Karajan, on the other hand, embraced the Compact Disc medium early on and re-recorded the bulk of his repertoire on the new medium of the time, presenting the most successful example of spreading the most authoritative interpretations of core classical works in the most effective marketing means possible. This fortuitous combination of factors is the essence of the Karajan legacy.

What makes a conductor great? I must say it’s the conductor’s ability to exert his artistic vision over the aggregated minds of the orchestra players, as well as inspire admiration and awe in the listener with the final result. There are clear displays of revelatory insights in von Karajan’s playing, from the Albinoni Adagio to Beethoven’s Symphonies, and from the Vivaldi Four Seasons to the Richard Strauss tone poems. Many other contemporaries of his, then, created formula interpretations instead that lost their flavors after a single pass or two.

Thankfully, Sir Colin Davis is among the few elderly conductors today who remain active, and his vision on music continues to instill fresh insights that can withstand multiple listening. The more recent examples being Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette in 1998 (Philips) and Les Troyens (The Trojans) in 2001, the latter of which was released through London Symphony Orchestra’s own label. The gem of the LSO recording is its DSD-processed sound.

Imagine, then, my jubilation when Davis’ 1985 CBS disc of Beethoven Overtures with the Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks is now once again available, and released not in any other medium but a hybrid SACD. To top it all off, this 2-channel DSD-remastering project was supervised by none other than Mr. Okihiko Sugano, the editor of Japan’s Stereo Sound magazine, and produced by Mr. Motoaki Ohmachi, president of Teac Esoteric Company.

Accompanying Mr. Sugano’s decades of highly reputed work in studio recording was a system of Teac Esoteric equipment in this Decca remastering project, such as the D-01 Monaural D/A Convertor, the G-Orb Rubidium Master Clock Generator, and the system of Mexcel® 7N copper BNC, XLR and AC cables jointly developed by Mitsubishi Cable Industries, Teac Esoteric and Acrojapan Corp (Acrolink).

The thus-produced Teac Esoteric limited edition hybrid SACD gives a completely new experience of the Decca sound as compared to that of other Decca releases from the mid-eighties, a period when the label’s sound quality had already became many then-listeners’ decision criteria in choice of disc among labels.

The concerted technological advantage as presented by the Sony DSD process and the Teac Esoteric equipment also propelled the sound quality of this limited-edition hybrid SACD above similar efforts by other labels in their DSD remastering of original releases of the same period. For once, this performance sounded like it was recorded in a more spacious venue with acoustic properties more substantially balanced.

Separation of instrument timbre was first-rate, comparable to the more recent and best DSD classical recordings I’ve heard. Intrinsic characteristics of instrument groups also came through in beautifully balanced crystalline clarity and tonal warmth. The fortissimo and pianissimo passages were superbly maintained in breathtaking dynamic contrasts, enabling my sound system to reproduce the surging tension following tender moments more faithfully.

The price of $55 for a hybrid SACD is expensive; but considering this disc was created to augment Esoteric’s 20th Anniversary celebration, and that the recording was remastered using Esoteric’s most advanced digital equipment and its designated top cable system, its value for playback in an audiophile’s system becomes immense. Have we also forgotten the fact that the remastering process was supervised by Mr. Okihiko Sugano himself? Now, how much value can one slap onto such a Beethoven disc?

Listening to this disc was like witnessing Davis and members of the orchestra reversing their aging process miraculously, becoming young again and embarking together on a new music-making era with today’s best archiving technologies, fully intact with a lifetime’s precious experience in living and music-making. This disc perhaps also signifies a glimpse of the future, a future that may give rise to another golden era of classical magnificence, a fantastic one that will also see the birth of a whole new generation of classical fans.

For now, if only Mr. Sugano and Mr. Ohmachi would consider giving Decca’s Solti/Mahler discs the same overhaul…

System:

47 Laboratory 4704 PiTracer CD transport
Wadia Reference Series 9 Decoding Computer System
Harmonix Reimyo PAT-777 300B SET power amplifier
Bösendorfer VC 7 loudspeaker system
Combak Harmonix HS-102RCADG “Harmonic-Strings” RCA digital cable
Audio Note 42-strand, pure silver litz Sogon™ interconnects
Combak Harmonix HS-101 SLC “Sophisticated Listener’s Choice” single-wired speaker cable

This disc is selected as one of Dagogo Editor’s Top Reference Discs.

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