Performance 5 stars (highest rating) Sonics (MC) 5 stars
Now, without wishing to go OTT about it, this is one SACD which I think I can unreservedly recommend to EVERY reader of this website who likes classical music. I′d personally go so far as to rate it as probably the most important issue sound-wise I′ve come across in listening to multichannel CDs, indeed in my entire adult listening experience (stretching back thirty years now).
Why? Well, what we have here is a potentially revolutionary way of using the still relatively new idea of multichannel technology in the realm of recorded classical music. Many of you will be familiar with the name of the firm - TACET, a small independent label based in Stuttgart, Germany. For seven years now they have been experimenting with the potential uses of multichannel, and have developed what they call "TACET Real Surround Sound".
What is that? Their basic idea is that NOT ENOUGH use is made of rear channels in the typical MC classical recording - "It does not make full use of SACD", as TACET owner and chief producer Andreas Spreer puts it.
TACET′s approach is to carefully plan microphone set-ups according to the piece of music being recorded, then use the rear speakers proactively in the final mix-down, placing individual instruments or groups of instruments predominantly in them, thereby opening up the acoustic soundstage possible when using 5 full frequency speakers in a 5.0 or 5.1 system.
I was initially very sceptical. SURELY it would sound contrived to have instruments coming at my ears from behind me? SURELY the performance would sound unrealistically sectionalized? It sounded to be an artifical contrivance, or a gimmick.
Then I bought TACET′s DVD-A of "French String Quartets" (some TACET releases are DVD-A, some SACD, some both), and was converted. There is indeed in that recording strong spatialization of the four instruments (first + second violins predominantly in L + R front speakers, viola and cello predominantly in L + R rear).
It SOUNDS weird, but actually the impression is wonderful, and wonderfully musical. The effect is not at all aggressive on the ear, or even unnatural - on the contrary, it′s very intimate, drawing you confidentially into the music, making you aware as never before in my experience of ist subtle balances, conversations and interactions. Spreer again - "The positioning of the musicians might appear synthetic, but the sound is not!" That is it, in a nutshell.
Of course it helps that the Auryn Quartet′s performances of the Debussy, Ravel and Fauré Quartets on this programme are of the highest quality, and they are. I′d rate this the finest chamber recording of goodness knows how many thousands of LPs, CDs, SACDs etc. I have in my collection. It′s a WARM sound, which positively invites you to ENJOY the music.
So - does the same full-channel-five technique work with the much greater challenge of a full orchestra in the two Beethoven symphonies on this new TACET SACD?
It does. The disposition of instruments around the 5 speakers differs a little between Symphonies 7 and 8, but is basically woodwinds and timpani predominantly to the front speakers, lower strings and trumpets to or towards the rear speakers, and first and second violins balanced in between. In the 7th Symphony the first and second violins are placed L + R, the better to bring out Beethoven′s dramatically antiphonal writing for the two sections.
Again, before actually playing the disc, I was a little worried that all of this might sound contrived and artificial. It really doesn′t. You are placed in a listening position somewhat akin to that of a conductor on a podium - the magic being that, for some reason, the music does NOT crowd in on you aggressively as I imagine it might do if you actually WERE in media res, with a baton waving furiously in front of you.
The music is simply all around you, but not in a way that is distracting. Quite the opposite - as with the French Quartets disc, what you get is the impression of being closer to the music and ist processes that ever previously, hearing things you hadn′t heard before, or never fully appreciated. You seem much closer to the actual CREATIVE PROCESS itself, closer to how it must have felt to Beethoven as he actually conceived and wrote this music.
But SURELY, I hear you say, this is nothing like what you would hear in any normal concert hall? You′re right, it isn′t. But then, as Andreas Spreer would argue, neither is a conventional 2-channel stereo recording, however well executed.
And he′s right. ALL sound recordings are ultimately artificial - not the "real thing" you hear when you go to an opera or a concert. Spreer′s argument is that ALL the possibilities of the new MC medium should be utilised to provide more and more rewarding listening experiences for the armchair listener. "The guiding principle", he writes, "is always the score itself", the aim to "confirm how excitingly new and moving we can find familiar works".
That was exactly my reaction on hearing these Beethoven symphony performances. They′re splendid - taut, vital, energetic, very well played by the Polish orchestra, with crisp, incisive conducting by Wojciech Rajski.
The illuminations and excitements offered by the TACET engineering are too numerous to list in detail. I′ll give just one example - in the finale of the Seventh, the combination of excellent playing and the visceral effect of TACET′s engineering makes for an enveloping and elating listening experience. You really do feel the genius of the music burning at very close quarters.
In conclusion - no other company that I know of is doing what TACET are doing, and I very strongly commend this CD to your attention. For me, the improvement over even very good "conventional" multichannel SACD sound recordings is greater than the improvements CD brought over LP (for those who think it brought any!), than stereo brought over mono (for those who think it brought any!), and possibly even than LP brought over 78s.
As I said at the beginning, this is potentially revolutionary. Buy, listen without prejudice, and I hope you like it! [TECHNICAL NOTE: it follows from what I′ve written above that your rear speakers should be very similar in quality to your fronts, as all 5 speakers are assumed to have access to the full range of normal recorded frequencies. If your rears are markedly inferior in quality you won′t get the full effect intended].
[P.S. There is also a straight stereo mix included on this SACD, using two Neumann M49 tube microphones, with no transistors in the transmission sequence]."Terence Blain