Sounds a bit flat for an SACD
KIllerShrew | Grand Ledge, MI | 07/30/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Although overall I enjoyed this CD, I was still a bit dissappointed by it. I found it to be surprisingly flat and lifeless sounding for an SACD. Instead of the crisp clear audio that I've come to expect from SACDs, it sounded duller than most standard CDs that I have. Furthermore, the "surround" sound that it claims to have was, to me, rather minimal, focusing primarily on the echo effect in the rear speakers that I've sadly noticed a number of other classical multi-channel SACDs use. While this gives an interesting feeling of being an audience member in an orchestra hall or a cathedral, it's not as enjoyable as having a more in-depth surround experience (e.g., one that would put you in the middle of the orchestra and choir rather than in the audience). [For a good example of a more in-depth classical surround sound, by the way, check out the SACD recording of "The Coronation of King George II" issued by Hyperion.]
Regarding the performances, I found most of the soloists to be adequate although I felt the sopranos displayed far too much vibrato for this type of piece. The orchestra was very good and would have greatly benefited from a more vibrant SACD production.
If you want the quintessential (and, in my opinion, far superior) original instrument production of "Messiah," get the Christopher Hogwood version (with Emma Kirkby and David Thomas and the Academy of Ancient Music). I found the standard CD version of that production to be more clear and lifelike than this "SACD" version.
Virginia Opera Fan | Falls Church, VA USA | 12/06/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I've owned the two channel redbook CD version of this performance since its release. I found the SACD at a cut rate price at a local used CD store and bought it for comparison. Universal has issued a number of older two channel recordings in SACD format with rear channel ambient sound derived from the two channel tapes. I guess it's easier to make a four (or five) wheeler out of a bicycle than it was to make a bicycle out of a unicycle in the old days of electronic stereo because the results are pretty satisfying. Personally, I tend towards productions of concert music that give us the sound of the hall, not an artifical acoustic that plunks the listener in the middle of the players. The multi-channel version isn't the real thing but could have turned out much worse. The remastered 24 bit recording doesn't sound appreciably different on my system than the excellent earlier "4D" standard CD. This was a pre-DSD (1996) recording.
McCreesh's accompanying essay cites the influence of the romantic tradition (Sargent et al) on his approach to the work. The performance doesn't reflect the work of the earlier generation as much of it sounds rushed and perfunctory. That's certainly not a characteristic of Sargent, Boult, or Klemperer, to cite only three recorded examples.
The soloists are OK, but none of them stand out from the recorded competition. Orchestra and chorus play and sing well and can cope with the conductor's tempos.
McCreesh employs a circa 1800 organ that has a larger sound than is typical for current period practice performances. The notes contend this is consistent with the larger chamber organs used in Handel's time. It does make an audible difference in the weight of the orchestral sound in some of the bigger moments. The performance is pitched at 418 hz in unequal temperament.
McCreesh has given us exemplary accounts of other Handel oratorios - Saul, Solomon and Theodora. The Messiah recording is a middling effort in a very crowded field.