Category Archives: Surround

Delightful Dvorak

Most of us know the wonderful Slavonic Dances by Antonin Dvorak, and they exist in dozens of recordings (my favorites are Szell and Kubelik), but few have heard the three Slavonic Rhapsodies, which truly fit the bill of “neglected masterpieces.” They’ve been recorded here and there, usually one or the other of them as a filler for a recording of a more established Dvorak work, but the inventive audiophile label Pentatone has released all three of them at a time on a new disc conducted by Jakub Hrusa. The excellent orchestra is the PKF – Prague Phihlarmonia, a young ensemble bursting with energy and virtuoso players. The rhapsodies have good tunes galore. The first begins quietly with a more martial middle section, whereas the the second is more episodic. The third had more of a


carnival atmosphere which relates to the the more familiar dances.  The filler piece here is far more than that, a rousing rendition of the composer’s Symphonic Variations, a composition that makes one marvel at Dvorak’s brilliant orchestrations. The recorded sound is a on a par with the compelling performances, in other words first rate, fairly close up yet reverberate and warm. Though I downloaded these performances, they have been released on a Hybrid SACD and if Pentatone is true to form, the rear channels will add just the right hall echo to give the front channels a super three-dimensional sense. While you’re at it, check out the earlier Hrusa Pentatone recording of Dvorak Overtures. Ignore the Amazon 3 star rating; five stars here.  I hope Pentatone continue its relationship with this conductor and orchestra. More recordings would be welcome!


A Genre Bending Chiller That Delivers

I get so tired of watching ads on television for movie thrillers. In these ads they usually show you the best, or most arresting, parts. You watch the movie and find the rest is pretty tepid. Not so with 10 Cloverfield Lane, a genuine thriller that will get your heart racing and rivet your attention to the screen.  In it, a young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) comes to after an automobile accident to find herself in a bunker run by survivalist John Goodman.

10 Cloverleaf Lane

She’s told that there’s been trouble outside and the air is poisonedand that she is only safe in the bunker,  but she comes to suspect that crazy old John has trapped her for other reasons.  I can’t tell more so I won’t ruin the surprises, but let’s just say that Goodman is magnificent, good enough to earn an Oscar nomination, though those aren’t generally give for this sort of movie. Genres are combined and bent and the ending will astonish you. This is one thriller that delivers! It’s available now on an  immaculately produced Blu-ray with terrifying surround sound that also includes a DVD and a digital copy.

Tchaikovsky Times Three

Due to medical procedures, financial ills, and just plain winter lethargy, I’ve neglected reviewing classical music recordings. That ends now. Thanks to Naxos Records’ new Critic’s Download Portal, I have almost endless access to new and old recordings from well known and not so well known labels. I can explore and pass along my findings to you.

Tchaikovsky 6th NOezck

It happened that I was hit with three recordings of Tchaikovsky’s last symphony, the ‘Pathetique,” in a row. The one from maestro Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony on Reference Recordings has received the most publicity. The pubic seems to have roared their approval for the German conductor’s testosterone laden readings of the basic repertory in a most fanatical manner. I’m not that big a fan, but have to admit that he has the Pittsburgh players performing exceptionally well and that his Tchaikovsky 6th, though slightly eccentric, has its moments. Honeck writes his own program notes, exceptionally well, it must be said, and outlines and defends his reasons for doing certain passages a particular way.  The sound for the Pittsburgh recordings, however, has been relegated to an outfit called Soundmirror and not to Reference Recordings usual excellent team. And I have yet to be convinced that Soundmirror can make a recording that is half as good as those Reference turned in consistently with the Minnesota Orchestra. The main fault is that there’s just too much sound, which dulls the precise execution of the orchestral choirs and muddies their interface.

Tchaikovsky 6th Jurowski

On the other hand, LPO Live has gotten live recording down to an art and produces recordings that are well balanced and exciting. One is more aware of the performances than the sound, which is probably as it should be. The Russian maestro and Music Director of the London Philharmonic is young Vladimir Jurowski and on the LPO Live double release he turns in a reading Of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” that is absolutely superb. He creates passion and tension and gets precise playing from his Brit musicians, but never crosses the line from sentiment to sentimentality, an easy thing to do in this music, finding not only drama, but lyricism and ballet references in this interpretation. Moreover, his “filler piece” is perhaps the best recording of Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony (“Winter Daydreams,” or “Winter Reveries”) that I’ve every heard. In treating this early work just like one of the later ones, he causes us to discover that it is, indeed, a great piece of music, not the trifle it is usually thought to be. Honeck’s “filler,” by the way is opera for orchestra, a suite from Dvorak’s Russalka.

Tchaikiovsky Dausgaard

Finally, on the BIS audiophile label, we find a curious yet successful against all odds performance of Tchaikovsky’s 6th from Thomas Dausgaard and his Swedish Chamber Orchestra. Dausgarrd has been playing big pieces with his smaller forces to expose their inner voices and make us aware of their construction. Since his orchestra is first-rate, this often works – as it does here. I wouldn’t want to have his as my only recording of this piece, but it is surely worth a listen or two to hear those marvelous woodwind parts so immaculately played. The sturdy filler is a crackerjack performance of Tchaiokvsky’s Romeo & Juliet.

All of these recordings are available as downloads, or on disc, from Naxos America’s Classics on Line. On disc the Honeck and Dausgaard performances are Hybrid SACD’s, with multichannel  surround.

Ant-Man – Small Hero Delivers Big Entertainment

The universe of Marvel Comics is generally large, no make that gigantic. You have a collection of super heroes with superpowers and villains that seem virtually unstoppable. The Avengers have destroyed part of New York City and other parts of our earth as well.  How could a tiny hero from Marvel’s “B” series compete. Very well, thank you. What Ant-Man lacks in size and power, it makes up in charm, levity, and ingenuity.


A lot of that feeling has to do with Paul Rudd, one of the most affable actors in Hollywood. Rudd plays a just released con with principles who is stalked and hired by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, in great comic adventure form) to wear a suit that will shrink him in size so he can steal and destroy the only other suit (Yellowjacket) from villain Darren Cross (A deliciously evil Corey Stoll). Cross plans on selling the suit to HYDRA, which as we know from other Marvel movies and particularly from TV’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., is bent on world domination and destruction. The lengthy exposition is breezy and the last third special effects are awesome.  The Blu-ray disc looks and sounds like a million bucks. You’ll enjoy it on a regular set up but if you have a home theater with surround sound, you’ll be knocked into orbit. Very enlightening and entertaining extras showing how it was all done. Two codes, two, so watch all the credits. “Ant-Man will return” it says. I can’t wait.

Surrounded by Flutes

Those readers who follow regularly will know that I’m a big fan of surround sound, not just for theatrical blockbuster movies, but for music, too. When surround first came out it was often used to exaggerate direction by placing instrumental choirs and soloists in the rear channels when the music didn’t call for it. But there are a number of compositions that do require instrumentalists in locations other than the front. These include the Berlioz Requiem, with its four brass choirs placed in the corners of the church or Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. Surround is indispensable to these compositions if they are to be heard correctly.

Shadow of Sirius

Now here comes Naxos with a Blu-ray collection of contemporary wind band pieces that all use surround to encompass an audience and heighten its listening experience. Steven Bryant’s Concerto for Wind Ensemble has three concertino groups surrounding the audience; Joel Puckett’s Shadow of Serius – Concerto for Flute with Winds and Percussion, places very effective echo flutes all around the listening area; and John Mackey’s Kingfishers Catch Fire adds brilliant trumpet fanfares in the rear to the finale. The playing of the University of Texas Wind Ensemble under the direction of Jerry Junkin is all first rate and not only is the recording surround, it is also HD, recorded and delivered at 24 bits/96kHZ. It’s not always an easy listen (I welcomed the familiar jazz patterns in the 3rd movement of the Bryant composition) but always an exhilarating one.