Saturday, January 22, 2005

Paray's Chabrier on Mercury Living Presence: Lookin' for fun and feelin' groovies

The justifiably famous early stereo recording of Paul Paray conducting French music including Chabrier's Espana has been issued by Universal in their Mercury Living Presence SACD series. Paray's Espana is also one of the LP's released by Classic Records, a company that specializes in high-quality audiophile reissues of classical and jazz material primarily of the 1950's and '60s.

Paray was of course Mercury's "French specialist," and while I generally prefer RCA's Charles Munch in the same repertoire, Paray could at times be the more energetic and (superficially) exciting conductor. Certainly his Espana is generally acknowledged to be among the greatest on record; while it's unquestionably a high-voltage reading, if pressed for a choice, I'd have to go with Artaulfo Argenta's on Decca: a classic performance in vivid sonics by a tragically short-lived conductor.*

I absolutely flipped over the LP** when I first played it. For one thing--and I know this is a crude criterion for judging records--it has some of the hugest dynamics ever inscribed onto a vinyl disc. I mean, you can read it and feel it in the grooves (not that I spend a large portion of my life reading and feeling record grooves, mind you). It's so loud at the climaxes as to border on frightening. The high and low frequencies are maximally extended and the whole thing is concert-hall realistic.

The SACD, I'm sorry to report, is a total stiff.*** It's so lacking in any of the qualities that impressed me about the LP that it almost seems as if the engineers made a mistake of some kind (getting out of bed in the morning perhaps having been the first and most egregious).

Paul Paray: poor man's Charles Munch?

I confess to not having A-B'd the two items in question, but I have in fact done what I always prefer to do: sit down at different times and listen to the respective discs all the way through. My experience has led me to find that switching back and forth from one disc to the other tends to mask rather than reveal differences. I also feel I have a reasonably good audio memory, which helps.

I regret not being able to recommend this disc in its Super Audio form: a real shame, since it's one of the true glories of the Living Presence catalog. Perhaps next time...if there is a next time.

Meanwhile, support vinyl and make yourself gleefully happy: order a copy of the Classic LP reissue post haste.


* Though I've yet to hear a CD iteration that doesn't make my fillings hurt; the Speaker's Corner LP reissue is the one to own.

** One has to do this in order to play Side 2, by the way.

*** By no means a finding common to all the Mercs thus far released on SACD. I'll eventually be reporting on other releases that far surpass this one in faithfulness to the original source and all-around audio satori.


At 7:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Votre critique est lamentable ! Ouvrez vos oreilles (et vos neurones)et écoutez ce que le SACD apporte en plus...
Quant à comparer les disques de Paul Paray avec ceux de Charles Münch et de préférer ces derniers, c'est vraiment une question de surdité profonde qui semble irrécupérable !

At 3:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't read french, but I'm assuming this person is trying to say what I'm thinking: Paul Paray is the conductor's conductor. Perfection. To say he is somehow more superficial than Munch is like saying that Mozart was superficial because everything he wrote was "pretty". Munch is great, Paray is astounding. Different greatnessess. And in the end... are we REALLY comparing Espana? Like there is some depth to be found in THAT music? Com e on. Think.

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