Bartok and Kodaly - SCO -

Linn's recorded sound for this hybrid CD/SACD is up to their usual fine standards. Edinburgh's Usher Hall doesn't quite have the glow of the finest halls in the world, but the engineers have achieved a balanced, natural sound that puts the emphasis on the music and the playing. The hall is clear yet warm, and the multichannel imaging gives one a fine sense of the location of the various instrumental groups in the ‘Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste', including the percussion instruments in the center channel. The rear channels bring the listener into the hall without distraction. It is very enjoyable, though, to hear the sound of the crisp whack of the wood of the bow on strings, bouncing off the back walls when Bartók calls for col legno playing effects. Harp and xylophone likewise cut crisply through the lithe string sound. The percussion registers nicely, so that all the sinks and swells of the timpani can be heard. Arguably, the bass drum at the climax of the first movement of ‘Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste' doesn't have as much deep bass impact as would be ideal, but that seems to be a combination of the hall itself, which is a touch bass-light, and the conductor's restraint. After all, with chamber-sized string forces in a modest-sized hall, a huge wallop on the bass drum would sound pretty crude. The Kodály, unlike the Bartók pieces, was moved to a different venue: Greyfriars Church. This venue doesn't sound greatly different in size, but it has more of the flavor of stone or concrete reverberation about it, which suits the improvisational sound of the Kodály nicely. The regular CD layer of this hybrid release is crisp and refreshing in sound, making this an attractive release to all classical listeners, not just those with surround sound. The SACD stereo layer increases the starchy realism of the sound, which finally blossoms in the multichannel layer. In sum, Mackerras brings these works to life like few others. This version of ‘Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste' has become my new favorite, and the ‘Divertimento' makes for a strong coupling. Throw in a glorious spin through Kodály's ‘Dances of Galánta' and handsome multichannel sound, and this disc becomes a must-have. Highly recommended.
To read the complete review go to
14 February 2005