Music in the Round #30 Recordings in the Round

Sidebar: Recordings in the Round

Multichannel recordings have been most successful, in my experience, for three categories of music: 1) expansive and dynamic music for large ensembles sounds less constrained through 5.1 channels than through two; 2) the typically small ensembles of chamber music can be almost completely encompassed with high-resolution multichannel; and 3) complex polyphonic music whose intricacies demand as much transparency and detail as possible. Here are three fine examples of the third category.

Christopher Jackson, Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal
ATMA Classique SACD2 2507 (SACD)
This warm, rich-sounding disc contains Italian choral music of the late 16th century written for performance in the churches of Rome and the Vatican, and performed here in Quebec's L'Eglise de la Nativité de la Sainte-Vierge, La Prairie. All performers, including the continuo of theorbo, cello, and organ, are up front; the surround channels are devoted to an expansion and clarification of the choral details. I particularly enjoyed Palestrina's bell-like sonorities and, in general, the dramatic, quasi-operatic expressiveness of the entire Italian school.

TALLIS: Spem in alium: Music for Monarchs and Magnates
Harry Christophers, The Sixteen
Coro CORSACD16016 (SACD)
There is much more here than the title work, Tallis's famous motet; there are other works by Tallis, as well as Gibbons and Tomkins. The music—delicately detailed and somewhat emotionally restrained, even in its most colorful moments—was recorded in London's famous All Saints Church, Tooting (what a great name for a recording site!). One hears more of the church's silence than its sound. Voices seem close and direct, but only when I closed my eyes did I hear the acoustic that embraces them. The spread of voices is very wide, allowing you to discern and follow the choral intricacies. This is taken to the extreme in the spectacular, 40-part Spem in alium itself, in which the voices completely surround the listener: each voice can be individuated, melodically and spatially.

Mattius Jung, The Saxon Vocal Ensemble
Tacet S156 (SACD)
This recording is every bit as exciting, lovely, and eccentric as the DVD-A of J.S. Bach's motets by the same forces (Tacet 108). The motets of Guillaume Bouzignac (ca 1592–ca 1641) are less tightly structured than Bach's, but are just as emotionally engaging, and perhaps more lyrical, as might be expected from a composer of the south of France. Tacet plays its familiar tricks, though, using a different spatial distribution of voices on almost every track, and providing a seating chart for each. In general, each arrangement seems well suited to provide the greatest clarity of individual vocal threads by carefully separating the solo and ensemble voices while maintaining a good balance.

MOZART: Symphonies 38–41
Sir Charles Mackerras, Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Linn CKD 308 (2 SACDs)
What richness! Here are Mozart's crowning symphonic achievements in extraordinarily stylish and exciting performances by, in my opinion, his finest contemporary interpreter and a superb ensemble. Following on their outstanding recording of the Requiem, much the best on SACD, Mackerras and the SCO are captured by engineer Philip Hobbs, producer James Mallinson, and editor-mixer Julia Thomas in a slightly more immediate presentation that, for me, conveys Mozart's melodic charm as well as his use of dynamic contrast. Linn's entire SACD series with the SCO is consistently outstanding musically and technically, but they—or anyone—will have difficulty topping this one.

Joan Albert Amargós: Northern Concerto. Daniel Börtz: Pipes and Bells. Steven Edward Stucky: Ëtudes for Recorder and Orchestra.
Michala Petri, recorder; Lan Shui, Danish National Symphony Orchestra
DaCapo 6.220531 (SACD)
Every so often one comes across marvelous music that, despite the lack of an absolutely cutting-edge recording, deserves to reach a wider audience. Because it is a multichannel SACD, Movements qualifies, technically, for this feature. These three exciting new works for recorder and orchestra, commissioned by virtuoso Michala Petri, will explode your traditional expectations for the instrument. The pieces range from Amargós's dynamic and dramatic Northern Concerto (nominated in 2007 for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Composition) and Börtz's Pipes and Bells, an atmospheric play on texture and tonality, to the fascinating experimental expansions of phrasing in Stucky's Ëtudes. The sound is decent if a bit overdamped, with somewhat leaden high strings. It's not for audiophiles, but who cares? Great stuff.—Kalman Rubinson