BELLINI: Scenes and arias from La sonnambula and Il pirata. DONIZETTI: Scenes and arias from Maria Padilla and Lucrezia Borgia. ROSSINI: Scenes and arias from Semiramide and Armida
Renée Fleming, soprano; Kristine Jepson, mezzo-soprano; Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Chorus; Orchestra of St. Luke's/Patrick Summers, cond.
DECCA SACD 470 621 (F) (DDD) (5 channel) TT: 71:44 (HYBRID)

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade, Op. 35. BORODIN: In the Steppes of Central Asia. BALAKIREV: Islamey
Kirov Orchestra, Marinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg/Valery Gergiev, cond.
PHILIPS SACD 470 618 (F) (DDD) (5.1 channel) TT: 62:31 (HYBRID)

Gergiev's Scheherazade previously was REVIEWED on this site; it is an imaginative, exciting performance indeed. Of greatest interest here is that the surround sound, all six channels of it, adds much to the sonic picture. In regular stereo the sound disappoints; in multi-channel it is improved although there still isn't much really low bass—in spite of the extra channel for this information. The sense of space around the orchestra provides a more pleasing effect indeed, although as a recording per se this is not as effective as what is heard on a Decca DVD (440 079 322-9), a video disk called Return of the Firebird which contains not only Scheherazade but the complete Petrushka and Firebird, a Mosfilm Studios production of three Diaghilev masterpieces beautifully filmed, superbly recorded. The Bolshoi State Academic Theatre Orchestra is conducted by Andrey Chistiakov. This also is a 5.1 channel recording, a brilliant sonic achievement indeed. Gergiev's interpretation of Schcherazade is more imaginative, but he didn't have dancers to contend with. It's unfortunate his SACD doesn't contain more music; even with the addition of the quietly evocative Borodin and dazzling Balakirev the total playing time is less than 63'.

Renée Fleming is today's reigning diva, an extraordinary artist in every way, and on Decca's SACD she is heard at her best in a variety of roles that display her remarkable gifts and technical expertise. In multi-channel there is, of course, more space in the aural picture, with superb presence. A fine SACD indeed, with complete texts. The performers are in the front with ambient sound from the rear. This is, as indicated above, only five channels, but there seems to be no lack of bass.

R.E.B. (Sept. 2003)