FALLA: The Three-Cornered Hat Ballet. Nights in the Gardens of Spain.
Josep Colom, pianist; Orquesta Ciudad de Granada/Josep Pons, cond.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 801606 (F) (DDD) TT: 65:15 (5 channel)

MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition. Night on Bald Mountain. Introduction, Entr-Acte and Dance of the Persian Slaves from Khovanshchina Excerpts. BORODIN: In the Steppes of Central Asia.
St. Louis Symphony Orch/Leonard Slatkin, cond.
MOBILE FIDELITY UDSACD 4004 (F) TT: 66:43 (5 channel)

The Falla SACD is an attractive combination of two of the composer's best-known works. The smallish (60 member) Granada orchestra plays well enough under Josep Pons' direction, and Josep Colom is a fine soloist in the evocative three nocturnes for piano and orchestra Nights in the Gardens of Spain with the piano nicely balanced against the orchestra. Itxaro Mentxaka is a native-sound mezzo soloist in Three-Cornered Hat, appropriately placed well-back by the engineers. The recording was made in November 1996 in the Manuel de Falla de Grenade Cutural Center with Pere Casulleras as producer. The Cultural Center sounds like a gymnasium, with excessive resonance that clouds detail although, surprisingly, castanets and high percussion are vividly projected. The bass drum, so prominent in the final minutes of Hat, is a low undefined blob. The orchestra is heard from front speakers, lots of ambient sound from the rear.

The Mobile Fidelity Mussorgsky is another matter sonically. What we have here are the original four-channel sound tracks recorded May 20, 1975 at Powell Symphony Hall in St. Louis; producer Marc Aubort gives technical details in the CD notes. Mobile Fidelity has used their own "GAIN 2 (Greater Ambient Information Network)" to process the original recordings. Their Ultradisc "UHR" (Ultra High Resolution) procedure has been used in preparing the masters for this SACD. For more information about this, visit the technology section at: http://www.mofi.com

Slatkin's Mussorgsky performances are excellent by any standards. I wish he had used Stokowski's arrangement of Night on Bald Mountain and the Khovanshchina Entr-Acte which are far more colorful. Since the time of this recording he made another recording of Pictures for the Reader's Digest, but now has changed his views on the music. Instead of Ravel's orchestration Slatkin has been performing the work orchestrated by others including Caillet, Ashkenazy, Wood, Gorchakov, Tushmalov and Stokowski, but retaining Ravel's orchestration for the final two movements.

These were superb recordings to begin with, wide in dynamic range and beautifully balanced. The rear channels add to the natural quality of the sound. This same program is available on a Vox budget CD (7208), but there is no comparison whatever in sonic quality. Let us hope the Mobile Fidelity series of reissues continues, perhaps with Skrowaczewski's Minnesota Stravinsky and Prokofiev recordings?

R.E.B. (March 2004)