SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54. Concert-Allegro with Introduction, Op. 134. Introduction and Allegro Appassionato, Op. 92.
Christian Zacharias, pianist/conductor; Lausanne Chamber Orchestra
DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 940 1033-5 TT: 61:49 (5.l channel / 2 + 2 + 2)

DEBUSSY: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. Symphonic Fragments from Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien. RAVEL: Suite from Ma Mère l'oye . La Valse.
Bonn Beethovenhalle Orch/Marc Soustrot, cond.
DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 937 1099-5 TT: 64:36 (5.1 channel / 2 + 2 + 2)

BEETHOVEN: Missa Solemnis, Op. 123.
Hillevi Martinpelto, soprano; Elena Zaremba, mezzo-soprano; Herbert Lippert, tenor; Ronnie Johnsen, bass; Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno; Bonn Beethovenhalle Orch/Marc Soustrot, cond.
DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 937 1128-5 TT: 81:51 (5.1 channel / 2 + 2 + 2)

These are three of the recent DVD Audio Disks released by the German company Dabringhaus und Grimm. The company describes their "Sound Ideal." "All MDG recordings are produced in the natural acoustics of specially chosen concert halls. It goes without saying that our audiophile label refrains from any sort of sound-modifying manipulation with reverberation, found filters, or limiters. We aim at genuine reproduction with precise depth gradation, original dynamics, and natural tone colors. It is thus that each work acquires its musically appropriate spatial dimension and that the artistic interpretation attains to the greatest possible naturalness and vividness."

On the back of each Video jewel-box it is stated in very small letters, "no picture / only music," and informs that in the "play" modus you may change from Dolby Digital to Pure PCM reproduction..." Their DVD Audio Disks can be played on DVD Audio/Video players in 5.1 surround sound or "2+2+2." On DVD Video players they can be played in stereo or 5.l multi-channel, but NOT 2+2+2. Confusingly, they list SACD/DVD-Video players as being able to reproduce stereo or 5.1 multi-channel. I don't understand what they mean by the "SACD/DVD-Video players" statement. These DVD audio disks will not play on a SACD player.

MDG also describes what they call "2+2+2" recordings, a system they developed which is "compatible with stereo and surround sound." They make the statement, "Whereas stereo and surround sound can only provide two-dimensional sound reproduction (which is incorrect; of course multi-channel sound is three-dimensional because of its very nature), the 2+2+2 mutichannel process not only allows three-dimensional sound reproduction, but provides "sweet spots" (sic) all over the listening area. MDG than advises, "for 2+2+2 multichannel sound, please utilize your existing stereo speakers (in front right and left) and rear speakers (behind to the right and left). Then mount an additional speaker pair directly above the two front stereo speakers. The distance between each of the upper speakers and the stereo speaker below it should be half that between the two front stereo speakers. It is a good idea to position the upper speakers against the side walls. For three-dimensional sound, feed the signal of the center speaker to the upper left speaker and the subwoofer signal to the upper right channel."

That's all they say—there is no comment if they feel their new arrangement for speakers in a multi-channel sound system would work on regular 5.1 channel non "2+2+2" recordings. To adjust your surround system to play "2+2+2" recordings some rewiring would be necessary—or additional equipment would be required. Does MDG really expect listeners to get MORE speakers/equipment just to be able to hear "2+2+2" recordings? Also it seems very unlikely to me if the signal for the subwoofer is sent to one of the upper front speakers this could result in quality sound. The .1 or sixth channel (the subwoofer channel) contains only very low frequency information—surely hearing this from a front upper speaker would unbalance the sound. Doubtless in the MDG system the sixth channel contains much more than low-frequency information and that surely would make a difference. Doubtless there is some truth in their concept of sound that there could be more realism if some sound was heard from a point higher than the rest—Chesky also believes this. But it seems this questionable new system will only add to all of the confusion that already exists in the world of surround sound (see our FEATURE on Surround Sound). If you wish to know more about the MDG system, visit their website:

I've listened to these three new DVD audio disks on my regular 5.1 surround system utilizing my DVD Audio player, with mixed sonic impressions. The Beethoven Mass is very well performed, well recorded with a natural balance between the superb Czech chorus, orchestra and the four soloists. Everything is in front, with ambient sound from the rear. The recording was made in the Beethovenhalle Bonn which also might have been used for the Debussy-Ravel disk which disappoints in both sound and performance. Interpretively, the rich imagery of Impressionist music surprisingly escapes conductor Marc Soustrot. These Debussy and Ravel performances are prosaic at best, particularly La Valse which limps along lamely. The orchestra sounds quite small and cannot provide the mass of sound Ravel's score demands. In this resonant hall timpani and bass drum are a big blur, the gong heard several times at the climax of La Valse obliterates everything else. Performances on the Schumann DVD audio disk are quite good, after a too-fast opening for the concerto. Christian Zacharias has had a distinguished career as a pianist for the past three decades although his artistry is not well represented currently on recordings. He also is a renowned teacher and for the past decade has pursued a conducting career as well. Zacharias is artistic director and principal conductor of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra heard on this recording. It's a small group (less than 40 players) but sounds larger because of the recording site—Métropole Lausanne, which almost sounds like a gymnasium. Piano sound is rather brittle in the upper register; the excessive reverberation clouds the piano from middle C down, although it compliments the strings. There is much ambient sound coming from rear speakers. Of course I have no idea how any of these DVD audio disks would sound played back "2+2+2"—and have no intention of changing my muti-channel setup to find out. It is unfortunate the record world didn't agree on a single system for multi-channel sound. The fact that they didn't is a nightmare for the listener.

R.E.B. (August 2003)