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Carmen-Fantasie. Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin; James Levine, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. DG 00289 477 5721.

Companies of all kinds love new technologies as they allows them to introduce new products. Record companies are no different; for the last few years a few of them have been jumping all over SACD in an effort to repackage some of their older material. Super Audio Compact Discs have the potential for reproducing a multiple of channels, not just two like regular CDs and, because of their greater storage capacity, reproduce things in what is theoretically better sound. You see, the discs have several layers, enabling them, for instance, to include multitrack SACD recordings and two-channel SACD recordings on a high-density layer and conventional two-channel CD recordings on a separate layer. Such is the case with the present DG recording of Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Vienna Philharmonic playing, among other things, Sarasate's Carmen-Fantasie.

The recording itself was made in 1992 and released by DG in 1993 in regular two-track stereo. Now, the company has gone back into the vaults for the original multi tracks and transferred them to a hybrid surround-sound SACD, along with SACD stereo and CD stereo versions as well. But first, the music. Ms. Mutter was a child prodigy who proved herself one of the world's foremost violinists. While she usually tackles things heavier than the material on this disc, it's a pleasure to hear her let her hair down, so to speak. The Carmen-Fantasie is delightful, as are the other popular favorites that accompany it: Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen, Tartini's "Devil's Trill," Ravel's Tzigane, Massenet's "Meditation" from Thais, and Faure's Berceuse.

The only minor snag for some listener's may be DG's actual sound; not the multiple channels or the improved SACD audio quality, mind you, but the closeness of the miking. Whether it's SACD two-channel stereo or CD two-channel, I don't think I've ever heard a more closely miked DG recording in my life. Combined with a high output level, the disc practically blows you out of your seat until you can run and adjust the volume. Even then, there is no getting around the closeness of the violin. However, I have seldom heard a DG recording with more clarity and definition either, (esp. in SACD), so maybe there is compensation in all things, as Emerson said. The sonics may not be entirely natural, but, boy, does they carry an impact. Unfortunately, the impact is mainly in the violin, because the orchestra often gets lost in the background; nor is there much deep bass response to remind us that they are there.

Be that as it may, these are beautiful performances by a totally committed and assured artist. If I still prefer Perlman's account of the Carmen-Fantasie on EMI (coupled with an also good Paganini Violin Concerto), it's only because I have enjoyed his account for many more years and find it a comfortable old friend. However, if you have an SACD player, the fun of experimenting with the various modes may be half your entertainment. But whichever way you play it, you'll hear a great violinist enjoying herself with in some familiar old chestnuts.
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Author:Puccio, John
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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