The Bolshoi Experience: Highlights from Russian Operas (SACD review)

Alexander Vedernikov, soloists, chorus, and orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow. PentaTone Classics SACD 5186 089.

I would never think of recommending a disc of music I didn’t much care for just because it sounded good, but in the case of The Bolshoi Experience, I admit I didn’t care for much of the content, yet the sound was so good, it was hard to resist.

The album contains selections from Glinka’s A Life for the Czar; Alexander Dargomyszki’s Russalka; Tchaikovsky’s Lolanthe, Queen of Spades, and Mazeppa; Rachmaninov’s Aleko; and Borodin’s Prince Igor. While the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra perform the pieces well, of course, with robust and spirited renditions by the Bolshoi singers and musicians, the arias and such themselves tend to be a little offbeat and even downbeat, with the exception of the familiar Prince Igor Polovtsian Dances that conclude the program. I’d say it’s a collection for the opera connoisseur rather than the casual listener like myself.

Ah, but the sound is splendid. The 2005 hybrid SACD release delivers regular two-channel stereo, SACD two-channel, and SACD five-channel sound. I confess I couldn’t hear much difference between the regular stereo and SACD two-channel stereo layers, to which I listened, although there did appear to be what may have been a touch more dynamic impact in the SACD version. However, that aside, the recording in both formats is splendid.

Not only is the audio balance nigh-well perfect, the imaging and dimensionality are quite convincing.  We get genuine depth in this recording, with the orchestra slightly in front of the soloists, and the soloists slightly in front of the chorus. I hope I don’t sound too clich├ęd in saying you’ll feel as though you’re in the concert hall listening to this one. Moreover, I’m sure the five-channel version, which I did not hear, would give a listener an even greater sense of reality with a little surround ambience. So, nice sound, even if I found the music a bit tiring.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa