When SACD came out in 1999, any number of record companies jumped on it, many of them in an effort to repackage some of their older material in the new format. Hybrid Super Audio Compact Discs have, after all, the potential for reproducing multiple channels, not just two channels like regular CDs and, because of their greater storage capacity, reproduce things on the SACD layer in what is theoretically better sound. The discs, as you know, 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 this 2005 DG release of Anne-Sophie Mutter, James Levine, and the Vienna Philharmonic playing, among other things, Pablo de Sarasate's Carmen-Fantasie.
DG initially made the recording in 1992, issuing it in 1993 only on CD in regular two-track stereo. But with the advent of SACD, the company went back into the vaults for the original multichannel tracks and transferred them to this 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. Although Ms. Mutter's account of the Sarasate piece may not display the all-out thrills of Ruggiero Ricci's famous recording with Pierino Gamba and the LSO on Decca (and remastered on JVC), it offers the elegant, refined playing that we have come to expect from her.
Be that as it may, these are beautiful performances by a totally committed and assured artist, and the Vienna Philharmonic is still one of the world's great ensembles. If I still prefer the accounts of the Carmen-Fantasie by Itzhak Perlman on EMI (coupled with an equally good Paganini Violin Concerto) and with the aforementioned Ricci, it is only because I have enjoyed their recordings for many years and find them comfortable old friends. However, if you have an SACD player, the fun of experimenting with the various modes may be half your entertainment. Whichever way you play the Mutter disc, you'll hear a great violinist enjoying herself with some familiar old chestnuts.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: