Richard M. Daley, Mayor of Chicago, said of Sir Georg Solti, "Under his direction, the Chicago Symphony has achieved new heights, and is respected internationally as a world-class organization." Any number of other people, including Solti himself, expressed that misleading sentiment, proving that people have short memories. Apparently, they had all forgotten that half a dozen years before Solti, the great Fritz Reiner conducted the Chicago Symphony (from 1953 to 1963), raising it to international prominence, and through his RCA Living Stereo recordings helping to pioneer the stereo age.
I mention this information because I always welcome any new remasterings of Reiner's work, especially when they are as good as this one from HDTT (High Definition Tape Masters).
It was with Richard Strauss that Austro-Hungarian born Fritz Reiner (1888-1963) made his name with some of the earliest (1954) stereo recordings of R. Strauss's work; however, Reiner was no slouch when it came to Johann Strauss and family, either, as demonstrated by this brief collection of waltzes by Johann II and Josef Strauss. As I said about Reiner's Johann Strauss music in an earlier review of JVC's remastering of the same material, I like the music, and I like the way Reiner plays it. Almost everything Reiner conducted came out fresher, more pointed, more secure, more clarified, and more refined than ever before. Sure, Willi Boskovsky, another of my favorites in the Strauss family, put a touch more bounce, more verve, into in Strauss waltzes, but Reiner added the element of purity. I like the selections here, too: three Strauss Jr. waltzes: "Morning Papers," "Emperor Waltz," and "On the Beautiful Blue Danube"; and Strauss Jr.'s brother Josef Strauss's waltz "Village Swallows."
For good measure, HDTT have coupled Reiner's J. Strauss recordings with Arthur Fiedler's Boston Pops accounts of Edward Strauss's "Doctrines," Josef Strauss's "Music of the Sphere," and Johann Strauss Jr.'s "Roses from the South." Fiedler, the longtime conductor of the Boston Pops, probably sold more albums in his lifetime than any single conductor in history, and we generally associate him with light music. Perhaps that's why he handles Edward, Josef, and Johann Strauss's music so handily. It may not have quite the same elegant charm of Reiner's Strauss, but it has plenty of pizzazz to compensate.
Now, here's the thing: As expected, the JVC product did sound a tad better than the HDTT. The JVC seemed a trifle clearer and cleaner to me, with a bit tauter, deeper bass. Keep in mind, however, that you pay anywhere from two to four times as much for the JVC disc, depending on the HDTT format you choose; and if you didn't have the two discs playing side by side, I doubt that even the most golden ears would know there was a difference at all.
Which means that the HDTT remastering sounds darned good. Like its more-costly JVC counterpart, the HDTT disc sounds smoother and better detailed than the standard RCA product and captures the natural warmth of the venue better, too, at least in the case of the Reiner. I did not have a comparison to make for the Fiedler recordings. However, I can assure you the Fiedler performances sound excellent as well. If anything, they appear even wider in stereo spread and a little more forward in frequency balance than the Reiner things.
Of the two orchestras and concert halls represented here in Chicago and Boston, I preferred the Chicago recordings for their slightly warmer, more realistic sound to the Boston recordings with their more hi-fi-oriented sonics. Nevertheless, preferring the one very slightly over the other takes nothing away from the Boston recordings or performances. Everything on the album is first-rate.
For further information on HDTT products, prices, discs, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: