Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique - Karajan

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique - Karajan

Universal (Japan)  UCGG-9230

Stereo Single Layer

Classical - Orchestral

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique

Berliner Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan (conductor)

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Analogue recording
Comments (11)

Comment by Athenaeus - April 11, 2024 (1 of 11)

On the Tower Records Japan website, someone posted a very detailed comment in the reviews sections of this release:

The person compares various releases of the recording and they're not happy with the SACD version. They even mention an editing error. I'm not going to try and summarize the person's comment; it's best if you read it yourselves (in Google's mangled translation, if you can't read Japanese). Has anyone listened to this release carefully and compared it to previous vinyl of RBCD versions? I was going to order it, but the person's comment is making me hesitate.

Comment by Contrapunctus - April 12, 2024 (2 of 11)

I have to admit, Berlioz isn’t exactly my cup of tea, and I’m not particularly familiar with either the Symphonie fantastique or the Karajan recording. But I did compare the new SHM-SACD with the corresponding RBCD from the big Karajan 70’s box. - From what I can tell, the SACD was completely remixed compared to the CD, and the differences in sound are clearly audible. What struck me about the SACD is that the spatial acoustics have changed, the orchestra seems a tad more distant and a bit deeper embedded in the room. The CD, on the other hand, presents the sound extremely directly and somewhat dry. I suspect this is directly related to the new mixing of the tracks. I quite like the SACD, because the orchestra sounds a bit more natural, as it seems to be fittingly embedded in the room panorama. Mysterious, as the Japanese reviewer writes, are some of the remasterings though. Ever since the release of the first SHM-SACD Bruckner Box with Symphonies 4-6, I’ve been wondering if the master tapes of the FIRST generation were really used for the SACDs in every case. The 4th Symphony (Bruckner) in the RBCD edition of the Karajan 70’s recordings sounds significantly clearer and drier compared to the SHM-SACD. The SHM-SACD of the 4th, in my opinion, sounds extremely reverberant and slightly blurred, almost as if a copy had been used for the remastering.

I’m not sure to what extent the CD I used for comparison from the Karajan 70’s DG-recordings box differs in sound from the countless earlier editions on (SHM-/UHQ-)CD.

Now that I think about it, there seem to be parallels between the respective SHM-SACDs of this recording and Bruckner 4. In both cases, the CD has significantly less reverb and sounds more direct. To my knowledge, recordings can be retrofitted with additional reverb effects. But I wonder if it’s possible to free a recording with strong reverb from this reverb afterwards. If this is not possible, it would be proof that the SHM-SACDs of these two recordings were actually not made from the master tapes of the first generation, but from a copy that already includes additional reverb. Since the Emil Berliner Studios remain silent on this or have so far only given the information to always use the original tapes, this mystery will probably not be solved.

Comment by Athenaeus - April 12, 2024 (3 of 11)

Yes, this reminds us all that Universal Japan basically don't give us any information about the work that went into preparing the SACDs they put out. As these releases are supposed to be for the discerning collector (and are priced correspondingly!), it would be nice of them to lift the veil a bit.

Comment by Contrapunctus - April 12, 2024 (4 of 11)

I’m not sure if Universal Japan is holding out on us with the background info we want on the remasterings. After all, both Universal Japan and Tower Records always hire Emil Berliner Studios (EBS) for the remastering work of analog DG recordings. And some releases from Tower Records (like Bruckner/Jochum or Beethoven/Bernstein) show that Universal Japan and Tower Records are swapping remasterings left and right. It might seem like Tower Records is dishing out more info, but if you look closely, you’ll see they’re just repeating the same old lines over and over, and they’re not giving any specifics.

From what I’ve seen, the real info gap is at Emil Berliner Studios. Over the past few years, EBS has really clammed up when it comes to giving info to private individuals, at least in my experience. For example, back in 2016/2017, I got detailed answers from EBS to various questions I had about remastering, usually straight from Rainer Maillard himself. I could even get him on the phone for a quick chat. Fast forward a few years, and my questions were met with radio silence. Instead, they started saying that this was internal info that only concerned the customer relationship between Universal Japan and EBS, and they were keeping mum about it. This response, which I also got over the phone, left me pretty much speechless. We’re part of a very, very small group of buyers who indulge in the luxury of buying old recordings in multiple editions without batting an eye at the cost. So, I think it’s pretty cheeky of them to withhold the info we want.

(Athenaeus, if you can play DSF files AND you’re interested in the sound of the SHM-SACD (Karajan/Berlioz), you could get in touch with me through the admins. Consider this an offer in response to the poor information policy of Universal Japan/EBS!)

Comment by DYB - April 12, 2024 (5 of 11)

Contrapuctus, did any online store release DSF downloads of the new Karajan/Berlioz? I purchased SACDs of the other two in this series (Offenbach & Honegger), but skipped Berlioz. Was hoping eOnkyo Japan would make DSFs available as they have all the previous DGG releases, but alas, I don't see it. Has another store issued it?

Comment by Contrapunctus - April 12, 2024 (6 of 11)

DYB, let me put it this way: I’ve bought the SHM-SACDs and now I’m also the proud owner of the DSF files. - For a while now, I’ve been listening to my entire SACD collection, which includes several hundred albums, exclusively via USB stick on my Marantz SA-10. Of course, I’ve also found a way to get the SACDs onto the USB stick. I think it’s super convenient and awesome to be able to flip through 200+ albums in a flash. It’s like having a jukebox at my fingertips!

Comment by John Broggio - April 13, 2024 (7 of 11)

re looking up emails of users - I don't have that ability but if both of you email me, I'll put you in touch with each other.

Comment by Athenaeus - April 13, 2024 (8 of 11)

Contrapunctus, thank you for the offer. I have sent an email to John Broggio.

Comment by DYB - April 19, 2024 (9 of 11)

Contrapunctus, oh I gotcha. I do the same thing.

Comment by Don_Angelo - June 22, 2024 (10 of 11)

I must admit I hesitated a lot in buying this one and haven't really made up my mind about it based on the last days I spent listening to this SACD incarnation.

I am quite fond of the work, and own many recordings of it, attended several live performances and my opinions about this specific recording have always been mixed. I own every official recordings of the Fantastique by Karajan and even if he is not the most idiomatic performer of it, I would say he has some very interesting artistic things to say on this work. Yet that particular performance is the one of his I enjoy the least, while still finding it worthy. It sounds almost more like Wagner or Bruckner, as the orchestra feels a lot if not too heavy, than an actual Berlioz work. Even if this can be said of his earlier recordings, I think this one emphasizes it the most.
From an editorial perspective, I think it would have been a higher priority to release on SACD Karajan’s performances for EMI in the fifties or the earlier one he made for DG in the sixties. Hopefully, they will be rereleased later. In other words, I am pointing out the fact that this recording should not be your first choice as a SACD and Karajan, despite all the respect I have for the artist, should not be your introduction to this work because of his biased interpretation.

At the time of writing this comment, I have nothing definitive to write about the sonics and what this SACD offers when compared to the previous redbook incarnation I also own. As it has already been pointed out by previous comments, the balance is less dry and this can be confusing to assess whether the dynamics and details are better or not.

Comment by Contrapunctus - June 23, 2024 (11 of 11)

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we’ll see any new remasterings from the Emil Berliner Studios for the Japanese SHM-SACDs by Universal Japan in the future at all! Currently, the EBS seem to be busy working on old DG archive material even without the Japanese remastering orders. Rainer Maillard has finally convinced the DG management after years of effort, allowing him to indulge his passion for vinyl. For about a year now, he’s been spearheading the ‘Original Source’ series, meticulously analog-mixing the old (mostly) analog DG tapes directly during cutting. These not-so-cheap LPs have print runs of 2000 to 3000 copies and apparently sell quite well—perhaps even better than the corresponding SHM-SACDs. Surprisingly, there’s a large number of YouTube videos on this topic. But one thing is certain: I won’t be going back to LPs!

Regarding the Universal Japan SHM-SACDs, especially the DG albums, I now buy almost every new release. In the past, there were instances when I didn’t purchase certain ones, only to discover years later that those very SACDs were out of print and available only at exorbitant prices. Occasionally, some SACDs do get reprinted, but usually it’s NOT the ones you’re actively seeking.