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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 21 - Volume 42 Issue 47
Raskatov's 'Night Butterflies' - Seattle Symphony's latest recording features a great new work in terrific sound
Arts & Entertainment
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Raskatov's 'Night Butterflies' - Seattle Symphony's latest recording features a great new work in terrific sound

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

SEATTLE SYMPHONY
RASKATOV'S 'NIGHT BUTTERFLIES'
STRAVINSKY'S 'THE RITE OF SPRING'
SEATTLE SYMPHONY MEDIA CD


Sometimes things turn out the opposite of expectations. Such was the case when I visited the recording engineer's studio at Benaroya Hall to audition the latest recordings of the Seattle Symphony. You should know that I am a fan of the DTS HD surround sound on many of the newer Blu-ray discs of opera and classical performances. I eagerly awaited this chance to hear, in surround sound, the attempts by the sound engineer Dmitriy Lipay to capture the Seattle Symphony in action at live concerts.

A few members of the media (radio and print) gathered on a Tuesday morning in the smallish room where Lipay mixes the feed from 30+ microphones strategically placed at live performances of the Symphony. We were surrounded by very high-end but menacing looking speakers as we settled in for a listening adventure. Executive Producer Simon Woods introduced the session with an overall description of the recording goals and guidelines of the CD releases now being sold on the new label, Seattle Symphony Media. (Earlier recordings were done primarily by the Delos label.)

The Sound
Because the just-released stereo CD of the music we heard is so utterly satisfying, I will skip lightly over the disappointing audition we heard that morning. That I did not care for the surround-sound mix may be more a matter of individual tastes than any defect of production. I prefer a spaciousness of sound that allows me to hear the space between instruments that are so exquisitely rendered that they never mess with the sounds of others. In other words, each is a super-clear element in the overall blend of an orchestra. What we got in Lipay's surround-sound mix was a big wash of sound: instruments mingled in a pre-stirred soup that sounded more echo-prone than spacious.

But when I got home with the stereo-only CD and listened to it in the straight stereo mode (as opposed to a surround effect via Dolby, etc.), I was amazed. The super-clarity that I missed in the audition at Benaroya was abundantly apparent in stereo. The instruments had a more specific location in the stereo sound-stage of our home theater as they emerged from the soup with more individual character and impact. Ironically, the sound was more truly spacious. Even the immense dynamic range seemed greater. Play this CD so that you can actually hear the quietest moments and you'll get fortissimos that test any stereo system to its limits. The bass drum is particularly impressive.

The Music
Two Russian-born composers, Alexander Raskatov and Igor Stravinsky, inhabit this CD. While 'The Rite of Spring' is a first-rate performance and a great recording (right up there with the Telarc disc), it's Raskatov's piano concerto 'Night Butterflies' (2013) that makes this disc so treasured. Consisting of 12 movements ranging from 49 seconds to almost 4 minutes long, this ever-changing discovery of new sounds is a delight from start to finish. Although influences of previous composers are present, Raskatov has his own seemingly endless supply of sonic colors. The complex interplay between the piano and orchestra reveals stunning collaboration between soloist Tomoko Mukaiyama, conductor Ludovic Morlot and The Seattle Symphony.

The twelfth movement, in a startling move, has the soloist vocalize in parallel with the piano theme. The composer intended that this soloist be an untrained vocalist, singing without words. Her voice is part of the orchestral fabric and is not spotlighted as an operatic singer would be. Co-commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and the Netherlands' Residentie Orkest, the work was written for Mukiayama.

With each listening, this work grows in my admiration and enjoyment.

The recordings are live, but no audience sounds appear until the applause at the end of the Stravinsky. Balances are perfect, dynamics are huge, and the clarity sparkles. Seattle Symphony Media recordings are available in several formats, including 5.1 surround sound, from various retail companies.

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