A Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas - Mormon Tabernacle Choir with the Orchestra at Temple Square 
Music Disc Reviews SACD
Written by Richard Elen   
Tuesday, 23 October 2001

Mormon Tabernacle Choir with the Orchestra at Temple Square - Craig Jessop Conducting,
Telarc SACD (Hybrid Multichannel), 2001
| Performance 9 | Sound 9 |

This is an example of the new generation of high-definition recordings that are coming out of recording technology leader Telarc, based in Cleveland OH. Unlike at least one other release, this is available in SACD (Sony/Philips Super Audio CD) format only: there is no equivalent DVD-A version.

Never mind. You can pick up a decent SACD player for $300, so the only thing you have to worry about is where to plug an additional 5.1 analog input. And if you get one for Christmas, this album is of course what you play on it to impress your friends.

And impress them you will. This is another excellent piece of work from Telarc, and with experienced engineers like Michael Bishop at the helm (with Jack Renner in this case), you would expect nothing else. Telarc now use the Sony/Philips DSD (Direct Stream Digital) technology to capture the majority of their recordings, releasing them directly on SACD or converting them to PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) for CD or DVD-A release (or for the Red Book layer on hybrid disks like this).

This kind of performance – orchestral recordings or live performances where there is no major multitrack mixing – is ideal for DSD. The recording was made in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City by mixing in analog and recording to DSD multichannel digital for editing and release. The sound is clear and clean and very, very smooth and "analog-like", as if you are listening directly to the analog mixing console output. This is what you want recording technology to do: to get out of the way and let you listen to the music: the recording is virtually flawless. Even the Red Book layer sounds good; the stereo hi-def mix great… and the surround mix quite incredible. If you want to demonstrate the superiority and impressiveness of surround, this is a good album to use – especially since the stereo mixes here are of the same high quality.

But talk about "performance dynamics": this performance is enormous! My own musical background is choral singing (I used to be in the choir of Coventry Cathedral in England many years ago) and these huge arrangements, notably the opener, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" that really jump out of the speakers, make my heart jump too. The arrangements are extremely sophisticated, powerful and moving: many of them brought tears to my eyes. This must have been an incredible performance to sing in.

Usually I have trouble with American versions of Christmas carols because the English versions have so much better tunes and thrilling descants you never seem to hear in the US (check out the traditional Christmas Eve service from King’s College, Cambridge this year if you don’t believe me, either on NPR or on the Net from www.bbc.co.uk) but on this occasion the arrangements (mainly by Mack Wilberg) generally made up for any deficiencies in the tunes department. Almost. Even using "Greensleeves" as a Christmas melody, silly thing that it is, nearly works if you put enough oomph behind it.

Inevitably, however, I am going to have to point to the big, major Hollywood epic-sized carols on this album as the high points of this disc. "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (which is simply enormous, and includes the wonderful bass strings part that you really HAVE to include), "The First Noel", "Joy To The World", and "Angels From The Realms of Glory", for example, do sound as if they just jumped out of the closing titles of some major Christmas epic movie. You can just imagine it (in black and white, of course): the camera tracking back and up, so that the happy Town Square carolers singing with their twinkling lanterns in the falling snow become smaller and smaller in the distance as we begin to see the night sky spread out overhead with one bright star directly above, and the words "The End" fade up over the image…

This is the gorgeous soundtrack for a sumptuous, cinematic, surround Christmas. I, for one, loved it, and I hope you will too. This show will run and run.








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