Base 2 Music has released a new Cesar Franck recording on Hybrid SACD in 5.1 surround sound. Recorded to PCM 24-bit / 176.4kHz in July 2017, this multi-channel release features concert organist Jean-Paul Imbert who plays the Cavaillé-Coll organ of Saint Etienne, Caen, Normandy in France.
For those who have had the opportunity to hear the resonant and deep tones of pipe organs, it becomes evident that size does matter. To actually move the air and create the massive sound wave which is a critical aspect of the listening experience, mass and energy are imparitive. To record and present pipe organs on any media becomes a challenge, first solved with high resolution audio. The playback will also vary widely depending on your listening environment, and more specifically the speakers and power amp that become the pipe organ when playing back this 5.1 SACD.
It would be great if audiophiles like us could all have massive speakers and power amp hulks, yet I am grateful for the level of clarity and throw my setup offers, and these Jean-Paul Imbert recordings sound magnificent, especially when played at performance levels! Five equally spaced omnidirectional microphones were employed, and the surround recording was designed to work for quad setups where the center channel is not available.
When listening you are literally encompassed by the organ with counter parts bubbling from the back channels on “Prélude Fugue and Variations.” The subs extrude with each deep note strung along the bottom, along with smooth chordal structures stretching across the front channels. Dynamics are excellent, ranging from the gentle melodic sections to the thunderous più forte crescendos.
Throughout these recordings there is a wonderful level of airiness, a very natural room sound that is extremely evident on the fourth track “Andantino.” This joyful piece starts with a carnival feel, moving into much more introspective sections. I continue to be pleasantly surprised by how well the deepest of lows translate in my moderate size listening room. Likewise, I find the balance between the lows, mids, and highs to be amazingly good. It is easy to close my eyes and fall into a seat at Saint Etienne without actually physically travelling there.
As one would expect from a lossless high-resolution recording, I found this album to be free of distortion. What I particularly enjoyed is the overtones and detail that defines the wind driven pipe organ. From the smooth to the slightly raspy tonal qualities, this SACD brings the seven pieces on this release to life right in my home. “Troisième Choral” certainly evokes much emotion, uplifting and carrying the listener into the spiritual realm with its elongated tones. These have now been immortalized on this Hybrid SACD, all in glorious surround sound.
For those stereophiles that haven’t expanded to surround, the DSD stereo layer is equally compelling. Rather than a mix down from the multi-tracks, the stereo mix was simultaniously recorded using a stereo pair of microphones in the ORFT style, and a little omni-directional added in the centre to capture the deep bass. The depth is enormous, and I seemingly heard elements expanding behind me while other parts fell deeply forward in this very wide mix. OK, maybe I missed a bit of the deep lows that rumbled from the subs when playing the 5.1 layer, however there is plenty of bottom on the stereo layer, making this a very satisfying listen.
I strongly recommend this SACD for fans of organ pieces, and emphasize that this is a very worthy surround sound mix that multi-channel enthusiasts would want to include in their collection. A perfect way to immerse yourself in the space of a classic European church while listening to these Cesar Franck compositions.