Music in the Round #45 Recordings In The Round
MAHLER: Songs with Orchestra
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano; Thomas Hampson, baritone; Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
SFSO 821936-0036-2 (SACD/CD)
Will this be the last release in the SFSO's Mahler series? If so, it's a wonderful conclusion, even if it leaves us with less than the full set from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. I ultimately prefer other recordings of each of these works, but I'm happy with Tilson Thomas's all-American teamand, as ever, with the rich, brilliant sound of the SFSO and their recording team. An admirable conclusion to a monumental achievement.
PENDERECKI: Horn Concerto (World Premiere), Violin Concerto 1
Radovan Vlatkovic, horn; Robert Kabara, violin; Krzysztof Penderecki, Sinfonietta Cracovia
Channel Classics CCS SA 30310 (SACD/CD)
When I say that this is typical Penderecki, I do not mean to be dismissive. I find his music powerful and communicative, regardless of the scoring or the form. The Violin Concerto 1 is both moody and soaring, the Horn Concerto a bit more reflective. The performances are capable, and the composer's presence on the podium guarantees authenticity. Channel Classics' sound has more reverberation and ambience than is typical for them, but is still open and detailed.
STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben
WEBERN: Im Sommerwind
Bernard Haitink, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
CSO Resound CSOR 901 1004 (SACD/CD)
While Bernard Haitink's intensity in the Strauss seldom reaches the level achieved by Fritz Reiner in his classic Living Stereo SACD (BMG Classics 66138-9), this is a moving performance graced with sound even more spacious. All the better to unleash the grand and gripping CSO brass as they are rarely heard on disc. The accompanying Webern work is even more successful in a sweeping, poetic performance.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Manfred Symphony
Dmitri Kitayenko, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln
Oehms OC 665 (SACD/CD)
I like this for the same reasons I like Kitayenko's set of the Shostakovich symphonies (see "Recordings in the Round," January 2006). There are vigor, heft, and the requisite grace, though tempos are on the slow, intense side. As before, the orchestra is captured with excellent detail and ambience. Some may prefer more oomph from the organ in the closing pages, but Kitayenko's ending is in perfect balance with what precedes it.
Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda . . .
While I am continually elated that Blu-ray is proving to be a wellspring of high-resolution music, particularly for opera and ballet, there are releases of great potential that, for one reason or another, fail to deliver a satisfying experience. Most of the failures are due to the mistaken or casual application of production values. Here are three examples:
BERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique
Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
San Francisco Symphony Media 33 (Blu-ray)
This Keeping Score disc opens with a menu. The first choice is a discourse by conductor Michael Tilson Thomas on Berlioz and the creation of the Symphonie Fantastique, with illustrative excerpts performed by the SFSO. I found it unilluminating and too long. The second choice is supposed to be a full performance of the work, but even this is inexplicably and unnecessarily introduced by MTT with comments already expressed in the longer lecture. What follows is a competent if hardly notable performance of this singular work, in beautiful sound quality and excellent video. A disappointment after MTT and the SFSO's wonderful Mahler series on SACD.
BRUCKNER: Symphony 9, Te Deum
Sir Gilbert Levine, WDR Symphony Orchestra, NDR Choir Hamburg
WDR/WQED 2007 (DVD)
Technically, this isn't high-definition, but it is multichannel, and both the performances and the Dolby Digital sound are more than worthy. The problem, again, is the unfortunate insertion of commentary. First, Sir Gilbert Levine introduces the Symphony 9 with a flowery but pointless sermon, then does the same service for the Te Deum. Worse, the entire program is contained on a single trackyou can't skip the intros, or even proceed directly to the Te Deum. Admittedly, this was made for TV broadcast, but it's too bad that the good efforts of performers and engineers were rushed to disc in this way.
RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto 2
STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps
TCHAIKOVSKY: The Nutcracker (excerpts)
Yefim Bronfman, piano; Sir Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic
EuroArts 2057754 (Blu-ray)
This recording was taken from a live open-air concert, and from the evidence of the video it looks to have been a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, the producers have mutilated the sound. For the opening and the intermissions, we hear a spacious ambience with focused imaging across the front. However, as soon as the music starts, the center-channel feed disappears. No information seems to be missingBronfman's piano is still clearly in the middlebut the losses of ambience and focus are striking. As for the performances, only Bronfman was really on his game that evening, although I would still have enjoyed being there. Playing this disc again is another story.Kalman Rubinson