Music in the Round #17 Recordings in the Round

Sidebar: Recordings in the Round

306mitrbela.jpgBARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra
KLEIN: Partita for Strings
MARTINU: Memorial to Lidice

Christoph Eschenbach, Philadelphia Orchestra
Ondine ODE 1072-5 (SACD)

This, the long-awaited debut disc of the Philadelphia Orchestra in their new partnership with Eschenbach, is superb. Recorded live at Verizon Hall in detailed and powerful 5.0-channel sound, it offers three major, serious 20th-century works, although the best-known, Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, is not the best reason to buy it. The reasons are the Martinu masterpiece, Memorial to Lidice, which gets its most gripping performance yet by a non-Czech orchestra, and the relatively unknown Klein Partita, which also mourns Nazi mass murders of the innocent with sadness and anger. They are perfect company. The Bartók is first-rate but faces much stiffer competition. The two-channel sound seems strangely congested, but the 5.0 tracks are superb, with excellent weight and character from top to bottom and a huge soundstage.

306mitrmass.jpgMASSONNEAU: Three Oboe Quartets
Ensemble Piu
Audite 92.562 (SACD)

I continue to find that high-resolution multichannel sound makes for the most satisfying chamber recordings. Dynamic range and ensemble size are easily accommodated, and the ambiences of the usually small recording venues works perfectly in most listening rooms. These warm, engaging, quartets for oboe and string trio by Louis Massonneau (1766–1848) were undoubtedly performed in the homes of royalty in the late 18th century, but darn it, they sound as if written and performed for mine. No heaven-storming dramatics here, only lovely sounds.

306mitrelias.jpgDAVID ELIAS: Crossing
Sonoma SSP 1661 (SACD)

From the first note, it's apparent that this is an extraordinary recording. Like Anthony Newman and the Graham Ashton Ensemble's Music for Organ, Brass, and Timpani (Sonoma CSNR 001), which I featured in my May 2005 column, Crossing was mixed with Sonoma's 8-track DSD recorder at the SACD Center in Boulder, Colorado. This is intelligent and melodic pop folk-rock, and Elias's singing is honest and tuneful, but he'd be even better with some grittiness. Unlike Elias's 2003 SACD, The Window, all but two tracks on Crossing were recorded at Slipperworld by Charlie Natzke. The result is a warmer, more intimate 5.1 sound that retains all the kick and deep immersion of the earlier disc. Even the two-channel tracks sound great.

CHRIS BRUBECK: Convergence, River of Song, Prague Concerto for Bass Trombone & Orchestra
Rachael Luxon, soprano; Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano; Chris Brubeck, bass trombone; Paul Freeman, Czech National Symphony; Sara Jobin, Tassajara Symphony (River of Song only)
Koch Classics KIS-SC-7653 (SACD)

Bass trombonist Chris Brubeck's compositional style is modern, but very approachable and joyous. Convergence, a symphonic suite, incorporates dance and blues rhythms with witty and appropriate use of spatial effects, including a Mardi Gras band that marches through as a transition from the second movement to the third. His song cycle for soprano and mezzo-soprano, River of Song, based on children's poems (plus a ringer from e.e. cummings), reminded me of Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 in its melodiousness and grace. The concluding Prague Concerto is more formal, at least for Brubeck. I found it charming, and particularly enjoyed the Brubeck's rich bass-trombone tones. Delightful surround effects aside, this is a welcome and richly recorded disc.

RAMEAU: Une Symphonie Imaginaire
Marc Minkowski, Les Musiciens du Louvre
Archiv 00289 477 5578 (SACD)

This remarkable conceit by Marc Minkowski, a synthesis of originals and orchestrations, achieves its expressed goal of presenting Rameau as a "symphoniste without reservation," even though he never wrote a symphony. Drawing on operas, ballets, and keyboard pieces, Minkowski has assembled a substantial and convincing symphonic suite. Les Musiciens du Louvre create a very big sound and confirm the baroque era's characteristic pleasure of contrasting soft and loud. No superimposed effects are needed, as the close miking makes for an almost immersive effect—and boy, do the brass and timpani ring out.—Kalman Rubinson