Music in the Round #22 Recordings In The Round

Sidebar: Recordings In The Round

SCHUMANN: Piano Quartets in E-flat Minor (Op.47) & C Minor
Trio Parnassus: Yamei Yu, violin; Hariolf Schlichtig, viola; Michael Gross, cello. With: Chia Chou, piano.
MDG 903 1414-6 (SACD/CD)

Yet another glorious example of near-ideal re-creation of chamber music in multichannel sound. MDG's warm yet detailed recording presents the ensemble as a coherent group across the front of a room that seems not much larger than a small rehearsal hall. With this intimacy, the augmented Trio Parnassus delivers spirited and big-hearted performances of these romantic delights.

ELFMAN: Serea Schizophrana
John Mauceri, conductor
Sony Classical 82876-89780-2 (SACD/CD)

So Sony's not issuing any more SACDs? Well, it might be hard to tell from anything but the teensy "SACD" on the back and the six-point type on the disc, but this is a new multichannel hybrid SACD/CD from Sony, and a good one. This is ostensibly formal music written on commission from the American Composer's Orchestra in New York City by successful film composer Danny Elfman. Both the music and the production are redolent of film music, but that's not a criticism: From moody and romantic to energetic and powerful, Elfman creates a soundtrack than needs no film. The surround effects are minimal, but the sound itself is cinematic in its scope and richness.

BT: This Binary Universe
DTS 1140 (DVD-Video, CD)

Ignore the CD—this program of synthesized music blended with environmental sounds and effects can be indulged only in the surround-sound version found on the accompanying DVD (unless you're using adjuvants other than audio). As composed and constructed specifically for surround by Brian Transeau (BT), the tracks are somewhat repetitive but nonetheless seductive and immersive. If you can withhold direct focus (difficult for me), it can sweep you into an alternate consciousness that is absorbing and, ultimately, refreshing. This is a 24-bit/48kHz, DTS-encoded DVD-Video, not a DVD-Audio or SACD, but don't let that hold you back if this sort of thing appeals to you.

MAHLER: Symphony 5
Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony
SFSO 821936-0012-2 (SACD/CD)
MAHLER: Symphony 6, Piano Quartet
Christoph Eschenbach, conductor, piano; soloists; Philadelphia Orchestra
Ondine ODE 1084-SD (2 SACD/CDs)

And the Mahler just keeps on coming! Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony continue their Mahler cycle with this release of Symphony 5, with only the monumental Eighth to go. This performance is much of a piece with the rest of the series: an informed and intelligent exegesis that reveals Mahler's passions and conflicts without posturing or underlining. There's a natural and certain flow to MTT's Mahler that is unique. That said, this is probably the most amiable Fifth I can recall, and because of that it lacks some intensity. The playing and the sound are excellent, with more surround spread for the orchestra than in prior SFSO releases, but the center channel plays a major role—the orchestra's inner workings are clearly revealed.

Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra are quite different in offering a more muscular and dynamic performance of the tragic Symphony 6. Briskly paced and lacking only a bit of tension and suspense, this performance sweeps the listener along to a conclusion that is simultaneously draining and rewarding. These discs are fully justified by the distinction of the orchestral playing and the clarity with which it is recorded. As I listened, many felicities of Mahler's inspiration struck me as novel, even though I thought I knew them well. Nearly as interesting is the appendage of a snippet of an early Mahler chamber work, the Piano Quartet in A Minor, performed by Eschenbach and soloists from the Philadelphia. While the language spoken is that of Brahms, the story told is Mahler's own: of a desperate sadness laced with gestures of struggle and hope. It's beautiful music, but Mahler's need for the larger canvas of the symphony orchestra is clear.

Leonard Bernstein's performances of the symphonies 5 and 6 with the Vienna Philharmonic (on Deutsche Grammophon) set the standard for me, and these two releases represent alternative but refreshing views. In multichannel, Zander's Fifth (Telarc) and Abbado's Sixth (SFSO) remain my preferred choices. Next time in "Recordings in the Round" we'll have another Mahler symphony. (I promise: only one!)—Kalman Rubinson