Music in the Round #27 Recordings in the Round

Sidebar 2: Recordings in the Round

SCHOENBERG: Gurrelieder
Melanie Diener, Tove; Yvonne Naef, Wood Dove; Robert Deane Smith, Waldemar; Gerhard Siegel, Klaus-Narr; Rolf Lukas, Bauer; Andreas Schmidt, speaker; Michael Gielen, SWR Symphony Baden-Baden & Freiburg
Hánssler Classic SACD 93.198 (2 SACDs)

On the heels of Norrington's recording of the Berlioz Requiem, another blockbuster from Hánssler: a spectacularly spacious performance and recording of Gurrelieder, Schoenberg's post-Romantic epic. Conductor Michael Gielen is a master of 20th-century orchestral music, and he invests this performance with mystery and power. The singers are excellent; Yvonne Naef is particularly outstanding, and Robert Deane Smith gains in stature throughout. Overall, I prefer the soloists of Riccardo Chailly's excellent Berlin Philharmonic recording, with the Chamber Symphony and Verklárte Nacht (Decca 473 728), but I found Gielen's dramatic range much wider, and the sheer weight and size of Hánssler's multichannel recording is enough to make this one my new favorite. And the 5.1-channel mix makes excellent use of my subwoofer.

SCHOENBERG: String Quartet 4, Verklárte Nacht for String Sextet
Prazak Quartet: Vaclav Remes, Vlastimil Holek, violin; Josef Kluson, viola; Michael Kanka, cello. With: Vladimir Bukac, viola; Petr Prause, cello.
Praga Digitals PRD/DSD 250 234 (SACD)

More Schoenberg, and another of his early post-Romantic masterpieces: Verklárte Nacht, in its original version for string sextet. Perhaps because I imprinted on the augmented Hollywood String Quartet's version on Capitol LP many years ago, the later arrangement for a larger body of strings has always seemed to me to emphasize romanticism at the expense of expression. Unlike in Gurrelieder, the passion here is directed inward, and to great depth. The spatial distinction of the instruments in this wonderful recording presents us with a heart-to-heart conversation among the six performers. The much later String Quartet 4 was in fact my first exposure to Schoenberg, and taught me how much I must learn in order to listen. Both performances are simultaneously warm, intimate, and intense—terms that apply to the sound as well.

Michael Brecker, tenor saxophone; Pat Metheny, guitar; Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, piano; John Pattitucci, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums
Heads Up HUSA 9095 (SACD)

Tenor-sax giant Michael Brecker died in January. From his work in the 1970s with Horace Silver's quintet until late in 2006, he was at the forefront of jazz innovation and won 13 Grammys. Few who have not heard it, however, will be able to believe how lively and vigorous Pilgrimage is, given that Brecker was well aware that he was dying, and that this would in all likelihood be his final recording. Fronting a hand-picked, all-star combo, Brecker gives us nine fresh, complex, rhythmically gripping originals that reflect on his innovative career. In this dynamic, detailed recording, all the performers are up front in a mix that underlines the communication and integration with which the music is performed. The surround channels add no effects or even much ambience, but bring Brecker and the rest right into my living room. For that, I am grateful.

SCHUBERT: Symphony 9
Jonathan Nott, Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
Tudor 7144 (SACD)

This is what we were raised to know as Schubert's Symphony 9 "The Great"—the one that Robert Schumann celebrated for its "heavenly length." Well, with the first notes, I simply forgot everything that I had ever learned about this work and heard it afresh. Instead of a somewhat episodic and repetitive series of expositions, this performance—a little over an hour long—clearly looks forward to Bruckner in its grandness, intensity, and eradication of time constraints. Nott, who is something of a Schubert specialist, has the Bambergers playing with freshness, sophistication, and power. Just listen to the glorious brass, and the chiaroscuro of loud/soft contrasts. Tudor Records' clear, dynamic, direct sound has enough ambience for the listener to feel the recording space. An absolutely wonderful and nearly essential recording.—Kalman Rubinson