Music in the Round #38 Recordings In The Round

Sidebar 2: Recordings In The Round

Irish & Scottish Airs & Dances, traditional & by Fraser, Gow, Macpherson, Marshal, O'Carolan
Jordi Savall, treble viols; Andrew Lawrence-King, Irish harp, psalterium AliaVox AVSA 9865 (SACD/CD)

I am not knowledgeable about this music, but I have great respect for Jordi Savall and so can recommend this recording simply for its sound. One need not know much about the lovely, melodious tunes that emerge from the instruments to find them infectious. Moreover, the warm sounds of the viols and harps themselves seem quite intimate, even though The Celtic Viol was recorded in a reverberant space in a Catalonian monastery. Nothing groundbreaking here (unless you know more than I), but it's charming and delightful.

SCHUBERT: Piano Quintet, D.667, "Trout"
With: Variations on "Trockne Blumen" for Flute & Piano, D.802; Notturno for Piano & Strings, D.897
Aldo Baerten, wooden flute; Christian Tetzlaff, violin; Antoine Tamestit, viola; Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, cello; Alois Posch, double bass; Martin Helmchen, piano
Pentatone PTC 5186 334 (SACD/CD)

What ravishing beauty there is on this disc. All three pieces are well known to varying degrees, and each receives outstanding treatment here. The "Trout," of course, has been recorded hundreds of times (I first heard it from a Westminster LP with Paul Badura-Skoda and the Vienna Konzerthaus Quartet), but I can't think of a performance so perfectly "right" from beginning to end as this one. Like the quintet, the Variations on "Trockne Blumen" is inspired by a melody from one of Schubert's own songs, performed here on a wooden flute with disarming presence. The lovely Notturno, a one-movement fragment from an uncompleted piano trio, is poetically phrased, and ends the disc so ecstatically that nothing can follow it. Pentatone's near-perfect sound makes this disc self-recommending.

Zhanna Dombrovskaya, soprano; Elena Vitman, mezzo-soprano; Vladislav Sulimsky, baritone; Sergey Semishkur, tenor; Tatyana Kravtsova, soprano; Alexei Tanovitski, bass; Andrei Popov, tenor; Genadij Bezzubenkov, bass; Vadim Kravets, bass; Yevgeny Strashko, tenor; Sergei Skorokhodov, tenor; St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater Orchestra & Chorus, Valery Gergiev
Mariinsky MAR0501 (2 SACD/CDs)

Oh-ho! A new recording label and an unusual work. With this release, the Mariinsky opera company initiates their own label, joining, among others, the label of the London Symphony Orchestra, with which it shares distribution and some personnel. Valery Gergiev has recorded SACDs with the LSO, mostly of Mahler symphonies, and the on-site team is led by producer James Mallinson. Of course, the orchestra and venue are decidedly different, to say nothing of the repertoire. (With the next Mariinsky release, Gergiev initiates his own cycle of Shostakovich's symphonies.)

The Nose was entirely new to me, but its musical language will be familiar to Shostakovich devotees. Even without following the story or libretto, this is an infectious and satiric romp on which Shostakovich lavished colorful orchestral splashes and striking percussive elements. Mallinson's team has captured a lively, close-up sound from orchestra and singers, with more weight and dynamics than is typically heard in LSO recordings. This set will thus also appeal to audiophiles who like to get their kicks from the sound alone. Welcome, Mariinsky—what a great start!

WAGNER: Lohengrin
Johan Botha, Lohengrin; Adrianne Pieczonka, Elsa; Petra Lang, Ortrud; Falk Struckmann, Telramund; Kwangchul Youn, Heinrich der Vogler; Eike Wilm Schulte, Herald; Prague Chamber Choir, NDR Chorus, WDR Radio Choir Cologne, WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne; Semyon Bychkov
Profil PHO09004 (3 SACD/CDs)

I wrestled with myself before including this, but not because it is anything less than stellar. Another recording of Lohengrin, well cast with more prominent names and conducted by Kent Nagano (Blu-ray, Opus Arte OABD7026D), arrived at the same time and is nothing to sneer at. It's also well staged, and well recorded in 5.1-channel, 48kHz PCM. Of the voices, my strongest preferences were for the Telramund (Tom Fox) on the Blu-ray and the Lohengrin (Johan Botha) on the SACD. Still, despite the attraction of the Blu-ray's visuals, I found Bychkov's SACD more gripping from the start. The conductor had prepared his troops well in performances staged just before this studio recording was made, and they respond with vigor. Moreover, freed from the constraints of a full opera production, Profil's engineers capture the voices and instruments in all their glory. By contrast, Nagano's Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin sounds (appropriately) as if it is in the pit, and consequently doesn't sound as transparent or as brilliant as Bychkov's Symphony Orchestra Cologne. Both recordings are excellent, but the SACD has the edge in conducting and sound.—Kalman Rubinson

mdunjic's picture

Establishment of computer audio should be blamed ... iTunes doesn't play SACD format and it is the most used user interface for playing the music through the computer. Most people who switched to computer music libraries (I have all of my collection in WAV format stored on hard disk) are happy enough with old CD format.

That's why.