Music in the Round #53 Recordings In The Round

Sidebar 2 Recordings In The Round

Boston Symphony Chamber Players: Profanes et Sacrées: 20th-Century French Chamber Music
Debussy: Sonata for Flute, Violin & Harp. Dutilleux: Les Citations. Franáaix: Dixtuor. Ravel: Introduction & Allegro for Flute, Clarinet, Harp & String Quartet. Tomasi: Cinq Danses profane et sacrées.
BSO Classics 1102 (SACD/CD).

The Boston Symphony's house label, BSO Classics, hasn't issued many discs (although their library of downloads is growing), and when they do, it's always an event for all the best reasons. This one is no exception—it includes brilliant, stylish performances of lovely, witty music recorded up close but in a commendably warm acoustic. We have SoundMirror to thank for the sound.

The program includes familiar masterpieces by Debussy and Ravel, as well as some that may be new to you—such as Franáaix's charming Dixtuor, for string quartet and wind quartet. For me, the highlight is Dutilleux's Les Citations, with its plangent, piquant scoring and its sly references. And, of course, I can't ignore Tomasi's representation, which gives the disc its title—a delight. While it contains nothing that storms the heavens, this disc never fails to raise my spirits as a music-lover and an audiophile.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass: Live
Arrangements of music by J.S. Bach, Gabrieli, Grainger, Prokofiev, Revueltas, Walton
CSO Resound CSOR 901 1103 (SACD/CD)

This one almost recommends itself. Brilliant and dynamic performances in a suitably brilliant and dynamic recording make it also an instant demo classic that joins Brass of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO Live RCO 07002) and the classic Music for Brass, Organ, and Timpani (Sonoma SAC-001). This, however, is a more subtle spectacular, with music of a depth that rewards careful listening. I particularly enjoyed the arrangements of Percy Grainger's Lincolnshire Posy, selections from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, and, for impact, Revueltas's Sensemayá. Keep this one on the top shelf for showing off your system.

Music For a Time Of War
Adams: The Wound Dresser. Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem. Ives: The Unanswered Question. Vaughan Williams: Symphony 4.
Sanford Sylvan, baritone; Jeffrey Work, trumpet; Jun Iwasaki, violin; Oregon Symphony, Carlos Kalmar
Pentatone PTC 5186 393 (SACD/CD)

For me, this was the concept album of 2011! The assembling of four quite disparate and distinctive works that reflect on our strengths and wounds in wartime is both thought-provoking and restorative. The disc begins with Ives's The Unanswered Question, and in the process opens the listener's sensitivities to the theme and program to follow. Adams's The Wound Dresser further exposes us, and feeds into the rage conjured by Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem. Vaughan Williams's powerful expression of anger and sadness provides the inevitable expiation. I had expected, after the first playing, that I would pick one piece at a time for subsequent listenings, but found that I needed to hear all four in sequence to appreciate the full range of emotions that this program can evoke.

The performance of the Britten surpasses in every way those of Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony (Reference) and Donald Runnicles and the Atlanta Symphony (Telarc), and in the Vaughan Williams, the sound edges out Richard Hickox and the London Symphony (Chandos). Conductor Carlos Kalmar gets magnificent playing from his soloists and the Oregon Symphony, and Pentatone, via the SoundMirror team, outdoes itself in providing spacious, transparent, powerful sound.

Johann Strauss Jr.: Waltzes
Waltzes by Strauss, Kreisler, Kovac, arr. by Berg, Schoenberg, Webern The Philharmonics
Accentus Music ACC 10228 (BD-Video)

The Philharmonics is a chamber ensemble of players from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. As this video opens, we follow them from the Musikverein as they carry their instruments down the street to their late gig at the Café Sperl, where they entertain cafégoers with some of Vienna's most delectable musical pastries. The very familiar Strauss selections are here rescaled for small ensemble and played with true zest by the Philharmonics; they sound fresh again in remarkably immediate DTS-HD MA. The additional contributions, especially the concluding "Yiddische Mame," by the ensemble's leader, Tibor Kovac, are thoroughly delightful, as confirmed by the responses in the café. The video is a little too staged and self-aware, but the music sweeps you away to Café Sperl. You can almost smell the coffee. Just delightful.

Szymanowski: Symphonies 3 & 4
R. Minkiewicz, tenor; J.K. Broja, piano; Warsaw Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra, Antoni Wit
Naxos NBD 0022 (BD-Audio)

Janácek: Glagolitic Mass, Sinfonietta
C. Libor, soprano; E. Marciniec, alto; T. Bentch, tenor; W. Gierlach, bass; J. Malanowicz, organ; Warsaw Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra, Antoni Wit
Naxos NBD 0026 (BD-Audio)

Naxos has become the champion of Blu-ray Audio, a high-resolution multichannel format that depends on the continuing penetration of the general marketplace by Blu-ray Video. Compared to SACD, which required a special player, BD-A has greater potential for success. Typically, Naxos has recorded and edited in 24-bit/88.2kHz, and released the discs with a stereo PCM track at 24/88.2, and a 5.1-channel DTS-HD MA track at 24/96.

Antoni Wit and his Warsaw Philharmonic are not as well represented on disc as they deserve to be. Here they deliver wonderfully aromatic and rich performances of the last two symphonies of their countryman Karol Szymanowski. I am easily seduced by Szymanowski's lush, expressionist style, even in his erotic opera King Roger, available in a brilliant and blood-draped production (BD-V, C Major 702904); these are remarkably approachable pieces. The Warsaw forces are equally eloquent in Janácek, especially his Glagolitic Mass. Although the work is seldom programmed, there are many excellent recordings of it, and this one is fully competitive with the best. These excellent recordings stand out from the rest in that none of the others are in spacious multichannel sound, which lets the listener appreciate the inner workings of Szymanowski's ripe scoring and Janácek's harmonic complexity.—Kalman Rubinson

aero9k's picture

The Rotel looks like excellent value.  Any chance you'll be looking at the higher end of the pre/pro spectrum, such as the Levinson or Theta?

Kal Rubinson's picture

The ML is old but the Theta is a possibility.