New Russian SACDs from Caro Mitis

The first hybrid SACDs produced and recorded in Russia have made their way to North America. The new Russian company responsible for the recordings, Essential Music, issues them on the Caro Mitis label, whose name is Latin for "succulent fruit." All are recorded in multichannel DSD and released as hybrid SACD/CDs. Caro Mitis releases are imported by Todd Garfinkle of M•A Recordings. Garfinkle himself has been responsible for some of the most enjoyable audiophile recordings of unusual performers and repertoire in the catalog.

Most Caro Mitis recordings are made in Moscow, in the studios of the Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (RTR). Engineers from Polyhymnia International B.V., headquartered in the former Philips Classics Recording Centre in Baarn, in the Netherlands, have joined with Michael Serebryanyi, Essential Music's cofounder and director, to produce the discs. Polyhymnia has permanently stationed in Russia, under the care of Essential Music, a location recording set-up equipped for 8-track DSD, high-resolution PCM, and surround monitoring. Microphones include a Neumann km130 and others from DPA and Schoeps. Mike buffer amplifiers and preamplifiers are from Polyhymnia, and the DSD A/D converter is a Meitner design from EMM Labs. Recording, editing, and mixing are performed using the Pyramix System from Merging Technologies of Switzerland, and the discs themselves are pressed at the Sony DADC facilities in Austria.

As one might expect, the quality of the recordings is light-years ahead of the old Melodiya recordings from the USSR. Polyhymnia International provides recording services to such labels as PentaTone, Harmonia Mundi, Telarc, Avie, Decca, and John Eliot Gardiner's Soli Deo Gloria. Polyhymnia was recently nominated for four Grammy awards, two of them for Best Engineered Album, Classical.

Caro Mitis promises a sizable number of world premiere recordings each year. Of the 17 titles released so far, all or part of each of the following constitute world-premiere recordings: Joseph Wölfl (1773–1812), The Symphonies; Maxim Berezofsky (ca 1740–1777), Secular Music, including what is probably the first symphony written by a Russian composer; Anton Ferdinand Tietz (1742–1810), Instrumental Music; Antonio Rosetti (ca 1750–1792), Bohemian Mutineer; Dmitry Bortnyansky (1751–1825), The Italian Album; and Georg Philipp Telemann, Telemann in Major (which includes a bonus selection in a minor key) and Telemann in Minor.

Nor are the Caro Mitis artists anything to scoff at. Pianist Igor Tchetuev (b. 1980), responsible for one of the label's first contemporary recordings, Alfred Schnittke's complete piano sonatas, recently won the Leeds International Piano Competition, a follow-up to his win at the Ninth Artur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in 1998. Take a listen to the frightening hall reverberation at the beginning of the Schnittke disc—the immense overtone reflections rival those coming directly from the keyboard. Harpsichordist Olga Martynova, another multiple prize winner, is one of the most respected harpsichordists in Russia.

Essential Music's commitment to young Russian musicians is evident from the many recordings by the Pratum Integrum ("unmown meadow" in Latin) Orchestra, Russia's only early-music orchestra, which was founded in 2003 with support from Essential Music. Almost all of the orchestra's young musicians, who perform on authentic instruments without a conductor, formerly played in the Ancient Music Ensemble, headed by pianist/harpsichordist Alexei Lyubimov. These folks are responsible for having uncovered many heretofore lost pieces by Russian composers and for presenting the Russian premieres of music by Lully, Leclair, Rosetti, and others, and deserve the support of the audiophile community. If their Telemann in Major suggests that they might benefit from a conductor with the imagination of, say, harpsichordist Trevor Pinnock, with whom they have performed, or from engineering that provides more air and less reverberation around instruments, such critical feedback should help move things along.

A special treat is oboist Alexei Utkin, artistic director of the Hermitage Chamber Orchestra. Utkin performs early music on a modern instrument, investing his renditions with estimable color and vitality. The HCO, which he founded in Moscow in 2000, boasts the unusual combination of solo oboe (Utkin), strings, and basso continuo. Though the orchestra began by performing only baroque and classical repertoire—it performed with countertenor David Daniels in 2004—it has since embraced music of the romantic era and the 20th century.

Utkin and the HCO have so far released three volumes of oboe works by J.S. Bach and one of W.A. Mozart. Of special interest are Utkin's transcriptions of Mozart's String Quintet in G Minor, K.516, which replaces one of the violins with oboe; and of the Andante in C Major for Flute and Orchestra, K.315, which in their hands becomes the Andante in B-flat Major for Oboe and Orchestra.

Caro Mitis titles due this spring include: Shostakovich, Preludes & Ballet Suite; Britten, Complete Works for Oboe; and Richard Strauss, Romance Capriccioso—all from Alexei Utkin and the Hermitage Chamber Orchestra. Also coming are the first volume of a complete cycle of Beethoven's piano sonatas from Igor Tchetuev, and J.F. Rebel's Le Pere, with the Pratum Integrum Orchestra. This is exciting stuff.