Fireworks Music. Water Music Suite
at an Exhibition. Khovanschina Prelude.
STRAVINSKY: Petrouchka. Firebird Ballet
Op. 5. MAHLER: Symphony No. 1.
STRAVINSKY: L'Histoire du Soldat
BACH: Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F. Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. Brandenburg
Concerto No. 3 in G. Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G. Brandenburg Concerto
No. 5 in D. Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat.
CHOPIN: Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53. Polonaise in C minor, Op. 40 No. 2. Polonaise
in F sharp minor, Op. 44. Polonaise-Fantasie, Op. 61. Andante
Spianato and Grand Polonaise, Op. 22.
MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat, K. 217. Piano Concerto No. 14 in E
flat, K. 447.
The first four of these were released about three years ago on Vanguard but are discontinued. Now Vanguard is owned by Artemis Records which has begun a series of reissues from the Vanguard catalog. All have been newly remastered, sounding better than ever. They are mid-price releases worthy of investigation by all serious collectors.
The familiar Handel
masterpieces emerge in a new light as engineered in this 4 channel recording
in Conway Hall, London,
1973. The orchestra is spread around the listener; we find ourselves
right in the middle of the performers, and it is a most pleasing audio
experience. Water Music consists of eleven movements drawn
from the entire work. Both Water Music and Royal Fireworks are
presented in original scoring in these fine, large-scale performances
direction. Superb sound!
Recorded in Watford Town Hall, England, in 1973, this is a brilliantly played performance of the original 1911 version of Petrouchka. This also was recorded in 8-track sound, with some instruments behind the conductor, effectively mixed down to 5 tracks. I don't mind being in the center of the orchestra one bit—a fascinating listening experience. Inclusion of a 12-minute piano version of excerpts from Firebird is not a plus for this CD, a decided letdown after orchestral fireworks of Petrouchka. CD playing time, unfortunately, is rather limited, but audio buffs will enjoy the sonic display of Petrouchka.
The Berlioz Requiem, scored for large chorus and orchestra, is extraordinary in multi-channel which lets us hear hear brass coming from four corners as written in the score. This is an original 4 channel analog recording made in 1969. It is all very special sonically, although performances of both the Berlioz and Mahler's symphony don't register among the finer recordings of each. The Mahler, also a 4 channel channel original, dates from 1974. You'll probably listen most to Tuba Mirum from the Requiem, with its large chorus and brass outbursts from four sides. The Berlioz is music made for surround sound; since this issue there has been another SACD recording, on Telarc with Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra (REVIEW). Abravenel's Mahler is respectable, quite well played, and you'll find other Mahler recordings with the Utah Symphony on Silverline DVD Audio disks; for a review of Symphony No. 2, click HERE. But for the best in Mahler symphony recordings one should look elsewhere.
Leopold Stokowski, a master of things Stravinskian (he gave the U.S. premieres of The Rite of Spring, Les Noces , Song of the Nightingale  and Symphonies of Wind Instruments ), conducts an ensemble consisting of Gerald Tarack, violin; Charles Russo, clarinet; Theodore Weiss, trumpet;Julius Levine, double bass; Loren Glickman, bassoon; John Swallow, trombone; and Raymond Desroches, percussion. The distinguished acting cast could not be bettered: actress Madeleine Milhaud (wife of the composer) as narrator, actor Jean Pierre Aumont as the Soldier, and baritone Martial Singher as the Devil. The recording was made in New York in 1967 in two versions, one in French, the other in English. It's the English version on this SACD, which is a three-track recording (L/R/Center), although my CD player readout says 5 tracks (nothing is heard from other tracks). Fine sonics, and the CD notes include a track by track synopsis of action. A terrific release!
Vanguard's set of Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos with Johannes Somary conducting was recorded in Conway Hall, London, in 1975, two years after the Handel mentioned above. A note by the late Seymour Solomon (he died in 2002) who was producer of most Vanguard recordings, states that these were recorded onto four tracks from the vantage of the conductor....in many movements where there is dialogue between winds and strings, these alternate between the front and rear speakers...an example of how creative producing and engineering can clarify orchestral textures." How right he is! The two-disk set sells for the price of one regular SACD.
Of the two early Alfred Brendel recordings, the prize is the coupling of two Mozart piano concertos recorded in 1965 in Palais Schonburg, Vienna. Seymour Solomon produced an uncommonly warm, clear sound, in three channels (although my CD player registers as 5, but sound only is heard from front speakers). The distinguished pianist offers scholarly performances of the Chopin works, but lacks the bravura the music demands. Excellent, full piano sound, on only the two original channels. The recording was made April 1968 in an unidentified hall in Vienna, produced by Karl Wolleitner and engineered by Mario Mizzaro.
Unfortunately, Artemis no longer has rights to the distinguished Everest catalog which contains sonic treasures for collectors. Everest made their recordings on 35mm film or tape and each was a sonic blockbuster. One Everest recording Vanguard issued several years ago was VSD 512 which contained ballet suites from Antill's Corroboree and Ginastera's Panambi, as well as Villa-Lobos' Little Train of the Caipira, all played by the London Symphony conducted by Sir Eugene Goossens, recorded in London's Walthamstow Assembly Hall, originally issued on LPs in 1958/59. These are all three-track recordings, magnificent sonically—should you see this CD in a cutout bin, grab it immediately! And let us hope that the Everest catalog will be issued on SACD in the future; right now there are no plans for this, unfortunately.
There are still many treasures in the Vanguard catalog awaiting SACD issue. Let us hope they will be forthcoming very soon. In the meantime, enjoy what is here.
R.E.B. (January 2005)