SAINT-SAËNS: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 in D, Op. 17. No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22, No. 4 in C minor, Op. 44.
Anna Milakova, pianist; WDR Symphony Orch/Thomas Sanderling, cond.
AUDITE SACD 92.509 (5 channel) TT: 79:17

BIBER: Arien a 4. Sonata a 6 "Die Pauernkirchfahrt genandt." Balletto "Die Werber." Serenade a 5 "mit dem Nachtwächterlied." Pars nr. III from Mensa Sonora. Balletti. Battalia. Sonata Jucunda.
Combattimento Consort Amsterdam/Jan Willem de Vriend, cond.
CHALLENGE SACD SACC 72132 (5 channel) TT: 56:05

SAINT-SAËNS: Trio No. 1 in F, Op. 18. Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 92.
Altenberg Trio Wien
CHALLENGE SACD SACC 72111 (5.l channel) TT: 64:21

PROKOFIEV: Peter and the Wolf. SAINT-SAËNS: Carnival of the Animals.
Polish Chamber Orch/Ladies Swing Quartet/Christopoh Ullrich & Jacqueline Allers-Ullrich, pianists/Bradley Cole, narrator
TACET SACD S114 TT: 72:01 (5.1 channel)


Saint-Saëns' five piano concertos are wonderful pieces, brilliant for the soloist, orchestrally imaginative (the first concerto opens with a series of horn calls), and filled with ingratiating melodies. Audite's SACD is volume one of the composer's works for piano and orchestra—a total winner in every way. Anna Malikova is a pianist new to me although she has made a number of recordings, primarily on budget labels, mostly music of Chopin and Schubert. She graduated from Tchaikovsky Conservatory in 1991 and has won a number of competitions since then. Malikova is a stylish performer with a solid technique, tossing off Saint-Saëns' masses of notes with the greatest of ease. The Cologne German Radio Orchestra is first-rate, with the distinguished conductor Thomas Sanderling (son of Kurt Sanderling) not missing a bit of the music's coruscating energy or humor. The surround sound is superb, the rich piano sound always clear and nicely balanced with the orchestra. Rear channels provide ambient sound effectively. Andreas Beutner produced this recording with Mark Hohn as engineer; they did their work very well indeed. I look forward to Volume II.

Altenberg Trio Wien (Claus-Christian Schuster, piano; Amiram Ganz, violin; Martin Hornstein, cello) has recorded a wide range of music on the Challenge label but this appears to be their first SACD release. It offers the two piano trios of Saint-Saëns, the first written in 1863 (and very much admired by Ravel), the second in 1892, both gems of the piano trio repertory with surprisingly few recordings of either. Trio No. 2 was first played two weeks after the triumphant Paris premiere of Samson and Delilah, performed by the chamber music society La Trompette, with the composer as pianist, violinist Henri Berthelier, and cellist Jules Léopold. Critics instantly praised it as "monumental." The Altenberg Trio plays all of this delightful music expertly in these recordings made June 2002 in Muziekcentrum, Den Bosch. Recording engineer Bert van der Wolf has provided a very close-up aural picture with a fine blend of the three instruments, all in front with mild separtion, the piano in the center, violin and cello on right and left.

The Biber SACD is an absolute delight. Bohemian-born Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704) spent most of his life in Salzburg where he was recognized as one of the finest violinists and composers of the era. He wrote much "program music" including what is heard on this SACD which producers have labeled Soldiers, Gypsies, Farmers and a Night Watchman. It contains 8 descriptive pieces each of which tells a story often in vivid musical terms; discription is given of the program for each section. Perhaps Vivaldi heard Biber's music and it influenced his writing his Op. 8 concertos known as The Four seasons, composed in 1712. As CD notes point out, Biber could be considered an avant-garde composer for several reasons including unusual treatment of instruments (the double bassist is directed to insert a small piece of cardboard-like material under the A-string to suggest drum rolls), tuning, and setting songs simultaneously, the latter done by Charles Ives two centuries later. Combattimento Consort Amsterdam is led by violinist Jan Willem de Vriend. Other instruments are viola, cello, double bass, organ, harpsichord, dulcimer and chitaronne. The group has been performing music from the period 1600-1800 for over two decades. They play superbly and the surround sound, produced by Bert van der Wolf, could not be bettered. This recording is 5 channel; the same label's Saint-Saëns SACD is 5.1; no explanation why. This is a terrific SACD and one I will return to often.

For a surround sound demonstration recording, Tacet's Real Surround Sound disk is hard to beat. Tacet believes in "Moving Real Surround Sound" and that's what is heard here. Both Peter and the Wolf and Carnival of the Animals are played by a small ensemble divided among available channels. Various instruments are heard in discrete sound from varied speakers, and sometimes they move from one to another. On the DVD version (DVD V 114) both Peter and Carnival are heard three times: once with English narration by Bradley Cole, once with German narration by Moritz Stöpel, and once without narration, for a total playing time of about 3 hrs. 20 min. The SACD, because of format time limitations, has commentary only in English and no option of music only.Tacet seems to have limited distribution in the United States, but you can contact the company:

R.E.B. (February 2005)