RAVEL: Boléro. BORODIN: Music from Kismet. BIZET: Music from Carmen. ALBÉNIZ: Festival Day in Seville.
Cincinnati Pops Orch/Erich Kunzel, cond.
TELARC SACD 60703 TT: 65:27

RAUTAVAARA: Manhattan Trilogy. Symphony No. 3.
Helsinki Philharmonic Orch/Leif Segerstam, cond.
ONDINE SACD 1090-5 TT: 53:48

HAYDN: Six String Quartets, Op. 20.
cpo SACD 777 173-2 (2 disks) TT: 134:22

This Ravel/Borodin/Bizet/Albeniz disk is the 86th (!!) Telarc recording with Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. The entire program was recorded on one day, October 22, 2007 in Cincinnati's Music Hall, another production of Robert Woods. Musically it doesn't offer much. This Boléro is one of the fastest ever recorded (13:26), at least two minutes quicker than it should be (Ravel's own is 16:10). Equally brisk is the Cincinnati Symphony's performance with Paavo Järvi (see REVIEW). "Music as popularized in Kismet" arranged by Kunzel, consists of two tracks, the first lasting 6:29 containing excerpts from Symphonies 1 and 2, In the Steppes of Central Asia, and String Quartet No. 2, the second (9:16) offers excerpts from Quartet No. 2, Petite Suite and the Overture and Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor. Two suites from Bizet's Carmen are followed by the Albeniz showpiece. In all of this music the Cincinnati orchestra sounds undernourished; if you are looking for big orchestral sound, you will not find it here. The audio picture is unresonant with little use made of rear speakers. Skip this one.

A half century ago, Eino Rautavaara was chosen by Sibelius to receive grants that enabled him to study at Juilliard in 1955-56, where he worked with Persichetti, Sessions and Copland. At the time he was strongly impressed with Manhattan, and in 2004 welcomed a commission to write a work for the school's centennial. The result is his Manhattan Trilogy which reflects the" beauty, cruelty and changing moods" of the metropolis. There are three movements: Daydreams, Nightmares, and Dawn. Rautavaara said this music not so much describes anything in particular, but symbolizes stages in a young musician's life. Manhattan Trilogy is far removed from the austere nature of most of Rautavaara's recent music (i.e. the piano concerto composed for Vladimir Ashkenazy (see REVIEW).His Symphony No. 3, written using the 12-tone technique, was composed in 1961, a time when Rautavaara was influenced by Schoenberg and Bruckner. Segerstam and the Helsinki Philharmonic give excellent performances, and Ondine's surround sound is of outstanding quality. It is unfortunate playing time of the disk is so brief (53:48).

After venturing into chamber works of Busoni, Hartmann and Artur Schnabel, the Pellegrini Quartet presents more standard fare with this cpo release of a milestone in the chamber music repertory, Haydn's Op. 20 quartets. He composed well more than 50 quartets, but none are more important than Op. 20. This music is basic for any chamber music collection, with dozens of recordings available. These excellent performances were recorded September 2005 and September 2006 in Stadthalle Lüdenscheid. Sound is quite analytical and unresonant, and the "surround sound" has performers primarily in front. This is the quartet's first SACD release; I hope future releases will present them in a warmer acoustic.

R.E.B. (May 2008)