SHCHEDRIN: The Enchanted Wanderer. Four Fragments from The Little Humpbacked Horse. Concerto for Orchestra No. 1 "Naughty Limericks."
Sergei Aleksashkin (Storyteller); Kristina Kapustinskaya (Grusha the Gypsy/Storyteller); Evgeny Akimov (The Flogged Monk / Prince / Magnetizser / Old Man in the Forest / Storyteller); Mariinsky Theatre Chorus and Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.
MARIINSKY SACD MARO 504 (2 disks) TT: 111:11

RACHMANINOFF: Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27
London Symphony Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.

STRAVINSKY: Monumentum. Pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD Annum (recomposed for instruments by Stravinsky). Mass for Mixed Chorus and Double Wind Quintet. Symphonie de Psaumes. BACH-STRAVINSKY: Choral-Variuationen Über das Weinnechtslied "Von Himmel hoch da komm'ich her."
Collegiuum Vocale Gent; Royal Flemish Philharmonic/Philippe Herreweghe, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186349 TT: 50:47

Rodion Shchedrin (b . 1932) wrote five operas before he wrote The Enchanted Wanderer in 2002. It's an "opera for the concert stage"presented with limited scenery on stage in front of the orchestra. The Enchanted Wanderer is based on a story by Nikolai Leskov, and was commissioned by Lorin Maazel for the New York Philharmonic. Maazel told Shchedrin he wanted "something Russian, with ancient chants, the clangour of bells, Polovtsians, Gypsies, and a deep-resounding voice." Shchedrin wrote the libretto of this story about The Wanderer who in his youth flogged a monk to death, fell in love with the beautiful gypsy Grusha, lost her to a prince and killed her. There is a mixed chorus, and three solo singers share the six solo roles. Shchedrin's masterful orchestration is austere. Don't expect the orchestral opulence of operas by Mussorgsky or Rimsky-Korsakov.The score opens and closes with mystic bells. Maazel gave the premiere in New York December 17, 2002, and Valery Gergiev gave the first performance in Russia in July 2007; both were triumphant occasions, and were considered to be a return to past glories of Russian opera. In spite of the acclaim, and the magnificent performance conducted by Gergiev, I imagine most listeners will prefer to listen to the other works on this new recording, which are much more representative of Shchedrin's imaginative style. We have four lively excerpts from his ballet The Humpbacked Horse, and the brilliant Concerto for Orchestra No. 1 subtitled "Naughty Limericks," one of the most amusing classical works you'll ever hear, as a harpsichord chugs away to odd instrumental sonorities. Performances on this new release could not be bettered—singers have the truly Russian sound—and the audio quality is state-of-the art. This is a classy issue, with instructions on how to read the provided Russian libretto, along with an English translation.

Valery Gergiev is a perfect conductor for Rachmaninoff as evidenced by his sensitive accompaniments for Anna Netrebko in a group of songs (REVIEW), Lang Lang's weird interpretation of Concerto No. 2 (not on the level of Gergiev's 1988 recording with Evgeny Kissin) (REVIEW), and Denis Matsuev's Concerto No. 3, a performance marred by poorly balanced sonics (REVIEW). This performance of Symphony No. 2 was recorded September 20-21, 2008 in London's Barbican Hall, and is superior to the conductor's earlier Philips recording with the Kirov Orchestra except for audio. Producer James Mallinson did his usual expert engineering, but lush string sound, so essential in Rachmaninoff, isn't heard here.

Should you be looking for a varied collection of choral works by Stravinsky, this new Pentatone issue will fill the bill. The major work is Symphony of Psalms, given a brisk performance, helped by the ultra-clear engineering by Job Maarse in these recordings recorded live January 30-31, 2009 at deSingel, Antwerp, Belgium. Herreweghe and his forces are more effective here than they are in their recordings of Beethoven symphonies for the same label.

R.E.B. (May 2010)