BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67. Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58.
Emanuel Ax, piano; San Francisco Symphony Orch/Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.
SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY SFS 0037 TT: 68:21
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BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58. Sonata No. 14 in C# minor, Op. 27 No. 2 "Moonlight." Sonata No. 31 in A flat, Op. 110.
Dejan Lazic, piano/Australian Chamber Orchestra
CHANNEL CLASSICS SACD CCS SA 30511 TT: 69:38
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BIBER: Sonatas in C major and C minor for violin and basso continuo. Fantasia in D for violin in scordatura and basso continuo. MUFFAT: Toccata II for Organ. Toccata VII for organ. Passacaglia in C minor for organ. Sonata in D for violin and basso continuo
Petri Tapio Mattson, baroque violin; Markku Mäkinen, organ; Eero Palviainen, archlute
ALBA SACD ABCD 311 TT: 73:48
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For his second Beethoven recording with the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas has chosen two of the composer's most popular works (his first recording was Symphony No. 3 presented in the SFO's Keeping Score series). Apparently both works on this new release were on the same concert as the recordings were made December 9 - 12, 2009. Considering his reputation fort the composer, it seems odd that Ax hasn't recorded more Beethoven, although some years go he did record concertos 4 and 5 with Previn and the Royal Philharmonic. His playing of Concerto No. 4 is glorious, with strong support from Thomas and the orchestra. Symphony No. 5 is equally impressive, and both are enhanced by bold engineering that has uncommon presence and impact. Here is another winner from San Francisco.

Pianist Dejan Lazic always seems to be experimenting. Recently this site covered his pereformance with the Atlanta Symphony of his arrangemenet for piano and orchestra of the Brahms violin concerto. Now we have his recording of Beethoven's Concerto No. 4, unique in several ways. After the 1807 premiere, Beethoven approved an arrangement with accompaniment by a string quintet. It was apparently lost for almost two centuries and now can be heard in this live performance recorded November 2009 in City Recital Hall Angel Place in Sydney. The decision was made to augment the string quintet version with elements of the original orchestration and that is what is heard on this intriguing issue which has very much of a chamber music sound. The excellent Australian Chamber Orchestra consists of 35 players. In this performance Dejan Lazic plays his own very eleborate virtuoso cadenzas in the first and third movements. The coupling is Beethoven's Sonata No. 14 and Sonata No. 31. Collectors surely will wish to investigate this version of the concerto. The Channel Classics audio is uncommonly rich.

Heinrich Biber (1644-1704) and Georg Muffat (1653-1704) could well have been rivals during their time, and Alba's enterprising SACD sets them up to be just that—improbably as this approach might be. Some of Biber's works for violin, violin in scordatura, and bass continuo are separated by organ works of Muffat. Often the violin is accompanied by archlute and/or organ. This is hardly the "battle" the title of the album ("A Virtuoso Faceoff") suggests, but it a treasure for those who enjoy baroque music superbly played. The recordings were made in October 2006 and August 2008 in the Church of St. Lawrence, Janakkala. The warmth of the venue has been splendidly captured, but there is limited left/right or "surround" effect.

R.E.B. (February 2011)

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