WAGNER: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Albert Dohmen (Hans Sachs); Georg Zeppenfeld (Veit Pogner); Michael Smallwood (Kunz Vogelsang); Sebastian Noack (Konrad Nachtigall); Dietrich Henschel (Sixtus Beckmesser); Tuomas Pursio (Fritz Kothner); Jörg Schörner (Balthasar Zorn); Robert Dean Smith (Walther von Stolzing); Peter Sonn (David); Edith Haller (Eva); Michelle Breedt (Magdalene); Matti Salminen (Night Watchman); Berlin Radio Chorus; Berlin Radio Symphony Orch/Marek Janowski, cond.
PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 402 (4 disks) TT: 4 hr. 14 min.

RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16.
Sa Chen, piano; Gulbenkian Orch/Lawrence Foster, cond.
PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 444 TT: 66:50

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E flat "Romantic."
London Symphony Orch/Bernard Haitink, cond.
LSO LIVE SACD LSO 0716 TT: 69:08

Pentatone is planning to issue ten major Wagner operas in studio performances all recorded during live concert performances in Berlin. The first issue, The Flying Dutchman, was mentioned on this site recently (REVIEW). Now we have the second release, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, recorded in Berlin's Philharmonic June 3 of this year. It is a fine release of Wagner's masterpiece with a uniformly strong cast headed by a group of experienced Wagnerians, in particular Albert Dohmen's Hans Sachs, and Robert Dean Smith's Walther. The women, too, are strongly cast, and Marek Janowski keeps things moving. Audio is first-rate, with voices , chorus and orchestra naturally balanced. The complete libretto is provided in German and English. This 4-SACD set is a rather cumbersome package; the libretto and program notes are bound into the set, rather awkward to use. I look forward to future issues in this major series.

Chinese pianist Sa Chen (b. 1979) won first prize in the 1994 China International Piano Competition, lesser prizes in various other competitions including third place in the 2006 Van Cliburn event. She already has fine recordings of the Chopin concertos (REVIEW). This new SACD offers two of the most popular piano concertos in readings that are essentially lyric; these are gentle readings of great beauty, but I imagine most listeners would prefer a bolder approach. Rachmaninoff's lush orchestration is prominently displayed under Foster's knowing leadership, but the recording, made in Lisbon's Grande Auditorium in February 2011 with Job Maarse as producer, has the piano recessed excessively. These are lovely performances, but hardly among first choices for either work.

Bernard Haitink is an acknowledged Bruckner authority. He first recorded Symphony No. 4 in 1965 with the Concertgebouw and some years later with the Vienna Philharmonic. This LSO Live performance was recorded during concerts last June in London's Barbican Hall. Dry acoustics of the venue are particularly inappropriate for Bruckner. The majesty of Bruckner climaxes simply is not to be heard. The recording is 5.1 surround sound, but doesn't sound like it—there is little presence. The thin orchestral textures are far removed from what most listeners refer to as the "Bruckner sound." There are well over 100 recordings of the composer's most popular symphony; this new one challenges few of them.

R.E.B. (December 2011)