TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 1 in G minor, Op,. 13 "Winter Daydreams." Marche slave, Op. 31.
Russian National Orch/Mikhail Pletnev, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186381 TT: 55:21

DVORAK: String Quintet in G, Op. 77. Nocturne, Op. 40. Scherzo from String Quintet, Op. 97. Berlin Philharmonic String Quintet
PENTATONE SACD 5186 458 TT: 46:02

HOLST-SYKES: The Planets, Op. 32.
Hansjorg Albrecht, organ
OEHMS SACD OC 683 TT: 60:08

Mikhail Pletnev continues his Tchaikovsky symphonic cycle with this magnificent issue of Symphony No. 1 coupled with Marche slave. Delicate and powerful at the same time, this reading of "Winter Daydreams" is among the best, and the familiar Slavic march is played to the hilt. And this is the finest audio yet achieved in this distinguished series, perfectly balanced with rich string sonorities, blazing brass and sizzling percussion. Don't miss this one—I shall return to it often.

Another fine Pentatone issue features the Berlin Philharmonic String Quintet (violinists Thomas Timm and Romano Tommasini, violist Wolfgang Talirz, cellist Tatjana Vassiljeva and double bassist Nabil Shehata) in splendid performances of this music of Dvorák. Beautifully recorded by Job Maarse, we hear string sound in all its glory. The major question here is why the entire Op. 97 wasn't included; we hear only the second movement when the entire work easily could have been included.

ArkivMusic lists more than 80 recordings currently available of Holst's The Planets, including some in the original version for two pianos. Even though the composer didn't consider it to be one of his finer compositions, The Planets remains his most famous work, and most major conductors have recorded it. Holst's orchestration is vividly imaginative utilizing a huge orchestra with 4 flutes, 6 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, a tenor tuba, a bass tuba, 6 timpani, a wide variety of other percussion, a celesta, an organ, a large mass of strings. as well as 2 three-part women's choruses singing a mystic wordless vocalise during the final movement (Neptune). An orchestral performance can be a remarkable listening experience, totally different from this recording, an arrangement for organ by Peter Sykes. In 1995, Sykes made a recording which had a playing time of 54 min. This new recording is by Hansjörg Albrecht playing the three-keyboard large organ in St. Nikolai, and takes six minutes longer. I imagine most listeners prefer the orchestral version, as the organ cannot produce important percussive accents, nor can it recreate delicate orchestral textures. However, there is no question that the huge sound of an organ in a resonant church is mightily impressive. SACD surround sound places you right in the middle of the huge church. An intriguing issue!

R.E.B. (February 2012)