TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 17 "Little Russian"
Russian National Orch/Mikhail Pletnev, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186382 TT: 48:12
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WAGNER: Parsifal
Christian Elsner (Parsifal). Evgeny Nikitin (Amfortas). Dimitry Ivashchenko (Titurel). Franz-Josef Selig (Gurnemanz). Eike Wilm Schutte (Klingsor). Michelle DeYoung (Kundry). Clemens Bieber, Tuomas Pursio (Knights of the Grail). Berlin Rundfunkenchor and Sinfonieorchester/Marek Janowski, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 301 (4 disks) TT: 3:46:21
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WAGNER: Lohengrin
Klaus Florian Vogty (Lohengrin). Annette Dasch (Elsa). Susanne Resmark (Ortrud). Gerd Grochowski (Telramund). Günther Groissböck (King) Markus Brück (Herald).Berlin Rundfunkenchor and Sinfonieorchester/Marek Janowski, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 403 (3 disk) TT: 3:20:34
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Mikhail Pletnev continues his second Tchaijkovsky cycle with this issue of Symphony No. 2, called the "Little Russian." This is an unjustly neglected work, and Pletnev and his superb orchestra give a brilliant performance. The second movement march is perhaps a bit rushed, but otherwise everything sounds just right. This is an exciting performance, and the recorded is some of Pentatone's best, plenty of impact, sizzling percussion and rich bass. The symphony, composed in 1872, was revised considerably 1879/80 with changes to all movements except the second. The SACD also contains the original version of the first movement which is about five minutes longer than the revision; if you'd like to hear the entire symphony as originally written, you can program it that way. The only negative on this issue is the short playing time—48:12. Surely some short works of Tchaikovsky should have been included.

Pentatone continues their admirable massive project of recording eleven of Wagner's operas with these issues of Parsifal and Lohengrin (already released were The Flying Dutchman and Die Meistersinger). This is a huge project indeed, the first time all of Wagner's major operas have been recorded by the same orchestra, chorus and conductor. Marek Janowski is a perfect choice to direct this project; he is a master of Wagner and was the first to make a complete digital recording of The Ring about three decades ago in Dresden with a uniformly excellent cas. This has been remastered and reissued at budget price and remains one of the most totally satisfying modern recordings of the music. These new issues are of the highest quality, uniformly strongly cast, and Janowski's insight into the music is always apparent. The real test of this series will be forthcoming issues of The Ring, very difficult to cast in today's opera world, and we wish Pentatone the best in their endeavor. In the meantime, these new issues of Parsifal and Lohengrin have much to offer including rich, well-balanced sound. Reportedly these are live recordings of a single performance; it's difficult to believe there were not at least a few corrections necessary. Packaging is luxurious but a bit inconvenient. The large libretti and program notes are part of the package and rather difficult to maneuver. There is keen competition for both of these new releases, not only from the dozens of historic performances, but new ones as well. Profil's admirable SACD version was recorded in Cologne with Semyon Bychkov on the podium (REVIEW). And there are two competing Parsifals on SACD, one (which I haven't heard) with Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky forces, the other a live performance with Jaap van Zweden and primarily Dutch orchestra, choruses and soloists (REVIEW). The latter has the advantage of the venue, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, and Wagner's rich orchestration has been magnificently captured by the engineers.

R.E.B. (June 2012)

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