WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde
Stephen Gould (Tristan). Nina Stemme (Isolde). Kwangchul Youn (King Marke). Johan Reuter (Kurwenall). Michelle Breedt (Brangäne). Simon Pauly (Melot). Clemens Bieber (A Shepherd). Arttu Kataja (Steersman). Berlin Radio Chorus/Berlin Radio Symphony Orch/Marek Janowski, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 404 (3 disks) TT: 76:45 / 75:39 / 72:35

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 3 in D, Op. 29 "Polish." Coronation March.
Russian National Orch/Mikhail Pletnev, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 383 TT: 52:07

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 7 in C, Op. 60 "Leningrad."
Mariinsky Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.

Pentatone continues their commendable Wagner opera series with this excellent Tristan (they are issuing new recordings of ten operas—already issued are Die Meistersinger, The Flying Dutchman, Parsifal, and Lohengrin). Now we have this performance of Tristan and Isolde, recorded during a live concert March 27, 2012 in Berlin's Philharmonie. It is difficult to believe what we hear is the entire performance from that day. There are absolutely no signs of an audience, and the performance itself including orchestral playing is faultless with one exception. .American tenor Stephen Gould, who has had considerable success in Wagner roles at Bayreuth, the Met, the Vienna State Opera and the Royal Opera, is in relatively good form, but he doesn't challenge the great Tristans of the past. About a year ago, this site mentioned Gould's disappointing performance of The Emperor in Die Frau ohne Schatten (RERVIEW). He is in much better vocal shape here but not a match for soprano Nina Stemme..This is her second recording of Isolde—the first was in 2004-2005 for EMI in which Plácido Domingo as Tristan a role he wanted to record even though he never sang on stage Since that time, Stimme has sung the role many times to highest acclaim, and the experience shows in this performance. She is in top form in every way, fearless on those high notes, warm and human as well. As with other releases in this series, audio is clear and rich but with little surround effect (I thought perhaps the hunting horns at the beginning of Act II might actually seem to come from the distance, but they don't). As with previous issues, the program book is a part of the luxurious presentation box, which makes it difficult to use. Still, Wagnerites will wish to investigate this new Tristan, particularly for Stemme's superb Isolde and the fine orchestral playing.

Michael Pletnev recorded almost all of Tchaikovsky's orchestral works with the Russian National Orchestra for DGG in the mid-'60s, most of which have been reissued at budget price. Pletnev has a particular affinity for Tchaikovsky, both as conductor and pianist; his recordings of the piano concertos is among the finest, and it is fascinating to watch his spectacular live Moscow performances of the three piano concertos and Concert Fantasy on DVD, reviewed on this site. Pletnev's Tchaikovsky series for Pentatone continues with this coupling of Symphony No. 3 and the seldom-heard Coronation March. The conductor already has recorded for the label all of the other symphonies and a number of other orchestral works, all reviewed on this site, Now we have this dynamic reading of the unjustly neglected Polish symphony—no lack of energy here and as usual the Russian orchestra is in top form. Coronation March was commissioned by Tsar Alexander III, premiered in 1883 with Sergei Taneyev on the podium. It is one of the composer's most bombastic work, replete with percussion, particularly bass drum and cymbals, and includes quotes from Russian and Danish national anthems. Pletnev and his band play it with all stops out, and the excellent audio lets us clearly experience what some might consider to be noise.

As Pletnev continues his Tchaikovsky, Valery Gergiev continues his Shostakovich symphony cycle with his Mariinsky Orchestra with this issue of the Leningrad Symphony, a work of which he made an acclaimed live recording in 2001 with combined forces of the Kirov Theatre and the Rotterdam Philharmonic, mentioned on this site in 2003 (REVIEW), available as an archive CD thanks to ArkivMusik. On this new recording he has just one orchestra, his expanded Mariinsky Theatre group, and offers a magnificent somewhat more expansive reading (about three minutes longer). The symphony, completed in 1941, is named after the city of Leningrad and is a symbol of resistance and defiance of the Nazi military regime that had resulted in the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens. The four movements loosely are described as, "music about terror," Inquisition for blood, "Invasion, and Tensions not resolved. The first movement includes a ten-minute march (beginning at 7:45) repeated 12 times, accented by a snare drum that steadily increases in volume. This surely is one of its finest recordings, equal to the legendary Leonard Bernstein/Chicago Symphony 1988 version. Recorded in June 2012 in the Mariinsky Theatre Concert Hall with James Mallinson as producer, we have state-of-the art audio quality, a big, rich orchestral tapestry of greatest clarity. Recommended!!

R.E.B. (December 2012)