MAHLER: Symphony No. 8 in E flat "Symphony of a Thousand."
Barbara Havenman, Orla Boylan, Christiane Oelze, sopranos; Anna Palimina, Petra Lang, Maria Radner, altos; Brandon Jovanovich, tenor, Hanno Müller-Brachmann, baritone, Günther Groissböck, bass; Mädchen und Knaben der Chöre am Kölner Dom, Chor des Bach -Vereims Köln, Domkantorei Köln, Philharmonische Chor der Stadt Bönn, Vokalensemnble Kölner Dom; Gürzenich Orchester Köln/Markus Stenz, cond.
OEHME SACD OC 653 TT: 77:01

ELGAR: Cockaigne Overture, Op. 40. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphony No. 5 in D. BRITTEN: Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes.
Oregon Symphony Orch/Carlos Kalmar, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 471 TT: 77:29

RACHMANINOFF: The Isle of the Dead, Op. 29. The Rock, Op. 7. Symphonic Dances, Op. 45.
Bergen Philharmonic Orch/Andrew Litton, cond.
BIS SACD 1751 TT: 71:27

Markus Stenz continues his Mahler symphony cycle with this superlative performance of Symphony No. 8 (only symphonies 6, 7 and 9 have yet to appear). All of the soloists are just about perfect, the chorus and orchestra are top-notch, and Stenz shows he is an ideal interpreter of Mahler. The ending of the second movement is appropriately paced—so many conductors rush this magnificent music. Horenstein's remarkable 1959 live performance from the BBC Proms remains unequalled; the full story of this historic event is detailed in our REVIEW. And I would not like to be without another historic live performance, Leopold Stokowski's from 1950 with the New York Philharmonic. Neither of these seem to be currently available, but both are worth looking for: Horenstein's was on BBC Legends, the Stokowski ussyed both on Music & Arts and in the remarkable New York Philharmonic set of Mahler broadcasts 1948-1982. The Oehms release is poorly produced: program notes are limited, the text is only in German, and no information is given about the soloists, and nine are listed. The score calls for eight—no explanation is given. Sonically, this Mahler Eight is a blockbuster, well-balanced, blazing brass, warm hall sound, and an organ that will test your subwoofers. Don't miss this one.

Earlier this year, this site praised a Pentatone release with Carlos Kalmar and the Oregon Symphony in music of Ives, Adams, Britten and Vaughan Williams (REVIEW). Now we have a second disk, this one rather oddly called This England. However it does of course contain music of British composers opening with a brilliant account of Elgar's In London Town, followed by another Vaughan Williams symphony, No. 5 (the previous SACD included Symphony No. 5). The disk concludes with the four sea interludes from Britten's Peter Grimes, and I am glad they also included the powerful Passacaglia. When this is performed usually it is played after heard The Storm, but here given (appropriately, I think) before the wild storm. The Oregon Symphony is first-class in every way under young conductor Carlos Kalmar's leadership—he is a conductor to watch. Sonically this is outstanding, no real "surround" effect, but rich, well-balanced orchestral sound, with a wide dynamic range. These are live recordings but there is no trace of an audience. Audiophiles will not be disappointed. Let's have more from this fine American orchestra and Kalmar!

Andrew Litton has made a number of Rachmaninoff recordings, most recently the four piano concertos and Paganini Rhapsody with Stephen Hough and the Dallas Symphony of which he was music director for 12 years ending in 2006. He also recorded the three symphonies and Symphonic Dances with the Royal Philharmonic for Virgin Classics in 1989. Now he has recorded more Rachmaninoff, the two symphonic poems listed above, as well as Symphonic Dances, this time with the Bergen Philharmonic of which he has been music director since 2005. Expert performances indeed, and the Bergen Philharmonic plays very well. These recordings were made about four years ago in Bergen's Grieghallen. The sound picture is close-up and very clear, with a wide dynamic range. However, I find audio achieved by Chandos on their recent recording of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty with Neemi Järvi and the same orchestra recorded in the same venue, to be superior, warmer yet not without the widest dynamic range and clarity (REVIEW).

R.E.B. (December 2012)