MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition (various orchestrators). LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat.
Peng Peng, pianist; Nashville Symphony Chorus and Orch/Leonard Slatkin, cond.
NAXOS 8570716 (B) TT: 57:14
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DAUGHERTY: Philadelphia Stories for Orchestra. UFO for Solo Percussion and Orchestra.
Evelyn Glennie, percussion; Colorado Symphony Orch/Marin Alsop, cond.
NAXOS 8559165 (B) TT: 64:38
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MAHLER: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. Kindertotenlieder. Excerpts from Lieder aus Des Knaben Wunderhorn.
Thomas Quasthoff, bass-baritone; Hakan Hagegard, baritone (Wunderhorn); Cologne Radio Symphony Orch/Gary Bertini, cond.
PHOENIX 105 (F) TT: 64:42
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BRITTEN: Piano Concerto in D, Op. 13. Young Apollo, Op. 16. Diversions, Op. 21.
Steven Osborne, piano; BBC Scottish Symphony Orch/Ilan Volkov, cond.
HYPERION CDA 67625 TT: 71:16
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SULLIVAN: Incidental music for The Tempest. SIBELIUS: Incidental music for The Tempest.
Kansas City Symphony/Michael Stern, cond.
REFERENCE CD RR 115 (F) TT: 68:40
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Many different composers have orchestrated Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, the most famous being Ravel's. For some years Leonard Slatkin has been conducting his own compilation of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition with each section orchestrated by one of the other composers. Slatkin has selected for the opening Promenade the arrangement by D. Wilson Ochoa, Gnomus by Sergey Gorchakov, the second Promenade by Walter Goehr, and Il vecchio castello by Emile Naoumoff. Geert Van Keulen orchestrated the third Promenade and the following Tuileries, Vladimir Ashkenazy did Bydlo, Carl Simpson orchestrated the fourth Promenade, and Two Polish Jews was arranged by Sir Henry Wood. Lawrence Leonard orchestrated the final Promenade, Limoges is by Leo Funtek; the only Ravel orchestration is that of Con mortuis in lingua mortua, followed by Leopold Stokowski's vivid Hut on Fowl's Legs, and the final Great Gate at Kiev (here called The Bogatyr Gate at Kiev) is by Douglas Gamley, who uses the works: bells, gongs, chorus and organ, all to vivid effect. All of this is fascinating to hear, and very well played by the Nashville Symphony of which Slatkin is now "music advisor," in addition to his varied other posts which include leadership of the Detroit Symphony, and "principal guest conductor" of both the Pittsburgh and Royal Philharmonic orchestras. This CD offers one of the oddest compilations ever issued on CD: the Liszt piano concerto is very well played by the young Chinese pianist Peng Peng, but makes an unlikely prelude to Pictures; even odder is Francis Scott Key's Star Spangled Banner arranged by Rob Mathes on a commission from the National Symphony. It's a somber work, a eulogy on the tragedy of 9/11, ending triumphantly with the main theme. It sounds strange indeed following Pictures. Sound is excellent, as usual with Naxos. Playing time, well less than an hour, is rather slight for Naxos.

The Naxos Michael Daugherty disk was issued about five years ago. Philadelphia Stories, commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra. was premiered with that orchestra conducted by David Zinman in November 2001. Daugherty calls it his third symphony, "a musical travelogue of the sounds of Philadelphia." There are three sections, the first Sundown On South Street, the second Tell-Tale Harp, and the third, Bells for Stokowski, is a tribute to the conductor who led the orchestra from 1912-1936 and replicates sounds of the many bells of the city. This movement is particularly effective and was recorded earlier in an arrangement for winds with Jerry Junkin and the Dallas Winds, a fine recording in every way, but the music benefits from the sound of the full symphony orchestra. The many bells sound quite resplendent when surrounded by strings as they are on this recording. UFO was written for Evelyn Glennie on a commission from the National Symphony Orchestra. They gave the premiere in the Kennedy Center in 1999 with Leonard Slatkin conducting. The 36-minute score, inspired by unidentified flying objects and sounds, has five sections: Traveling Music, Unidentified, Flying, ???, and Objects. It is a brilliant showpiece for countless percussion instruments all spectacularly played by Glennie. Recently I saw her perform this work with the Baltimore Symphony under Marin Alsop's direction. It was a wondrous event, both musically and visually. Glennie made her entrance in a darkened hall from the rear of the audience playing a "waterphone" which set an eerie mood that continued throughout. It was a virtuoso tour-de-force; and in the final section, Glennie played three different instruments at the same time. Let us hope eventually her amazing performance of this terrific score will be available on DVD. You can see her artistry on DVD now, performing Másson's Concerto for Snare Drum and Orchestra, a Vivaldi concerto, and a group of pieces for marimba composed by Matthias Schmitt (see REVIEW). In the meantime, check out this splendid Naxos beautifully recorded disk. Highly recommended!

Although there are countless recordings of Mahler's song cycles Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Kindertotenlieder, this new Phoenix Edition release of live concert performances is more than welcome. Bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff is heard in both and again proves he is among today's finest singers both vocally and interpretively. These are not new recordings, but this is their first release. Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen was recorded in June 1992, Kindertotenlieder the following year. Since then, Quasthoff has recorded Gesellen for DGG with Pierre Boulez and the Vienna Philharmonic (REVIEW). Swedish baritone Hakan Hagegard excels in the four songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn recorded in January 1993. A major plus is the perfect accompaniment provided by the Cologne Radio Symphony and its conductor, Gary Bertini whose recordings of all of Mahler's symphonies, made from 1985-1991 with the same orchestra, are among the finest ever made (REVIEW). Engineering captures the Mahlerian sound with uncommon richness. It seems odd that texts are not provided.

Hyperion has a winner in their superb disk of all of Benjamin Britten's music for solo piano and orchestra. We have the piano concerto that rarely is heard today in concert. Premiered in 1938, it was recorded many years later with the composer conducting and Sviatoslav Richter as soloist. There have been a few recordings since, but none finer than this new one with Steven Osborne as sterling soloist. There are four movements to the concerto, and this CD includes the original version of the third as well as the revision. We also have the exuberant Young Apollo with its splashy solo part, and even more important, Diversions, Op. 21. The latter was commissioned by Viennese pianist Paul Wittgenstein who had lost his right arm during World War I (he also commissioned works from Korngold, Strauss, Martinu, Schmidt, Ravel and Prokofiev). Wittgenstein was not a very good pianist judging from his scrambled performance of Ravel's concerto from a live performance in Amsterdam in 1937 with Eduard van Beinum conducting (REVIEW). Wittgenstein gave the premiere of Britten's concerto in 1942 with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Briitten made the first recording in 1954 with Julius Katchen and the London Symphony. This new Osborne/Volkov version is stunning and has the advantage of state-of-the-art engineering. This is a terrific recording, and highly recommended!

Standards associated with Reference Recordings are sustained on their fine new disk focusing on music by two very different composers written for Shakespeare's The Tempest. Sir Arthur Sullivan's is an early work written in 1861 when he was only 19 and the seven sections include several charming dances. Sibelius wrote his music for the play in 1926 towards the end of his career, writing a prelude and 35 episodes from which he arranged two concert suites both presented on this new recording along with the prelude. There are treasures here indeed; just sample the gentle Berceuse, a favorite of Leopold Stokowski who recorded it first in 1937 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Kansas City Symphony is a first-class orchestra, and their sounds, from sessions in February 2008, have been beautifully captured by the sterling RR team with engineer Keith O. Johnson. Don't miss it!

R.E.B. (October 2008)