RACHMANINOFF: Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 13. Symphony (Youth Symphony). The Isle of the Dead, Op. 29.
BBC Philharmonic Orch/Gianandrea Noseda, cond.
CHANDOS 10575 (F) TT: 74:39
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HOVHANESS: Fanfare for the New Atlantis, Op. 281. Concerto No. 2 for Guitar and Strings, Op. 394. Symphony No. 63, Op. 411 "Loon Lake."
Javier Calderón, guitar; Royal Scottish National Orch/Stewart Robertson, cond.
NAXOS 8.559336 (B) TT: 59:29
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KABALEVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D, Op. 50 "Dedicated to Soviet Youth." Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra on the theme of The song School Years. Poem of Struggle for Orchestra and Chorus, Op. 12. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Piano Concerto in C# minor, Op. 20.
Hsin-Ni Liu, piano; Gnesin Academy Chorus; Russian Philharmonic Orch/Dmitry Yablonsky, cond.
NAXOS 8.557794 (B) TT: 54:00
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COHN: Symphony No. 7, Op. 45. Symphony No. 2, Op. 13. Variations on "The Wayfaring Stranger" Op. 34. Waltz in D, Op. 29a
Slovak Radio Symphony Orch/Vakhtang Jordania and Kirk Trevor (Symphony 2/Waltz), cond.
NAXOS 8.559376 (B) TT: 65:53
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Audio buffs will gain much pleasure from the new Chandos recording of Gianandrea Noseda conducting the BBC Philharmonic in music of Rachmaninoff. The recording was made January 30-31, 2008 in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester. Recording producers were Brian Pidgeon and Mike George with Stephen Rinker as sound engineer. All did their task magnificently—this is glorious orchestral sound with rich strings, brilliant brass, perfect balance and presence. And the performances are equally stunning, surely one of the finest recordings of Isle of the Dead, along with a fresh look at the unjustly neglected Symphony No. 1. The disastrous 1897 premiere of this symphony ineptly conducted by an inebriated Alexander Glazunov caused a period of depression for Rachmaninoff. We can be sure that had that premiere approached the grandeur of this new recording this symphony would have been welcomed. Highly recommended!

Naxos has another winner in their Hovhaness disk offering three world premiere recordings of music that represents the composer at his best. First we have Fanfare for the New Atlantis, Op. 281, composed in 1975, a 7-minute grand work that well fits its title, described as Hovhaness's "symphonic extravaganza." The Concerto No. 2 for Guitar and Strings, Op. 394 was composed in 1985 for Narciso Yepes who played the premiere in 1990. Bolivian guitarist Javier Calderón is soloist in this recording playing his own cadenza in the final movement. This is a lovely, gentle, dance-like concerto of great appeal. Symphony No. 63 was composed in 1988 on a commission from the New Hampshire Music Festival with the request that the sound of the loon cry be included. Hovhaness did this, and also included the song of the hermit thrush, both birds represented by the piccolo. After the premiere in 1988, the symphony was revised at the request of the composer's wife, coloratura soprano Hinako Fujihara Hovhaness, who felt a grandiose ending would be appropriate for the music. Performances on this CD are superlative, as is sonic quality. A major addition to the Hovhaness discography!

Prime interest in Naxos' Kabalevsky disk centers on two seldom heard works, Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra written for a competition in 1964, and the composer's first major work, Poem of Struggle, written in 1930, which ends with the chorus singing of revolutionary change in the world. These recordings appear to be the only ones currently available and would be the reason for acquiring this CD. Kabalevsky's Concerto No. 3 and Rimsky-Korsakov's concerto are given rather bland performances by young Chinese pianist Hsin-Ni Liu.

The Naxos American Classics series contains countless major recordings and the label is to be commended for their willingness to issue much music rarely heard. An example is this CD of American Composer James Cohn (b. 1928), who studied with Roy Harris, Wayne Barlow and Bernard Wagenaar. His works include three string quartets, five piano sonatas and music for chorus as well as eight symphonies. Two of these are heard on this recording, No.2 written in 1949, and No. 7 written in 1967. Both sound like academic exercises .There is little imagination in either work, and I find it difficult to believe Symphony No. 2 won a Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Prize.The recordings were made in Bratislava in 2001 in an unresonant studio. Conductors Jordania and Trevor do what can be done, but the orchestra sounds under-rehearsed.

R.E.B. (July 2008)