CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11. LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat.
Yundi Li, pianist; Philharmonia Orch/Andrew Davis, cond.

SLONIMSKY: Oratorio suite Virineya. Symphoniette.
Chorus and Orchestra of St. Petersburg State Kapella/Vladislav Chernushenko, cond.

SOLER: Sonata in F# minor. GRANADOS: Valses poéticos. ALBÉNIZ: Evocación. Triana. ALBÉNIZ-GODOWSKY: Tango. MOMPOU: Pájaro triste. La barca. Secreto. Gitano. LONGAS: Aragón. DEBUSSY: La soirée dans Grenade. La Puerta del Vino. RAVEL: Pièce en forme de Habanera. SCHARWENKA: Spanisches Ständchen. NIEMANN: Evening in Seville. HOUGH: On Falla.
Stephen Hough, pianist
HYPERION CDA67565 (F) TT: 71:56

DAVIS: Aladdin
Malaysian Philharmonic Orch/Carl Davis, cond.
NAXOS 8.557898 (2 disks) (B) TT: 50:18 & 75:51

TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake Ballet (abridged)
London Symphony Orch/Anatole Fistoulari, cond.
OPUS KURA OPK 7024/7025 (2 disks) TT: 47:41 & 42:56

BACH: Sonata (Cantata BWV 31). HAYDN: Symphony No. 22 in E flat "The Philosopher." BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4 in B flat, Op. 60. WEBER: Ruler of the Spirits Overture. Preciosa Overture. MENDELSSOHN: Ruy Blas Overture. BORODIN: Polovtsian Dances. LYADOV: Kikimora. STRAVINSKY: Pulcinella Suite. Scherzo à la Russe. SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63. DELIBES: Excerpts from Coppelia and Sylvia. FRANCK: Le Chasseur Maudit. CHABRIER: Joyeuse Marche. Danse Slave. FAURÉ: Prelude to Pénélope. Masques et Bergamasques, Op. 112. SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9. RAVEL: Le Tombeau de Couperin. DEBUSSY: Petite Suite. Six Épigraphes Antiques. RESPIGHI: The Fountains of Rome. Rossiniana. HONEGGER: Le Roi David. Pacific 231. DUKAS: Le Péri. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Dubinushka, Op. 62. MARTIN: Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Timpani, Percussion and Strings.
DECCA ORIGINAL MASTERS 475 8140 (6 disks) (B) TT: 78:41 / 78:18 / 69:36 / 74:06 / 74:05 / 71:03

SMETANA: Excerpts from The Bartered Bride. Má vlast. DVORÁK: Slavonic Dances 1, 3, 8, 9 and 10. Symphonic Variations, Op. 78.
Israel Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestras/István Kertész, cond.
DECCA ORIGINALS 475 7730 (M) TT: 71:20

SAINT-SAËNS: Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 "Organ." POULENC: Organ Concerto in G minor.
Peter Hurford, organist; Montreal Symphony Orch/Charles Dutoit, cond.
DECCA ORIGINALS 475 7728 (M) TT: 56:42

Yundi Li's new recording of the first concertos of Chopin and Liszt is superb in every way—vital, dynamic readings of remarkable virtuosity, ably accompanied by Davis and the Philharmonia. Recorded in July 2006 in London's Watford Colosseum, produced by Christopher Alder with Helmut Burk as recording producer and Klaus Hiemann as balance engineer, the sound is as natural as it could be. Recommended!

A release of extraordinary interest offers music of contemporary Russian composer Sergey Mikhaylovich Slonimsky (b. 1932). His style is hardly avant-garde; he writes old-fashioned beautiful music, his works include six operas, thirteen symphonies, a number of concertos, and the ballet Icarus. His first opera, Virinea, composed in 1967, is about the political intrigue and tragic collapse of the lifestyle of the old Russian village in 1917. The principal character is the troubled peasant woman Virineya who is murdered by vicious neighbors. This "oratorio suite" from the opera includes sections titled Blizzard, Funeral Prayer, Railway Songs, Trepak Dance, two exquisite songs of Virineya, and an orchestral fugue. This is compelling music of great power magnificently performed—the vocal soloists are superb as are the chorus and orchestra. The 22-minute Symphoniette dates from 1966. In spite of its title, this is scored for large orchestra ending with a blaze of brass. Recorded in St. Petersburg in December 1997 under the supervision of Gerkhard Tzess, the stereo sound is rich and satisfying. An intriguing release - look into it!

Stephen Hough's "Spanish Album" is a total delight, a collection that features Spanish and French approaches to the subject, including a number of lesser-known works. The program ends with the pianist's On Falla, which begins a la Turina and ends like Falla's Ritual Fire Dance. Beautiful recorded sound, as usual with Hyperion.

Carl Davis is best known for his imaginative music to accompany silent films, but he has also written for television, musicals and ballet, in addition to his conducting career. Commissioned by the Scottish Ballet, Davis wrote Aladdin, a full-length ballet that received its premiere at the Edinburgh Festival December 20, 2000. The concept of a Persian story set in China, with magic, a flying carpet and an opportunity to write vivid characteristic dances appealed greatly to Davis, and he responded with his usual orchestral expertise. There's a lot of unusual percussion including maracas, whip, anvil, clay drum, bongos, tom toms and tam-tam, all vividly captured by the Naxos engineering team. A detailed description of the plot is included. This is not a major ballet score, but surely one that should be investigated, and our appreciation to Naxos for making it available.

Ukrainian-born conductor Anatole Fistoulari (b. 1907) was a major figure on the British concert season for many years. Apparently he never held a major conducting position although he was chief conductor of the London Philharmonic for one season, 1943-44. Fistoulari appeared frequently with major orchestras, made many recordings in the early days of LP. He died in London in 1995 at the age of 88, and was married twice, first to Gustav Mahler's daughter, Anna. Fistoulari's mono Decca recording with the London Symphony of music from Swan Lake was made in Kingsway Hall in January 1952. John Culshaw produced, Kenneth Wilkinson was engineer, a guarantee of high-quality sonics. The important violin solos were played by George Stratton, concertmaster of the LSO, but Culshaw didn't like Stratton's sound, and in March 1952 the parts with solo violin were re-recorded with Alfredo Campoli, heard on this reissue which was made from rare UK Decca LPs. This set is advertised as "slightly abridged." Well, not quite—the entire ballet is about 2 1/2 hours, this version is about an hour less, although all of the important dances are here. It's intriguing that some years later Fistoulari recorded a suite from Swan Lake with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw for Decca in February 1961. Word is that George Solti's recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 4 with the Dutch orchestra at that time went so smoothly that two booked sessions were available. At the last minute Fistoulari stepped in to record the Tchaikovsky, which is an astonishing recording, available from HAYDN HOUSE

Decca continues their admirable series of historic reissues with this 6-disk set of some of the recordings Ernest Ansermet made with the Suisse Romande Orchestra, which he founded in 1918. His achievements were incredible, including world premieres of many major works, and he knew eight of the major composers represented in this compilation. All are stereo except for Rimsky-Korsakov's Dubinushka. A highlight is Honegger's dramatic psalm King David recorded in 1956 with singers including soprano Suzanne Danco. This set contains many of the Swiss conductor's Decca recordings that are not already available—check the catalog for his Debussy, Berlioz, Falla and Stravinsky recordings in particular. It's unfortunate the new set doesn't include Rimsky-Korsakov's Symphony No. 2 recorded in 1954, which was the first stereo recording Ansermet made for Decca. It is said Ansermet used his considerable clout with Decca to get their approval of the ill-advised projects of recording Bach suites and all of the Beethoven symphonies. These didn't last long in the catalog, but we are fortunate to have his recordings of repertory in which he excelled.

Decca has two sonic blockbusters at mid price. Had István Kertész (b. August 28, 1929) survived (he drowned April 16, 1973 while swimming off the coast of Israel), he would have had a continuing impact on the world of conductors. Renowned as a conductor of opera as well as symphonic music, he made a series of Decca recordings that retain their interest, particularly orchestral works of Dvorak. In 1962 with producer John Culshaw he made these Smetana and Dvorak recordings with the Israel Philharmonic, and they still are among the best ever made. Symphonic Variations was recorded in 1970. All of these are high-fidelity display recordings, as are the Saint-Saëns and Poulenc works conducted by Charles Dutoit, recorded respectively in 1982 and 1992. These are samples of Decca's best engineering with the Montreal forces, with solid organ sound that will delight audiophiles.

R.E.B. (March 2007)