BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 57. Sonata No. 29, Op. 106 (orch. Weingartner). The Creatures of Prometheus Overture, Op. 43.
London Philharmonic Orch; Royal Philharmonic Orch (Sonata); Felix Weingartner, cond.
NAXOS 8.110913 (B) (ADD) TT: 78:33

STRAUSS: Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24. Don Juan, Op. 20. WAGNER: Rienzi Overture. Excerpts from Parsifal.
Paris Conservatory Orch (Strauss); Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Hans Knappertsbusch, cond.
TESTAMENT SBT 1338 (F) (ADD) TT: 79:21

RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30. Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43. Élégie, Op. 3 No. 1. Preludes Op. 23 Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 6. Prelude Op. 32 No. 12. Études-Tableaux Op. 39 Nos. 3 and 5. Moments musicaux Op. 16 Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6.
Andrei Gavrilov, pianist; Philadelphia Orch/Riccardo Muti, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 85779 (2 CDS) (B) (DDD) TT: 75:33 & 79:15

SIBELIUS: Luonnotar, Op. 70. En saga, Op. 9. Night-ride and Sunrise, Op. 55. The Oceanides, Op. 73. (Gwyneth Jones, soprano; London Symphony Orch/Antal Dorati). King Christian II Suite, Op. 27. Karelia Overture, Op. 10. The Bard, Op. 64. Festivo, Op. 25 No. 3. (Scottish National Orch/Sir Alexander Gibson, cond.). Karelia Suite, Op. 11. Swan of Tuonela, Op. 22 No. 2. Finlandia, Op. 26 (Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond.). Pohjola's Daughter, Op. 49 (BBC Symphony Orch/Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. The First Kiss, Op. 37 No. 1, Spring is Flying, Op. 13 No. 4, The Tryst, Op. 37 No. 5, Black Roses, Op. 36 No. 1 (Siv Wennberg, soprano; Geoffrey Parsons, pianist)
EMI CLASSICS 85785 (2 CDS) (B)(ADD) TT: 76:49 & 77:52

DVORAK: Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 (Pierre Fournier, celllist/Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Rafael Kubelik, cond.) DE FALLA: El Amor Brujo (London Philharmonic Orch/Anthony Collins, cond). BORODIN: Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor (London Philharmonic Chorus and Orch/Eduard van Beinum, cond.)

Naxos is to be congratulated for their thoroughness in making available Felix Weingartner's Beethoven recordings. Check R.D.'s comments on the previous issues of all nine symphonies and miscellaneous works (REVIEW); also the third piano concerto and "Triple" concerto (REVIEW). On this new CD we have an oddity, the conductor's orchestration of Beethoven's mightiest piano sonata, the demanding Op. 106 "Hammerklavier." The conductor made this transcription in 1925 and urged Columbia to record it, which they did in Central Hall, Westminster, March 26, 27, 28 and 31, 1930. Technically the recording was plagued with technical problems including pitch instability, distortion and surface blemishes on the masters. The performance itself is dedicated, but marred by excessive portamento which seems imappropriate in this repertory. Prometheus Overture is the earliest (1933) of Weingartner's two recordings, and Symphony No. 5, recorded in 1933 is the conductor's last of his four recordings of the work. Throughout Mark Obert-Thorn has worked his usual transfer magic. A real bargain for unusual Beethoven ("Hammerklavier") in an historic performance!

Testament's Hans Knappertsbusch (1888-1965) reissue is of limited interest except for those who wish to have everything he recorded. The two Strauss tone poems were taped May 7, 1956 with a mediocre French orchestra with particularly scrappy strings and vibrato-laden brass. This is the first stereo release of this recording which was produced by Peter Andry in the Maison de la Mutualité in Paris. The most successful performance on this CD is Wagner's Rienzi Overture recorded in Vienna on three days in June 1950, sessions that also produced the 28 minutes of excerpts from Parsifal, rather unimportant as this music drama was a favorite of the conductor and currently there are seven complete live performance recordings, all from Bayreuth. Alan Sanders' CD notes are particularly intriguing, mentioning that Knappertsbusch first conducted Parsifal at Elberfeldin 1914, The Mikado in 1926 in Munich and, in 1927, one performance of The Rite of Spring, and a Munich production of Albert Coates' opera Samuel Pepys in 1929.

Andrei Gavrilov recorded these Rachmaninoff concerted works in October 1986 (Concerto No. 3) and May/June 1989 with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti in Fairmount Park's Memorial Hall. Producers James Mallinson and David Groves did what they could working in this make-shift venue, but the sound isn't particularly rich or sonorous and there's little sense of presence. Performances are expert in every way, brilliantly played by Gavrilov, with the Paganini Rhapsody outstanding, but none of these would be among my favored recordings of the three oft-recorded works. However, this is major competiton for budget labels: two packed CDs at minimum price.

The EMI Sibelius set is a worthy collection, two well-filled CDs at budget price. The real prize here is Gwyneth Jones in her prime (1969) in a glorious performance of Luonnotar, equalled only by Taru Valjakka on the same label in a Double Forte collection, also included in the 8 CD Sibelius set with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Paavo Berglund (REVIEW). In this new compilation we have Sir Malcolm Sargent's memorable Sibelius recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic as well as Dorati's superb En saga. To fill out the second CD, producers have included four songs sung by soprano Siv Wennberg accompanied by pianist Geoffrey Parsons recorded in 1973 a few years before her other recording, Wagner's Rienzi. Hers is a big, bold and powerful voice with a cutting edge. It's strange that Wennberg seems to have disappeared from the musical scene—she would have been excellent in Strauss and Wagner. If you enjoy these songs you must investigate Birgit Nilsson's Decca recordings (REVIEW). This Sibelius set is highly recommended for the many fine performances it contains.

Haydn House's private reissue is of enormous interest to collectors as it makes available three important recordings of the early days of LP. Pierre Fournier's performance of Dvorak's cello concerto is best-known via his DGG recording with George Szell and the Berlin Philharmonic. There are a number of his live performances currently available including two from the BBC, one conducted by Sir Colin Davis, the other by Rafael Kubelik who conducts this Decca studio recording made June 26, 1954. Anthony Collins, who made early LP recordings of symphonies of Sibelius, recorded El Amor Brujo February 4, 1950. To me, the gem on this CD is one of the rarest Eduard van Beinum recordings, Borodin's Polovtsian Dances (with an unidentified robust chorus) recorded April 12-13, 1950. The Falla and Borodin initially shared an LP. Superb Decca mono sound throughout, and beautiful transfers from Haydn House, where this CD can be obtained at modest price by visiting their site:

R.E.B. (October 2004)