SIBELIUS: Lemminkäinen Suite, Op. 22. GRIEG: Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46.
Philadelphia Orch/Eugene Ormandy, cond.

WAGNER: The Flying Dutchman
Astrid Varnay (Senta), Hermann Uhde (The Dutchman), Rudolf Lustin (Erik), Ludwig Weber (Daland), Elisabethy Schärtel (Mary); Josef Traxel (The Steersman); Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orch/Joseph Keilberth, cond.
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO 062 (2 disks) TT: 2 hr. 21 min.

BLISS: A Colour Symphony. Music from the Film Things to Come. Cello Concerto. Suite from the ballet Adam Zero, Discourse for Orchestra, Concerto for Two Pianos. Suite from Christopher Columbus. Suite from the ballet Checkmate. Conversations I and V for flute, oboe and string trio. Oboe Quintet. Pastoral: 'Lie strewn the white flocks.' A Knot of Riddles. Music for Strings. Ceremonial Prelude. Welcome the Queen. A Song of Welcome. Suite from the ballet Miracle in the Gorbals. Music for Strings.
Various soloists including Arno Noras, cello; Cyril Smith & Phyllis Sellick, pianos; various chorus and orchestras cond. by Sir Malcolm Arnold, Paavo Berglund, Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Arthur Bliss, Marcus Dods, Sir Charles Groves, Vernon Handley, and Wyn Morris.
EMI CLASSICS 29018 (5 disks) TT: 79:23 / 74:43 / 78:43 / 75:47 / 76:58.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony Nos. 1, 3, 5 and 7. SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphonies 5, 10 and 12. TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphonies 5 and 6, Francesca da Rimini. MUSSORGSKY: Dawn on the Mocow River. GLINKA: Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture. MOZART: Symphonies 33 and 39. GLAZUNOV: Suite from Raymonda. WAGNER: Excerpts from Götterdammerung, Tristan und Isolde, Die Walküre, and Lohengrin.
Leningrad Philharmonic Orch/Evgeny Mravinsky, cond.
ERATO 69890 (12 disks) TT: 9 hr. 54 min.

Here are four treasures for the collector! Ever since first issued in 1955, Eugene Ormandy's Columbia Philadelphia Orchestra recording of Sibelius' Lemminkainen Suite has been one of my favorites, the perfect performance in respectable pre-stereo sound. In 2004, I welcomed a fine private label issue of a superb transfer of Lemminkainen (REVIEW). Now we have this new transfer by Mark Obert-Thorn whose program notes point out that The Swan of Tuonela was recorded in 1950 and issued on a 10" LP (which has already been reissued on Pristine Classical coupled with Finlandia and Symphonies 4 and 5 ). Almost two years later, Columbia recorded the other three sections of Lemminkainen, and issued them, along with the previously recorded Swan on LP. In 1978, Ormandy and his orchestra recorded this suite for EMI in stereo, a superb performance indeed, but the earlier one is in a class by itself. More of Ormandy's Sibelius can be heard on another Pristine Audio issue (REVIEW). There is a considerable bonus on the new CD, Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 recorded in 1947 heard here in a dubbing from original lacquers.

This recording of The Flying Dutchman is made from rehearsals and performances in July/August 1955 in Bayreuth's Festspielhaus, and what a special occasion it was! Decca made the stereo recording and from an audio standpoint it is terrific, beautifully balanced with remarkable presence and ambience (the latter doubtless aided by Andrew Rose's "XR remastering"). Unlike what Wagnerians have suffered through in recent years at Bayreuth, this is as near-perfect a performance as one will ever hear—and doubtless the staging was what the composer intended. Both Astrid Varnay and Hermann Uhde are magnificent, and Joseph Keilberth, who the same year recorded the entire Ring in Bayreuth (available on Testament), conducts a vivid performance. The set begins with fanfares and theatre bells which sets an appropriate scene before the blazing beginning of the overture, and some of the applause is included at the conclusion. This performance was issued about four years ago on Testament (REVIEW).

Over the years I have collected EMI recordings of music by Sir Arthur Bliss, and played them often on various radio shows. Usually there were problems with tics and surface noise, and now, some decades later, EMI has released all of them—and much more and without surface disturbances—at budget price! You can enjoy the imaginative music for Things to Come, the Colour Symphony, various ballet scores, the concerto for two pianos in the arrangement the composer made for three hands played by Cyril Smith and Phyllis Selleck, along with many choral and chamber works. Disk 5 consists of many of the composer's own recordings of his music. Documentation is thorough, and complete information is given on recording data. A wonderful set!

Yet another huge compilation, this one devoted to legendary conductor Evgeny Mravinsky (1903-1988) who led the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra from 1938-1988. He was demanding and feared during rehearsals. Even though he had conducted Brahms Symphony No. 2 many times, he insisted on eight full rehearsals for it. He managed to survive Soviet politics and gave many important Russian premieres including six symphonies by Shostakovich (although he refused to conduct the premiere of Symphony No. 13, which angered the composer). Most of Mravinsky's earlier recordings are of modest fidelity. One might say the orchestra wasn't heard in its full glory until 1956 when on tour in Vienna they recorded three symphonies of Tchaikovsky for DGG—5 and 6 with Mravinsky, 4 with Kurt Sanderling. This new Erato set contains the works listed above all in live performances taped 1964-1984. Audio is adequate mono, and it is unfortunate more music wasn't included; many of the CDs are not very well filled. The final disk contains excerpts from rehearsals of music from Tannhäuser and Die Meistersinger, and a lecture by the conductor "On Life and Nature," which fortunately is translated in liner notes. These are valuable documents, and at budget price.

R.E.B. (August 2011)