BERLIOZ: Requiem, Op. 5
STRAUSS: An Alpine Symphony. Four Last Songs.
SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 1 in B flat, Op. 38 "Spring." Symphony No. 2
in C, Op. 61.
This famous recording of the massive Berlioz Requiem was made in Westminster Cathedral in November 1969 and remains one of the finest ever made of this masterpiece. This is the first release in four-channel sound, and it sounds better than ever. The four brass ensembles aren't separated as much as I thought they would be, but they are effective, and SACD processing beautifully captures the spacious acoustics of the venue without the congestion that afflicted previous releases. This is a major addition to the SACD catalog. Thank you, Pentatone!
Fabio Luisi, the new conductor of the famous Dresden Staatskapelle apparently is making a series of recordings of music of Richard Strauss, a composer who had a long association with the orchestra. Well over three decades ago this orchestra and conductor Rudolf Kempe recorded a complete Strauss series, although sonically it was not one of EMI's better efforts, even when briefly issued on DVD audio in "surround sound." This new recording of An Alpine Symphony is first-rate—the orchestral playing could not be bettered, and the SACD engineering appropriately has the famous distant hunting horns in "The Ascent" heard more from the side/rear than the front—the only multi-channel recording of this music to do this (the others are DVDs conducted by Kent Nagano (REVIEW), Giuseppe Sinopoli (REVIEW), and Herbert von Karajan). Four Last Songs is a considerably bonus, featuring the brilliant young German soprano Anja Harteros. While not in the exalted class of recordings by Schwarzkopf, Janowitz, Della Casa, Isokoski, or the magnificent DVD with Lucia Popp, Solti and the Chicago Symphony (REVIEW), the Harteros is among the finer recordings of the music. An outstanding issue, and I look forward to future releases in this Strauss series.
Pentatone is competing with itself with this new issue of Schumann's first two symphonies. They already have a fine recording of Symphony No. 1 (coupled with No. 3) with Eliahu Inbal and the Philharmonia Orchestra recorded in 1970 (see REVIEW). These new recordings were made in October 2007 during concerts in the Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum in Prague, produced and recorded by Job Maarse. American conductor Lawrence Foster (b. 1941) has had a respectable career, but, with the exception of holding the position of music director of the Houston Symphony from 1971-1979, he never was associated with any of the major orchestras—although he was assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic when Zubin Mehta was music director. Since 2002 he has been principal conductor of the Gulbenkian Orchestra. Foster made many recordings, often leading accompaniment for major solo artists. Now we hear him in these vigorous performances of the two Schumann symphonies, perhaps the beginning of a new chapter in his career. The 5.0 surround sound has the orchestra in front, ambient sound from the rear. A fine release!
R.E.B. (August 2008)