BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 1 in C minor
Suisse Romande Orch/Marek Janowski, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186447 TT: 47:08

DVORÁK: The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op. 107. The Wild Dove, Op. 110. DEBUSSY: Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun. WAGNER: Rienzi Overture. TCHAIKOVSKY: Meditation, Op. 42. JOHANN STRAUSS JR: Northern Pictures Waltz, Op. 390. SCHMIDT: Intermezzo from Notre Dame. KHACHATURIAN: Finale from Violin Concerto in D minor.
Julia Fischer, violin; Netherlands Philharmonic Orch/Vienna Symphony (Johann Strauss)/Russian National Orchestra (Khachaturian)/Yakov Kreizberg, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186461 (2 disks) TT: 2:16:46

BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68. Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73. Symphony No. 3 in F, Op. 90. Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98. Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a. Tragic Overture, Op. 81. Academ,ic Festival Overture, Op. 80.
Helsingborg Symphony Orch/Andrew Manze, cond.
CPO SACD 777 720 (2 disks) TT: 210:41

Marek Janowski continues his Bruckner symphony series with this splendid recording of the composer's Symphony No. 1. For Pentatone, Janowski already has outstanding recordings of five of the composer's symphonies (5, 6, 7,8, 9) all with the Suisse Romande Orchestra, all of the highest quality, beautifully recorded. I never thought the Swiss orchestra could produce an appropriate Brucknerian sound, but they surely do. There is considerable confusion bout Bruckner's early symphonies; he is known to have written two before the symphony here recorded, which is identified as the first. The symphony is of little interest except as a curiosity. This is prosaic Bruckner with few traces of the grandeur to follow in later symphonies. Audio is superb, but it is unfortunate more music wasn't included: the symphony, by Brucknerian standards, is very short: 47:08. A quality issue for those interested in early Bruckner.

The musical world was saddened by the untimely death of Russian conductor Yakov Kreizberg after a long illness at the age of 51. He was recognized as a major figure in the conducting world and often guest conducted many major orchestras. During his final years, he was music director of the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, making a number of recordings with both ensembles. Most of his recent recordings were made for Pentatone, and in his memory they have issued this 2-disk set gathered from previous issues on the label. Many are fillers from his Dvorák symphony recordings and we also have two recordings with a favorite collaborator, the remarkable violinist Julia Fischer, who is heard in Tchaikovsky's Meditation (with Kreizberg at the piano) and the finale from their recording of Khatchaturian's violin concerto. Kind of a hodgepodge, but quality throughout. The 2 SACD set is sold at a somewhat reduced price.

Andrew Manze had a distinguished career as a baroque violinist for years before he turned to conducting. He made many recordings of early music, both as violinist and conductor, and won a number of prestigious awards for some of them. Surely he will not win an award for this new issue of all four symphonies and selected other works of Brahms recorded with the Helsingborg Symphony. Manze has been music director of the Swedish orchestra since 2006. Most major conductors from Abbado to Zinman have recorded the Brahms symphonies, some more than once. And the catalog is filled with "historic" performances by Karl Böhm, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Eugen Jochum, Herbert von Karajan and Otto Klemperer, to mention only a few. All are preferable to this new set. The Swedish orchestra, which this year celebrates its centenary, is not large; it has but 61 players. Their playing is lackluster on these new recordings, and they are not helped by the unexceptional "surround sound." The most disappointing interpretive feature is Manze's race through the opening pages of Symphony No. 1, totally missing the score's majesty. This is a full-price issue. Skip this ill-advised set.

R.E.B. (April 2012)