Strauss / Brahms / Arnold/ Berlioz

STRAUSS: Four Last Songs. Six Songs with Orchestra. Suite from Der Rosenkavalier.
Renée Fleming, soprano; Houston Symphony Orch/Christoph Eschenbach, cond.
BMG RCA 59408 (M) (DDD) TT: 68:55
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BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat, Op. 82. Piano Sonata No. 1 in C, Op. 1
Sviatoslav Richter, pianist; Chicago Symphony Orch/Erich Leinsdorf, cond.
BMG RCA 60860 (M) (ADD) TT: 78:45
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BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77. Double Concerto in A minor, Op. 102.
Jascha Heifetz, violinist; Gregor Piatigorsky, cellist; Chicago Symphony Orch/Fritz Reiner (violin concerto); RCA Victor Symphony Orch/Alfred Wallenstein (double concerto)
BMG RCA 59410 (M) (ADD) TT: 63:39
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ARNOLD: Guitar Concerto, Op. 67 (Eduardo Fernandez, guitarist); English Dances, Op. 27 and Op. 33. Symphony for Brass Instruments, Op. 123. Quintet for Brass, Op. 73.
English Chamber Orch/Barry Wordsworth, cond. (concerto); London Philharmonic Orch/Sir Adrian Boult (dances); Philip Jones Brass Ensemble (symphony/quintet)
DECCA 468 803 (M) TT: 75:03
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BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14. Herminie (Lyric Scene).
Aurélia Legay, soprano; Mahler Chamber Orch/Marc Minkowski, cond.
DGG B0001850 (DDD) TT: 80:49
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RCA/BMG's new series called RCA Red Seal Classic Library offers at mid-price major recordings from their past—and present—catalog. In addition to Heifetz, Piatigorsky, Rubinstein, Price, Bream, Monteux, Solti and Horowitz, we have Fleming, Kissin, Yo-Yo Ma, Michael Tilson Thomas and Yuri Temirkanov all in newly remastered issues, usually generous in playing time. For a complete listing of available titles, go to: http://www.bmgclassics.com and click on Classic Library. Three of the finest issues in the series are listed above. Renée Fleming's Strauss was recorded in 1995 (no recording dates are given in the Classic Library issue), and is unquestionably one of the finest recordings of Four Last Songs. Complete texts are provided. This previously was reviewed on this site (REVIEW). Sviatoslav Richter's 1960 Chicago Symphony recording of the Brahms Concerto No. 2 (with Leinsdorf) and Jascha Heifetz' 1955 recording with Fritz Reiner of the same composer's Violin Concerto have both been rightfully praised, with superb sonics to convey the performances. The Richter filler is a 1988 recording of Beethoven's Sonata No. 1 rather than his 1960 recording of Sonata No. 23 with which it was coupled for the Living Stereo reissue (56518). The 1960 recording of the Brahms Double Concerto is a generous coupling for the violin concerto sounding much better in this remastering then it did on the previous RCA Red Seal CD release (6776).

The Malcolm Arnold issue in Decca's British Music Collection is of major interest to collectors as it contains two of the composer's masterpieces for brass, the Quintet composed in 1961 and Symphony for Brass written about two decades later, both brilliantly played by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble directed by Howard Snell and Elgar Howarth. I've long treasured both of these via their original LP releases; it's great to have them sounding better than ever, and without ticks and clicks! Fernandez's performance of the 1959 guitar concerto and Sir Adrian Boult's recording of English Dances (a mono recording made in 1954 although not identified as such) are pluses.

With well over a hundred recordings currently available of Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique one might well wonder why another, but this is an intriguing issue, a live performance from the Grande Salle, Cité de la musique, Paris, in December 2002. The orchestra is identified as Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the period instrument group Les Musiciens du Louvre - Grenoble. The latter has made many recordings of Rameau, Lully and Offenbach. From what is heard on this recording, the combination of the two produced a large orchestra and they play very well indeed. For those who like snarling, growling brass in the final two movements of the symphony, this is for you! Producer Arend Prohmann and his engineers must have had microphones very close to the trombones in March to the Scaffold! They snarl and rasp more than any other recording except, possibly, Eduard van Beinum's Decca Concertgebouw recording. A bonus is the seldom-heard lyric scene Herminie, an appropriate coupling as it includes music heard in the symphony. Highly recommended, and that total playing time (80:49) is not a misprint.


R.E.B. (July 2004)