STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40. Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite, Op. 60.
Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Sir Simon Rattle, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 39339 (F) TT: 81:57

MAHLER: Symphony No. 8 in E flat "Symphony of a Thousand."
Barbara Kubiak, Izabela Klosinska, Marta Boberska, sopranos; Jadwiga Rappe, Ewa Marciniee, altos; Timothy Bentch, tenor; Wojtek Drabowicz, baritone; Piotr Nowacki, bass; Polish Radio Choir in Krakow; Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University Choir; Warsaw Boys Choir; Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir and Orch/Antoni Wit, cond.
NAXOS 8.550533/34 (2 CDS) (B) TT: 1:20:51

DVORAK: The Water Goblin, Op. 107. The Wood Dove, Op. 110. (Václav Neumann, cond.). The Noon Witch, Op. 108 (Walter Weller, cond.). In Nature's Realm, Op. 91 (David Zinman, cond.). SWR Symphony Orchestra.
ARTE NOVA ANO 277760 (B) TT: 65:46

TUBIN: Kratt (complete ballet music). Sinfonietta on Estonian Motifs.
Iris Oja, mezzo-soprano; Female Choir of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Estonian National Symphony Orch/Arvo Volmer, cond.
ALBA ABCD 195:1-2 (2 CDS) (F)TT: 53:51 & 59:21

SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 43. En Saga, Op. 9. Luonnotar, Op. 70.
Uta Selbig, soprano; Dresden State Orch/Sir Colin Davis, cond.
PROFIL PH05049 (F) TT: 72:05

udging from this new EMI release of Richard Strauss with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, the famed orchestra is in the best of hands. The BPO plays with spectacular virtuosity in this performance of Heldenleben taken from September 2005 concerts in Berlin's Philharmonie. Rattle's pacing of the music is about five minutes longer than recordings by some major conductors of the past: Mengelberg, Reiner, Toscanini, primarily because of his expansive view of the love music and finale. Producer Stephen Johns and recording engineer Mike Clements have done a magnificent job in capturing this richly-scored music (although there is a touch of artificial resonance), and it's a pleasure to hear those wonderful Berlin strings digging into their instruments with such power. The generous filler (the CD plays for 81:57!) is Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, originally composed for the first version of Ariadne auf Naxos, recorded in studio sessions also recorded 9/05. This is Strauss's concept of 17th century music ending with the dinner which includes courses of fish, saddle-of-mutton, larks and thrushes and, finally, an omelet surprise—represented by a Viennese waltz. Rattle and thirty-seven members of his orchestra do what can be done for this music.

Considering previous Mahler recordings conducted by Antoni Wit for Naxos I didn't hold high hopes for this recording of the mighty Symphony of a Thousand recorded during sessions early in June 2005 at the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall—and was very pleasantly surprised. This is first-class in every way. Wit's attention to detail is extraordinary, the orchestra superb. The soloists range from good to superb, the four choruses are equally fine. Producers Andrezej Sasin and Aleksandra Nagórko have done a magnificent job in capturing the massive sonorities of the music, with soloists perfectly balanced. This is one of the top Mahler Eighths on CD, and at budget price. A track list and program notes in the booklet, but for texts and translations you must visit the Naxos web site: Bios are provided for the performers; soprano Barbara Kubiak's states that she has recorded Mahler's Seven Symphony, quite an accomplishment!

Another budget-price winner is Arte Nova's issue of four Dvorak symphonic poems all played by the SWR Symphony Orchestra of Baden-Baden, recorded in SWR Hans-Rosbaud studio. The Water Goblin and The Wood Dove were recorded in 1986 with Vaclav Neumann who at the time was still conductor of the Czech Philharmonic (he died in 1995); he already had recorded both of these with that orchestra. Walter Weller recorded The Noon Witch in 1988 , David Zinman recorded In Nature's Realm the same year. Produced by Wolfgang Wtroczyk, engineered by Susanne Vogt, Anton Enders and Frank Wild, these performances boast sound that is broad, spacious and crystal clear. Of course there are many other excellent recordings of this music (odd that István Kertész's Decca recordings currently aren't available), but this inexpensive CD has merit.

Estonian composer Eduard Tubin (1905-1982), who wrote most of his music while living in Sweden, is best known to collectors for his ten completed symphonies all of which have been championed by Neemi Järvi. Järvi also recorded a suite from the composer's ballet Kratt (coupled with the conductor's recording of Symphony No. 5 on Bis 306). Now we have the complete score for Kratt, a ballet based entirely on folk music, in a superlative performance by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arvo Volmer, who also has recorded many of Tubin's works. Kratt ("Goblin") is in four acts, the first ballet in the history of Estonian music (!), premiered in 1943 in an expanded version with the composer conducting. A further revised version appeared in 1960 and this is what is heard on this recording. Kratt apparently was plagued with superstitious events, all detailed in Vardo Rumessen's program notes. Even though the plot includes a goblin, the Devil and Satanists, the music is pleasant and brimming with lively dances scored with lots of percussion. Very pleasant indeed, and far removed from the starkness of many of his symphonies. CD II also contains Sinfonietta on Estonian Motifs, a 22-minute, three-movement work that almost could have been part of Kratt. Program notes give no information about this music. Recorded sound is superb, but it's odd that each act of the ballet (and each movement of Sinfonietta) is tracked, but individual sections, while numbered and timed in the CD notes, are not.

Sir Colin Davis, appointed Conductor Laureate of the Dresden State Orchestra in 1991, is heard in a splendid Sibelius program recorded during concerts September 22, 1988 (Symphony) and July 7-8, 2003. His mid-seventies Philips recordings of all symphonies and most orchestral works are still available at budget price on Philips; his later RCA recordings also are available. This is the conductor's only recording of Luonnotar, which Sibelius composed in 1912 for famed Finnish soprano Aino Ackté, who requested a work she could sing in concert along with the final scene from Salome. A bit less than ten minutes long, the subject is Luonnotar, a goddess of Finnish mythology, the daughter of nature and deity of the air, and mother of Lemminkäinen. It is one of Sibelius's most powerful vocal works. Ute Selbig sings it magnificently with total control of its incredible difficulties; she is a young soprano to watch. Recorded sound is superb, rich and detailed. Highly recommended!

R.E.B. (May 2006)