London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by José Serebrier
Reference Recordings RR-89 CD
"Not another!" I thought as this new RR Scheherazade was delivered to the office. With over fifty recordings in the can, why did we need another? The artistic combination did not look perfect: One of my favorite orchestras (just heard in London, and sounding as magnificent as ever) and a brilliant recording engineer, both united in excellence with a conductor I have yet to hear produce anything near top class. My bias was soon shattered by a superb rendition of Rimsky's masterpiece, full of colour, brilliance, and eastern promise. The orchestra is virtuosic in delivering Serebrier's lovely interpretation, with violin soloist, Joakim Svenheden at times sweet, controlled, passionate, and most importantly, in tune. The performance is comparable with the usual masterful suspects; Beecham and Reiner have owned this piece for nearly a half century, now we have another to add and in superb sound. A fantastic Russian Easter Festival Overture is included, too. Engineer, Keith Johnson serves up his usual assortment of delectations. That he continues to produce similar stunners in different acoustics, pays tribute to his brilliance. One caveat: Ignore Serebrier's notes, "Serebrier on Scheherazade". Nothing more than a self serving diatribe!
Symphony No. 5
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Valery Gergiev
Phillips 462 905-2
Kirov chief, Valery Gergiev manipulates the Vienna Philharmonic to feats of greatness in this live performance from the 1998 Salzburg Festival. Gergiev takes great care in shaping Tchaikovsky's great melodies. He prides himself on keeping the bass lines moving, an important conducting technique with which others fall pray. As such, the movements have an inexorable "rightness" about them, almost displacing Mravinsky and Maazel. Maazel, however, with the same orchestra, manages a tonal luster that Gergiev's rough and ready Austrian Radio sourced recording only hints. If you don't mind less than stellar sound, this is a performance worthy of your time and patience. It releases its charms and depth in small doses, and the effect is hypnotic.
Renée Fleming, with Barbara Bonney and Susan Graham
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach
Decca 466 314-2
Usually, I am not in favour of "bleeding chunks" cut from complete works, but here, we get the sublimely beautiful singing of Renée Fleming to appease our wrath. Strauss, also, was in favour of putting his stuff about as much as possible to earn as much as possible. If he didn't mind, why should we? In any case, what we get are sections from Der Rosenkavalier (Monologue Scene from Act One; Trio and Finale from Act Three), Arabella (Duet from Act One), and Capriccio (Moonlight Music and Closing Scene). All is quality Strauss given the most echt Viennese treatment from Eschenbach and the Philharmoniker. Recording is excellent, with good depth and space, Fleming's voice (and the others) blending well into the orchestral fabric. Thus, a treat for all lovers of fine singing, in keeping with the excellence of previous Fleming releases.
Elgar and Bruch Violin Concertos
London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Edward Elgar and Landon Ronald
Naxos (Historical) 8.110902
Audiophiles - do not let the "Historical Recordings 1931 - 1932" on the front cover send you screaming from the store. Have no fear, for Mark Obert-Thorn is here. Mark has restored this inexpensive Naxos gem with the utmost care, allowing us to hear the teenage Menuhin's incredibly mature performances in excellent sound. No, you will not get refulgence, depth, and thunderous bass, but Obert-Thorn provides clean-as-a-whistle sound, without the harsh, grating experience that so many audiophiles despise. The famous performances are models of taste and represent the pinnacle of a violinist's art. Not to be missed.
The English Songbook
Ian Bostridge, tenor, with Julius Drake, piano
EMI 5 56830 2
Young English tenor, Ian Bostridge, is certainly making a name for himself these days. Sought by leading festivals and opera houses, Bostridge's superb musicianship covers many styles and continents. As an Englishman, one would expect this to be a recital close to his heart. You'd be right. His tenor is true, clear, controlled and impeccably in tune. The text is delivered with emphasis on word painting, sung with great care for the song's particular flavour. Having recently heard him sing in London, the recording does justice to his beautiful voice. The admirable Julius Drake is a most sensitive accompanist.
Symphony No. 9
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Georg Tintner
Sadly, Georg Tintner died last month after a fall from his apartment balcony. There is no greater testament to his lifelong love of Bruckner than this superb performance of Bruckner's unfinished masterpiece. Using the Nowak edition, Tintner guides the excellent Scottish band through the complex counterpoint and transitions, and encourages profound playing to match the beauty of the melodic line. I have not been so kind to other recordings in his series, but here, Tintner is right on the mark. A great recording and performance to match those of my favourites, Schuricht and Jochum. Sound is warm, with plenty of power in the grand tuttis. Certainly, one of the best from this source.