BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E flat "Romantic." Symphony No. 5 in B flat. Symphony No. 7 in E. Symphony No. 8 iu C minor. Symphony No. 9 in D minor.
Cleveland Ochestra/Franz Welser-Möst, cond.

VERDI: Otello
Stuart Neil (Otello). Jessica Nuccio (Desdemona). Roberto Frontali (Iago). Davide Giusti (Cassio). Regionale Fondazione Orchestra and Chorus / Riccardo Frizza, cond.
DYNAMIC DVD TT: 145 min.

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.
NDR Symphony Orchestra / Thomas Hengelbrock, cond.
C MAJOR DVD TT: 167 (symphonies) 43 min. bonus

These five Bruckner symphonies have been released over the past few years singly, and now Arthaus Music has issued them in a box as a collection. I assume Welser-Möst has no intention of recording the lesser-known symphonies. For sure, all of these are outstanding, dedicated readings played by one of America's greatest orchestras. Symphonies 4 and 5 were recorded in the spacious acoustics of Stiftsbasilika St. Florian where the composer is buried, No. 4 in September 2012, No. 5 in September 2006. Engineers have been able to tame the resonant acoustics, and we do have a rich Brucknerian sound picture. Symphony No. 9 was performed in Vienna's Musikverein October 2007. The other two, Nos. 7 and 8, were performed in Cleveland's Severance Hall September 2008 (No 7) and August 2010. These are superb recordings in every way, and now, in this collection it is possible to acquire he five disks for, roughly, the price of two. Keep in mind that Andris Nelsons is in the process of recording all of the Bruckner symphonies in Leipzig, but so far no videos have been announced.

his Otello is a co-production of Macerata Opera Festival and Festival Castell de Peralada—it won the Compoamor Prize as best 2015 opera production. Spanish director and designer Paco Azorin had to deal with the vast outdoor stage. The conductor was RiccardoFrizza. Otello is one of the most demanding of tenor roles, and American Stuart Neill was severely taxed by it. His singing is forced and uneven throughout. Others in the cast fared better, but this magnificent opera without a vocal hero in the title role, doesn't work—particularly when there are a number of superb videos, featuring Plácido Domingo, as well as the historic one with Mario del Monaco. An odd touch is that in the final scene, Desdemona is suffocated by Otello, but she already has been strangled on stage by someone else! DVD program notes are limited and give no idea of what the director was trying to express. Video is OK, audio rather dry as you would expect in an outdoor theater. This Otello surely is not competitive.

The NDR Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1945, performed the four Brahms symphonies as the final event in the Second Hamburg International Music Festival. May 22, 2016 is the date provided. Performances were in Hamburg's Laeiszhalle, a venue very similar to the Concertgebouw with narrow balconies around the sides and rear, a guarantee of fine acoustics. German conductor Thomas Hengelbrock has been music director of the NDR Orchestra since 2011. Previous conductors included Günter Wand, Christoph Eschenbach and Christoph von Dohnanyi It is a fine orchestra and presents noble performances of these masterpieces, and the concerts have been filmed with the camera always in the right places. Audio is excellent. Surely these will not replace the finest of the numerous competing versions, but historically they perhaps are important. A bonus is a 45-minute discussion with the conductor about Brahms and his music. The interview is in German, but subtitles are provided. An unusual, and welcome, issue!

R.E.B. (May 2017)