HANDEL:  Royal Fireworks Music.  Water Music Suite
English Chamber Orch/Johannes Somary

MUSSORGSKY-RAVEL:  Pictures at an Exhibition.  Khovanschina Prelude.
New Philharmonia Orch/Sir Charles Mackerras, cond.
VANGUARD  CLASSICS ATM CD CD 1504 ( 5 channel) TT:  37:22

STRAVINSKY:  Petrouchka.  Firebird Ballet (excerpts).
London Symphony Orch/Sir Charles Mackerras, cond. Robin McCabe, pianist
VANGUARD  CLASSICS ATM CD 1505 (5 channel)  TT:  46:42

BERLIOZ:  Requiem, Op. 5.  MAHLER:  Symphony No. 1.
Utah Symphony Orch. & Chorus; Charles Bressler, tenor; Maurice Abravanel, cond.
VANGUARD CLASSICS ATM CD 1506 (2 CDS)  (4 channel) TT: 61:31


STRAVINSKY: L'Histoire du Soldat
Madeleine Milhaud (narrator); Jean Pierre Aumont (The Soldier), Martial Singher (The Devil); Instrumental Ensemble/Leopold Stokowski, cond.
VANGUARD CLASSICS ATM SC 1559 ( 3 channel) TT: 57:06

BACH: Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F. Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G. Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G. Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D. Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat.
English Chamber Orch/Johannes Somary, cond.
VANGUARD CLASSICS ATM CD 1517 (2 disks) (4 channel) TT: 43:33 & 55:15

CHOPIN: Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53. Polonaise in C minor, Op. 40 No. 2. Polonaise in F sharp minor, Op. 44. Polonaise-Fantasie, Op. 61. Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise, Op. 22.
Alfred Brendel, pianist
VANGUARD CLASSICS SC 1589 (2 channel) TT: 50:07

MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat, K. 217. Piano Concerto No. 14 in E flat, K. 447.
Alfred Brendel, pianist; I Solisti di Zagreb/Antonio Janigro, cond.
VANGUARD CLASSICS SC 1587 (5 channel) TT: 55:30

The first four of these were released about three years ago on Vanguard but are discontinued. Now Vanguard is owned by Artemis Records which has begun a series of reissues from the Vanguard catalog. All have been newly remastered, sounding better than ever. They are mid-price releases worthy of investigation by all serious collectors.

The familiar Handel masterpieces emerge in a new light as engineered in this 4 channel recording made in Conway Hall, London, 1973.  The orchestra is spread around the listener; we find ourselves right in the middle of the performers, and it is a most pleasing audio experience.  Water Music consists of eleven movements drawn from the entire work. Both Water Music and Royal Fireworks are presented in original scoring in these fine, large-scale performances under Somary's direction. Superb sound!

The Mussorgsky works were recorded in All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, in July 1973. This is an 8-track original analog recording here presented in 5.0 surround.  The orchestra was spread around the conductor so we hear some instruments come from the rear which perhaps some listeners might find a bit disconcerting, although I enjoy it very much. Even the conductor wouldn't hear the music like this while on the podium in a regular concert environment; however, it is a pleasant if unusual listening experience. Audio buffs will relish the wide dynamic range of these recordings—no question that sonically this is one of the finest recordings of Pictures. While these two works made a rather short LP in their original issue, is inexcusable to have such brief playing time on CD - this and Stravinsky's Petrouchka on Vanguard with the same conductor (see below), could easily have fit onto one SACD with room to spare.

Recorded in Watford Town Hall, England, in 1973, this is a brilliantly played performance of the original 1911 version of Petrouchka.  This also was recorded in 8-track sound, with some instruments behind the conductor, effectively mixed down to 5 tracks.  I don't mind being in the center of the orchestra one bit—a fascinating listening experience. Inclusion of a 12-minute piano version of excerpts from Firebird is not a plus for this CD, a decided letdown after orchestral fireworks of Petrouchka.  CD playing time, unfortunately, is rather limited, but audio buffs will enjoy the sonic display of Petrouchka.

The Berlioz Requiem,  scored for large chorus and orchestra, is extraordinary in multi-channel which lets us hear hear brass coming from four corners as written in the score.  This is an original 4 channel analog recording made in 1969.  It is all very special sonically, although performances of both the Berlioz and Mahler's symphony don't register among the finer recordings of each.  The Mahler, also a 4 channel channel original,  dates from 1974.  You'll probably listen most to Tuba Mirum from the Requiem, with its large chorus and brass outbursts from four sides.  The Berlioz is music made for surround sound; since this issue there has been another SACD recording, on Telarc with Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra (REVIEW). Abravenel's Mahler is respectable, quite well played, and you'll find other Mahler recordings with the Utah Symphony on Silverline DVD Audio disks; for a review of Symphony No. 2, click HERE. But for the best in Mahler symphony recordings one should look elsewhere.

Leopold Stokowski, a master of things Stravinskian (he gave the U.S. premieres of The Rite of Spring[1922], Les Noces [1926], Song of the Nightingale [1923] and Symphonies of Wind Instruments [1923]), conducts an ensemble consisting of Gerald Tarack, violin; Charles Russo, clarinet; Theodore Weiss, trumpet;Julius Levine, double bass; Loren Glickman, bassoon; John Swallow, trombone; and Raymond Desroches, percussion. The distinguished acting cast could not be bettered: actress Madeleine Milhaud (wife of the composer) as narrator, actor Jean Pierre Aumont as the Soldier, and baritone Martial Singher as the Devil. The recording was made in New York in 1967 in two versions, one in French, the other in English. It's the English version on this SACD, which is a three-track recording (L/R/Center), although my CD player readout says 5 tracks (nothing is heard from other tracks). Fine sonics, and the CD notes include a track by track synopsis of action. A terrific release!

Vanguard's set of Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos with Johannes Somary conducting was recorded in Conway Hall, London, in 1975, two years after the Handel mentioned above. A note by the late Seymour Solomon (he died in 2002) who was producer of most Vanguard recordings, states that these were recorded onto four tracks from the vantage of the conductor....in many movements where there is dialogue between winds and strings, these alternate between the front and rear speakers...an example of how creative producing and engineering can clarify orchestral textures." How right he is! The two-disk set sells for the price of one regular SACD.

Of the two early Alfred Brendel recordings, the prize is the coupling of two Mozart piano concertos recorded in 1965 in Palais Schonburg, Vienna. Seymour Solomon produced an uncommonly warm, clear sound, in three channels (although my CD player registers as 5, but sound only is heard from front speakers). The distinguished pianist offers scholarly performances of the Chopin works, but lacks the bravura the music demands. Excellent, full piano sound, on only the two original channels. The recording was made April 1968 in an unidentified hall in Vienna, produced by Karl Wolleitner and engineered by Mario Mizzaro.

Unfortunately, Artemis no longer has rights to the distinguished Everest catalog which contains sonic treasures for collectors. Everest made their recordings on 35mm film or tape and each was a sonic blockbuster. One Everest recording Vanguard issued several years ago was VSD 512 which contained ballet suites from Antill's Corroboree and Ginastera's Panambi, as well as Villa-Lobos' Little Train of the Caipira, all played by the London Symphony conducted by Sir Eugene Goossens, recorded in London's Walthamstow Assembly Hall, originally issued on LPs in 1958/59. These are all three-track recordings, magnificent sonically—should you see this CD in a cutout bin, grab it immediately! And let us hope that the Everest catalog will be issued on SACD in the future; right now there are no plans for this, unfortunately.

There are still many treasures in the Vanguard catalog awaiting SACD issue. Let us hope they will be forthcoming very soon. In the meantime, enjoy what is here.

R.E.B. (January 2005)