RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30. PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, Op. 26.
Mikhail Pletnev, pianist; Russian National Orch/Mstislav Rostropovich, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON SACD 477 060 (2 CDs for the price of one) TT: 41:43 & 29:31(5.1 channel)

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C# minor
Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Claudio Abbado, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON SACD 477 071 (2 CDs for the price of one) (5.1 channel)

MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 in G
Juliane Banse, soprano; Cleveland Orch/Pierre Boulez, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON SACD 474 991 (5.1 channel)

STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring. NIELSEN: Symphony No. 5, Op. 50.
Cincinnati Symphony Orch/Paavo Järvi, cond.
TELARC SACD 60615 (5.1 channel)

Mikhail Pletnev already has to his credit superb recordings of all of Tchaikovky's concerted works so it comes as no surprise that he excels in these Thirds of Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. Both are given magnificent interpretations with vivid accompaniments from the Russian National Orchestra directed by Rostropovich. These are solid, imaginative readings in every way—treatment of the exquisite rhapsodic central interlude in the Prokofiev's finale is as melting as I've ever heard. Apparently these performances did not originate from live concert performances—CD notes describe the recording sessions which took place in late evening/early morning during September 2002 in the Great Hall of Mosow Conservatory. Pletnev plays the more elaborate first movement cadenza of the Rachmaninoff (making a very slight cut in it; he also makes a minor cut in the finale). From a SACD surround standpoint this is one of DGG's most successful accomplishments. Performers are in front, with a solid piano tone, rich orchestral textures and a wide dynamic range. Rear speakers are effectively used for ambient sound. For whatever reason, two separate disks are used, rather odd as both concertos would have fit on one, as they did on the standard CD version.

Claudio Abbado's supremacy as a Mahler conductor is acknowledged, and this live performance of Symphony No. 5 recorded in Berlin's Philharmonie in May 1993 is among the top recordings ever made. Originally issued on regular CD (now withdrawn except for inclusion in DGG's 12-CD Mahler set), here we have it in "surround" sound, a mix by Gernot von Schaltzendorf. Ambience is heard from the extra channels, but there is little presence per se. However, the sound is satisfactory, superior to the dry acoustic provided Sir Simon Rattle with the same orchestra recorded live in September 2002 at the opening concert of the conductor's tenure with this orchestra (see R.D.'s REVIEW of the CD issue, also DVD multi-channel REVIEW). I also prefer it to Benjamin Zander's Telarc recording.

Pierre Boulez has already recorded all of the Mahler symphonies except the Fourth (the Eighth is a 1975 BBC broadcast currently available on Living Stage 34716). This Fourth was 4 recorded in April 1998 in Cleveland's Severance Hall, more than three decades after George Szell made his CBS recording of the same work (with Judith Blegen as soloist) . Boulez is expectedly cool interpretively even in the expansive third movement. I much prefer it to the recent San Francisco/Michael Tilson Thomas SACD (REVIEW). Boulez' SACD is superbly recorded, with fine presence and ambient sound, far better sonically than the recent DGG Mahler Third with the Vienna Philharmonic (REVIEW).

Stravinsky's epochal Rite of Spring, premiered in 1913 in Paris, was at one time a major performance challenge for lesser orchestras, but in the past several decades has been played so much it is now considered to be standard repertory. This is reflected in many recordings: ArkivMusik lists over a hundred CDs by about fifty conductors. Some years ago the author wrote a basic library for Stereophile concluding that the versions to have at the time were the composer's 1960 CBS recording, Sir Colin Davis with the Concertgebouw on Philips, Pierre Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra on DGG, Igor Markevitch's pioneering 1954 EMI recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and Sir George Solti's Chicago recording on Decca (as a performance more than sonic spectacle), and a special nod to Karel Sejna and the Czech Philharmonic for their imaginative treatment of Evocation of the Ancestors, the best I've ever heard although admittedly it isn't what Stravinsky intended (this recording currently is available on Supraphon). The most recent entry, Paavo Järvi's, was recorded in Cincinnati's Music Hall January 25-26, 2004, the Nielsen symphony in the same site February 22-23, 2004. Producer Robert Woods and his fine staff know how to deal with this venue, and give us a super-clear aural picture of the orchestra. Delineation of orchestral textures is extraordinary, the dynamic range wide. Stravinsky's masterpiece calls for a huge orchestra including 8 horns (two alternating on Wagner tubas), piccolo trumpet, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 tubas, 2 sets of timpani, tam-tam, various other percussion instruments and massive strings. I imagine that the Cincinnati Orchestra was augmented to meet these demands—but it doesn't sound like it. One does not hear the sound of eight horns, or massed strings. This is probably the fault of the hall, which seems to be quite unresonant—there is little weight to the orchestral sound—even the resounding bass drum doesn't seem to have subterranean bass that is expected from the instrument. The performance itself is excellent and beautifully played, as is the generous if rather odd coupling, Nielsen's Symphony No. 5, commented on by R.D. in his review of the standard CD issue (REVIEW).


R.E.B. (September 2004)