POPOV: Symphony No. 1, Op. 7. SHOSTAKOVICH: Theme and Variations, Op. 5.
London Symphony Orch/Leon Botstein, cond.
TELARC SACD 60642 (F) (5.l channel) TT: 65:24

PÄRT: Cantate Domino Canticum Novum. Berliner Messe. Magnificat. Summa.
Elora Festival Singers and Orchestra/Noel Edison, cond.
NAXOS SACD 6.110052 (M) (5.1 channel) TT: 52:12

SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47. Serenade in G minor, Op. 69b. SINDING: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A, Op. 45. Romance in D, Op. 100.
Henning Kraggerud, violinist; Bournemouth Symphony Orch/Bjarte Engeset, cond.
NAXOS SACD 6.110056 (5.1 channel) TT: 71:08

STEINER: The Adventures of Mark Twain (movie score)
Moscow Symphony Orch and Chorus/William Stromberg, cond.
NAXOS SACD 6.110087 (5.1 channel) TT: 70:49

Leave it to Leon Botstein to explore the unusual, in this case the Symphony No. 1 by Gavril Popov (1904-1972), a contemporary and close friend of Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). This symphony is about "three stages of growth, of psychic development: struggle and failure, humanity, and the energy, will and joy of the victor's work." The day after the premiere in Leningrad March 22, 1935 the symphony was banned as it "reflected the ideology of hostile classes," and Popov joined Shostakovich in governmental condemnation. Symphony No. 1 is a big-scale work in three movements almost 50 minutes in length. The first movement is filled with savage outbursts of turmoil interrupted towards the end by an expansive lyric interlude of anguished peace. After the despairing rather gentle second movement, we have the third, a sardonic march that ends in a massive outburst of orchestral sound in the key of C major. This cataclysmic conclusion, with its brazen high horns and tinkling percussion, is reminiscent of the ending of Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, written about three decades earlier. After this challenging symphony, Shostakovich's early Theme and Variations, Op. 3, is lightweight indeed, a youthful exercise in variations, including a theme that suggests the finale of the Brahms Symphony No. l. Both works are superbly played and the Telarc sound, eminating from Watford Town Hall sessions in April 2004, produced by James Mallinson, is among the finest ever heard from that company—crystal clear, wide in dynamic range, instruments perfectly placed with the orchestra in front, other channels providing realistic hall sound.

Those who find Arvo Pärt's music difficult should investigate the Naxos CD of choral works superbly performed by Elora Festival Singers and Orchestra directed by Noel Edison. These gentle sacred choral works, variously scored for soloists and small chorus, date from 1977-1991 and show the influence of Gregorian chant. The recordings were made at Grace Church on the Hill in Toronto in May, 2003, produced by Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver. The 5.1 sound is as natural as it could be and captures the soft bass drum strokes and tubular bell chime, heard in De Profundis, with remarkably clarity.

The other Naxos CD is a treasure offering a superb performance of the familiar Sibelius concerto coupled with the only recording currently available of the first of the three violin concertos written by of Christian Sinding, composed in 1898 five years before Sibelius completed the first version of his concerto. Sinding, best-known for his piano piece Rustles of Spring, writes pleasant, unassuming music; the first movement of his violin concerto rhythmically suggests the Brahms concerto. The three movements are played without interruption but Naxos has kindly provided separate tracks for each. Both miniatures, the Serenade by Sibelius and Romance by Sinding, are generous fillers, the latter receiving its world premiere recording. Young violinist Henning Kraggerud (b. Oslo, 1973) is among today's finest younger violinists and here plays the Guarneri del Gesu 'Ole Bull" violin which dates from 1744, using Ole Bull's only existing violin bow. Excellent surround sound with the soloist appropriately balanced, the orchestra in front and ambient sound from other speakers. This recording is also being issued on DVD Audio as well as this SACD and the regular CD.

Naxos continues their series of film music with this splendid issue of Max Steiner's 1944 score for The Adventures of Mark Twain. The composer already had enjoyed enormous success with King Kong (1933) and Gone With the Wind (1939). He generously used American tunes in Mark Twain and we hear imaginative and colorful music for such interludes as Pirates, Riverboat in Fog, Frogs, The Squirrel-Livy, Toy Shop, Buggy Ride, Typesetter and Comet's Return. John Morgan, arranger of this music, explains that Steiner wrote about 100 minutes of music for the film including an overture, and that he eliminated some repetitive passages and made other choices, all of which seem to work well. William Stromberg and his large orchestra give fine performances and the recorded surround sound is excellent. Some of the miking is very close-up, but effective: the bassoon representing frogs is in your face. This is a major issue for cinema music fans, and it's available on DVD Audio and regular CD in addition to this SACD.

R.E.B. (November 2004)