SAINT-SAËNS: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28. Havanaise, Op. 83. LALO: Guitare. CHAUSSON: Poème, Op. 25. KREISLER: Sicilienne and Rigaudon. La Précieuse. BERLIOZ: Reverie and Caprice, Op. 8. RAVEL: Tzigane
Akiko Suwanai, violinist; Philharmonia Orch/Charles Dutoit, cond.
PHILIPS SACD 4750 6189 TT: 68:08

VERDI: Arias from La traviata and Otello. BELLINI: Arias from La sonnamnbula and I puritani. DONIZETTI: Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor. PUCCINI: O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi
Anna Netrebko, soprano; Milano Giuseppe Verdi Chorus; Mahler Chamber Orch/Claudio Abbado, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON SACD 00289 474 8812 TT: 68:59

RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 1 in F# minor, Op. 1. Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30. Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40. Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43.
Stephen Hough, pianist/Dallas Symphony Orch/Andres Litton, cond.
HYPERION 67501/2 (2 CDS)

GERSHWIN: An American in Paris. Three Preludes. Fascinating rhythm, I Got rhythm, Clap yo'hands, Lullaby, Triple Tribute, Rhapsody in Blue, Someone to watch over me, Embraceable you, Fantasy in seven colors, Love is here to stay.
Vesko Eschkenazy, violin; Ludmil Angelov, piano; Marijn Mijinders, violin; Henk Rubingh, viola; Gregor Horsch, cellist; George Pieterson, clarinet; Herman Rieken, percussion
PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 021 TT: 72:33

Akiko Suwanai, the youngest first-prize winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1990, and has appeared with most of the major orchestras and conductors. Her technique is flawless, her tone gorgeous (she plays on the Antonio Stradivarius 1714 'Dolphin' instrument loaned from the Nippon Music Foundation). This is an exquisite performances of Chausson's Poème, and virtuoso readings of the other familiar showpieces. Dutoit and the Philharmonia Orchestra offer superb accompaniments and the recording, produced by Dominic Fyfe and engineered by Jonathan Stokes, is outstanding in balance and sonority. The surround sound effect is limited: performers are in front with a touch of ambient sound from the rear—very natural overall.

Anna Netrebko. How could all that sound eminate from such a petite being? The question is logical, and there's no doubt that the engineers had a bit to do with it. This is the latest CD from the young Russian soprano who began her career in the mid '90s with the Kirov Opera. Valery Gergiev had seen her scrubbing floors at the Mariinsky Theater, found she had a voice (indeed!) and hired her. You can see her starring in the Kirov Opera Ruslan and Lyudmila on a Philips DVD (REVIEW). Netrebko is a stunning dark-haired beauty resembling Audrey Hepburn, and doubtless you've seen glamour photos of her. Her voice is quite remarkable, with total command of the coloratura repertory. On this SACD you can hear her Sempre libera, which culminates with a stunning E-flat, scenes from two Bellini operas, the Mad Scene from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in which the glass harmonica is used instead of a harp—great effect, as well as music from Otello and Gianni Schicchi. The recordings were made in early 2004, produced by Christopher Adler with Wolf-Dieter Karwatsky as engineer; they did their tasks perfectly. The sound is very natural, with performers in front, ambient sound from the rear. Often on Decca vocal recordings the voices have a "digital edge" which, fortunately, is not evident here. Italian texts and English translations are included.

Stephen Hough has made a series of brilliant recordings since his 1986 Chandos release of two Hummel piano concertos. His discography includes much unusual repertory, and his Hyperion recording of Saint-Saëns' complete works for piano and orchestra was selected by Gramophone as "Record of the Year." This set of Rachmaninoff's concertos was recorded during live performances April/May 2004 in the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall, Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas; Rhapsody was recorded in sessions June 29, 2003. Hough's performances are always intriguing, but I cannot agree with some of his interpretive choices, in particular the opening eight chords of the second concerto which are played perfunctorily losing their imposing grandeur. Hough is quoted as saying this tempo is what Rachmaninoff wrote—although the composer didn't play them that quickly in either of his recordings. In the third concerto Hough plays the lighter first movement cadenza, a choice many will welcome (and the one the composer used in his 1939/40 recording). No question that in all of this music there is thrilling playing from Hough The final glissando of the Rhapsody has never sounded as coruscating as it does here, perhaps with an assist from the engineers—was it an octave glissando? Hough mentions that in the Concerto No. 4 his is the first recording since the composer's in 1941 to include missing wind parts between figures 74 and 76 in the third movement and that he had some corrected parts from the Philadelphia Orchestra that were used in this Dallas recording. CD information doesn't tell us, but the "missing wind parts" take about 20 seconds beginning at 9:56 into the movement. All of the recordings, live and studio, have a rather distant, resonant sonic picture with the piano more recessed than I'd prefer—there is little brilliance to the piano's upper octaves. There are numerous recordings of all of this music, but this new Hough set has much to offer. I wouldn't want to be without the recent Zimmermann/BSO/Ozawa recording of the first two concertos (REVIEW), the Volodos recording of the third (REVIEW), or Earl Wild's magnificent—and beautifully recorded—1965 complete set currently available on Chandos (REVIEW).

Pentatone's SACD is a collection of arrangements for violin, piano and small ensemble of various works by Gershwin. Featured artists are Vesko Eschkenazy, concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Bulgarian pianist Ludmila Angelov who since 1995 has performed as a duo with Eschkenazy. As Gershwin wrote only one work for violin and piano—Short Story (surprisingly not included in this collection)— it was necessary to make arrangements, excepting where they already existed: the three preludes arranged by Jascha Heifetz, who also made a fragmentary arrangement of An American in Paris, completed by Ayke Agus. Only one work on the disk is played as written: Lullaby, in the original version for string quartet. Bob Zimmerman tastefully arranged the remainder. We have 14 tracks including a five-minute American in Paris, a ten-minute Rhapsody in Blue (with the opening solo played by the famous George Pieterson, principal clarinet of the Concertgebouw), and various songs and shorter works. These are bold performances vividly played very well recorded, with the performers in front, ambient sound from the rear.

R.E.B. (December 2004)