REVUELTAS: Sensemayá. Ocho por radio. Pianos. Caminando. Este era un rey. Hora de Junio. El renacuajo paseador. Pieza para doce instrumentos. Preludio y Fuga ritmicos. Hommaje a Frederico Garcia Lorca.
Juan Carlos Tajes, narrator; Ebony Band Amsterdam/Werner Herbers, cond.
CHANNEL CLASSICS SACD CCS SA 21104 (5 channel) TT: 66:21

Raissa Palmu, soprano; Erja Wimeri, contralto; Eugen Antoni, tenor; Finnish National Opera Chorus/Eric-Olf Söderström, cond.
NAXOS SACD 6.110067 (5.1 channel) TT: 54:00

'BALTIC VOICES 2" - Music of Sisask, Tulev, Norgard, Grigorjeva and Schnittke
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Paul Hillier, cond.
HARMONIA MUNDI SACD HMU 807331 (5 channel) TT: 67:59

VIVALDI: Dixit Dominus, RV 595. Nulla in mundo pax sincera, RV 630. Jubilate, o amoeni chori, RV 639 - Gloria, RV 588.
Jane Archibald and Michele de Boer, sopranos; Anita Krause, mezzo-soprano; Nils Brown, tenor; Peter Mahon, countertenor; Giles Tomkins, bass; Aradia Ensemble and Chorus/Kevin Mallon, cond.
NAXOS SACD 6.110064 (5.1 channel) TT: 68:18

Channel Classics' SACD of music of Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) is a winner. This site contains two reviews of orchestral works of this composer, one a collection of varied recordings, including some historic performances, from the RCA catalog (REVIEW) (fortunately still available), the other a superb Naxos disk conducted by Enrique Barrios (REVIEW). For more information about this composer and his music, please check these reviews. This new SACD offers performances recorded during a concert November 22, 2003 in Tilburg Concert Hall in The Netherlands. Revueltas' most famous work, Sensemayá, is heard in its chamber version for 15 players, vastly different from the later heavily percussive version for full orchestra, first recorded in 1947 by Leopold Stokowski. This work also fascinated famed producer, conductor and arranger Charles Gerhardt who once told me he used "the same orchestra" as Sensemayá to achieve a "jungle effect" for his transcription of the song Born Free, a recording issued on The Reader's Digest, now unfortunately no longer available. The power and humor of Revueltas' music is almost as effective when performed by a small group, as on this SACD. Prof. Roberto Kolb-Neuhaus, editor of the new critical edition of the composer's music, was a prime mover in this project. Most of the performers of Ebony Band are members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and conductor Werner Herbers, who has a distinguished career as principal oboe with the Concertgebouw Orchestra as well as co-leader of the famed Netherlands Wind Ensemble, obviously cherishes this music. Actor-singer Juan Carlos Tajes narrates the hauntingly beautiful eleven-minute Hora de junio ("June Hour"). Engineering throughout is superb except that Tajes is too distant and sometimes covered by the ensemble.

The first time I heard Rachmaninoff's Vespers, or "All-Night Vigil," was in the mid-'60s when Angel Melodiya released a recording with the State Russian Choir conducted by Alexander Sveshnikov, later issued on a Melodiya CD (SUCD 10-00601), now unfortunately no longer available. This performance has been my standard ever since and I still haven't found one to match it. Those astounding basses in the ending low b-flat, more than two octaves below middle C, at the end of the Kiev chant Canticle of Simeon (or Prayer of St. Simeon) has never been equaled in either performance—or acoustic. For maximum effect, this music must be performed in a resonant church, which is not the case on the first surround sound release of the work on Pentatone (see REVIEW). This new Naxos recording was recorded at St. John Church in Helsinki, Finland, in 2001, but the engineers have not captured a church acoustic, and the basses are lacking—even though there are 17 of them according to Naxos' information. A listing of chorus members during the sessions shows 68 members, but the photograph for the "session musicians," shows less than 50—it's difficult to tell as the photo is quite small, but there's no way there are 68. A friend of mine who is a distinguished choral director said that in some performance of Vespers some choruses "cheat" a bit by having a back-stage bassoon augmenting that final choral B-flat in the fifth section. Otherwise this new Naxos recording is admirable including texts in Russian and English. The chorus is superb, and engineering places them right up front.

Harmonia Mundi's disk Baltic Voices 2 offers more unfamiliar choral music, concentrating on sacred music with three branches of Christianity found in the Baltic area represented: Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant, as well as the traditional sound of Russian Orthodox music in works by Schnittke and Grigorjeva. The music is exquisite, often powerful, and superbly sung with remarkable tonal purity by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir directed by Paul Hillier. Of particular interest are music by two Estonian composers: Urmas Sisask (b. 1960)(Five Songs from Gloria Patri), and Toivo Tuley (b. 1958) (And then in silence there with me be only You). Complete texts are provided in four languages. To hear a major Estonian symphonic work investigate Raid's Symphony No. 1 (REVIEW). Harmonia Mundi's engineers give us surround sound with the chorus in front performing in a rather dry acoustic.

As Naxos' CD notes state, "this recording of Vivaldi's sacred music features the impressive if less familiar of the two settings of the Gloria, RV 588, the second setting of the Vespers Psalm Dixit Dominus, and Nulla in mundo pax sincera, RV 630, used with striking effect in the film Shine." This is another fine recording by conductor Kevin Mallon who already has to his credit Naxos CDs of music of Bach, Charpentier, Rameau, Lully and many other composers. Aradia Ensemble and Chorus is a small group with but 17 instrumentalists (playing on period instruments) and 15 singers. This is fine CD of chosen repertory, marred only by the overly-prominent miking of vocal soloists. Latin texts and English translations are provided.

R.E.B. (January 2005)