MAHLER: Symphony No. 8 in E flat "Symphony of a Thousand."
Alessandra Marc/Sharon Sweet/Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz, sopranos; Vesselina Kasarova/Ning Liang, altos; Ben Heppner, tenor;Sergei Leiferkus, baritone;René Pape, bass; Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Südfunk Chor Stuttgart/Tölzer Knabenchor; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orch/Sir Colin Davis, cond.
RCA/BMG 62834 (2 disks) (5.1 channel) TT: 22:44 & 60:30

ELGAR: Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: The Lark Ascending.
Hilary Hahn, violinist; London Symphony Orch/Sir Colin Davis, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 474 8732 (5.1 channel) TT: 66:10

CHOPIN: Waltzes Op. 18, Op. 69 No. 1,Op. 34 No. 1, Op. Posth. Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66. Nocturnes, Op. 62 No. 1, Op. 27 No. 2, Op. 9 No. 2, Op. Posth. Polonaise, Op. 53. Mazurkas Op. 24 No. 3/4, Op. 68 No. 3, Op. 17 No. 1. Scherzo No. 2, Op. 31.
Artur Pizarro, pianist
LINN SACD CKD 248 TT: 79:02

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4 in B Flat, Op. 60. Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67.
Minnesota Orch/Osmo Vänskä, cond.
BIS SCD 1416 TT: 67:03 (5 channel)

This Mahler Eighth is one of Sir Colin Davis's few ventures into the composer's music, and has much going for it. Recorded during two live performances in Munich July 7-8, 1996, it boasts perhaps the finest group of soloists of any commercial recording (tenor Ben Heppner's Doctor Marianus is also be heard on the January 2000 Decca recording with Riccardo Chailly). Davis, an old hand at massive scores, builds the second movement setting of the final scene from Goethe's Faust to a magnificent climax, about five minutes longer for this movement than Leopold Stokowski's legendary 1950 live New York recording. BMG's engineering, a co-production with Munich's Bavarian Radio, is generally impressive. In lesser-scored sections there is a remarkable degree of left/right separation. All of the soloists are too closely miked, and big choral climaxes, so difficult to record, are a touch distorted. Aside from this there are no sonic problems: orchestral sound is rich with plenty of bass. I've heard two live performances of this symphony, one in D. C. with Antal Dorati and the National Symphony, the other in Baltimore with David Zinman and the BSO. In both of these, extra brass was in the rear and made a stunning effect at the end of both movements. It's unfortunate this surround recording, which well captures the sound of a big hall, doesn't place this brass in the rear. The two SACDs sell for the price of one full-priced SACD.

Sir Colin Davis also conducts Hilary Hahn's recording of Elgar's violin concerto. His enthusiasm of the composer's music is reflected in his recordings of all three symphonies and other works. I find this new recording disappointing, not for the performance—which is elegantly superb—but for the sound. It isn't often in recordings that a solo instrument is too soft, but it is here. Martin T:son (that's right: "T:son"?) Engstroem is listed as executive producer, Thomas Frost the recording producer, Stephan Flock the balance engineer and Sam O'Kell the recording engineer. It is puzzling that all approved this final mix which, to me, places the soloist far too distant. Hahn's exquisite playing here sounds rather undernourished. The Lark Ascending is a lovely filler.

Artur Pizarro, who won the Leeds International Competition in 1990 and already has made a number of distinguished recordings, can be heard on this Linn release oddly labeled Frédéric Chopin Reminiscences. The two major works are the A-flat Polonaise and Scherzo No. 2, along with four each of waltzes, mazurkas and nocturnes, plus Fantasie-Impromptu. It's a fine collection very well played on a Blüthner grand piano recorded in England's Potton Hall in June 2004. Piano sound is bigger than life on this well-filled SACD.

BIS, an adventurous label indeed with many one-of-a-kind recordings, is planning to record all nine Beethoven symphonies with the Minnesota Orchestra directed by their new conductor, Osmo Vänskä, who already has to his credit more than 60 disks for the label with other orchestras. The first disk in the series contains Symphony No. 4 and Symphony No. 5. With about 118 recordings of the former and over 200 of the latter, one could question why this repertory was chosen. Surely the new issues are excellent, quite dynamic performances, beautifully played, and they have been recorded in surround sound that beautifully captures the sound of Minnesota's Orchestra Hall. There is a fine sense of space in these recordings which were produced by BIS's Rob Suff with engineer Ingo Petry. Those who acquire this SACD will not be disappointed, but these performances do not challenge the finest versions of each work.

R.E.B. (February 2005)