DVORÁK Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 "From the New World."
Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Mariss Jansons, cond.
RCO LIVE SACD 04002 (5 channel) TT: 41:21

STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40.
Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Mariss Jansons, cond.
RCO LIVE SACD 04005 (5 channel) TT: 45:27

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36. Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.
Budapest Festival Orch/Iván Fischer, cond.
CHANNEL CLASSICS SACD CCS SA 21704 (5 channel) TT: 61:14

HANDEL: Arias from Semele, Scipione, Orlando, Serse, Samson, Rinaldo, Giulio Cesare, Rodelinda, Lotario, Agrippina, and Alexander Balus
Renée Fleming, soprano; Orchestra of Age of Enlightenment/Harry Bickert, cond.
DECCA SACD 475 6186 (5.1 channel) TT: 70:20

The two Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra SACDs are the first in a series of live commercial recordings by the orchestra, following the pattern set by the London Symphony. Both disks are conducted by the orchestra's new music director, Mariss Jansons, the Dvorák from a concert June 6, 2003, the Strauss from his opening concerts this season, September 4-6, 2004. Jansons' New World is exquisite in detail, powerful in the big episodes, but for some listeners, his Heldenleben will be too relaxed—even in the battle scene there's not much fire. Alexander Kerr's violin solos are perfection. The Amsterdam orchestra plays magnificently throughout, and their sounds have been captured in five channels that gives a true sense of Concertgebouw acoustics. Each SACD had a different recording crew: Lodewijk Collette was recording and editing producer with sound engineer Rob Heerschop for the Dvorák, while Wim van den Berg and Jean-Pierre Gabriël did recording, mixing and editing, with assistant Stephan Trikojus, for the Strauss. Both teams did excellent work. Heldenleben also is available on DVD video, which I am eager to experience. For future releases the producers might consider putting more music on their disks; both of these have short playing time. These issues are mid-price in Europe, full-price in the U.S.

Iván Fischer's Tchaikovsky Fourth is highly individual, begining with his odd treatment of the opening brass fanfares, not as willful as Constantine Silvestri or Leopold Stokowski, but not what the composer wrote. The fanfares are rather limp here, and Fischer's interpretation, although filled with delicate touches, is docile when it should be ferocious.After all, this is the "Fate" symphony! Fischer's approach to Tchaikovsky works better in Romeo and Juliet. Recorded in February 2004 in Budapest's Italian Institute and produced by Hein Dekker who also was a recording engineer along with J. Jared Sacks, this Channel Classics production boasts natural surround sound.

Renée Fleming, today's reigning diva, has enough clout in the operatic world to suggest the Met revive Handel's Rodelinda—starring her of course— which the august house did this season to resounding critical acclaim. I imagine most of Fleming's fans—including me—would rather hear her in other repertory, but if this music interests you, Fleming is at her best in this recording of arias from 11 of Handel's operas, her rich voice adapting well to the baroque style. Superb accompaniment is provided by the period-instrument group Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment directed by Harry Bicket. Surround sound on this well-filled SACD is excellent, the soprano nicely balanced against the small ensemble.

R.E.B. (February 2005)