BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B flat
Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond.
RCA SACD 60749 (2 disks) TT: 73:08 & 74:49


MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 in D minor
San Francisco Symphony Orch/Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.
SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY 821956 (2 disks) TT: 89:32

SAINT-SAËNS: Piano Concerto No. 3 in E flat, Op. 29. Piano Concerto No. 5 in F, Op. 103 "Egyptian."
Anna Malikova, pianist; WDR Symphony Orchestra of Köln/Thomas Sanderling, cond.
AUDITE SACD92.510 TT: 60:56

RÓZSA: Suites from Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis and King of Kings.
Mormon Tabernacle Choir/Cincinnati Pops Orch/Erich Kunzel, cond.
TELARC SACD 60031 TT: 61:54

Nikolaus Harnoncourt apparently is recording a Bruckner symphony cycle; he already has recorded with the VPO the Symphony No. 7 for Teldec, and Symphony No. 9 for RCA (REVIEW). This Symphony No. 5, also on RCA, is taken from live performances June 7-14, 2004 in Vienna's Musikverein utilizing "score and revision report edited by Robert Haas (1935) & Leopold Nowak (score corr. 1951 & 1989, revisions of 1985), Complete Critical Edition of the Works of Anton Bruckner, Vienna." Of course the Vienna Philharmonic plays gloriously and their sound has been well captured in multi-channel. What I miss is a sense of massive grandeur—my favorite recording of this symphony is the live December 1986 performance with Eugen Jochum and the Concertgebouw in which 11 extra players augmented the brass section—with spectacular effect (REVIEW). The new set includes a lengthy (74:49) rehearsal of the work in which Harnoncourt speaks to the orchestra in German—there's no translation but there are 15 cues indicating the sections being rehearsed with the conductor's first words—a rather useless exercise unless one speaks German. This is a bonus CD in stereo rather than surround sound.

Michael Tilson Thomas continues his San Francisco Mahler series with this magnificent performance of Symphony No. 9 recorded in Davies Symphony Hall September-October 2004. A plus is the extraordinarily fine surround sound—perhaps the best in the entire series in capturing the sound of a big orchestra playing in a hall with good acoustics. A debit is that this performance spreads onto two SACDs and there is no filler, and the list price is about $29, rather steep when one considers that the recent equally fine Chailly/Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Decca recording (REVIEW) also requires two SACDS, but is priced as a single disk. It's interesting to note that CD notes state the MTT/SFSO Mahler series is a "limited-edition" set, which is news to me. Nothing previously has been said about this, and the recordings are not numbered in any way.

Recently we reviewed a fine SACD of three piano concertos of Saint-Saëns (1, 2 and 4) played by Anna Malikova with the WDR Symphony Orchestra directed by Thomas Sanderling. Now we have the second SACD which offers the two other piano concertos including the delightful, imaginative Concerto No. 5, subtitled "Egyptian" which the composer called "a sort of tour of the orient," including a Nubian love song and the chirping of crickets on the Nile. It's a terrific concerto that should be played more often; Sviatoslav Richter made a famous recording in 1952 in Russia. As with the previouis Audite SACD, performances are expert, sonics everything they should be. The only debit is that the composer's other works for piano and orchestra—Africa, Rhapsodie d'Auvergne and Wedding Cake—weren't included as they were on the splendid recent Hyperion set of all five concertos played by Stephen Hough.

Telarc's SACD of music of Miklós Rózsa is highly impressive in every way. Apparently the composer was planning to make large-scale choral suites from his scores for Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis and King of Kings but died before he could complete the project. Others—Christopher Palmer, Julian Kershaw, Daniel Robbins, Joseph D. Price, and Erich Kunzel—completed the project, and here we have recorded world premieres of the project. It's all on a grand scale including a number of marches and mystic reverential choral interludes (mostly wordless) superbly sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Recorded in Cincinnati's Music Hall May 15-16, 2004 with the producer/engineer team of Robert Woods and Jack Renner, this is one of Telarc's finest sonic achievements. Everything is in front with ambient sound from the rear, not particularly imaginative use of multi-channel potential. Still, this is a terrific SACD well worth acquiring.

R.E.B. (April 2005)