GERSHWIN: Piano Concerto in F. RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G.
Pascal Rogé, pianist; Vienna Radio Symphony Orch/Bertrand de Billy, cond.
OEHMS 0C 601 (F) (5.1 channel) TT: 54:08

CHOPIN: Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20. Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31. Scherzo No. 3 in C# minor, Op. 39. Scherzo No. 4 in E, Op. 54. Impromptu No. 1 in A flat, Op. 29. Impromptu No. 2 in F#, Op. 36. Impromptu No. 3 in G flat, Op. 41.
Yundi Li, pianist
DEUTSCHE GRAMOPHON SACD 002889 474 8782 (5.1 channel) TT: 53:07

FALLA: El Sombrero de Tres Picos (The Three-Cornered Hat). El Amor Brujo (Love, the Magician).
Alicia Nafé and María José Martos, mezzo-sopranos; Asturias Symphony Orch/Maximiano Valdés, cond.
NAXOS SACD 6.110018 (5.1 channel) TT: 68:00

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: A Sea Symphony (Symphony No. 1)
Joan Rodgers, soprano; Christopher Maltman, baritone; Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and Orch/Paul Daniel, cond.
NAXOS SACD 6.110016 (5.1 channel) TT: 63:54

Pianist Pascal Rogé had a very active time in the recording studio in the '70's when he recorded much piano music of Ravel, Debussy Poulenc and Satie, including a fine recording of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G with Charles Dutoit on the podium. He won a number of major prizes for his recordings, and for good reason. He's in the studio again, for the German company Oehms, for a coupling of Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F and Ravel's Concerto in G. Both are a fresh look at these familiar works, wonderfully played and beautifully recorded by producer, Malgorzata Kragora and sound engineer Anton Reininger. The surround sound is highly effective, performers in front, a fine balance between piano and orchestra, ambient hall sound, and plenty of zing in percussion. Those interested in the Gershwin should also investigate Earl Wild's 1961 recording with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston "Pops" recently reissued on SACD, not in surround, but in three-track (see REVIEW).

Reinhard Schutz's CD notes for DGG's Chopin recital by Yundi Li mention "'s instrumental virtuosos have....their need to impose their individual stamp ....resulting in.mannerisims and even distortions (that) undoubtedly excite attention, only to fade away just as quickly..." Perhaps he's referring to Lang Lang, whose technically superb playing usually is marred by grotesque exaggerations and overdone histrionics. Yundi Li is a superior musician, based on what is heard on this fine SACD. Born in 1982, he advanced quickly in his studies and in 2000 won the Chopin International Competition, the youngest contestant ever to win the award. Chopin has always been his favorite composer and he surely has a great affinity for his music. These are meticulous performances, beautifully played—there might be more fire in live performances. One might question why the playing time of this disk is so short (53:07). True, the fourth impromptu (Fantaisie-Impromptu) was on a previous all-Chopin recording by the pianist (471479), but surely more music could and should have been included. The recorded sound is fine but there is little need for surround sound for a solo piano. The instrument should be firmly placed in one spot with ambient sound from other speakers; here we are virtually sitting in the middle of a huge piano, and its sound comes from everywhere, hardly a natural listening experience—but this applies to a majorityof surround sound solo piano recordings.

Naxos' De Falla SACD is a delight although not a total success because of the sound—which is very impressive in its own way, but because of the resonant acoustics of the auditorium in Asturias where it was recorded in 2002, some string detail is blurred. We have a big mass of sound and castanets and high percussion are vividly captured. Maximiano Valdés has been conductor of the Asturias Symphony Orchestra since 1994, and has great affinity for this music and singers in both works are ideal. The orchestra's oboe disappoints but otherwise playing is excellent. A track-by-track description of the music is provided. Recommended.

The Naxos issue of Ralph Vaughan Williams' massive Sea Symphony already has been covered on this site in its DVD Audio issue (REVIEW). Here it is on SACD sounding equally impressive; the SACD version is easier to program than the DVD Audio.

R.E.B. (May 2005)