RAVEL: Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2. Boléro. La Vallée des Cloches. FAURÉ: Pelléas and Melisande Suite, Op. 80. DEBUSSY: Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun.
Netherlands Philharmonic Orch/Yakov Kreizberg, cond.
PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 058 TT: 69:15

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op. 65.
London Symphony Orch/Mstislav Rostropovich, cond.
LSO LIVE SACD LSO00527 TT: 68:45

WEINGARTNER: Der Sturm Overture/Suite. Serenade for String Orchestra. Symphony No. 4 in F, Op. 61 .
Basel Symphony Orch/Marko Letonja, cond.
cpo SACD 777 098 TT: 67:49

Pentatone offers an attractive collection of French music recorded in the Yakuit Hall of "Beurs van Berlage" in Amsterdam, March 2004. Conductor Yakov Kreizberg continues to impressive as one of the finer younger conductors on the contemporary scene, and the Netherlands Philharmonic plays very well. Sonic quality is disappointing, perhaps because of the acoustics of Yakuit Hall—the aural view is sometimes distant, sometimes close-up, and Leon Berendse's solo flute in both Daphnis and Faun is surprisingly distant. Of most interest musically is Ravel's La Vallée des Cloches orchestrated by Percy Grainger. This Boléro is just about the right tempo but has been recorded with an super-wide dynamic range: if you play the soft opening so it can be heard, the ending is entirely too loud. A wide dynamic range is terrific for recordings, but this one goes a bit too far.

Mstislav Rostropovich's relationship with Dimitri Shostakovich and the composer's music is legendary, and a lifetime of understanding and commitment is evident in this magnificent LSO Live release of the composer's mighty, brooding Symphony No. 8. This is taken from two live performances in London's Barbican Hall November 3-4, 2004. The LSO was at its best and of major interest here is sound quality, which is stunning in its impact, clarity, and richness. Other LSO Live releases I've heard have had quite poor sound that replicated the dry acoustics of the hall, but audiophiles surely will not be disappointed by what is heard here. James Mallinson was the producer, Neil Hutchinson the balance engineer. I suspect some artificial reverb was added. Regardless of how achieved, the engineering vividly conveys Rostropovich's definitive interpretation of one of his colleague's major works—and let us hope future releases in this series will have sound as good as this.

Felix Weingartner (1863-1942) began his conducting career was a major figure on the conducting scene for about a half-century, conducting for the first time in 1884, the premiere of his first opera, Sakuntala. During his long career he conducted many major orchestras (Vienna , Berlin Philharmonic, and New York Philharmonics) and headed the Vienna State Opera, and in 1939 received the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society. He made many fine recordings, including highly regarded versions of the complete symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, as well as music of Mozart, Berlioz, Liszt and Wagner. However, right from the beginning Weingartner was interested in composing and did so rather profusely, writing six symphonies, several tone poems, three operas and many chamber pieces. This cpo SACD (the second in a series; I haven't heard the first) gives us an opportunity to hear his Symphony No. 4, Serenade for String Orchestra and the overture and excerpts from The Storm, taken from incidental music he wrote for Shakespeare's The Tempest. In spite of Eckhardt van den Hoogen's adulatory CD commentary, Weingartner the composer is very much removed from the artistic heights he reached as a conductor. This is prosaic, forgettable music, even though the performances doubtless do what can be done for it. The SACD sound is big, spacious and rather cavernous—very good—but I cannot imagine anyone purchasing this disk for its slim musical content.

R.E.B. (August 2005)