PROKOFIEV: Humoresque Scherzo for four bassoons, Op. 12. Classical Symphony, Op. 21 (trans. for two pianos by Rikuya Terashima). Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34. Quintet in G minor, Op. 39. Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64 (suite for wind octet arr. by A. N. Tarkmann)
Czech Nonet; Prague Wind Quintet; Martin Hrsel and Irina Kondratenko, pianos
PRAGA SACD 250216 TT: 68:48

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103 "The Year 1905."
Giuseppe Verdi Orchestra of Milan/Oleg Caetini, cond.
ARTS SACD 477676 TT: 66:15

RAUTAVAARA: Symphony No. 1. Adagio Celeste for String Orchestra. Book of Visions.
National Orchestra of Belgium/Mikko Franck, cond.
ONDINE SACD 1064-5 TT: 75: 43

Praga's Prokofiev SACD is a winner featuring performances by members of the Czech Nonet and Prague Wind Quintet, with pianists Martin Hrsel and Irina Kondratenko in an arrangement by Rikuya Terashima of the familiar Classical Symphony. All of this music represents the composer in a lighter mood except for the 8 excerpts from Romeo and Juliet, heard here transcribed for wind octet by Andreas N. Tarkmann. The program opens with the delightful Humorous Scherzo for four bassoons, and we also have Overture on Hebrew Themes and G minor Quartet. Superb performances of all, and rich, realistic sonics.

Who ever would have thought there would be three SACD issues of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 11: Rostropovich's live with the London Symphony (see REVIEW), and the more recent disk with the Russian National Orchestra conducted by Pletnev (see REVIEW). Oleg Caetani is recording all of the Shostakovich symphonies with the Italian Giuseppe Verdi Orchestra; already released on SACD are symphonies 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10; the only one of these I've heard is the DVD Audio disk coupling 5 and 6 which I found highly disappointing (see REVIEW). This performance of Symphony No. 11, recorded live in Italy's Milano Auditorium in March 2003, is quite exciting—and the lack of hall resonance emphasizes the brilliant brass. CD notes say relatively little about the music although we are given detailed information about all technical equipment used during the recording...including that the microphone cables feature 1 million carbon fiber conductors. Nothing is said about the fact that Shostakovich wrote into the score bells/chimes heard in the triumphant final pages of the score. Cataeni imaginatively uses huge gongs with a hefty solid metallic impact that almost drowns out the orchestra. It's quite an effect and it would be interesting to know just what "instrument" was used to produce this massive sound.

Ondine's Rautavaara SACD is a remarkable in some ways, disappointing in others. Sonically it is magnificent—some of the most natural orchestral sound you'll hear, with the orchestra in front, warm supporting sound from the back—truly outstanding. It was recorded in June 2005 at the Center for Fine Arts in Brussels, with recording engineer Manuel Mohino. It's unfortunate Ondine's recent premiere recording with Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra doesn't have sound like this (see REVIEW). Rautavaara composed his first symphony in 1955; what is heard here is a revision of 1988 further revised in 2003. After a luxurious first movement and a rather sardonic scherzo, we have a 4 minute banal allegro that just stops at the end. Adagio Celeste for string orchestra is an exquisite miniature. Book of Visions, composed 2003/2005 is a four-movement suite with impressions of Night, Fire, Love and Fate. Conductor Mikko Franck, one of the finest of the younger baton generation, commissioned Rautavaara to write this music and it is dedicated to him. In his brief CD notes for music on this release, the composer tells us little about the music and doesn't explain significance of the high odd percussion heard for about two minutes beginning at 4:00 into A Tale of Fate. Book of Visions contains page after page of discordant string writing which sounds as if it is being played out-of-tune—nothing I would wish to hear repeatedly.

R.E.B. (March 2006)