WAGNER: Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. STRAUSS: Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24. Four Last Songs.
Christine Brewer, soprano; Atlanta Symphony Orch/Donald Runnicles, cond.
TELARC SACD 60661 TT: 63:29

CHABRIER: Impromptu. Ronde champetre. Paysage. Mélancolie. Tourbillon. Sous-bois. Mauresque. Idylle. Danse villageoise. Improvisation. Menuet pompeux. Scherzo-waltz. Aubade. Ballabile. Caprice. Feuillet d'album. Habanera. Bourrée fantasque.
Angela Hewitt, pianist
HYPERION SACD 67515 TT:76:06

SAINT-SAËNS: Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78. GUILMANT: March on Handel's Lift Up Your Heads. VIERNE: Carillon de Westminster. WIDOR: Allegro vivace from Symphony No. 6 for Organ.
Philippe Bélanger, organist; Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal/Yannick Nézet-Ségun, cond.
ATMA SACD 2 2331 TT: 60:00


Soprano Christine Brewer, one of the finest younger singers on the operatic scene, already has recorded a wide range of repertory including music of American composers (Bolcom, Menotti, Barber), as well works of Mozart, Schubert, Dvorak, and Janacek, plus a disk of operatic arias sung in English. Some collectors might have a CD issued by BBC Music Magazine in 2004 that gave a tantilizing sample of her expertise in Strauss, offering four songs as well as arias from The Egyptian Helen and Ariadne auf Naxos. Now we have more of her Strauss on this superb Telarc SACD, a technically assured performance of Four Last Songs. Doubtless in the future her interpretation will become more imaginative; this one does not challenge Renée Fleming, the late Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, or Soile Isokowski. Any opera house would be delighted to present an Isolde as assured as Brewer. She has already sung the role to great acclaim and doubtless will soon be singing it with major opera houses. Of equal importance on this SACD is Donald Runnicles and the Atlanta Symphony which here sounds like a major orchestra. This Death and Transfiguration is outstanding reaching a stunning climactic "transfiguration." This is the finest sound the Telarc engineering crew have achieved in Atlanta, with warm hall resonance and wide dynamic range. Highly recommended!.

Angela Hewitt takes time off from Bach and the Baroque with this delightful program of most of the solo piano works by Emmanuel Chabrier presented in rather analytical but charming performances. The recorded sound is excellent, but one doesn't really need surround sound for a solo piano.

ATMA is a relatively small Canadian company, but, based on their new release of Saint-Saëns' sonic blockbuster, obviously a label of quality. The entire program was recorded in December 2005 in Basilique de l'Oratoire St-Joseph du Mont-Royal in Québec. The producer was Johanne Goyette, the primary engineer, Anne-Marie Sylvestre. They did their work in spectacular fashion—sonic quality of this recording is outstanding. They have managed to capture the big sound of the church with its large organ without losing orchestral detail although, of course, there is considerable reverberation. And the performance of the symphony is one of the best with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who has been conductor of this Montreal orchestra since 2000, leading a rousing performance. Philippe Bélanger's performances of three organ showpieces complete this disk. The only negative point here is that the SACD easily could have contained more music: an hour's playing time isn't much these days. Still, this is highly recommended!

R.E.B. (July 2006)