Music of Chopin, Bach, Carpenter, Demessieux, Liszt, Ellington, Dupré, and Horowitz + DVD
TELARC SACD 60711 TT: 64:33 + 17:52 DVD

STRAVINSKY: Firebird Suite. Le sacre du printemps
Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Mariss Janson, cond.
RCOA LIVE 08002 TT: 55:27

MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde
Stuart Skelton, tenor; Thomas Hampson, baritone; San Francisco Symphony Orch/Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.

Cameron Carpenter is an astounding organist/musician. This site mentioned his first recording, a CD and DVD featuring his vivid transcription of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, his own New York City Sessions, and a fantastic improvisation (REVIEW). Now we have this stunning SACD, his first for Telarc, and it, too, is outstanding. Recorded March 10, 2008 in New York's Trinity Church, it features the incredible sounds of the Marshall & Ogletree Virtual Pipe Organ. Only four works originally written for organ are on the program: Etude in Octaves by Jeanne Demessieux, Dupré's Prelude and Fugue in B, Bach's Now Come, Savior of the Gentiles, and Cameron's own Love Song No. 1. The remainder are transcriptions, highlighted by two Chopin Études, Carpenter's version of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Liszt's Mephisto Waltz, and the Horowitz version of music from Carmen adapted by Carpenter. Telarc's engineering is of their best, with effective use of the multi-channel medium. A bonus DVD offers three of the performances (Chopin Revolutionary Étude, the Bach Toccata and Fugue and Carmen variations) so we can watch this remarkable organist's keyboard virtuosity and his mastery of the pedals. In addition to being an artist of imagination and humor, Carpenter also is an entertainer, but not flamboyantly so (on the DVD he wears a rhinestone-decorated white costume). This is a highly entertaining release, and an essential for audio buffs. There is no extra charge for the DVD.

The latest issue on the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's own label is a coupling of two Stravinsky showpieces: a Suite from The Firebird, and The Rite of Spring. These are "live" recordings made June 25, November 15-16, 2006 (Rite), and June 7-8 and December 14, 2007 in the Concertgebouw. Obviously considerable editing was done; there is no applause after Firebird, but there is after Rite. The performances are immaculately played and the virtuosity of the RCOA is obvious. In spite of the perfect playing, these are rather sedate performances; Chailly's DVDs with the same orchestra are more exciting. The sonic picture is huge, and a bit bass heavy. Still, these are magnificent performances, well worth owning.

Michael Tilson Thomas continues his Mahler cycle for the San Francisco Symphony label with Das Lied von der Erde. The only symphonies remaining are No. 8 and whatever edition MTT chooses for Symphony No. 10. Mahler's Das Lied score lists a tenor and either a baritone or contralto. For many years it was performed by tenor and contralto; Bruno Walter always chose that option for his performances and two recordings. This San Francisco performance was recorded during concerts in Davies Symphony Hall September 26-29, 2007. Emerging young tenor Stuart Skelton copies well with the fiendish demands of his three songs, and Thomas Hampson, doubtless the major Mahler baritone on today's concert scene, is outstanding, as he was in his previous EMI recording with Sir Simon Rattle. As usual in this SFO series, audio is splendid. The only debit is the super-premium price—almost $28 for a single disk. Complete texts are provided.

R.E.B. (September 2008)