EGGERT: Number 9VI: a bigger splash. MATTHEWS: Turning Point. VERBEIJ: Lied for Trombone and Orchestra. GLANERT: Theatrum Bestiarum.
Jörgen van Rijen, trombone; Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Markus Stenz, cond.
RCO LIVE SACD 08003 TT: 77:42

STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20. An Alpine Symphony, Op. 64.
Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Maris Janssons, cond.
RCO LIVE SACD 08006 TT: 70:22

Music from King Kong, Robin Hood and His Merry Men, Spellbound, The Red Pony, Sunset Boulevard, A Streetcar Named Desire, A Place in the Sun, On the Waterfront, North by Northwest, El Cid, To Kill a Mockinbird, and Taras Bulba.
Cincinnati Pops Orch/Erich Kunzel, cond.
TELARC SACD 60708 TT: 53:13

The two latest SACD issued by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra are welcome, as always. The first is called Horizon I and features contemporary music highlighted by three works written for RCOA that here receive their world premiere recordings: Moritz Eggert's Number 9 VI: a bigger splash, Matthews' Turning Point, and Theo Verbeij's Lied for Trombone and Orchestra. The16-minute Eggert is based on a painting by English artist David Hockney called A Bigger Splash depicted in the music, called in CD notes "a grandiose orchestral spectacular," with effective use of jazz, film music styles, and percussion. Matthews "unleashes a pandemonium of orchestral forces" most impressively in Turning Point, and Verbeij treats the solo trombone (magnificently played by Jörgen van Rijen) like a wide-range singer in the four-section Lied. To me, the most impressive work is Detiev Glanert's Theatrum Bestiarum. There is another SACD version of this, with Semyon Bychkov conducting (REVIEW) Sonically, the Bychkov recording is superior, as the live Concertgebouw recordings offer a huge orchestral sound very heavy in bass resulting in a slight lack of clarity. But the RCOA version is stunning in performance, and collectors should have both. Markus Stenz, a specialist in this music, leads the magnificent orchestra in superlative performances.

Maris Janssons' first Strauss live recording with the RCO was Ein Heldenleben (REVIEW). Now we have this disc of Don Juan, from concerts in January 2008, and An Alpine Symphony from September 2007. Like the Heldenleben, these are relaxed performances, beautiful to hear and wonderfully played, but, unfortunately, there's not much excitement here. This trip through the mountains is placid indeed; even the storm is gentle, and the distant hunting horns of "The Ascent" are very distant, and again engineers have missed the opportunity to have them in the rear. Likewise, the majestic horn calls of Don Juan are understated, perhaps because of the audio picture favored by the Dutch engineers in recent years, with a huge orchestral sound, lots of bass, and a slight lack of definition.

The latest from Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra is this collection called Vintage Cinema featuring their selection of music from "The Golden Age of Cinema". All of these recordings were made in one day, February 4, 2008, by producer Robert Woods and engineer Robert Friedrich. Audio is wide-range, with the orchestra in front, and a lot of bass. Kunzel and his band are in good shape, but comparing these performances/recordings with those made of the same music (particularly Taras Bulba) by Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic three decades ago will show what is missing. Still, this is an enjoyable, if a rather short (53:13) collection.

R.E.B. (October 2008)