PROKOFIEV: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16. Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, Op. 26. Piano Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op. 14
Freddy Kempf, piano; Bergen Philharmonic Orch/Andrew Litton, cond.
BIS SACD 1820 TT: 80:48

LEIFS: Edda: Part 1: The Creation of the World (Oratorio)
Gunnar Gudbjörnsson, tenor; Bjarni Thor Kristinsson, bass-baritone; Schola Cantorum; Iceland Symphony Orch/Hermann Bäumer, cond.
BIS SACD 1350 TT: 75:39

MAHLER: Symphony No. 2 in C minor "Resurrection."
Anne Schwanewilms, soprano; Lioba Braun, contralto; Bamberg Symphony Chorus and Orch/Jonathan Nott, cond.
TUDOR SACD 7158 (2 disks) TT: 84:17

Prokofiev's Concerto No. 2 lately has been championed by a number of leading pianists including Evgeny Kissin, Yefim Bronfman, Arcadi Volodos and Yundi Li. Concerto No 2 premiered in 1913 with the composer as soloist, is a strange work of great power and incredible difficulty. The score was lost and later reconstructed by Prokofiev—how fascinating it would be to hear it as originally written. Now, along with memorable recordings by Vladimir Ashkenazy, Horacio Gutierrez and Alexander Toradze, there are recent recordings by Kissin and Li—and now this, Freddy Kempf and the Bergen Philharmonic. It is coupled with Concerto No. 3, and a generous bonus, the Sonata No. 2, written at the same time as Concerto No. 2. Inclusion of this results in a maximum playing time disk (80:48). Kempf's playing is remarkable in its clarity—it isn't often one heard so much detail in the first movement cadenza of Concerto No. 2, or the final pages of Concerto No. 3. SACD sound is superb, with performers in front, ambient sound from the rear. A quality release, and the only multi-channel recording of the two concertos. Does anyone remember the superb RCA 1957 recording with Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer, Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony. Equally fine is the John Browning recording made with the same orchestra in 1965 with Erich Leinsdorf on the podium that has been reissued on Testament. The Henriot-Schweitzer recording has been issued on RCA in Japan.

My first experience with music of Icelandic composer Jón Leifs (1899-1968) was his massive orchestral work Hekla, a vivid description of the 1947 eruption of the volcano of the same name, scored for a huge orchestra and heavy percussion (REVIEW). The oratorio Edda: The Creation of the World, is the first part of Völuspá, a massive work Leifs never completed. The other sections are The Lives of the Gods, Twilight and Resurrection, in all a convoluted telling of the creation and destruction of the universe put together from varied sources, with Nordic gods and odd creatures. There are thirteen movements to The Creation of the World which describes the Nordic mythological version of creation. Although excerpts from Edda were performed since since it was written in 1939, the first complete performance didn't take place until October 2006 at which time this recording was made. The performance is superlative, as is the recorded sound, but it is unlikely this strange work will ever be prominent in concerts except possibly in Iceland. Complete texts are provided in Icelandic and English.

Up to this release of Mahler's Symphony No. 2, I've been disappointed in sonic quality of Jonathan Nott's Bamberg Symphony recordings: Mahler, Bruckner, Schubert (REVIEW), Stravinsky, Janacek, Mahler, Schubert (REVIEW). The performances were sabotaged by the dismal audio, but, surprisingly, this latest release has excellent sound, although the producer, Bernhard Albrecht, is the same as on earlier releases. This recording was made in the Joseph Keilberth Concert Hall in Bamberg in March 2008. It is another splendid performance of the Resurrection, to add to the SACD list that includes Bernard Haitink, Valery Gergiev, David Zinman, Gilbert Kaplan and Ivan Fischer all of which are preferable. And another Resurrection is in the works, with Mariss Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw. Great for Mahler enthusiasts!

R.E.B. (June 2010)