BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68. Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73. Symphony No. 3 in F, Op. 90. Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98. Tragic Overture, Op. 81. Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Kurt Masur, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 182 (3 disks) TT: 3 hr. 4 min. 35 sec.

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade Io, 35, Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34. Neapolitan Song, Op. 63.
Russian National Orch/Carlo Ponti, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 378 TT: 66:10

HAGEN: Variations on a Theme of Locatelli. BACH: Chaconne BWV 1004. SOR: Fantaisie, Op. 7. MAW: Music of Memory. WENNAKOSKI: Balai. DOWLAND: Farewell.
Petri Kumela, guitar
ALBA SACD 313 TT: 73:50

Another terrific four-channel reissue from Pentatone! The label already has released the Brahms Piano Concertos with Mischa Dichter, Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, both mentioned on this site (NO. 1 REVIEW), (NO. 2 REVIEW). The same composer's four symphonies and two overtures were recorded in Leipzig's Paul-Gerhardt Kirche in October 1976 with Claus Strüben as producer, Heinz Wegner and Bernd Runge as balance engineers. All did their tasks magnificently: orchestral sound is rich, well-balanced, warm and detailed. And the performances are first-class in every way. Masur was music director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1970 through 1996, and is a perfect conductor for Brahms, whose music he programmed often. In 1991 Masur and the Leipzig Orch performed all four Brahms symphonies in the Glascow Royal Concert Hall, available on a very inexpensive DVD (Kultur Video 4168). He later recorded three of the symphonies with the New York Philharmonic when he led that orchestra (1991-2002). This new Pentatone issue is very welcome indeed, and the three disks sell for the price of two mid-priced SACDs.

This site unenthusiastically covered conductor Carlo Ponti's first Pentatone SACD, a Mussorgsky collection (REVIEW). This second issue is equally disappointing. Ponti's erratic conducting almost comes to a complete halt several times in both Scheherazade and Capriccio; his views on these colorful scores are not convincing. However, the concluding work, Rimsky-Korsakov's arrangement of Funiculi, funicula, is given a lively reading. The Russian National Orchestra sounds under rehearsed and understaffed. Audio is clear, but unresonant. There are so many superb recordings of Scheherazade available today (particularly Gergiev on SACD (REVIEW), Reiner, Svetlanov and Temirkanov (to mention only a few) on CD. Carlo Ponti, son of Italian film producer Carlo Ponti and Sophia Loren, obviously knows the right people: this recording was underwritten by Peter T. Paul, the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation, the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation, and the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences. They didn't get their money's worth, unfortunately.

Petri Kumela is an enterprising guitarist who is known for his superb playing of standard repertory as well as his keen interest in contemporary music. Several years ago, Alba issued a disk of four works for solo guitar, chamber ensemble, and a concerto by Finnish composer Pehr Henrik Nordgren 1944-2008). Now on the same label, we have this unusual combination of the old and the new, all given expert performances. The major work is Nicholas Maw's Music of Memory, a 20-minute set of variations using a theme from a string quartet by Mendelssohn. Equally challenging is Balai by Lotta Wennakoski which was commissioned by Kumela. In it you will hear some percussive sounds all produced by the guitar. This challenging music of superbly played, audio is excellent, but there is little need for a recording of solo guitar in surround sound.

R.E.B. (July 2011)