PUCCINI: La fanciulla del West
Placido Domingo (Dick Johnson). Carol Neblett (Minnie). Sherrill Milnes (Jack Rance). Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Zubin Mehta, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186243 (2 disks) TT: 60:20 / 70:36

MOZART: Quintet in G minor, K. 516. Quintet in B Flat, K. 174.
Auryn Quartet. Nobuko Imai, viola.
TACET SACD S 224 TT: 75:12

NÁPRAVNÍK: Piano Trio in G minor, Op 24. Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 62. Mélancolie (Adagio from Piano Pieces, Op. 48 No. 2)
Spyros Piano Trio
MDG SACD 903 1996 TT: 69:32

Here is anoher intriguing release from Pentatone, Puccini;s Girl of the Golden West recorded in England's Watford Hall in June 1977. Originally recorded for DGG, now we have the same performance in multiu-track sound. It is a superb performance with an all-star cast, particularly Plácido Domingo in one of his great roles as Dick Johnson. Carol Neblett was Minnie, Sherrill Milnes, Jack Rance. Zubin Mehta was on the podium.

Domingo made another recording in 1982, again with Carol Neblett, but Silvano Carroli as Jack Rance. Nello Santi conducted. Domingo's third recording was in 1991 in La Scala with Lorin Maazel conducting. Maria Zampieri was Minni, Juan Pons was Rance. This is a video (REVIEW). The celebrated tenor made yet another recording in 1992, a Metropolitan Opera production with Barbara Daniels as Minnie; again Sherrill Milnes was Rance, and Leonard Slatkin conducted. This fine performance also is available on video (REVIEW).

The 1977 performance sounds better than ever. The balance favors the orchestra with singers further back with a very natural opera house presence.It is a most beautiful and realistic way to enjoy Puccini's masterpiece. Unfortunately there is no libretto. I hope Pentatone will find other treasures such as this for quad release.

Tacet has another winner in their Mozart SACD featuring the Aruyn Quartet. This prize-winning group is international recognized as leaders in their field, and they have made many recordings. Members of the Quartet are violinists Mattthias Lingenfelder and Jens Oppermann, violist Stewart Eaton, and cellist Andreas Arndt. They are joined by violist Nobuko Imai in these Mozart quintets. Program notes include a diagram showing position of all five performers: 2nd viola is front center, first violin is on the left, first viola is on the right, second violin is left rear, and cello is right rear. The result is a warm, engrossing sound that is most realistic. I wish more companies would embrace Tacet's concept of surround sound being exactly that. Keep up the good work , Tacet!!

We have another important chamber music issue offering the two Piano Trios by Eduard Nápravník (1839-1916). Born in Czechoslovakia, he moved to Russia where he remained for the rest of his life playing an important part in Russian music for over a half-century. He was music director of the Mariinsky Theatre and conducted thousands of performances. A friend of Tchaikovsky, he premiered many of that composer's works both operatic and symphonic. Held in the highest regard by his peers, it is remarkable that his music has been so neglected. His piano concerto can be found on Hyperion, and some of his vocal works have also been recorded. Here we have his two piano trios dating from 1876 and 1897. These are big-scale works, each with four movements. We also have Mélancolie, which is a lovely adagio from a set of piano pieces arranged for piano trio. These performances are by the Spyros Piano Trio which consists of Bartek Niziot, violin, Denis Severin, cello, and Tatiana Korsinskaya, piano. The recording was made August 2016 in Abtei Marienmünster Concert Hall, and the engineers have captured a very satisfying sonic picture, not as separated as in the Tacet SACD mentioned above, but very pleasing. Nápravník wrote four symphonies. It would be fascinating to hear them!

R.E.B. (May 2017)