BARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra. Musi for Strings, Percussion and Celesta.
Boston Symphony Orchestra / Rafael Kubelik (Concerto). Seiji Ozawa, cond.

SCHOENBERG: String Quartet No,. 2, Op 10 (for string qurtet and soprano). String Quartet No. 4, Op. 37.
Gringolts Quartet. Malin Hartelius, soprano.
BIS SACD 2267 TT: 64.59

RAVEL: Daphinis and Chloe (complete). Une barque sur l'océan. Pavane pour une infante défuute.
Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra / Gustavo Gimeno, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186652 TT: 72:35

These Bartók recordings are in the admirable series of original four-track recordings now being issued on SACD as originally recorded. The Concerto for Orchestra was recorded in 1973, the MSPC in 1976. I had hoped to experience a thrilling audio experience, but this is not the case hee. Both recordings feature a fine stereo effect, but, unlike most other recordings in this series, little use is made of rear channels, particularly in the Concerto. This work has particular significance for the Boston Orchestra. It was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky, their then Music Director, and they played the premiere December 1, 1944, to great acclaim. The work has since become a staple of the repertory and there are numerous recordings. Kubelik made two others, one with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and with the Royal Philharmonic. He leads a careful, expert performance with the BSO. Ozawa's performance of MSPC cannot match the intensity of many other versions, particularly the brilliant Reiner/Chi ago Symphony version. It is unfortunate the thrilling Boulez New York Philharmonic recording of the Concerto made in four-track in 1972, many years ago briefly issued on Sony Classical SACD (REVIEW)., is no longer available. Engineering on this recording separated instruments into four corners of the listening area, to rmarkable effect. Basically, isn't this what surround sound is about? Let us hope this will be reissued soon, along with other Columbia multi-track recordings. In the meantime, if this new Bartók collection appeals to you, here it is with its sonic limitations.

The Pentatone Ravel SACD is disappointing. It presents the Luxembourg Philharmonic under the direction of Gustavo Gimeno who has been their music director since the 2015/2016 season. Daphnis is presented complete with chorus, although the chorus is not mentioned or identified. Surely this is a fine performance, but the Luxembourg Orchestra, excellent though it is, cannot equal the rich sound produced by many major orchestras on numerous recordings. And a good part of this is because of engineering. These Ravel performances were recorded March 2017 in the orchestra's Philharmonie. Producer/engineer Karel Bruggeman and his assistant, Kees de Visser, have opted for an unusual sonic picture. Orchestral sound is distant and undefined with little use made of rear channels. A multi-channel recording should have a sense of presence, lacking here. Dynamic range is very wide, but there surely is no sonic spectacle. An odd release, surely not for audiophiles! Pentatone is known for their quality sound—except in this issue.

BIS's Schoenberg SACD is a stunning achievement, combining two of the most important works in the repertory in superb performances. Quartet No 2, composed 1907-1908 is a milestone in writing for strings. Although labeled a "quartet," it actually has five performers. It begins in accepted harmonic fashion, but in the final three movements Schoenberg abandons his earlier style of composition entering a new world of atonal music. In the two final movements, the quartet is joined by a soprano. In the third movement she sings the sad Litany with a text by Stefan George, and Rapture, also by George. Quartet No. 4 was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidgbe written in 1936 after he had come to America. It is his first twelve-tone work, and the composer described it as "more pleasant" than its predecessor. Still, both of these quartets are challenging for the listenber. These are major chamber works and played to perfection here by the fine Graingolts Quartet, with soprano Malin Hartelius as soloist. Complete texts and translations are provided. The BIS engineers have captured a most realistic sound in this recording made made in Zurich June 2016.

R.E.B. (August 2017)