HOLST: The Planets, Op. 32. STRAUSS: Also sprach Zarathustra, OP. 30
New England Conservatory Chorus. Boston Symphny Orchestra/ William Steinberg, cond.
DGG 00289 479 8669 (one CD, one Blu Ray disk) TT: 76 min.

Onyx Brass
CHANDOS SACD 5221 TT: 59:03

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B flat
Altomonte Orchester St. Florian . Remy Ballot, cond.
GRANOLA SACD 99162 (two disks) TT: 61:29 / 28:00

This coupling of The Planets and Zarathustra is a major release for two reasons. First of all, it offers magnificent performances of these orchestral warhorses, and secondly, the audio is stunning. The Holst was recorded September/October 1969, Strauss March 1971. Both have been remastered at 24 bit / 192 KHZ in 4.0 surround sound. For some reason, DGG has since the advent of SACD issued less than a dozen recordings in that format. Fortunately for audiophiles, a number of recordings were licensed to Pentatone, a remarkable label that released them in their original multi-track form. These gems have been covered on this site.

A note in this new release states that DGG has been making four-channel recordings since 1980, and they have about 800 performances recorded in multi-track. It has yet to be announced if these will be released and when—and iti is remarkable that it took them so long to get around to it.

This Holst/Strauss set ia full-price and contains one disk for SACD, the other Blu Ray audio. Both offer display quality audio. There are only four channels, two in front and two in he rea—no center front channels. Back speakers contain much audio information, not particularly directional, but creating the effect of a fine, resonant hall. This Zarahusra Sunrise is one of the best you'll ever hear. Don' miss this one, even if you have he originals CD issues which surely do not match grandeur of what is heard here. DGG, let us have more, quickly!

German-born conductor William Steinberg (1899 - 1978) was always a major figure on the musical scene. He excelled in opera as well as symphonic repertory, and was Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic (1934 - `952), the Pittsburgh Symphony (1952 - 1976), the London Philharmonic (1958 - 1960), and the Boston Symphony (1969 - 1972). With the departure of Charles Munch, it was felt Steinberg would be the new leader of the Boston Symphony. However, possibly because Erich Leinsdorf was an RCA artist, the orchestra appointed him as their conductor, a position he held until 1989. Unfortunately, Steinberg made few recordings in Boston; let us hope the others featuring Hindemith: Concert Music for Brass and Strings, and Mathis der Maler.

Chandos has a winner in their SACD called A Festival of Fanfares. We have brief fanfares by a wide range of composes: Sir Granville Bantock, Sir Hamilton Harty, Sir Arnold Bax, Sir Arthur Bliss, Sir Malcolm Arnold, Sir Michael Tippett, Frederic Curzon, Elisabeth Lutyens, Haydn Wood, Albert W. Ketelby, Eric Coates, Herbert Howells, Imogen Holst, and Joseph Horowitz. There are 57 brief selections scored for various combinations of brass, occasionally with other instruments, particularly percussion. Onyx Brass has been around for a quarter-century, a leading brass ensemble featuring Niall Keatley and Alan Thomas, trumpets; Andrew Sutton, horn, Amos Miller, trombone, and David Gordon -Shute, tuba. John Wilson is the conductor. Spectacular artistry throughout in this recording made April 6 - 7, 2017 in the spacious acoustics of London's Hampstead Garden Church of St. Jude-on-the Hill. Excellent, super-high qiality audio with glistening brass sure to please. Don't miss this one!

Several years ago, this site praised a fine performance of Bruckner Symphony No. 8 played by Jugendsinfoniaorchester directed by Rémy Ballo (REVIEW). This was part of a Bruckner series with this conductor, and now we have the next installment, the mighty Symphony No. 5 in a recording made August 18, 2017 at Brucknertage St. Florian, at stiftsbasilika, St. Florin, Austria. It is played by the Altomonte Orchester St. Florian, all committed players. There were no extra brass players for the finale, as sometimes is the case. The recording is overly resonant and sometimes horns are too distant. There are countless great performances of Symphony No. 5, in particular the near-definitive version with Eugen Jochum and the Royal Concertgebouw (REVIEW). Competition also is keen on video including sterling videos conducted by Giulini, Karajan, Wand and Welser-Möst. There are some huge masses of Brucknerian sound on this new recording but it surely offers little competition to the others.

R.E.B. (May 2018)