BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral"
Mary Dunleavy, soprano; Elizabeth Bishop, mezzo-soprano; Stephen Gould, tenor; Alastair Miles, bass; Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Donald Runnicles, cond.
TELARC SACD 60603 (F) (DDD) TT: 68:46 (5.1 channel)

GRIEG: Holberg Suite, Op. 40. DVORAK: Serenade in E for Strings, Op. 22. ELGAR: Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op. 20.
Rotterdam Chamber Orch/Conrad van Alphen, cond.
TELARC SACD 60623 (F) (DDD) TT: 59:36 (5.1 channel)

The regular CD version of this recording of Beethoven's Ninth has been reviewed on this site. I am a little more positive about this performance than S.F.V. was, although I agree that the four soloists—well placed in front of the orchestra in this surround version—disappoint. And the martial trumpet in the finale just before entrance of the tenor, is almost inaudible, doubtless the choice of the conductor. Compared with the regular CD, sound quality surely is improved on this SACD version—there is more of a sense of space and the orchestra is nicely spread out in front. What is lacking is a more resonant overall sound where the orchestra is cushioned by the lower strings. What is heard here is probably what the Atlanta Symphony sounds like in the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. From a sound standpoint, this is infinitely superior to the 1977 Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic DG recording of Beethoven's Ninth, which is a far better performance—see REVIEW. I have yet to hear the Daniel Barenboim/Berlin State Opera recording on Teldec DVD-Audio (83061-9). There is still a need for a strong performance of Beethoven's mighty final symphony in the SACD catalog.

Teldec has a winner with their CD of performances by the Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra. This ensemble was founded in March 2000 by Dutch-South African conductor Conrad van Alphen and Japanese violinist Makiko Hirayama and gives regular concerts in Rotterdam as well as touring. Obviously this is a first-class ensemble and they give superlative performances of the Dvorák and Elgar serenades as well as Grieg's Holberg Suite. These recordings were made in a Hilversum studio March 5-8, 2003, with Everett Porter as engineer. He's done a fine job, with rich string tone, perhaps rather close-up, but still with effective use of rear channels to add presence. The only debit here is the limited playing time—less than an hour of music on a full-priced CD.

R.E.B. (October 2003) (NEXT SURROUND REVIEW)