RAVEL: Boléro. Pavane for a Dead Princess. Rapsodie espagnole. La Valse.
Minnesota Orch/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, cond.
MOBILE FIDELITY UDSACD 4002 (F) (ADD) TT: 70:20 (4/5 channel)

GRIEG: Norwegian Dances, Op. 35. Symphonic Dances, Op. 64. Lyric Suite, Op. 54.
Bergen Philharmonic Orch/Ole Kristian Rund, cond.
BIS SACD 1291 (F) (DDD) TT: 71:05 (5 channel)

The Mobile Fidelity issue is another fascinating look into the past. In the early-to-mid '70s, about the same time Philips and EMI were experimenting in quadraphonic sound in Europe, Columbia and Vox were doing the same in the United States. In 1974 these Ravel performances were recorded in the Minnesota Orchestra's new Orchestra Hall (it had opened the previous year) by the famous team of Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz who already had produced splendid recordings with the St. Louis Symphony. Aubort's comments about the Minnesota sessions are included in CD notes, mentioning the chorus in Daphnis and Chloe was towards the back of the hall. It's odd, but when I play this recording the chorus is more to the front—but very impressive. What is heard on this SACD is discrete four-channel information as originally recorded. The sound is fairly close-up with rich upper strings, somewhat undefined low strings and a fine balance of brass and woodwinds. Because of resonance in Orchestra Hall, the close-up impact of timpani and bass drum is limited but still has considerable impact. Skrowaczewski assumed leadership of the Minnesota Orchestra in 1960 when it was known as the Minneapolis Symphony—the name was changed to Minnesota Orchestra in 1968. He remained with the orchestra until 1979 and made a number of superb recordings with them. These Ravel performances are outstanding, particularly Bólero which is played at the slow tempo the composer wanted. This Bolero is 17:22, perhaps the longest ever recorded. I look forward to future releases from Mobile Fidelity.

The Bis Grieg collection is superb. It offers three of Grieg's major symphonic works as we know them today, mostly based on Norwegian folk music. Only Symphonic Dances, the most recent of the three, was actually orchestrated by the composer. The work is dedicated to Belgian pianist Arthur de Greef, whom Grieg considered to be one of the finest interpreters of his music (see REVIEW of the pianist's recording of the piano concerto). Johan Svendsen conducted the premiere in 1899. Norwegian Dances dates from 1881, written for piano four hands. Grieg apparently felt the four movements would benefit from orchestral treatment and, after an unsuccessful attempt by Robert Henriques in 1882, Grieg suggested Edouard Lalo to his publisher for the assignment. This didn't work out and, against the composer's wishes, a version was made in 1888 by viola player and conductor Hans Sitt which is the arrangement always heard today. It works just fine. Lyric Suite is an orchestration by Anton Seidl of four movements from Grieg's Lyric Pieces for Piano, Op. 54, beginning with Shepherd Boy, continuing with a vital Norwegian March, an exquisite Nocturne (one of the composer's loveliest works), and ending with the familiar March of the Dwarfs. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in 1765, has had this music in their blood from the time it was written (Grieg was artistic director of the orchestra from 1880-1882). Ole Kristian Ruud is one of the major younger Scandinavian conductors and elicits fine playing from the orchestra. Bis' sound, needless to say, is first-class, with the rich-sounding orchestra in front, appropriate ambient sound from the rear.

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