SHOSTAKOVICH: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 35. Piano Concerto No. 2 in F, Op. 102. SHCHEDRIN: Piano Concerto No. 2.
Marc-André Hamelin, pianist; BBC Scottish Symphony Orch/Andrew Litton, cond.
HYPERION SACDA 67425 (F) (DDD) TT: 63:13 (5.1 channel)

BEETHOVEN: Christ on the Mount of Olives, Op. 85.
Luba Orgonasova, soprano; Placido Domingo, tenor; Andreas Schmidt, bass; Berlin Radio Chorus; Berlin German Symphony Orch/Kent Nagano, cond.
HYPERION HMC 801802 (F) (DDD) TT: 47:35 (5 channel)

Hyperion's SACD of the two Shostakovich piano concertos is outstanding. Of course Hamelin has no difficulties whatever with the solo parts, and he finds all of the humor in both scores. The exquisite second movements of the second concerto is played with extreme delicacy. Mark O'Keefe is a superb trumpet soloist in the first concerto. It was a stroke of genius to fill out this CD with the second of Rodion Shchedrin's six piano concertos, a work written in 1966. It's a 22-minute challenging concerto in three movements that almost could be called Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 6. It's a bold, brash work with clusters of notes for the soloist, loud orchestral outbursts in the orchestra and in the final movement we find an example of Shchedrin's sense of humor as we visit a nightclub jazz combo. Overall, it is a challenging romp for all concerned, brilliantly played on this recording. Producer Andrew Keener and recording engineer Simon Eadon have done a magnificent job of balancing orchestra and soloist, the multi-channels producing a listening experience of uncommon naturalness.

Beethoven's only oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives, was composed in 1803 just before his Eroica symphony and a few months before he began work on Fidelio. It is seldom performed in concert, primarily because it is not one of the composer's finer works.With a text by Franz Xaver Huber, it tells of Jesus and his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane and Christ's capture followed by praise of Christ's act of redemption. The three soloists represent Jesus, the Seraph and Peter, and one group each of soldiers, disciples and angels. This performance surely is a fine one in every way with the remarkable Placido Domingo heading the trio of soloists. The Berlin Radio Chorus isn't a particular large group, but big enough for this score. Kent Nagano continues to impress as a major conductor on today's symphonic scene. The performance was recorded in September 2002 in Jesus Christus-Kirsche in Berlin, a co-production of R.O.C GumbH and German Radio under the artistic direction of Martin Sauer. The surround sound is very fine in every way, super-clear, everything in front with appropriate ambient sound coming from the non-front speakers. It's unfortunate the SACD doesn't contain more music; 47 minutes isn't much for a full-price SACD.

R.E.B. (March 2004)