STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40. Four Last Songs.
Gitta-Maria Sjöberg, soprano; Odense Symphony Orch/Jan Wagner, cond.
SILVERLINE DVD AUDIO 288119-9 5 channel TT: 72:20

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphony No. 1 "A Sea Symphony."
Joan Rogers, soprano; Christopher Maltman, baritone; Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and Orch/Paul Daniel, cond.
NAXOS DVD AUDIO 5.110016 5.1 channel TT: 63:52

The Silverline Strauss DVD is a winner in every way. One would not expect to find a truly superb orchestra in Odense, a small (pop. 200,000) city in Denmark (home of Hans Christian Andersen), but here it is, in a live concert performance of one of Richard Strauss's most demanding scores, the huge symphonic poem Ein Heldenleben. The orchestra has been around about a half century and officially lists 73 players but doubtless was augmented for this performance of Strauss's masterpiece. Conductor Jan Wagner has won several major conducting prizes including the 1994 Leopold Stokowski International Conductors Competition. He and his orchestra have made many fine recordings including a Villa-Lobos disk reviewd on this site (REVIEW). These Strauss peformances were recorded during concerts March 29-31 in Carl-Nielsen-Salen concert hall, which is quite small, with a capacity of only 1,300. Perhaps this has something to do with the excellent sound. This Silverline release is one of the most impressive orchestral surround sound recordings I've heard. The orchestra is in front, as it should be, with reflected sound from rear speakers that provide remarkable presence. Johannes Müller was producer, Pauline Heister the recording engineer.Let's have more surround recordings from them! In addition to the wonderful sonics, the performances are outstanding in every way. This is the first time I've heard soprano Gitta-Maria Sjöberg—and the young Swedish soprano sings Four Last Songs magnificently. Her performance is one of the finest ever recorded. The DVD begins with 1:21 of the orchestra tuning (here called "Concert Atmosphere"). Each track (four for Songs, six for Heldenleben) has its own picture which you may or may not wish to view as you listen—I prefer not to. I have nothing against photographs of flowers, leaves and nature scenes, but does anyone really want to see them as music is playing? Regardless, this recording is a major addition to the surround sound library. It would make a welcome addition to the SACD library as well, but thus far is available only on DVD audio.

Naxos' issue of Vaughan Williams' massive Sea Symphony is impressive in many ways. Paul Daniel is one of the major younger conductors and already had made many excellent recordings, particularly of English music. Unfortunately, baritone Christopher Maltman has a wobble that is very disconcerting. Soprano Joan Rodgers is fine, the Bournemouth choral/orchestral forces do well, and the sound, although a bit on the unresonant side, is clear and wide-range. The Telarc recording is preferable. Complete texts are provided. Naxos has issued some of their multi-channel recordings on both DVD Audio and SACD. This is one of them—the SACD issue is 6.110016.

R.E.B. (June 2004)