KALOMIRIS: Triptych for Orchestra (1937/1940). Symphony No. 3 in D minor, for orchestra with dramatic recitation (1955) "Palamian." Three Greek Dances (1934). The Destruction of Psará (1949?).
Nikitas Tsakiroglou, narrator (Symphony/Psará); Athens State Orch/Byron Fidetzis, cond.
NAXOS 8.557970 (B) TT: 63:15

SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B minor "Unfinished." JANACEK: Glagolitic Mass.
Zdena Kloubova, soprano; Karen Cargill, mezzo-soprano; Pavol Breslik, tenor; Gustav Belacek, bass; David Goode, organist; Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno; London Philharmonic Orch/Kurt Masur, cond.
LPO LIVE 0029 TT: 65:06

TÜÜR: Symphony No. 4 for Solo Percussion and Symphony Orchestra "Magma." Inquiétude du Fini for Chamber Choir and Orchestra. Igavik (Eternity) for Male Choir and Orchestra. The Path and the Traces for Strings.
Dame Evelyn Glennie, percussion; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Estonian National Male Choir; Estonian National Symphony Orch/Paavo Järvi, cond.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 85785 (F) TT: 67:23

RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 1 in F# minor, Op. 1. Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30. Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40. Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 32.
Ian Hobson, pianist-conductor/ Sinfonia Varsovia
ZEPHUR Z128-07-02 (2 disks) TT: 78:57 & 72:22

TCHAIKOVSKY: 1812 Overture, Op. 49. Capriccio italien, Op. 45. BEETHOVEN: Wellington's Victory, Op. 91.
University of Minnesota Brass Band; Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (Tchaikovsky); London Symphony Orchestra (Beethoven)/Antal Dorati, cond. (with commentary by Deems Taylor, sound effects, cannon and bells)
DECCA 475 8508 (M) TT: 66:07

Thank you, Naxos!! The label's never-ending quest for new music to record has produced many treasures, and one of the most valuable is this CD of music, all world premiere recordings, by Greek composer Manolis Kalomiris (1833-1962). Considered to be the father of the Greek national school of composition, much of his music reflects the political history of Greece. The Tryptych for Orchestra (1937/1940) pays tribute to Elefthérios Kyriakos Venizélos, the "master builder of Great Greece," with a funeral march as the second movement. Symphony No. 3 dates from 1955 and is called Palamian in honor of the great Greek poet Costis Palamas and includes brief texts from his writings.English translations of the texts are provided; on the internet one can access the orighinal Greek texts. The three Greek dances were written in 1934 and borrow from some of the composer's other works. The brief (1:34) The Destruction of Psará describes the tragedy of the small island razed by the Ottomans in 1824. Kalomiris obviously appreciates the rich orchestral sonorities of Strauss, and often in his music one hears sensuous motives. This is big-scale orchestral writing of the highest order, not the least bit avant-garde, always of interest—no note-spinning here. The brief texts are spoken by a leading Greek actor, Nikitas Tsakiroglou (recorded rather distantly). All of these works were revised by Byron Fidetzis, who conducts these performances. Just what the extent of this is, or the reason for revision, is not clarified, but Fidetzis obviously is devoted to this composer. A pleasant surprise is the virtuoso quality of the Athens State Orchestra, Greece's principal orchestra, established in 1893. Another plus is audio quality; this is state-of-the-art sound, full-bodied, rich and impactful. The recording was produced by the Athens State Orchestra with five Greek engineers who obviously knew what they were doing. This is a major issue—and at budget price! Get it! And let us have more music by Kalomiris—and more recordings of this quality!

The London Philharmonic continues to issue valuable live recordings. From a concert in Royal Albert Hall July 26, 2004, we have Kurt Masur conducting Schubert's Symphony No. 8 and Janacek's Glagolitic Mass. We really don't need another Schubert Unfinished; this one probably was included as it began the concert. The reason for acquiring this CD is the outstanding performance of Janacek's powerful setting of the Old Church Slavonic Mass scored for large orchestra, large chorus and five soloists, obviously not intended for liturgical use. The soloists are superb, the Czech Philharmonic Chorus is in top form, and it is a pleasure to hear the organ solo played on the mighty Royal Albert Hall instrument. Recorded by the BBC, the sonic quality is outstanding.

Erkki-Sven Tüür, born in 1959, is Estonia's second best-known composer (Arvo Part is the first). His music was influenced by Gregorian chant, Bach and Mahler, and by jazz and rock—in 1979 he and some friends formed In Spe, which became a popular rock band in Estonia. Tüür is a master of orchestration as evidenced by this spectacular "symphony" which he completed in 2002 when Evelyn Glennie asked him to write a concerto for percussion. He did so in a grand manner, but he called it his Symphony No. 4, subtitled Magma. Details aren't provided, but it seems just about every percussion instrument ever invented is used, producing the most delicate tintinnabulation as well as thundering roars. And the music itself is fascinating in its swirling, imaginative textures. As one might expect, the influence of jazz and rock are there, and the concerto ends with a rousing dance. The other works on this disk show a more sedate side of Tüür, two works for chorus and orchestra (which might remind some listeners of Ligeti's Lux Aeterna), and The Path and the Traces, for string orchestra. The Estonian National Orchestra is first-rate, and sonically this is a blockbuster. The only debit is there is only one track for Magna; the four distinct sections should have their own tracks. It would have been fascinating to observe Glennie perform this huge-scale work—perhaps eventually there will be a video of it. In the meantime, check out the DVD of her astounding performance of Masson's Concerto for Snare Drum and Orchestra, along with music of Vivaldi and Schmitt (REVIEW). You also might wish to investigate another major work by an Estonian composer, Kaljo Raid, his Symphony No. 1 available on Chandos (REVIEW).

Yet another complete set of Rachmaninoff's works for piano and orchestra, this one featuring Ian Hobson both as pianist and conductor, an assignment I don't believe anyone else has attempted—or should. CD notes quote Hobson as saying the reason for these recordings is because of his long relationship with Sinfonia Varsovia, a somewhat odd statement. It is to Hobson's credit as conductor and the alertness of the orchestra that these performances hold together as well as they do—there must have been extensive rehearsals. And Hobson is a magnificent pianist who has many superlative recordings to his credit. I remember a stunning performance he gave of Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 3 during the 1979 William Kapell Competition (he placed second), superior to the one heard here. Throughout on these new recordings there is an atmosphere of caution. Without question, this is the most placid performance I've heard of Concerto No. 1 (just compare it with the dazzling recent Zimmermann/Ozawa recording REVIEW). Hobson elects to play the original versions of the first and fourth concertos (not the first time on CD—see REVIEW) and some collectors might wish to investigate these recordings for that reason—although the earlier versions (with Karina Wisniewska and William Black) are highly commendable. Hobson's recordings were made over a period of three years in Studio S1 of Polish Radio, and are superb sonically. The new Zephur set is premium-priced.

Ever since its initial release on Mercury in 1958 this stereo recording of Tchaikovsky's 1812 and Capriccio italien has been a favorite demonstration disk for audiophiles. CD notes give detailed information about circumstances of the recording, the cannon and sound effects, and Deems Taylor gives spoken commentary on the recording. Sonically this is still a blockbuster, and I know of no other recording that has such a massive bell sound at the conclusion of 1812. Wellington's Victory was recorded in Wemby Town Hall in London June 9, 1960, and has a richer sonic picture than the Tchaikovsky. If you're intrigued by these sonic blockbusters, you might also wish to investigate the ReDiscovery issue of Morton Gould's RCA recordings (REVIEW).

R.E.B. (August 2007)