BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21. Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36. Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Op. 55 "Eroica." Symphony No. 4 in B flat, Op. 60. Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 57. Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 "Pastorale." Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92. Symphony No. 8 in F, Op. 93. Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral."
Anna Tomawa-Sintow, soprano; Annelies Burmeister, mezzo-soprano; Peter Schreier, tenor; Theo Adam, bass; Leipzig Radio Chorus/Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch/Kurt Masur, cond.
PENTATONE 5186 159 (5 SACDs) (4 channel) TT: 5 hrs. 44:47

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STRAVINSKY: The Firebird (1910 version). Petrushka (1911, revised 19476).
Philharmonia Orch/Robert Craft, cond.
NAXOS 6.10081 (5 channel) TT: 78:53

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SHOSTAKOVICH: Jazz Suite No. 1. Jazz Suite No. 2 (Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra). Ballet Suite The Bolt, Op. 27a.
Russian State Symphony Orch/Dmitry Yablonsky, cond.
NAXOS 6.110104 (5.1 channel) TT: 62:25
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BACH: Mass in B minor.
Sunhae Im, soprano; Marianne Beate Kielland, Ann Hallenberg, mezzo-sopranos; Markus Schäfer, tenor; Hanno Müller-Brachmann, bass-baritone; Dresden Chamber Choir; Cologne Chamber Orch/ Helmut Müller-Brühl, cond.
NAXOS 6.110102-3 (2 SACDs) (5.1 channel) TT: 1:48:20
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Masur's Beethoven symphonies were recorded Oct-Dec. 1972 (3, 4, 5 and 6) and Jan. 1974 (1, 2, 8 and 9) in the Gewandhaus, produced by Bernd Runge. Sonically these are among the finest examples of Pentatone's RQR recordings—original four-track recordings now released for the first time in surround sound. No effort has been made to provide center or low-frequency channels, and they are not needed. On these SACDs you will hear some of the finest, most natural orchestral sound currently available in multi-channel. There's a fine spread with the orchestra in front, ambient sound from other speakers, no spotlighting of singers or instruments, all perfectly balanced with the four soloists and chorus in the Choral symphony in ideal perspective. The performances are sturdy, not overly exciting, but very well played by the Leipzig orchestra. You won't hear the refinement of Claudio Abbado's DVD video set with the Berlin Philharmonic (see REVIEW), but there is much to enjoy here. Highly recommended!

Naxos' Stravinsky SACD is fascinating, a surround sound remake of the two famous ballets which the composer recorded for CBS 1960-1961 with a stellar pickup orchestra called the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. For over two decades conductor Robert Craft had a close association with the composer, preparing the orchestra for most of Stravinsky's recordings (including Firebird and Petrushka), so there is a stamp of authenticity about these interpretations—and a major added plus. This is the first recording of the complete original version of Firdbird which has a number of practically unnoticeable subtle changes in scoring but one very obvious one: inclusion of two valveless trumpets "on stage" in the final pages each playing a blazing note with stunning effect. One cannot help but wonder why these trumpets were omitted from the published score; CD notes state in all likelihood this is the first time these trumpets has been heard since the premiere in 1910. Craft is in the process of recording all of Stravinsky's works for Naxos; this is a most auspicious start, clearly and impactfully—although rather unresonantly—recorded in Abbey Road Studios in November 1996 (Firebird) and January 31-February 1, 1997 (Petrushka) with producer Gregory K. Squires and engineers Michael Sheady and Alex Marcou. A terrific SACD—congratulations Naxos!

Yablonsky's Shostakovich surround recording of the two jazz suites and suite from The Bolt was mentioned on this site some time ago when it appeared on DVDA (REVIEW). Here it is on SACD where it sounds equally impressive and doubtless will be easier for most collectors to access.

Naxos here offers Bach's monumental Mass in b minor, one of the greatest choral works ever composed, in an authoritative performance directed by a specialist in the repertory, Helmut Müller-Brühl, who already has made many fine recordings of choral and symphonic music of Bach, Haydn (many of the symphonies), and Telemann. Here he leads a select group of soloists and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra, which he has led for more than four decades, in this impressive performance of Bach's masterpiece, played on modern instruments "so it can meet the needs of modern concert halls." The recording was made in November 2003 produced by Ludwig Rink with Stephan Schmidt as balance engineer—they did a superb job in capturing a church atmosphere with soloists, chorus and instruments perfectly represented. There is another SACD version of Mass in b minor, on Harmonia Mundi with Cantus Cölln directed by Konrad Junghänel, which I have not heard, but the Naxos issue has the advantage of modest price. Latin text and English translation are provided.

R.E.B. (April 2005)

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