PUCCINI: Tosca
Montserrat Caballé (Tosca);José Carreras (Cavaradossi); Ingvar Wixell (Scarpia); Samuel Ramey (Consul); Domenico Trimarchi (Sacristan); Piero de Palma (Spoletta); William Elvin (Sciarrone); William Murray (Jailer); Anne Murray (Shepherd); Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Sir Colin Davis, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 147 (2 disks) TT: 46:17 & 58:36
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FRANCK: Symphony in D minor. CHAUSSON: Symphony in B flat, Op. 20
Suisse Romande Orch/Marek Janowski, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 078 TT: 68:25
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BECK: Symphony Op. 4 No. 1 in D. Symphony Op. 4 No. 2 in B flat. Symphony Op. 4 No. 3 in F. Overture from L'isle déserte.
La Stagione Frankfurt/Michael Schneider, cond.
cpo SACD 777 033 TT: 65:43
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It was a pleasant surprise to find the Philips 1976 recording of Puccini's Tosca in their quadro series, recorded originally in four-track sound and now, via SACD, heard for the first time in that format. The performance is excellent. Carreras was at his best, Caballé both vocally and dramatically is outstanding, and Ingvar Wixell, who recorded the role of Scarpia two other times, is appropriately menacing. The four-channel sound is splendidly spacious, but little use is made of directional effects other than the snare drum that precedes "Vissi d'Arte," which is heard coming from the rear. However, and strangely, there are no cannon to be heard in the Te Deum that ends the first act, which is acceptable, but it is inexcusable for there to be no gunshots as Cavaradossi is killed. The score specifically states guns are fired, but not in this recording! This set still is worth owning as everything else about it is first-rate, with elaborate packaging and a booklet with complete libretto.

Some of Pentatone's new surround sound recordings (non quadro) have been a bit disappointing in their use of the medium, but they surely have a winner in this superlative disk of symphonies of Franck and Chausson. Performances are idiomatic and beautifully played by the Swiss Romande Orchestra known to many collectors for their many famous recordings for Decca/London under the direction of Ernest Ansermet. Marek Janowski is now a major figure on today's conducting scene and has been music director of the Swiss orchestra since September 2005. This recording was made in Dinemec Studio, Gland, Geneva, July 2006, with producer Job Maarse. Listeners can luxuriate in rich, warm and defined orchestral sound, with a satisfying big hall sonic picture. Let us hope more will follow from this team.

Michael Schneider and the ensemble La Stagione Frankfurt continue their series of music of Franz Ignaz Beck with this disk, their third but the first in surround sound, containing the three symphonies of Op. 4, plus the overture L'isle déserte. Schneider wrote CD notes filled with tributes to Beck ("the forerunner and kindred spirit of Beethoven"), in a style of florid writing that perhaps lost some sense in translation. What we have here are the three symphonies published in 1766, each with four movements: an opening Allegro, an Andante, Minuet(s) and a final presto, surely pleasant to hear, if unmemorable. Performances by the first-rate 22-member Frankfurt early music group are extraordinary (two years ago they won a major award for an earlier recording of Beck's music). Recording engineer Karl-Heinz Stevens provides a realistic representation of a small orchestra performing in a a warm acoustic.

R.E.B. (November 2006)

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