SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 5 in E flat, Op. 82. Symphony No. 7 in C, Op. 105. En Saga, Op. 9.
Boston Symphony Orch/Sir Colin Davis, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 177 TT: 71:40
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BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21. Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Op. 55 "Eroica."
Royal Flemish Philharmonic/Philippe Herreweghe, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 313 TT: 72:55
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SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47. Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok, Op. 127.
Philadelphia Orch/Christoph Eschenbach, cond.
Yvonne Naef, mezzo-soprano; Juliette King, violin; Hai-Ye Ni, cello; Christoph Eschenbach, piano (songs)
ONDINE SACD 1109-5 TT: 78:15
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Pentatone has already released a disk of original four-track versions of music of Sibelius (Pohjola's Daughter, Karelia Suite, Valse triste) and Tchaikovsky (Romeo and Juliet and 1812 Festival Overture) recorded in the late '70's, played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra directed by Sir Colin Davis (see REVIEW). Now we have more recordings made at the time, two more symphonies and the symphonic poem En Saga. Collectors should rejoice! This is a magnificent addition to the SACD catalog. Davis would later record all of these Sibelius works with the London Symphony (sometimes twice), but to many, these Boston recordings are the best. The surround sound is superb in every way, placing the listener in an ideal seat in Boston's Symphony Hall. Don't miss this one!

It seems odd that Pentatone would have another Beethoven symphony series when they already have a superb set with Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (see REVIEW). The Masur recordings, made in 1972 and 1974, were original four-track Philips recordings, but sonically are outstanding with sound superior to most modern digital SACD releases. Pentatone has already released Herreweghe's recordings of symphonies 5 and 8 with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic. Symphonies 1 and 3 were taped June 26-29, 2008 in the Concertgebouw, Brugge in Belgium. Producer Andreas Neubronner and balance engineer Markus Heiland have done a splendid job in capturing the rich sound of these dynamic performances; surely this Eroica is superior to the new Andrew Manze version with the Helsingborg orchestra.

Christoph Eschenbach's Shostakovich disk is a ponderous account of the Fifth, one of the longest ever recorded. It is powerful in its own relentless way, but the magic is missing although the last movement's closing makes quite a statement. The Philadelphians play superbly, but Ondine's engineering is not always well balanced. This recording is rather far down on the list of preferred versions of the composer's most popular symphony. As with previous Ondine Eschenbach/Philadelphia issues, the coupling is non-orchestral, in this case the Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok. Shostakovich composed these seven songs in 1967 with soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, and violinist David Oistrakh in mind. The composer wasn't well enough to play the piano part t the Moscow premiere, so it was played by Moisei Vainberg. Vishnevskaya and Rostropovich recorded the cycle in 1974 with violinist Ulf Hoelscher and pianist Vasso Devetzi for EMI. Eschenbach and his fellow artists give a fine performance of this sombre music, and are recorded with more accuracy than heard in the symphony. Complete texts are provided.

R.E.B. (May 2008)

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