STRAUSS: Don Juan, Op. 20. Till Eulenspiegel, Op. 28. Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24. Träumerei am Kamin.
Strasbourg Philharmonic Orch/Marc Albrecht, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 310 (F) TT: 63:53
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SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in A, D. 959. 6 Moments musicaux, D. 780
Martin Helmchen, piano
PENTATONE SACD 5186 329 (F) TT: 67:18
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SCHNITTKE: Piano Concerto (1960). Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra (1979). Concerto for Piano (four hands) and chamber orchestra
Ewa Kupiec, piano/Maria Lettberg, piano; Berlin Radio Symphony Orch/Frank Strobel, cond.
PHOENIX SACD 103 TT: 73:10
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Although conductor Marc Albrech's career credentials are impressive (he has conducted major orchestras as well as opera at Bayreuth and Salzburg) this appears to be his first recording. We hear him conducting music of Richard Strauss with the Strasbourg Philharmonic of which he assumed leadership in 2006. Recordings were made last year in Palais de la Musique et de Congrès in Strasbourg, produced by the team of Wolfram Nehis and Philipp Knop who did their tasks well. However, Strauss's big-scale symphonic poems demand orchestral virtuosity and a big sound that, unfortunately, is not heard here. There's nothing special about this new recording except that it includes the brief "Dreaming by the Fireside" interlude from Intermezzo. To hear the three symphonic poems at their best, try the stunning George Szell/Cleveland 1957 recordings issued with SACD processing on Sony (89037).

Totally recommended is the Pentatone issue of piano music of Schubert played by young German pianist Martin Helmchen, who is equally at home in the mighty pages of the Sonata in A as in the gentle six shorter pieces. Superb sonic quality in this recording which was a co-production of the German Radio and Pentatone, with Job Maarse in charge of engineering.

The world of SACD surely is investigating the contemporary music scene. Here we have the three piano concertos by Russian Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) whose music has a devoted following. His imagination and whimsey are apparent in all three concertos. The first, written in 1960, is one of his earliest works and had one performance in Moscow. It then fell into oblivion until it was rediscovered in Berlin in November 2005 and performed by the artists heard on this splendid new SACD. The concerto for piano and strings dates fromn 1979, and the concerto for four hands from 1988—three years after Schnittke had a stroke and was declared clinically dead (obviously he recovered!). It was written for his wife, Irina, and Victoria Postnikova (wife of Gennady Rozhdestvensky) who gave the premiere in 1990 with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and recorded it the following year for Erato with the London Sinfonietta. Performances on the new SACD are brilliant and the recorded sound is state-of-the-art. A superb, challenging issue on all counts,.

R.E.B. (September 2008)

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