BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98. 8 Hungarian Dances.
Pittsburgh Symphony Orch/Marek Janowski, cond.
PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 309 TT: 57:01
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SIBELIUS: Six Humoresques, Opp. 87 and 89. Two Serenades, Op. 59. Suite, Op. 117. Swanwhite for orchestra, Op. 54.
Pekka Kuusisto, violinist/conductor/Tapiola Sinfonietta
ONDINE SACD ODE 10745 TT: 64:14
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"The Floral Dance" - a collection of songs made famous by Peter Dawson sung by bass-baritone Greg Yurisich with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Lloyd-Jones
MELBA SACD M R 301109 TT: 70:27
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With this release of Symphony No. 4 recorded during concerts in November 2007 in Heinz Hall, Pentatone has completed their Brahms symphony cycle with Marek Janowski and the Pittsburgh Symphony. This performance of the mighty Brahms 4, although well played, isn't up to the level of Janowski's Brahms 1st (see REVIEW), and the fillers of eight Hungarian dances are less than generous (total playing time is only 57:01). Although the production and engineering staff are the same as on previous releases, the sound is not quite as realistic.

Jean Sibelius's music for violin and orchestra, other than his concerto for the instrument, is seldom heard. Here we have a pleasant collection featuring the relatively familiar Six Humoresques written in 1917, the two brief Serenades from 1912-1912, and the Suite, Op. 117. The latter, completed in 1929, was the last work of Sibelius to receive an opus number. Because of a conflict between Sibelius and his publisher, the suite was not published, but, rediscovered, had its premiere on the composer's birthday December 8, 1990. Intended for an American audience, there are three very brief movements with English titles: Country Scenery, Evening, and In the Summer, the latter a virtuoso perpetual motion with the soloist accompanied by pizzicato strings Completing the disk we have a suite from incidental music for Strindberg's play Swanwhite written much earlier (1908). All of these are minor works of Sibelius, but receive excellent performances from Pekka Kuusisto, who won the Sibelius Violin Concerto Competition in 1995, and has an active concert career, with the conductorless Tapiola Sinfonietta. Excellent sonics, with natural perspectives.

Australian bass-baritone Peter Dawson (1882-1961) was famous all over the world through his recitals and recordings. He was a superb singer with a strong technique, with flawless diction. Although he was effective in more serious repertory, he preferred the concert stage to the opera house, and in 1984 was chosen by the Guinness Book of Recorded Sound as one of the top singers on disk of all time (Elvis Presley and Enrico Caruso were also on the list). "The Floral Dance" is a delightful SACD of 20 songs associated with Dawson, often humorous in subject, superbly sung by bass-baritone Gregory Yurisich. This is a highly entertaining collection in every way. It sounds as if everyone involved is having a great time. Profuse program notes tell you what you need to know about Dawson, and complete texts are provided. This is a class production, highly recommended!

R.E.B. (October 2008)

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