TCHAIKOVSKY: Hamlet, Op. 67a (Overture & Incidental Music). Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (original version).
Tatiana Monogarova, soprano; Maxim Mikhailov, bass; Russian National Orch/Vladimir Jurowski, cond.
PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 330 TT: 60:01
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CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11. Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21.
Sa Chen, piano; Gulbenkian Orch/Lawrence Foster, cond.
PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 341 TT: 74:28 (plus bonus CD)
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J. C. BACH: Sinfonias from Cantatas Nos. 12 and 21. C.P.E. BACH: Oboe Concerto in B flat. Oboe Concerto in E flat. VIVALDI: Concerto for Oboe and Strings in B flat, Op. 7 No. 1. Concerto for Oboe and Strings in B flat, Op. 7 No. 7.
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Pentatone has three winners here. There are two other recordings of Tchaikovsky's seldom-heard incidental music for Hamlet (although there are many of the overture), but this one has the advantage of state-of-the-art sonics and brilliant performances. Tchaikovsky's score consists of brief orchestral interludes, including four very short fanfares. Vocal parts are minimal: Ophélia's two scenes are less than five minutes, the Gravedigger's Song is but 1:17; however both are expertly sung by Monogarova and Mikhailov. Romeo and Juliet is presented in its original 1869 version. Tchaikovsky would prepare two further revised versions before the final one ten years later—familiar to everyone. It's fascinating to listen to the original version, but it is very obvious that the final version is superior. It's unfortunate Pentatone didn't include it as well—it would have fit on the disk. Still, this is a fascinating release. Young Chinese pianist Sa Chen already is established on the concert scene, having won a number of prestigious competitions. There have been many recordings of the two Chopin concertos, and this new one by Chen is among the best, particularly effective in both concerto's inner movements. Aa bonus DVD features her performance of the Romance from Concerto No. 1, as well as an interview.

Again, Pentatone has gone into the Philips archives, this time for master oboist Heinz Holliger's recordings of music of J.C. and C.P.E. Bach, as well as Vivaldi, recorded in 1974 in four-channel sound. Performances are perfection, the surround sound wonderfully recreates an acoustically perfect concert hall.

R.E.B. (December 2008)

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