BARTÓK: Bluebeard's Castle
Elena Zhidkova, mezzo-soprano; Sir Willard White, bass-baritone; London Symphony Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.
LSO LIVE SACD LSO 0685 TT: 58:53

TCHAIKOVSKY: 1812 Festival Overture, Op. 49. "Moscow" Cantata. Marche Slave, Op. 31. Festival Coronation March. Festival Overture on the Danish National Anthem, Op. 15.
Lybov Sokolova, mezzo-soprano; Alexey Markov, baritone; Mariinsky Thgeatre Chorus and Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.

BARBER: Adagio for Strings. Agnus Dei. HIGDON: Dooryard Bloom. CORIGLIANO: Elegy. ADAMS: On the Transmigration of Souls.
Nmon Ford, baritone;Gwinnett Young Singers; Atlanta Symphony Chamber Chorus, Chamber and Orchestr/Robert Spano, cond.
TELARC SACD 60673 TT: 72:31

Bluebeard's Castle was recorded live during concerts January 27-29 at the Barbican in London. It is a first-class performance that oddly begins with the brief introduction spoken by Bluebeard in English by veteran baritone Sir Willard White, who then sings the title role in Hungarian. Gergiev's performance does not challenge previous recordings conducted by István Kertész, Adám Fischer or Sir Georg Solti (whose recording is also represented on DVD (REVIEW). Mezzo Elena Zhidkova is in fine form but she doesn't hold that shattering high C at the opening of the Fifth Door. Audio is excellent and clearly defines Bartók's vivid scoring, although bass is limited. The text is provided in Hungarian and English.

About 15 years ago Philips released a CD of Russian orchestral spectaculars with Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra including the 1812 Overture. Now he has a new recording of this popular favorite, this time with the Mariinsky Orchestra and in surround sound. I had hoped to find a sonic spectacular here, but such is not the case. The Mariinsky Orchestra sounds thin as recorded here (it didn't in Gergiev's recent recording of Shostakovich's Symphonies 1 and 15 (REVIEW). Bells in the final pages of 1812 are appropriately clangorous, but the dubbed in canon are blurred—and I'm surprised Gergiev didn't use the chorus. For some collectors this disk might be worth having for the three seldom-heard works. Festival Coronation March and Festival Overture on the Danish National Anthem are interesting oddities, but the cantata Moscow has been sadly neglected. Composed in just two weeks, the cantata's six brief movements tells the story of Russian history from the foundation of Moscow to the enthronement of the first autocrat, ending with a triumphant coronation anthem which is called in SACD notes "the most grandiose piece that Tchaikovsky ever wrote." This work would be the prime reason to acquire this disk.

Telarc's new SACD called Transmigration features music composed to honor the deceased. Jennifer Higdon's Dooryard Bloom, scored for baritone and orchestra, is a gentle adaptation of Walt Whitman's poem When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, which was a response to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The most intriguing work on this disk is John Adams' On the Transmigration of Souls, written at the request of the New York Philharmonic commemorating the 9/11 attack. Scored for orchestra, choruses, children's choir and pre-recorded soundtrack, it is a moving elegy for victims of the infamous attack, richly orchestrated, with ambient sounds that include \a siren and, street and crowd sounds. John Corigliano's Elegy, written in 1965, is dedicated in memory of Samuel Barber. The program opens with Barber's famous Adagio for Strings, originally a part of his first string quartet, orchestrated at the request of Arturo Toscanini. Ever since it was broadcast after the announcement t of the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1945, it has been heard as a memorial to departed public figures. The same music ends this recording, here set by Barber for unaccompanied chorus, his setting of the traditional Latin Prayer "Agnus Dei." Performances could not be bettered—this is an outstanding recording in every way. The recording was made in September 2006 and February 2008, and Telarc's engineering staff has provided rich surround sound. Complete texts are provided. This is one of the label's finest recordings.

R.E.B. (December 2009)