SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54. DVORÁK: Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 33.
Martin Helmchen, piano; Strasbourg Philharmonic Orch/Marc Albrecht, cond.
PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 333 TT: 70:52

DVORÁK: Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53. Romance in F minor, Op. 11. SZYMANOWSKI: Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35.
Arabella Steinbacher, violin; Berlin Radio Symphony Orch/Marek Janowski, cond.
PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 353 TT: 71:44

BERG: Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6. Altenberg Lieder, Op. 4. Seven Early Songs. JOHANN STRAUSS-BERG: Wine, Womem and Song
Christiane Iven, soprano; Strasbourg Philharmonic Orch/Marc Albrecht, cond.
PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 363 TT: 59:46

Martin Helmchen has a number of superb recordings on the Pentatone label, all of which have been mentioned on this site: Mozart's piano concertos 13 and 24 (REVIEW), and Schubert's Trout Quintet (REVIEW), as well as his new release of the latter's music for violin and piano with Julia Fischer (REVIEW). This new issue of concertos of Schumann and Dvorák isn't of the level of previous releases. There are over 170 recordings of Schumann's piano concerto and this new one doesn't challenge any of the legendary performances from the past. The Dvorák concerto isn't nearly as well represented on recordings, but those by Rudolf Firkusny, Ivan Moravec and Sviatoslav Richter offer insights to this music not heard on the new disk. Young German violinist Arabella Steinbacher has received accolades for her performances in concert and with major orchestras. She already has recorded four disks for Orfeo, and now is signed with Pentatone. Her first release is this Szymanowski/Dvorák coupling, which is disappointing. Her tone, as recorded here, is rather thin, or perhaps she was too distantly miked. Szymanowski's glorious concerto is a favorite of mine: I first heard it many years ago in a pioneering recording with the great Polish violinist Wanda Wilkomirska as soloist, a recording once issued on CD. The magic of that performance as well as a later version by David Oistrakh, is not heard on this new recording. Sonically this Pentatone's release captures the rich orchestral textures of this music perfectly.

The other Pentatone issue contains three important works of Austrian composer Alban Berg (1885-1935), an major figure in the Second Viennese School along with Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern. Should you not be familiar with music of Berg, sample first the Seven Early Songs which were written at the suggestion of Schoenberg. Mahler's influence is apparent in these exquisite songs, which are far removed from Altenberg Lieder and Three Pieces, Op. 6 both challenging listening for most. Young mezzo-soprano Christiane Ivan sings the lieder with uncommon control and tonal beauty (you can also hear her in the new Concertgebouw issue of Schumann (REVIEW). Mark Albrecht and the Strausbourg Philharmonic give strong support, and Pentatone's engineering fully captures Berg's rich orchestration. Oddly, Pentatone supplies texts only in the original German and French—not in English.

R.E.B. (December 2009)