BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14a. Le Carneval Romain, Op. 9. Benvenuto Cellini Overture. RAVEL: Daphnis et Chloé (Suite No. 2). Piano Concerto in G (Martha Argerich). La Valse. DEBUSSY: La Mer. Nocturnes. Prélude à l'après d'un Faune.
Kölner Rundfunk Choir; Kölner Rundfunk Symphonie Orchester/Gary Bertini, cond.
CAPRICCIO C 7065 (3 disks) TT: 73:37 / 51:46 / 59:46

VERDI: Messa da Requiem
Barbara Frittoli, soprano; Olga Borodina, mezzo-soprano; Mario Zeffiri, tenor; Ildar Aborazakov, bass; Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orch/Riccardo Muti, cond.
CSO LIVE CSOR 901 1008 (2 disks) TT: 89:38

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E flat "Romantic"
Minnesota Orch/Osmo Vänska, cond.
BIS SACD 1746 TT: 63:21

Israeli conductor Gary Bertini (1927-2005) had a distinguished career, mostly in Europe. Although he never held a major position with any of the major orchestras, was highly respected and invited often as guest conductor, particularly with opera companies. His EMI recording of all of Mahler's symphonies recorded 1985-1991 in Cologne and Tokyo is one of the finest sets of this music. This new release of performances recorded from 1985-1994 is rather odd. All of these performances were previously issued on Capriccio in 1996 and are still available at full price. Now we have all three on SACD in a boxed set at near-budget price. The new releases have the same numbers as the old, although they now have the SADC imprint. Although generally the sound is excellent, it is not always well-balanced—brass often is too recessed, particularly on the Ravel disk. The impression of a large hall is there, but doubtless this "surround sound" was artificially produced. Although these are identified as "live" performances, there is no sign of an audience.

With great excitement Chicago was ready to welcome Riccardo Muti as their new conductor at the beginning of this season––but he withdrew from all concerts "suffering from extreme gastric distress" and returned to Milan for treatment. All of his performances for the first part of the season were cancelled and he won't return to Chicago until early February to officially begin his tenure. This recording of Verdi's Requiem is taken from performances January 15, 16 and 17, 2009. Muti's two previous recordings remain in the catalog: 1979's EMI version with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Renata Scotto, Agnes Baltsa, Veriano Luchetti and Yevgeny Nesterenko, and the same label's 1987 LaScala recording with Cheryl Studer, Dolora Zajic, Luciano Pavarotti, and Samuel Ramey. Both are preferable to the new one as they have stronger soloists. Chicago's Orchestra Hall always has been a challenge for engineers when recording a large chorus, and here the lack of hall resonance is not flattering. The generally dry acoustic produces a dry sound, and there is little impact in the low bass. And this recording, which contains only the one work with a playing time of less than 90 minutes, has a premium price. Why didn't the producers make it two for the price of one?

Finnish conductor Osmo Vänska (b. 1953) has been leading the Minnesota Orchestra since 2003 and during his tenure has made some splendid recordings including all of the Beethoven symphonies. Now we have this performance of Bruckner's most popular symphony, played in the 1888 version which some scholars feel represents the composer's final thoughts on the work, although many others do not. Benjamin Kortsvedt's comprehensive program notes give the history of this version in considerable detail. In spite of the orchestra's superb playing, most listeners probably will prefer the more familiar second version of the "Romantic," of which there are dozens of recordings made by most major conductors of the past. Excellent sonics as always from BIS, although the "surround sound" has little but ambience coming from the rear.

R.E.B. (November 2010)