"Come Away, Death"
KORNGOLD: Come Away, Death. PLAGGE: Södergran-sanger. SIBELIUS: Come Away, Death. RATKJE: HVII. FINZI: Come Away, Death. MUSSORGSKY: Songs and Dances of Death
Marianne Beae Kielland, mezzo-soprano; Sergei Osadchuyk, piano
2L SACD 64 TT: 63:32

JIANPING: Flying Song. SHENG: Flute Moon. SHUI-LONG: Bamboo Flute Concerto. YI: The Ancient Chinese Beauty.
Michala Petri, recorder
Copenhagen Philharmonic Orch/Lan Shui, cond.
DA CAPO SACD 6220603 PT: 71:29

DOHNÁNYI: String Quartet No. 1 in A, Op. 7. Ruralia Hungarica, Op. 32d, for cello and piano. String Quartet No. 3 in A minor, Op. 33.
Václav Bernásek, cello; Jaromir Klepác, piano; Kocian Quartet
PRAGA SACD 250268 TT: 62:01

Death is the subject of 2L's new SACD, a group of lieder by Korngold, Plagge, Sibelius, Ritkje, and Finzi,and the major work Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death. Ratkje's 20-minute HVII was commissioned by the Nordland Musikkfestucke Festival in 2008, where the premiere was given with the singer on this SACD. Program notes apologize that "it is impossible to make an English translation of this piece," but I doubt many listeners will care to listen twice to this ugly "music." Soprano Kielland's voice is insecure, not a problem at all with the Ratjke, but surely with all of the other works. Audio quality is excellent, and all texts (except for HVII) are provided. This is a disc of limited appeal.

Michala Petri (b. 1958) began playing the recorder when only three years old and went on to become the world's leading performer on the instrument. Her numerous recordings of standard repertory were staples for collectors decades ago and many are still in the catalog. She also has a keen interest in contemporary music and has commissioned many works. This splendid Da Capo issue offers music by four contemporary Chinese composers. These are not miniatures; they are substantial evocative showpieces for soloist and orchestra. Tang Jianping (b. 1955) wrote his three-movement Flying Song for the Chinese dizi (bamboo flute) accompanied by a Pan-Asian ensemble, heard here in a version with western orchestra. China's best-known composer, Bright Sheng (1955), wrote his Flute Moon on a commission from the Houston Symphony which gave the premiere in 1999 with Christopher Eschenbach on the podium. This music was inspired by Chi Lin, the Chinese unicorn also known as the "dragon horse." The two movements (Chi Lin's Dance/Flute Moon) are a virtuoso display for the solo piccolo which is often accompanied by dynamic percussive orchestral outbursts. Ma Sui-long (b. 1939) wrote his best-known composition for the Chinese dizi (bamboo flute), an instrument with a rather piercing sound because of an extra hole covered with a membrane. The music successfully fuses eastern and western music. Chen Yi (b. 1953) was the first woman in China to receive a master's degree in composition. Since then, she has received many awards both for her music and her teaching. The Ancient Chinese Beautyhas three movements inspired by ancient Chinese totems and clay figurines written to showcase Petri's instruments. It was premiered in April 2008 in Beijing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Denmark and the People's Republic of China. All of these performances were recorded in Copenhagen's Royal Danish Academy of Music in April 2010 and must be considered definitive. Audio quality is outstanding. A terrific release!

Music of Hungarian master composer/pianist Erno Dohnányi has been neglected in the concert hall but fortunately many of his fascinating works have been recorded; many have been reviewed on this site: check CD INDEX. This is Praga's third SACD devoted to Dohnányi's chamber music. It features the first and third string quartets along with the only one of his seven piano pieces called Ruralia Hungarica that the composer transcribed for cello and piano. These are hardly substantial repertory works, but they are pleasant enough and very well played by the Czech quartet which for four decades has been recognized for their high standards. For many listeners, the pickup will be too close for comfort—we really do hear the sound of rosin on strings.

R.E.B. (November 2010)