KORNGOLD: Symphony in F sharp, Op. 40. Incidental Music to Much ado about nothing.
Strasbourg Philharmonic Orch/Marc Albrecht, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186373 TT: 67:41
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BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C minor
Dresden State Orch/Christian Thielemann, cond.
PROFIL SACD PH10031 (2 disks) TT: 82:57
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BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C minor
Suisse Romande Orch/Marek Janowski, cond.
PENTATON E SACD 5186371 TT: 79:47
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Erich Wolfgang Korngold's was disappointed that his efforts at serious symphonic composition were eclipsed by his magnificent film scores. He began work on his Symphony in 1949 and completed it in 1952, dedicating it to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Early reaction to the work called it too "Mahlerian" and "atonal," and some critics pointed out that it includes some themes from several of his famous film scores. It soon disappeared until Dimitri Mitropoulos discovered it and was going to perform it but his death in 1960 made that impossible. Rudolf Kempe made a pioneering recording in 1972 (with the composer's son, George, as producer), and recently the symphony has been recorded a number of times including outstanding versions by Edward Downes, André Previn, and Franz Welser-Möst. All of these are challenged by this magnificent Pentatone release with Marc Albrecht and the Strasbourg Philharmonic which he has led for the past five years. Albrecht's reading is on a grand scale, orchestral playing is impeccable, audio is demonstration quality. If you can find a copy of the Kempe version, it is well worth having; if not, the new Pentatone surely is the one to have. The suite from Korngold's early (1918) suite of incidental music for Much Ado About Nothing, heard here in the composer's later orchestral version (the original was for chamber ensemble). This is a gem in the Pentatone catalog.

Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 currently has almost a hundred recordings with notable performances by Giulini, Haitink, Furtwängler, Karajan, Jochum and Van Beinum (to mention only the best). Here are two more that belong close to the top of the select list. It is remarkable that Marek Janowski can produce a performance such as this with the Suisse Romande Orchestra. Their lighter sound can't match the sonorities of the greatest orchestras of the world, but as here recorded they are mightily effective conveying Janowski's dynamic performance. Next year, Christian Thielmann will become principal conductor of the Dresden State Orchestra, a prestigious ensemble whose previous directors have included Fritz Reiner, Bernard Haitink, Karl Böhm, Rudolf Kempe, Otmar Suitner and Giuseppe Sinopoli. Apparently this live performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 8, recorded September 14, 2009, played a major part in the orchestra's decision to give Thielmann this position. It is a grand performance in every way, and as recorded here has a sonorous "Brucknerian" sound. Because of leisurely tempi, the performance requires two disks, with no filler, and sells for the price of two disks which doubtless will be a factor for many.

R.E.B. (November 2010)

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