VERDI: Otello
Simon O'Neill (Otello); Gerald Finley (Iago); Anne Schwanewilms (Desdemona); Allan Clayton (Cassio); Ben Johnson (Roderigo); Alexander Tsynbalyuk (Lodovico); Matthew Rose (Montano); Lukas Jakobski (Araldo); Eufemia Tufano (Emilia); London Symphony Chorus and Orch/Sir Colin Davis, cond.
LSO LIVE LSOO700 (2 disks) TT: 64:27 & 66:54

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58. Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat, Op. 73 "Emperor."
Yevgeny Sudbin, piano; Minnesota Orch/Osmo Vänska, cond.
BIS SACD 1758 TT: 70:27

BARTÓK: Two Portraits. First Rhapsody for Violin. KODÁLY: Háry János Suite. LIGETI: Romanian Concerto.
Mihaela Costea, violin; Gulbenkian Orch/Lawrence Foster, cond.
PENTATONE SACD PTc 5186 360 TT: 76:51

Sir Colin Davis conducted two performances of Otello in London's Barbican in December 2009; this issue was taken from those (possibly rehearsals as well). Arturo Toscanini's incredibly dynamic 1947 broadcast of this opera set the standard for all future recordings. In spite of the disappointing mono sound, the vivid performance comes over, with Raymon Vinay magnificent in the title role. Since that time, dozens of recordings have been made of Otello by leading tenors who excelled as the doomed moor, including Mario Del Monaco, James McCracken, Jon Vickers and Plácido Domingo. The latter has no less than five audio recordings, and three DVDs (conducted by Riccardo Muti, James Levine and Sir Georg Solti). Simon O'Neill sings his first Otello on this new recording, and. unfortunately, he is not ready for it. The remainder of the cast, particularly Gerald Finley's Iago, is excellent—but all are sabotaged by the audio. The engineering team provides a very wide dynamic range, but singers are distant. The use of artificial thunder in the opening storm scene is ill-advised. The complete text is provided. Limited interest here.

After the success of their Beethoven symphony cycle, the Minnesota Orchestra and their conductor Osmo Vänska begin their series of the composer's piano concertos with this issue of concertos 4 and 5. The soloist is young Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin who already has made acclaimed recordings for BIS of music ranging from Haydn to Scriabin as well as concertos of Tchaikovsky, Medtner and Rachmaninoff. Sudbin is a refined virtuoso and his sound has been captured by BIS's engineers perfectly balanced with the orchestra; it is unfortunate the Minnesota Orchestra didn't participate in Sudbin's other concerto recordings. This is an auspicious beginning to what promises to be a superb cycle.

Audio buffs will welcome Pentatone's issue of Hungarian-based music played by the Gulbenkian Orchestra conducted by Lawrence Foster. These are live performances recorded at the Grand Auditorium of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon in November 2009. There's no trace of an audience and we can only assume much editing was done to eliminate audience sounds and applause. Foster, who was decorated in 2003 by the Romanian President for services to Romanian music, leads superb performances of this varied repertory which concludes with Ligeti's Romanian Concerto, an early work far removed from the composer's later music. It's a very pleasant concert, well played by any standards. Excellent audio with the orchestra in front, ambient sound from the rear. This well-filled disk (78:51) is a worthy addition to the catalog.

R.E.B. (February 2011)