BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68.|
Hamburg Philharmonic Orch/Simone Young, cond.
OEHMS SACD OC 675 TT: 49:46

SHOSTAKOVICH: Six Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87. SHCHEDRIN: Polyphonic Pieces. Basso Ostinato. Preludes and Fugues. Toccatina-Collage.
Joachim Kwetzinsky, piano
2L SACD 063

IVES/BRANT: A Concord Symphony. COPLAND: Organ Symphony.
Paul Jacobs, organ; San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.

Simone Young has made some mightily impressive recordings, particularly three symphonies of Bruckner and a video of Poulenc's Dialogue of the Carmelites, but this new issue of Brahms disappoints. It begins powerfully, with a slow tempo and heavy timpani, but the pulse weakens, orchestral playing is undistinguished, string attacks are slack, and the solo oboe is particularly sour. This was recorded on two days in March 2007, but the engineering team is not as successful as they were in Young's Bruckner recordings: the sound is cavernous and ill-defined. Another debit is there is no filler (all other multi-channel issues have generous fillers). As of this writing, these SACD recordings of this popular symphony are available: Iván Fischer/Budapest Festival Orchestra on Channel Classics, Marek Janowski/Pittsburgh Symphony on Pentatone, Semyon Bychkov/Cologne WDR Orchestra on Avie, and Roger Norrington/Stuttgart Radio Symphony on Hännsler Classics (although there are a number of DVDs). This new release is not competitive.

The brilliant young Norwegian pianist Joachim Kwetzinsky has a fabulous technique and an obvious interest in challenging repertory. Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) and Rodion Shchedrin (b. 1932) were close friends and each wrote 24 preludes and fugues as a tribute to J. S. Bach whom they both admired. Kwetzinsky has alternated preludes and fugues from both composers into what is here called Polyphonic Dialogues, and it is a terrific listening experience. The pianist has chosen wisely. We have a varied program alternating classic style with the modern jazz-influenced approach of the two Russian composers. This superb issue on 2L offers piano sound as natural as you will hear. The only debit is packaging, which has a glued-in booklet that is awkward to use.

Now that Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have completed their fine Mahler series they turn to more modern music, another specialty of the conductor. He already has recorded most of the composer's major works for RCA, Sony and DGG, with the Boston and Chicago Symphonies, and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, as well as the Holidays Symphony issued several years ago in the San Francisco Symphony's commendable Keeping Score series. Ives' Piano Sonata No. 2 was "an attempt to present (an) impression of the spirit of transcendentalism that is associated in the minds of many with Concord, Mass., of over a half century ago." There are four movements: Emerson, Hawthorne, The Alcotts, and Thoreau. Canadian-born Henry Brant (1913-2008) was fascinated by this sonata and spent more than three decades orchestrating it. With its rich sonic textures, this version is far removed from the original solo piano creation, but it is an important work for those interested in Ives—and this brilliant performance is an exhilarating listening experience. Equally welcome is Copland's Organ Symphony, composed at the suggestion of Copland's teacher, Nadia Boulanger, who came to America to play the solo part in the premiere which took place in New York in 1925. These recordings were made during concerts in Davies Symphony Hall February 3-6, 2010 (Concord), and September 22-25, 2010. Engineers have given us an outstanding sonic treat, with every bit of rich orchestration vividly conveyed, as well as the thundering sound of the hall's organ. An outstanding release!

R.E.B. (February 2011)