STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring. Petrushka.
Bergen Philharmonic Orch/Andrew Litton, cond.
BIS SACD 1474 TT: 69:00

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64. Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32.
Russian National Orch/Mikhail Pletnev, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186385 TT: 71:41

BRAHMS: String Quartet in C minor, Op. 51 No. 1 (version for string orchestra). SCHÖNBERG: Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4 (version for string orchestra)
Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Candida Thompson, director

There are almost 200 recordings currently available of The Rite of Spring, about half that number for Petrushka. Andrew Litton has been music director of the Bergen Symphony since 2003, and they have developed into a top-notch ensemble. Here we have their take on these popular Stravinsky ballets, and they emerge with honors. Orchestral playing is perfection, and Litton keeps things moving nicely. Litton and his orcherstra have the advantage of BIS's superb sound, which is of remarkable dynamic range. The disk is recorded at a slightly lower level than usual, but when you turn up the volume, there's plenty of impact and resounding percussion that will test your speakers.. Recordings were made in the Grieg Concert Hll in Bergen in 2008 and 2009. It is unfortunate the hall doesn't have more resonance; Stravinsky's scores would have benefitted from a warmer acoustic. And it is inexcusable for producers to provide only two tracks for the entire Rite; there should have been at least 12. .If I wish to listen to The Rite I'd choose the remarkable Karel Ancerl/Czech Philharmonic recording (although the sound hardly matches the glory of the new BIS), and if I wanted to watch a performance, I'd select the stunning Riccardo Chailly/Royal Concertgebouw performance from a DVD included in a Q Disk 13-CD set of live Chailly recordings which, unfortunately, no longer seems to be available.

For the second installment of his new Pentatone Tchaikovsky cycle, Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra offer a generous coupling of Symphony No. 5 and Francesca da Rimini. Both were recorded in June 2010 during the same period as their disk of Symphony No. 4 and Romeo and Juliet (REVIEW). This reading of Symphony No. 5 is an erratic affair with unconvincing tempo changes, and arbitrarily slow final four chords. Francesda di Rimiini is more convincing, although it doesn't match the impassioned recent recording by Gustavo Dudamel and his Venezuelan orchestra (REVIEW). Audio on the new Pentatone issue is excellent, and cymbals have a bright shimmer, which was not the case on the previous Pletnev disk.

A luxurious feast of glorious string sound can be experienced on the new Channel Classics disk featuring the Amsterdam Sinfonietta directed by Candida Thomson. The 23-member Amsterdam Sinfonietta was founded in 1988; Candida Thomson was concertmaster of the ensemble beginning in 1995, and artistic director since 2003. The Brahms quartet is heard in the version for string orchestra with an added bass part created by Marijn van Prooijen, a member of the ensemble. Early in his career, Schöenberg had said Brahms was an innovator and important in the Second Viennese School, using this quartet to prove his point. And this perhaps justifies Schönberg's Transfigured Night being included on this SACD; it, too, is heard in the verzion for string orchestra. There are dozens of recordings of this music both in the original quartet and full-string arrangements; my favorite is the impeccable Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic DGG recording. Performances on this new recording are luxurious, and the SACD sound puts listeners right in the middle—a very choice place to be.

R.E.B. (May 2011)