STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring. Firebird Suite (1919). Scherzo á la Russe. Tango No. 72.
Budapest Festival Orch/Iván Fischer, cond.

LUTOSLAWSKI: Symphonic Variations. Piano Concerto. Variations on a Theme of Paganini. Symphony No. 4
Louis Lortie, piano/BBC Symphony Orch/Edward Gardner, cond.
CHANDOS CHSA 5098 TT: 67:25

NIELSEN: Symphony No. 1, Op. 7. Symphony No. 2, Op. 16 "The Four Temperaments." Symphony No. 3, Op. 27 "Sinfonia Espansiva." Symphony No. 4, Op. 29 "The Inextinguishable." Symphony No. 5, Op. 50. Symphony No. 6 "Sinfonia Semplice." Overture and Cockerel's Dance from Maskarade. Prelude from Sir Oluf He Rides. Snefried, Suite for Orchestra. Prelude to Act II of Saul and David, Rhapsody Overture: An Imaginary Journey to the Faroe Islands. Prelude to Act III of Willemoes. Pan and Syrinx, Pastoral Scener for Orcherstra, Op. 49. Overture to Cupid and the Poet, Op. 54. Helios Overture, Op. 17
Danish National Symphony Orch/Michael Schowandt and Thomas Dausgaard, cond.
DACAPO 8.206002 6 disks (3 CDs, 1 SACD, 2 DVDs)

Currently there are almost 200 recordings available of The Rite of Spring, six in surround sound not including several DVDs that also offer multi-channel sound. Now we have this exciting new version with Iván Fischer and his virtuoso Budapest Festival Orchestra recorded in Budapest's Palace of Arts in December 2010. Fischer's interpretation is dynamic, his attention to detail extraordinary. The Rite's final Sacrificial Dance is exciting indeed. This Firebird suite also is distinctive, marked by lush string sonorities and pointed brass interjections. It, too, builds to a thunderous climax. The two short pieces are appropriate fillers. Audio is superb—producer C. Jared Sachs and his crew give us a broad sonic picture with the orchestra in front, rear channels adding another dimension. Because of the resonant acoustic, lower percussion doesn't have the impact some audiophiles would like. Still these are among the finest recordings of both major works.

Chandos began their series of orchestral works of Witold Lutoslawski with a fine disk of the first two symphonies and the well-known Concerto for Orchestra; the second disk was devoted to works for soprano (Lucy Crowe) and orchestra, all with the BBC Symphony conducted by Edward Gardner. Now we have Volume III with the same orchestra and conductor, and this one is a SACD in effective surround sound, orchestra in front but, as with the Stravinsky mentioned above, with rear channels adding presence. Sonically this is glorious capturing every bit of the rich orchestral textures. Symphonic Variations, an early work written when Lutoslawski was a student in Warsaw Conservatory, was called "ugly" by his conservative teacher. The brilliant Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Lutoslawski's inventive treatment of the theme that inspired so many composers, particularly Rachmaninoff, was composed in 1941 for two pianos,. In 1978 he arranged it for piano and orchestra at the request of Felicja Blumental. The Piano Concerto was written 1987-88 for Krystian Zimerman who gave the premiere at the 1988 Salzburg Festival with the composer conducting; the following year the pianist recorded it with the composer leading the same orchestra heard on this new recording, the BBC Symphony. This was reviewed on this site by S.G.S about a decade ago (REVIEW). Symphony No. 4 dates from the composer's final years; he conducted the premiere in 1993 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic a year before his death. It is a somber work that ends with a brief jest. The BBC Symphony is in splendid form, and as mentioned earlier, audio is exemplary.

The DACAPO Nielsen is an odd but welcome set. The six symphonies were issued on DVD about six years ago (REVIEW), and now these performances are issued on regular CD, along with the DVD issues. The SACD of other orchestral works was reviewed on this site about five years ago (REVIEW). Now the label has coupled all of this and we have all of the symphonies in studio recordings made May 1999 through September 2006, as well as live performances filmed November 2-4, 2000, plus the SACD of the other orchestral works. And these are budget priced! Remarkable value in every way.

R.E.B. (February 2012)