SAINT-SAÉNS: Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah. Le Rouet d'Omphale, Op. 31. Phaëton, Op. 39. Danse macabre, Op. 40. Le Jeunesse d'Hercules, Op. 50.Marche militaire française. Overture to La Princesse jaune, Op. 30. Une nuit á Lisbonne, Op. 63. Spartacus. Marche du couronnemennt, Op. 117.
Royal Scottish National Orch/Neemi Jarvi, cond.
CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5104 TT: 77:40
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BRITTEN: Serenade for Tenor, Horn & Strings, Op. 31. Nocturne for Tenor, Seven Obbligato. FINZI: Dies Natalis, Op. 8.
Mark Padmore, tenor; Stephen Bell, horn; Britten Sinfonia/Jacqueline Shave, director;
HARMONIA MUNDI SACD 807552 TT: 78:29
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OCKEGHEM: Missa pro defunctis. SORENSEN: Fragments of Requiem
Ars Nova Copenhagen/Paul Hillier, cond.
DACAPO SACD 6.220571 TT: 61:32
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This new Chandos SACD is exhilarating! Here we have all four of Saint-Saëns symphonic poems (Phaéton, The Youth of Hercules, Danse macabre and Omphale's Spinning Wheel) plus an assortment of other works including some that doubtless will be new to most listeners. Une nuit á Lisbonne was composed in 1880 when the composer was in Portugal. Scored for small orchestra, it is a charming miniature that he called "a little barcarolle." The rousing Coronation March was composed for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902. The greatest rarity is Spartacus written in 1863 in response to a request for "a grand concert overture." Don't expect Khachaturian in this 13-minute overture, but it does have its love theme and military episodes. And all of these are exciting interpretations! Brisk tempi prevail (except for an unusually sensuous oboe solo at the beginning of the famous Bacchanale), and the orchestra responds enthusiastically. Sonically this is among the best SACDs from Chandos, and playing time is maximum. Don't miss this one!

Benjamin Britten's Serenade, Op. 31 was composed in 1943 for Peter Pears, but it was horn virtuoso Dennis Brain who first suggested it. It is a setting of six poems by British poets focusing on night, its beauties, dreams and frightening aspects. The solo horn is featured in the prologue and epilogue. This cycle has been a staple on concert stages for decades and has been recorded numerous times including twice by Peter Pears, in 1944 with Dennis Brain as horn soloist, and later with the London Symphony and Barry Tuckwell as soloist. This new recording is superb in every way, among the finest available (and there are many), and the SACD permits us to hear the horn in the final section from a distance as Britten intended. Nocturne dates from 1958, a song cycle on the subject of dreams, both serene and disturbing, scored for tenor, seven obbligato instruments and strings.Of course Pears gave the premiere. Don't miss Video Artists International's remarkable DVD of Britten and Pears rehearsing and performing the Nocturne in 1962 with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, available from ARKIVMUSIC Inclusion of Finzi's gentle song cycle Dies Natalie is a major plus on this well-filled SACD. This is Finzi's setting of texts by 17th century poet Thomas Traherne about the innocent view of the world of a newborn child. Originally it was written for soprano, but usually is sung by a tenor. Exquisite music, perfectly performed, and beautifully recorded. Complete texts are provided. A quality issue!

Norwegian composer Bent Sorensen (b. 1958) is recognized as one of the most innovative composers, known best for his chamber music, the violin concerto "Sterbende Gärten" (which won the 1996 Nordic Music Prize), and his trombone concerto "Birds and Bells." Sorensen turns to the past in this fine new issue masterminded by Paul Hillier, who suggested Sorensen gather five fragments of requiem movements composed between 1995 and 2005, calling it Requiem In Time And Space." Hillier then combined these with Missa pro defunctis written five centuries ago by Johannes Ockeghem, heard on this wonderful new disk. It is surprising how well the two composers mesh, and of course the performance under Hillier's inspired direction is magnificent. This is a beautiful recording of music that will be new to most listeners.

R.E.B. (June 2012)

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