DEBUSSY: Images. Jeux. Nocturnes. La Mer. Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. Marche écossaise surt un thème populaire. Printemps. Two movements from L'Enfant prodigue. Berceuse héroïque.
Royal Scottish Natioal Orch/Stephane Denève, cond.
CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5102 (2 disks) TT: 78:04 & 68:22

NÄKYJA: Arctic Scenes
Seitakuoro Chamber Choir/Johtaa Kadri Joamets, cond.
ALBA SACD NCD 43 TT: 47:05

BACH: St. John Passion, BWV 245
Gerlinde Sämann, Marie Kuljken, sopranos; Petra Noskaiová, Patrizia Hardt, altos; Christoph Genz, KnutSchoch, tenors; Jens Hamann, Walter Testolin, basses; La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken, cond.
CHALLENGE CLASSICS SACD CC72545 (2 disks) TT: 33:25 & 71:49

The recent Chandos issue of orchestral works of Saint-Saëns with Neemi Järvi conducting was a knockout in every way, both in performance and audio (REVIEW). This new Chandos issue of Debussy orchestral works with the same orchestra under its music director,Stephane Denève, is a fine release in many ways. The light textures of the Scottish orchestra are appropriate for this music, and they play very well indeed. However, as recorded here, the Royal Scottish Orchestra has a somewhat thin sound, and strings have little warmth. The orchestra sounds much richer not only on the Saint-Saëns disk, but on their superb Roussel recordings for Naxos reviewed on this site. Although this is an SACD recording, the sound picture basically is stereo, with little surround effect, although there is a welcome sense of space. I had hoped that perhaps during the brass procession in the center of Festivals we would hear this coming perhaps from the back or side, but such is not the case. Likewise, the wordless female chorus in Sirens is right up there in front. A production oddity is that the 18-minute Jeux has ten separate tracks, not a problem at all, but unusual. All of the major works on this new set are included in the Philips twin-CD set of Debussy with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink (DEBUSSY). To me, that is the way Debussy's orchestral music should sound. (REVIEW).

The Seitakuoro Chamber Choir, directed by Johtaa Kadri Joamets, has selected as its theme for their 50th anniversary The People and Nature of Lapland, reflected on this SACD. The featured work is Arctic Scenes, composed by Kullervo Karjalainen who was conductor of the choir in 1972. In these six songs, which have chamber orchestra accompaniment, the composer "paints images of Lapland's stark nature and challenging environment, and the people who struggle there." The "uncouth language" shocked audiences at the premiere forty years ago. This collection also includes songs by Timo Kurki, Jukka Kankainen, and Jan Hellberg. Surely we can assume these performances of this mostly bleak music are what they should be, but I imagine most listeners would fine little of interest here—unless you have a keen interest in varied choral music. There is an extra track on the SACD (track 20) identified on-screen as Maantieteellinen fuuga, and it is perhaps the most interesting music on the disk. This does seem to be an odd choice for SACD format. The audio is first-rate, but little use is made of the multi-channel format. Complete texts are provided in the original language and English. Playing time is only 47:05—why not more music?

This is Sigiswald Kuijken's second recording of Bach's St. John Passion. The first, made about a decade ago, is on Harmonia Mundi, now available in a five-disk set that also includes the St. Matthew Passion. Now we have this new recording of St. John recorded April 17-20, 2011 in Belgium's Academiezaal St. Truiden. Detailed program notes give the conductor's views on the music and the version he used. I much prefer Bach's music performed on modern instruments. If you enjoy the early instrument approach, this is for you. But, on two premium-priced SACDs, it is at a hefty price. Audio is clear with the hall's warm acoustics well captured, but there is little here to suggest "surround sound." Complete texts are provided.

R.E.B. (August 2012)