WAGNER: Highlights from Der Ring des Nibelungen
Soloists/The State Opera of South Australia/Adelaide Symphony Orch/Asher Fisch, cond.
MELBA SACD MR 3011133/34 TT: 2 hr. 34 min.

BRAHMS: Clarinet Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 120 No. 1. Clarinet Sonata No. 2 in E flat, Op. 120 No. 2. SCHUMANN: Three Fantasy Pieces, Op. 73. Lieder transcriptions, Op. 57 Nos. 4, 3 and 8
Paul Dean, clarinet; Stephen Emmerson, piano
MELBA SACD MR 301138 TT: 63:23

SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 6 in C, D. 589. Symphony No. 7 in B minor "Unfinished."
Royal Flemish Philharmonic Orch/Philippe Herreweghe, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 446 TT: 56:27

The 2004 Australian Opera production of Wagner's Ring, the first fully staged production in that country, has received enthusiastic reviews, and for good reason. It is a powerful, solid presentation of Wagner's masterpiece. The orchestra, under Asher Fisch's inspired conducting, plays beautifully, and the cast is superior to what is heard in many opera houses today. Particularly outstanding are Linda Gasteen's Brünnhlde, John Bröcheler's Wotan, Stuart Skelton's Siegmund, Gary Rideout's Siegfried and Deborah Riedel's Sieglinde. All sing with vocal security and interpretive insight, and would be welcomed in any major opera house. These 2 well-filled-disks are welcome for those who don't care to invest in the entire set. It also would be a welcome addition to those who have many other recordings of The Ring. Of necessity, we have a few "bleeding hunks" where fadeouts are necessary, but we do have many of the most important sections: including Rheingold's opening and close, from Walküre we have the love duet, Battle Cry and Wotan's Farewell, the opening and closing scenes from Siegfried, the Rhine Journey and Funeral Music, and the Immolation Scene from Götterdammerung. This is a deluxe presentation in every way, with a handsome 128-page booklet containing pictures and bios of all of artists involved, and photos of the actual production which are impressive. Texts are provided for all of the music included in this set, in German and English. Recommended! And mention should be made of audio quality—it is rich, resonant and well-balanced, with plenty of impact to satisfy audiophiles. Recommended!

Several years ago this site mentioned a fine Mozart SACD featuring clarinetist Paul Dean (REVIEW). Now we have another lovely record from Melba, The Romantic Clarinet, a program of Brahms and Schumann played by Paul Dean who is a major figure on Australia's music scene as director of the Australian National Academy of Music. He was principal clarinet with several orchestras and has given many recitals and concert appearances. He obviously is a master of his instrument as evidenced by the performances heard on this superb disk. He's accompanied by another fine Australian artist, pianist Stephen Emerson, who has wide recognition for chamber music performances. The three transcriptions of lieder from Op. 57 and the three fantasy pieces by Schumann are gentle complements to the two mighty sonatas. The rich sounds of clarinet and piano are captured with uncommon warmth and presence.

Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe enjoys a lustrous career as a conductor of both choral and symphonic music. He is highly respercted for his emphasis on original instrument styles, and his repertory ranges from Bach to contemporary. Herreweghe has made countless recordings including a distinguished series for Pentatone with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic Orchestra of which he was music director 1997-2000. Already issued. along with a complete set of the Beethoven symphonies, is his acclaimed performance of Schubert's "Great" C major symphony, and this new disk offers the composer's "Little" C major symphony, No. 6 in C, and the Unfinished, which today is usually called Symphony No. 7 although many, including myself, always will consider it to be No. 8. These are vital performances with tempi that seem just right, although the second movement of the Unfinished does seem a bit brisk. Orchestral playing is outstanding, and SACD audio is excellent, with a fine sense of space and presence. Outstanding!

R.E.B. (August 2012)