Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1 / Mahler: Symphony No. 1 / Bruckner: Symphony No. 3 / Marek Janowski / Markus Stenz / Dimitri Kitajenko

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 3 in D minor.
Suisse Romande Orch/Marek Janowski, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 449 TT: 53:20

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D "Titan"
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/Markus Stenz, cond.
OEHMS SACD OC 646 TT: 52:56

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 1 in G minor, Op. 13 "Winter Daydreams." Excerpts from The Snow Maiden
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/Dmitrij Kitajenko, cond.
OEHMS SACD 668 TT: 60:40

Marek Janowski nears completion of his Bruckner symphony series on Pentatone with this fine issue of Symphony No. 3. Already issued are all of the others except for Symphony No. 2, which doubtless will be forthcoming, and the most popular symphony of all, Symphony No. 4, which Janowski recorded more than a decade ago for Virgin Classics with the ORTF Philharmonic. This is a distinguished series led by a conductor who adopts generally brick tempi but misses none of the music's grandeur. And it is from an unlikely source—the Suisse Romande Orchestra has become a major orchestra and no longer sounds like French orchestras of the past. SACD sound is excellent, with the orchestra in front.

For some year now I have admired the work of German conductor Markus Stenz (b. 1965), who has to his credit some remarkable performances of contemporary music with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (REVIEW). For six years he was music director of the Melbourne Symphony, and in 2003 was appointed conductor of the Gürzenich Orchestra, to great critical acclaim. He also is principal guest conductor of the Hallé Orchestra, and also chief conductor of the Radio Netherland's Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. Stenz is known for his work with contemporary music, particularly hat of Hans Werner Henze; he has premiered three of his operas. Stenz is now recording a Mahler cycle with the Gürznich Orchestra, and has now completed the first five. Like others in the series, the new issue of Symphony No. 1 is insightful and beautifully played, well-recorded as well. But it must compete with dozens of other recordings of this music featuring superior, richer-sounding orchestras.

This site previously mentioned Dimitri Kitajenko's recording of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 (REVIEW). His Tchaikovsky series on Oehms continues with this splendid performance coupling Symphony No. 1 with another very early work, a 15-minute suite of incidental music composed for The Snow Maiden. Many old-time collectors will remember excitement in the record world when one of the first stereo recording ever made—Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1—was issued on two-track tape, a performance made in Vienna with Hans Swarowsky on the podium. The opening of the symphony sounded glorious in stereo and sold many listeners of the value of this technique to the musical world. Now we have about two dozen recordings of this Symphony by major conductors including the most recent (and among the best), with Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra (REVIEW). Kitajenko's new recording is among the best, very well recorded, and the addition of the excerpts from Snow Maiden is a plus—but there is more music in this delightful work; it is unfortunate more of it wasn't included, as playing time on this SACD is only a tad over an hour.

R.E.B. (September 2012)