BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique. Cléopâtre (Lyric scene)
Anna Caterina Antonacci, soprano; Rotterdam Philharmonic Orch/Yannick Nézet-Séguin, cond.
BIS SACD 1800 TT: 75:05

PROKOFIEV: Romeo and Juliet Ballet Suites
Bergen Philharmonic Orch/Andrew Litton, cond.
BIS SACD 1301 TT: 74:16

KAIPAINEN: Notkea Keaton (The Ghost of Buster/Aubade beninoise), Op. 86a. KORPIJAAKU: Amuse bouche. MERILÄINEN: Aikaviiva (Timeline).
Tampere Philharmonic Orch/Hannu Lintu, cond.
ALBA SACD 342 TT: 55:36

I had expected this Fantastique conducted by Nézet-Séguin, new principal conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, would be more dynamic , but there is no question that it is beautifully played and very well recorded. The BIS engineers have captured the composer's snarling brass with uncommon presence. But for a blazing performance of this symphony, try any of the Munch recordings, or Barbirolli, Beecham or Thomas, to mention only a few that really get to the core of this music. The lyric scene Cléopatre was an early work written in 1829, the composer's unsuccessful third attempt to win the Prix de Rome (he did win the first prize in 1830 with his cantata for tenor, chorus and orchestra Sardanapale, rarely performed today). Cléopatre is not one of the composer's better works. It is given a splendid performance by Anna Caterina Antonacci who can be seen as Carmen in a recent production from the Royal Opera House (REVIEW). Her rich voice is appropriate for this music, but I imagine most collectors would prefer more orchestral music as fillers.

There are many superb complete recordings of Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet, notably by Ashkenazy, Gergiev, Maazel and Ozawa, all with world-class orchestras. This BIS issue contains the three suites adapted by the composer which amounts to about half of the ballet. Conductor Litton has done some of his own rearranging playing all of the music in the three suites adapted by Prokofiev, but playing the music in the order in which it appears in the ballet. The Bergen Philharmonic plays well enough, but is not the equal of many orchestras that have recorded this music. Audio is fine, but little effective use is made of rear channels.

Music of three of Finland's major composers is featured on Alba's new SACD: Jouni Kaipainen (b. 1956), Paavo Korpijaakko (b. 1977), and Usko Meriläinen (1930-2004). Some of Kaipainen's major orchestral works currently are available, and now we have another important work, Notkea Keaton which actually is in two parts (The Ghost of Buster Keatre/Aubade beninoise), Written in memory of actor/musician Markku Peltola, who had tremendous life spirit and a great sense of humor—his band was called The Buster Keaton Film Orchestra. The first section was written in 2008, the second the following year after a trip to West Africa and uses some native instruments. Don't expect comic "circus" music; this work is impressionistic, dark and moody, often sparsely orchestrated, with fascinating sound combinations. The title of Korpijaakko's 16-minute Amuse-bouche, is misleading as this is a French culinary term for a little savory concoction to precede a dinner rather like an hors d'oeuvre .This violent 16-minute music would hardly aid the palate. Meritäinen's Aikaviiva (Timeline) dates from 1989 and actually is his second concerto for orchestra with the accent on percussion although always in a sensitive manner. As CD notes state, "the percussion do not spend most of their time beating drums and are in other respects, too, not noisy bests, rather they tread the border of silence or tick away as precision chronometers." There is much shimmering beauty in this score, with snippets of ideas and ornamentation tossed about then disappearing into a dark vacuum. Connoisseurs of orchestral music will find this SACD of great interest. Sound quality is superb.

R.E.B. (October 2012)