COWELL: Synchrony. Piano Concerto.HARRISON: Conceerto for Organ with Percussion Orchestra. VARÈSE: Amériques.
Jeremy Denk, piano; Paul Jacobs, organ; San Francisco Symhony/Michael Tilson Thomas, cond..
SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY SFS 0056 TT: 73:23
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SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 11, Op. 103 "The Year 1905."
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orch/Mark Wigglesworth, cond.
BIS SACD 1583 TT: 63:41
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BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch/Herbert Bloomstedt, cond.
QUERSTAND 708 TT: 69:45
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This new SFO/MTT SACD is a winner in every way. The concept, American Mavericks, is appropriate, and we have stunning performances of works by important American composers. All of this music startled audiences of the time and all of the composers were major innovators in the musical scene. Henry Cowell (1897-1976) was a real pioneer when he wrote his Synchrony in 1931. It was premiered in Paris that year; Leopold Stokowski gave the American premiere the following year. Synchrony was intended to be a collaboration with Martha Graham combining dance, music and lighting, a project never completed. It begins with a lengthy trumpet solo and ends with a blaze of percussion, a fascinating work, as is the piano concerto dating from the same period. Both of these, particularly the concerto, display the composer's tone cluster concept in which the pianist plays many notes with forearms as well as fingers—rather like "kitten on the keys," but intriguing to hear. Jeremy Deak plays the work to perfection. Lou Harrison's organ concerto dates from 1972-73, a showcase for the soloist who is surrounded by vivid percussion effects. This is a highly enjoyable work played brilliantly by Paul Jacobs. And to end, we have one of the best-known works of Edgard Varèse, born in France who can be considered an American; he became an American citizen in 1927 and spent most of his life in the U.S. Amériques was his first major work, and with its unusual orchestration (including heavy percussion and sirens) it created a sensation at its premiere, and still surprises audiences. All of this music is played magnificently by the SFO, and enthusiastic audience response is included. Audio is outstanding and beautifully balanced—audiophiles will have a field day with this one.

I've always been impressed with British conductor Mark Wigglesworth who first came to the attention of the musical world in 1989 when he won the Kondrashin Prize in Holland. I've heard some mighty broadcasts of performances with the RCOA, and he shows the same strengths in his distinguished series of all of the Shostakovich symphonies recorded for BIS with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. This new issue of the powerful Symphony No. 11 is among the finest you will ever hear, and the intense reading and superlative playing by the Dutch orchestra are captured with remarkable fidelity by the BIS engineers—the lower sounds of the orchestra are impressive indeed. This site has reviewed many CDs of this symphony, most recently one featuring the Toronto Symphony directed by Peter Oundjian (REVIEW), as well as the pioneering Leopold Stokowski 1958 Houston recording (REVIEW). Those who love this symphony surely should investigate this new version with Wigglesworth. Now only Symphony No. 15 has yet to be issued by BIS. I look forward to it.

Highly respected conductor Herbert Bloomstedt has made countless quality recordings over the years with orchestras of which he was music director: Oslo Philharmonic, Royal Danish Symphony, Dresden State Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, NDR Symphony, and, most recently, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, which he led from 1998 to 2005. Bruckner figures prominently in his discography; he has recorded six of the symphonies either in Leipzig or Dresden, or both for symphonies 4 and 7, with another Bruckner 4 in San Francisco. This performance of Symphony No. 7 recorded in Leipzig live in 2006, previously was issued on CD and now on SACD. It surely is among the finest of this oft-recorded symphony (currently ArkivMusic lists more than three dozen recordings by major conductors). The sound is rich and full but not particularly "surround."

R.E.B. (November 2012)

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