SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39. Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63
Minnesota Orch/Osmo Vänska, cond.
BIS SACD 1996 TT: 74:10

BRAHMS: Trio in A minor, Op. 114. Sonata in F minor, Op. 120 No. 1. Sonata in E flat, Op. 120 No. 2. Quintet in B minor, Opl. 115.
Lauyra Ruiz Ferreres, clarinet; Christoph Berner, piano;l Danjula Ishizaka, cello; Mandelring Quartett
AUDITE SACD 91.662 (2 disks) TT: 45:19 & 55:32

BERLIOZ: Grande Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale. SAINT-SAËNS: Orient et Occident. DUKAS: Fanfare from La Péri. MILHAUD: Suite Française. TOMASI: Fanfare Liturgiques. BOZZA: Children's Overture.
Staff Band of the Norwegian Armed Forces/Ole Kristian Ruud, cond.
2L BLU RAY AUDIO 86 / SACD (2 disks) TT: 81:16

Robert von Bahr, managing director of BIS, has had a goal since founding the company in 1973 of recording all of the music composed by Jean Sibelius, and thus far they have issued more than 60 disks devoted to the composer, all performances of the highest quality, recorded with state-of-the-art sonics. Osmo Vänska already has recorded all major work of Sibelius including all seven symphonies conducted by Neemi Järvi with the Gothenburg Symphony, and with Osmo Vänska and the Lahti Symphony. Now they have started a third set of the symphonies, this time with Vänska conducting the Minnesota Orchestra now in the sixth week of contract negotiations. Vänska was appointed music director of the Minnesota Orchestra in 2003 and his contract has been extended until 2015. Already they have recorded a fine set of the Beethoven symphonies for BIS, and started their new Sibelius cycle with a coupling of symphonies 2 and 5, which I have not heard. Now we have this superb issue of symphonies 1 and 4, recordings made in May/June 2012 in the warm acoustics of Minnesota's Orchestra Hall. High drama throughout in the lush textures of the first symphony with its many Tchaikovskian influences. The hushed opening has never been played more sensitively. The austere Symphony No. 4 here is heard with rich string sonorities, beautifully captured by engineer Jans Braun. How unfortunate that the live 1962 Stokowski/Philadelphia Orchestra (REVIEW) and the 1940 Toscanini/NBC performances don't have the benefit of sonics as heard here. This is a welcome issue on all counts.

Audite's new 2-CD set offers all music written by Brahms for clarinet solo. The composer came to the instrument late in his career; had he lived longer doubtless he would have written more for the instrument. The two sonatas of Op. 120 are sometimes played by other instruments; practically every major clarinetist has recorded them. These new recordings feature sterling young artists at the beginning of their careers. They are excellent and have the plus of Audite's rich, natural sound that places performers in your room. Another advantage is participation of the magnificent Mandelring Quartet, praised on this site for their recordings of Mendelssohn and Shostakovich. Perhaps because of the relatively brief playing time of this music (all would not fit on a single disk), Audite offers this at a reduced price.

The 2L label calls itself The Nordic Sound, reflected in much of the repertory they record as well as the fact they are based in Norway. For more information about them, visit their WEBSITE Repertory usually features solo instruments or smaller groups. Recently their releases offer a Blu Ray audio disk as well as SACD; presumably the Blu Ray offers the ultimate sound, although I doubt that many listeners would be able to tell the difference. Their latest release is a collection of performances by the Staff Band of the Norwegian Armed Forces directed by Ole Kristian Ruud. The wind ensemble (with percussion of course) plays brilliantly. The major work is the Berlioz symphony commissioned by the French government to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the July Revolution and premiered in 1840. There are three movements: Funeral March, Funeral Oration, and Apotheosis; in the original version there was a choral part usually unheard. Originally this music was written for a huge wind band (200 players); surely not that many are heard here, although we do have a mighty sound indeed. The long program (81 min) also features the colorful Saint-Saëns march originally written for military band (you can hear the orchestral version on a fine new SACD). The other works are delightful. Tomasi's Liturgical Fanfares are grand indeed, the fourth and final movement ending with an impressivbe procession. Bozza's playful overture begins as a take-off on Respighi's Pines of Rome. These recordings were made at Jar Church in Norway and the booklet gives diagrams of placement of instruments. Although recorded in a church, the sound is not very reverberant, but it is remarkably detailed with a fine sense of space. An outstanding release. The Blu Ray box sells for the price of one premium disk.

R.E.B. (April 2013)