ELGAR: Symphony No. 2 in E flat, Op. 63. Sospiri, Op. 70. Elegy for Strings,
WAGNER: The Flying Dutchman Overture (original and final versions).
Wesendonck-Lieder. Träume (the fifth of the Wesendonck).
Siegfried Idyll. Prelude to Die Meistersinger.
BRUCKNER: Mass No. 3 in F minor
Sir Edward Elgar's mighty Symphony No. 2, a staple of British repertory, is almost a symbol of the country, its popularity is reflected in many recordings. ArkivMusic lists interpretations by eight British conductors including Boult, Barbirolli, Andrew Davis. Colin Davis and Handley, and non-Brits also have recorded it including Solti and Haitink. Sakari Oramo has championed music of Elgar for many years and it seems he is now recording his music for BIS beginning with this disk that also includes the Serenade for Strings and Sospiri. Oramo has been chief conductor and artistic advisor the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic since 2008. In spite of merits of this performance of the symphony, Elgar's soaring score needs a big orchestral sound which, unfortunately, is not heard here. Engineers have provided a somewhat dry, unresonant acoustic that cannot reproduce the grandeur of the score, and rear speakers are virtually silent. Most BIS recordings offer satisfying or even spectacular sonics; this one is an exception. The two other works, particularly the gorgeous Sospiri. one of Elgar's gems scored for organ, harp and strings, fare better acoustically (my favorite recording remains the 1966 EMI with Barbirolli).
This BIS Wagner collection is intriguing as it contains alternate versions of two of the composer's most popular works, the overture to The Flying Dutchman, and Träume from Wesendonck Lieder, heard in the original form as well as Wagner's own version for violin and orchestra. We hear the overture in its 1841 original form as well as the composer's 1870 version, usually heard today. It is unfortunate the orchestra isn't larger so we could hear the rich sonorities so important in this music. Nina Stemme is a leading Wagner/Strauss soprano of the day, first attracting major attention from her fine Isolde in Plácido Domingo's recording of Tristan almost a decade ago, and since has made another acclaimed recording on Pentatone (REVIEW). However, on this recording made last year in Sweden's Orebo Concert Hall, Stimme has uneven vocalism, although she does have plenty of power for the surges of sound in Stehe still! This is no competition for extant recordings by Dame Janet Baker, Christa Ludwig, Jessye Norman, to mention just a few of the many superb recordings already available. My favorite is the 1947 recording with a very young Eileen Farrell and Leopold Stokowski conducting. The beautiful Tristanesque Träume is effective arranged for solo violin and orchestra, but Katarina Andreasson's playing is perfunctory and would have benefited from more prominent miking. The BIS SACD sound is super-clear, but not very "surround."
Anton Bruckner, a highly religious man, wrote a number of choral works throughout his life including masses, settings of Psalms, motets and a requiem. Like Percy Grainger, Bruckner had an involved emotional life (see recent review of the Chandos SACD of Grainger choral music (REVIEW).. All his life Bruckner was obsessed with young women, wooing and proposing to them, but always rejected. and perhaps in his frustration he turned to writing religious music. Very early, he composed several masses that that are seldom performed. Bruckner did write three large-scale masses identified today as numbers one, two and three.. Written during a four year period beginning in the 1860s, the three masses were revised considerably over the years (as were most of the symphonies). Best known is No. 3 which has often been recorded; most collectors favor the 1971 Jochum Bavarian DG set. Now we have this fine new version from a venue that is rather surprising until one considers the changes in the sound of the Suisse Romande Orchestra. In earlier years the SRO had very much of a Gallic sound and now has an almost Germanic timbre, with rich strings and brilliant brass—all displayed in their Pentatone recordings of Bruckner symphonies reviewed on this site: No. 1 (REVIEW), No. 3 (REVIEW), No. 7 (REVIEW), and No. 8 (REVIEW) and No. 9 (REVIEW). I find this music overly-repetitive, the same ideas heard over and over, a la Philip Glass! But if this music means something to you, this is its only multi-channel recording, very well engineered although the soloists are rather far back.
R.E.B. (May 2013)