TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake Ballet
STENHAMMAR: String Quartet No. 5 in C, Op. 29. String Quartet in F minor.
String Quartet No. 6 in D, Op. 35.
Pentatone's Ring Cycle is nearing completion with this Siegfried, and this performance has many virtues. Again we have the dynamic conducting of Marek Janowski, the miraculous committed playing by the superb Berlin orchestra, and the state-of-the-art engineering that gives us the full range of Wagner's rich scoring, perfectly balanced with the singers.. With two exceptions, the case is admirable. Unfortunately those two singers are the most important. The role of Siegfried is perhaps the most difficult for a tenor, and only the greatest have had success with it, in particular in recent decades, Siegfried Jerusalem, Jess Thomas, and going back much further, Set Svanholm, Wolfgang Windgassen, Lauritz Melchior, and Max Lorenz. Stephen Gould is severely taxed by this demanding role; his lack of control and power are always present. . Brünnhilde also requires great vocal technique and stamina, qualities not possessed by Violeta Urmana. Again look (or listen) to the past and realize what this music deserves, including sopranos who had what it takes: Hildegard Behrens, Birgit Nilsson, Kirsten Flagstad, Astrid Varnay, and of course the legendary Brünhildes of the early Wagner era including Lillian Nordica, Frieda Leider , Johanna Gadski, Marjorie Lawrence, and Göta Ljungberg. You will not find singing of that quality on this new release, unfortunately. The new release is a delux thick package with the complete libretto and program notes a part of the set.
About a year ago, this site praised the Chandos issue of Tchaikovsky's complete Sleeping Beauty with the Bergen Philharmonic under Neemi Järvi (REVIEW). Now we have the second installment in this Tchaikovsky ballet series, Swan Lake. Again, this is Tchaikovsky on steroids. The senior Järvi here is in speed mode—everything is rushed, which often can be quite exciting, but the introspective moments are lost. Swan Lake should be a grand listening experience; here it is not (how unfortunate that Antal Dorati did not record it in the mid-70's with the Concertgebouw). The Danish orchestra plays very well and we do have the luxury of James Ehnes playing the many important violin solos. And right at the beginning (12 seconds in) there is an unfortunate horn mishap that annoys. The Chandos sound is full, rich and impactful. An unusual point: CD 1 has a playing time of 81:17.
BIS is surely doing what it can to popularize music of Swedish composer Wlhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927). Already they have released his best known work, the Serenade, Op. 31, as well as the two symphonies, two piano concertos, much of the solo piano music, vocal and choral music. They continue their series of his string quartets with this disk of Quartets 5, 6 including the premiere recording of a Quartet in F minor, a four-movement work Stenhammar withdrew because he was dissatisfied with the finale. The Stenhammar Quartet, formed in 2002, focuses on music by Swedish composers, but also has commissioned music by contemporary composers. Already they have recorded Stenhammar's Quartets 3 and 4. We surely may assume their performances are authoritative. The only negative on this release is the audio. Instruments are very close up; with microphones this close, we have a steely sound usually not associated with string instruments.
R.E.B. (November 2013)