BETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36. Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II.
Sally Mathews, soprano; Tamara Mumford, contralto; San Francisco Symphony Chorus and Orch/Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.

ELGAR: The Dream of Gerontius. Symphony No. 1 in E flat, Op. 55.
Peter Auty, tenor; Michelle Breedt, mezzo-soprano; John Hancock, baritone; Colleg Vocal Gent; Royal Flemish Philharmonic Orch/Edo de Waart, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186473 (2 disks) TT: 2:22:23

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E flat "Romantic"
Suisse Romande Orch/ Marek Janowski, cond.
PENTATONE SACD 5186 450 TT: 63:27

Michael Tilson Thomas continues his impressive Beethoven series with this issue featuring the seldom-heard Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, coupled with Symphony No. 2 (already issued are symphonies 3, 5, 7 and 9). Thomas always has shown interest in Beethoven's choral music; more than two decades ago he recorded a disk with the London Symphony of late choral music of the composer. This cantata , a a big-scale funeral cantata for the beloved Joseph II who died in 1790 at the early age of 49. Beethoven was only 19 and wrote this music at the suggestion of Professor Eulogies Íchneider, with a text by Severin Anton Averdonic, For various reasons, the cantata wasn't performed until 1885. Brahms considered it to be a masterpiece. There are traces of later Beethoven; he even used one of the themes years later in Fidelio. Surely this performance by MTT is an important addition to the catalog, as is the sprightly account of the second symphony. Excellent sound as usual from the engineers, for these performances recorded live during the orchestra's Beethoven Festival.

Elgar enthusiasts will delight in Pentatone's new issue of the composer's major choral work, The Dream of Gerontius. Elgar had composed other large choral works, The Black Knight, King Olaf, and Caractacus but when he decided to write an oratorio on Gerontius he faced many problems. Set to a poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman, in which the dying Gerontius, with friends and a priest by his side, has a dream in which he meets his guardian angel who takes him to appear before God. It is a story of a soul's journey (including passing demons), toward death, judgment before God and final entry into purgatory. Throughout the work we have choruses of angels, and there are no "big" choral effects. Almost the entire score is gentle and serene—and very beautiful indeed. This oratorio has been a favorite of many major conductors. This performance, recorded February 2013 in Concert hall de Singel, Antwerpen, is superb in every way, with Peter Auty a sensitive Gerontius. Engineering captures resonant acoustics of the venue admirably. It is surprising that texts are not provided—that would have been helpful for most listeners. The two-disc set is generously filled with another outstanding performance, Elgar's Symphony No. 1, which also benefits from excellent engineering. There is much competition on record for this symphon including historic recordings by Barbirolli, Boult and Solti, but this new one has much to offer.

Marek Janowski concludes his Bruckner series on Pentatone with this issue of the composer's most popular symphony, the "Romantic." This is his second recording; some years ago he recorded it with the ORTF Philharmonic. Although this new recording has much to offer including the fine playing of the Swiss orchestra and Pentatone's remarkable audio, this is a performance that lacks continuity and seldom reaches the heights of grandeur heard in many other recordings, particularly those by Abbado, Haitink, Furtwängler, and Karajan.

R.E.B. (November 2013)