VERDI: Otello
Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello). Krassimira Stoyanova (Desdemona). Carlo Guelfi (Iago). Barbara DiCastri (Emilia). Juan Francisco Gatell (Cassio). Paolo Battaglia (Montano). Eric Owens (Lodovico); Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orch/Riccardo Muti, cond.
CSO LIFE SACD CSOR9011303 (2 disks) TT: 136:03

BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68. Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73. Tragic Overture, Op. 81. Variations on a Theme of Haydn, Op. 56a
London Symphony Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.
LSO LIVE LSOO73 (2 disks) TT: 125:18

Winchester Cathedral Choir/Martin Neary, director

Otello is a favorite opera of Riccardo Muti, and there are several recordings available directed by him. There is a DVD recorded at 2001 at La Scala with Plácido Domingo in the title role, Barbara Frittoli as Desdemona, and Leo Nucci as Iago. Recently this site unenthustically mentioned a live performance from the 2008 Salzburg Festival with Aleksandrs Antonenko and Marina Poplavskaya (REVEW). There also is a live audio recording from Florence Maggio Musicale with Carlo Cossutta and Renata Scotto as the tragic lovers. Now Muti has again returned to Otello and we have this made during concerts in Chicago's Orchestra Hall April 7, 9 and 12, 2011, a major event in the conductor's first season as music director of the famed orchestra. Expect perfection from the chorus and orchestra, indubitably produced by countless hours of rehearsal. Muti seems to have faith in Aleksandrs Antonenko who was inadequate in the Salzburg performance. Fortunately, Antonenko is in better vocal condition here, but he still is not a memorable Otello, the only weak link in the cast. The SACD is not particularly surround, but it is very clear, and there is little resonance. This is a deluxe presentation with a handsome booklet and complete libretto.

Valery Gergiev is building up his catalog of standard repertory and has started his Brahms symphony cycle with this issue of the first two symphonies recorded live with the London Symphony in Barbican Hall in 2012: Symphony No. 1 (Sept. 22/Oct. 11), Symphony No. 2/Tragic Overture (Sept. 23/Oct. 13), Haydn Variations(Dec. 11/18). You can expect propulsive music making associated with this dynamic conductor, but in spite of efforts of the engineering team headed by John Mallinson, audio quality lacks the richness and sonority so appropriate for all orchestral music, and in particular, Brahms. Admirers of Gergiev surely will wish to investigate this, and a plus is that the two well-filled disks sell for the price of one.

The idea of recording Christmas music music in multi-channel sound appealed to Philips in the early '70's when they made four-channel recordings of many of their sessions. Now, with the advent of SACD, it is possible to enjoy their magnificent engineering in multi-channel—this site has reviewed almost all of them. We are grateful for that as most are superb in every way.Of particular interest is the famous Colin Davis 1969 Berlioz Requiem (REVIEW). It seems that forty years ago engineers really wanted to produce a sense of space and direction, unlike many more modern "surround" recordings that sometimes don't even have much of a stereo effect. Philips made this recording of Christmas carols in 1973 featuring the Winchester Cathedral Choir directed by Martin Neary, sometimes with organ accompaniment. These are simple statements of the music, very well sung. It is unfortunate Philips didn't record more music; playing time is only 48:02. Too bad Pentatone couldn't find something else to utilize unused CD space. To me, the finest Christmas set of recordings is the incredible Reader's Digest LP set of performances by a large orchestra and chorus in spectacular arrangements by Charles Gerhardt who used every trick in the trade to produce huge musical effects. The recording was made in the earl '60's, the same time the Digest recorded Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with René Leibowitz and the Royal Philharmonic. As there was a huge professional chorus available, Gerhardt made lavish choral arrangements, and the result was spectacular, a sonic wonder as well. The album, called The Joy of Christmas unfortunately is no longer available.

R.E.B. (November 2013)