BEETHOVEN: "Ideals of the French Revolution."
"The General" for Orchestra with Soprano, Choir and Narrator. Text by Paul Griffiths. Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67. Excerpts from Egmont. Opferlied, Op. 121b
Maximilian Schell, narrator; Adrianne Pieczonka, soprano; OSM Chorus; Montreal Symphony Orch/Kent Nagano, cond.
SONY/BMG 8869740842 (2 disks) TT: 54:54 & 52:13
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MAHLER: Totenfeier. Adagio from Symphony No.10. What the Wild Flowers Tell Me (Benjamin Britten's arrangement of the 2nd movement of Symphony No. 3). Blumine.
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orch/Paavo Järvi, cond.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 50999 21657627 TT: 61:04
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BERG: Symphony No. 1 "Alles endet was entstehet." Symphony No. 2 "Arstiderno - The Four Seasons."
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Ari Rasilainen, cond,
cpo 777 324 TT: 60:52
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SALLINEN: Symphony No. 3, Op. 35. Symphony No. 5, Op. 57 "Washington Mosaics."
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Ari Rasilainen, cond.
cpo 777 970 TT: 62:40
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ROUSSEL: Symphony No. 1 "Le poème de la foret." Résurrection - Symphonic Prelude. Le marchand de sable qui passe - Incidental Music.
Royal Scottish National Orch/Stéphgane Denève, cond.
NAXOS 8.570323 TT: 64:26
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Kent Nagano, since 2006 Music Director of the Montreal Symphony, suggested this project, "The General." This is a new version of Beethoven's music for Egmont, which also includes, for dramatic effect, several excerpts from King Stephan and Leonore Prohaska. The General is an attempt to create a new updated drama between actor and orchestra. The protagonist is Roméo Dallaire, head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1993-1994, who unsuccessfully tried to avoid the approaching catastrophe. Distinguished author, critic and musicologist Paul Griffiths wrote the libretto omnitting any reference to Dallaire's specific situation but focusing on the triumph of right over evil forces. To end the work, Griffiths used a choral hymn by Beethoven, Opferlied, writing a new text for it. Maximilian Schell is the superb narrator and Adrianne Pieczonka sings Clara's brief songs. Complete texts are provided. The second disk offers Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 as well as excerpts from Egmont. Excellent audio. The two CDs sell for the price of one premium-priced disk.

Paavo Järvi, music director of of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, oddly titled "4 Movements." Totenfeier (the original first movement of the Symphony No. 2, is followed by the Adagio from Symphony No. 10, and Blumine, the original second movement of the composer's Symphony No. 1 which Mahler removed from that context 7 years after the1889 premiere. Benjamin Britten admired Mahler's music, made a recording of Symphony No. 4, and made this arrangement for small orchestra of the second movement, What the Wild Flowers Tell Me, from Symphony No. 3. I imagine most listeners would prefer to hear this in its original version. Excellent performances and sound quality, but there's little here of particular interest.

Once again we are indebted to cpo for recording seldom-heard music in superlative performances. Swedish composer Carl Natanael Berg (1879-1957) was primarily self taught, and, along with Ture Rangström, Kurt Atterberg and Oskar Lindberg, played an important part on the contemporary Swedish musical scene. Berg for some time was a veterinarian in the Swedish army. Highly Romantic in style, his output includes three ballets, five operas, and six symphonies along with several concertos and chamber music. This disk offers his Symphony No. 1 which was premiered in 1914. When writing the fourth and final movement, the Titanic disaster rocked the world, and Berg incorporated this catastrophe into his music (although the calamity, although obviously expressed in the music, by today's standards seems quite tame). The symphony has a subtitle typical of the bleakness of much German poetry: Alles endet was entstehet ("all that is born and grows will die"). Symphony No. 2 (The Seasons), called a symphonic poem in program notes, has the predictable four seasonal titles beginning with Spring. Premiered in 1916, it is always engrossing. Performances are excellent as is sonic quality. This is called Volume I of Natanael Berg's music—I look forward to future releases.

Aulis Sallinen (b. 1935) is a major figure on Finland's musical scene and we are fortunate the cpo is recording all of his major symphonic works. This CD contains his somber Symphony No. 3 written 1974-75 on a commission from the Finnish Broadcasting Organization. It is dedicated to Okko Kamu. It is a dark, absorbing work scored for a large orchestra sensitively used. Symphony No. 5 dates from 1984-85 written on a commission from the National Symphony Orchestra and premiered in the Kennedy Center with Mistislav Rostropovich conducting. It is subtitled Washington Mosaics although Washington has little to do with the music; Sallinen just liked the title. Again we have a huge orchestra with intricate, delicate scoring. There are five movements: Washington Mosaics I, Intermezzo I, Intermezzo II, Intermezzo III, and Washington Mosaics II. Again the German orchestra is in top form, and has been beautifully recorded.

This site has mentioned two previous issues in the Naxos Roussel series with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra directed by Stéphane Denève featuring Symphony No. 2 (REVIEW) and Symphony No. 3 (REVIEW). Now we have this superb performance of Symphony No. 1, Poem of the Forest, portraying Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn. Hints of Debussy and Ravel are heard throughout this exquisite music. Equally fascinating are the four movements of incidental music for the pantomime The Sandman written in 1908 about the same time as Symphony No. 1. The CD also includes Roussel's first orchestral work, Resurrection, which only hints at Roussel's later style—but it is a welcome addition to the catalog just to hear what it sounds like. Performances could not be bettered, and audio is state-of-the-art. Another terrific value from Naxos!

R.E.B. (December 2009)