Off the shelf

Peter Breiner, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra; Janacek Orchestral Suites from the Operas Vol. 3 (Naxos) ****

I am a fan of volume I and II in this series of orchestral suites drawn from Janacek’s various operas. Peter Breiner is both an able composer and conductor. He has produced a number of successful orchestrations and arrangements for Naxos, but his work arranging Janacek’s operas into orchestral suites is his best to date. In this recording, which includes two suites, one from the “Cunning Little Vixen” and the other “From the House of the Dead” is helped by a dearth of orchestral music in both operas for Breiner to work with. As was the case with the previous two releases in this series, this recording will undoubtedly introduce Janacek’s rarely heard operas to new listeners and give Janacek fans a new way to experience the composer’s operas.

Antoni Wit, Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra; Krzystof Penderecki, Utrenja (Naxos) ***

Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus continue their survey of Penderecki’s music with a commanding performance of “Utrenja.” Wit and his Polish musicians are a familiar name among the Naxos family of recordings. Wit has been called classical music’s most recorded conductor because of the millions of CD’s in circulation containing his handy work. But, it is the 20th Century Polish repertory where Wit’s authoritative interpretations have left a lasting mark. “Utrenja” follows a simple and predictable liturgical arc. The work is divided in two parts. Part I deals with the death of Jesus, and part II addresses Jesus’s resurrection. Part I was composed first and dedicated to Eugene Ormandy. Part I’s success led West German Radio to commission and perform part II. There is one significant downside with this album; the notes omit texts for the sung parts of the work.

Andreas Delfs, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; Roberto Sierra, Missa Latina “Pro Pace” (Naxos) ***

Born in 1953, Roberto Sierra is unabashedly tonal and freely references his Puerto Rican heritage in the music he writes. In the liner notes, Sierra says the inspiration for “Missa Latina” came from childhood memories of celebrating mass in Puerto Rico. A person could argue that Sierra’s Latino inflected music is ill suited for a mass setting. But, such an argument would ignore the varied ways and styles Catholics around the world celebrate mass. Somber masses are plentiful in the classical music repertory; with the “Missa Latina,” Sierra has given the classical music world a piece that is both traditional and completely unlike the masses that have come before. Having previously performed and recorded Sierra’s music, the Milwaukee Symphony understands the composer’s idiom and this shows in the orchestra’s fine playing on this album.

Paavo Jarvi, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra; Gustav Mahler, Mahler: 4 Movements (Virgin) ****

In this new album, Virgin has released a compelling new addition to the saturated Mahler catalog. Rather than trotting out another recording of one of Mahler’s nine symphonies, Jarvi and Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, have put together a program that considers four orchestral movements from four different symphonies (Blumine; Totenfeir; Adagio from Symphony Nr. 10 and “What the Flowers Tell Me” from the Symphony Nr. 3). As the liner notes read, “One of them was discarded, another revised and two can be performed as self-contained entities.” This album’s appeal shouldn’t be limited to Mahler aficionados; the performances are so ingratiating and beautifully played anyone can find something to like on this disk. Jarvi’s cool-headed Mahler probably wouldn’t work in an outright recording of the Symphony Nr. 2 (represented by the early Totenfeir) or Symphony Nr. 3 (which shows up on this album in Benjamin Britten arrangement of the second movement) but it is appropriate for these four, disjointed symphonic movements. Jarvi’s turns Mahler’s disparate movements into a program that is free of angst and a joy to hear.

Neville Mariner, Academy of Saint Martin in the Field; Le Ballet Francais, (Phoenix) *

This three CD set from Phoenix is a disaster. An epic fail, if you will. Phoenix recently acquired Capriccio’s catalog and a few months back began releasing three disk budget sets. The concept of a budget set, comprised of previously released recordings isn’t new, but most try to include good, but out of print or collectible recordings that have been eliminated from the catalog. This set does neither. The recording of Chopin’s “Les Sylphides” is the only adequate piece in the set. The recording is beautifully played, but completely ignored in the notes. To its benefit, “Les Sylphides” was also ignored by the harsh chop and jam treatment other pieces in the set received. “Le Boite a Joujoux” is unnecessarily narrated with no French to English translation to help interested listeners understand what is being said. Other pieces suffer from arbitrary editing including “Giselle” and “Coppellia.” The performances across all three disks are mostly lifeless.

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