This SACD from PentaTone was recorded originally in 1970, not long after he’d made his official debut as an organist. (His organ recitals are notable for being played from memory.) The performances were taken down in the then-new quadraphonic system & released on Philips LPs. But of course quadraphonic LPs were a less than ideal carrier for the 4ch sound on the tapes. Fortunately PentaTone, a company founded by ex-Philips personnel, has been reissuing quad recordings on SACDs remastered from those tapes & they sound spectacularly lifelike. They are, of course, in 4ch sound, not the 6ch that the modern SACD system is capable of.
GREATEST EVER! is Union Square Music’s select, best-selling label, utilising the very best repertoire from key major labels, Greatest Ever’s 3CD box sets are some of the strongest multi-artist compilations on the market, with the greatest ever songs.
The Russian composer Elena Langer, now resident in Britain, draws on influences from her native country (Shostakovich, especially in the chamber orchestration of these songs), from Britain (from Britten to Thomas Adès), and from continental Europe. As a song composer she is able to convey lightness even when dealing with serious material such as the title song cycle setting poems by Lee Harwood (most of the songs on the album are in English). These songs subtly depict love triangles, some of them with both straight and gay elements. Even better are the genuinely playful pieces.
Kiri Te Kanawa does well by these songs, avoiding the billowing excesses of sentiment that in other hands (or vocal chords) can make them sound much too soggy. Although Berlioz gathered them all together under the present title, all of the songs were composed at different times for different singers, so they aren't really a cycle at all. I seldom listen to all of them at once, and you should feel free to take them in any order that suits you. "The Death of Cleopatra" is an early cantata that perfectly suits Jessye Norman's stately delivery. She's always at her best playing royalty, and if they're dying in mortal agony, so much the better.
Liszt’s Dante Symphony is a work of astonishing imagination. His evocation of the ‘Inferno’, the shade of Francesca da Rimini and her sad remembered love is marked by strokes of genius which, with bewildering frequency, pre-empt the mature Wagner (who was, incidentally, the dedicatee of the work). If the second and third movements – the ‘Paradiso’ was wisely commuted to a setting of part of the Magnificat plus a brief Hosanna – don’t quite match the sweep and control of the first, they have their own particular magic. Even so, the work has not acquired the popularity of the Faust Symphony. Barenboim’s new recording with the Berlin Philharmonic is thus particularly welcome. Not only does it augment the number of available recordings to four, it is also the most polished. Even performing ‘live’, the Berlin Philharmonic turns in a performance of near-perfection – the solo lines are a particular joy.