Sony: Essential Classics

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Sony

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Sony’s Essential Classics carry no information about recording dates or whether they are from analogue or digital masters. And nowhere on the Juilliard Quartet’s rather drily recorded three-disc set of BEETHOVEN’s late quartets (SB3K 89897, £13.99) is it mentioned that these sinewy performances were captured live, which would explain the excitement and roughnesses that are inevitable in this situation.

Bernstein and the NYPO attack SHOSTAKOVICH’s Leningrad Symphony with the same sort of energy that Ancerl brought to the Tenth, though the recording is much better, and the American sheen of the orchestra is quite different from the Czech’s earthy sound (SBK 89904, £4.99).

Under Maazel, the Vienna Philharmonic brings weight to MAHLER’s Seventh Symphony, with some surprisingly slow (though well-sustained) tempi, and eloquence in the two ‘Night Music’ movements (SB2K 89785, £9.99).

Mehta’s bright, digital 1991 NYPO recording of SCHOENBERG’s Gurrelieder (SB2K 89902, £9.99) is distinguished by the singing of Gary Lakes and Florence Quivar, though Hans Hotter’s Speaker comes across better on Chailly’s recording.

Finally, Esa-Pekka Salonen shows his expertise in a variety of repertoire: GRIEG’s Peer Gynt finds the Oslo PO on beguiling form, with a strong solo contribution from Barbara Hendricks (SBK 89898, £4.99).

STRAVINSKY’s Firebird has such a wide dynamic range that the opening is almost inaudible, and a very fast but exhilarating Rite of Spring keeps the Philharmonia on its toes (SBK 89894, £4.99).

The notes mention only BARTÓK’s First Piano Concerto, but Yefim Bronfman does play all three (SBK 89732, £4.99), though the fast tempi in the outer movements often seem breathless.

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MESSIAEN’s Turangalîla, however, is thoroughly recommendable (SBK 89900, £4.99), not only for Salonen’s control, but also for the solo work from pianist Paul Crossley and Tristan Murail, whose ondes martenot soars over the music without embarrassment.