One of the most exciting collections to come my way lately is the Sony box set of recordings by the Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen (b. 1958). Like Pierre Boulez, Salonen is a composer who turned to conducting to showcase his own music. He soon gained an international reputation, becoming Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1992 to 2007. He was also associated with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and London’s Philharmonia: this 61-CD set contains performances with all three.
Esa-Pekka Salonen. Photo © Benjamin Ealovega
The repertoire leans heavily towards 20th-century music. Salonen is a terrific Stravinsky conductor, so exceptional recordings of The Firebird, Petrouchka and The Rite of Spring are here, but also Pulcinella and the late Cantata, both featuring Australian soprano Yvonne Kenny, and a taut Oedipus Rex with Anne Sofie von Otter as Jocasta. Uncommon items include Lars-Erik Larsson’s ravishing Violin Concerto; Ligeti’s groundbreaking opera Le Grand Macabre (the only studio recording of this bizarre masterpiece); music by the Mexican Silvestre Revueltas and film composer Bernard Herrmann; Lutosławski’s Four Symphonies,
and Messiaen’s great piece for chamber orchestra, From the Canyons to the Stars.
If they sound obscure, you will also find a marvellous Mahler Three and Four (the latter with Barbara Hendricks), a youthfully vital survey of Nielsen’s symphonies, and an unexpectedly delightful CD of Haydn’s Symphonies Nos 22, 78 and 82.
For Leonard Bernstein’s centenary, DG has released a set of his Complete Works (26 CDs and three DVDs). While Bernstein’s late recordings of his music have been reissued frequently (namely the Symphonies, the Serenade and the ballets), this set also contains new recordings of his early chamber music and solo piano music. The piano pieces are slight, but the Piano Trio (1937) and Clarinet Sonata (1942) are substantial.
Other rarities are his late opera A Quiet Place; the White House Cantata (compiled from a flop Broadway show about the history of the presidency), and the controversial Mass (1971) in its recent recording with soloists and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Among the DVDs we have the “Making of West Side Story” documentary where Bernstein tears strips off José Carreras: always worth a revisit.
Eugen Jochum’s recordings of Mozart Symphonies with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, reissued on Eloquence, were made in 1960/61. Described as powerful and dramatic, they stand up well, as does the sound quality. Jochum’s approach is solid but not slow: the allegros bustle along briskly. The symphonies are Nos 35, Haffner; 36, Linz; 38, Prague and No 41, Jupiter.
Another Eloquence set is taken from Decca recitals by the Spanish mezzo-soprano Teresa Berganza. The first disc is comprised of Rossini operatic arias, a repertoire in which she truly shone, plus Basque songs and excerpts from zarzuelas (a Spanish version of light opera). On the second disc she is accompanied by her husband Félix Lavilla in older music (Cherubini and Alessandro Scarlatti), followed by 20th-century songs of Turina, Guridi, Falla and Granados. The microphone loved Berganza’s voice, which sounds bracingly fresh in these early recordings from 1959-62.
The Complete Sony Recordings
Sony 88985471842 (61CD)
DG 4829228 (26CD)
Symphonies Nos 35, 36, 38 and 41
Concertgebouw/Eugen Jochum, Eduard van Beinum
ELQ 4828414 (2CD)
Teresa Berganza ms, Félix Lavilla p, LSO/Sir Alexander Gibson, Benito Lauret, Gerardo Gombau
ELQ 4826397 (2CD)