July 2006

Bartók - Concerto for Orchestra; Martinu - Memorial to Lidice; Klein - Partita for Strings
Philadelphia Orchestra; Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Ondine ODE 1072
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2006

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 5 in E Minor; The Seasons (January-June)
Philadelphia Orchestra; Christoph Eschenbach, conductor and piano
Ondine ODE 1076
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2006

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

by Rad Bennett

For ten years or more, it has been prohibitively expensive to record American orchestras. The only orchestras that seem to have good contracts for recording are those of Cincinnati (Telarc), Minnesota (Reference and BIS) and Atlanta (Telarc, again). Several orchestras have tried to start their own labels. The most successful organization in that respect is the San Francisco Symphony. Others have made contracts with overseas recording companies. This is what the Philadelphia Orchestra has done with Ondine, a Finnish recording company.

Here, the orchestra sounds glorious in all aspects, and the performances are precise and passionate, but the repertory chosen has put these recordings in stiff competition even on SACD, not to mention regular CD. Eschenbach’s Bartók is energetic and somewhat poetic, but the SACD recordings by Zoltán Kocis (Hungaroton) and Paavo Järvi (Telarc) tower above it. The Tchaikovsky Symphony is available on SACD in a gripping performance by Daniele Gatti and the Royal Philharmonic (Harmonia Mundi). Moreover, Eschenbach’s Bartók Concerto and Tchaikovsky Symphony are spoiled by the inclusion of applause at the end. This wears thin on repeated listening without any video to support it. The Bartók disc, however, has splendid recordings of the Bohuslav Martinu and Gideon Klein pieces, without applause. The dramatic Martinu is an especially fine discovery, which, in making its point, quotes a hymn and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to great effect

The recorded sound is of near demonstration caliber, with just the right amount of center-channel and surround sound, and the packaging is handsome, too. Fans of the Philadelphia Orchestra will revel in these releases. Others might want to pick up the Bartók for the filler pieces and pass on the Tchaikovsky. Let’s hope future releases involve repertory with less competition and endings without applause.