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DECEMBER 2008 DOWNLOAD ROUNDUP

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Tudor 7188


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Lyrita 4CDs £16 incl.postage

Lyrita 4CDs £16 incl.postage


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Judith Bailey, George Lloyd


BAX Orchestral pieces


CASKEN Violin Concerto

Schumann Symphonies Rattle


Complete Brahms
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Experience Classicsonline

 

My Discovery of the Month has to be that Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) was not just a one-work composer. Ricercar, spotting that the tercentenary of his death in 2006 had gone unnoticed, have recorded his cantatas Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, Christ lag in Todesbanden and Jauchzet dem Herrn, together with the motet Gott ist unser Zuversicht and some instrumental pieces, on RIC255, available to download from eMusic.com. The music is well worth hearing – you wouldn’t rate it above Schütz or Buxtehude, but it’s of more than historical interest – not just as a bridge between those better-known composers – and the performances, by the Chœur de Chambre de Namur and Les Agrémens under Jean Tubéry, are much more than adequate, as is the mp3 recording (most tracks are at well over the magic 192k bit-rate).

This Pachelbel recording might have become my Download of the Month, too, but that honour has to go to the Tallis Scholars. Last month I recommended the download version of their Live in Oxford recording. This month I’m following that up with an even stronger recommendation of their Live in Rome recording, made in 1994, the year of the quatercentenary of Palestrina’s death (CDGIM994). The programme is mostly PalestrinaMissa Papæ Marcelli, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis and Stabat Mater – with Allegri’s Miserere as an added attraction. Carrying coals to Newcastle this may be, but the result is excellent. All that’s missing is a pictorial record of the event, provided by the DVD equivalent, which is on order even as I write this – watch out for a separate review in the main pages of MusicWeb. In fact, when that review appears, the DVD will also be a Recording of the Month, echoing John France’s award of that accolade when he reviewed the recording in 2004 – see review.

Don’t forget the Tallis Scholars’ recording of Palestrina’s Masses Benedicta es and Nasce la gioja mea which I reviewed as a download some time ago (GIMSE402 – see review) a splendid bargain at £5.99 for the mp3 or £6.99 for the lossless version.

It’s something of a fool’s errand to recommend anything from Passionato.com as Bargain of the Month, since the bargain in question changes every day, but Carlos Kleiber’s DG recording of Beethoven’s Fifth and Seventh Symphonies with the VPO in very decent 320k sound has to be a real bargain for £2.99 – if it returns, as some of the daily bargains already have, snap it up. The Fifth has been consistently praised since it first appeared on LP, but the Seventh is also a revelation – just about the best version I’ve heard since Bruno Walter’s mono version with the NYPO.

My next few recommendations are of Christmas music, commencing with a 2-CD set from Gimell, Christmas with the Tallis Scholars (CDGIM202), combining the contents of two earlier CDs for the price of one. The first CD contains medieval carols, together with the Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis of Clemens non Papa and other later works by Josquin, Victoria and Praetorius; the second offers the Christmas Midnight Mass and other chants from the medieval English Sarum rite – a richer liturgy than the Tridentine revision – from CDGIM017, together with Tallis’s Missa Puer natus est nobis. The Tallis Mass makes this a generously-filled disc – the two CDs together play for over 2½ hours – though serious collectors may well already have this or another version of the Tallis. The only other small reservation concerns the fact that not all of the Clemens CD, CDGIM013, is included here – if you want the rest, you’ll inevitably duplicate the Mass. Continuing problems with my mobile broadband made it impossible to download in the lossless wma format but the 320k mp3 download is very acceptable. Knowing of my broadband woes, Gimell kindly supplied the CDs, too, for comparison. In whichever format you choose, this set may be strongly recommended. As always with Gimell, the documentation is excellent – and it’s all included with the download.

A Festive Baroque Christmas moves us on a century or so. This super-budget recording (HCX395 7202) offers performances by The Academy of Ancient Music/Paul Goodwin mainly of vocal music by Heinrich Schütz with instrumental interpolations by his Venetian mentor, Giovanni Gabrieli and the less well-known Matthias Weckmann and Francesco Usper. A delightful collection, well worth 15 tracks from eMusic or £4.74 from iTunes, the latter at a very acceptable 256k. Like all the recordings in the Harmonia Mundi Classical Express series, the cover is dull and unimaginative – why not create your own from the wealth of artwork available online?

We can date Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla’s music for Christmas Matins (Maitines de Navidad) exactly to 1652. I recently recommended a Coro recording of Padilla’s music in a very different mood – Streams of Tears, COR16059: see review – but this CD offers a very happy experience – nine Villancicos based on Mexican folk music which would otherwise have disappeared without record and a concluding hymn, Christus natus est nobis. It’s one of a series of Urtext recordings made by Angelicum de Puebla, a group of performers from the city of that name, directed by Benjamin Juárez Echenique. (UMA2011). The singing is not as polished as that of the AAM or the Tallis scholars – or, indeed, the Sixteen on the Coro recording – but that really doesn’t matter. The mp3 sound (192k) is very acceptable. The only possible impediment to your enjoyment is the very short playing time of 46 minutes. The eMusic download will set you back the cost of ten tracks.

Last month I gave a brief recommendation to the new recording of Handel’s Messiah (The Sixteen/Harry Christophers, Coro COR16062) and promised to return to this in order to deal with some minor reservations. In the event, having listened to this recording a number of times, those reservations now appear so insignificant as not to be worth mentioning. In particular, I have listened carefully to Carolyn Sampson, having seen one review which made her contribution the weak point of the enterprise; I disagree – I find the purity of tone of her singing totally convincing. This now joins the versions of Trevor Pinnock and Paul McCreesh (both DG) at the top of the list of period performances, available from classicsonline and theclassicalshop. I hasten to add that I’m certainly not ruling out John Butt’s version (Linn CKD285) which has won so many golden opinions – I just haven’t heard it; it’s available to download from Linn’s own website, linnrecords.com; the mp3, wma and even the studio quality versions are less expensive than the mp3 at classicsonline – they seem to have forgotten that CD3 is supposed to be a bonus.

Christmas Concertos and Cantatas with Collegium Musicum 90/Simon Standage is virtually self-recommending. There are concertos by Manfredini and Vivaldi as well as the Corelli Op.6/8, together with cantatas by Alessandro Scarlatti and Telemann. Make sure to go for the cheaper reissue on CHAN0754 – though you may find the original cover, available to download even by non-purchasers, with Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity, much more attractive than that of the reissue. Available in lossless format with the suffix W or as an mp3; oddly, the lossless version is offered more cheaply than the mp3. I’ve pointed out the discrepancy to Chandos, so it may well have been put right by the time you read this.

There are many other highly recommendable recordings by Collegium Musicum 90 under Simon Standage on the Chandos early music label, Chaconne, and available online from their website, theclassicalshop.net. If you’ve heard a reasonable cross-section of the music of Vivaldi and would like to experiment with some of his near-contemporaries, their recording of Alessandro Marcello’s six Violin Concertos, Op.6, known as ‘La Cetra’, together with an extra Concerto in B-flat, would be a good place to start. This is still available on the original catalogue number, CHAN0563 – be warned that this is more expensive than exactly the same recordings under the reissued number, CHAN0744 – one of the bizarre consequences of Chandos’s otherwise highly laudable practice of keeping deleted CDs available online. The ‘La Cetra’ concertos are also suitable for performance with the oboe as solo instrument, in which form they have been recorded by Heinz Holliger (427 137-2 – but not listed on Universal’s download site, classicsandjazz.co.uk) though I prefer the violin versions, especially when they are as well played as on the Chandos recording. The music may not be up to the high standard of Vivaldi’s own ‘La Cetra’ (Op.9), but it’s very attractive and the recording very good – go for the lossless version if possible.

Last month I recommended the first six volumes of the Complete Works of Thomas Tallis, performed by Chapelle du Roi under Alistair Dixon. Volume 7 – Music for Queen Elizabeth (SIGCD029) is probably the most desirable in the whole series, with superb settings of Salvator mundi, O nata lux, In jejunio et fletu and O sacrum convivium and concluding with the masterpiece Spem in alium. This would be the volume for beginners to acquire first.

Volume 8 (SIGCD036) contains the two settings of Lamentations and the Contrafacta – Latin works with new English texts, including the English version of Spem in alium, Sing and Glorify. Incidentally, if it’s just Spem and its English version that you want, these are available on a short CD and as a download. Chapelle du Roi are certainly not the only show in town for the better-known pieces such as Spem in alium, but they offer very strong competition for the likes of The Tallis Scholars and The Sixteen and they are the only group to offer the complete works.

Volume 9 (SIGCD042) rounds off the series with the least-known aspect of Tallis, his instrumental music and songs, performed by Charivari Agréable, Lynda Sayce (lute), Lawrence Cummings (virginals and harpsichord), Stephen Taylor (counter-tenor) and Andrew Benson-Wilson (organ). A short complimentary CD offers the English Litany and three organ pieces.

Classicsonline offer all nine volumes at 320k for £7.99 each, including Volume 9; bizarrely, they also offer the short Spem in alium CD for £7.99. eMusic offer most of the volumes at around 192k, but the large number of tracks involved would mean that your purchase would have to be spread over several months’ allocations, unless you just want the two tracks on the short CD. iTunes offer all the volumes in ‘plus’ format (256k) at £7.99 each except Volume 9 for which they charge double, £15.99, though Signum offer the bonus disc free.

Ian Lace made the first volume of Karłowicz’s Symphonic Poems (Naxos 8.570452, Warsaw PO/Antoni Wit) his Recording of the Month – see review – and Rob Maynard was only a little less enthusiastic – see review. It’s a real download bargain from eMusic – just three tracks of your monthly allocation, less than £1, for 70 minutes of solid enjoyment. The bit-rate, as so often with eMusic, varies from track to track, from an acceptable 195k to a very acceptable 320k for the third and longest work in the programme. You can get the whole thing at 320k from classicsonline, but at a higher price. As usual, the notes – in this case by Richard Whitehouse – are available to cut and paste from the Naxos website. You can get Volume 2 online, too – I’ll try to get round to that next month.

There are rival versions of Karłowicz’s music on Chandos. If you wish to try these, CHAN10171 would be a good place to start – it doesn’t involve any overlap with the Naxos CD but contains Bianca da Molena, the Serenade for String Orchestra, and the ‘Rebirth’ Symphony, Op.7. IL preferred Naxos’s Warsaw performances to the BBC Philharmonic under Yan Pascal Tortelier on Chandos but only by a small margin – why not try both? I downloaded seven of the nine tracks from Chandos’s home-base, theclassicalshop.net and one each from eMusic and iTunes. The classicalshop tracks come at 320k, the iTunes at 256 and the track which I tried from eMusic came at the lowest bit-rate but still perfectly acceptable at 207k. Buying the nine tracks from eMusic is the most economical way to obtain this recording, the download from theclassicalshop the best guarantee of recording quality, though I’m pleased to note that classicsonline.com are now committed to offering all their new releases in 320k versions. They’re also uprating their back catalogue and have promised to give customers who have downloaded 192k versions access to the improved product.

Naxos already had a very decent 1988 recording of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony and The Voyevoda in their catalogue (8.550224, CSR Symphony Orchestra/Ondrej Lenard) but their new version of the same coupling is far preferable (8.570568). Here the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, under Vasily Petrenko, are back on the kind of form they used to have years ago when Sir Charles Groves was their principal conductor. Under Petrenko’s direction, they offer a performance which yet again makes me wonder why this colourful and dramatic work was not included in the canon of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies. It’s available from eMusic, whence I obtained it, in very acceptable mp3 sound – most tracks at 210k – and from classicsonline.

At a slightly higher price, you can get this recording in 320k sound from classicsonline.com or, if you want the highly recommended Oslo PO/Jansons recording on CHAN8535, you can download that from its home base at theclassicalshop.net in lossless or mp3 form, or from classicsonline, or from eMusic – 4 tracks only, this time; there’s no coupling).

A recent Chandos issue brings Taneyev’s attractive Suite de Concert, Op.25 and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Fantasy on Russian Themes, Op.33, very well performed by Lydia Mordkovitch (violin) and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra with Neeme Järvi (CHAN10491). It’s available in excellent lossless sound and almost equally fine mp3 from theclassicalshop.net – also from eMusic and classicsonline in mp3. You’ll have to type in Chandos’s mis-spelling, Tanayev, in order to find this recording on their website.

If the new issue moves you to explore Taneyev further, Chandos also have fine versions of his Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 (CHAN10390) and Nos. 2 and 4 (CHAN9998) with the Russian State SO under Valeri Polyansky, both available for download from their theclassicalshop.net.

A two-CD bargain from Chandos (CHAN10369(2)X) also brings more Rimsky-Korsakov – the Overture May Night, Suites from Tsar Saltan, Mlada, The Snow Maiden, The Invisible City of Kitezh, The Golden Cockerel and, most apposite at this time of year, the magical suite from Christmas Eve in very good performances, well recorded, by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Neeme Järvi. I haven’t enjoyed these works by Rimsky so much since the old OSR/Ansermet Decca LPs. Once again the download sound is good.

I’m not at all sure how I came to download Volume 1 of the String Quartets of Sir John Blackwood McEwen (1868-1948) from theclassicalshop but there they were in my Musicweb Order History in both mp3 (320k) and wma formats, performed by the Chilingirian Quartet (CHAN9926). The works in this volume range in date from the Fourth Quartet of 1905 via the Seventh (1916) and Sixteenth (1936) to the Fantasia of 1947. I’m going to need a little more time to let the music grow on me, but first impressions are very favourable. I tried both audio formats and both are, as usual with Chandos, very acceptable indeed.

We’re extremely fortunate to have three very good recorded performances of Samuel Taylor-Coleridge’s Violin Concerto. Having been most impressed by Anthony Marwood’s broadcast performance with the CBSO, I had been intending for some time to go for his Hyperion recording but, having read Rob Barnett’s enthusiastic review of Lorraine McAslan’s Lyrita recording with the LPO and Nicholas Braithwaite (SRCD.317 – see review), I downloaded that version from eMusic and was delighted to have made that decision. Very strongly recommended – in another month, I might well have made this my Download of the Month (it was RB’s Recording of the Month). The couplings are also excellent, especially Julius Harrison’s Bredon Hill (which, incidentally, is one of the many place names which mean ‘hill-hill-hill’).

Another Lyrita recording which I am very pleased to have downloaded from eMusic comes in the Alwyn Conducts Alwyn series, from which I already possessed the recording of the First and Fourth Symphonies when they were briefly available on CD in the 1990s. Symphonies 2, 3 and 5 are every bit as fine as those on the earlier disc and the recordings of all the Lyritas which I have downloaded from eMusic have all been of good quality, albeit that most tracks on both these recording fall slightly short of the magic 192k. As Colin Clark writes in his review of the CD (SRCD.228), the symphonies represent the more serious side of Alwyn, but the music is always approachable. Strongly recommended.

There is a danger that the Messiaen centenary may obscure the achievements of other French 20th-century organ composers. As an antidote – not that I am other than pleased to see Messiaen receive his due – I recommend William Whitehead’s performances of some of the music of Jehan Alain and Maurice Duruflé on the organ of Auxerre Cathedral (Dances of Life and Death, Chandos CHAN01315 – see Graham Mark Scott’s review), available from theclassicalshop.net in lossless and mp3 sound. I would recommend laying out the extra for the lossless version of a recording which does justice to the sound of the instrument in first-class performances.

It hardly seems possible that Nikolai Myaskovsky was a contemporary of Shostakovich and Prokofiev – his music sounds more like what Rimsky-Korsakov might have written had he lived into the mid-twentieth-century. Evgeny Svetlanov’s 16-CD box set of his symphonies (Warner Classics) has just won an award, but Olympia, the original begetters of this series, are also licensing individual discs to Alto, who are issuing them at super-budget price. Several of them are also available from eMusic, from whom I downloaded the contents of Volume 14 (ALC1024), containing Symphonies 23, Op.56 (1941) and 24, Op.63 (1943). The playing is a little rough-and-ready in places – the odd fluffed note and lack of co-ordinated ensemble – but the heart of the Russian Federation Academic Symphony Orchestra – and, even more importantly, that of Svetlanov – is truly sympathetic to the music. With decent recording (all tracks at over 192k) this may be recommended to anyone who started to collect the Olympia series before the demise of that label. (The cover even perpetuates the Olympia name). iTunes offer several recordings from this series but, at £7.99 each, they are almost twice the price at which some dealers offer the CDs. The iTunes price for the complete Warner box is much more attractive, working out at less than £2 per disc.

Some of the earlier discs in the Olympia series offered performances by the USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra/Konstantin Ivanov and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Veronika Dudarova – not bad, but the Svetlanov replacements are better and better recorded – the Melodiya/Olympia sound was rather thick at climaxes. I played OCD133, Symphonies 5 and 11, immediately after hearing the Alto download and can confirm the superiority of the newer recording. Some of these earlier Olympia recordings have been released on another super-budget label, Regis – see, for example, Rob Barnett’s review of RRC1244.

I compared the download of Volume 14 with the physical CD of Volume 13 (ALC0123, Symphonies 17 and 21) and, apart from the notes which come with the latter – surprisingly full for a super-budget release – found the quality to be comparable. Volume 13 is also available to download from eMusic and some may prefer it, since Symphony No.21 is often considered to be his best orchestral work. (See Rob Barnett’s enthusiastic review of the CD.)

If you’re looking for Myaskovsky in refined sound, Chandos have a recording of his 27th Symphony, Op.85, his final symphony, coupled with the Cello Concerto, Op.66, available on CD and as a 320k mp3 download or in lossless format (Alexander Ivashkin (cello) with the Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Valeri Polyansky, CHAN10025 – see RB’s review of the CD). This is available from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 at 320k and lossless versions) and eMusic (mp3 only). I sampled the second movement of the symphony from eMusic (at the unlikely bit-rate of 203k) and the remaining four tracks as mp3s from theclassicalshop. Performance and recording leave very little to be desired and both the eMusic and classicalshop mp3s sound fine.

You may have noticed that Chandos have recently re-coupled some of their Prokofiev recordings and reissued them at lower prices: Alexander Nevsky on CHAN10482X, Four Portraits from The Gambler on CHAN10485X, Lieutenant Kijé on CHAN10481X, Peter and the Wolf on CHAN10484X, The Prodigal Son on CHAN10486X and Chout (‘The Buffoon’) on CHAN10483X. All are conducted by Neeme Järvi and all are recommendable. I plan to review their download equivalents in coming roundups, but I also want to recommend Järvi’s performances of the symphonies. His version of the Sixth Symphony (CHAN8359) is the best I have heard of that elusive symphony since the Leinsdorf version on RCA, a splendid performance rather spoiled by the ‘Dynagroove’ recording technique.

Järvi’s account of the Second Symphony is also excellent – it comes about as close as any performance ever has to persuading me to like the work. You may not want the Romeo and Juliet Suite No.1 which accompanies the second – you may well have another recording – or the rather lightweight excerpts from the Waltz Suite which accompany the sixth, so you may like to note that the two symphonies actually fit on one CD at 74:40. The best downloads of all these Chandos Prokofiev recordings come, of course, from their own site, theclassicalshop.net, but if you are planning to mix and match the two symphonies, the most inexpensive way to do so is by purchasing the eight tracks of the second and the three of the sixth from eMusic. (In fact, Chandos have now reissued all the Prokofiev symphonies on CD as a 4-disc box set at super-budget price – more next month.)

Rather belatedly, since I downloaded it some considerable time ago, let me recommend Mark Padmore and the Schubert Ensemble in Vaughan WilliamsOn Wenlock Edge and the Piano Quintet in c. (CHAN10465) I can recommend this recording with all the more authority because I paid to download it myself.

Returning finally to the festive theme, let me thoroughly recommend Naxos’s Leroy Anderson Sleigh Ride and other Holiday Favourites (8.559621, BBCSO/Leonard Slatkin). As well as Sleigh Ride, this offers A Christmas Festival and all versions of the Suite of Carols. Excellent fun on 16 tracks from eMusic at around 192k or in 320k format from Passionato or classicsonline. Some of the tracks appear on other volumes in Naxos’s ongoing series of Anderson’s music, which is slightly annoying – the only way in which this enjoyable recording is likely to raise any of your hackles. The CD version of this coupling is available only in North America.

Brian Wilson

 


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