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February, 2009 , Download Roundup - Brian Wilson

 

This month and in coming months two strands will run through my choices:

·         The four composers whose anniversaries occur in 2009 – Purcell (b.1659), Handel (d.1759), Haydn (d.1809) and Mendelssohn (b.1809)

·         Recordings made by those two major recent losses, Vernon Handley and Richard Hickox.

 

Purcell, H.: Dido And Aeneas [Opera] (Connolly, Finley, Crowe, Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment, Kenny, Devine)My Download of the Month celebrates one of the four anniversarians, since it is the new Chandos recording of Purcell’s Dido and Æneas with Sarah Connolly, Gerald Finley, Lucy Crowe and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment co-directed by Elizabeth Kenny and Stephen Devine (CHAN0757 – CD, mp3 and lossless downloads).  This is now the third version on this label, joining earlier recordings by Andrew Parrott (CHAN0521 or CHAN8306) and Richard Hickox (CHAN0586).  All three are available on CD and as lossless or mp3 downloads and all have their virtues – I couldn’t be without Emma Kirkby on the Parrott recording, or Maria Ewing on the Hickox – but the new recording is the one to go for, not least for the restoration of ‘missing’ parts from Purcell’s other works and the fact that it has had a long gestation in public performances – you may have heard the Radio 3 broadcast of one of these in 2007.

For all the qualities of these Chandos recordings, however, if you’re looking for the least expensive recommendable online version of Dido and Æneas, look no further than the Erato version conducted by William Christie, available from amazon.co.uk in 256k mp3 sound for a mere £2.79.

The new Dido was going to be my unchallenged Download of the Month until Gimell released the latest in the Tallis Scholars’ series of recordings of Josquin des Pres.  This new CD of the Masses Malheur me bat and Fortuna Desperata has really left me sitting on the fence – Gimell think it may be their best recording yet, and they may well be right – so I’m going to have to stay in that uncomfortable position and award joint honours this month.  How am I going to choose my Recordings of the Year when there are so many candidates already?  CDGIM042 will be on sale on CD in March, but it’s already available to download in mp3, CD quality and Studio Master versions and one track, the Gloria from Missa Fortuna Desperata, is available free for a limited period.  I plan to post a more detailed review of this recording closer to its CD issue.

I owe Gimell an apology for a serious mistake: misled by a well-known Guide, I stated in a review of Duarte Lôbo’s 8-part Requiem on Helios (Masterpieces of Portuguese Polyphony, CDH55138) that CDGIM205 contained the same 8-part Requiem and CDGIM028 the other, 6-part Requiem.  Both recordings are, in fact, of the 6-part work and, thus, neither competes with the Helios.  CDGIM205 offers a two-for-one set of the Lôbo, Cardoso and Victoria Requiems, plus music by Alonso Lobo, and CDGIM028 has the same recording of the Lôbo coupled with the same composer’s Missa Vox clamantis.  Both are available to download from the Gimell website; I can vouch for the high quality of the CD-equivalent wma version.  To make further amends, I intend to provide a more detailed regular MusicWeb review of these two recordings.

An error of two-fingered typing on my part led to Gimell also making available the 2-for-1 set of Byrd’s Three Masses and the Great Service (CDGIM208).  I’ve referred to this recording in my review of Nimbus’s Christ Church recordings of the Masses, but I’m glad to sing its praises again here, albeit briefly, and to vouch for the quality of Gimell’s wma download.

My strong recommendation of the Tallis Scholars’ new recording of Josquin and of their earlier recording of his Missa sine nomine and Missa ad fugam (CDGIM039 – see review) is in no way diminished by my also recommending an eMusic download of his Stabat Mater and Motets (La Chapelle Royale/Philippe Herreweghe on Harmonia Mundi HMC90 1243, 7 tracks in very acceptable mp3 sound).

Returning to the combination of Purcell and Richard Hickox, his version of The Indian Queen is available from Universal’s classicsandjazz for £7.90 in wma and mp3 formats (475 052 2).   With Emma Kirkby, Catherine Bott and the Academy of Ancient Music, this is well-nigh irresistible, but I did manage to resist it (just) in favour of the version from Linn (CKD035) – Tessa Bonner, Catherine Bott (again) and a small chamber ensemble directed from the violin by Catherine Mackintosh.  The mp3 (320k) is competitive with the Hickox at £8; it costs a little more for the wma version (£10) but I give that lossless version a slight edge.  Both are worth the extra in comparison with the Naxos version from classicsonline (8.553752, at £4.99), though I own the CD version of the Naxos recording for the sake of Daniel Purcell’s Masque of Hymen, a coupling which extends the playing time beyond the other contenders.  With 42 tracks, I really can’t see much point in downloading this from eMusic – it will take almost all your monthly allocation and cost you twice as much as the 320k download from classicsonline.

Richard Hickox’s final legacy comes in the form of Volume 1 of the recordings of Holst which he was working on at the time of his death.  The Ballet Music from The Perfect Fool is the main attraction, performed here as well as on Boult’s classic Decca recording and accompanied by The Golden Goose, The Lure and the complete Morning of the Year (Chandos SACD CHSA5069 and lossless or mp3 downloads).  I may be slightly less convinced by some of the music than Rob Barnett – see review – but I agree that it’s the finest (new) Holst recording for years and I very much enjoyed hearing it in the lossless wma version, which leaves nothing to be desired unless you must have SACD.  Neither The Lure nor Morning of the Year is anywhere near as immediate in appeal as The Perfect Fool, but I expect them to grow on me.

Two of the items on the new Hickox recording are duplicated on Lyrita SRCD.209The Lure and five dances from The Morning of the Year but, as this David Atherton recording also contains excellent performances of some other little-known Holst works, A Winter Idyll, Indra, Song of the Night and Invocation and can be obtained from eMusic for the cost of 8 tracks (less than £2 on the standard tariff) I feel justified in recommending both.  No notes, but reviews by Colin Clarke and Paul Shoemaker will help to remedy the defect.  A second set of performances of The Lure and the dances from Morning of the Year can only be helpful if, like me, you need to let them grow on you.  I actually slightly preferred Atherton’s sprightlier delivery of The Lure and the mp3 recording is more than adequate at bit-rates ranging from 178k to 320k.

Those who know Holst only by The Planets will be better served by an earlier Hickox recording for Chandos, of St Paul’s Suite, Brook Green Suite, Double Concerto and A Fugal Concerto (CHAN9270, lossless and mp3.)

As I was drawing together the thread of this roundup, my colleague John Quinn’s review of Volume 17 of Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage was posted – four cantatas for New Year’s Day and two for the following Sunday on Soli Deo Gloria SDG150.  I refer you to that review with just two comments – that I enjoyed the set just as much as JQ and that it’s available in very acceptable 320k sound from classicsonline.  No notes or texts but the relevant extracts from Gardiner’s journal are available online from the SDG website and there are many sites which offer the texts.

I referred last month to a number of classic recordings available from classiconline.com’s Naxos Historical Archive.  I plan to return to this very valuable archive in future months; meanwhile Rob Barnett, the Musicweb classical editor has posted a review of four albums with more to come – watch out for these:

9.80698 HovhanessSymphony No.9 ‘St Vartan’ – MGM Orchestra/Carlos Surinach (R) 1956

9.80676 Lousadzak; Shatakh; Achtamar & Tzaikerk – Maro Ajemian (piano), etc., with the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra/Alan Hovhaness (R) 1950

9.80130: The Flowering Peach; Is There Survival (from King Vahaken) & Orbit No.1 – Chamber Ensemble/Alan Hovhaness (R) 1955

9.80351: SibeliusEn Saga, Pohjola’s Daughter, The Oceanides and Tapiola – Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy (R) 1995.

 

The sound is inevitably dated and the playing-time restricted – 42 minutes the longest – but the ear adjusts sufficiently to enjoy the performances: they sound as good as or better than those Ace of Clubs and Golden Guinea LPs of the late 1950s from which I got to know much of the basic repertoire.  I’d recommend trying the St Vartan Symphony first, my pick of the batch; it’s some time since I’d heard this work and it knocked me off my seat all over again – imagine a precursor of such minimalists as Adams and Glass combined with the ethereal quality of Roy Harris’s Third Symphony.  There are no notes, but you’ll find an excellent analysis of the symphony in Rob Barnett’s review of Hovhaness’s own 1974 recording on the Crystal label, the only other currently available version to the best of my knowledge.  There’s also a slightly fuller analysis on the Hovhaness web site.  This is, as RB puts it, music to discover and enjoy – and at £1.99 per disc, inexpensively obtained.

The Flowering Peach music is a suite from Hovhaness’s incidental music for a Broadway play on the theme of Noah’s Ark.  Like St Vartan, it comes from a 1955 MGM recording; the two other pieces make fine couplings and, with Hovhaness at the helm, the performances are authoritative.  Lousadzak, meaning ‘dawn of light’ is a small-scale piano concerto, inspired by a strange murmuring effect which the visionary painter Hermon diGiovanno reported hearing in a visionary state.  Of all Hovhaness’s music here, it probably had the most effect on the minimalists; it’s the main item on another interesting programme.

Eugene Ormandy conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra in a comparatively lengthy programme of Sibelius from 1955 – 54 minutes was good going for an early LP.  It offers an excellent series of performances in sound which is still more than acceptable – I’m not sure that it isn’t stereo, unless I’m imagining the spatial separation.

 

If it’s more modern recordings of Sibelius that you’re looking for, classicsonline also offer all the recent Naxos series.  Rob Barnett thought the most recent coupling of less well-known works – Night Ride and Sunrise, Belshazzar’s Feast and excerpts from Kuolema (8.570763) ‘nicely done with atmosphere and hushed tension’ – see review.  I have heard more exciting accounts of Night Ride (Horst Stein on Decca, for example) but this CD is certainly worth £4.99 of anyone’s money and the 320k transfer is more than acceptable.  At the time of writing Passionato were offering five Naxos 320k downloads for £20, which works out slightly more cheaply, but the offer may have finished by the time that this review goes online.  At twelve tracks, the eMusic version would also work out less expensively, but their bit-rate tends to be variable and it’s best to stay with classicsonline for Naxos and reserve your monthly eMusic allocation for recordings not available elsewhere.

A second historical batch includes another Ormandy recording of Sibelius, this time of the Lemminkäinen Suite  (also known as Four Legends).  Only The Swan of Tuonela is well known but the other three movements also offer some fine music.  Ormandy’s Sibelius is always idiomatic and well worth hearing and this transfer is also well made.  Though presumably mastered from an LP original, I heard only the very faintest trace of surface noise, even on headphones.  (9.80350)  There’s also a Jensen recording of the Suite, but that performance is better heard on an Eloquence CD (442 9487 – see review).

The sound of the Ormandy recording is more than bearable (especially for 1951) but if you specifically want the Lemminkäinen Suite in a modern recording, Ormandy’s own remake was recently available on EMI Encore at budget price (3 88679 2 – see review: sadly, it appears to have been deleted, but still available to download from Amazon.co.uk or iTunes); otherwise classicsonline can offer you the Naxos recording by the Iceland SO/Petri Sakari, coupled with the Karelia Suite and Finlandia in idiomatic performances, well recorded on 8.554265

I prefer to stay with classicsonline for their own Naxos recordings, but this CD also comes in very decent 320k mp3 sound from passionato.com and may also be had from theclassicalshop, eMusic and Amazon.co.uk.  Ormandy is more urgent in every movement except The Swan of Tuonela, which he places second and Sakari third; Sakari’s 9:13 here against Ormandy’s 9:46 looks too hurried on paper, but in actuality it works well.  (Jensen at 7:38 surely is too hurried; Ormandy’s remake comes in at 9:07).  This whole Naxos recording is “beautifully engineered and magnificently played, ... a must for those who are about to dip into this composer’s unique soundworld [it] also would not demerit a seasoned Sibelian’s collection” – see review.  Gibson on Chandos is also good, but Sakari is preferable.

Finally, on Historical Archive, I was much less impressed by another, much thinner-sounding 1955 recording, of Quincy Porter’s Symphony No.1, Concerto Concertante and Dance in 3-time, performed by André Terrasse and Jean-Leon Cohen (pianos) with the Colonne Concerts Orchestra and conducted by the composer.  A playing time of 50:32 did not compensate for the failure of the music to grab my attention.  (9.80674)

Rob Barnett has recently reviewed the reissue on CHAN10235X of Vernon Handley’s accounts of Moeran’s Serenade, Nocturne, Rhapsodies 1 and 2 and In the Mountain Country, so all I need do is to refer you to that review of what he declared to be “a unique collection performed with apposite sensitivity. The essential supplement to the Symphony and Concertos all fully and regally represented on Chandos”.  The wma recording is excellent and, as usual, there is a less expensive mp3 alternative.

Moeran’s Violin Concerto and Cello Concerto in splendid performances by Lydia Mordkovich/Ulster SO/Handley and Raphael Wallfisch/Bournemouth Sinfonietta/Norman del Mar, coupled with evocative renderings of Lonely Waters and Whythorne’s Shadow on CHAN10168X also come in an excellent wma transfer: “Two well-matched concertos superbly performed and recorded all at an affordable price” – see review.  If you’re happy with mp3 sound, don’t opt for the same coupling on the Chandos Enchant label (CHAN7078, at £6); the mp3 version of CHAN10168 costs a pound less at £4.99.

 

When he knew that I was planning to include some Vernon Handley downloads, Rob Barnett included with his own shortlist the advice to look at his performances of music other than 20th-century British.  You might not regard his versions of Brahms’ Serenade No.1 and St Antoni Variations with the Ulster Orchestra as top of their respective trees, but the Serenade tree is not very high and I don’t think anyone would feel short-changed by this version.  (CHAN8612, full price, in lossless or mp3 versions).  I could try to claim a link with anniversarian Haydn except, of course, that the St Antoni Chorale, on which the Variations are based, is no longer ascribed to him.  Those who just want these Variations will find Handley’s performance more economically on Romantic Favourites, coupled with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, Dvořák’s Carnival Overture and Grieg Peer Gynt Suite No.1 (CHAN6680 – the lossless version is, for once, the same price as the mp3, at £4.99; the CD is actually 11p cheaper at £4.88).

Several of Handley’s Classics for Pleasure recordings would be at or near the top of the tree for most of us and several of them are currently on offer for £3.99 from passionato.com.  His Brahms and Bruch Violin Concertos with Tasmin Little (5 74941 2), Elgar Second Symphony/Sea Pictures (5 75306 2) and Vaughan Williams Sinfonia Antartica/Serenade to Music (5 75313 2) are all personal favourites.  If they’re still on offer at this reduced price, go for them – but don’t dream of paying £7.99 for them if they’ve reverted to that price – the CD equivalents would be cheaper.

Some brief mentions, on some of which I hope to expand next month:

There are several collections similar to Linn’s Music from the Time of Columbus (CKD007) but this disc of performances by Catherine Bott and the New London Consort/Philip Pickett is one of the best – download in CD-quality or mp3 from Linn’s website.

William Byrd Cantiones Sacræ, mostly from the third (1591) collection, with a few from the second (1589), on Chandos Chaconne CHAN0733, sung by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, directed by Richard Marlow reminds us that there are other choirs at both ancient universities to rival King’s – mixed choirs at that, in the case of this recording, available in lossless and mp3 sound from theclassicalshop.net.  The latest recording from another mixed choir, that of Queen’s College, Oxford, which I have recently enjoyed hearing on CD (Cæli Porta, Guild GMCD7323)  had not yet been made available for download when I checked, but their earlier recordings are available from theclassicalshop.net, including its immediate predecessor, also of Music from 17th-century Portugal (GMCD7296) for a mere £4.99.

I must admit that I still slightly prefer boys’ voices in this music, especially when the results are as good as those on New College, Oxford’s recordings for CRD, available from eMusic.  They offer selections from all three books of Byrd’s Cantiones Sacræ – eleven items from the 1575 collection on CRD3492, nine from the 1589 book on CRD3420, and eleven from 1591 on CRD3439.  The 1591 recording overlaps to quite an extent with the Chandos, but there is very little overlap between that set and the CRD 1589 collection.  These Byrd recordings make a wonderful ‘where next’ after the music on CDGIM208 to which I’ve referred above – and don’t forget the recording of his Second Service on Harmonia Mundi HMU90 7440 with Magdalen College Choir and Fretwork under Bill Ives – MG’s Recording of the Month a year ago: see review – 17 tracks in very acceptable mp3 from eMusic.

Three items from the 1591 collection also appear alongside music from the 1605 Gradualia on Hyperion CDA67568 (Volume 10 of the superb complete Byrd edition by The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood) available from iTunes in 256k mp3 format.  Two of their earlier volumes, on the ASV label, are also available from iTunes but I was surprised to see that they also already offer Volume 11, which I’m about to review in CD form (further items from 1591 plus some from the 1607 Gradualia on CDA67653).  Look out for my forthcoming detailed – and commendatory – reviews of these.

Also from New College Choir and Edward Higginbottom come excellent accounts of:

Thomas Tomkins The Third Service, Anthems and Voluntaries (CRD3467);

William Croft Select Anthems (CRD3491) – the only notable omission is of his well-known setting of the Burial Service.  (See also my recent review of Croft’s keyboard music on Soundboard SBCD991).

And, to return to one of our birthday boys, a selection of Henry Purcell’s Verse Anthems (CRD3504) – ideal if you don’t want or can’t run to the complete Hyperion/King’s Consort collection.  All these CRD recordings are available from eMusic in very acceptable mp3 sound – not quite the equivalent of the lossless Chandos, but not far behind.

Also from New College and available from eMusic in very decent mp3, Nicholas Ludford’s (c.1485-1587)  Missa Benedicta and Votive Anthems on the K617 label (K617 206) – 11 tracks and 63 minutes of sheer delight, excellently performed.

The Italian-born but German-domiciled Giovanni Benedetto Platti’s (before 1692 or 1697-1763) Concerti Grossi  derived from chamber works by Corelli, played by the Akademie für alte Musik, Berlin/Georg Kallweit (Harmonia Mundi HMC90 1996, 21 tracks from eMusic) pre-date Haydn by a considerable margin but the Cello Concerto in D (tracks 6-8) anticipates Haydn’s middle-period Sturm und Drang style.  I had already encountered Platti’s Oboe Concerto in g (trs.14-16) on the recent Albrecht Mayer in Venice (478 0313 – see review) but it receives a slightly sprightlier performance here and, like, the whole programme, is well played and well worth hearing.

I was going to combine one of our anniversarians, Haydn, with Richard Hickox by reviewing the complete Chandos set of the Masses, but I’ve only got round to downloading two volumes so far, so I’ll have to take the proverbial rain-check on these until next month, except to say that the individual recordings from the complete set are less expensive than their equivalents on the individual discs - £7.99 for lossless, as against £9.99 and you don’t need to download the whole set to obtain them at these prices.

Similarly, I’ll have to leave over till next month any further consideration of the Chandos series of recordings of Handel’s Chandos Anthems – and I haven’t even mentioned Mendelssohn yet.  Another job for next month.

 

It would be miserly indeed to pass so quickly over Sir Charles Mackerras’s recent versions of Mozart’s four last symphonies, Nos.38-41, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, available as CD-quality or mp3 downloads from Linn, were it not that Tony Haywood has said it all for me (CKD308, 2 CDs, Recording of the Month – see review).  Alexander Janiczek directs the same orchestra in recommendable versions of the Serenade in D (K185) and Divertimento in Eb (K113) on Linn CKD287 – see review.  Both recordings sound excellent in wma format and there are also less expensive mp3 versions.

Don’t forget Mackerras’s very fine earlier Telarc set of the symphonies with the Prague Chamber Orchestra, available to download from eMusic.  The symphonies have been rearranged for the complete set (Telarc 80729) in numerical order, so you can follow up the new versions of 38-41 with the earlier versions of the previous three symphonies, Nos.34-36, on the eighth CD – 11 tracks for less than £3 on the 50-track-per-month package.  No.35, the Haffner, is just a shade too brisk for my liking, having cut my teeth on Bruno Walter’s stereo version (sadly, not currently available).

If you followed my advice last month to get to know Rubbra’s symphonies in the excellent series which Richard Hickox made with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for Chandos, you may wish to follow up Symphonies 3 and 7 with Symphonies 5 and 8 and the Ode to the Queen on CHAN9714 from theclassicalshop.net.

Last month I mentioned Richard Hickox’s 2-for-1 set of the orchestral music of the under-rated Herbert Howells.  Supplement this with his equally fine recording of Music for Strings (Concerto for String Orchestra, Serenade for Strings, etc.) on CHAN9161 – lossless or mp3 from theclassicalshop.net.  I also tried two tracks from this recording in very acceptable mp3 sound from eMusic.

Howells’ Piano Quartet, Fantasy String Quartet and Rhapsodic Quintet make a splendid supplement to his orchestral music (Thea King, Bernard Roberts and the Richards Ensemble, Lyrita SRCD.292) – see reviews by Em Marshall and John Quinn.  A mere 5 tracks from eMusic, at just over £1.  If you like what you hear, you’ll also want Howells’ String Quartet No.3 In Gloucestershire (Hyperion Helios CDH55045, with Dyson’s Three Rhapsodies – see review) but buy the CD – the download from iTunes will cost you more than the disc.

 

Brahms Piano Quartets 1 and 3Last year I was not wholly enthusiastic about The Nash Ensemble in Brahms’ Sextets, though most other reviewers enjoyed them greatly.  To make partial amends, I was much more impressed by their new versions of the Piano Quartets, Nos. 1 and 3.  I still prize the augmented Beaux Arts versions on Philips Duo, but the new recording would make an excellent substitute.  (Onyx 4029, eight tracks from eMusic.)

 

Brian Wilson




 


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