JANUARY 2009 DOWNLOAD ROUNDUP
My Download of the Month has to be the new Linn recording
of Handel’s Acis and Galatea by the Dunedin
Consort/John Butt in its original chamber version, as presented
to the Earl of Caernarvon, later Duke of Chandos at his mansion
(CKD319, 2 CDs). This was such a sure-fire winner that
I’ve reviewed it more fully in a regular Musicweb review
and it’s already a strong contender for one of my Recordings
of the Year.
Like other recent Linn and Gimell recordings, this can be obtained
in better-than-CD quality as a 24-bit studio-quality download,
but I’m perfectly happy with the quality of both Linn’s
and Gimell’s wma and flac 16-bit files. (They also offer
very decent mp3 versions at a lower price.) Both companies value
sound and musical quality and their download arrangements are
very similar; both offer the booklet of notes and other disc
liners and inserts as pdf files. (Chandos also do this for their
own and some other recordings on their theclassicalshop.net website
and classicsonline.com do so for their own label, Naxos.) One
other user-friendly aspect of both websites is that they never
seem to suffer from traffic congestion - whatever your broadband
speed, some sites will download only at about 50k when they are
busy; Acis downloaded at over 800k, as did the Gimell
Palestrina and Brumel recordings to which I refer below.
Mention of the Duke of Chandos in conjunction with Handel reminds
me that the best download versions of the latter’s Chandos
Anthems come from the Chandos label’s website,
theclassicalshop.net, with The Sixteen/Harry Christophers.
More about these recordings next month, but the first volume
on CHAN0503 (mp3 or lossless sound) is a good place to
start in the meantime.
My Discovery of the Month also emanates from Linn: a recording
from 2000 of the Missa Ego sum qui sum of Philippe
Rogier (c.1561-1596), performed by Magnificat/Philip Cave on CKD109,
together with the motet by Nicholas Gombert which provides
its cantus firmus and six shorter pieces by Rogier himself.
I can’t tell you much about Rogier - he’s not even
named in the Oxford Companion to Music and this is one
of Linn’s older downloads which don’t offer the booklet
of notes - but I can tell you that the music is superb and that
the performances and recording do it full justice.
I have two other Linn downloads to recommend before I move on.
I haven’t yet heard their recent recording of Mozart’s
last four symphonies conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras - I hope
to fit that in next month - but I have heard their even newer
version of Mozart’s Colloredo Serenade and
the Divertimento, K251 (Scottish Chamber
Orchestra/Alexander Janiczek on CKD320) and have been
thoroughly delighted. A most enjoyable recording.
I also echo the recommendation that has already appeared in the
main Musicweb reviews of Garden of Early Delights (Pamela
Thorby, recorder and Andrew Lawrence-King, harp and psaltery
on CKD291). My colleague Bob Briggs says it all - his
review is full of words such as ‘delicious’ - and
I readily concur: I simply direct you to his review.
Mentioning Gimell in the same sentence as Linn brings
me to two of their recordings. Antoine Brumel’s (c.1460-c.1520) Missa
Et ecce terræ motus is the only Mass which I know
that is based on an earthquake, albeit that it’s the one
recorded in the New Testament on the day of Jesus’s death.
It’s no mere novelty work, especially when it’s as
well performed as it is on CDGIM026 by The Tallis Scholars/Peter
Phillips. Brumel’s Lamentations and Magnificat
secundi toni round off a most enjoyable and well-filled recording
of music from that fascinating late-medieval/renaissance transitionary
period. The recording (CD-quality wma; there’s also a less
expensive 320k mp3) is very good and the excellent booklet, with
its striking cover, comes as part of the deal. The Gloria from
the Mass is also available on a Gimell 2-for-1 bargain, The
Essential Tallis Scholars (CDGIM201) which my
colleague Michael Cookson recommended without hesitation (see review),
but you really need to hear the whole work.
I recently compared The Tallis Scholars 2-for-1 set of Palestrina
with a rival EMI budget 2-CD recording of some of the same music
from King’s College Cambridge under David Willcocks and
Philip Ledger and found myself preferring the Gimell version
in almost every respect (CDGIM204: Missa Assumpta
est Maria; Missa Sicut lilium; Missa
Brevis and the great Missa Papæ Marcelli).
This is a splendid bargain and the sound, though some of the
tracks are AAD, is still very good. (CD-quality wma again, with
an mp3 option.)
My Bargain of the Month is the classic recording of Puccini’s la
Bohème, made by Victoria de los Angeles, Jussi
Björling and Sir Thomas Beecham; to get this
for under £1 sounds crazy, but that is exactly what eMusic have
on offer. With just four tracks, one for each act, there’s
no problem with the slight glitches that are sometimes experienced
with downloads of operatic recordings and at 24p per track on
the 50-track-per-month tariff, the cost is a mere 96p. Add the
cost of a blank CDR and a 2-CD case and you’ve got the
whole thing for less than £2. The recording is mono and
rather dry at that - but that’s true of EMI’s reissue,
too, and the ear very soon adjusts, even to the extent of imagining
some spatial separation. Don’t worry about some very minor
fluffs - the performance was arranged rather hastily - they won’t
put you off a marvellous experience.
This is one of a number of classic recordings being revived by Past
Classics and available from eMusic; several of them are also
available on Amazon’s new UK download facility at Amazon.co.uk;
this Puccini is not yet among them, but Beecham’s Berlin Magic
Flute is (at £1.58! 2 tracks from eMusic for 48p!)
together with his recording of Strauss’s Ein
Heldenleben (for 79p! - or just one 42-minute track from
eMusic, for 24p!) eMusic also have Beecham’s Berlioz Harold
in Italy (4 tracks, with William Primrose), his Sibelius Second
Symphony (3 tracks), Dennis Brain’s Mozart Horn
Concertos (11 tracks), Anatol Fistoulari’s Strauss Graduation
Ball (1 35-minute track only, surely worth 24p of anyone’s
money) and many other treasures. There are also some jazz recordings,
such as the Dave Brubeck Quartet: Jazz at the Black Hawk (£6.32
from Amazon or 8 tracks from eMusic, i.e. less than £2).
Rest assured that I’ll be trying many of these.
I have a number of other recommendations from eMusic. The
Nash Ensemble give as good a performance as any I have heard
of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, Sonata
for violin and cello and Piano trio on
a CRD recording which runs to nine tracks. Excellent value.
The eMusic mp3 version of Herbert Howells’ Music
for Strings (Chandos CHAN9161, 9 tracks) comes
at variable bit-rates, with some tracks at 192k and some at 256k.
I plan to compare this with Chandos’s own CD-quality or
320k mp3 download of this Richard Hickox recording next
Biber’s extremely colourful Missa Bruxellensis comes
from La Capella Reial under Jordi Savall (Alia
Vox AV9808) in slightly rough-and-ready, but very enjoyable,
performances (5 tracks of very acceptable mp3 sound at bit-rates
from 207k to 224k). The recording was made at the Salzburg Spring
Festival in May, 1999, in Salzburg Cathedral. This adds a degree
of authenticity, since the work was probably first performed
there - though found in Brussels, hence the title - but the resonant
acoustic may present a problem for some listeners - it certainly
makes it almost impossible to disentangle the 23 separate parts
for which the music is composed. There are no notes with any
of these eMusic downloads, a serious omission for anyone coming
fresh to Biber - I’ve suggested before that they should
consider making notes available for the cost of an extra track.
Another, rather less strident - but equally enjoyable - account
of a Biber Mass, the Missa Christi resurgenti,
comes from the English Concert/Andrew Manze, a Harmonia
Mundi download on eMusic - fifteen tracks, this time, but the
music’s attraction is more permanent than that of the Missa
Bruxellensis and the whole is well worth the modest cost
(less than £4 if you’re on the 50-track tariff).
Some tracks fall just below the magic 192k but some are at the
full 320k and all sound perfectly acceptable. (Recently reissued
on Harmonia Mundi Gold as HMG90 9397 at mid-price but
still rather more expensive than the download.)
An eMusic Lyrita download was spoiled for me by discontinuity
between tracks. The first piece, Hadley’s The
Trees so High, is fine and the Vernon Handley performances
throughout are excellent, but the music in the coupling, Finzi’s wonderful Immortality
Ode, is continuous across tracks and the mood of this
beautiful Wordsworth-derived music is destroyed by even the most
minute glitches. Some of the drop-outs are more than minute,
so I can only recommend that you purchase the parent Lyrita CD
(SRCD.238 - see RB’s recommendation of
this as a Recording of the Month) or the Hickox version on EMI.
If it’s just the Hadley that you want, there’s a
2-for-1 Chandos version, coupled with Sainton’s The
Island (CHAN241-22 - see RB’s recommendation of
this; another Recording of the Month). Download or CD, this Chandos
recording is a real bargain.
The pick of my downloads from eMusic this month must be the Smetana
Trio’s recent release of the Tchaikovsky Piano
Trio, Op.50, coupled with Dvořák’s Trio
in g minor, B56 on Supraphon SU3949-2.
This is as fine a performance of the Tchaikovsky as any I have
heard and the Dvořák is the equal of the Borodin
Trio version on Chandos which I recommended in the November Roundup.
If you download this and the equally fine Smetana Trio versions
of the third and fourth trios which I also recommended in November
(SU3872-2) you’ll have an excellent set of the three mature
trios. The mp3 sound is more than acceptable in both cases (bit-rates
from 199k to 320k).
Two Naxos recommendations from their own website, classicsonline.com. The
rediscovery of the wonderful music of Abbess Hildegard of
Bingen was begun by the Gothic Voices on Hyperion - A
Feather on the Breath of God is a classic - and continued
by the likes of Sequentia and the Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly.
The most recent recording by the latter (Celestial Harmonies:
Responsories and Antiphons, 8.557983) is far more attractive
than the rather dour title suggests. I found this much less dull
than my colleague Gary Higginson - see review;
I’m more inclined to agree with Mark Sealey’s more
If you haven’t yet encountered this readily-enjoyed music,
this is as good a place as any to start and the 320k download
from classicsonline is very recommendable. I’m pleased
to note that this site is now offering 320k replacements to anyone
who downloaded any of their earlier 192k versions - valid until
the end of May, 2009. They also tell me that they’re planning
to add lossless flac versions at some unspecified future date.
Very different music but equally enjoyable - and equally well
performed: Copland’s Dance Symphony, Symphony
No.1 and Short Symphony (8.559359:
Bournemouth SO/Marin Alsop). The ‘star’ here
is the Dance Symphony, a spin-off from the unsuccessful
early ballet Grohg. None of the music has quite the immediate
appeal of Appalachian Spring, the Fanfare for the Common
Man or the Third Symphony - try those first, if you
haven’t yet encountered Copland - but this is a recommendable
download, again from classiconline.
Somewhere between Hildegard and Copland chronologically comes
the mighty J S Bach - I’m surprised that I left
him completely out of the last Roundup and that he featured only
in Walton’s arrangements in the previous one. Let me make
amends by recommending the classicsonline download of John
Eliot Gardiner’s most recent recording with The
Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists on his
own SDG label: Cantatas 45, 46, 101, 102, 136 and 178 (SDG147,
2 CDs). The music may have been written for those boring Sundays
after Trinity but that makes no difference. I’ve seen minor
reservations about this latest volume in some quarters; if they’re
valid reservations, I can only say that I wasn’t troubled
by them. The (live) recording may not have the ideal balance
of studio sound but it won’t interfere with your enjoyment
at all - and neither will the 320k sound.
I started this month’s roundup with the absurd ambition
of doing justice to the recorded legacy of Vernon Handley and Richard
Hickox, but one month is simply not enough to do even one
of them justice, so I’ll spread my tribute over the next
few roundups. Both recorded frequently for the Chandos label,
whose download site, theclassicalshop.net is second to
none, so I’ll concentrate on downloads from them. That
means omitting, for example, Handley’s wonderful series
of Vaughan Williams recordings, notably the symphonies and Job,
for the Classics for Pleasure label, but you would be better
obtaining those performances on CD - you’re likely to find
them costing more as downloads. My favourite among these CFP
recordings has to be the coupling of Job, the Tallis
Fantasia and Dives and Lazarus on 5 75314
2, with Handley conducting the LPO - the CD is on offer online
as I write this review for as little as £4.65, much less
than the £7.99 charged by iTunes and Passionato for CFP
downloads. Alternatively, the Symphonies plus Job and other works
are available on 7 CDs for £17.62 from the same supplier
(5 75760 2).
Vernon Handley also made several splendid recordings of Delius for
CFP - again, go for the CD, on which most of the contents of
two earlier discs have been combined (5 75315 2). Don’t
spend £7.99 on a download of the earlier, shorter CD. Handley and Hickox combine
their talents on a Chandos 2-for-1 set The Essential Delius (CHAN241-37)
which offers splendid performances of the neglected Florida
Suite, North Country Sketches (Ulster
Orchestra/Handley), Song before Sunrise, etc. (Bournemouth
Sinfonietta/Norman del Mar), The Walk to the Paradise Garden and In
a Summer Garden (Bournemouth SO/Hickox). The performances
are excellent - you couldn’t do better, short of the classic
Beecham GROC recording, which now offers only a truncated Florida
Suite - and the CD-quality wma download from theclassicalshop.net is
excellent. I haven’t heard the mp3 version, but I have
yet to find an mp3 download from this website which wasn’t
more than wholly satisfactory.
The classic 1950s Beecham recording of Delius’s Sea
Drift is available from classicsonline.com in their Naxos
archive series, for a mere £1.99 (9.80097, coupled with Paris).
This series is well worth investigating - there are some very
interesting items here in 320k transfers: the Meyerbeer/Lambert Les
Patineurs with Massenet’s Ballet Music from Le
Cid (9.80453 LSO/Robert Irving)
brought back fond memories. Only the non-descript covers detract
and some of the timings are very short, reflecting the original
1950s LPs - but who cares at £1.99. The classic Pears/Sitwell/Collins version
of Walton’s Façade clocks in
at 37 minutes, but what a 37-minute experience it is (9.80156).
The LSO/Irving coupling of the two Façade
Suites and Constant Lambert’s Horoscope Suite (9.80159)
runs for a more respectable 45 minutes.
Also available from classicsonline in 320k mp3 sound is the only
modern version which I’ve ever heard challenge that classic
Beecham account: Bryn Terfel/Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Richard
Hickox on CHAN9214. Better still, download that recording
from Chandos’s own the classicalshop in very decent mp3
for the same price (£7.99) or in CD-quality sound for a
little extra. The couplings, Songs of Farewell and Songs
of Sunset, receive equally fine performances. This and
the 2-CD Essential Delius would make the foundation of
a truly first-class Delius collection.
Space compels me to leave many other Hickox recommendations,
but you can be sure that they will include his Chandos recordings
of the absurdly under-rated Herbert Howells - the 2-for-1
recording of his Orchestral Works on CHAN241-20 is
a good place to start; don’t go for the original
separate releases on CHAN9410 and 9557, which are still available,
but at twice the price - and of Edmund Rubbra, since these
were the versions which really made me aware of the value of
these two composers. I’ve already made a Rubbra download
one of my Recordings of the Year 2008; I recommended this
recording of his choral music some time ago (CHAN9847 -
available only as a download). I originally downloaded that recording
as an mp3; the lossless version sounds even better and it completely
eliminates the gaps between tracks which I found slightly disconcerting.
For the Symphonies, start with Nos. 3 and 7 on CHAN9634. I
had originally intended to make this recording my Download of
the Month until the new Acis and Galatea took its place.
Let the music grow on you, especially in such excellent performances,
and you’ll come to recognise Rubbra as one of the greatest
English composers of the 20th century. Three of my
colleagues have already said just about all that there is to
say about this recording in a joint review.
The Rubbra recording is available from Chandos’s theclassicalshop.net
as a CD, as a CD-quality download and in mp3 format. The lossless
wma version which I downloaded does ample justice to the first-rate
recording; short of Chandos’s emulating Linn and Gimell
in offering 24-bit studio-quality downloads, which can’t
be burned to CD, I doubt whether the sound could be bettered.
One small grumble - the black-and-white photograph of Rubbra
on the cover of the booklet (but not on the separate download
of just the cover) has been reversed to a ghostly negative. Otherwise,
the splendid Samuel Palmer painting on the cover really sets
off the recording. Those who have already taken Rubbra on board
may prefer to purchase the box set, offering 5 CDs for the price
of 4 (CHAN9944); unfortunately, the lossless and mp3 downloads
don’t reflect the same saving.
One final, brief, postscript recommendation - another 2-for-1
set reminds us that there’s a great deal more to Holst than The
Planets: The Cloud Messenger, Hymn of
Jesus, Choral Fantasia, Ode to Death etc.,
mainly conducted by Richard Hickox, with contributions from the
Finzi Singers/Paul Spicer. The Hymn of Jesus, an elusive
work, is very well performed - and better recorded than the Decca/Boult
version from which I first got to know it. (CHAN241-6)
Doing justice to Vernon Handley represents even more of
a challenge than Richard Hickox. Just looking at the very inexpensive
sampler CD which Chandos brought out in 2004 (TOD001,
at £1.95) gives a reminder of the range of his interests
and strengths: Grieg, Stanford, Bax, Britten, Delius, Finzi,
Bridge, Leighton, Dvořák, Bliss, Vaughan Williams
and Moeran, just for starters. Typing ‘Handley’ into
the search box on the Chandos website brought 571 responses (though
some are duplicates, CD, mp3 and lossless versions of the same
recording.) Then there are his Lyrita recordings.
Most of the Chandos recordings which I’ve mentioned are
available from eMusic - usually the cheapest option for works
with fewer than a dozen tracks, but at variable bit-rates - classicsonline,
now at a guaranteed 320k, and, of course, especially from Chandos’s
own theclassicalshop.net in 320k mp3 or lossless versions. eMusic
and classicsonline have always recompensed me for the very occasional
dud track but, for the best assurance of quality download of
Chandos recordings, go to theclassicalshop.
The only real rival to the Hickox set of the Rubbra symphonies
comes from the Lyrita coupling of Nos. 6 and 8 with
the Soliloquy, the last-named very ably conducted
by Vernon Handley, on Lyrita SRCD.234. (Seven tracks
I’ll be returning to Handley’s Chandos recordings in coming months,
but it’s two Lyrita recordings that I want to close with. John Joubert meant
only one thing to me - his very striking carol Torches - until I heard
Handley’s account of his First Symphony, issued as a short
mid-price CD by Lyrita to mark the composer’s 80th birthday
(SRCD.322). This revelatory performance, like the Rubbra, is available
in very decent mp3 sound from eMusic: the four tracks will cost you less than £1.
My only complaint is the rather dour portrait of Joubert on the cover.
Another Handley Lyrita recording, available as a download from eMusic, introduced
me to John Foulds’ Dynamic Triptych and the
solo-piano version of the Vaughan Williams Piano Concerto (SRCD.211).
The VW is more impressive in this form than in the more usual 2-piano version
and the Foulds coupling combines power and lyricism - a real discovery. The bit-rate
varies from track to track, but most are at the maximum 320k.