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MAY 2009 - DOWNLOAD ROUNDUP

Download of the Month
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) : Missa in angustiis (‘Nelson’ Mass); Te Deum in C
Felicity Lott (soprano); Carolyn Watkinson (alto); Maldwyn Davies (tenor); David Wilson-Johnson (baritoneThe English Concert and Choir/Trevor Pinnock
DG Archiv 423 097-2 [50’] – from passionato.com (320k mp3)
 
Haydn: Missa in angustiis This recording has been around so long and praised so highly that, at this late date, there’s little to add except to make a very strong recommendation and to say that the download is very little, if any, inferior to the CD.  The ‘Nelson’ Mass is, perhaps, the marginally weak link in the Chandos/Hickox set of the Haydn Masses, so this version makes an excellent supplement to that set.  This is still one of the highlights of the Haydn discography; if you buy only one Haydn recording in this, his anniversary year, make this it, on CD or download – unless, of course, you already own it.
 
Joint Download of the Month
Jacobus Vaet (c.1529-1567) : Missa Ego flos campi; Antevenis virides; Ecce apparebit Dominus; Magnificat octavi toni, etc.
Jacob Clemens non Papa (c.1510-c1555) : Ego flos campi
Cinquecento Renaissance Vokal 
Hyperion CDA67733  [75:21] – from iTunes (256k mp3)
 
I thought this new Hyperion recording so good that I’ve reviewed it in some detail on the main Musicweb pages – please follow the link to that review.  The cover-art and booklet, with texts and translations may be accessed from the Hyperion web-site as a pdf document for printing.
 
Highly recommended
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) : Jephtha
Nigel Robson, Lynne Dawson, Anne Sofie von Otter, Michael Chance, Stephen Varcoe, Ruth Holton; The Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
Philips 422 351 2 [3 CDs] – from passionato.com (320k mp3)

Handel: Jephtha When reviewing the recent Carus recording of this oratorio, directed by Matthias Grünert (83.422), I found myself wondering why I wasn’t reacting more positively to a performance with everything in place - except the heavily accented English pronunciation - which nevertheless just didn’t gel.  I found the answer in this download – apparently the only way currently to obtain Gardiner’s splendid live performance of this one work, otherwise available in a 9-CD set.  Here you’ll find all the ingredients that are lacking in the Carus performance; it ‘sold’ me a work that I had not rated among Handel’s best.  The 320k transfer is good; it’s quite a bargain, too, at £15.99.
 
Discovery of the Month
Dialogues with Heaven
Chiara Margarita COZZOLANI (1602-c.1678) : Motets from Concerti sacri (1642) and Salmi a otto concertati (1650)
Musica Secreta
Cozzolani - Dialogues With Heaven (Motets) / Musica SecretaLinn CKD113 – from linnrecords.com (mp3 or lossless)
 
Beautiful music by a female composer of whom I’d never even heard, superbly sung and very well recorded, with a fine lossless transfer.  This has to be my Discovery of the Month; waste no time in obtaining it if you’re looking for one of those ideal recordings to unwind to.
 
Highly recommended
John ECCLES (c.1668-1735) The Judgment of Paris (1701); Three Mad Songs (1704)
Roderick Williams (baritone); Benjamin Hullett (tenor); Susan Bickley (mezzo); Claire Booth (soprano); Lucy Crowe (soprano); Chorus of Early Opera Company; Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn
Chandos Chaconne CHAN0759 [62:14] – from theclassicalshop.net (320k mp3 or lossless)
 
This has to be a close runner-up to the Cozzolani recording as Discovery of the Month.  I would have preferred to have had the Mad Songs first – they’re something of an anti-climax after the major work.  Otherwise, strongly recommended; it’s Chandos’s worthy Recording of the Month and I think it will be in my player frequently.  It neatly supplements Chados’s excellent recent version of Dido and Æneas; Eccles may not be in Purcell’s class but his music is very attractive and it’s good to see Purcell placed in context with his contemporaries.  The lossless (wav) download is first class.
 
La Quinta Essentia
Orlando Lassus: Missa ‘Tous les regretz’; Thomas Ashewell: Missa ‘Ave Maria’; Giovanni Palestrina: Missa Ut re mi fa sol la
Huelgas Ensemble/Paul van Nevel
Harmonia Mundi HMC90 1922 [77:10] – 13 tracks from eMusic.com (variable bit-rate mp3).
 
Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Missa Osculetur me; Hodie completi sunt; Timor et tremor; Alma redemptoris mater; Salve regina; Ave regina cælorum; Regina cæli
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
Gimell CDGIM018 [48:39] – from Gimell (mp3 or lossless).
 
Two excellent recordings of music by Lassus, from both of which I derived great pleasure.  The Harmonia Mundi coupling with Ashewell is particularly attractive and neatly complements – indeed, surpasses – the Christ Church recording of the latter’s music which I recently recommended.  Listening again to music by the man who may have been Taverner’s teacher and predecessor at Cardinal College, I think I judged him a little harshly when I referred to his music as workaday; in fact, this mass stands comparison with those first-rate early Tudor composers who were his successors.
The all-Lassus Gimell recording contains excellent performances of the calibre which the very name of the Tallis Scholars practically guarantees.  My only reservation is that this CD now offers short value and could benefit from the kind of reissue with extra music that Gimell have been giving to some of their other early recordings.  The Harmonia Mundi recording is much more generous in terms of time.
The mp3 eMusic download is more than acceptable; the lossless (wma) version of the Gimell is splendid.
No notes with the eMusic download; full documentation to print out with the Gimell.
 
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625) : Consorts for Viols
Fantasias a 6 i-vi; In Nomine a 5 i-ii; Peascod Time (The Hunt’s Up); Pavan Lord Salisbury; Fantasia; The Silver Swan; Fantasies a 3 i-iv; O Lord, in thy wrath rebuke me not; Hosanna to the Son of David; Pavan; Galliard; Go from my Window
Phantasm (viol consort)
AVIE AV0032 [71:48] – from passionato.com (320k mp3 or flac lossless).
 
There’s very little of value that I can add to the praise which has been heaped on this award-winning recording, so I refer you to Johan van Veen’s comprehensive review and merely add that the passionato download is excellent in both formats.  At the moment passionato have only a small selection from the excellent Avie catalogue; I very much hope that they will be adding more soon. They could do much worse than to include Phantasm’s other Avie recordings.
 
Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1707) : Le Jugement de Salomon (The Judgement of Solomon); Motet pour une longue offrande
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
Virgin Classics 3 59294-2 – from passionato.com (320k mp3 and flac lossless).
 
André CAMPRA (1660-1744) : Grands MotetsNotus in Judea Deus; De Profundis; Exaudiat te Dominus
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
Virgin Classics 5 45618 2 – from passionato.com (320k mp3 and flac lossless)
 
Charpentier: Judicium Salomonis H422As with The Tallis Scholars, the mere name of Les Arts Florissants is almost a guarantee of quality and so it proves here on these two recordings of French baroque music.  These are first-rate accounts of very attractive music.  Charpentier is the better-known of these composers but the Campra is also well worth investigating.  Both recordings are very good but, sadly, the Campra is marred by a disfiguring dropout on track 2.  Buying that track elsewhere won’t help – the iTunes version has the identical fault which must, therefore, presumably be laid at the door of EMI/Virgin.  Both providers refunded my money, but you might like to come back to this one in a few months when, with any luck, the fault will have been repaired.
 
MONTEVERDI, FRESCOBALDI, etc: Un Concert pour Mazarin
Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor); Ensemble la Fenice/Jean Tubéry
Virgin Classics 5 45656 2 – from passionato.com (320k mp3 and flac lossless)
Un concert pour Mazarin
I have to say that Philippe Jaroussky’s voice is a taste which I haven’t yet acquired; very different from other counter-tenors.  Try the sample tracks before you buy; if you like what you hear, this recording offers a very attractive programme of works by Italian composers whose music Cardinal Mazarin, himself Italian, enjoyed.  The 320k sound is more than acceptable and there’s also a lossless (flac) version.
 
De Profundis: Cantatas by Nikolaus BRUHNS, Dietrich BECKER, Franz TUNDER, Dietrich BUXTEHUDE and Johann Christoph BACH
Stephan Macleod (bass); Ricercar Consort/Philippe Pierlot
Mirare MIR041 [66:01] – from eMusic.com (8 tracks, variable bit-rate mp3)
 
De profundisEight cantatas for bass soloist, the first and last in penitential mood, may look like a recipe for boredom, but the music here is varied and the cantatas become more accomplished as the recording progresses, until we’re left with two minor masterpieces by Buxtehude, a beautiful setting of words from the Song of Songs, and Johann Christoph Bach’s Lament ‘Wie bist du denn O Gott?’.  It’s a bit naughty of Mirare to bill the latter simply as ‘Bach’ on the cover; he’s often referred to as the finest of JSB’s predecessors, but he isn’t the Bach whom most impulse purchasers will think of.  The performances are excellent and the recording is good, if a little close.  The eMusic mp3 transfer is more than acceptable.  No texts or notes, but the words of De Profundis and the excerpts from the Lutheran Bible are easily found online.
 
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1789) : Organ Concertos, Op4/2, Op.7/3-5, No.13 ‘Cuckoo and Nightingale’
Simon Preston; The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock
DG Archiv Masters 447 300-2 [66:31] - from passionato.com (320k mp3)


Handel: 5 Organ Concertos [Germany]If you followed my advice and bought Ton Koopman’s super-budget-price version of Handel’s Op.4 and Op.7 Organ Concertos – see the end of my review of the Op.3 Concerti Grossi – you may be looking around for a version of Concerto No.13, the beautiful ‘Cuckoo and Nightingale’, to round off the set.  Look no further than this Archiv download from passionato.com in very good mp3 sound.  This is one of those instances where downloading saves the day, since this recording is available in the UK only as an import; otherwise Preston’s excellent versions of these life-enhancing Handel concertos may be had only as part of a 3-CD set.
Passionato can also offer the new Decca recording of Handel’s Op.4 Organ Concertos (478 1465, Ottavio Dantone/Accademia Bizantina) which I haven’t yet heard, but intend to try.
 
John MARSH (1752-1828) : Symphonies Nos. 2, 6, 7, 8 and Conversation Symphony for two orchestras
London Mozart Players/Matthias Bamert
CHANDOS CHAN10458 [64:05]  - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless).


The Olympia CD of five symphonies by this contemporary of Haydn and Mozart (OCD400) has recently been reissued by Alto – happily, that super-budget CD overlaps with the Chandos recording only partly, with the Sixth Symphony and Conversation Symphony in common.  The Chichester Concert/Ian Graham-Jones play very well on that earlier recording; though they’re not, of course, as professional a group as the London Mozart Players, their performances are a little more forthright than the LMP’s, though in the two works common to both recordings Bamert’s timings are slightly faster than those of Graham-Jones.  The Chandos recording is first-rate and the lossless transfer reflects that fact.
The same Contemporaries of Mozart series offers two other very recommendable recent recordings: Leopold Mozart Symphonies on CHAN 10496 and Georg Joseph Vogler Symphonies, Overtures and Ballets on CHAN 10504.  Both contain premiere recordings and both are performed by the London Mozart Players and Matthias Bamert.
 
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) : Symphonies Nos. 3, 5 and 6
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
EMI GROC 5 66984-2 [78’ ADD] – from passionato.com (320k mp3 or lossless flac)
 
Schubert: Symphonies 3,5 & 6This is another back-catalogue item which has never been surpassed and probably never will be – and the reproduction of the original sleeve, with Beecham wearing that awful suit is really nostalgia-inducing.  The recording is a little dated now but passionato’s transfer does it full justice.  Beecham always had the knack of making anything that he put his hand to sound great; here he makes these early symphonies sound like masterpieces, with the ‘little’ C major (No.6) almost sounding the equal of the ‘great’ symphony in the same key (No.9 or No.7 depending on whether you follow the English or German numbering).  The mp3 is good value at £7.99 but the flac version at £9.99 is less so, when the parent CD can be obtained for less.  Like most other download providers, passionato need to look seriously at their policy of charging the same inflexible price for full- medium- and budget-price issues.
 
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-97) : Symphonies Nos.1-4; ‘Haydn’ Variations; Alto Rhapsody1; Academic Festival Overture; Tragic Overture
1Christa Ludwig; Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer
EMI Great Recordings of the Century 5 62742 2 [3CDs] – from amazon.co.uk (256k mp3)

 
This could so easily have become not just Bargain of the Month but the Bargain of Bargains – 3 CDs’ worth of Klemperer’s sure touch in Brahms for just £3.  Surprisingly, Amazon also have precisely the same 3-disc set as a download for more than six times the price.  Unfortunately there is a flaw: a sizeable and disfiguring dropout in the first track of the first CD, the theme of the ‘Haydn’ Variations.  Amazon very quickly and very courteously acknowledged my email about this and refunded my payment in full.  For the moment the £3 album appears to have been withdrawn from the amazon site.  It may well be that they are able to rectify the problem in the near future, in which case the recording will be restored for sale. 
Purchasing that one track from another provider won’t help – I tried passionato’s version and found the same flaw, presumably emanating from the master copy provided by EMI. I have no reason to think that the more expensive amazon version is exempt.
In my recent review of Eloquence’s very inexpensive 4-CD set of the Brahms Symphonies, Overtures, Alto Rhapsody and German Requiem (OSR/Ansermet, 480 0448) I regularly found myself comparing Ansermet’s mostly very acceptable performances with those of Klemperer and preferring the latter. 
Ansermet’s Decca recordings were always preferable to Klemperer’s Columbia versions and that remains the case – Ansermet sometimes sounds a little shrill, Klemperer a little more – but amazon’s 256k transfers are very acceptable – at least better than the original LPs – and the performances fit the music like a glove, especially in the case of the third and fourth symphonies, which I have yet to hear bettered. 
 
Johannes BRAHMS : Piano Quartets 1-3
The Borodin Trio with Rivka Golani (viola)
Chandos CHAN8809/10 (2 CDs) – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 or lossless)
 
I recently recommended the Nash Ensemble’s recording of the first and third quartets, both very attractive works, but you really need the symphonic-length second to complete the series and this Chandos recording fits the bill.  Tempi are on the broad side by comparison with the Nash players in the first and third quartets and by a considerable margin by comparison with the Ames Piano Quartet on Dorian in the second.  In any case, the eMusic download of the Dorian version apparently has a track defect in the slow movement – at least, a comment posted to that effect by a customer has been allowed to stand, so I presume that the fault hasn’t been corrected.
The Borodin Trio/Golani tempi did not worry me at all – they give the music its due weight, an essential feature with Brahms, even at his most light-hearted, as here in the gipsy finale of the first quartet – nor did the supposedly Slavic tinge which some reviewers have found in these performances.  I listened to this version of the second quartet immediately after hearing a Radio 3 midday concert in which the work was performed by Llyr Williams and the Leopold String Trio, a performance which had reminded me what a wonderful, often magical, work this quartet is and which set me looking for a download version to recommend.  For my money, the Chandos set offers just that – a performance which gives the music a chance to breathe.
Both eMusic and classicsonline can offer mp3 versions of these Chandos recordings but only Chandos’s own theclassicalshop has them in lossless (wma, wav or aiff) format, in which form the recordings sound excellent.  The broad tempi bring one small problem – the first and third quartets are too long to accommodate on one CD, as is the usual practice, so you have to change discs for the finale of the third.
The main rivals among complete sets, the augmented Beaux Arts Trio, offer rather brisker performances, especially of the second quartet, for those who prefer their Brahms a little less weighty, at £9.99 for the 2-disc set from Universal’s classicsandjazz.co.uk website (454 017 2, mp3 or wma).  From the same site, the Takács Quartet even manage to include the Piano Quintet, presumably by omitting several repeats, but at £14.99 this 2-disc set is not competitive with its own CD equivalent, especially when Amazon.co.uk offer the same set to download for a more competitive £9.79.
 
Johannes BRAHMS Ein deutsches Requiem (German Requiem)
Julia Brochert (soprano); Michael Volle (baritone); Kammerchor Stuttgart; Klassische Phlharmonie Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius
CARUS 83.200 – from classicsonline.com (320k mp3)
Dorothea Röschmann, Thomas Quasthoff; Berlin Radio Chorus; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle
EMI 3 65393 2 – from amazon.co.uk or passionato.com or iTunes.
 
Following my recent comparative disappointment in reviewing the 4-CD Eloquence set of Brahms referred to above, I decided to look at some of the download versions of the German Requiem.  I used to think that I didn’t really warm to the work, but the problem really is that no one version has ever satisfied me; I like the quiet introspection of one version and the power of another, but the two never seem to come ideally together.  Combine the qualities of these two versions and you’d have a real winner.
I’ve seen the Bernius version chosen as the best of the current recordings. I wouldn’t go that far, but it contains some fine singing and a sensitive approach to the music.  It would be ideal for those seeking a thoughtful and consolatory account, but it doesn’t quite catch fire enough for me at those crucial moments, like the climaxes of Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras, where some interpretations really take off.  Nor does the live recording quite make the impact that it should; if one heard this as a Radio 3 broadcast, one might be well enough pleased, but I’d like a little more bite from a commercial recording.  I don’t think that classicsonline’s 320k transfer is to blame, since their mp3s usually sound more than adequate.
Brahms: A German Requiem            Rattle, in Denn alles Fleisch, actually takes slightly longer than Bernius (14:14 as against 13:07); as you might expect, therefore, his version has greater weight but it also makes a more powerful impact at the big moments.  If you can bear the intrusive advertising at the beginning of each track, this version is free to stream from We7, or it can be downloaded from them, free of ads, for £6.75.  Overall, I agree with Jonathan Woolf, who thought this version powerful and intense, but felt that Quasthoff’s singing let the side down somewhat – see review.  Nevertheless, it’s probably the best recent version to have, but next month I want to look again at the classic Klemperer account.
 
Anton Stephanovich ARENSKY (1861-1906): Piano Trio in d minor, Op.32
Nicolai Andreyevich RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908): Quintet for piano and winds in B-flat (1876)
The Nash Ensemble
CRD CRD3409 [62:21] – 7 tracks from eMusic.

Arensky: Trio in D minor, Rimsky-Korsakov: Quintet for Piano and Winds The Arensky is a most attractive work, little short of being worthy of comparison with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, with which it’s coupled on a Naxos recording, available to download from classicsonline (Vovka Ashkenazy, etc., 8.550467).  Accomplished as the Nash Ensemble performance is, with its emphasis on the lyrical qualities of the music, I marginally prefer the more energetic Naxos version.  The Rimsky Quintet is also very attractive music and I have no complaints about the performance.  The recording is clear, if a trifle recessed and slightly lacking in body – perhaps it needs to be transferred at a higher bit-rate than eMusic’s, with some tracks at below the magic 192kbps.  Boosting the playback volume helps matters.  If you prefer the Arensky coupled with the same composer’s second Piano Trio, try the Borodin Trio on Chandos CHAN10184X from theclassicalshop.
 
Leos Janáček (1854-1928) String Quartets No.1 (Kreutzer Sonata) and 2 (Intimate Letters); Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola, H313
Emerson String Quartet
DG 477 8093 – from passionato.com (320k mp3)
 
This new recording has a fair claim to be the best current version of the Janáček quartets and the Martinů coupling adds to its attractiveness, especially as the fiftieth anniversary of the death of its composer is in danger of being eclipsed by the four luminaries who are being celebrated this year.  The performances integrate the power of the music with beautiful playing.  I never found the result too smooth, though some may prefer the music to have slightly rougher edges.  With excellent recording, transferred in very acceptable mp3 sound, this is strongly recommended.
If you’re looking for more Martinů chamber music, try the Panocha Quartet’s complete Supraphon 3-CD set, available from eMusic.
 
Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995): Violin Concerto; Hungarian Serenade
Gilad Karni (violin); Budapest Concert Orchestra/Mariusz Smolij
Naxos 8.570925 [60:41] – from classicsonline.com (320k mp3 with pdf booklet, or passionato.com, 320k mp3 or lossless flac.)

If you want to hear what Rózsa’s music sounded like pre-Hollywood, you could do much worse than this recording – see Steve Arloff’s review.  The rival Chandos recording to which he refers is available from theclassicalshop.net.  passionato’s mp3 version is marginally less expensive than that from classicsonline; the flac version offers potentially better sound but at little, if any, saving over the CD.
 
Frank Bridge (1879-1941) : Phantasie Trio in C minor (Piano Trio No.1) (1907); Piano Trio No.2 (1928-29); Nine Miniatures for Piano Trio (1908)
Jack Liebeck (violin); Alexander Chaushian (cello); Ashley Wass (piano)
NAXOS 8.570792 [72:57] – from passionato.com (320k mp3 or lossless flac)
 
John France’s generally positive review says just about all that I want to say about this recording, except to endorse his comment that the second piano trio is not the best work by which to get to know Bridge and to add that the lossless flac download from passionato does the recording full justice, albeit at a price commensurate with that of the physical CD.  The mp3 version, at 320kbps will be most downloaders’ choice for over a pound less.  No notes but, as with all Naxos recordings, these can be cut and pasted from Naxos’s website.
 
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-99) : Concierto de Aranjuez; Fantasía para un gentilhombre; Cançoneta for violin and orchestra; Invocacion y danza; Tres pequeñas piezas
Pepe Romero (guitar); Agustin Leon Ara (violin); The Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
Decca Originals 475 8248 [63:15] – from passionato.com (320k mp3)

The recent EMI 2-CD reissue of Rodrigo concertos (2 37681 2), recommendable as it is, doesn’t contain the Fantasía para un gentilhombre which, for me, is a close runner-up to the Aranjuez concerto.  This inexpensive download in very acceptable mp3 sound will put matters right and give you another very fine version of Aranjuez, plus Agustin Ara’s performance of the short Cançoneta and two other worthwhile works.  Strongly recommended.
 
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-92) : Messe de la Pentecôte; Diptyque; Apparition de l’Eglise éternelle; L’Ascension
Thomas Trotter (organ of L’Eglise-Collégiale Saint-Pierre de Douai, France)
Decca 436 400-2 [75’] – from passionato.com (320k mp3)

 
I used this recording recently as my benchmark comparison for Delphian’s fourth and final volume in their complete series of Messiaen’s organ works (DCD34078, 2 CDs), since it contains almost exactly the same works as CD2 of that set.  Good as is Timothy Byram-Wigfield’s playing there, I found these Decca performances superior in almost every respect.  The Windsor organ on Delphian suits the music well; the Douai organ here fits it like a glove.  Very acceptable 320k mp3 sound.
 
Spirit of Brazil
Music by Clarice ASSAD, including premiere recording of Danças Nativas, Egberto GISMONTI, Sérgio ASSAD, Roland DYENS, Paulo BELLINATI and Heitor VILLA-LOBOS: Ária from Bachianas Brasileiras No.5; Brincadeira from String Quartet No.1.
Aquarelle String Quartet
CHANDOS CHAN10512 [58:44] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)
 
If Julian Bream and John Williams are twice as good on their Together and Together Again albums (2 CDs, RCA 74321 201342), does that make a guitar quartet four times as good?  Not necessarily, although, on the evidence of this recording, the Aquarelle String Quartet are an accomplished and entertaining group.  The music, all but two tracks by contemporary composers, is all enjoyable though hardly memorable.  It’s those two tracks, attractive and skilful adaptations of the music of Villa-Lobos (tracks 2-3) that really stick in the mind; it’s a shame that they didn’t produce a whole CD of Villa-Lobos.  It’s all well recorded and sounds excellent in the lossless transfer, but I’m not as impressed as some of the reviews that I’ve seen had led me to expect.
 
Brief recommendations:
 
The brevity of the following recommendations is due entirely to shortage of time: all are thoroughly recommendable.
 
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) : Violin Concertos, Op.6/1-6; Concerto in A, RV335, ‘The Cuckoo’
Andrew Manze (violin); The Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
DECCA 455 653 2 [58:34] – from passionato.com (320k mp3) 
 
For no very good reason, these Op.6 Concertos are the Cinderellas among Vivaldi’s output, perhaps because they don’t have a nickname.  In fact, they’re more typical of his output than the better known L’Estro Armonico and the other named collections.  These performances are much better than the rather four-square renditions in the Philips/I Musici complete collection and the recording comes over very well in the mp3 download.  Surprisingly, this CD seems to have been deleted, so the download is the only way to obtain some excellent music.
 
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-47) : String Quintets Nos. 1 and 2
Robert Mann (viola); The Mendelssohn String Quartet
BIS-CD-1254 – 8 tracks from eMusic.com (mp3)
 
Felix MENDELSSOHN : Piano Trios Nos. 1 and 2
Julia Fischer; Daniel Müller-Schott; Jonathan Gilad
PentaTone 5186 085 – 8 tracks from eMusic.com (mp3)
 
Brief but firm recommendations for these two CDs of music by one of this year’s anniversary boys.
 
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934): Beni  Mora; Egdon Heath; Hammersmith; Invocation for Cello and Orchestra; Somerset Rhapsody
Tim Hugh (cello); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones. 
Naxos 8.553696 – from passionato.com (320k mp3 or flac lossless) or classicsonline (320k mp3) or eMusic (variable bit-rate mp3).
 
Excellent performances and recording, perfectly transferred in passionato’s lossless flac version, fully comparable with the parent CD.  A fine complement to the Hickox recordings of Holst which I have recommended in recent months.
 
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) : String Quartet; Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) : String Quartet; Gabriel FAURE (1845-1924) : String Quartet in e minor
Quatuor Ebène
Virgin 5 19045 2 – from passionato.com (320k mp3 and lossless flac).
 
The usual coupling of Debussy and Ravel is augmented by the less well-known Fauré on Quatuor Ebène’s debut recording for Virgin.  These are excellent performances, with a strong claim to be among the top half dozen versions.  Excellent sound, too, from the lossless download.  The only problem is that it’s too generous an offering to be burned on one CDR – you’ll need two, but that’s a minor expense.
 
Maurice RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G; Piano Concerto (left hand); Gabriel FAURE Ballade
Louis Lortie (piano); LSO/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
Chandos CHAN8773 [56:55] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)
 
These performances have had something of a mixed reception but I find them totally convincing.  Only Zimerman (DG) is preferable.  The excellent recording has a very wide range – perhaps too wide for domestic listening – and is well reproduced in Chandos’s own lossless wav transfer.  It’s also available from passionato.com in mp3 and flac versions.
 
Maurice RAVEL: L’enfant et les sortilèges; L’heure espagnole; Igor STRAVINSKY : Le chant du rossignol ; Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV : Capriccio Espagnol.
Soloists ; Orchestre National de la RTF; Orchestre National, Paris; Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
DG 449 7692 (2 CDs) – from passionato.com (320k mp3)
 
The appearance of the new Simon Rattle recording of L’enfant [review] has served to remind me of the virtues of these now classic recordings, still sounding well in their latest remastering.  The passionato mp3 transfer is better than when I last encountered these recordings on a 2-LP Privilege set some 30 years ago – and they had classic status even then.
 
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) : Don Juan; Till Eulenspiegel; Death and Transfiguration
Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell
SONY Great Performances 8 [54:18] – from amazon.co.uk for £2.07 (256k mp3)
 
This must be the bargain of bargains of Richard Strauss recordings: lively and enjoyable performances in decent recordings, albeit that they do show their age at the loudest moments.  This download restores a coupling last available on CBS Classics, different from the current CDs, which mix Szell and Ormandy recordings, and preferable, though also less generous in timing.
 
Doreen CARWITHEN (1922-2003): Concerto for piano and strings; Bishop Rock; ODTAA; Suffolk Suite
Howard Shelley (piano); London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
Chandos 10365X – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 or lossless, with pdf booklet) or passionato.com (mp3 or flac lossless)
 
This was a real discovery for me – attractive music by a composer whom I’d never even heard of [She was the wife of William Alwyn - Len].  Carwithen had a sense of humour – ODTAA stands for ‘one damn thing after another’.  Her music is very well performed and recorded.  It’s at mid price, too; do try it.  You can download the booklet from theclassicalshop wherever you purchase the recording.
 
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974) : Le Bœuf sur le Toît; La Création du Monde; Francis POULENC (1899-1963): Suite – Les Biches; Jacques IBERT (1890-1962) : Divertissement
Ulster Orchestra/Yan Pascal Tortelier
CHANDOS CHAN9023 [68:09] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless).
 
Idiomatic performances of four important pieces of French music, well recorded and excellently reproduced in their lossless format.  There’s also a less expensive mp3 version.
 
Dances of Life and Death : Organ music of Jehan ALAIN (1911-1940) and Maurice DURUFLE (1902-1986)
William Whitehead (Oberthür Organ, Auxerre Cathedral)
CHANDOS CHAN10315 [73:17] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless) and passionato.com (mp3 and flac)
 
See Graham Mark Scott’s review for full details of what he described as authoritative and ‘a superb recording’.  I agree; only Marie-Claire Alain’s performances of her brother’s music have a greater claim to that encomium.  The lossless download is excellent.
 
The names of the American George ANTHEIL (1900-1959) and the Australian John ANTILL (1904-1986) are easily confused; both wrote colourful music.  Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique, Serenade No.1 for String Orchestra, Symphony for Five Instruments and Concerto for Chamber Orchestra are to be found on Naxos 8.559060 in very good performances by the Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra/Daniel Spalding – very good 320k mp3 and flac transfers from passionato.com.  Far from being the enfant terrible that he is sometimes presented as, Antheil’s music here mostly sounds no more terrible than the works of Stravinsky’s neoclassical period.
 
Antill’s Corroboree and Outback Overture come on another Naxos recording (8.570241, New Zealand SO/James Judd), again very well performed.  Once more, the 320k mp3 and flac versions from passionato.com sound very well – see Hubert Culott’s review.   In both cases, cut and paste the booklet of notes from the Naxos website.
 
James MacMILLAN (b.1959): Tenebræ – Strathclyde Motets; Missa Brevis; Tenebræ Responsories
Cappella Nova/Alan Tavener
Linn CKD301 – from linnrecords.com (mp3 or lossless)
 
James MacMILLAN: St John Passion
LSO/Colin Davis
LSO Live LSO 0671 (2 CDs) – 10 tracks from eMusic.com (variable bit rate mp3)
 
Regular readers will know that I’m not a great fan of much contemporary music, but I found the Linn Tenebræ recording most effective and very moving.  The sound of the lossless download is excellent, but you’ll have to buy the SACD if you want the surround sound. 
I’m still absorbing the impact of the St John Passion but it’s sure to be on my listening schedule in Passiontide next year.  The mp3 sound on the eMusic download is perfectly acceptable but you may prefer to wait for a lossless flac version to appear on passionato.com; it hadn’t done so at the time of writing.
 
Beethoven: String Quartet No14; String Quartet No13Finally, a partial redemption of my promise, made last month, to survey the available versions of BEETHOVEN Late Quartets.  To the versions by the Lindsays and the Borodin Quartet which I recommended then, let me add equally desirable versions from the Quartetto Italiano on a 3-CD set available from passionato.com.  At £23.99 this album is less expensive than downloading the same versions on two Duo albums, though you’ll need to use four CDRs to burn the downloads.  After experiments with the Budapest Quartet’s second, stereo, versions on CBS, the Vlach Quartet on Supraphon and the Hungarian Quartet on HMV, these Quartetto Italiano recordings eventually became my LP versions of choice and they remain very competitive.  The 1960s ADD sound in passionato’s 320k mp3 transfer is still very acceptable.
 
STOP PRESS
 
I’ve just been listening to Retrospect Trio’s new recording of Henry PURCELL Ten Sonatas in Four Parts (Linn CKD332), due for release in early May but available in advance to download from linnrecords.com.  My initial reactions are very favourable; where the Purcell Quartet on Chandos (deleted on CD; download only – see review) bring out the liveliness of the fast movements better, the new recording stresses the more thoughtful aspects of the music.  The wma transfer is excellent (mp3, flac and studio quality also available) and there’s generous playing time (73:16). More details next month when I’ve had more time to analyse my reactions.
 
Brian Wilson

 


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