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MusicWeb Reviewer’s Log April/May 2009
Reviewer: Patrick C Waller

Last time I mentioned the Haydathon which was about to take place, an attempt to perform all Haydn’s symphonies in one event for charity. As I have since reported on Seen and Heard, it turned out to be a considerable success. I also mentioned the Nimbus release of the complete symphonies on 8 CDs containing mp3 files, saying that I thought it a good idea but that I had too many of the originals to contemplate buying the set. Well, reading Dominy Clements’s review changed that and for pennies per symphony I have being enjoying the flexibility that the format brings. Since the Nimbus Haydn discs I already owned were of the middle works, I have started at the beginning working forwards and also at the end working backwards.

There are quite a few other Haydn bargains around and the one that appealed to me most, taking into account gaps in the collection, was the Angeles Quartet’s 21 CD box of all the String Quartets on Philips (4646502). I had largely collected Haydn quartets working backwards, mostly the Kodaly Quartet on Naxos, but had none of the early works before Opus 50. So I have had quite a few pleasant surprises – not realising before how innovative some of the early works were. I haven’t quite heard it all yet but enough to say that I am very impressed with both the performances and the recording. For the next couple of months this box is available for about £3 per disc or half the normal price from various mail order outlets. This is rather less than the recently issued Naxos set and, aside from price considerations, it seems a more desirable acquisition.
 
The other big box I should mention is the Chandos 30th anniversary box – a tour de force indeed. A brief list of the 30 discs can be found in this press release, many of them are ground-breaking and/or award winners and there’s not a dud among them. Purchasing such a mixed collection in a large box was quite a different experience from my norm but it has turned out to be a very positive one. At hardly more than a pound a disc and being a limited edition, I would advise against tarrying. Don’t think of it that you already have x of these discs – 7 in my case – rather that you don’t have 30 minus x of the discs. The only downside is lack of documentation although it can all be found on the Chandos website. The box is particularly strong on vocal works, for example the choral works of Lili Boulanger, Grechaninov’s Passion Week, Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass conducted by Mackerras and Stanford’s Songs of the Sea. There are several Hickox discs but, surprisingly, none of Handley’s. Overall, it is very imaginative programming and this would be an ideal box to take away on holiday.
 
Whilst on the subject of boxes I should mention a couple of smaller ones. In both cases the composers were names I had heard of but I couldn’t recall having heard their music. First, CPO has collected together the symphonies of Egon Wellesz, a powerful series of works that belie the composer’s rather academic reputation. Secondly a Brilliant box (93439) of works by Italian romantic composer Martucci including the two symphonies and two piano concertos. These derive from less than ideal ASV recordings made 20 years ago and there is some competition emerging, so they may not be the best but this set is almost worth buying just for La canzone dei ricordi, a wonderful cycle sung by Rachel Yakar.
 
I haven’t downloaded a great deal recently but I did come across the cello concerto of Minna Keal in that format on the NMC website and was so impressed that I have since also bought the Lorelt disc of her music entitled A Life in Reverse. This is remarkable music from a lady who gave up composing for 46 years before writing a varied oeuvre of compelling works. I have also downloaded the First Piano Sonata of Charles Ives played by Herbert Henck on Wergo from Classicsonline and Tippett’s Rose Lake conducted by Colin Davis on RCA from Amazon UK. The latter is a marvellous performance but disappointing in this format in that there seems to be no way of avoiding the joins between the sections, so it would be better to get this on disc. Beethoven’s Horn Sonata played by Dennis Brain and Denis Matthews in 1944 is the opposite – one file for all three movements and thus available on Amazon UK for just 69p!
 
Whilst on the subject of Beethoven, I should mention the Nimbus Alliance issue of the late quartets played by the Wihan Quartet. Recorded live with “warts and all” this is nevertheless worth exploring, especially for the three larger works in which the Wihan Quartet seem particularly at home.
 
I was delighted to see that Dutton have recorded Arthur Butterworth’s marvellous Fourth symphony and viola concerto. This is a two disc set and also includes Barbirolli conducting the First Symphony in 1958 and some reflections from the composer. Also on Dutton, the six symphonies of Richard Arnell have proved well worth exploring with the Third perhaps being the best place to start.
 
Finally, gatherings of MusicWeb reviewers are becoming regular events. The latest one just last weekend was rather special as it took place at the headquarters of Nimbus in the beautiful Wye Valley. As well as a pleasant lunch, we were treated to a tour of the facility and a recital in the concert hall which has a fabulous acoustic. Carla Rees on alto and bass flutes with David Black on guitar performed a varied and delightful programme which enchanted all those present. Carla is living a crusade for the alto flute and, if you’re interested in finding out about that, visit the Rarescale website.
 
Patrick C Waller
 


 


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