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Download Roundup December 2009

I’m pleased to be able to announce that Hyperion’s own download site is now active. I include hyperlinks to the relevant URLs in this roundup; those recordings which I have included in previous months should be found fairly easily from Hyperion’s home page via the search engine. Downloads are available in mp3 and lossless (flac) formats for the same basic price. Unlike the practice of many other providers, the budget label Helios is offered more cheaply than premium issues and shorter recordings come with a £1 or £2 price reduction.

I’ve had access to the facility for several weeks now and am happy to report that everything has downloaded very smoothly. See my roundup of my own 30 favourite Hyperion recordings. 

Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) The Crown of India, Imperial March, The Coronation March, The Empire March Sheffield PCh & BBC Philharmonic/Sir Andrew Davis rec. 2009 CHANDOS CHAN10570 from The Classical Shop (mp3 and lossless)

I’m sticking my neck out in making this my Download of the Month, as I suspect that Chandos are by issuing it. This music won’t be popular in many quarters - its jingoism is certainly not pc, and I suspect that some of the sentiments stuck in Elgar’s craw as he set them - but the music was too good to leave undiscovered. Chandos already had a very good recording of the Suite which Elgar made from The Crown of India, but there’s much more here than found its way into the Suite.

Chandos have generously provided us with two versions for the price of one. The first CD offers the full original pageant with spoken parts, the second omits those spoken sections and lets us hear just the musical sections. I suspect that it’s the second option that I shall be taking in future, with, perhaps, an occasional listen to the first. The speakers certainly do their part well, as do all those involved in the musical parts. Who better, in particular, than Andrew Davis, newly acquired by Chandos, to oversee all this?

If you prefer to stay with just the Crown of India Suite, that’s available with the Pomp and Circumstance Marches and Cockaigne from the RSNO and Alexander Gibson at budget price on CHAN8429 as an mp3 or lossless download (the parent CD is deleted). 

Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621) Dances from Terpsichore The Parley of Instruments; Renaissance Violin Band/Peter Holman rec. 2000 HYPERION CDA67240 from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

If, like me, you got to know the music from Terpsichore from David Munrow’s colourful versions, you’ll probably think these Hyperion performances rather penny-plain. But Peter Holman offers convincing evidence for not including the crumhorns and the other renaissance panoply to which Munrow introduced us. I still want to hear that extraordinary recording, also Philip Pickett’s Oiseau-Lyre version - in fact the Munrow would be one of my desert-island discs - but the Hyperion recording has the advantage of authenticity not achieved at the expense of enjoyment; indeed, it’s often as rousing as Munrow, for example in the Ballet des coqs (tr.31) and the closing La battaglia (tr.32).

The Munrow version is available on CD (5612892 or download from Passionato, the original LP coupling, with motets) and the Pickett on 475 9101, also from Passionato. The Dances from Terpsichore are also available with a further delightful collection of Munrow performances on a bargain-price Virgin twofer (3500032). The twofer is also available as a download from passionato but, at £15.99 or £19.99 (flac), it costs about twice as much as the 2-CD set. The other Munrow download and the Pickett are comparable with the price of the equivalent CD at £7.99.

Alessandro STRADELLA (1639-1682) San Giovanni Battista Academia Montis Regalis/Alessandro De Marchi rec. 2007 HYPERION CDA67617 from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

Last month’s recommendation of the Academia and De Marchi in Scarlatti’s Davidis pugna - see review - led me back to their earlier recording. Tony Haywood had some small reservations about the singing - see review - but these need not deter anyone from purchasing this recording. The earlier Minkowski recording on Warner Elatus is available from Amazon for £4.29 (mp3 only); that would be the only reason not to go for the Hyperion, but this hardly breaks the bank at £7.99 - and it comes with texts and in excellent lossless .flac as well as mp3.

There’s also a recommendable Harmonia Mundi recording of Stradella’s Chamber Cantatas and Sinfonias, available from emusic (mp3); the parent CD appears to be deleted, so the download is all the more welcome. 

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) The French Connection Adrian Chandler (violin); Katy Bircher (flute); Peter Whelan (bassoon) La Serenissima/Adrian Chandler rec. 2009 AVIE AV2178 from Classicsonline (mp3)

This recording is billed as Vivaldi’s French Connection - a fairly slender peg on which to hang some excellent performances of mostly first-rate music, all sounding well in good mp3 sound (see review by John-Pierre Joyce). All in all, this is a worthy successor to the three-volume Rise of the North Italian Concerto by these same artists, the third volume of which I made Recording of the Month last year (AV2154).

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) 
As last month, I’m grateful for the additional input on Handel from my friend and former colleague Maurice Thunder (hereafter MT). 

Messiah The Sixteen Ch & O/Harry Christophers rec. 1986 HYPERION DYAD CDD22019 from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

MT writes: When I started at grammar school, music lessons in the autumn term consisted of practices of the choruses from parts I and II of Handel’s Messiah. This culminated in a performance in a local parish church by 600 girls and boys accompanied by a Victorian organ - hardly authentic but it introduced me to this masterpiece. (In the other terms we also sang - more Handel, Purcell, Beethoven and Coleridge Taylor are the ones I recall). Fifty years later it is still difficult to listen to the work without joining in (croakily); equally difficult is reading passages from the Holy Bible (such as “wonderful, counsellor, the mighty God” etc) without singing them! There are so many recordings available that I have not been able to listen to many of them, but I am very happy with my copy of Harry Christopher’s version with The Sixteen on Hyperion. Two words of warning; firstly, be careful when selecting your recording as there are a number sung in German; secondly, Mozart re-orchestrated the work and some recordings (Mackerras for example) use this version. 

Having reviewed three recent versions of Messiah, BW has not had time to listen to this Hyperion recording but recommends the Linn recording with the Dunedin Consort and John Butt to those who wish to hear the original Dublin version (CKD285 - see November 2009 Download Roundup), the more recent version by The Sixteen and Harry Christophers on Coro as probably the best all-round ‘authentic’ version now on offer (COR16062 - see December 2008 Download Roundup) and a new release from Hyperion, offered at 2-for-1 like their version by The Sixteen, from Polyphony (CDA67800) - a modern-instrument version offering an ideal compromise between authenticity and the heavier old-fashioned style. I’ve reviewed this last on CD; the review will probably have appeared on the main Musicweb pages by the time that you read this Roundup. 

Joshua Emma Kirkby, James Bowman, John Mark Ainsley, Ch New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom, The King’s Consort/Robert King rec. 1991 HYPERION CDA66461/2 from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

Whereas the Hyperion set offers the generally accepted revised version, there is also a Somm recording (SOMMCD240-2) which presents the original 1748 score, as performed at the London Handel Festival last year, probably for the only time since its first Covent Garden performance.

BW is more than happy with the Hyperion - much more so than with a recording by English-speaking soloists and a German choir and orchestra directed by Jürgen Budday on the K&K label last year - see review. I concluded that review by saying that the best (King) outshone the good (Budday), an opinion reinforced now by hearing the Hyperion download in very good lossless sound.

Recorded live at the 2008 London Handel Festival in St George’s, Hanover Square, the Somm recording features young singers, supported by the London Handel Orchestra and Singers, conductor Lawrence Cummings. The singing is of a high standard throughout (the original 1748 version is used), while the orchestra and chorus contribute to a set which can be warmly recommended. (MT) Most Somm recordings are available as downloads from, but this set appears not to be available there yet.

Judas Maccabæus
Heather Harper, Helen Watts, John Shirley-Quirk, Wandsworth School Boys Ch, English CO/Johannes Somary ALTO ALC2002 available from (but see below) 

Emma Kirkby, James Bowman, Ch New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom, The King’s Consort/Robert King rec. 1992 HYPERION CDA66641/2 from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless) 

MT writes: I first heard Judas Maccabeus at the 1970 Macclesfield Arts Festival; I was bowled over by this wonderful work and it remains a firm favourite. I am sticking to the rather dated Somary version, despite its lack of modern performance practice, because the singing (Heather Harper, Alexander Young, John Shirley-Quirk and, sadly, the recently deceased Helen Watts) is of such a high quality. (I also have a German version conducted by Helmut Koch with a stellar cast.) For more very stylish singing of a past era, try Richard Lewis “Handel Arias and Folksongs”. 

BW also owns the Somary version, in an earlier incarnation on its parent label, Vanguard. Amongst its many virtues is the fact that these two well-filled CDs are very inexpensive - less than £9 from most dealers. That means that there would be little point in going to the trouble of downloading the set (56 tracks) from eMusic - more than the 50-track allocation that most subscribers take out and considerably more expensive than the CDs.

For some reason I was sure that Somary offered the original version of Judas, without the conquering hero, and said so in my review of his Semele - a classic example of memory playing tricks: Somary does include this chorus.

Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno Deborah York, Gemma Bertagnolli, Sara Mingardo, Nicholas Sears, Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini rec. 2000 NAÏVE OP30440 from Classicsonline (mp3)

The Triumph of Time and Truth
Emma Kirkby, Stephen Varcoe, London Handel Ch & O/Denys Darlow rec. 1982 HYPERION DYAD CDD22050 from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

Johan van Veen has outlined the history of Handel’s works on this theme, beginning with the Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (1705) via the Trionfo del Tempo e della Verità (1737/9) and culminating in The Triumph of Time and Truth (1757/8), here presented in its 1757 form but with some of the 1758 omissions observed - see review.

The two recordings here offer the Italian original and the final English versions; both performances are very good and both are well recorded - though I must stress that we have heard the Naïve only in CD form.

Robert Hugill thought the Alessandrini a lively and vivid account which all should hear - see review - a view which we would support.

Classicsonline also have the Naxos recording of the intermediate Trionfo del Tempo e della Verità (8.554440-42, mp3), including a very informative note by the conductor, Joachim Martini. Passionato have the recent Emanuelle Haïm version of the Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (Virgin 3634282, mp3 or lossless).

We haven’t heard this or the Hyperion recording directed by Alessandro De Marchi (CDA67681/2) which Glyn Pursglove recommended. There’s material here, perhaps, for a future roundup; meanwhile you really won’t go wrong with our two recommendations. 
Finally, some recitals recommended by one or both of us:

Arias Magdalena Kozená, Venice Baroque O/Andrea Marcon ARCHIV 4776547 from Passionato (mp3)

“Handel is wrenched into the world of stark, expressionist music theatre. It’s a phenomenal, gripping experience... So clear away preconceptions and be prepared for one of the most extraordinary vocal displays to have been issued in recent years.” (see review by Christopher Howell). With the sole caveat that this album won’t be to all tastes, BW was also impressed. Good sound, though mp3 only.

Arias Natalie Dessay; Le Concert d’Astrée/Emanuelle Haïm rec. 2005 VIRGIN CLASSICS 3326242 from Passionato (mp3 or lossless) 

A short extract from this recording appears on a 2-CD compilation The Miracle of the Voice (363332) which Göran Forsling recommended, but you really should hear the original recital in full. It sounds very well in lossless format but, as with all these passionato downloads, the lack of availability of texts is a serious handicap by comparison with the Hyperion recordings, where the booklet with notes and texts is available as a pdf document except, oddly, in the case of The Triumph of Time and Truth

Oratorio arias David Daniels (countertenor); Ensemble Orchestra de Paris/John Nelson VIRGIN CLASSICS 5454972 from Passionato (mp3 and lossless)

Opera arias David Daniels (countertenor); Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/ Roger Norrington VIRGIN CLASSICS VERITAS 5453262 from Passionato (mp3 and lossless)

Apart from some oddities in the balance, with strings to the left, continuo to the right, and Daniels in the centre - which didn’t trouble BW - Kirk McElhearn was carried away by this selection of Oratorio Arias - see review. Strongly recommended. The lossless (flac) download is very good. KM selected He was despised from Messiah as his favourite track, but the whole recital is first-class. The Opera Arias album is equally desirable; with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Sir Roger Norrington providing the accompaniment, perhaps even more so. 

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) String Quartets 13 & 14 Takács Qt rec. 2006 HYPERION CDA67585 from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless) 

“These expertly recorded and brilliantly played performances are a feast for greedy ears.  It just doesn’t get any better than this.” (Tim Perry - see review).

When I reviewed the reissue of the Belcea Quartet’s version of the Rosamunde Quartet, I hadn’t heard this Hyperion recording. That recording remains a splendid budget-price recommendation (EMI Classics Encore 2357382 - see review) but its coupling is less logical than that offered by the Takács Quartet on Hyperion. Quartets Nos. 13 and 14 go naturally hand in hand, and that’s how Hyperion presents them. 

There may not be much to choose between the Takács and Belcea versions of Rosamunde, but the Takács Death and the Maiden is preferable to the Viennese performance which I recommended chiefly as the coupling for the superb Clifford Curzon/Vienna Octet Trout Quintet - and, in any case, that Eloquence CD seems to have bitten the dust, as I warned it might be about to do: the Trout is available now only as part of a 7-CD set.

I’m grateful to BBC Radio 3’s Building a Library for introducing me to this splendid Hyperion recording. As always, the excellent Hyperion booklet comes as part of the download deal; the notes, by Misha Donat, are splendid - and what a knockout of a cover picture!

Another Hyperion recording of Schubert brings music of less quality, but Brian Newbould’s completion of the ‘tenth’ symphony, D936a, and another symphony in D, D708a, plus several incomplete fragments, is well worth hearing. The music is never less than interesting and the performances, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, and recording do it full justice. (CDA67000, available as a download for just £5.99)

Jenö HUBAY (1858-1937) Violin Concertos 1 & 2, Scènes de la Csárda Chloë Hanslip, Bournemouth SO/Andrew Mogrelia rec. 2008 NAXOS 8.572078 from Classicsonline (mp3)

Some of the reviews of this recording, reproduced on the web page, led me to expect music of higher quality than I found to be the case, but everything here is attractive and the performances, recording and mp3 sound do it full justice. Not an essential purchase, but a likeable one. At this price you can afford to experiment; you may even agree with the claim that the music is comparable with that of Bruch and Mendelssohn. 

Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955) Symphonies 2 & 3 Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) Concerto in D Fritz Wesenigk (trumpet) Berlin PO/Herbert von Karajan rec. 1972 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4474352 from Passionato (mp3) 

These classic performances have been so universally praised that they need almost no further recommendation. Don’t expect to warm immediately to all the music here; let it grow on you. The two Honegger symphonies date from during and just after the Second World War and can seem tough nuts to crack at first. The early-70s recordings still sound well in good mp3 format and DG Originals were still on offer for a generous £4.99 from passionato when I wrote this review.

Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955) Horace victorieux, Cello Concerto, Prélude, Fugue et Postlude, Une Cantate de Noël Alban Gerhardt (cello) BBC Ntl Ch & O Wales/Thierry Fischer rec. 2007/8 HYPERION CDA67688 from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

Honegger’s Christmas Cantata is hardly the most exultant seasonal music that you’ve ever heard and it’s coupled here with music not linked to the season at all, which is why I haven’t placed this with the other reviews in the Christmas Download Roundup. Give yourself a chance to get to know it, however, and it’s likely to figure regularly in your Christmas listening, as it has in mine since I first heard it on a Decca LP from Ansermet. 

Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978) Spartacus, Gayaneh Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936) The Seasons Vienna PO/Aram Khachaturian, Suisse Romande O/Ernest Ansermet rec. 1962/6 DECCA 4603152 - from Passionato (mp3)

When the Khachaturian items on this CD were released in 1963, Spartacus, then a comparatively recent work, was described by the reviewer in The Gramophone as brash and facile. He had even harsher words for the Gopak which concluded the Gayaneh suite. I understand that the LP languished in the catalogue, generally unloved, until the BBC decided to use the Spartacus music for a popular TV series, The Onedin Line. Though the original has nothing to do with the sea, it seemed to lend itself very well to the opening images of a sailing ship and sales took off.

Yes, the music is rather brash, but I must admit to being taken along with it, and the composer’s own recording still sounds extremely well in good mp3 sound. An added incentive for buying the download is that the CD has disappeared from the catalogue - perhaps to reappear on Australian Eloquence, where Ansermet’s receording of Glazunov’s Seasons has already appeared and been welcomed by me (480 0038, 2 CDs, music by Glazunov and Glinka).

Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983) Glosses sobre temes de Pau Casals, Variaciones concertantes London SO, Israel CO/Gisele Ben-Dor rec. 1994/5 NAXOS 8.572249 from Classicsonline (mp3)

I must thank my colleague Brian Reinhart, whose review pointed me in the direction of this recording. As BR predicted, I found the Variaciones immediately most attractive, the smaller-scale version of the Glosses less so and the orchestral Glosses a tough nut to crack - indeed, I haven’t cracked it yet, but the download is worth having for the other two items. The notes by Rudy Ennis, which are available from the classicsonline website, offer a very satisfactory alternative.

New Year’s Concert in Vienna Kathleen Battle; Vienna PO/Herbert von Karajan rec. 1987 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6336 from Passionato (mp3)

By the time that you read this, you may well, like me, be looking forward to the annual New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna. Whatever the quality of this year’s music-making, Karajan’s 1987 version is a hard act to follow. It’s recently been reissued at mid price (477 6336); my only complaint about the Passionato download is that they still offer it at £7.99, around the same price as the CD and the price at which they also offer full-price recordings. It’s a little too long to burn to one CDR.

Rihards DUBRA (b.1964) Hail, Queen of Heaven Royal Holloway Ch/Rupert Gough rec. 2009 HYPERION CDA67799 from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

I passed up the chance to review this on CD, thinking that I might be ill-attuned to the idiom of a composer born in 1964, which I expected to be astringent. Then curiosity got the better of me and I decided to try the download. I’m completely sold: this is my Discovery of the Month. If you like the music of John Tavener, you’ll almost certainly like this; in fact, my only complaint is that it’s a little too sweet and could do with a touch more astringency in places. The recording is excellent; go for the lossless flac unless you must have mp3 - both are offered at the same very reasonable £7.99.

Brian Wilson 



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