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November 2009 Download Roundup

This month, as in previous months, I have included some downloads from Hyperion - one is even Download of the Month. I had access to these in a ‘beta+’ format, not as yet generally available. As soon as their download site goes active, probably in the next few weeks, I shall post an article on Musicweb, describing 25-30 of my favourite Hyperion recordings in their download format.

Some of the earlier downloads I obtained in good mp3 sound; more recently lossless flac downloads have been added to the site. I’m pleased to see that these flac versions are offered at the same price as the mp3s and that the inexpensive Helios recordings are being offered less expensively. The standard prices are £7.99 and £5.99 for Helios, but shorter recordings are offered at lower prices - £6.99 for some full-price recordings and £4.99 or even £3.99 for shorter Helios CDs.

DOWNLOAD OF THE MONTH - New repertoire
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Davidis pugna et victoria (The Fight of David and his Victory) (1700)
Roberta Invernizzi (soprano) - David; Robin Johanssen (soprano) - Jonathan; Martin Oro (counter-tenor) - Saul; Fredrik Akselberg (tenor) - narrator; Antonio Abete (bass) - Goliath; Academia Montis Regalis/Alessandro De Marchi
rec Oratorio Santa Croce, Mondovi, Italy, 5-9 March 2009. DDD.
HYPERION CDA 67714 [64:50] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Last month I did my best to avoid making a Hyperion recording of renaissance or baroque music my Download of the Month, but this just had to receive the accolade, for the novelty of the material - such an impressive work: why haven’t we heard it before? - the excellence of the performance and the quality of the recording.

The Italian oratorio of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries provided an outlet for dramatic music in Lent when the theatres were closed; later, Handel’s oratorios were to fill the same need in London. Scarlatti’s David was clearly written for a discerning audience: not only is the text in Latin rather than Italian, the Latin is written in a Vergilian manner and the librettist even expects the audience to note a direct citation from the Æneid at one point.

Make no mistake, Scarlatti’s take on the story of David and Goliath is as dramatic as any early opera and it receives a performance to do it full justice from a team who have already made a reputation for themselves with a recording of Vivaldi’s Juditha triumphans (Opus 111 30314 - see review) and an earlier Hyperion recording of Stradella’s San Giovanne Battista (CDA67617 - see review). The only oddity is the abrupt ending, with a final aria which just stops almost in mid phrase, rather than the expected chorus.

Tony Haywood had some minor reservations about some of the solo contributions to the Stradella CD, reservations which I did not share in the case of the new recording.

Most listeners will be very happy with the mp3, the only version available when I downloaded this recording before the site was fully operational. I have subsequently downloaded other Hyperion recordings in lossless flac format, which most listeners will prefer, especially as they come at the same price. The booklet, obtainable as a pdf document from the webpage, is fully equal to Hyperion’s usual high standard, with excellent notes by Carrie Churnside. Try to print it on thin paper, or you won’t get it into a CD case if you decide to burn the tracks to CDR. If all this sounds too much trouble, buy the CD.

DOWNLOAD OF THE MONTH - Back catalogue
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Messiah (Dublin version, 1742) [140:05]
Susan Hamilton (soprano); Annie Gill, Claire Wilkinson (contraltos); Nicholas Mulroy (tenor); Matthew Brook (bass)
Dunedin Consort and Players/John Butt
rec. Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh, 1-4 May 2006. DDD
Notes and texts available as pdf download.
LINN RECORDS CKD 285 [76:37 + 63:28] - from linnrecords.com (mp3, lossless and studio quality)

With Christmas approaching, it seemed appropriate to look again at Handel’s Messiah. Though, of course, the work is actually more appropriate at Easter, it has attached itself irrevocably to the more popular festival.

Last year, when I recommended a recording from The Sixteen (Coro COR16062 - see December 2008 Download Roundup), I referred to this Linn recording. I stand by my enthusiastic recommendation of the Coro version but the Dunedin Consort have an equally strong claim and their version has the advantage of enshrining the original Dublin version of 1742. There never can be a fully authoritative recording because Handel never fixed an authoritative version, so it’s good that different recordings employ different versions.

Michael Greenhalgh, who made this his Recording of the Month in 2007, outlined the differences between 1742 and the ‘received’ text in a very detailed and appreciative review, the details of which it would be superfluous to repeat. I merely refer you to that review and add that the lossless download sounds as fresh and immediate as MG reported of the CDs.
For more downloads of music by Handel, see below.

REISSUE OF THE MONTH

The Tallis Scholars sing Flemish Masters
Heinrich ISAAC (c.1450-1517) Missa De Apostolis [29.14] (rec. 1991)
Johannes OCKEGHEM (c.1425-1497) Missa Au travail suis [21.08] (rec. 1997)
Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594) Missa Osculetur me for double choir [21.57] (rec. 1989)
Cipriano De RORE (c.1515-1565) Missa Præter rerum seriem [30.03] (rec. 1994)
Antoine BRUMEL (c.1460-c.1520) Missa Et ecce terrae motus (The Earthquake Mass, in 12 parts) [46.59] (rec. 1992)
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
rec. Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Salle, Norfolk, England, 1989-1997. DDD.
Texts and translations included
GIMELL CDGIM211 [72:22 + 77:02] - from gimell.com (mp3 and lossless)

The last of these 2-for-1 Gimell reissues of The Tallis Scholars, in CD form, became my Bargain of the Month this time last year (CDGIM209 and 210, two sets of Tudor Music - see review) and I have already strongly recommended several of the items on the current reissue in their full-price versions, so it was almost inevitable that this new set would receive the accolade.

I’ve just praised the 24-bit download of the Ockeghem in my October 2009 Download Roundup. Had I known then that this reissue was on the cards I might have modified that review, but those who want the highest download quality will still want that recording, as will those requiring the coupling, Missa de plus en plus.

I recommended the Isaac in the June 2009 Roundup, the Lassus in May 2009, the de Rore alongside its Harmonia Mundi competitor in September 2009, and the Brumel in January 2009.

The reissue contains five wonderful masses by Flemish Masters of the late 15th and early 16th centuries in splendid performances. As always, The Tallis Scholars give the music a little more time to breathe than most performers without the listener ever feeling that the music is too slow. As with the recordings of Gothic Voices in music of a slightly earlier period on Hyperion, I long ago ran out of epithets to describe the work of Peter Phillips and his team.

As always, the booklet of notes is available to download; these are brief but to the point. The recordings never fall short of a high standard. At £7.99 for mps 3 and £9.99 for CD-quality sound, the price is competitive.

My only reservations about the reissue concern the loss of the shorter works which accompanied these masses in their original incarnations - a small price to pay for most listeners, when the playing time of the new set is so generous, the price so tempting, and a couple of them have already appeared on another twofer, The Essential Tallis Scholars (CDGIM201 - see review), but specialists will feel the loss, for example of the Brumel Lamentations and Magnificat secundi toni which complete CDGIM026. And, though the lossless download is excellent - I cannot imagine the physical CDs sounding any better - there are no 24-bit options for the new set, as there are for the Ockeghem in its full-price format on CDGIM035.

El Canto de la Sibilla I (Song of the Sibyl)
Sibilla Latine (Barcelona X & XIth Centuries) [18:41]
Sibilla Provençale (Montpellier, Lectionarium XII-XIIIth Centuries) [13:10]
Sibilla Catalane (Seu D’Urgele, XVth Century) [22:53]
Montserrat Figueras/Jordi Savall
rec. 1988. DDD.
ALIA VOX/ASTRÉE DIGITAL EDITION No. not given [54:44]

[image]This is hauntingly beautiful music, excellently performed and recorded and available on just three tracks, making the download potentially available for less than £1. The other two albums of later settings of the Song of the Sibyll are also available from emusic but, since they are divided over multiple tracks, they are much more expensive. These reissues of music originally issued by Astrée seem to be available as downloads only in the UK, from eMusic and Amazon.

The lack of texts is a problem, though you will find various online versions of the chapters of St Augustine which summarise the prophecies of the Sibyll; these relate to the Last Judgment, hence the reference to her in the Requiem Mass sequence Dies iræ - teste David cum Sibylla, as David and the Sibyl prophesied. Once sung all over southern Europe on Christmas Eve, the practice is now limited to the island of Mallorca. (There’s a clip of a rough-and ready performance on YouTube.) 

Flying Horse: Music from the ML Lutebook
John DOWLAND The Battle Galliard [3:01]; Antony HOLBORNE Mr Holborn’s Last Will and Testament [4:40]; ANONYMOUS Tom of Bedlam [2:09]; John come kiss me now [4:03]; Robert JOHNSON A Pavin [6:56]; ANONYMOUS Corant [1:39]; Julien PERRICHON Corant (Le Testament) [3:16]; ANONYMOUS The Battle [8:02]; Robert JOHNSON A Pavin [6:19]; Daniel BACHELER A Gallyard by Mr Dan Bacheler [1:40]; John DOWLAND A Gallyard upon the Gallyard before [2:01]; Anonymous Corant [1:42]; Corant (de la Durette) [1:16]; ? Robert BALLARD La Courante Sarabande [2:00] ; Anonymous Corant [1:31] ; Mercure D’ORLÉANS A Volte [1:12]; John STURT A Volte [1:09]; Robert JOHNSON A Pavin [4:46]; Allmayne (The Prince’s Almain) [1:08]; The Noble Man [1:58]; Allmayne (Hit it and take it) [1:29]; Anonymous Allmayne and Corant [3:04]; Gray’s Inn Maske [1:21]; The Flying Horse [3:47]
Elizabeth Kenny (lute)
rec. no details given
HYPERION CDA67776 [70:50] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

The ‘ML’ Lutebook is unusual in that the music which it contains the ornamentation which would normally have been left to the performer’s discretion. It’s fascinating to hear these highly decorated versions of the familiar items, such as the Dowland pieces, in the company of much less well-known music.

With excellent performances, well recorded and offered in good mp3 sound, and the usual wealth of documentation in the pdf booklet, this was one of the runners-up for Download of the Month. 

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) DOWNLOADS 
This month and in coming Roundups I want to conclude the Handel anniversary year by looking at some of the available downloads of Handel’s vocal music, with the assistance of a friend and ex-colleague who knows a great deal more about the oratorios and operas than I do. What follows is really a collaborative effort but, where appropriate, I designate my co-writer as MT (Maurice Thunder) and myself as BW. We plan to include two or three oratorios, two or three operas and a number of recital recordings in each Roundup.

BW has already referred to a number of Handel downloads, but we don’t preclude the possibility of returning to some of these:

Organ Concertos, Op.4/2; Op7/3-5, 13; Cuckoo and Nightingale: DG Archiv - Preston (May 09 Roundup)
Fireworks Music; Water Music: Glossa - Niquet; Pinnock (April 09 Roundup)
Recorder Sonatas: Linn - Thorby/Egarr (April 09 Roundup)
Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: Virgin - Haïm (April 09 Roundup)
Acis and Galatea: Linn - Butt (January 09 Roundup)
Alexander’s Feast: Coro - The Sixteen (September 09 Roundup)
Chandos Anthems (1): Chandos - The Sixteen (January 09) (April 09 Roundup)
Coronation Anthems, etc.: Coro - The Sixteen; Cleobury (April 09 Roundup)
Coronation Anthems; Concerti a due cori: DG Archiv - Preston (August 09 Roundup)
Dixit Dominus, Nisi Dominus, Silete venti: Chandos - The Sixteen (April 09 Roundup)
Italian Cantatas (1-4): Glossa - la Risonanaza (March 09 Roundup)
Jephtha: Philips - Gardiner (May 09 Roundup)
Messiah: Coro - The Sixteen (November 08) (December 08 Roundup)
Solomon: Philips/Decca - Gardiner (September 09 Roundup)
Tobit: Naxos - Martini (April 09 Roundup)

See also BW’s reviews of:
Faramondo (Virgin Classics 2166112). The Faramondo recording is also available as a download from passionato.com but, as the CDs are offered at budget price and the download costs more, I recommend staying with the physical product on this occasion. 
Parnasso in Festa (Hyperion CDA67701/2: Recording of the Month) - now also available as a download from Hyperion.

Oratorio and Sacred Music: 
Alexander Balus (1747)
Catherine Denley (mezzo) - Alexander Balus; Michael George (bass) - Ptolomee; Charles Daniels (tenor) - Jonathan; Lynne Dawson (soprano) - Cleopatra; Claron Mcfadden (soprano) - Aspasia; Tom Raskin (tenor); Simon Birchall (bass) - Messengers; Charles Pott (bass) - Courtier; The Choir of New College, Oxford (Edward Higginbottom, director); The Choir of The King’s Consort; The King’s Consort/Robert King
rec. April 11-19 1997. DDD. Notes and texts available.
HYPERION CDA67241/2 [77:21 + 78:31] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless) 

I have to admit that, until MT urged me to think again, I hadn’t even thought of listening to Alexander Balus, so poor is its general reputation. How wrong can general reputation be? This is the third of the four oratorios which Handel wrote at the time of the Jacobite threat and the last to be performed, the others being Judas Maccabæus, the Occasional Oratorio and Joshua. Last year I reviewed a recording of Joshua on CD (KuK07/LC11277 - see review), a recording which increased my appreciation of that work, and, of course, I have a high regard for Judas Maccabæus, but I now think that Alexander Balus is not far from being their equal - perhaps even a better work than Joshua.

Invidious as it is to select just one member of such a fine cast, Michael George really makes the villainous Ptolomee his own. For BW his contribution sets the seal on the version of Alexander’s Feast with The Sixteen and Harry Christophers (Coro COR16028 - see September 2009 Download Roundup) and it is so again here. Otherwise, the performance is everything that one would expect of Robert King and his Consort.

The mp3 version of the recording is very good, though perfectionists may prefer to wait for the promised flac version or purchase the CDs. Played via Squeezebox, there are none of the hiatuses between tracks which sometimes mar downloads of continuous music. With excellent notes, available as a pdf document, along with the text, this is a strong recommendation in any format.

The Dettingen Te Deum [40:02]
The Dettingen Anthem [14:21]
Christopher Tipping (alto); Harry Christophers (tenor), Stephen Varcoe (baritone), Michael. Pearce (bass), Westminster Abbey Choir; English Concert/Simon Preston with Trevor Pinnock (continuo)
DG ARCHIV 410 6472 [54:23] - from passionato.com (mp3)

The Te Deum in particular, composed in haste to celebrate George II’s victory, is a fine work - much better than the Utrecht Te Deum. The Dettingen Anthem is smaller beer, but well worth hearing. Performance and recording are excellent and the mp3 download is very good. No texts, of course, but the words of the Te Deum are readily available in the Book of Common Prayer and online; whoever prepared the metadata might have consulted them before confusing thou and though
Opera: 
Handel is listed as having written 42 operas of which the first four are lost. MT writes: I have been fortunate in being able to attend live performances of 25 of these works, some fully-staged, others in semi-staged or concert performances. One’s appreciation of works on CD is naturally coloured by being able to visualise productions whilst listening. I have complete recordings of 23 of them, an excerpt disc of one other and a number of recital discs of Handel arias.

Recommendation of recordings in this area is a minefield; in many cases, only one is available. Many older discs do not correspond to modern ‘authentic’ performing practice, but I believe those which contain singing of the quality of Dame Janet Baker, for example, are still very enjoyable. We hope to include her Chandos recording of Julius Cæsar in English - BW

In selecting my recommendations of operas on record, I have picked those which seem to me to be of the highest quality of composition throughout - select almost any aria in these and it’ll prove to be a winner. On this criterion, my top choice is Rinaldo, Handel’s first opera for London. He sustains the highest quality throughout, but even amongst these gems the wonderful aria “Cara sposa, amante cara” stands out. My next selection is Agrippina, written in Italy by a youthful and exuberant composer.

These are the two with which we have dealt first, below, together with Alcina, also on MT’s list.

Alcina, HWV34 (1735)
Joyce DiDonato (soprano - (Alcina); Maite Beaumont (soprano) - Ruggiero; Sonia Prina (mezzo) - Bradamante; Karina Gauvin (soprano) - Morgana; Kobie van Rensburg (tenor) - Oronte; Vito Priante (bass) - Melisso; Laura Cherici (soprano) - Oberto
Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
rec. Chiesa di Sant’Agostino, Viterbo, Italy, September 2007
ARCHIV PRODUKTION 477 7374 [3 CDs: 76:24 + 72:16 + 54:36] - from passionato.com (mp3)

Until recently, we’ve both been happy with the classic Joan Sutherland/Teresa Berganza/Mirella Freni/Richard Bonynge version of Alcina on mid-price Decca, despite some typically consonant-free singing from Sutherland, and this remains recommendable on CD for those unwilling to pay full price (433 723-2). It is also available as a download from passionato.com, but there the price advantage disappears, since it costs exactly the same as the new Archiv recording. You do get some extracts from Giulio Cesare as a bonus, though.

Simon Thompson made the new recording his Recording of the Month: ‘This new recording jumps straight to the top of the Alcina pile. In fact I would go even further and say that if you have never heard a Handel opera before or are a little nervous about where to start then this is the best introduction to that world that I can think of.’ - see review.

BW agrees - this is in many ways Handel’s most approachable opera and the performance does it full justice - and adds that the mp3 recording sounds very acceptable. The only disadvantage that downloading brings is the absence of the libretto; buying the download from the dgwebshop for €22.99 (mp3) or €27.99 (flac) also brings a pdf version of the booklet. You may also find that you have to do some dragging and dropping in Windows Explorer in order to separate the tracks into their relevant CDs - three track 01s, etc. If all this sounds too onerous, do pay that little extra for the parent CDs.

Alcina - excerpts
Renée Fleming, Natalie Dessay, Susan Graham, Kathleen Kuhlmann; Les Arts Florissants/ William Christie
WARNER ERATO 8573853562 [72:44] - from amazon.co.uk (mp3) or warner.freshdigital.co.uk (mp3) 

If you have the older Sutherland/Bonynge version and would just like a ‘highlights’ CD of a more authentic recording, or even if you wish to supplement the new Archiv recording, this ‘live’ Erato recording could be just what you’re looking for. Well filled, well sung and ably directed, it sounds well in Amazon’s 256k mp3 download version - and it comes for a mere £2.79 (£3.00 from Warner), so it won’t break the bank. I wouldn’t recommend this as your only version of Alcina - it won’t give you the full drama of the work - but BW very much enjoyed hearing it as a supplement to the complete Decca and Archiv recordings. The CDs of the complete version of this recording are currently available as part of a 6-CD set.

Rinaldo (Original 1711 Version) HWV7a
David Daniels (counter-tenor) - Rinaldo; Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo) - Almirena; Gerald Finley (baritone) - Argante; Luba Orgonasova (soprano) - Armida; Bejun Mehta (counter-tenor) - Christian Sorcerer; Mark Padmore (tenor) - Herald; Daniel Taylor (counter-tenor) - Eustazio; Bernarda Fink (alto) - Goffredo; Catherine Bott (soprano) - Siren; The Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
DECCA OISEAU-LYRE 467 0872 [3 CDs: 76:54 + 51:38 + 45:11] - from passionato.com (mp3)

This is MT’s favourite among the Handel operas. In his first opera for London, Handel sustains the highest quality throughout, but even among the other gems the wonderful aria Cara sposa, amante cara stands out.
BW had not heard it until recently, apart from individual arias, but willingly concurs that, though the opera is little known, it ranks with the very best and this recording does it full justice. To have a singer of Catherine Bott’s quality singing the minor role of one of the sirens is an indication of the excellence of the singing - almost as extravagant a piece of casting as the three famous singers who take the parts of the Three Ladies in Klemperer’s recording of Die Zauberflöte.

Apart from one or two very minor dropouts between tracks, the mp3 sound is good.

Agrippina, HWV6 (1709)
Véronique Gens (soprano) - Agrippina, Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor) - Nerone; Ingrid Perruche (soprano) - Poppea; Nigel Smith (baritone) - Claudio; Thierry Grégoire (counter-tenor) - Otho; Bernard Deletré (bass) - Pallante; Fabrice Di Falco (soprano) - Narciso; Alain Buet (bass) - Lesbo; La Grande Ecurie et la Chambre du Roy/Jean-Claude Malgoire
rec. live, Théâtre Municpal, Tourcoiung, 21, 23 March 2003. DDD
DYNAMIC CDS431 [3 CDs: 51:23 + 59:32 + 55:03] - from classicsonline.com (mp3)
Also available on DVD: Dynamic 33431 (2 DVDs

Agrippina dates from near the end of Handel’s highly successful Italian tour. The plot involves the machinations of Agrippina, wife of the Emperor Claudius, to get her son Nero installed as the next claimant for the throne. Don’t worry too much about the intricacies of Cardinal Grimani’s libretto; just enjoy the music.

The performance is a little uneven - one reviewer described it as ‘scrappy’, which seems a little harsh - but the singing is mostly good and Malgoire’s direction maintains the pace. MT agrees, but prefers the Gardiner recording, which is available in mp3 from passionato.com (475 8285 or 438 0092).

There’s no libretto, of course, but you can obtain a good synopsis from the web. The mp3 recording is good. The classicsonline price of £23.97 represents a worthwhile saving of about a third over the purchase of the CDs. Oddly enough, however, one dealer is offering the DVD version for £22.51, as against £36.70 for the CDs, at the time of writing. 
MT proposes that we deal in future months with: 
Ottone, Giustino, Giulio Cesare, Silla and Semele.

The most obscure of these must be Silla; if performed in Handel’s lifetime, which is open to doubt, it was in private, so the London Handel Festival’s concert performance in 2000 was probably its public world premiere. The plot is pretty ludicrous but the music is of the highest standard throughout, and can be heard on LHF’s recording.  
Semele is not included in the generally accepted list of his operas, presumably because of its English libretto. It is a work of the highest quality, including the gems “Endless Pleasure”, “Where’erYou Walk” (a rare outing for a tenor) and “Myself I Shall Adore”

BW adds to this list one or other of the two current recordings of Orlando. 

Recitals:
Arias from Giulio Cesare Act 3 ; Rinaldo Act 2; Alcina Act 1; Teseo Act 2; Apollo e Dafne (La terra è liberata); Ariodante Act 2; Rinaldo Act 2; Amadigi di Gaula Act 1; Semele Act 1 and Act 3
Danielle de Niese (soprano); Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
rec. 2007? DDD
DECCA 475 8746 [71:52] - from passionato.com (mp3)

“What most endeared this disc to me, besides Handel’s music which always has so much to offer, was the fact that the performances are so very much alive. There isn’t a dull moment during these 70+ minutes. The honour for that has to be shared between Danielle de Niese and William Christie, whom I have always admired as one of the very best baroque conductors.” (see review by Göran Forsling). We concur; this is one of our favourite recital discs and the mp3 sound is more than acceptable.

Arias from Scipione Rolli, Act II; Orlando, Act II; Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Act II; Partenope, Act I; Amadigi di Gaula, Act I; Alessandro, Act III; Rodelinda, Act I; Faramondo, Act II; Tamerlano, Act III; Act III; Arianna in Creta, Act II.
Sandrine Piau (soprano); Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
NAÏVE 8894 [67:10] - from classicsonline.com (mp3)

This is another shared strong favourite.

There’s also a new recording of Handel arias and duets, on which Sandrine Piau is joined by Sara Mingardo, with Rinaldo Alessandrini conducting (OP30483). We haven’t yet heard this and it doesn’t yet seem to be available for downloading, but John-Pierre Joyce thought it “a very enjoyable and desirable package” - see review.

Amarilli vezzosa, HWV 82, ‘Il duello amoroso’; Nel dolce tempo, HWV 135b; Vedendo amor, HWV 175; Trio Sonata in B minor, Op. 2, No. 1, HWV 386b; Mi palpita il cor, HWV 132c
Andreas Scholl (counter-tenor); Hélène Guilmette (soprano); Accademia Bizantina/Ottavio Dantone
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC901957 [71:50] - from classicsonline.com (mp3)

Admeto (excerpts); Serse (Xerxes) (excerpts); Giulio Cesare in Egitto (excerpts); Radamisto (excerpts); Rodelinda (excerpts); Alcina, Act II: Aria: Verdi Prati; Concerto Grosso in C major, HWV 318, ‘Alexander’s Feast’
Andreas Scholl (counter-tenor); Academy for Ancient Music Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC901685 [75:59] - from classicsonline.com (mp3)

Two more shared favourites. There are some singers who never seem to put a foot (or a note) wrong; Janet Baker is one such and Andreas Scholl is another. There are other fine versions of the Duello amoroso, but this is the one to have and the other items are also well performed. The inclusion of the Trio Sonata will not be to all tastes, but it makes a pleasant interval before the final piece. The mp3 sound is good.

The second recording is equally recommendable, especially as Ombra mai fu from Serse is here sung by the kind of voice for which it was intended. (MT is intolerant of hearing this aria transposed for voice types from bass to soprano).

The inclusion of music from Giulio Cesare on the second CD reminds us that Scholl also makes a fine contribution to the Harmonia Mundi DVD of this opera which BW made Recording of the Month last year (HMD990 9008.09 - see review.) He now recommends the Glyndebourne version alongside that Harmonia Mundi set. (Opus Arte OA 0950 D - see review by Kirk McElhearn.)

MT’s favourites also include Ruth Ann Swenson, Jochen Kowalski and David Daniels. More of these next month.

To MT’s list, I’d add:

Arias from Amadigi; Deidamia; Giulio Cesare; Lotario; Rodelinda; Scipione; Ariodante; Rinaldo; Radamisto)
Emma Bell (soprano); Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Richard Egarr
rec. 8-10 September 2004, Usher Hall, Edinburgh
LINN CKD 252 [51.24] - from linnrecords.com (mp3, lossless and studio quality) 

“A record of a fine singer at her wonderful peak at a particular point in her career” - see review by Robert Hugill.

RH had some reservations about the recording quality, with the solo voice recorded a little too closely. I see what he means, but the effect didn’t really bother me. The lossless download is fine and it comes with the pdf version of the booklet, with excellent notes, texts and translations.

MT has some reservations: I’ve now listened to this recital again and it’s better than I remembered; she certainly gets the notes well enough but I find her voice a bit shrill at the top, and many of the tracks are under-characterised in my opinion - it seems as if she’s just singing the notes without reference to the meaning or dramatic situation. The last few tracks, however, seem much better in this respect.

Arias and recits from Theodora; La Lucrezia; Arias from Serse 
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (mezzo); Stephen Stubbs (lute and baroque guitar);
Phoebe Carrai (cello); Margriet Tindemans (viola da gamba); Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Harry Bickett (harpsichord and chamber organ)
rec. 24-26 August 2003, Blackheath Halls, London, UK (arias); 18-21 March 2004, King Center, Denver, Colorado, USA (cantata). DSD.
AVIE AV0030 [66:50] - from classicsonline.com (mp3) and emusic.com (mp3) 

This is a fine memorial to the voice of an excellent singer who is, sadly, no longer with us. With equally fine accompaniment and good mp3 sound, the download may be recommended alongside the CD which was enthusiastically reviewed by Paul Shoemaker (Recording of the Month: “one of the finest vocal recordings in any voice I’ve ever heard”) and slightly less enthusiastically reviewed by Christopher Webber. I’m with PS on this one. The mp3 transfer is good.

TOCCATA CLASSICS 

The Toccata Classics label was founded as a labour of love to record unjustly under-recorded or unrecorded music from all periods. Their CDs are available direct from MusicWeb-International and their downloads from classicsonline.com. Go to their own website, however, and you can join their Discovery Club: a £20 annual membership entitles you to purchase Toccata downloads for £5.99 instead of £7.99. At present they offer mp3 only; all the recordings listed below sound fine in that format, but a new website is planned, together with lossless downloads. I’ve included hyperlinks to the £7.99 versions of these recordings; members of the Discovery Club will be able to find their own way to the discounted pages. 

Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst (1725-6) - Vol. 1: Six Cantatas
Fourth Sunday of Advent - Lauter Wonne, lauter Freude
First Sunday after Epiphany - In gering- und rauhen Schalen
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany - Hemmet den Eifer, berbannet die Rache
Last Sunday before Lent - Seele, lerne dich erkennen
Fourth Sunday of Lent - Du bist verflucht, o Schreckensstime
First Sunday after Easter - Auf ehernen Mauern
Mona Julsrud (soprano); Frode Thorsen (recorder); Hans Knut Sveen (harpsichord); Markku Luolajan-Mikkola (baroque cello); Bergen Barokk
TOCCATA TOCC0037 [66:54] - from toccataclassics.com (mp3)

Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst, Vol. 2
First Sunday of Advent - Erwachet zum Kriegen [7:45]
First Sunday of Christmas - Erquickendes Wunder der ewigen Gnade [9:58]
Second Sunday of Christmas - Jauchzet, frolocket, der Himmel ist offen [9:46]
First Sunday of New Year - Halt ein mit deinem Wetterstrahle [8:06]
Second Sunday after Epiphany - Ist Widerwärtigkeit den Frommen eigen [11:16]
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany - Liebe, die vom Himmel stammet [8:35]
Franz Vitzthum (counter-tenor); Bjarte Eike (Baroque violin); Hans Knut Sveen (harpsichord and organ); Markku Luolajan-Mikkola (Baroque cello); Bergen Barokk
TOCCATA TOCC0057 [55:26] - from toccataclassics.com (mp3)

The first of these recordings has been available for some time; the second was released this year. Don’t expect cantatas of the kind which Bach produced; these are three- and four-section works on a much smaller, more intimate scale, ideal for performance in smaller churches - and for late-night listening. The performances, too, are suitably small-scale. With very good singing and accompaniment and an mp3 transfer which does justice to the music, these recordings are a real delight and provide a welcome introduction to an under-represented aspect of Telemann’s music.

The diction is good enough for those with reasonable command of German not to need access to the texts; otherwise, you may prefer to purchase the CDs, which provide these.

The website promises access to the sleeve-notes, but these were not available when I tried the link.

Some of the music on Volume 1 appeared on a Carus recording of Telemann’s music for Advent and Christmas: Lauter Wonne (TWV1:1040) features on a recording which Johan van Veen welcomed (Carus 83.180 - see review). As far as I am aware, there is only one other current recording of excerpts from the Harmonsicher Gottes-dienst, on a budget-price 4-CD Capriccio set (CAP49498).

Charles-Valentin ALKAN (1813-1888)
Organ Works: Volume 1

Benedictus Op. 54 (1859) [8:53]
Douze Études pour les pieds seulement (Nos. 1-6) (1869) [18:09]
Onze Grandes Préludes et une Transcription du Messie de Handel Op.66 (1867) [49:51]
Kevin Bowyer (organ)
rec. Blackburn Cathedral, May 2005. DDD
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0030 [76:20] - from toccataclassics.com (mp3)

Patrick Waller welcomed this recording, but had some reservations about the recording - see review. Those reservations were not enough to give a strong recommendation and I am entirely in agreement. I’m not a great fan of Alkan’s piano music, but his organ works are a different matter, especially when played as well as they are here. The Blackburn Cathedral organ is a fine and versatile instrument and Kevin Bowyer is a fine advocate for this neglected music. I was born in Blackburn; my old school grew out of a chantry at the former parish church; my music teacher was organist at the cathedral and I regularly attended services there until I went to university, so there’s an element of nostalgia in hearing this recording. I don’t think that any of this has unduly coloured my appreciation of the recording.

I didn’t share PW’s problems with the recording; mp3 inevitably ‘sheds’ some information - perhaps this time it’s shed the slight background hum which he noted.

There’s a second volume, which I haven’t yet had time to hear.

Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
L’Arlésienne Suite No.1 [18:01]
L’Arlésienne Suite No.2 [18:14]
Carmen Suite No.1 [12:22]
Carmen Suite No.2 [23:54]
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal/Charles Dutoit
CLASSIC FM THE FULL WORKS 476 6597 [72:40] - from passionato.com (mp3)

This is one of the highlights of the Classic FM Full Works series of CDs, all derived from the Universal catalogues (DG, Decca and Philips) and available from HMV shops. If you don’t live near to an HMV shop, passionato.com has the whole series available to download. At £7.99 they’re a little more expensive than the physical CDs, but you might well spend the difference in travelling costs to get to your nearest HMV.

These performances have justifiably been compared with those of Beecham and the splendid recording sounds well in 320k mp3 format. Most other recordings of these Suites offer rather less music than this well-filled version.

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Images, First Series (1901-05) [14:29]
Images, Second Series (1907) [13:00]
É tudes, Book 1 A la mémoire de Frédéric Chopin - Eté 1915 - (1915) [20:03]
É tudes, Book 2 (1915) [28:58]
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet piano
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 10-12 July 2008. DDD.
CHANDOS CHAN10497 [76:30] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 or lossless) or passionato.com (mp3 or lossless)

This award-winning recording rounds off Bavouzet’s complete series of Debussy’s piano music. The first three volumes have been reviewed on MusicWeb (Volume 1 here; Volume 2 here; Volume 3 here), but we seem to have missed out on this, probably the best of the series. I have to admit that Debussy’s piano music is not normally my ‘thing’ - in a vast CD collection, I have just two discs of it - but I thoroughly enjoyed this volume of what Bavouzet describes as the composer’s most virtuoso music so, if, like me, you have yet to immerse yourself in this repertoire, this would seem to be the ideal starting point. Both download sources offer good 320k mp3 sound for £7.99 and even better lossless for £9.99. There are excellent notes for the uninitiated, downloadable from the Chandos site, from Roger Nichols and Bavouzet himself.

Sir Donald TOVEY (1875-1940)
Toccata have made several recordings of Tovey’s music, listed below with links to MusicWeb reviews. Now that Stanford’s music is being re-valued, Tovey seems a logical next step. These recordings certainly made me think of him in a much better light; the Piano Trios in particular were a revelation.

Cello Concerto, Op. 40 (1935) [54:16] *
Air for strings** (arr. Peter Shore) [2:15]
Elegiac Variations, op. 25, for cello and piano (1909) [10:11]
Alice Neary (cello); Ulster Orchestra/George Vass
Gretel Dowdeswell (piano)
rec. Ulster Hall, Belfast, 29-30 May 2006.
*First modern recording; **First recording
TOCCATA TOCC0038 [67:04] - from toccataclassics.com (mp3)

“The Tovey Cello Concerto needs to be heard by all enthusiasts of the late-romantic orchestral world. That it was written in an idiom that was old-fashioned in 1935 matters not a jot. It is fresh, keenly imagined, emotionally engaging and the performance, recording, documentation and presentation adroitly complement this major work.” (Rob Barnett - see full review)

Chamber Music - Volume 1
Piano Trio in B minor op.1 (1900) [37:40]
Piano Trio in C minor op.8 Style Tragique (1908) [27:26]
London Piano Trio
rec. 27-29 August 2007, Potton Hall Studio, Westleton, Suffolk. DDD
first recordings
TOCCATA TOCC 0068 [65:06] - from toccataclassics.com (mp3)

“This is a composer you need to discover ... Tovey brings a mature originality of ideas which the Brahmsian manner does nothing to blunt. It is a pleasure to report that there is already talk about successors to this disc to include the two string quartets.” (Rob Barnett - see full review)

“The performances by the London Piano Trio are thoroughly convincing in every way and the recording in Potton Hall is pretty good, though not perhaps quite as well balanced as some other performances from the same venue that I’ve heard. In any case, this is self-recommending for the new generation of Tovey admirers.” (Jonathan Woolf - see full review)

Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Piano Quartet, H 287 (1942) [23:57]; Quartet, H 315, for oboe, violin, cello and piano (1947)* [11:55]; Duo No. 2 in D, H 371, for violin and cello (1958) [11:20]; Piano Trio No. 3 in C, H 332 (1951) [19:48]
George Caird oboe*; Schubert Ensemble (Simon Blendis, violin; Douglas Paterson, viola;
Jane Salmon, cello; William Howard, piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, UK; 19-21 January 2009. DDD.
CHANDOS CHAN10551 [67:10] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless) 

Chandos have done more than their fair share to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Martinu’s death, with new issues and reissues, several of which I have mentioned in these roundups. Only Supraphon have, perhaps, done more. This recording of three chamber works may be a little less essential than, say, the Chandos reissue of the Cello Concertos which I recommended last month, but it’s still well worth investigating. The performances are sympathetic and the lossless download sounds very well; from experience, I expect the 320k mp3 to sound fine, too.

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Saint Nicolas - A cantata for tenor solo, mixed chorus, piano duet, organ, strings & percussion, Op 42 [50:04]
Hymn to Saint Cecilia for five-part unaccompanied chorus, Op 27 [9:56]
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor); Harry Briggs (treble); Corydon Singers; English Chamber Orchestra/Matthew Best
rec. All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, 7-8 October, 1988. DDD.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55378 [59:27] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

I understand that St Nicolas is great fun to sing but, much as I love Britten’s music, as a listener I didn’t find it as absorbing an experience as the War Requiem or Peter Grimes at the serious extreme of Britten’s output or Noyes Fludde at the other. That’s a purely personal response and, for the many who think differently, this Helios reissue should be the ideal version; an excellent performance offered at a reasonable price. iTunes, hitherto the only source of Hyperion downloads, have been charging the same price for Helios and full-price Hyperions, thereby making the download more costly than the CD. I’m pleased to see that Hyperion plan to operate a price differential for Helios and the 2-for-1 Dyad series. The mp3 sound is of good quality. The inclusion of St Cecilia and the excellent booklet, offered as a pdf document to print out, set the seal on a fine reissue.

Sir Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Ballet Music
Suite from ‘Homage to the Queen’, Op. 42 (Prepared by the composer) (1953) [19:43]
Rinaldo and Armida, Op. 49: Dance-drama in one Act (1954) [20:57]
Concert Suite from ‘Sweeney Todd’, Op. 68a (1959) (Prepared 1984 by David Ellis in association with the composer) [20:16]
Electra, Op. 79: Ballet in One Act (1963) (premiere recording) [14:49]
BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, UK; 9-10 December 2008. DDD.
CHANDOS CHAN10550 [76:14] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

It would be idle to pretend that the music here is vintage Arnold, but it is all enjoyable - and you could hardly mistake most of it for the work of anyone else. Though the opening of Homage to the Queen does sound a little like a pastiche of Walton in his state-celebration manner and parts of Sweeney could have been written by Ketèlbey or Eric Coates, the Dance of the Insects on track 2 soon brings something more recognisably quirkily Arnoldian while the Pas de deux (tr.5) shows the composer in one of his most beautiful moods. Don’t expect the intensity of the symphonies, but if you enjoy Arnold’s film music, these ballets should appeal.

With sympathetic performances, very well recorded and transferred in very good sound, especially the lossless versions, and comprehensive notes, this is another recommendable co-operation between Chandos and the BBC Philharmonic under Rumon Gamba.

In Brief:

Lamentations
Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (c. 1548-1611)
Lectio III, Sabbato Sancto. Incipit oratio Jeremiæ Prophetæ [6:33]
Lectio III, Feria VI in Passione Domini. Aleph - Ego vir videns paupertatem meam [4:16]
Lectio I, Sabbato Sancto. Heth - Misericordiæ Domini [4:02]
Lectio III, Feria V in Cœna Domini. Iod - Manum suam misit hostis [6:44]
Don Carlos GESUALDO (c. 1561-1613)
Responsorium II, Feria V in Cœna Domini. Tristis est anima mea [5 :49]
Robert WHITE (c. 1538-1574)
Lectio I and II, Feria V in Cœna Domini. Heth - Peccatum peccavit Jerusalem [17:54]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525/26-1594)
Lectio III, Feria V in Cœna Domini. Iod - Manum suam misit hostis [8:33]
Lectio III, Sabbato Sancto. Incipit oratio Jeremiæ Prophetæ [8:20]
Don Carlos GESUALDO
Responsorium V, Feria VI in Passione Domini. Tenebræ factæ sunt [5:29]
Nordic Voices
rec. 28 February, 1 March, 4 and 18-20 May 2009, Ringsaker Church, Hedmark, Norway
Texts and translations in pdf format.
CHANDOS CHACONNE CHAN0763 [68:30] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

See review by Dominy Clements: Recording of the Month. The lossless download is excellent. Strongly recommended along with Nordic Voices’ recording of music from the time of Charles V (Reges Terræ: Chandos CHSA5050) on which I commented in detail as an appendix to a review of Morales Magnificat, etc (CDA67694 - see review). For those who wish to listen to more of Palestrina’s Lamentations, Chandos have three discs of the complete settings (April, 2009, Roundup).

Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764)
Concertos for Violin and Strings Volume 1
Op.7 No.2 in D [15:50]; Op.7 No.5 in a minor [15:06]; Op.10 No.1 in B flat [13:58];
Op.10 No.5 in e minor [16:44]
Collegium Musicum 90/Simon Standage (violin)
rec. St Jude’s Church, London NW11, 20, 22-23 February 1993. DDD.
CHANDOS CHACONNE CHAN0551 (62:09) - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

I concluded a recent review of two Naxos CDs of Leclair’s Violin Sonatas, Op.1 (8.570888 and 8.570889, also available as downloads from classicsonline.com) by recommending Chandos’s three CDs of Leclair’s Violin Concertos as a follow-up, commencing with this first volume. Here the model is Vivaldi, rather than Corelli as in the Sonatas, but these are more than mere imitations - and the pupil’s work proves almost as great as the master’s. If anything, the music is even more attractive than the Violin Sonatas and it receives first-rate performances from Simon Standage, soloist and director of Collegium Musicum 90. With excellent recording and presentation, you really ought to try this after the Sonatas, thereby extending by a further hour the two hours of pleasure which you’ll derive from the new Naxos CDs. The lossless download is excellent but many will be happy with the mp3 version, which is offered at £7.99 as against £9.99.

Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No.5, WAB105
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4033-2 [74:44] - from passionato.com (mp3) 
“ I find Horenstein’s version of the Fifth a mightily convincing example of “head over heart”. For those anxious to hear every aspect of this composer’s art, and for admirers of Horenstein, I recommend it enthusiastically.” Tony Duggan (MusicWeb, 2000) [****(*)/****(*)] - see review.

Lodewijk MORTELMANS (1868-1952)
Homerische symfonie (1898) [45:13]
Morgenstemming ‘Morning Mood’ (1922) [12:42]
Mythe der lente ‘Myth of Spring’ (1895) [10:47]
Royal Flemish Philharmonic/Martyn Brabbins
rec. September 2008, Koningin Elisabethzaal, Antwerp, Belgium. DDD.
HYPERION CDA67766 [66:41] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

“ If you have a warm place in your heart for Glazunov then this new name should be right up your street. This to me completely unfamiliar music is presented with real style by Hyperion, by Brabbins and his orchestra and by the liner-note writer Tom Janssens.” - see Rob Barnett’s appreciative review. I need only add that the mp3 download is of good quality.

Alexander von ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
Sinfonietta (1934) [22:01]
Symphonic Fantasy: Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid) (1903) [41:06]
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Judd
rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 6-8 June 2006. DDD.
NAXOS 8.570240 [63:26] - from classicsonline.com (mp3)

I was a little less impressed than Ian Lace, who made this Recording of the Month - see review; I marginally prefer Riccardo Chailly’s way with some of Zemlinsky’s other music (Lyrische Symphonie, Eine Florentinische Tragödie, etc., Double Decca 473 7342), but the Naxos provides a very good bargain alternative. The mp3 download is of good quality.

Havergal BRIAN (1876-1972)
Symphony No. 6 Sinfonia Tragica (1948) [19:43]; Symphony No. 16 (1960) [17:41]
Arnold COOKE (1906-2005)
Symphony No. 3 in D (1967) [22:59]
London PO/Myer Fredman (Brian); Nicholas Braithwaite (Cooke)
rec. Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, 10 April 1973 (Brian); 7 January 1974 (Cooke). ADD
originally issued on LP as SRCS67 (Brian); SRCS78 (Cooke)
LYRITA RECORDED EDITION SRCD.295 [60:26] - from emusic.com (5 tracks, mp3)

“With this disc Lyrita have made available two of the most fascinating of Brian symphonies ... Three intrinsically pleasing tonal-melodic symphonies of real creative fibre.” (See review by Rob Barnett: Recording of the Month.)

The variable bit-rate transfer is good and you can download the cover, but, of course, you won’t get the notes on Brian’s music by Calum Macdonald which RB praised.

Howard FERGUSON (1908-1999) Concerto for piano and string orchestra, Op. 12 (1951) [24:10]
Roberto GERHARD
(1896-1970) Concerto for piano and strings (1961) [22:17]
Alec ROWLEY
(1892-1958) Concerto in D major for piano, strings and percussion, Op. 49 (1938) [15:10]
Christian DARNTON (1905-1981) Concerto in C major for piano and string orchestra (1948) [16:35]
Peter Donohoe (piano and conductor); Northern Sinfonia
rec. Jubilee Hall, Gosforth, UK, 25-27 November 2003. DDD.
British Piano Concertos series
NAXOS 8.557290 [78:12] - from classicsonline.com (mp3) or passionato.com (mp3 or lossless)

For my comparison of this recording and the newer Somm version of the Ferguson Piano Concerto, see my recent review on the main Musicweb pages.

You can also find a comparative review of the Beethoven Septet (Decca 421 093 2, Vienna Octet with Mendelssohn Octet - from passionato.com) with the Berlin Soloists (Warner Apex) and Ensemble 360 (Nimbus Alliance) versions. I compare (and prefer) Clifford Curzon’s version of Schubert’s last Piano Sonata, D960, from the 4-CD collection, now available only online from passionato.com, with a Virgin Classics Virgo recording of D959 and D960 in the main CD reviews.

My review of a recent recording on the Maya label by Malcolm Proud of Bach’s Clavier-übung, Book III, contains a detailed comparison with two Helmut Walcha Bach recordings, both available from passionato.com, and a review of the recent Nimbus recording of CPE Bach’s Cello Concertos contains a comparison of that recording with Tim Hugh’s Naxos version, available from classicsonline.com and passionato.com.

Brian Wilson 

 


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