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APRIL 2010 - DOWNLOAD ROUNDUP

 

Both Passionato and Chandos’s download site, theclassicalshop.net, have recently been revamped and greatly improved.  The new Passionato site offers many more labels than the old, not all of them up and running when I completed this roundup.  I hope to be able to do full justice to both in separate supplements to my monthly roundups.

 

Recording of the Month

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No.29 in A, K201 [31:17]; Symphony No.31 in D, K297 (‘Paris’) (with alternative second movement) [20:27]; Symphony No.32 in G, K318 [7:39]; Symphony No.35 in D, K385 (‘Haffner’) [20:41]; Symphony No.36 in C, K425 (‘Linz’) [36:47]
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. City Halls, Glasgow, 11-17 July, 2009. DDD
LINN RECORDS CKD350 [2 CDs 116:53] – from Linn (mp3, lossless and 24-bit)

This is a superb follow-up to the Linn/Mackerras 2-CD set of Mozart’s last symphonies which I praised last year (CKD308, February, 2009, Roundup).  Mackerras had already recorded the earlier symphonies with the Prague Chamber Orchestra for Telarc – I also praised Nos. 34-36 in February 2009 – but these new versions are, if anything, even better.  Here is all the delicacy of Mozart but with his underlying strength, too.  Bone china may be exquisitely fine, but it’s also extremely strong and the same is true of these works in Mackerras’s hands; the lossless download serves to emphasise the quality of the music and the performances.  May we now expect a third volume, with Nos. 25, 28, 30, 33 and 34?

 

Joint Bargain of the Month

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No.4 in f minor, Op.36 [41:53]
Symphony No.5 in e minor, Op.64 [43:08]
Symphony No.6 in b minor, Op.74, Pathétique [43:53
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Yevgeny Mravinsky – rec. 1960. ADD.
DG ORIGINALS 477 5911 9 [2 CDs 68:26+60:28] – from Amazon (mp3) 

For me, performances of Tchaikovsky’s last three symphonies don’t come any better than this or, at Amazon.co.uk’s price of £5.98 for the two CDs, much cheaper.  You will either love or hate the performances for the sheer Russian-ness of the brass in particular and the white-hot energy of Mravinsky’s direction.  This set offers the power that I found lacking recently in Andrew Litton’s version of the Fifth Symphony (Virgin 6 93238 2, super-budget, coupled with a much better performance of the Sixth – see review).  Whatever other versions of these works you may have, you should add these to your collection; for all the virtues of the 1956 mono set on which Mravinsky shared the symphonies with Sanderling, the newer recording is preferable.

To hear these performances on CD involves a side-break in the Fifth Symphony; the download format avoids that.  Passionato offer the same recordings in slightly better 320kbps sound for £12.99, but the Amazon transfer at 256k is perfectly acceptable.

 Joint Bargain of the Month

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Fireworks Music; Water Music; Concerti a due cori, 2-3; Concerti Grossi, Op.3/1-6 and Op.6/1-12; Concerto Grosso Alexander’s Feast
The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock – rec. 1981-1984.  DDD.
DG ARCHIV COLLECTORS’ EDITION 463 0942 [6 CDs: 339:41] – from Passionato (mp3)

This set is already highly recommendable on CD at around £30, but Passionato’s download price of £24.99 represents a useful saving even on that bargain offer.  The performances range from good to excellent; nothing is below par and most of the music receives performances as good as any that you are likely to hear.  Whatever other versions of this music you may have – even if, like me, you already have several performances of some of the items – this is a very useful supplement.  If you have yet to add some or all of the repertoire to your collection, this would be a very useful set with which to start.

 If you are looking for just Pinnock’s Fireworks and Water Music, Passionato can oblige again with the DG Originals recording (477 7562) but the box set offers much better value.  Alternatively, Hyperion have re-coupled the King’s Consort recordings of these works on their budget-price Helios label (CDH55375) – available for download in mp3 and lossless sound for less than the Passionato single-CD issue.  Michael Greenhalgh thought the Hyperion an excellent second choice after Norrington on Virgin Classics – see review.  Passionato have the Norrington, too, but you would be better advised to buy this on CD for around £6.50 (3913342).

 Discovery of the Month

Ned ROREM (b.1923) On an echoing road (19 Songs)
The Prince Consort – rec. February, 2009.  DDD
Booklet with texts included
LINN RECORDS CKD [56:38] – from Linn records (mp3, lossless and 24-bit)

 This was my first encounter with the songs of Ned Rorem.  Though I was aware that he had been dubbed the master of the art song, I had no high expectations, but I actually liked them very much, thanks to the quality of the performances.  There is a wide variety of material here, for different voice-ranges and combinations, all of it much more attractive than I expected and all excellently sung; I urge you to give it a try.  The recording is very fine indeed in lossless CD-quality wma, the version which I chose.  Only those with very acute hearing and equipment to match will need one of the 24-bit versions: Squeezebox won’t play these – they are at 88.2 and 192kHz and it can cope only with 44kHz – and you cannot burn them to CDR.  John Quinn made this Recording of the Month – see review.

 

Reissue of the Month

Frédéric CHOPIN (1810–1849) The Great Polonaises
Polonaise in c sharp minor Op 26/1 [8:11]; Polonaise in e flat minor Op 26/2 [7:51]; Polonaise in A major Op 40/1 [3:48]; Polonaise in c minor Op 40/2 [8:30]; Polonaise in f sharp minor Op 44 [10:40]; Polonaise in A flat major Op 53 [7:00]; Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major Op 61 [14:20]; Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise * Op 22 [14:09]
Garrick Ohlsson (piano); * with Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Kazimierz Kord
rec. New York, 1993, and Warsaw, 1997.  DDD.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55382 [74:34] – from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless) 

Click again to hide large versionThis is, for me, the pick of the seven CDs reissued by Hyperion to celebrate Chopin year.  I’m not a great Chopin fan – it takes someone of the calibre of Rubinstein or Pollini to bring his music to life for me – but I warmed to the persuasion of Ohlsson’s playing and he is very well supported in the orchestral version of the Andante spianato and grande polonaise.  This work used to be coupled on LP with one or other of the piano concertos, but longer playing times on CD, with the two concertos coupled, mean that it has somewhat fallen by the way.  I’m glad that it was included here.  For three suggestions for the Piano Concertos, see my February Download Roundup.  The Rubinstein recordings, with Wallenstein and Steinberg, are available from Classicsonline in  the Naxos Historical recording (8.111296) for £4.99. 

You may be puzzled when you have completed the download to discover oddities in the track numbering, as a result of Hyperion’s having reorganised music originally spread over a number of CDs in the 16-CD box set, which remains available (CDS44351/66 – a Musicweb International Bargain of the Month – see review).  Don’t worry – your CD-burning programme or Squeezebox should sort them into the right order for you to play, with the two orchestral tracks placed last. 

The recording, originally on the Arabesque label, is very good and the lossless transfer does it full justice.   

If it has to be Rubinstein’s Polonaises, Amazon.co.uk have his recording for £6.99.

 

Jérusalem : La Ville des deux Paix: La Paix céleste et la Paix terrestre
Montserrat Figueras; L. Elmalich, M. Shanin Khalil, R. Amyan, B. Olavide, Ll. Vilamajó, M. Mauillon,Y. Dalal, G. Mouradian, O. Bashir, Andrew Lawrence-King; Hesperion XXI; La Capella Reial de Catalunya/Jordi Savall
ALIA VOX AVSA9863 [2 CDs 152:52] – from passionato (mp3) 

JÉRUSALEMThe cover of this recording proclaims its contents in French, Hebrew and Arabic, to signify the importance of Jerusalem as the City of Heavenly Peace and Earthly Peace for Christians, Jews and Moslems, and the album draws music from all three Abrahamic traditions.  After the raucous fanfare which accompanies the fall of the walls of Jericho (here boldly assigned to 1200 BC, despite archæolgical evidence to the contrary) the result is the usual Savall mixture of exotic beauty and excitement.  The ethereal tones of Montserrat Figueras contribute most to the effect, but she is supported by a veritable United Nations of performers.

 The recording, in good mp3 (320k), is offered at an attractive price of £11.99, but it comes without the 400-page luxury book of notes and texts – in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Greek, Latin – which accompanies the SACDs and which was one of the reasons why the original won such high praise.  Even without the book, this is a stupendous achievement and one which leaves me wanting more – please, Passionato, may we now have the two more recent Alia Vox albums, Istanbul and The Forgotten Kingdom?  Amazon already have these, at £6.99 and £13.98 respectively (256k, mp3).

 Meanwhile, you may be interested in a download of similar repertoire performed by Eduardo Paniagua, with another multi-cultural ensemble, of music from various Mediterranean traditions: Puentes sobre el Mediterráneo (Bridges across the Mediterranean).  It’s on Paniagua’s own Pneuma label and comes from eMusic on 15 tracks.

 

John SHEPPARD (c.1510-1585) Media Vita
Gaude, gaude, gaude, Maria virgo [14:13]; The Lord’s Prayer [4:19]; I give you a new commandment [3:00]; Media vita [25:32]; Christ rising again [4:24]; Haste thee, O God [3:34]; Te Deum [15:14]
Stile Antico
HARMONIA MUNDI SACD80 7509 [70:16] – from emusic (mp3) or amazon (mp3) 

Sheppard: Media vitaSheppard, like his better-known near-contemporary Tallis, lived his adult life through the reigns of Henry VIII (Latin liturgy), Edward VI (English Prayer Book), Mary I (back to Rome) and Elizabeth I (English liturgy again, though with tolerance of Latin settings.)  The music on this new recording reflects those changes.  It may not rise to the heights of Tallis or Byrd, but it is most certainly worth hearing.

 The obvious comparison for the main track, Media vita (In the midst of life we are in death) is with the performance by the Tallis Scholars, either on their all-Sheppard Gimell CD or, much better value, on the download equivalent of the 2-for-1 CD set, The Tallis Scholars sing Tudor Music, Volume 2 (Gimell CDGIM210) which I made Bargain of the Month some time ago – see review.  That recording is even better value as a download at £7.99 (mp3) or £9.99 (lossless) from Gimell.  Better still, whereas the Gimell recording consists solely of Latin music, the new Harmonia Mundi contains four items for the Anglican liturgy, so there is no other overlap between the two.  Nor is there any significant overlap with Hyperion’s more comprehensive recordings of Sheppard’s music with The Sixteen, on two 2-for-1 Dyad albums (CDD22021 and CDD22022) or on their recent 10-CD compendium of Sixteenth-century polyphony (CDS44041/10, Bargain of the Month – see review), since The Sixteen do not include Media vita or any of the English-text works.

 I’ve remarked before on the slow tempi which Stile Antico adopt in their performances of sixteenth-century polyphony; once again, their 25:32 for Media vita is significantly slower than the Tallis Scholars’ 21:45.  The Scholars usually take a little more time than their competitors, so Stile Antico seem to be pushing things here, at least on paper, but this is, after all, music with funereal associations, which could have been sung instead of its English equivalent at the opening of the Prayer Book Burial Service.  All the performances here are less overtly exciting than we are accustomed to – music performed in tranquillity – but there is room for both approaches when the singing is so secure.

 All the tracks on the emusic download come at or very close to an acceptable 230kbps, potentially for under £2, depending on your chosen tariff.  The version from amazon.co.uk is offered at the slightly higher bit-rate of 256k, for a still very reasonable £6.99.  Whichever you choose, the quality of the performances and of Sheppard’s music will almost certainly lead you to explore him further via the Gimell and/or Hyperion recordings. 

Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548–1611) Te Deum laudamus [8:13]
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525/6–1594) Missa Te Deum laudamus [32:47]; Tu es Petrus a 6 [7:01]; Missa Tu es Petrus [29:33]
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral/Martin Baker
rec. Westminster Cathedral, London, 2–3 and 9–10 March 2009. DDD.
Texts and translations included.
HYPERION CDA67785 [77:19] – from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless) 

Click again to hide large versionHyperion chose the second volume of Beethoven Cello Sonatas as their Recording of the Month for March, 2010; for my money, they could just as easily have chosen this, the latest in a line of distinguished recordings of renaissance polyphony from the Westminster Cathedral Choir.  Not only are the performances and recording first class, these are, to the best of my knowledge, the only recordings currently (or ever?) available of the two Palestrina masses, though there are several versions of the 6-part motet, including a very fine King’s College/Willocks account on an inexpensive and highly recommendable Classics for Pleasure CD, with paired settings of works by Byrd and his continental contemporaries (CFP 5860482).

 Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c. 1637-1707) Sonatas, Op.1
Suonata I, in E, BuxWV 252 [8:47]; Suonata II, in G, BuxWV 253 [7:47]; Suonata III, in a minor, BuxWV 254 [8:54]; Suonata IV, in B-flat, BuxWV 255 [8:02]; Suonata V, in C, BuxWV 256 [8:13]; Suonata VI, in d minor, BuxWV 257 [7:47]; Suonata VII, in e minor, BuxWV 258 [6:42]  
Catherine Mackintosh, Catherine Weiss (violin); Purcell Quartet - rec. Church of St Bartholomew, Orford, Suffolk, UK, November, 2008 and January, 2009.  DDD.
CHANDOS CHACONNE CHAN0766 [56:12] - from Chandos (mp3 and lossless) 

There were already two good recordings of these Sonatas in the catalogue, by John Holloway et al, on Naxos 8.557248 – see review – and by L’Estravagante on Arts Blue Line 77318.  I recommended the latter, together with the same artists’ versions of the Op.2 Sonatas (77319) in my November, 2008, Download Roundup.  The new version is equally attractive and well recorded – for once, I tried the 320 kbps mp3 rather than the lossless version and was perfectly happy with it.  I’m not sure that it’s worth paying the extra, however, when the Naxos is available from classicsonline and passionato for £4.99, unless you really must have the lossless version of the Chandos.

 Philipp Heinrich ERLEBACH (1657-1714)
VI Sonate à Violino e Viola da Gamba col suo Basso Continuo (1694)

Sonata I in D [11:03]; Sonata V in B flat [09:57]; Sonata II in e minor [11:04]; Sonata IV in C [11:17]; Sonata VI in F [12:08]; Sonata III in A [14:31]
Rodolfo Richter (violin); Alison McGillivray (viola da gamba); Peter McCarthy (violone); Eligio Quinteiro (theorbo); Silas Standage (harpsichord (organ) - rec. November 2001, St Michael’s Church, Highgate, London, UK. DDD
LINN RECORDS CKD270 [70:59] – from Linn records  (mp3 and lossless)

 I’m less inclined than Johan van Veen to be troubled by minor faults in the interpretations – see review – and absolutely at one with him in recommending the music of Erlebach: well worth much more attention than he has received.  The CD-quality lossless download is excellent.

 Giuseppe Tartini (1692–1770)
Violin Concertos in B flat [9:53]; in g minor, D85 [16:29]; in C [14:03]; in F, D58 [10:25]; in D, D15 [18:53]
Elizabeth Wallfisch (violin); The Raglan Baroque Players/Nicholas Kraemer
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55334 [70:11] – from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

Click again to hide large versionThis could easily have been my Reissue of the Month.  The music is attractive, the performances are stylish and the recording does the enterprise justice.  If you like Vivaldi but are looking for something just different enough to be distinctive, Tartini could be your man.

 

If you would like to explore more Tartini, try the very inexpensive Warner Apex 2-CD set of Three Violin Concertos, Five Cello Sonatas and a Cello Concerto (I Solisti Veneti/Scimone, 2564 61693-2, or download from amazon.co.uk).  The playing is not quite as accomplished as the Hyperion, but it’s well worth hearing, and there are no overlaps between the two programmes.  Hyperion also have a recommendable set of the attractive Violin Sonatas on their 2-for-1 Dyad label (Elizabeth Wallfisch again as part of the Locatelli Trio, CDD22061 – see review.)

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu, Wq240 (The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus) (1777/8)
Uta Schwabe (soprano); Christoph Genz (tenor); Stephan Genz (baritone); Ex Tempore; La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken - rec. Bruges, Belgium, June 2002.  DDD
HYPERION CDA67364 [72:37] – from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

Click again to hide large versionI ought really to have included this with my Eastertide selection last month and we seem not to have reviewed the parent CD when it was issued.  Better late than never.  This short(ish) oratorio makes an attractive pendant to either of Bach senior’s Passions, though you could never mistake it for his work, time and musical fashion having moved on.  It receives a fine performance: the three soloists are splendid, and they receive first-class support.  The lossless download is excellent.  Unusually, the booklet with the texts is not available to download.  The diction is clear enough for those with a decent command of German; others may prefer to spend a little more on the CD.  Either way, this is preferable to the recording by the Rheinische Kantorei on a 2-CD Capriccio set which, in any case, is now deleted.  Alternatively, Passionato have the Herreweghe recording on Virgin.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
Variations in G on ‘See the conqu’ring hero comes’ from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus WoO45 [12:54]; Cello Sonata in C Op.102 No 1 [15:47]; Variations in F on ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’ from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte Op 66 [10:18]; Variations in E flat on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’ from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte WoO46 [10:00]; Cello Sonata in D Op.102 No 2 [22:04]
Daniel Müller-Schott (cello); Angela Hewitt (piano)
rec. Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, 20–23 March 2009. DDD.
HYPERION CDA67755 [70:59] – from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

Click again to hide large versionWith no argument from me – but see Palestrina, above – Hyperion feature this as their star release for March, 2010.  If you followed the advice to buy the first CD, you will almost certainly want to purchase its successor.  Don’t be put off by the inclusion of three sets of variations – they are all as skilful as they are enjoyable.  Only the new cover seems to me less attractive than that which graced its fore-runner.  The lossless download sound is excellent. 

Chopin on Hyperion and Chandos.

 Frédéric CHOPIN (1810–1849) Piano Concerto No.2 in f minor, Op.21 [31:31]
Piano Concerto No.1 in e minor, Op.11 [40:54]
Nikolai Demdenko (piano); Philharmonia Orchestra/Heinrich Schiff – rec April, 1993. DDD.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55180 [72:06] – from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless) 

Click again to hide large versionHaving remembered mixed reviews of this recording when it was first released, I had tended to steer clear of it.  In fact, it offers a very viable alternative to the Argerich, Zimerman and Pollini versions which I recommended in February and it’s less expensive than any of them.  The lossless version of the recording is very good – just a trifle recessed.  Squeezebox mysteriously stopped playing the slow movement of Concerto No.2 – here, rightly, placed first, as it was the first to be written – for a few seconds in the same place twice, but the problem seems not to lie with the download, since it played without pause the third time.

 Polonaises: No.11 in g minor [2:01]; No.12 in B flat [2:51]; No.13 in A flat [3:52]; No.14 in g sharp minor [3:34]; No. 15 in b flat minor [4:56]; No.16 in G flat [6:56] ; Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat Op.61 [14:19]; Bolero in a minor, Op.19 [7:35]; Berceuse in D flat, Op.57 [4:18]; Tarantella in A flat, Op.43 [2:56]; Allegro de concert in A, Op.46 [11:32]
Nikolai Demidenko (piano) – rec. 1992. DDD.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55183 [65:51] – from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

Click again to hide large versionHaving heard Ohlsson’s performances of the better-known Polonaises, you may well wish to sample the lesser-known examples, in which case Demidenko’s recording is ideal.  Tony Haywood had some reservations, which I mostly share – see review – but thought that the recording was worth sampling, a sentiment with which I certainly agree.  I’m a little more tolerant of rubato in Chopin than TH.

 
Four Impromptus [21:34]; Barcarolle in F sharp major Op. 60 [8:32]; Piano Sonata No. 3 in b minor Op. 58 [26:28]
Howard Shelley (piano) – rec. St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London, Nov. 1992. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN9175 [56:50] – from Chandos (mp3 and lossless) 

Berceuse in D flat, Op.57 (1843) [4:27]; Piano Sonata No.2 in b flat Minor, Op.35 (1837-1839) [21:51]; Two Nocturnes, Op.27 (1836): Nocturne in c sharp Minor, Op.27 No.1 [5:18]; Nocturne in D flat, Op.27 No.2 [5:48]; Barcarolle in f sharp, Op.60 (1846) [8:39]; Piano Sonata No.3 in b Minor, Op.58 (1844) [30:14]
Marc-André Hamelin (piano) - rec. 15-17 March 2008, Henry Wood Hall, London. DDD
HYPERION CDA67706 [76:40] – from Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)
 

Howard Shelley’s splendid performance of the Third Piano Sonata appears no longer to be available on CD – download only.  This may betoken an impending reissue at a lower price – it’s hard to believe that a performance of this calibre will be lost, though Chandos’s policy of keeping everything available as a download ensures that it won’t be.  The lossless download certainly sounds well.

 

Hamelin’s performance of the Third Piano Sonata offers a fine alternative to Howard Shelley’s on Chandos and Hamelin also offers the Second on this well-filled recording.  If for no other reason, the fact that the lossless version of this recording is available at the same price as the mp3, £7.99 – £2 less than the lossless Chandos – prompts me to give it a slight edge.

 

Finally, don’t overlook the Symphony ‘Polonia’ by that great Chopin interpreter, Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) on Hyperion Helios (CDH55351 – from Hyperion):

 Rob Barnett described the full-price original as ‘a must-have for anyone who enjoys grand late-romantic symphonies: epic, romantic and, the most challenging of all, often memorable’.  (See review).  At its new budget price, it’s irresistible.

 

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphony No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 38 (Spring) (1841) [31:29]; Overture: die Braut von Messina, Op. 100 (1851) [8:34]; Overture: Genoveva, Op. 81 (1850) [8:18]; ‘Zwickau Symphony’ in g minor (1832-3) [10:44]; Overture, Scherzo and Finale, Op. 52 (1841-5) [17:09]
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard 
rec. Örebro Concert Hall, Sweden, March 2005 (Overture, Scherzo and Finale); October 2006 (Zwickau); December 2006 (overtures); August 2007 (Symphony). DDD.
BIS-SACD-1569 [77:36] – from classicsonline (mp3)
- see review by Philip Borg-Wheeler


Symphony No.2 in C major Op.61 (1845-46) [35:21]; Overture to ‘Scenes from Goethe’s Faust’ (1853) [7:38]; Julius Caesar, Overture Op.128 (1851) [8:25]; Symphony No.4 in D minor Op.120 (original version, 1841) [23:40]
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
rec. March 2005 (Symphony No.2); March 2006, Örebro Concert Hall, Sweden. DDD.
BIS SACD-1519 [75:54] – from classicsonline (mp3)
See review by Dominy Clements 

Symphony No.3 in E flat major (‘Rhenish’), Op.97 [29:22]; Overture to Manfred, Op.115 [11:07]; Hermann und Dorothea, Overture, Op.126 [8:53]; Symphony No.4 in D minor, Op.120 (final version, 1851) [26:46]
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard 
BIS SACD-1619 [76:30] – from classicsonline (mp3)

 
Symphony No. 3 (‘Rhenish’), Op.97 [34:50]; Des Sängers Fluch, Op.139 (The Minstrel’s Curse) [38:38]
Hanne Fischer, Marianne Rorholm, Roland Wagenfuhrer, Dietrich Henschel, Bo Anker Hansen; Danish National Radio Choir, Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Michael Schønwandt. – rec. 1998, DDD
Chandos CHAN 9760 [73:27] – from Chandos (mp3 and lossless) 

Symphony No.4 in d minor, Op.120 [31:30]; Vom Pagen und der Königstochter, Op.140 [32:20]
Hanne Fischer (mezzo) - Princess/Queen; Marianne Rorholm (mezzo) – Narrator; Roland Wagenfuhrer (tenor) – Page; Dietrich Henschel (baritone) - Merman/Minstrek; Bo Anker Hansen (bass) – King; Danish National Choir; Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Michael Schønwandt  - rec. March-May, 1998. DDD.
CHANDOS CHAN9846 [63:58] – from Chandos (mp3 and lossless)

The three BIS recordings should get you off to a good start in Schumann’s bicentenary year.  They have received somewhat mixed receptions here on MusicWeb International, though they have been generally well received elsewhere.  Dominy Clements particularly liked ‘the sheer joy of life and creativity’ which Dausgaard brings to the original version of the Fourth, but those are the very qualities which I found lacking in his version of the First.  I’m with Philip Borg-Wheeler on this one: it’s just a little too strong and fiery as an evocation of Spring, for my liking, by comparison with the old 10” Decca LSO/Josef Krips recording on which I got to know this symphony and with the EMI recording by Wolfgang Sawallisch with the Dresden Staatskapelle which replaced it in my affections, originally as part of a box set of LPs and more recently on CD.  That Sawallisch set is available from Passionato as a download (EMI US Angel 5677712), but at a rather unfeasible £19.99 for the lossless version; even the mp3, at £14.99 is a few pence dearer than the price for which the parent CDs can be found.  Amazon.co.uk have both the UK EMI Classics (5677682) and Angel versions as downloads for rather less.

 Apart from that reservation concerning aspects of the First, I’m happy to recommend these BIS recordings.  The chamber-size orchestra and left-right divided strings, together with Dausgaard’s and his players’ commitment to the music and the high quality of the recordings (good 320kbps mp3, but with none of the surround capabilities of the SACDs) all combine to make this a worthwhile set.  With both versions of the wonderful Fourth to choose from as an added incentive, only that one reservation should stand in your way.  Dausgaard takes us some way along the path of authenticity; if you wish to travel that path further, iTunes have John Eliot Gardiner’s complete set of the symphonies with the ORR for £16.99.

In case you’re puzzled by the covers of these BIS recordings, they are all part of a series entitled Opening Doors. 

The Chandos recordings offer more conventional readings as far as the size of the orchestra is concerned, but each symphony is coupled with a choral work.  It’s an interesting concept, similar to the presentation of the Brahms symphonies on John Eliot Gardiner’s SDG label, and it works particularly well in the combination of the Rhenish and Des Sängers Fluch.  Schumann sets not only the Uhland poem – a favourite of mine among German Romantic poetry – but several medieval troubadour and Minnesänger texts.  Gerald Fenech gave this a well-deserved full five stars in 2000 – see review.  I was slightly less taken by the music of Vom Pagen und der Königstochter which accompanies the Fourth, but the performance, recording and download quality (in lossless form) are equally fine. The Rhenish appears to be available as a download only.

 Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Tannhäuser (Paris Version)        
Plácido Domingo (tenor) - Tannhäuser; Cheryl Studer (soprano) - Elisabeth; Agnes Baltsa (mezzo) - Venus; Matti Salminen (bass) - Hermann; Andreas Schmidt (baritone) - Wolfram; William Pell (tenor) - Walther; Kurt Rydl (bass) - Biterolf; Clemens Bieber (tenor) -  Heinrich; Oskar Hillebrandt (bass) - Reinmar; Barbara Bonney (soprano) - Shepherd boy; Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Philharmonia Orchestra/Giuseppe Sinopoli
DG 427 6252 [3 CDs:  71:14 + 70:53 + 54:11] – from passionato (mp3)

Wagner: TannhäuserIf you can accept Plácido Domingo’s rather mangled German, this is the Tannhäuser to have, on CD or as a download.  Domingo’s singing more than compensates for his poor diction; the rest of the cast are almost equally ideal and the direction superb.  All in all, this recording makes the strongest case for regarding Tannhäuser as Wagner’s masterpiece, the Ring cycle only excepted.

 The mp3 transfer is good and the price (£17.99) represents quite a saving on the CDs.  Though there is no libretto or synopsis, these are easily available from the web.

 STRAUSS Family
New Year’s Day Concerts, 1952-1954
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Clemens Krauss – mono/ADD
ARCHIPEL ARPCD0225 [2 CDs: 145:54] – from Passionato (mp3) 

Reviewing the 2010 New Year’s Day concert, with Georges Prêtre at the helm of an excellent event which deserves to be regarded as one of the best post-Boskovsky concerts – see review – made me think about the begetter of the tradition, Clemens Krauss, whose early-1950s concerts have, thankfully, been reissued by Archipel.  The (mono) sound is a little dry but the ear soon adjusts to Archipel’s fine re-mastering – this is emphatically not dry-as-dust old sound and the 320k mp3 transcription in no way detracts from enjoyment.  Krauss’s Im Krapfenwald’l, to name but one item, is even more entertaining than Prêtre’s 2010 version.  The only fly in the ointment is that the 2-CD set can be obtained rather more cheaply than passionato’s £11.99.  Their new-style website has brought a more flexible price structure, but it still isn’t quite flexible enough.

 Friedrich GERNSHEIM (1839-1916)
Piano Quintet No. 1 in d minor, Op. 35 [34:09]
Piano Quintet No. 2 in b minor, Op. 63 [29:57]
Art Vio String Quartet; Edouard Oganessian (piano)
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0099 [64:06] – from Toccata (mp3, lossless due shortly) 

This could very easily have been my Discovery of the Month.  There is one other recording of the First Quintet, on the equally enterprising Silvertrust label, who also have a performance of the Second Quintet in the pipeline, but it’s hard to imagine that their versions are or will be preferable to this enterprising release from Toccata.  The music is unfailingly attractive, influenced by Brahms, but with a voice of its own.  The performances are persuasive and the mp3 recording is adequate – Toccata plan to offer lossless soon, which, I imagine, will alleviate the slight congestion in places.  Reducing the volume helps.  I suspect that the instrument rather than the recording is to blame for the slightly harsh piano tone.  For members of Toccata’s club, the discount brings the price of the download to an appealing £5.99.  Please keep them coming, Toccata.

 Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900) Ivanhoe - romantic opera in 3 acts (1890-91)
Neal Davies (baritone) - Richard Cœur-de-Lion; Stephen Gadd (baritone) - Prince John; James Rutherford (bass-baritone) - Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert; Peter Wedd (tenor) - Maurice de Bracy; Peter Rose (bass) - Cedric the Saxon; Toby Spence (tenor) - Wilfred, Knight of Ivanhoe; Matthew Brook (bass-baritone) - Friar Tuck; Leigh Melrose (baritone) - Isaac, the Jew of York; Andrew Staples (tenor) - Locksley/The Squire; Janice Watson (soprano) - The Lady Rowena; Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo) – Ulrica; Geraldine McGreevy (soprano) – Rebecca; Knights and Ladies, Attendants, Saxons, Youths - Adrian Partington Singers
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/David Lloyd-Jones

rec. BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales, 24-28 June 2009. DDD
Booklet with text available as pdf document

CHANDOS CHAN 10578 (3) [3 CDs: 59:01 + 52:08 + 54:24] – from theclassicalshop (mp3 and lossless) or classicsonline (mp3)

Raymond J Walker voted this Recording of the Month – see review.  I might not go quite that far: it falls short of being an English Lohengrin, but I was intrigued to hear Sullivan producing the kind of ‘high’ opera that he usually mocks so effectively in his comic vein.  The performance is everything that could be wished and the lossless download sounds very well, though the voices are balanced a little backwardly against the orchestra.  At £15.99 (mp3) or £19.99 (lossless) from Chandos’s own theclassicalshop, the download is a real bargain.

 Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924) Piano Quartet No.1, in c minor, Op. 15, à Monsieur H. Leonard (1876–79, revised 1883) [29:00]; Piano Quartet No.2, in g minor, Op. 45 (?1884 – 86) [34:11]; Nocturne No.4, in E-flat, Op. 36, for solo piano, à Madame la Comtesse de Mercy-Argenteau (1884) [8:15]
Kathryn Stott (piano); The Hermitage String Trio (Boris Garlitsky, violin, Alexander Zemtsov, viola; Leonid Gorokhov, cello)
rec. Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, UK; 24–26 April 2009. DDD.
CHANDOS CHAN10582 [71:49] – from Chandos (mp3 and lossless)

Two recent rivals have appeared to challenge the hegemony of the Hyperion recording of these charming works (Domus, CDA66166) – one, from the Trio Wanderer on Harmonia Mundi which I haven’t yet heard, and this from Chandos.  I still marginally favour the slightly greater power of the Hyperion performance, but it’s a close call and the inclusion of the solo Nocturne may sway the decision for you.  On the other hand, the lossless (flac) version of the Hyperion download may be had for the same price as the mp3 and, with a reduction from the normal £7.99 to £6.99 to take account of the playing time, is £3 less expensive than the new Chandos.  Both sound well in lossless format.  Even less expensive – 8 tracks, so potentially as little as £2 – is the Nash Ensemble recording on CRD from emusic – without the access to notes which comes with the Chandos and Hyperion downloads, mp3 only, and at variable bit-rates, but well worth considering.

 Piano Quintet No. 1, in d minor, Op. 89, à Eugène Ysaÿe (1887-95, revised 1903-05) [28:51]  
Piano Quintet No. 2, in c minor, Op.115, à Paul Dukas (1919-21) [31:57]  
Schubert Ensemble - rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK, 16-18 March, 2009.  DDD

CHANDOS CHAN10576 [60:14] – from Chandos (mp3, lossless and 24/96 studio quality)

 This is another Chandos Fauré recording to challenge the version by Domus on Hyperion (CDA66766). In fact, I think that these idiomatic and enticing performances come even closer than the recording of the Piano Quartets, good as that is.  I included both those Domus recordings in my 30 Best Hyperion Downloads and I’m certainly not about to desert them, but these two Chandos recordings will certainly join them among my favourite late-evening listening.

 The revamped Chandos website at theclassicalshop.net, now offers new releases in Studio Quality 24-bit recordings as well as mp3 and lossless.  Unfortunately, as these are at 96KHz, Squeezebox won’t play them – or, if it does, it simply dumps anything beyond 44kHz.  Gimell offer both kinds of 24-bit recording, but Chandos have chosen to follow the route taken by Linn for their most recent downloads.  The lossless versions will be more than adequate for most listeners, including me.

 Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Cello Concerto (1937) [27:08]; Symphony No. 1 in G major (1899) [30:44]
Paul Watkins (cello); BBC Philharmonic/Martyn Brabbins
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 17-18 October 2007. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10452 [58:04] – from Chandos (mp3 and lossless) 

Piano Trio No. 1 (1920) [33:48]; Trio for Clarinet in B-flat, Cello and Piano (1955)1 [18:04]     
Clarinet Quintet (1951, revised 1953)2 [13:13]; Piano Trio No. 2 in one movement (published 1951) [10:08]; Cornish Boat Song for Violin, Cello and Piano (1931) [3:00]
Gould Piano Trio (Lucy Gould (violin); Alice Neary (cello); Benjamin Frith (piano) with 1,2 Robert Plane (clarinet); 2 Mia Cooper (violin) and David Adams (viola)
rec. Champs Hill Music Room, West Sussex, 9-10 March and 12-14 May. DDD. CHANDOS10575 [81:37] – from Chandos (mp3 and lossless)

Until I came across his first two Piano Concertos and Early One Morning on Lyrita (SRCD.251 – see July, 2009, Roundup), Cyril Scott was little more than a name to me.  Though I had some residual doubts about the lasting value of his music, I liked what I heard there enough to try the last of Chandos’s recordings of his orchestral music, coupling his early First Symphony and the later Cello Concerto, presented in the reverse of chronological order in performances and recording that should certainly win friends for the composer.  The Symphony makes a glorious noise, but it’s the Concerto that caught my attention.  I may not be quite as enthusiastic as MusicWeb International editor Rob Barnett – see review – but listening to this recording prompted me to try the chamber works programme, where most of the music is receiving its first recording.

 I found the latter attractive; if not very distinctive; this music is well worth exploring and the performances and recording are well up to Chandos’s usual exalted standard.  The first-rate notes by Lewis Foreman may be downloaded as part of the deal and an extra 2:48 track, Little Folk Dance, which would have made the CD too long, comes as a bonus with the download.  The timings above are for the CD – the download actually runs for 81:35.

 Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
String Quartet in B minor No. 1, Op. 50 (1930) [24:00]
Sonata for Two Violins in C major, Op. 56 [15:05]
String Quartet No. 2 in F major on Kabardinian themes, Op. 92 (1941) [21:34]
Pavel Haas Quartet
SUPRAPHON SU3857-2 [60:40] – from emusic (mp3) 

Prokofiev: String Quartets Nos 1& 2, Sonata for Two ViolinsOn this new recording the young Pavel Haas Quartet offers performances to match their recent and highly lauded accounts of the Janáček and Haas Quartets.   (See review of SU3877-2).  Jonathan Woolf thought them a little lacking in intensity on that earlier CD; they seem to have discovered it for Prokofiev.  The Supraphon recording is good and has been well transferred in good mp3 sound.  As usual with emusic, some of the tracks are at the full 320kbps, others at an adequate 192k or somewhere between the two.

 You may prefer the alternative Naxos version of the quartets, coupled with the Cello Sonata (Aurora Quartet, 8.553136), also available from classicsonline and emusic.  I’ve lived happily with these performances on CD for some time.

 Roy HARRIS (1898-1979)
Symphony No. 3 (1938) [17:59]; Symphony No. 4 Folk Song Symphony for orchestra and chorus of mixed voices (1939)* [40:48]
Colorado Symphony Chorus (4); Colorado Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
rec. live, Performing Arts Center, Denver, Colorado, USA, 22-23 January 2005. DDD
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559227 [58:47] – from classicsonline (mp3) or passionato (mp3 and lossless)

 Symphony No.5 (1942/3) [24:13]; Symphony No.6 (Gettysburg) (1944) [29:26]; Acceleration (1941) [7:15]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559609 [61:45] – from classicsonline (mp3) or passionato (mp3 and lossless) or emusic (mp3)

HARRIS, R.: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6, "Gettysburg" (Bournemouth Symphony, Alsop)I echo John Quinn, who found it a pleasure to recommend the excellent first CD in this series, coupling the well-known Third with the less familiar Fourth – see review. A symphony based on Western songs such as The girl I left behind me may sound rather gash, but it isn’t; it’s no undiscovered masterpiece, but, like JQ, I think it attractive.

 

Marin Alsop now offers us the Fifth and Sixth with her former orchestra, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.  The Fifth is certainly well worth hearing and the Sixth not far behind; with good performances and recording, this is clearly the next stop for those who have been taken with the Third.

 Both downloads come in mp3 only from classicsonline, albeit at the maximum 320k, and with the booklets.  Passionato don’t have the booklets but do have lossless as a slightly more expensive alternative.  When I downloaded these, in early March, passionato had a special price offer for any three Naxos American Classics.  Tracks 1 and 4 from passionato’s lossless version turned out to be empty tracks when I tried them; I have notified them and I’m sure the matter will have been dealt with by the time that you read this review.  I downloaded substitutes from passionato’s 320kbps mp3 version and these were fine.  These performances are also available from emusic; at bit-rates between 192k and 256k, they aren’t in quite the same league as passionato’s flac or classicsonline’s 320k, but they are perfectly acceptable and the complete CD comes potentially at less than £2 from emusic.

 Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47 (1937) [51:36]
Symphony No. 9 in E flat major, Op. 70 (1945) [26:31]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko - rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, UK, 7-8 July 2008 (Symphony No. 5) and 29-30 July 2008 (Symphony No. 9)
NAXOS 8.572167 [78:07] – from classicsonline (mp3)

 

Leslie Wright made this Bargain of the Month – see review – and William Hedley was hardly less enthusiastic – see review.  What struck me most was that, although there’s no lack of energy where it’s required, Petrenko points up all the moments of lyricism, especially in the Fifth – not all of them occurring where I had expected them.  This could easily have been my Download of the Month – there was considerable competition.  

The quality of the new recording sent me back to Petrenko’s version of the Eleventh Symphony (Naxos 8.572082 – also available from classicsonline.)  Dan Morgan was not at all enthusiastic about this – see review – but he was swimming against the tide: Bob Briggs, who made it Recording of the Month – see review – was much more in line with that consensus.  Hearing it straight after the new recording, I begin to think that it’s the work itself that is the problem, rather than the performance.  Petrenko’s recording is about as good as any that I have heard, though I also like Ashkenazy, whose complete set I reviewed some time ago, and an Olympia recording, no longer available, under Rozhdestvensky.  Someone really should obtain from Melodiya the right to reissue the latter.  In both the Naxos recordings the classicsonline mp3 sound is good, but, if you must have lossless, passionato offer that for the Eleventh for £1 extra.

 Brian Wilson

 


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