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Download of the Month

William BYRD (1539/40-1623) Volume 13: Infelix ego The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood rec. 2009 HYPERION CDA67779 [59:40] - Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

Finis coronat opus - the end crowns the work. This is the final volume in the Cardinall’s Musick series of recordings of Byrd’s Latin music, commenced by ASV and concluded by Hyperion. It sums up in excellent fashion the qualities of the whole series. I had received a hint or two that I should be even more impressed with this final volume than I had been with Nos. 10, 11 and 12, even though I made Volume 11 (CDA67653) one of my Recordings of the Year for 2009, as also did Michael Greenhalgh

Finis coronat opus
, too, in another sense, in that the final work, Infelix ego, which gives its name to the disc, receives a stunning performance. Stile Antico included this work on Heavenly Harmonies, a hybrid SACD of Byrd and Tallis, which Michael Greenhalgh made Recording of the Month (HMU80 7463). By comparison with their time of 16:03, Carwood’s 12:53 looks implausibly fast on paper for this setting of penitential words from the book of Job, with Jeremy Summerly and the Oxford Camerata on Naxos also adopting a more sedate speed, at 13:54. (8.550574, with the four- and five-part Masses).

In the event, I can only say that I was completely convinced by the new recording. Indeed, it is possible to take this piece even slightly faster without coming off the rails, as The Tallis Scholars demonstrate; normally given to slightly more relaxed tempi than most, they take just 12:20 for this work (CDGIM208, The Three Masses and Great Service - see review). I’m loath to choose between two such excellent performances, especially when the Tallis Scholars’ recording of Infelix ego is part of an essential 2-for-1 bargain on CD and download. I can certainly say that neither sounds at all rushed to me, whatever the comparative timings say. Listening to Stile Antico immediately after the Tallis Scholars and Cardinall’s Musick, I found their performance beautifully sung but a shade too fast, while I was not troubled by the ‘earnest pace’ which Michael Greenhalgh noted in his review of the Tallis Scholars’ performance.

Elsewhere, the tempi of the new performances are broadly in line with the ‘opposition’: for Hæc dies Carwood takes 2:21 against 2:09, for Cantate Domino 2:09 against 2:08 and in Domine, non sum dignus, 3:06 against 3:33 on the Trinity College Cambridge/Chandos recording of selections from the two books of Cantiones sacræ which I recommended in February 2009 (CHAN0733).

Edward Higginbottom with the New College Choir, Oxford, is generally faster than both Hyperion and Chandos recordings; he takes 2:39 for Domine non sum dignus, 2:38 for Hæc dies, 3:24 for Domine, salva nos, and 4:17 against Carwood’s 5:35 for Cunctis diebus (CRD3439).

I’m not going to withdraw my recommendation for those Chandos and CRD recordings, especially as Higginbottom offers boys’ voices, which many will prefer in this repertoire, but I think the new recording pips them at the post.

The recording is excellent - go for the flac unless you must have mp3. My personal view is that to play a recording of this quality on an mp3 player, however good the headphones, is sacrilege, but you can download the flac for burning to CDR or listening via the likes of Squeezebox, and convert the tracks to mp3 or aac if you must also listen to them on mp3 in the car or on the train. I’m somewhat biased, in that my mp3 player mostly gathers dust, even though my car radio and Arcam Solo have mp3 sockets.

Don’t let the excellence of these Cardinall’s Musick recordings overshadow Hyperion’s earlier Byrd recordings, especially Gavin Turner’s with the William Byrd Choir of Gradualia, now on the budget Helios label (CDH55047) and The Great Service (Westminster Abbey Choir, CDA67533).

Jacob OBRECHT (1457/8-1505) Missa Maria Zart The Tallis Scholars/Peter Philips rec. 1996 GIMELL CDGIM032 [69:25] - Gimell (mp3 or lossless)

Gary Higginson ended his recent review of Obrecht’s Missa de Sancto Donatiano, on Fineline Classical (FL72414) with some further recommendations of recordings of Obrecht’s music, two of which I’m very happy to endorse - the Gimell, as above, and Missa Caput, sung by Oxford Camerata on Naxos 8.553210. The Naxos recording is available from classicsonline (mp3) or passionato (mp3 or lossless); in each case, the mp3 download represents a small but useful saving over the CD, but the passionato lossless comes at much the same price as the physical product.

The Gimell performance of this extraordinarily long Mass setting is excellent and the download first-class. I chose the wma over the flac for no other reason than that it generates slightly more disc and track information in Windows Explorer. As usual, Gimell offer the complete documentation and artwork with the download.

The Fineline recording is available for download from Classicsonline - just the contents of the CD in mp3, without the DVD material, of course.

Mater Matris Christi - Music from the Choir Books of Annaberg, including Jacob Obrecht Missa Sub tuum præsidium Capella de la Torre COVIELLO CLASSICS COV20714 [60:15] - Classicsonline (mp3)

This is a collection including Obrecht’s best-known Mass in an attractive performance with (fairly obtrusive) instrumental accompaniment and contemporary anonymous music in honour of St Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary. The recording is good but lacking the surround tracks of the parent SACD.

I recently recommended Coviello’s CD of Christmas music, Feliz Navidad, also performed by Capella de la Torre. This new recording is equally recommendable, except for those who dislike instrumental accompaniments in music of this period. The lack of notes with any of these downloads is a serious handicap - you wouldn’t even know from the classicsonline website that not all the music here is by Obrecht.

Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643) La Favola d’Orfeo Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Julianne Baird, Lynne Dawso, Anne Sofie von Otter, Nancy Argenta, Monteverdi Ch, English Baroque Soloists; His Majesties Sagbutts and Cornetts/John Eliot Gardiner rec. 1987 ARCHIV 419 250-2 [48:19 + 57:13] - passionato (mp3) 

This month I’m looking at three generations of operas based on the legend of Orpheus - from Monteverdi, whose Favola d’Orfeo is widely regarded as the first important work in the genre, via Gluck to Offenbach.

John Eliot Gardiner’s 1987 Archiv version still holds its own as one of the very best versions; though I also retain a strong affection for the Nigel Rogers/Charles Medlam version on Virgin, the Gardiner is my prime download recommendation, since passionato’s price for the Medlam is uncompetitive (£15.99 for mp3, £19.99 for flac) when the CDs are available for under £9.

Two fairly recent all-Italian recordings challenge the supremacy of the Gardiner version:
Anna Simboli, Sara Mingardo, Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini NAÏVE OP30439 - classicsonline (mp3)

Emanuela Galli, Mirko Guadagnini, Ensemble La Venexiana/Claudio Cavina GLOSSA GCD920913 - classicsonline (mp3) 

Neither of these seems to have been reviewed on Musicweb International. Reviewers elsewhere were pretty evenly divided in their preference, with good reason, since both are immensely likeable - Alessandrini’s the more dramatic, Cavina’s perhaps easier to live with. Both appeared in de luxe format with hardback books originally; downloaders have to make do with penny plain though with a price advantage. Both downloads sound fine in good mp3. 

Georg VON BERTOUCH (1668-1743) Trio Sonatas and Pieces from the Music-Book of Jacob Mestmacher Bergen Barokk rec. 2001/3 TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0006 [65:50] - toccata (mp3)

I happily concur with Johann van Veen’s wholehearted recommendation of this disc - see his review for full programme details and analytical review. Once again we should be very grateful to Toccata for taking us down a fascinating musical byway.

The mp3 download is more than acceptable but you may have to renumber the tracks in order to get them to play in the right order by adding -01-, -02, etc., to the titles as they appear in Windows Explorer: rename the first track as TOCC0006-01-sonata8-1). Otherwise Squeezebox plays the tracks in alpha-numerical order. If this sounds too complex, you can order the parent CD direct from MusicWeb International - use the Purchase link on Johann van Veen’s review. 

John GAY (1685-1732) (ed. Frederick Austin) The Beggar’s Opera Prietto, Dennis Noble, Argo Chamber Ensemble/Richard Austin PAST CLASSICS [67:48 + 28:00] - emusic (mp3)

This is a real bargain, since it comes for the price of three tracks, potentially less than £1, from emusic (alternatively, £2.37 from amazon). The performance is lively, the speaking voices well matched to the relevant singers, and the recording is perfectly tolerable. Some of these Past Classics issues are taken from crackly LPs, but they seem to have got hold of a decent original here. This was the first recording of The Beggar’s Opera that I heard, but its value is more than merely sentimental. 

George Frideric HANDEL
I’m arbitrarily extending Handel’s anniversary year by continuing to look at available versions of some of his vocal and operatic works.

Julius Cæsar (in English) Janet Baker; Valerie Masterson; Sarah Walker; Della Jones; James Bowman; John Tomlinson; English Ntl Opera Ch & O/Charles Mackerras rec. 1984 CHANDOS CHAN3019 [3 CDs: 75:26 + 54:40 + 53:50] - theclassicalshop (mp3 and lossless)

We are blessed with a number of fine accounts of Giulio Cesare on CD and DVD, but there’s a limited choice to download. Fortunately, one of these, the 1984 Baker/ENO/Mackerras recording, is also one of the best, not least for Janet Baker’s wonderful singing in the title role.

An added advantage is that the mp3 theclassicalshop download costs only £14.97 (£15.98 for lossless, £29.32 on CD). Classicsonline offer the same recording more expensively, though their 75-minute offering of highlights from it is worth considering at £7.99 (CHAN3072).

Though many of the arias are excerpted on recital recordings, Giulio Cesare does not lend itself well to the ‘highlights’ treatment. For those who are content with excerpts, however, Classicsonline offer as good a selection as you are like to find in a very acceptable mp3 download from René Jacobs’ award-winning recording (HMA195 1458 - but beware; at £7.99, this may be more expensive than on budget-price CD); would that this set were available to download complete.

Let me draw a 3-CD Hyperion set to your attention, on which Emma Kirkby, partly assisted by Catherine Bott, sings arias from a range of Handel operas - for full details see my review of the CDs. The download is available from Hyperion for £14.99 (the CDs cost £20.97).

Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787) Orfeo ed Euridice Sylvia McNair, Derek Lee Ragin, Monteverdi Ch, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner DECCA 470 4242 [52:55 + 36:05] - passionato (mp3)

Any performance of Gluck’s Orfeo involves awkward choices between the original Vienna version, the Paris revival, and various compromises between the two. Here Gardiner goes for the original Vienna option and, though one misses some of the ballet music composed for Paris, the logic of his choice is inescapable. With an excellent cast and his trusty English Baroque Soloists, this just beats the Naxos performance, though the latter, on just one CD, is by no means to be dismissed (Östman, on 8.660064, from classicsonline, mp3, or passionato, mp3 or lossless).

Passionato’s mp3 transfer is a good one. With the parent CDs apparently deleted, downloading is currently the only way to obtain this Gardiner/Decca recording.  

If you’re looking for the 1774 Paris version of Orphée et Eurydice, with the well-known ballet music but not the final pantomime, you probably won’t do better than the Naxos recording, directed by Ryan Brown, which can be downloaded in good mp3 from Classicsonline (£9.98) or in equally good mp3 (£6.99) and even better lossless (£8.99) from passionato (8.660185-6 - see reviews by Göran Forsling, Christopher Howell and Robert Hugill). I have just one grumble: I wish that the otherwise excellent high tenor Orphée, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, had put a little more emotion into J’ai perdu mon Eurydice - pace CH, I really don’t want Kathleen Ferrier, but I would like a little more affective singing. Oh, and I do prefer Italian to French as a language for singing.

Another download version worth considering comes from Classicsonline in the form of Sigiswald Kuijken’s 1982 recording of the Vienna original plus the ballets, with René Jacobs as Orfeo and Marjanne Kweksilber as Euridice (ACCENT ACC30023). I enjoyed this; it’s beautifully sung, but the employment of a great deal of ornamentation and mostly slow - often very slow - tempi may put off some listeners. The mp3 sound (320kbps) is good. Classicsonline pricing is usually sensible but, on this occasion, their £15.98 is a little more expensive than many online dealers charge for the CDs, even taking p&p into account.

For the traditional conflation of the Italian text from the Vienna version and the dances from the Paris version, there’s the performance conducted by Peter Maag, with Ewa Podles as Orpheus, on the Arts Red Line label (475362), available in mp3 or lossless sound from passionato. This has recently been reissued in SACD format on the more expensive Arts Blue Line label; as I close this roundup, I’ve just received this for review, but for download purposes the original issue is all that is necessary. Robert Farr ‘strongly recommend[ed] this performance to all those not concerned about original version or period instrument performance’ - see review. I’m slightly less enthusiastic about Ewa Podles, whom I find a little too plummy, but that’s a problem shared with other mezzos or contraltos in this role. Janet Baker is an exception, but her recording with Raymond Leppard doesn’t seem to be available for download.

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Symphony 88 Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Symphony 4 Berlin PO/Wilhelm Furtwängler DG 474 9882 [52:14] - passionato (mp3)

I’ve placed the Haydn first for chronological reasons and because it’s my prime reason for recommending this recording, though the Schumann, which plays first, is pretty good, too. And the coupling combines a 2009 anniversarian with a 2010 birthday boy.

As with The Beggar’s Opera, there are sentimental reasons for choosing this recording, which I first encountered almost fifty years ago on the Heliodor label, but that’s not my main motive in recommending it. Like Beecham with the ‘London’ Symphonies, Furtwängler gets to the heart of this symphony without the benefit of modern scholarship and I prefer his performance to any other which I have heard, with the exception of Jochum - also DG, currently available only as a bonus recording with his set of the ‘London’ Symphonies.

The mp3 transfer of the mono sound is more than acceptable.

The Schumann recording is also available on a 2-CD DG Originals set, coupled with Furtwängler’s own second symphony (457 7222 - from passionato) and the Haydn with Schubert’s No.9 (DG Originals 447 4392 - from passionato). 

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Piano Sonatas Stephen Hough rec. 1999 HYPERION CDA67027 [75:15] - Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Piano Sonata 21 Stephen Bishop Kovacevich rec. 1984 HYPERION CDA66004 [41:42] - Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

Listening to the Radio 3 broadcast of Imogen Cooper’s third and final Schubert recital from the Royal Festival Hall, due for release on Avie, sent me looking for that elusive thing, the perfect recording of the posthumous sonata, D960, with a tremendous performance of which she ended her recital.

Stephen Kovacevich, then still at the halfway stage in reclaiming his surname, made an excellent performance for Hyperion. That it has been relegated to the Special Archive Service is no fault of the performance or recording, both of which are admirable; presumably it’s due largely to the short playing time, which is taken into account in fixing the price of the download at just £4.99. Among the many virtues of this recording is the fact that the first-movement repeat is taken, extending it to a weighty 20:25, which is appropriate in view of the extent to which the sonata’s emotional tone is established by this movement.

Hyperion’s other recording, from Stephen Hough, is equally fine and contains much more music, including, appropriately, the other late sonata which Imogen Cooper included in that final recital, D784.

Honours are about even among all three recordings of D960 and between the two versions of D784. When Avie release the RFH recording, the couplings may well be the deciding factor - the Impromptus, D899, and 12 German Dances, D784, from Cooper, against the unfinished sonata from Hough or D960 alone at an attractive price from Stephen Kovacevich.

Don’t forget the classic Clifford Curzon recording, available only as part of a limited edition multi-CD set (475 0842) unless you download just the four relevant tracks from passionato for £6.19. There’s no first-movement repeat from Curzon, but his still has a claim to be the best performance ever. There are so many good things on offer in this Curzon set - I particularly like the Dvořák Quintet - that you may well find yourself buying the whole thing. 

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Violin Concerto Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Violin Concerto Renaud Capuçon, Mahler CO/Daniel Harding VIRGIN CLASSICS 5456632 [58:26] - passionato (mp3 and lossless)

This unusual (possibly unique?) coupling neatly combines one of 2009’s birthday boys with one of 2010’s. More importantly, it’s one of only a handful of recordings of Schumann’s under-valued Violin Concerto. There is any number of fine performances of the Mendelssohn, but this merits a place among the best; indeed, performance and recording - especially the lossless version - do both works justice. 

Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Concertos 1 & 2 Martha Argerich, Montréal SO/Charles Dutoit EMI CLASSICS 5567982 [69:02] - passionato (mp3 and lossless)

Piano Concertos 1 & 2 Polish Festival O/Krystian Zimerman rec. 1999 DG 459 6842 [45:52 + 35:48] - passionato (mp3)

Piano Concerto 1, Four Nocturnes, Ballade 1 & Polonaise 6 Maurizio Pollini, Philharmonia O/Paul Kletzki rec. 1960-8 EMI CLASSICS 5675492 [72:57] - passionato (mp3 and lossless)

It’s Chopin’s turn this year, the 200th anniversary of his birth. Expect a stream of new recordings and reissues, including, I expect, of the piano concertos, singly or together.

Whatever the record companies have in store is not likely to change my top recommendations: Rubinstein, beautifully refurbished - and how those RCA LPs needed to be refurbished - Zimerman on DG Originals or in his remake for the same label, Argerich and Dutoit (EMI) and, in No.1 alone, Pollini (also EMI). 

Maurizio Pollini
still heads my list for the First Concerto and his 1960s ADD recording still sounds very well in the flac transfer. Passionato have both the UK and US versions of this recording; make sure that you go for the US version with the catalogue number as above and with the Recording Angel on the cover. The UK version, with Nipper on the cover, had a huge drop-out early in the first movement when I tried it. I’ve notified passionato and I’m sure that it will be put right, but the US version is safer. 

Krystian Zimerman’s second version has its advocates, but, with tempi often so slow that the recording wouldn’t quite fit on one CD, I must marginally prefer Martha Argerich on EMI. All my choices come in good mp3 downloads from passionato, with the added option of lossless flac for the two EMI recordings.

Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880) Orphée aux Enfers Vann Beuro, Natalie Dessay, Lyon Ntl Opera Ch & O/Marc Minkowski rec. 1998 EMI CLASSICS 5567252 [2 CDs: 110:00] - passionato (mp3 and lossless)

My third opera based on the Orpheus legend is actually an operetta. It’s also one of the very few exceptions to my failure to enjoy the genre (see review of Die Fledermaus below), especially when it’s performed with gusto, as it mostly is in this recording. The cast, especially the female singers, offers a foretaste of artists who were very much to come to the fore in the following decade.

There is rather a lot of dialogue, so Anglophones may prefer the highlight from the 1960s Sadler’s Wells recording which introduced me to Offenbach. They now come coupled with excerpts from La Vie Parisienne and La Belle Hélène on Classics for Pleasure 5759992, two CDs for around £8.50 or less, which makes them less expensive than any download of this recording which I’ve been able to find.

New Year’s Day Concert 2002 Vienna PO/Seiji Ozawa PHILIPS 468 9992 [68:52] - passionato (mp3)

New Year’s Day Concert 2008 Vienna PO/Georges Prêtre DG [32:05 + 78:04] - passionato (mp3)

Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899) Die Fledermaus Eberhard Wächter, Erich Kunz, Walter Berry; Vienna PO/Herbert Karajan rec. 1960 DECCA ORIGINALS 475 8319 [69:57 + 72:45] - passionato (mp3)

Having listened to the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna, I decided to give Die Fledermaus another try - not a work that I’ve ever warmed to, despite my love of the Strauss family’s dance music. I’m sorry to report that, for all the virtues of this Karajan Gala version, not least its price - a mere £9.99 when I downloaded it, but still worth having at its regular price of £15.99 - it didn’t convert me. I remain a lost cause as far as most operetta is concerned. (But see Orphée aux Enfers, above)

I was much more taken with the 2002 New Year’s Day Concert. By the time that you read this, DG will have released the 2010 recording, with Georges Prêtre, but this 2002 version, with Seiji Ozawa at the helm, remains very attractive. Prêtre’s equally fine 2008 New Year’s Day Concert is also available from passionato. All three passionato downloads come in good mp3 sound. Don’t forget the 1987 Karajan concert (477 6336) which I recommended in December 2009

Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937) Violin Concerto 1 Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) Romance, Violin Concerto Arabella Steinbacher (violin); Berlin RSOMarek Janowski PENTATONE CLASSICS 5186353 [71:25] - Classicsonline (mp3)

An excellent modern challenger to the classic Josef Suk/Karel Ančerl recording of the Dvořák Concerto and Romance, generously coupled with a fine performance of the Szymanowski. The recording is good, as is the mp3 download - recommended to all but those who require the original SACD’s surround channels.

If you’re looking for the Suk/Ančerl - one of the first Supraphon LPs that I bought in the early 1960s, for 17/6 - you’ll find that coupled with Suk’s Fantasy in g minor for violin and orchestra, still sounding well in mp3 format, on Supraphon Ančerl Gold Edition Volume 8 from emusic

Anton Stepanovich ARENSKY (1861-1906) Egyptian Nights Moscow SO/Dmitry Yablonsky MARCO POLO 8.225028 [50:41] - passionato (mp3 and lossless) and Classicsonline (mp3)

Attractive music, heavily influenced by Arensky’s mentor Tchaikovsky, well performed and recorded. Ian Lace called it ‘an enjoyable bit of escapism’ - see review. The lossless transfer may be strongly recommended and mp3s from both providers, at 320kbps, have always proved equally reliable.

I’m indebted to my colleague Patrick Waller for having winkled out a real bargain in the form of Arensky’s Violin Concerto for a mere £0.69 in his recent blog on the Joy of Downloading (Irina Medvedeva, soloist and conductor, with the Moscow RTV SO on Digital Music Group from Amazon). The recording is not of the very best, but the ear soon adjusts, and the performance is good.

If you want better quality recording with equally fine performances, you’ll need to spend a little more for the Chandos recording (Alexander Trostiansky with I Musici de Montreal/Yuli Turovsky, CHAN9528 with Glazunov Piano Concerto, etc., from theclassicalshop or passionato, mp3 or lossless) or the Hyperion version (Ilya Gringolts and BBC Scottish SO/Ilan Volkov, with Taneyev Suite de Concert, CDA67642, from Hyperion, mp3 or lossless - see review).

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune, Images, Printemps Cleveland O/Pierre Boulez rec. 1991 DG 435 766-2 [59:45] - passionato (mp3)

Why do I recommend a 20-year-old recording, still at full price, when there are plenty of other versions of the Prélude and Images? Firstly, because Boulez adopts a non-nonsense approach to Debussy’s ‘impressionism’, though without losing any of the music’s magic; secondly, because this is one of the few recordings of Printemps, an early work but well worth hearing, and, finally, because the download, in good, analytical mp3 sound, represents a considerable saving on the (full) price of the CD. If you have versions of the main works and just want Printemps, you can buy that separately.

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) String Quartet Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) String Quartet, Violin Sonata 2 Dante Qt; Krysia Osostowicz (violin); Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano) rec. 2009 HYPERION CDA67759 [71:40] - Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

I’ve recently praised the Dante Quartet’s earlier recording of Fauré and Franck (CDA67664); in comparison with the recent Naxos/Fine Arts Quartet version of Franck I gave them a slight edge, so I had high expectations of their new recording.

Having first heard the Debussy and Ravel Quartets in the Holywell Music Rooms in Oxford on a perfect summer’s evening almost fifty years ago, they always retain a summery haze for me, as did the first recording which I owned, a Supraphon LP, bought the next day in Blackwell’s music shop. The previous most recent new recording, that of the Quatuor Ébène on Virgin, also retains that summery haze, combined with strength; I praised it in my May, 2009, Roundup and I retain a high opinion of it (5190452).

The new recording opens with a much more positive performance of the first movement of the Debussy which I found a little disconcerting at first - not so much a summer haze as a springtime freshness of vision, which continues in the second movement. The third movement does bring the summery mood, as required by the marking doucement expressif, and the finale, too, evokes summertime. I completely warm to the last two movements, where the new recording joins the Boulez, listed above, in reminding us that there are more positive views of Debussy; only time will tell whether the Dante Quartet’s first two will grow on me. 

I’m pleased that Hyperion have separated the two quartets with the performance of the Ravel Violin Sonata - the two can sound remarkably similar when heard one after the other. It’s a good performance, too, which I rate with the best - Grumiaux and Hajdu on Philips Solo 454 1342, sadly no longer available on CD, but available for download from passionato, with the Piano Trio (Beaux Arts Trio) and String Quartet (Quartetto Italiano).

The Dante Quartet’s Ravel is much mellower from the start than their Debussy and I took to it immediately, apart from a brief spell around five minutes into the second movement where the spell was briefly shattered. With good recording and excellent documentation available as a pdf document, this new version should find many friends among those who can take a more forthright account of the opening of the Debussy. I’m completely convinced by 9 of the 11 tracks. 82% isn’t bad, but I’m pretty well 100% sold on the Quatuor Ébène.

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
The Dance Album
Philadelphia O/Riccardo Chailly DECCA 452 5972 [72:58] - passionato (mp3)

The Film Album Royal Concertgebouw O/Riccardo Chailly rec.1999 DECCA 460 7922 [78:05] - passionato (mp3)

The Jazz Album Ronald Brautigam (piano) Royal Concertgebouw O/Riccardo Chailly DECCA 433 7022 [58:37] - passionato (mp3)

These three albums offer a very different view of Shostakovich from the usual one obtained from his symphonies and string quartets. All contain performances of such high calibre as to be recommended without reservation - except that some suppliers are offering the original CD of the Jazz Album for much the same price as these downloads and that there’s an even better performance of the Piano Concerto No.1, more generously coupled than here, on budget-price Classics for Pleasure 3822342 - see review. The mp3 sound from passionato is very good. 

Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006) (arr. John Longstaff) The Three Musketeers Northern Ballet Theatre O/John Pryce-Jones QUARTZ MUSIC QTZ2056 - Quartz (mp3)

Chandos recently gave us a recording of Malcolm Arnold’s own Ballet Music, conducted by Pierino Gamba (CHAN10550, see November 2009 Download Roundup). Now Quartz offer us David Nixon’s ballet The Three Musketeers, for which John Longstaff has arranged Arnold’s music from various sources, much in the manner of Respighi’s Rossini confections. It’s all very enjoyable, though I kept finding myself trying to remember where particular individual items came from.

I wrote of the Chandos collection that if you like Arnold’s film music, you’ll enjoy his ballets; that’s even more true of The Three Musketeers, where some of the music is actually taken from his film scores. These are lively performances and the mp3 sound is good. An added incentive to download is the very competitive price of £4.99.

Robert SIMPSON (1921-1997) Symphonies 3 & 5 Royal PO/Vernon Handley rec. 1994 HYPERION CDA66728 [72:19] - Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

I’m sure that the Editor was absolutely right in his review of Hyperion’s complete set of the Simpson symphonies (CDA44191-7) to single out this, the third CD in that set, as the place to begin - it couples his best known work, the third, with the very powerful fifth. Simpson’s music isn’t always immediately approachable, but it is well worth persevering, and you won’t find more persuasive advocacy that Handley and the RPO. The recording is excellent, especially as heard in the lossless flac download - Hyperion’s mp3s are usually pretty good, too, if you must have that format.

So why has the CD recently been languishing among those that haven’t been selling at all well? If it ever re-appears in the ‘please buy me ...’ category for £5.60, snap it up; otherwise the download is almost as good a bargain at £7.99. Do try it - or go for the box set of CDs, which works out even less expensively per disc. 

In Brief 
Last July I recommended the Chandos recording of Albinoni’s Op.7 Oboe Concertos (Anthony Robson; Collegium Musicum 90/Simon Standage, CHAN0579 - see review). I ought really to have listed the whole Chandos series of Albinoni recordings, available as mp3 or lossless downloads from Chandos’s own or from or, in mp3 only, from classicsonline.

The remaining recordings are:
•  12 Concerti a cinque, Op.5: CHAN0663 - theclassicalshop or passionato or Classicsonline
•  Op.7/1, 2, 4 & 5; Op.9/1, 3, 4 & 6; Sinfonia in g minor: CHAN0602 - theclassicalshop or passionato or Classicsonline
•  Op.7/7, 8, 10 & 11; Op.9/7, 9, 10 &12: CHAN0610 - theclassicalshop or passionato or Classicsonline

In the double oboe concertos on CHAN0610, Anthony Robson is joined by Catherine Latham.

These excellent recordings have convincingly replaced good, earlier versions by Maurice Bourgue and I Musici (Decca Originals), Heinz Holliger (DG Archiv and Philips) and Pierre Pierlot with I Solisti Veneti (formerly on Erato) in my collection.

Ignacy Jan PADEREWSKI (1860-1941) Symphony BBC Scottish SO/Jerzy Maksymiuk rec. 1998 HYPERION HELIOS CDH55351 [74:13] - Hyperion (mp3 and lossless)

“A must-have for anyone who enjoys grand late-romantic symphonies: epic, romantic and, the most challenging of all, often memorable.” See the Editor’s review of the original issue. At the new price, it’s even less resistable.

Nikolai Karlovich MEDTNER (1880-1951) Piano Concerto 2 Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Piano Concerto 4 Yevgeny Sudbin (piano); North Carolina Symphony/Grant Llewellyn rec. 2008 BIS BIS-SACD-1728 [73:53] - classicsonline (mp3)

“Both [Yevgeny Sudbin’s] playing and the liner-notes that he wrote for this issue show us a brilliant musician with a very perceptive and intelligent mind ... A great career in the making.” - see review by Siebe Riedstra. The 320kbps mp3 sound is good, though lacking the surround channels of the SACD.

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) String Quartets Vol. 6: Nos.1 & 12, Piano quintet Sorrel Qt, Martin Roscoe (piano) CHANDOS CHAN10329 [76:56] - theclassicalshop (mp3 or lossless)

“The Sorrel Quartet play with exceptional technical security coupled with a real feeling for the music … Martin Roscoe … does not disappoint, and his ‘tidiness of finger’ really impresses in the finale.” (See review by Colin Clarke). The lossless download sounds fine. The set of all the Quartets and the Piano Quintet is also available but, illogically, at £19.98, the mp3 or lossless download is more expensive than the CD set - £15 direct from Chandos.

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Fantasia on Christmas Carols, On Christmas Night, The First Nowell Joyful Company of Singers, City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox rec. 2005 CHANDOS CHAN10385 [69:36] - theclassicalshop (mp3 and lossless)

This is one for next Christmas: I came across it too late for inclusion in the 2009 Christmas Roundup. ‘These are beautifully sensitive performances atmospherically recorded; irresistible to the growing clan of RVW enthusiasts ... There’s even a sprig of holly on the CD!’ - see the Editor’s review.

Brian Wilson 



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