Samples & Downloads
Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 12 (1908-1909) [49:20]
Scarlattiana, Op. 44 (1926)* [27:24]
*Martin Roscoe (piano)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. 12 November 2009 (Scarlattiana), 12-13 January 2010
(Symphony), Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, UK
Downloaded in 24bit/96kHz FLAC format.
The resurgence of interest in the music of Alfredo Casella has
already yielded some fine recordings. Naxos are leading the
charge with his Symphony No.1 – review
– and Symphony No. 2 – review
– both with Francesco La Vecchia and the Orchestra Sinfonica
di Roma. Not to forget the Symphony No. 3 on CPO (see
review). Now Chandos are playing catch-up with Noseda’s
reading of the latter, available on CD and as a download. I’ve
been listening to the disc for several weeks now, but as I’m
keen to hear more downloads – especially high- resolution ones
– I’ve decided to review the 24bit/96kHz download instead.
To get the most from these flac files you’ll need a good-quality
24bit/96kHz sound card and a suitable program, such as the free
VLC player. Adding a separate DAC (digital to analogue converter)
between your PC/Mac and audio system is even more desirable.
That may sound a tad expensive – the new Arcam R-DAC retails
for around £300 – but then these high-res downloads don’t come
cheap either. At £15.99 these Chandos files cost around 50%
more than the physical CD – based on current Amazon UK prices
– and other labels/sites charge a hefty premium as well. So,
is it worth the extra? That’s what I intend to find out.
As an admirer and advocate of Gustav Mahler’s work, Casella
was clearly influenced by the latter’s harmonic language and
symphonic structures. There are other late-Romantic echoes in
this music as well, but for all its references the huge Second
Symphony strikes me as highly individual. And while Chandos
recordings are known for their dynamic range, this high-res
download is rather special. The sound stage seems broader and
deeper, bass is much better defined, and instrumental timbres
are much more faithfully rendered. Indeed, the start of this
symphony is sensational, such is its enhanced power and presence.
And while La Vecchia’s reading benefits from being a touch more
expansive, the extra ambienflt information on these files –
not to mention the Stygian bass drum – adds immeasurably to
one’s enjoyment of the score.
The busy Allegro that follows has remarkable detail and weight
as well, the big tuttis unleashed with some ferocity. And yet
this can’t be dismissed as a flash-in-the-pan ‘hi-fi spectacular’,
as the technology is placed firmly – and continuously – at the
service of the music The brass sound even more transported than
before, the cymbal-capped perorations utterly fearless. As for
that persistent little tune that rises from the orchestra, I
remarked that it seemed more characterful on the La Vecchia
disc. Now I’m not so sure; it’s as if the perspectives on this
recording have been tweaked, so now one gets a much more vivid,
three-dimensional sound picture, the band heard as if from a
good seat in the stalls. Sonically, recordings don’t come much
better than this; in fact, this download is easily on a par
with the best SACDs I’ve heard.
And although Noseda doesn’t dawdle, the central Adagio builds
most beautifully. True, that melting tune still lacks the radiance
it has under La Vecchia, but really that matters less now than
it did in my original review. As for the BBC Philharmonic, they
play with passion and bite, and the results are just glorious.
The martial theme that opens the Finale is even more striking
than before, rhythms taut and timps as crisp as one could wish
for. The dragging brass are reach-out-and-touch tangible, the
plucked strings and harp swirls much more holographic than they
are on disc. As for those great tectonic shifts, they’ll push
your equipment to the limit.
As I suggested in my original review, the Epilogo – cued separately
– is an echt-Mahlerian apotheosis. It may not have a
celestial chorus, but from the soft, Saint-Saëns-like organ
entry it does build to a heaven-storming climax. The extended
bass really pays dividends here, creating a broad, deep swell
on which the orchestra rides with aplomb. As for those joyful
bells, they have a frisson that one simply doesn’t hear
on the CD, the final bars overwhelming in their scale and impact.
The neoclassical Scarlattiana may be built along more
modest lines, but it’s no less impressive. The Sinfonia begins
quietly enough – pizzicato basses deep and nicely rounded, woodwind
very well focused – but then Martin Roscoe ups the tempo with
his flamboyant piano entry. It turns into a good-natured tussle
between soloist and orchestra, both of which are naturally balanced
and recorded. The Minuet is more gracefully done, Roscoe
sensitive to the scale and style of the dance. The added ambience
allows instrumental timbres to register with remarkable clarity,
especially in the contrasting Capriccio and Pastorale.
As for the Finale, it’s a zesty little number, Roscoe
La Vecchia’s world-premiere recording of the symphony is still
most desirable, and I wouldn’t be without it. Nor would I forego
Noseda’s version which – in this download at least – is now
the front-runner. It’s a huge technical achievement, the music
presented with an unfettered energy that has to be heard to
be believed. Clearly, not all high-res downloads are going to
be this good, but the few I’ve heard – from HDTT, for example
– suggests they have much to offer. So, is this one worth the
extra hassle and expense? Emphatically, yes.