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DOWNLOAD ROUNDUP: AUGUST 2011/1

Brian Wilson


I’ve optimistically numbered this as the first August 2011 Roundup but, for reasons which I explained in the July/2 Roundup, it may be the only one this month. The July/1 Roundup is here and earlier Roundups may be found here.

I should point out that the URLs which I give for individual downloads may be valid only in the UK. Some providers don’t operate at all, say, in Australia, while most historical recordings may not be available in the USA, where copyright last longer than in the UK. Where I give URLs for amazon.co.uk, readers in the US should automatically be offered to be redirected to amazon.com.

Download of the Month

English Spring
Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Spring Fire (1913) [32:33]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934) Idylle de Printemps (1889) [10:45]; North Country Sketches: The March of Spring (1914) [10:08]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) Enter Spring (1927) [20:50]
The Hallé/Sir Mark Elder
rec. 18 March 2010, 14 October 2010, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (Bax; Idylle); 23-24 June 2010, BBC Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester (March; Bridge). DDD
HALLE CDHLL 7528 [74:30] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

[Recording of the Month – see review by Rob Barnett.]

This wasn’t available to download a couple of months ago, so I recommended a good alternative for the Bax in the form of an all-Bax Vernon Handley recording on Chandos (CHAN10155X: see May 2011/2 Roundup). That’s still a strong recommendation if you want an all-Bax programme, but the new recording casts its net wider, with a more varied programme – not that I subscribe to the view that all Bax’s music sounds alike: far from it – and the performances are well deserving of the strong recommendations from our own RB and elsewhere. The 320kb/s mp3 transfer does justice to the recording.


Freebie of the Month

EMI and Virgin Classics Sampler 2011
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Sonata No. 8 in c minor, Op. 13 ‘Grande Sonate pathétique’: Adagio cantabile [5:53]
Ingrid Fliter (piano)
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Ariodante HWV 33, Atto secondo, Scena 3: Aria: Scherza infida [9:57]
Joyce DiDonato; Alan Curtis/Il Complesso Barocco
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations, BWV988: Aria – Andante espressivo [5:22]
Nicholas Angelich (piano)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
String Quartet No.3 in D, Op.18 No.3: III. Allegro [2:50]
Artemis Quartet
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Trio No. 1 in d minor, Op.63: IV. Mit Feuer [7:52]
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano); Christian Tetzlaff (violin); Tanja Tetzlaff (cello)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) Op.45: IV. Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (Mässig bewegt) [5:15]
Natalie Dessay; Ludovic Tézier; Swedish Radio Choir; Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849) Nocturne No. 2 in E flat, Op.9 [3:56]
Yundi (piano)
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907) Violin Sonata in F, Op.8: II – Allegretto quasi andantino [5:20]
Vilde Frang (violin); Michail Lifits (piano)
Free from amazon.co.uk (mp3)

Just about everything here is at or close to the top of its game, so to have it all offered free is generosity indeed. There may, however, be more than an element of enlightened self-interest at play in that EMI and Amazon hope that you will purchase one or more of the constituent albums. Be warned that you are very likely to be tempted, especially as Amazon’s pricing policy is generally keen – £4.49 for Ingrid Fliter’s accomplished, if slightly understated, Beethoven recording, for example, or £11.49 for the 3-CD set of Ariodante. Oddly, while the Beethoven comes complete with booklet, the Handel, where it is more important, doesn’t.

At the time of writing, Amazon appeared to be experiencing problems with downloads: I had to try three times to download the sampler and their comments page was full of similar complaints. It looks as if they have overcome the problem now, but be sure to contact them if you have similar problems – they very quickly and courteously refunded the cost of an album which I had paid for and which refused to download.

Please buy me …

Robert SIMPSON (1921-1997)

Symphony No 1 (1951) [28:41]
Symphony No 8 (1981) [44:00]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley – rec. 1996. DDD.
Pdf booklet included.
HYPERION CDA66890 [73:01] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

This is another recording from Hyperion’s series of Robert Simpson’s symphonies which has fallen into neglect and is offered at the time of writing at half price. Perhaps the neglect is due to Simpson’s reputation as a ‘difficult’ composer which is not entirely warranted: if I can respond, when I’m no lover of the avant-garde, so could most listeners. It won’t still be at half price when you read this, but the download is inexpensive enough for you to give it a try. The lossless version is excellent as, I’m sure from experience, the mp3 will be too. I noted just a couple of brief glitches at track changes between sections of movements when played via Squeezebox and when burned to CD.

I recommended the coupling of Nos. 3 and 5 (CDA66728), an even better place to start to get to know these symphonies, in my February 2010 Roundup, when that, too, was briefly relegated to the Please Buy Me category.

Beulah August Highlights

Beulah Extra have some very tasty reissues this month. Chief among them are:

Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849) Nocturnes Nos.1-10
Peter Katin (piano) – rec. May 1955. ADD/mono.
BEULAH EXTRA 1BX155-10BX55 [4:58 + 4:11 + 5:35 + 3:48 + 3:35 + 5:00 + 4:35 + 5:11 + 4:28 + 5:00] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

I can only echo the verdict when these recordings first appeared in the UK, that Katin’s performances are very successful: even now they remain competitive. With a recording which still sounds very well in Beulah’s transfer, the only (minor) complaint is that the set is not complete. Though they are available separately, most buyers will surely wish to have all ten Nocturnes together.




Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931) Symphony No.4, Op.29 (Inextinguishable) (1916)
Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Jensen – rec. 1951. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 1BX161 [33:15] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Thomas Jensen was an authoritative conductor of Nielsen’s music and his recording of the ‘Inextinguishable’ Symphony may have been equalled but it has never been bettered. The music was novel enough in 1951 for it to be necessary for Lionel Salter to explain its nature and the point of its title and to stress its position as an important work. None of that is necessary now, except for those unfamiliar with Nielsen’s music – and they would do better to start with a modern recording, such as Blomstedt’s inexpensive Double Decca set of Symphonies Nos.4-6, the Little Suite and Hymnus Amoris (460 9882 – see review by Rob Barnett of an earlier incarnation on a 3-CD set). That recording comes as an mp3 download from passionato.com, though, at £12.99, you may find that it’s more expensive than many dealers charge for the CDs.

In 1952 the recording was criticised as far from good, with starved string tone and fuzzy fortes and deterioration towards side-ends – the latter a problem with LP cutting deficiencies long after the 1950s. Dutton issued the performance on CD in 1996 in a much improved transfer, coupled with the Second Symphony, but that recording seems to have disappeared, leaving only a complete set of all six symphonies in alternative recordings from Tuxen and Jensen on Danacord DAOCD351-3 (see review).

The Beulah transfer leaves the recording sounding limited by modern standards but remarkable for its age with minimal surface noise and a decent tonal range which in no way interfered with my enjoyment. The fact that the symphony comes complete on one track means that there are none of the short breaks between tracks which usually occur with mp3 where the music is continuous.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
1BX154 Don Giovanni: Nur ihrem Frieden weih’ ich mein Leben [4:00] – rec. 1960. ADD/stereo*
2BX154 Così fan tutte: Der Odem der Liebe [4:26] – rec. 1960 ADD/stereo**
3BX154 Die Entführung aus dem Serial: Konstanze dich wieder zu sehen [5:16] – rec. 1960 ADD/stereo**
4BX154 Die Zauberflöte: Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön [4:10] – rec. 1960 ADD/stereo.
Friedrich von FLOTOW (1812-1833) 5BX154 Martha: Wie das schnattert, wie das plappert [5:16]; 6BX154 Ach so fromm, ach so traut [2:51] – rec. 1960 ADD/stereo.**
7BX154 Albert LORTZING (1801-1851) Zar und Zimmerman: Lebe wohl mein flandrish Mädchen [4:49] – rec. 1959. ADD/stereo**
8BX154 Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Der fliegende Holländer: Mit Gewitter und Sturm [3:33] – rec. 1960. ADD/stereo***
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899) 9BX154 Eine Nacht in Venedig: Annina! Caramello! [3:18]; 10BX154 Ach, wie so herrlich zu schau’n [3:47] – rec. 1960. ADD/stereo^
11BX154 Carl Joseph MILLÖCKER (1842-1899) Der Bettelstudent: Durch diesen Kuss [4:05] – rec. 1959. ADD/stereo^^
Fritz Wunderlich (tenor); Liselotte Schmidt (soprano)^^; Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Hans Zanotelli*; Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Berislav Klobucar**; Berlin Staatsoper Orchestra/Franz Konwitschny***; Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Fried Walter^; Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Werner Schmidt-Boelcke^^
BEULAH EXTRA 1-11BX154 [timings as above] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

This had to appear among my choices from this month’s Beulah downloads if only because Fritz Wunderlich provided my introduction to Mozart’s operas – to arias from them, at any rate. As was the practice then, he sings even the arias from the da Ponte operas in German, which is why La ci darem la mano will always be Reich mir die Hand, mein Leben for me.

Wunderlich has some claim to be regarded as one of the greatest tenors of all time – indeed he was recently voted the greatest by the readers of a music magazine – and these recordings demonstrate why. He even manages to make the wimpish Don Ottavio sound positive in the excerpt from Don Giovanni.

There’s a wide range of material here – Wunderlich was as much at home in operetta as in oratorio and opera – and not everyone will want the whole bundle, which is why it’s so useful to be able to select. I have to be in the right mood to be receptive to operetta, but I can take it at any time as sung by Wunderlich. On the other hand he confirms my belief that Mozart and Wagner are the two greatest opera composers.

Fortunately Wunderlich lived long enough to be recorded in decent sound and Beulah’s transfers are excellent. Only a slightly tubby bass gives the age away.

Other Beulah Extra releases this month include some of Albert Schweitzer’s recordings of J.S. BACH organ works: the Prelude and fugue in e minor, BWV548, known as ‘the Wedge’ (8BX60), and the choral preludes BWV622: O Mensch bewein (10BX60), 625: Christ lag in Todesbanden (11BX60), 626: Jesus Christus, unser Heiland (9BX60) and 633: Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (12BX60), all recorded in 1936, but still sounding very well in these Beulah transfers, with just an occasional unavoidable plop. Playing styles may have moved on since Schweitzer was hailed as indisputably one of the greatest men alive, and even then his playing was thought to be ponderous, but these valuable historical documents were well worth reissuing.

Earlier releases on Beulah Extra have included Schweitzer recordings of Bach from 1935 on 3-5BX60 – from eavb.co.uk.

The incomparable horn player Dennis Brain features with Denis Matthews (piano) in the BEETHOVEN Horn Sonata, Op.17 (5BX84). The recording dates from 1950 – decent sound from a soundtrack recording, but rather muffled by comparison with what was being achieved only four or five years later. I haven’t heard the same performers’ 1944 recording, but I can’t imagine that it sounds much worse – could it be that the soundtrack was derived from that 78 version, as the odd patch of surface noise suggests? Nevertheless, the sound didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the first-rate performance of this light-weight piece.

Dennis Brain also features with Gerald Moore (piano) in the DUKAS Vilanelle on 4BX84, a recording from 1952. It’s an attractive little bonne bouche, well played and decently recorded.

The BRAHMS Horn Trio in E flat, Op.40, on 1-4BX152 takes us back to 1933 and Dennis Brain’s father, Aubrey, with Adolf Busch (violin) and Rudolf Serkin (piano); the original reviewer couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for the work, which does have its longueurs, but praised the performance and recording in the strongest terms – ‘worth getting for the sheer joy of the horn tone alone’. The performance remains well worth hearing and the recording is remarkably good for its age, its limitations merely making it sound mellow.

Harry Mortimer conducts the massed brass bands of Foden Motors, Fairey Aviation and Morris Motors in Edward GERMAN, a selection from Merrie England (4BX156); Jeremiah CLARKE Trumpet Voluntary (3BX156); MEYERBEER Coronation March from le Prophète (2BX156) and Johann STRAUSS II Perpetuum Mobile, Op.257 (1BX156). The recordings, in stereo, date from 1959 and 1960. These are enjoyable performances and the recordings still sound well.

The same four works also feature on 1PD56 [73:13] – entitled simply Bandstand Music – alongside recordings by the Band of the Grenadier Guards/F.J. Harris in the likes of Blaydon Races, Lincolnshire Poacher, On Ilkley Moor and Sussex by the Sea. The outstanding work is Eric COATES Calling all Workers, used as the theme tune for the BBC Light Programme’s Workers’ Playtime. In addition to the four pieces above, Mortimer conducts Donkey Serenade, Trombones to the Fore and several other pieces. An enjoyable album, due to be available from iTunes in August.

There are two TCHAIKOVSKY recordings: on 1BX153 Sena Jurinac with the Philharmonia Orchestra/Lawrance Collingwood sings ‘Farewell you native hills and fields’ (in German) from Act 1 of The Maid of Orleans (rec. 1950) and on 3BX99 Erik Tuxen conducts the Danish National Radio Orchestra in the Marche Slave, Op.31 (rec. 1954).

This is perhaps not one of Jurinac’s most memorable recordings – perhaps that’s why it wasn’t released on LP at the time – but I was pleased to be reminded of the quality of her low-soprano voice. She’s ably supported and the recording is more than acceptable – better than most recordings from 1950.

The Marche Slave dates from a time when the recording companies had got the hang of reproduction of taped sound on LP and still sounds well, though in mono. The performance is excellent – as even Trevor Harvey, who didn’t much like the work, was forced to admit in 1954. With Tuxen’s Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No.4 already available on 1BX99, we now have the complete contents of the original 10" LP, as requested when I recommended the Liszt in my December 2010 Roundup.

Eduard van Beinum’s 78 rpm recording of MENDELSSOHNs Overture The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), with the LPO in 1949, resurfaces on 10BX37. It’s a stylish performance, capturing the magic of the music, and the recording sounds very well for its age, with just an occasional trace of surface noise and a touch of strain in the sound of the high strings.

Beulah have followed their Peter Dawson album (Peter Dawson in Classical Mood, 1PD53 – see July 2011/1 Roundup) with a second entitled Peter Dawson: Man of Song, due to appear on iTunes in August 2011. (2PD53 [75:11]). The contents, which were mainly recorded in the 78 rpm era, open with two works by Elgar: Speak Music (with Gerald Moore) and ‘But Rome and all her legions’ from Caractacus, and include Jerusalem (with Lawrance Collingwood). Figaro’s admonition to Cherubino (sung in English: ‘Now your days of philandering are over’) might well have appeared on the Classical album, but most of the music is of a somewhat sentimental nature: the likes of The Miner’s Dream of Home, The Road to Mandalay, The Cry of thae Wild Goose and That Lucky old Sun and, inevitably for an Australian singer, Waltzing Matilda. Like Fritz Wunderlich, Dawson’s fine singing makes even the less accomplished music sound well. Though only Albert Arlen’s Clancy of the Overflow was recorded in stereo (1955) and some of the recordings date from as early as 1920, Beulah’s transfer makes the most of the sound.

***


Francisco JAVIER: La Ruta de Oriente (The Route to the Orient)
Music and readings associated with the life of St Francis Xavier

Montserrat Figueras (soprano); Hespèrion XXI, La Capella Reial de Catalunya/Jordi Savall – rec. 2006 and 2007. DDD.
ALIA VOX AVSA9856A+B [2 CDs: 2:34:15] – from passionato.com (mp3)

This wonderful recording contains music from Europe and Asia from the time of the life and travels of St Francis Xavier. CD 1 is entitled Europe in the Age of Humanism, CD2 deals with his missionary work in Japan and China. At the time of its release it earned widespread praise, though we seem to have missed it here: better late than never.

All the music is enthralling, such as the cross-cultural Raga on O gloriosa Domina – there are far too many delights to list – and the performances are all that we expect of Jordi Savall: scholarly and historically informed, with just a touch of hype to appeal to modern listeners. The mp3 recording is good.

The only thing that would be preferable to the download would be the luxury presentation of the SACDs in a multi-lingual hard-back book. That, however, seems already to have been deleted in the UK, though it remains available direct from Alia Vox for €36.

Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (c.1525/5-1594)
Choral Music 1 – Music for the Assumption of the BVM

Salve Regina a 8 [6:22]
Assumpta est Maria a 6 [6:23]
Masses, Book 14: Missa Assumpta est Maria [26:57]
Ave Regina cœlorum [4:29]
Motets for 5-8 Voices: Book 4 for 5 Voices, ‘Canticum canticorum’ (excerpts): Tota pulchra es [2:28]; Vulnerasti cor meum [3:10]; Sicut lilium inter spinas [3:49]
Offertoria totius anni (excerpts): Diffusa est gratia [3:35]
Assumpta est Maria a 5 [2:24]
Motets for 5-8 Voices: Book 3 for 5, 6 and 8 Voices: Ave Maria a 5 [4:27]
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
CORO COR16091 [64:10] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

This, the first recording in a planned series of Palestrina’s choral music is practically self-recommending. I modify my otherwise complete recommendation because of the existence of some excellent rival recordings: there’s an almost identical programme from the Tallis Scholars on CDGIM204, available for downloading in lossless sound as well as mp3. Good as the classicsonline download is – very good, indeed – Gimell’s lossless version is even better. Moreover, the Gimell is offered as a two-for-one set, with the Missa Papæ Marcelli, Lamentations for Holy Saturday and Missa brevis included: see the January 2009 Download Roundup and Tallis Scholars at 30.

Predictably, Harry Christophers moves The Sixteen along slightly more briskly overall in the Mass than does Peter Phillips his Scholars, but the difference is not very marked and, as usual, I find it almost impossible to choose between two such excellent interpretations – both probably much better than Palestrina ever heard. If you wish to do the comparison yourself, both can be streamed from the Naxos Music Library, where you’ll find the earlier single-CD issue from the Tallis Scholars on Gimell CDGIM020.

Those in search of a bargain but not wishing to obtain the 2-for-1 Gimell, will find a splendid answer to their requirements on Musical Concepts Alto MCS-ED-9022, where the Missa Assumpta est Maria is coupled with the Missa Papæ Marcelli by the Pro Cantione Antiqua and Mark Brown – from classicsonline.com in mp3 for £4.99 or stream from Naxos Music Library.

The Gimell recording doesn’t offer any excerpts from the Canticum Canticorum (Song of Songs), but you’ll find a review of a complete recording of that work from Magnificat on Linn CKD174 reviewed in the October 2009 Roundup.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Overture (Suite) No.3 in D, BWV1068 (1731) [20:43]
Concerto in f minor for solo harpsichord and strings, BWV1056 (1742) [9:06]
Brandenburg Concerto No.6 in B flat, BWV1051 (1721) [15:50]
Concerto in d minor for three harpsichords, BWV1063 (1731) [12:44]
Café Zimmermann/Céline Frisch (harpsichord) – rec. February 2004, March and May 2010. DDD
Pdf booklet included.
ALPHA 168 [58:31] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

This is billed as Volume 5 of Alpha’s Concerts avec plusieurs instruments, though only BWV1063 fits that description. Everything here is available in a score of rival recordings, many of them excellent and most of them much more logically coupled – significantly, this album combines three recording sessions, six years apart – but that’s my only significant reservation. The dainty domestic scene on the cover might seem wrongly to imply that Bach’s music is fussy and delicate, but that’s a much more minor reservation.

Put those reservations aside, as I soon did, and everything here is well-nigh ideal: small-scale performances which nevertheless convey all the power of the music, well recorded and available in mp3 sound which does the recording justice. Now how did I miss the four earlier volumes in this series?

Johann Wilhelm HERTEL (1727-1789) Con spirito
Bassoon Concerto in a minor [17:58]
Sinfonia in D [7:06]
Bassoon Concerto in B [14:56]
Sinfonia in G [7:29]
Bassoon Concerto in E flat [22:41]
Sinfonia in B flat [10:43]
Sergio Azzolini (bassoon); Capriccio Basel Baroque Orchestra/Dominik Kiefer
Pdf booklet included.
TUDOR 7182 [80:53] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

You might easily pass over this recording: don’t. I hadn’t even heard of Johann Wilhelm Hertel – even his better-known father is not exactly a household name – but I greatly enjoyed this recording of his bassoon concertos and sinfonias. The programme is stylishly and engagingly performed and well recorded and the mp3 transfer is good, apart from a strange noise like a stifled cough which appears very briefly at the start of each work in the Naxos Music Library version. The programme is a few seconds too long to burn to a CDR.

Muzio CLEMENTI
(1752-1832)
The Complete Sonatas -Vol. 5

Sonata in C, Op. 34, No. 1 [18:31]
Sonata in g minor, Op. 34, No. 2 (1795) [21:57]
Six Progressive Sonatinas, Op. 36 (1797) [37:01]
Sonata in C, Op. 37, No. 1 [15:27]
Sonata in G, Op. 37, No. 2 [13:10]
Sonata in D, Op. 37, No. 3 [14:29]
Sonata in B flat, Op. 46 (1820) [25:43]
Howard Shelley (piano) – rec. October 2009. DDD
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67814 [2 CDs for the price of one: 77:51 + 67:28] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

[Recording of the Month. ‘The music on this generous almost two and a half hours of immaculate playing by Shelley, who must now be considered Clementi’s ‘reference’ pianist, makes a persuasive case for those as yet unfamiliar with the repertoire to look into it more closely.’ – see full review by Mark Sealey.]

The Complete Sonatas – 6
Sonata in G, Op 40 No 1 (1802) [25:03]
Sonata in b minor, Op 40 No 2 [16:04]
Sonata in D, Op 40 No 3 [19:17]
Sonata in A, Op 50 No 1 (1821) [21:16]
Sonata in d minor, Op 50 No 2 [19:15]
Sonata in g minor, Op 50 No 3 [25:40]
Howard Shelley (piano) – rec. December 2009. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67819 [2 CDs for the price of one: 60:26 + 66:13] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Muzio CLEMENTI
Piano Sonata in D, Op 40 No 3 (1802) [19:42]
Piano Sonata in f sharp minor Op 25 No 5 (Op.26/2) (1790) [18:05]
Piano Sonata in B flat, Op 24 No 2 (Op.41/2, Op.47/2) (1781) [12:27]
Piano Sonata in b minor Op 40 No 2 (1802) [17:59]
Nikolai Demidenko (piano) – rec. December 1994. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55227 [68:42] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

We’ve followed the series of recordings by Howard Shelley as it has progressed – as you see, Volume 5 was MS’s Recording of the Month – but we seem to have missed Volume 6 and the Nikolai Demidenko selection. Rest assured that Volume 6 maintains the high quality of the earlier releases and, like them, with two CDs offered for the price of one, it’s excellent value: minute for minute, it’s even less expensive than the budget-price Demindenko.

I’ve also been listening recently to two 3-CD sets of Clementi’s keyboard music on Brilliant Classics, performed on fortepianos from around 1800 by Costantino Mastroprimiano. (Volume 4, Brilliant 94024 and Volume 5, Brilliant 94113). Expect a two-handed review shortly of these Briliant boxes from myself and Geoff Molyneux.

Collectively these recordings have made me aware that the music, especially the later works on these recordings, is far more interesting and varied than I had thought, though no match, of course, for that of his great contemporary Beethoven. Listen to the extracts from Op.34/2 on the Hyperion website for a good example.

For all the considerable interest of hearing the period performances on the Brilliant boxes and the dexterity of Mastroprimiano’s playing, Shelley, excellently recorded on a modern instrument, would be my first choice and I look forward to the final volume of capriccios and variations, due for release in September 2011.

Those not looking for completeness will find the Demidenko selection more to their purpose, with an attractive selection from the works of different periods in Clementi’s development, well recorded and at an appealing price. Where the two performers overlap, as in Op.40/3, Demidenko makes the music sound just a little more romantic.

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartet No. 14 in d minor, D810, Death and the Maiden (1824) [43:20]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44 (1843) [30:52]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano); Borodin Quartet – rec. October 1995 and June 1994. DDD
WARNER APEX 2564 67429-8 [74:12]
Earlier release on Warner Elatus available to download from amazon.co.uk (mp3).

[‘Richter and the Borodin Quartet’s performance of the Schumann Piano Quintet would justify purchasing this disc by itself, particularly at bargain price, and you get a pretty good “Death and the Maiden” as a bonus.’ See review by Guy Aron.]

The latest release on the budget Apex label seems not yet to be available as a download, except via the Play MPE Player, which is mainly intended for reviewers, but Amazon.co.uk have the earlier mid-price Elatus reissue for just £4.99, which makes it (just) competitive with the Apex CD. At that price these excellent performances are a real bargain.

Don’t forget the excellent performance of Death and the Maiden and its predecessor, D804, the Rosamunde Quartet, by the Takács Quartet on Hyperion (CDA67585 – see December 2009 Roundup and review by Tim Perry).

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

String Quartet in d minor: Voces intimae, Op.56 (1909) [31:01]
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
String Quartet No 1 in e minor: Z mého života (‘From my life’) (1876) [28:01]
String Quartet No 2 in d minor (1882/3) [18:05]
Dante Quartet (Krysia Osostowicz (violin); Giles Francis (violin); Judith Busbridge (viola); Bernard Gregor-Smith (cello)) – rec. July 2010. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67845 [77:56] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Many recordings of the two Smetana Quartets offer no coupling, so this is a very generously filled and varied album. In that respect it’s equalled only by the recent inexpensive Alto reissue of the Talich Quartet recording which adds Janáček’s First Quartet and Suk’s Meditations to the two Smetana works (ALC1079: see review by Jonathan Woolf – ‘highly satisfying’. Download in mp3 from classicsonline.com.)

I haven’t heard that Alto version but I can’t imagine that the performances outshine those of the Dante Quartet – and the Hyperion download is not much more expensive than the Alto CD or download. Smetana’s better-known autobiographical First Quartet opens with all the power that it needs, but the Dante Quartet also capture the wistful tenderness and, later, the sheer exuberance which this work contains. I wondered if there was enough power in that dreadful sustained note which shatters the joyfulness of the finale, signifying the onset in 1874 of the tinnitus and subsequent deafness which were to ruin the rest of his life. Perhaps it’s just that the effect is so startling the first time that one hears it that no subsequent performance can quite repeat the shock.

The recording and transfer are excellent, especially in lossless format. I don’t burn many downloads to CDR because I have too many CDs to house them all properly and normally play everything via Squeezebox, but I tried burning the lossless version of this from the free version of Winamp and was delighted with the results: if anything, the CDR sounded slightly better than from Squeezebox.

Havergal BRIAN (1876-1972)
Fantastic Variations on an Old Rhyme (1907) [11:58]
Symphony No. 20 in c sharp minor (1962) [26:29]
Symphony No. 25 in a minor (1966) [24:18]
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Andrew Penny
(Previously released on Marco Polo 8.223731)
Recorded in association with the Havergal Brian Society (www.havergalbrian.org) and
The Rex Foundation at the Concert Hall of Ukrainian Radio, 28-30 October 1994. DDD
Pdf booklet included.
NAXOS 8.572641 [62:41] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

The performance of Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony at the BBC Proms on 17 July 2011 should, I hope, have stirred renewed interest in his music, in which case Naxos and classicsonline.com are ready and able to step into the breach with a number of pioneering recordings originally released on their Marco Polo label. This recording of Symphonies Nos. 20 and 25 is the latest to be reissued less expensively. Nos. 11 and 15 on Naxos were reviewed in the August 2010 Roundup and Nos. 17 and 32 in the January 2011 Roundup.

Most of those Marco Polo recordings were made with orchestras from Eastern Europe, which might seem to have been a disadvantage until one considers that Brian’s music was hardly well known even to UK orchestras at the time – or even now – and that Andrew Penny as conductor was the constant factor. In the event, though the players sometimes sound a bit baffled by the music, as one reviewer put it in 1996 – so, I understand, did the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sir Adrian Boult when they performed the Gothic in 1966* – they rise very well to the occasion.

The opening variations on Three Blind Mice are something of a virtuoso tour de force and they come off least well, perhaps because the orchestra were unfamiliar with the underlying ‘old rhyme’. The two symphonies are not the easiest of nuts to crack, but they will reward your perseverance and all concerned make a strong case for them. The recording is more than acceptable: I was going to say that a lossless issue might improve matters, as offered by theclassicalshop.net – not yet available for this recording at the time of writing – but I see that the Marco Polo release was described as slightly raw at times.

For reviews of downloads of more music by Brian, see:
– Burlesque Variations, etc.: Toccata (March 2011/2 Roundup)
– Symphonies Nos.6 and 16 : Lyrita – Fredman (+ Arnold COOKE Symphony No.3) (November 2009 Roundup)

* issued on Testament SBT2 1454- see review. For the Marco Polo/Naxos recording of the Gothic, see reviews by Rob Barnett and John France, and Paul Serotsky.

Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Piano Concerto No.1, Sz 83 [23:24]
Piano Concerto No.2, Sz 95 [28:28]
Piano Concerto No.3, Sz 119 [24:12]
András Schiff (piano); Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer – rec. 1996. DDD.
WARNER CLASSICS & JAZZ APEX 2564 67437-8 [76:28] – on CD, or download earlier Elatus version from Amazon.co.uk (mp3)

If you heard András Schiff perform the Third Concerto at the Proms, you may be looking for a recording of all three works. If so, the Apex reissue, at budget price, will do very nicely. On the mid-price Elatus label this was already a bargain, now it’s a real snip. Be warned, however, that the other two concertos are tougher, less easily approachable than the Indian Summer Third – but well worth getting to know.

I streamed this recording from the Play MPE player – mainly intended for reviewers to obtain access. Dealers still have two earlier CD reissues on sale – make sure that you choose the least expensive, the Apex as listed above. The Apex reissue is not yet available to download in the UK but the Amazon download of the Elatus version at £5.80 is (just) competitive with the price of the Apex CD. The recording is excellent.

For an alternative version, see my review of the Bavouzet recording on Chandos in the October 2010 Roundup (CHAN10610). I liked Bavouzet’s First but the other two performances left me cold. My recommendation of the Kovacevich recording on Decca Originals 475 8690, and the Philips Duo download from passionato.com holds good alongside the Schiff reissue.

Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Mathis der Maler (1934) [27:16]
Nobilissima Visione (1938) [22:46]
Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber (1938) [21:28]
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/John Neschling – rec. August 2008, Sala São Paulo, Brazil. DDD
Pdf booklet included.
BIS-SACD-1730 [72:41] – from eclassical.com (16- and 24-bit flac, mp3)

One tends to think of Paul Hindemith a somewhat dour neo-classicist, yet his opera Mathis der Maler and its symphonic predecessor are both passionate and colourful. As for his collaboration with choreographer Leonard Massine, it yielded an equally approachable ballet based on the life of St Francis of Assisi; the ensuing suite, titled Nobilissima Visione, may be less popular but there’s much to enjoy there too. Ditto Hindemith’s exotically scored work based on themes by Weber, fashioned from a failed Massine project.

The Mathis and Weber pieces are well-served on disc, Herbert Blomstedt’s San Francisco versions especially memorable (Decca 421 5230 2, also available as an mp3 from Amazon; see reviews of the composer’s DG and Blomstedt Decca boxed sets). On the subject of downloads, I hope to review HDTT’s reissue of William Steinberg’s Mathis some time soon. As for the ballet suite, I’ve long admired Jean Martinon’s Chicago account, re-released in a very good 24-bit/96kHz transfer as part of BMG’s ‘High Performance’ series (09026 63315 2).

Conductor John Neschling has since departed from São Paulo, leaving behind an impressive list of recordings for BIS. I was less than happy with this band’s Chandos download of works by Florent Schmitt under Yan Pascal Tortelier – review – so I hoped this Hindemith selection would capture some of the synergy that made Neschling’s earlier recordings so involving. As far as Mathis is concerned, it makes a strong statement. BIS have gone for a big, bold sound that suits this expansive piece very well. My only quibble – and this relates to a number of recent BIS releases – is that one needs to crank up the volume for the best sonic results. No such problems with Blomstedt; indeed, his 1988 recording confirms that even in the early days of digital Decca produced discs of exceptional range and refinement.

The Brazilians certainly aren’t as limber as their American counterparts, nor is Neschling as mercurial in that angelic concert. Blomstedt also taps into the essential medievalism of the piece more convincingly, notably in the dark-toned ‘Grablegung’. Really, Blomstedt is more painterly at this and so many points; he also builds dramatic tension – and scales those broad, shattering climaxes – with greater imagination and flair. For all its virtues the BIS Mathis seems a tad four-square at times; just listen to the growing ecstasy of Blomstedt’s brass and strings in the last movement, not to mention the corona of cymbals and pate-cracking drums. Now that really is thrilling, the finale like a shaft of light smashing through a great, richly coloured window.

And that’s the nub of it; Neschling is propulsive but seldom febrile, prosaic rather than poetic, and that’s just not enough in a work so full of exaltation. Even his state-of-the-art recording yields little or nothing to Blomstedt’s. The same is true of the latter’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber, whose peacock colours – especially in ‘Turandot’ – are better realised and more vividly recorded. It’s about sure-footedness as well; just listen to the easy bounce and confident thrust of Blomstedt’s Allegro, which makes Neschling sound curiously reticent by comparison. As for the impressive São Paulo brass, they can’t compete with the San Francisco section for sheer frisson.

So, no contest; but what about the ballet suite? Not surprisingly, the BIS sound is as bold as before and, initially at least, it’s attention-grabbing. However, one only has to hear Martinon’s suave Chicago strings in the ‘Introduction and Rondo’ to be hooked in a completely different way. There’s a silken loveliness here that one simply doesn’t hear with Neschling; and despite its vintage – it was recorded in 1966 – the BMG sound is warm and well-balanced, the pizzicato strings an absolute delight. Even the snare drum in the ‘March and Pastorale’ is more atmospheric, although admittedly the tuttis aren’t as clean as those on the more modern recording.

I so wanted to like this new release and. on its own terms, it’s pretty impressive. That said, it has none of the insight or sophistication of its older rivals – and that goes for the recording as well. In mitigation, Malcolm MacDonald’s booklet essay is one of the best I’ve read in ages – full of the kind of illumination the recording so sorely lacks.

Dan Morgan

[Even before I had read Dan’s review, my very first hearing left me generally satisfied, but feeling slightly short-changed. Listening again to the opening movement of Mathis confirmed the impression of a good performance that didn’t quite make the grade by comparison with the inevitable comparisons in the back of my mind, specifically with Kletzki on Decca*, the very first version that I ever heard – courtesy of the University record library – and Ormandy on a CBS LP**.

The Mathis symphony is meant to evoke the pictures of the anonymous artist whom we know as Mathias Grünwald simply because one of his best-known paintings is of a greenwood scene. Anonymous he may be, but the paintings which Hindemith evokes here are all well known, and the new recording didn’t quite capture all the brush strokes. The rejoicing angels of the first movement, for example, don’t rejoice quite enough, as if the painting were in need of cleaning.

Dan tried the 24-bit version, I listened to the 16-bit flac and found little cause for complaint, other than the need to turn up the volume slightly for the best effect. BW]

* briefly available on Decca Eloquence 467 4422, now only as a download from passionato.com. Passionato also have the complete Blomstedt Hindemith in mp3 here and his single CD with Mathis, Metamorphosen and Trauermusik in mp3 and lossless here. They also have the Hindemith conducts Hindemith set in mp3 here.
** formerly on Sony SBK53258. Both are worth looking out for as remainders or as good second-hand CDs.

 


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