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Brian Wilson

The November 2011/2 Roundup is here, November 2011/1 is here and earlier editions are indexed here.

You won’t be surprised that a good deal of this month’s Roundup is dedicated to recordings of Christmas music. I’ve tried to include a sprinkling of well-known favourites among mainly less well-known items. I have to admit that the latter make more comfortable listening in the middle of November – I hope to include more well-known material next time.

When I recommended the download of Howard Skempton’s Lento in my previous Roundup, I didn’t realise that it’s also available as part of a NMC album with music by Dominic Muldowney and Barry Guy on NMCD032, available from or available for streaming from the Naxos Music Library. In terms of pence per minute, that’s better value than the single, especially when charge £7.99 for both.

Pick of the Year

The Download Roundups have escalated so much this year – now twice a month – that all my choices are taken from them. One advantage of the Roundups is that I can trawl the back catalogue but I’ve limited my six choices to recent releases and reissues. The selection has been very difficult, necessitating the omission of such fine recordings as John Wilson’s resurrection of the MGM Musicals at the Proms and for EMI and the BIS survey of Schumann’s Complete Music for Violin and Orchestra, both in the September 2011/1 Roundup. John Neschling’s recording of Respighi’s Roman Trilogy (BIS – February 2011 Roundup) is another notable casualty.

There have been so many releases of medieval and renaissance music that I reluctantly put aside Alexander Agricola’s Missa in myne Zyn (Ricercar – January 2011 Roundup), Alamire’s Tallis and Byrd’s Cantiones sacræ (2 Obsidian CDs – March 2011/1 Roundup) and their Taverner (Obsidian – November 2011/1 Roundup) or I Fagiolini in 40-part music by Striggio and Tallis (Decca – April 2011/2 Roundup). The winner has to be The Tallis Scholars’ new recording of Josquin, Missa de beata virgine and Missa ave maris stella, the latest in a superb series (Gimell – November 2011/1 Roundup).

In the quatercentenary of Victoria’s death, The Sixteen released an anthology of Marian music (Coro – May 2011/2 Roundup). Reluctantly I set this aside, along with various Hyperion Helios reissues at budget price in favour of the new Westminster Cathedral recording on Hyperion which also stands as proxy for all their recordings of this composer which I listed in the November 2011/1 Roundup).

The whole of Masaaki Suzuki’s traversal of the works of J.S. Bach is well worth having. Volume 48 of the complete cantatas is no exception (BIS – July 2011/1 Roundup). This and other BIS recordings are best purchased as downloads via the website – more from this source will be found in the September 2011/2 Roundup.

A set of late Mozart Symphonies conducted by Jukka Pekka Saraste on a budget-price 2-CD set from Virgin Classics which I reviewed on CD would have been a strong favourite had there not been some excellent Beethoven recordings this year. I set aside Emmanuel Krivine’s revelatory survey of the symphonies on period instruments (Naïve – July 2011/1 Roundup) and Riccardo Chailly’s equally fine set (Decca – November 2011/2 Roundup) in favour of his Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra from Howard Shelley and Opera North (Chandos – November 2011/2 Roundup). In any case, the download of the Mozart is currently uncompetitive at £14.99 when the CDs can be had for half that price.

My bargain of bargains has to be the complete Sibelius Symphonies, Lemminkaïnen and Violin Concerto (Amazon, from BIS originals – June 2011/2 Roundup). These are all first-class performances with Osmo Vänskä at the helm and the downloads come at decent bit-rates. You’ll find some other bargains in that Roundup, too, as identified by Nick Barnard.

English Music has done well this year but nothing overshadows the 6-CD reissue of Beecham’s recordings of (mainly) Delius with German, Bantock, Bax and Berners (EMI – July 2011/1 Roundup). Even fine new performances of Delius – Appalachia and the Violin and Double Concertos, both from Chandos must take back seat.

My friend Geoffrey Molyneux has sent me his thoughts on the VICTORIA – I’m including them because he’s a little less enamoured than I was:

In the first piece, Salve regina we are made aware of the style of this performance, large in scale and making full use of the cavernous spaces of Westminster Cathedral. In fact the acoustic of the venue largely determines the sound quality of these performances. Then follows the first of two masses by Victoria, Missa De Beata Maria Virgine (1576). This and the second Mass on this disc, Missa Surge propera is truly wonderful music and it is great to relish these Victoria masses performed here by such a superb choir.

However I do find the performances difficult in that the men’s voices do not always seem to blend well within themselves and with the boys’ voices, especially in the louder, more jubilant sections in the first mass. I much prefer the quieter music where you can really hear what is going on in Victoria’s polyphony. I like the performance of the second mass better and I very much like the choir’s rendition of Palestrina’s Surge, propera amica mea, et veni, though again I can sometimes hear a few individual men’s voices with a distinct vibrato.

The Westminster Choir gives a full-bodied performance of Victoria’s Missa Surge propera with very smoothly contoured lines and evenly flowing crescendos. The trebles soar above in appropriate fashion, and we can enjoy the acoustics of this magnificent cathedral. I have been comparing this with a performance by Mixolydian under Piers Schmidt recorded in Merton College Chapel, Oxford in April 1989. (Allegro PCD970 [no longer available: BW]) This performance is given with much smaller forces and at a slightly higher pitch. I find this a more telling account of the work due to the greater clarity of texture afforded by the smaller group of singers, mostly one to a part as far as I can tell, and the less resonant acoustic. The dynamic contrasts are greater and the text declamation clearer. For example, Mixolydian gives a really punchy entry on the return of the Kyrie eleison after the Christe eleison in the first section of the mass. In the Credo, there is more variety of tempo and dynamics. It may seem sacrilegious to say so but I must admit, that wonderful though the Westminster Choir is, the resonant Cathedral acoustics begin to pall after a while. I prefer the greater clarity and more dynamic approach of Mixolydian.

Discovery of the Month

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975
New Babylon (1929) [91:23]
Basel Sinfonietta/Mark Fitz-Gerald – rec. May 2011. DDD
World Premiere recording of the complete score
NAXOS 8.572824-25 [43:15 + 48:08] – from (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library
[Recording of the Month – see review by Nick Barnard: ‘Without doubt this is one of the finest all-round achievements of Naxos’.]

Having heard only excerpts before, this recording of the complete score for New Babylon came as a revelation. I really need add little to Nick Barnard’s very detailed and appreciative review of this latest in the fine Naxos series of Shostakovich’s film music. The recording still sounds very well in the inevitably slightly limited mp3 format. Two small grumbles: the download resolves itself into two folders, for disc 1 and disc 2, when it would have been more convenient to have had all the music in continuous format. More seriously, the booklet which NB praises is not part of the deal, though you will find detailed notes ‘about this album’ on the web page.

If you want only a 44-minute selection, Chandos come to your aid with a 1997 performance directed by Valeri Polyansky, coupled with the song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry (CHAN9600 – from in mp3 and lossless sound.) have the Capriccio recording to which NB refers, coupled with Five Days, Five Nights on C10341/2 – here.

Freebies of the Month

The Minnesota Symphony Orchestra have made available several Young People’s Concerts, well worth checking out – here. To date three concerts are available:

* Musical Tales
* American Riffs
* The Tin Forest

with a fourth slated for release in February 2012.

Beulah Extra

All December 2011 releases are to be found here.

I’ve already reviewed the Beulah Extra reissue of BRAHMS German Requiem, Bruno Walter on 4-10BX145 in the November 2011/2 Roundup here. I’m sorry to say that it did little to reconcile me to the only piece of music by Brahms and the only Requiem that I know by any composer that I simply cannot come to terms with.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No.40 in g minor, K550
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan – rec. 1959. ADD/binaural
BEULAH EXTRA 6-9BX18 [24:15]

This was the flip side of the LP on which Karajan’s recording of Haydn’s Symphony No.104 (London) was released, first on RCA and then on Decca Ace of Diamonds. Like the Haydn, which I reviewed in the November 2011/1 Roundup – here – the performance is elegant and poised – a little too ‘controlled’ for some tastes, though I greatly enjoyed hearing both it and the Haydn again. The playing of the VPO can almost be taken for granted and John Culshaw’s recording still sounds well.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Mass No.18 in c minor (Grosse Messe), K427
Wilma Lipp (soprano); Christa Ludwig (mezzo); Murray Dickie (tenor); Walter Berry (bass)
Vienna Oratorio Choir
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Ferdinand Grossmann – rec.1958. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 1-5BX169 [55:32]

This recording first appeared in 1958 in mono on the Vox label and was reissued in stereo on their invaluable £0.99 Turnabout series ten years later. At the time it more or less had the field to itself, but that is no longer the case, with fine period performances from The Sixteen/Harry Christophers (Coro), Christopher Hogwood (Oiseau Lyre) and John Eliot Gardiner (Philips) prominent in the catalogue. I also retain considerable affection for Ferenc Fricsay’s recording on DG Originals.

The Grossmann remains competitive, however, mainly for the quality of the solo singing, involving some of the finest Mozartians of their day. This recording gives us all of the Credo that Mozart completed in 1782/3, rather than borrowing from his other masses the sections that Mozart never got round to finishing, as Mozart himself apparently did, which has since 1958 become common practice. The sound is not ideal – generally boxy, a little congested in the busiest passages and the singers a little recessed at times – but more than tolerable.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Ah, se in ciel, benigne stelle, concert aria, K538 [6:49]
Bella mia fiamma addio, concert aria, K528 [10:40]
Così fan tutte: Come scoglio [5:40]
Così fan tutte: Per pietà ben mio, perdona [9:16]
Teresa Stich-Randall; Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/André Cluytens – rec. 1955. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 1-4BX 167 [times as above]

These four recordings were made by French EMI in 1955; all except Bella mia fiamma originally appeared in the UK on 7" singles. The singing is splendid, the accompaniment sensitive and the recording still sounds well – better, for example, than the Vox recording of the Great Mass. Lovers of ethereal singing have no need to hesitate.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Idomeneo, Re di Creta, opera seria, K366
Overture [4:25]
Act I : Quando avran fine omai – Padre, germani, addio! [7:05]
Vedrommi intorno l’ombra dolente [3:41]
Act II: Se il padre perdei [4:07]
Fuor del mar [3:49]
Sidonie sponde – Placido è il mar [4:41]
Qual nuovo terrore [5:00]
Act III: Zeffiretti lusinghieri [4:46]
Quartet: Andro ramingo e solo [4:43]
O voto tremendo – Accogli, o re del mar [4:43]
Sena Jurinac (Ilia, soprano), Dorothy McNeil (Elektra, soprano), Richard Lewis (Idomeneo, tenor), Alexander Young (Idamante, tenor); Glyndebourne Festival Chorus and Orchestra/Fritz Busch – rec.1951. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 21-30BX152 [times as above]

These substantial excerpts from Idomeneo were released on 78s in 1953, by which time they had become a memorial to Fritz Busch. Reissued on the Electrola label in 1965, they were still worthy of a recommendation from Philip Hope-Wallace and they remain an important memento of a memorable production, singers and, above all, conductor. PH-W uttered the heresy that highlights might well suffice for Idomeneo and I have to admit that my complete CD set has been tucked away at the back of the cupboard for a long time, so I’m not about to demur.

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Octet for strings, Op.20
Vienna Octet – rec.1953. ADD/mono
BEULAH 1-4BX168 [28:44]

This may not have quite the classic status of the Clifford Curzon recording of Schubert’s Trout Quintet with members of the Vienna Octet which Beulah reissued some time ago, but it is still very welcome. In 1954 it occupied a whole 12" LP and cost 36/5 (£1.83, at least £40 in today’s values). It was the version to have for many years and it’s still well worth adding to your collection, whatever other recordings you may have – the excellent recent Resonus download-only recording of the original version, for example. Compare Beulah’s asking price of £2.50 and the purchase becomes almost mandatory. The recording sounds a little muffled but that’s not a major problem.

Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1890) Orpheus in the Underworld – excerpts from Act II
The King of the Bœotians [2:44]
Fly Duet [6:12]
Hymn to Bacchus [3:27]
Minuet and Galop [4:11]
June Bronhill, Alan Crofoot, Eric Shilling; Sadler’s Wells Chorus and Orchestra/Alexander Faris – rec.1960. ADD/stereo.
BEULAH EXTRA 10-13BX143 [timings as above]

The Fly Duet appeared on an album entitled Sadler’s Wells Voices which I reviewed in the October 2011/1 Roundup (BEULAH 1PD43), but we now have all the excerpts from Act II which HMV recorded in 1960. I’m not a great fan of operetta and I was dragged to a slightly later Sadler’s Wells revival against my will. I enjoyed it so much that I bought this recording on reel-to-reel tape with all the attendant hiss. It sounds much better now in Beulah’s transfer.

Some time ago we had the Overture (1BX143 – see September 2011/1 Roundup) and, though I had recommended a most inexpensive version on Past Classics of the complete set of excerpts from this recording, I felt that Beulah had taken more care over the transfer and hoped for the rest of the contents of the LP. The fact that these Act II excerpts are numbered 10-13BX143 leads me to hope that we shall have the remainder on 2-9BX143 in due course. Meanwhile listen to what we have and enjoy.

Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Symphony No.3 in c minor, Op.78 (Organ Symphony)
Berj Kamkochian (organ); Leo Litwin, Bernard Zighera (pianos); Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch – rec.1959. ADD/stereo
BEULAH 13-14BX32 [34:45]

In 1960 this recording on LP cost almost £2, around £50 today; even when reissued as an RCA Victrola LP in the late 1960s at £0.99, the equivalent would be at least £20 in today’s values, so Beulah’s asking price of £2.50 is very reasonable. There are some excellent recent recordings in all price categories, but the Munch performance and recording remain as recommendable now as then – no less a reviewer than Trevor Harvey rated Munch only a little less highly than Toscanini – and the sound was demonstration quality for its time. No need for hesitation when the only other way to obtain this classic recording is on a 2-CD set (RCA 74321987152).

Those seeking to explore Saint-Saëns’ symphonies further will find the most recent reissue of Jean Martinon’s complete cycle on EMI Masters a real bargain at £7.99 from (Stream from the Naxos Music Library.) Nos. 1-3 come with the unnumbered Symphony in A and Symphony in F (Urbs Roma) on a 2-CD set, 5099963180459. With a version of No.3 to rival the best, including Munch, this set offers two and a half hours of delight.

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Slavonic Dances: Op.46, No.1 in C [4:03]; No.2 in e minor [5:06]; No.3 in A flat [5:08] and Op.72 No.8 (No.16) in A flat [6:08]
Hamburg Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt – rec.1953. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 8-11BX144 [timings as above]

Schmidt-Isserstedt recorded the complete Op.46 set and the last of the Op.72 set for Decca; the four listed above were originally issued on a 10" LP in 1953 and subsequently in tandem with his classic recording of the Seventh Symphony. The playing is brilliant and the John Culshaw recording still sounds well in these transfers. Even if you followed my recommendation and bought the complete Channel Classics recording directed by Iván Fischer (CCSSA90210 – see November 2011/1 Roundup) and/or you have the classic Szell recording, you should add these versions to your collection. They make a fine pendant to Beulah’s reissues of Schmidt-Isserstedt’s recordings of the Brahms Hungarian Dances (1-7BX144 – see June 2011/1 Roundup).

John Philip SOUSA (1854-1932) Twelve Marches
Sound Off [2:51]
Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (1923) [3:25]
Sabre and Spurs [2:59]
The Picadore [2:52]
Our Flirtation [2:38]
High School Cadets (1890) [2:35]
The Invincible Eagle (1901) [3:29]
Bullets and Bayonets [3:29]
Liberty Bell (1893) [3:27]
Riders of the Flag [2:21]
Solid Men to the Post [3:49]
The Rifle Regiment [3:16]
Eastman Wind Ensemble/Frederick Fennell – rec.1960. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 1-12BX182 [timings as above]

The Mercury SACD Fennell conducts Sousa, containing 24 marches, seems to be in short supply in the UK, making it something of a collectors’ item, selling for over £30, so the Beulah reissues are very welcome. Sousa’s music is a paragon of its kind and Fennell’s performances are classics – almost legendary. The Mercury recording still sounds extremely well in these transfers. Strongly recommended to fans of martial music and recommended to everyone else except those allergic to the genre – and to those who can’t help thinking Monty Python thoughts when listening to Liberty Bell.

As well as the twelve Sousa tracks, Beulah have reissued Fennell’s equally fine 1957 recordings of Robert Browne HALL Officer of the Day (13BX182) [2:23] and David W REEVES Second Regiment Connecticut National Guard March, a work which Sousa himself wished he had written (14BX182) [2:53].

George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
An American in Paris
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein – rec. 1959 ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 2BX76 [18:07]

This is very much self-recommending – Gershwin as his music ought to be played, without over-egging the jazz elements but equally without trying to present the music in a straight symphonic manner: Bernstein gets the balance just right. With a recording which still sounds excellent in the Beulah transfer – no hint that the current Gramophone Guide is right to label this ‘historical’ and better than the CBS CD in my collection – this is my pick of this month’s Beulah reissues, closely followed by the Saint-Saëns.

I have just one problem: Beulah give the orchestra as the Columbia Symphony Orchestra whom Bernstein definitely conducted in Rhapsody in Blue on the original release (Philips SABL160 in the UK) but I believe that the orchestra for American was the NYPO, as stated above.


Christmas Music from Medieval and Renaissance Europe
Puer natus est nobis (Plainsong: Introit for Mass of the Nativity) [3:06]
ANONYMOUS Nowell, nowell: In Bethlem [2:16]
TRADITIONAL (C15th) Gaudete [1:25]
Walter LAMBE (c.1450-c.1500) Nesciens Mater [4:52]
TRADITIONAL Qui creavit cælum [3:09]
TRADITIONAL The Song of the Nuns of Chester [3:09]
TRADITIONAL Coventry Carol [3:22]
TRADITIONAL The Boar’s Head Carol [1:27]
Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585) Videte miraculum [9:48]
TRADITIONAL Quem pastores laudavere [2:17]
Jakob HANDL (1550-1591) Pueri, concinite [1:52]
O magnum mysterium [2:22]
Resonet in laudibus [1:19]
TRADITIONAL In dulci jubilo [2:46]
TRADITIONAL Riu, riu chiu [2:15]
Jean MOUTON (1459-1522) Nesciens Mater [5:49]
Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594) Omnes de Saba [3:20]
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers – rec.1987. DDD.
pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
HYPERION CDA66263 [52:41] – from (mp3 and lossless)

This album of music from the late medieval and renaissance periods is neatly divided between English (the first half) and continental European works. Much of this varied anthology is quite well known but there is enough here that isn’t to make it worthwhile. The performances are stylish and idiomatic, the booklet and recording excellent. Though the CD remains at full price, the download is offered at £5.99.

Feliz Navidad – Mediterranean Christmas Music from the Renaissance
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Dadme albrícias [2:08]
Bartolomeo TROMBONCINO (1470-1535) Ostinato vo sequiré [2:15]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Yo me soy la morenica [2:28]
Bella de vos son amoros [3:13]
Vos virgen soys nuestra madre [2:12]
No la devemos dormer [1:59]
Un niño nos es nasçido [1:45]
Verbum caro factum est [1:33]
Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599) Ave virgo sanctissima [2:25]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Colombina) Reyna muy esclarescida [1:53]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Alta Reina soberana [1:42]
Sebastiano FESTA (14??-1524) Vergine sacra [2:14]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Señores el ques nasçido [1:22]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Colombina) A los maytines era [3:05]
Qué bonito Niño chiquito! [3:35]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Falalalan falalala [2:08]
NEAPOLITAN TRADITIONAL Quando nascette nino [3:06]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Que farem del pobre Joan [1:56]
Francisco GUERRERO A un niño llorando al hielo [3:24]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala ) Rey a quien reyes adoran [1:58]
Pedro ESCOBAR (1465-1535) Virgen bendita sin par [1:49]
Francisco GUERRERO Pastores si nos queries [1:56]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Riu, riu Chiu la guarda ribera [3:25]
Francisco GUERRERO Los Reyes siguen la estrella [2:54]
Rossino MANTOVANO (early 16thcentury) Lirum bilirum lirum lirum [1:48]
Francisco GUERRERO Al resplandor d’ una estrella [3:24]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) E la don don [4:03]
Cécile Kempenaers (soprano); José Pizarro (tenor)
Capella de la Torre/Katharina Bäuml – rec. March 2008. DDD.
COVIELLO CLASSICS COV20811 [65:53] -from (mp3 and lossless)

I reviewed the parent CD two years ago – here – and I’m glad to make the acquaintance of these performances again as a download. Most of this is unfamiliar territory, apart from the now ubiquitous Riu, riu, chiu, which receives a really rousing performance, and Lirum, bilirum. You’ll probably also recognise Quando nascette nino as the inspiration for Handel’s ‘He shall lead his flock’ in Messiah. Everything here is folk or folk-inspired – Renaissance peasants really knew how to let their hair down at Christmas and their modern interpreters do them proud. The recording is bright and cheerful to match – it’s a pity that there are no texts; these come with the CD, over which the download represents a considerable saving.

Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704)
Te Deum, H.146 (1692) [22:05]
Dixit Dominus, H.204 (1690) [8:58]
Messe de Minuit pour Noël, H.9 (1694) [28:47]
Jane Archibald, Michele de Boer, Anne L’Espèrance (sopranos); Marion Newman, Nancy Reynolds (altos); Colin Ainsworth, James McLennan, David Nortman (tenors); Giles Tomkins, Esteban Cambre (basses)
Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon – rec. 2003. DDD
pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
NAXOS 8.557229 [59:50] – from (mp3)
[see reviews by Paul Shoemaker – here – and Robert Hugill – here.]

Noëls and Christmas Motets, Volume 1
Noel: A minuit fut fait un reveil, H.9 [6:14]
Noel: A la venue de Noel, H.531 [1:23]
Noel: Ou s’en vont ces gais bergers? H.534 [1:41]
Noel: Joseph est bien marié (orchestra and organ), H.534 [5:32]
In nativitatem Domini canticum, H.314 [4:50]
Noel: Or nous dites Marie, H.534 [7:30]
Noel: Vous qui désirez sans fin, H.534 [2:26]
Noel: O Créateur, H.531 [2:46]
Canticum in nativitatem Domini, H.393 [8:42]
Noel: Laissez paistre vos bêtes, H. 534 [2:36]
Noel: Une jeune pucelle (soloist, orchestra and organ), H.534 [4:27]
Noel: Les bourgeois de Chatres, H.534 [2:47]
Chanson, from In nativitatem Domini canticum, H.416 [2:59]
In nativitatem D(omini) N(ostri) J(esu) C(hristi), H.414 [16:14]
Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon – rec. 1999. DDD
pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
NAXOS 8.554514 [70:09] – from (mp3)

Noëls and Christmas Motets, Volume 2
Noël: un flambeau, Janette, Isabelle! (H.460c) (Soloists and Organ) 3:18
Dialogus inter angelos et pastores Judeæ in nativitatem Domini (H.420) 20:40
Noël: un flambeau, Janette, Isabelle! (H.460c) (Choir) 2:25
In nativitatem Domini canticum (H.416) 32:54
Noël: un flambeau, Janette, Isabelle! (H.460c) (instrumental) 2:54
Tracy Smith Bessette (soprano); Christine Stelmacovitch (alto); David Nortman (tenor);
Curtis Streetman (bass); Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon – rec. 2001. DDD
NAXOS 8.557036 [62:12] – from (mp3)

Naxos have done very well by Charpentier, with recordings from Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet and Aradia/Kevin Mallon, including these recordings of some of his oodles of Christmas music. The Midnight Mass of the Nativity is based on traditional French Noëls, vocal and instrumental settings of which were something of a seventeenth-century speciality, as witness a Hyperion Helios CD of Daquin’s Noëls for organ which I reviewed some time ago (CDH55319). The first album listed above offers stylish, period-aware performances of the Midnight Mass and the best known of Charpentier’s Te Deums and that’s probably the place to start if you have yet to make the serious acquaintance of this composer. The mp3 recording is fine apart from a couple of small blips at the start of tracks. Then you can turn to the other two albums where you’ll recognise many of the Noëls which he borrowed, in slightly less elaborate but still very enjoyable settings.

The music is performed at baroque pitch. All the singing is deliciously clear-toned and forthright, the accompaniments on period instruments are stylish and the whole is enthusiastically presented. Two of the discs come with documentation but, sadly, the third doesn’t and it’s not one of the Naxos CDs for which libretti are offered online.

The Erato recording of the Messe de Minuit by William Christie which PS mentions in his review of the Messe de Minuit and which many may prefer is available from for £2.79 – here. and offer the less authentic but enjoyable King’s College/Willcocks version for £7.99, but you should be able to find the EMI Encore CD for less than that.

Music for the Virgin Mary: Celebrating 300 years of Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704)
Nicholas-Antoine LEBÈGUE (c.1631-1702) Prélude du cinquième ton (C major) [1:14]
Queen of Heaven
Antiphon Ave Regina cœlorum H.19 [3.07]
The Birth of The Virgin
Motet Sicut spina rosam H.309 [2.26]
Motet Gaude felix Anna H.315 (FN, GR) [1.50]
Nicholas-Antoine LEBÈGUE Tierce en taille du deuxième ton (g minor) [3.22]
The Salutation
Guillaume-Gabriel NIVERS (c.1632-1714) Antiphon Gabriel Angelus
Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER Magnificat pour le Port Royal H.81 [10:00]
Antiphon Alma redemptoris mater H.21 [3.03]
The Nativity of Christ
Motet Frigidae noctis umbra totum H.421 [11.16]
In Nativitate Domini N(ost)ri Jesu Christi Canticum
Nicholas-Antoine LEBÈGUE Noël: Où s’en vont ces gays bergers? [2.35]
A Prayer to The Virgin
Attrib. Jean Baptiste LULLY (1632-687)
Antiphon Salve Regina [7.12]
Guillaume-Gabriel NIVERS Récit de cromorne du troisième ton (a minor) [3.24]
The Passion
Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER Sequence Stabat Mater pour les religieuses H.15) [9.09]
Guillaume-Gabriel NIVERS Dialogue à deux choeurs du sixième ton (F major) [2.26]
The Resurrection
Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER Antiphon Regina cœli lætare H.32 [2.38]
The Coronation of The Virgin
Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER Hymn Gaudia Virginis Mariæ H.59 [3.15]
Nicholas-Antoine LEBÈGUE Plein Jeu du huitième ton (G major) [2.01]
Concerto delle Donne (Donna Deam, Faye Newton, Gill Ross, Miriam Allan, Caroline Ashton, Rachel Bevan, Jennie Cassidy, Charlotte Fairbairn, Ana Gabriela Schwedhelm (sopranos))
Directed by Alastair Ross (organ) – rec. 2005. DDD
pdf booklet with texts included at and Naxos Music Library.
SIGNUM SIGCD073 [69:00] – from (mp3 or lossless) (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Beautifully clear-toned singing by all-soprano soloists of music by Charpentier and his contemporaries, released slightly belatedly for the tercentenary of his death in 2004. The reasonably well-known Magnificat for the nuns of the Port Royal (not the outpost of Jansenism but another by the same name) receives the most beautiful performance that I’ve ever heard – preferable even to the very good Hervé Niquet recording on Naxos. The tonal beauty of the singing meant that I was less worried than Chris Bragg about the slight blandness but I certainly agree with his overall warm recommendation – see review. Only offer the booklet but offer 16-bit lossless at the same price as mp3 and that price ($12.41) is on a par with the £7.99 charged by

Michael PRÆTORIUS (c.1571-c.1621) Puer natus in Bethlehem: Renaissance Christmas Music

Hosianna dem Sohne David (à 5) [0:49]
Nun komm der Heiden Heiland et al. [7:50]
Hört zu ihr lieben Leute et al. [2:55]
Meine Seel erhebt den Herren (à 6) [8:18]
Psallite, unigenito (à 4) [0:52]
En natus est Emanuel (à 4) [1:12]
In natali Domini (à 4) [1:09]
Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her et al. [8:55]
Als Christus geboren war (à 4) et al. [2:45]
Resonet in laudibus (à 6) [2:58]
Joseph, lieber Joseph mein (à 3) [2:45]
Deo laus et gloria (à 5) [1:18]
In dulci gloria et al. [3:32]
Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem et al. [3:28]
Magnificat super Ecce Maria et Sydus ex claro et al. [9:11]
Der Morgenstern ist aufgedrungen et al. [1:58]
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern et al. [4:28]
Viva Voce ((Heidrun Luchterhandt, Undine Holzwarth (soprano); Werner Buchin (alto); Achim Kleinlein, Martin Post (tenor); Michael Pannes (bass))
André Henrich (chitarrone and archlute)
Christof Pannes (organ) – rec. 1999. DDD.
pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
BIS-CD-1035 [66:09] – from (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Unlike the Hyperion Helios collection which I reviewed in the November 2011/2 Roundup – here – this is simply a collection of Prætorius’ vocal music for the Christmas season, without any interpolations from Terpsichore. That will be an advantage for the many collectors who already have a recording of that wonderful dance music, such as David Munrow’s ground-breaking collection, now available on a super-budget 2-CD Virgin Veritas set with dance music by Susato and Morley, etc. (35000032 – around £7.50 in the UK).

If the absence of the dances makes this seem a little less robust than other collections, the gain in elegance largely makes up. There’s actually more music on the album than the list above would indicate: the et al in the titles indicates that BIS have grouped several pieces together on each track. With good recording (mp3 and lossless at the same reasonable price of $7.73 from and notes and texts as part of the deal – from only, not from the Naxos Music Library or – this is well worth consideration.

Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1647-1707) Une alchimie musicale
O dulcis Jesu BuxWV83 [10:51]
Ciacona BuxWV160 [4:23]
O clemens BuxWV82 [7:20]
Præludium BuxWV163 [6:55]
Fallax mundus BuxWV28* [9:30]
Sonata BuxWV266 [8:35]
O Gottes Stadt BuxWV87 [9:14]
Passacaglia BuxWV161 [5:16]
Fried- und freudenreiche Himmelfahrt: Klag-lied BuxWV76/2 [8:16]
Raphaële Kennedy (soprano)
Da Pacem/Raphaële Kennedy and Pierre-Adrien Charpy – rec. 2010? DDD.
* first recording
pdf booklet with texts and translations available from K617 website – here.
K671 K617227 [70:16] – from (mp3)

This is not festive Christmas music – indeed, the closing Klaglied is funereal in a beautiful way – but I couldn’t resist its charms, not least because it contains the first recording of Fallax mundus: the album is justly subtitled Musical Alchemy. All concerned were new to me, but I shall look out for future offerings. Ms Kennedy, who sings and co-directs, has a voice approaching the purity of Emma Kirkby; she sings affectively and she is very ably abetted by the musicians of Da Pacem on reproduction period instruments. The vocal items are interspersed with instrumental interludes. never offer booklets but you can follow the link above to K617’s website where you will find an excellent example. The recording is transferred at around 220kb/s – not ideal, but adequate. At £3.78 or less, this won’t take up too much of your monthly allowance from Those without access to will find it at for £7.49.

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Handel in Hamburg
Suite from Almira (1705)* [13:30]
Suite, possibly from Nero (1705)* [9:21]
Oboe Concerto in g minor (?1703-5) [8:01]
Suite from Florindo and Daphne (?1705/6) [15:50]
Overture in b flat from Rodrigo (?1706) [16:31]
The Parley of Instruments/Peter Holman – rec.1997. DDD.
* reconstructed by Peter Holman. First recording.
pdf booklet included.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55324 [63:36] – from (mp3 and lossless)

This is due for reissue on CD in January 2012 but downloaders need not wait; it’s available now. I can’t claim that there’s anything of great profundity here but at its new price this entertaining and award-winning reconstruction of some of the music which the youthful Handel wrote in Hamburg is well worth having.

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Utrecht Te Deum, HWV278 (1713) [24:12]
Utrecht Jubilate, HWV279 (1713) [17:44]
William CROFT (1678 – 1727)
Ode for the Peace of Utrecht (‘With Noise of Cannon’) [30:50]
(World premiere recording)
Nicki Kennedy (soprano); William Towers (alto); Wolfram Lattke, Julian Podger (tenors); Peter Harvey (bass)
The Netherlands Bach Society/Jos van Veldhoven – rec.2009? DDD/DSD.
Pdf booklet with texts included
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA29610 [72:46] – from (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

I have no new recordings of Messiah for you this Christmas; though there are several new releases, none has yet come my way, so my existing recommendations stand:

* Coro – The Sixteen/Harry Christophers (November 2008 Roundup and December 2008 Roundup)
* Linn – Dunedin Consort/John Butt (Recording of the Month: see review by Michael Greenhalgh and November 2009 Roundup)
* Hyperion – The Sixteen/Harry Christophers (Budget recommendation; December 2009 Roundup)
* Hyperion – Polyphony; Sinfonia/Stephen Layton – see review of CDs by John Quinn – here – and myself – here. Download from (mp3 and lossless, 2-for-the-price-of-1)

Instead, rather than let Handel pass us by, I’m recommending a recent Channel Classics recording of the music written by Handel and Croft to celebrate the Pease of Utrecht which we seem to have missed.

The new recording safely replaces the earlier version on Hyperion Helios CDH55359 which I reviewed with some reservations in the August 2010 Roundup. Who better, indeed, than the Netherlands Bach Society to sing the music composed for a treaty signed in their country? More than that, however, the performers are good enough actually to manage to convince me that these two works are worthy to stand alongside the Dettingen Te Deum. (DGG/Pinnock – see November 2009 Roundup and Hyperion CDA6768, Trinity College Choir, Cambridge; Academy of Ancient Music/Stephen Layton, from in mp3 and lossless – see review).

The Croft coupling is more than just interesting – I’m pleased to see Channel Classics adding to what Hyperion have already done to make us aware that he composed more than just a Purcell-like setting of the Burial Service. With an excellent, attractively illustrated booklet and top-rate recording – I chose the 24/96 version, which sits mid-way between the decent 320k mp3 and the audiophile 24/192 – this may not be seasonal music but it is strongly recommended.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Vier Klavierkonzerte
Keyboard Concerto No.7 in g minor, BWV1058 [14:37]
Keyboard Concerto No.1 in d minor, BWV1052 [22:31]
Keyboard Concerto No.2 in E, BWV1053 [19:21]
Keyboard Concerto No.4 in A, BWV1055 [15:04]
Peter Seivewright (piano); Scottish Baroque Soloists/Angus Ramsay
DIVINE ART DDA25030 [71:34] – from (mp3 and lossless)

Regular readers will be aware that I am firmly of the opinion that Bach should not be played on the modern piano unless your name happens to be Glenn Gould or Angela Hewitt. Would this recent recording from Divine Art be good enough to persuade me otherwise? In the event I found it frustratingly a curate’s egg.

The performers here certainly don’t try to overwhelm the music in a large-scale manner, with clean and stylish playing, especially in the outer movements. They do, however, make the slow movements too affective for my liking: though they take just 6:29 for the slow movement of BWV1058 against Hewitt’s 6:34, the lack of forward momentum makes the music sound slower in a manner which I found rather painful. The finale makes some amends and the opening movement of BWV1052 does so even more, making me wish that everything here had as much life and rhythm. If only the whole set had been this good …

Peter Seivewright’s performances of baroque music on the piano divide critical opinion, as witness a MusicWeb review of his Galuppi by David Wright who awarded 4 stars and Peter Grahame Woolf who gave just two (DDA25006 – see review). I imagine that there will be many who enjoy his Bach for those very over-affective slow movements which I dislike. If you think that may apply to you, you may wish to wait for this album to appear in the Naxos Music Library to try it there first – it hadn’t yet done so at the time of writing..

For me, however, if you want Bach on the piano, you can’t do better than Hewitt whose versions of four concertos on Hyperion CDA30003 make an excellent introduction, while aficionados will want her complete Bach on CDS44421/35, both reviewed in the October 2010 Roundup, the latter as Download of the Month.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Christmas Oratorio, BWV248 (1734)
Barbara Schlick (soprano); Michael Chance (alto); Howard Crook (tenor); Peter Kooy (bass); Collegium Vocale Gent Chorus and Orchestra/Philippe Herreweghe – rec. 1989. DDD.
VIRGIN CLASSICS VERITAS 5099909633452 [2 CDs: 2:28:27] – from (mp3) or stream from the Naxos Music Library

[‘Herreweghe’s account of the Christmas Oratorio is as authoritative as any.’ – see full review by Gavin Dixon.]

[‘The Christmas Oratorio contains some of Bach’s finest arias, and the two-and-a-half hours of music on these two discs is delightful.’ – see full review of 6-CD Herreweghe collection by Kirk McElhearn.]

Christmas Oratorio, BWV248 (1734)
Monika Frimmer (soprano); Yoshikazu Mera (counter-tenor); Gerd Türk (tenor); Peter Kooij (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki – rec. c.1997 DDD.
BIS BIS-CD-941/42 [2 CDs: 2:24:50] – from (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

The Christmas Oratorio is actually a series of six cantatas for the Christmas-New Year-Epiphany cycle at Leipzig in 1734/5. As usual, some of the music was recycled from Bach’s other works – at first hearing the re-use of the Passion music O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden in a work intended for Christmas seems somewhat bizarre.

The Herreweghe recording is the least expensive recommendable download version that I know of – but be sure to choose the option to which I’ve given a link above, at £6.99: also offer the same recording for £14.99. Occasional passages could have been better done but the whole adds up to a fine performance, well recorded and offered in decent mp3 sound. Even played in mid November, this was a sheer delight to listen to. There are no notes, but these are usually rudimentary with Virgin and EMI Classics budget twofers and the texts and translations are easily available online.

I do, however, think that few listeners will begrudge paying a little extra for the Suzuki version which has already achieved classic status. The recording, in 320kb/s mp3, does justice to the original. I was surprised not to find a lossless equivalent on offer at which I have come to regard as the ‘home’ of BIS downloads in mp3 and flac, at a keen price, too, but the version will do well enough.

Neither version comes with notes but the BIS website lists the individual tracks and their incipits – here.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantatas from Leipzig 1724 – Volume 26
Cantata BWV 180, Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele (20th Sunday after Trinity) [21:18]
Cantata BWV 122, Das neugeborne Kindelein (Sunday after Christmas) [13:19]
Cantata BWV 96, Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn (18th Sunday after Trinity) [17:14]
Yukari Nonoshita (soprano)
Timothy Kenworthy-Brown (counter-tenor)
Makoto Sakurada (tenor)
Peter Kooij (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan, Chorus and Orchestra/Masaaki Suzuki – rec. 2003 DDD
pdf booklet with texts and translations included
BIS CD-1401 [52:57] – from (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

[‘Highly recommended’ – see review by Michael Cookson.]

Cantatas of 1724 – Volume 31
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, BWV91 (Christmas day) [15.32]
Nimm von uns Herr, du treuer Gott, BWV101 (10th Sunday after Trinity) [26.15]
Christum wir sollen loben schon, BWV121 (St Stephen, 26th December) [16.42]
Ich freue mich in dir, BWV133 (St John the Evangelist, 27th December) [17.35]
Yukari Nonoshita (soprano)
Robin Blaze (counter-tenor)
Gerd Turk (tenor)
Peter Kooij (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki – rec. 2004. DDD/DSD
pdf booklet with texts and translations included
BIS-SACD-1481 [77:25] – from (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

[‘A perfect introduction this wonderfully rich repertoire’ – see review by Terry Barfoot]

Cantatas of 1725 – Vol. 43
Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV 110 (Christmas Day, 1725) [22:16]
Selig ist der Mann, BWV 57 (St Stephen, 26 December, 1725) [22:40]
Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt, BWV 151 (St John the Evangelist, 27 December, 1725) [16:22]
Hana Blažíková (soprano)
Robin Blaze (counter-tenor)
Gerd Türk (tenor)
Peter Kooij (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki – rec. 2008. DDD/DSD
pdf booklet with texts and translations included
BIS-SACD-1761 [62:28] – from (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

[‘Consistently rewarding’- see review by Peter Bright.]

Cantatas for Leipzig 1727-29 – Volume 49
Ich habe meine Zuversicht, BWV188 (21st Sunday after Trinity, 1728) [24:15]
Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe, BWV156 (3rd Sunday after Epiphany, 1729) [16:41]
Sehet, wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem, BWV159 (Quinquagesima, 1729) [14:57]
Gott, wie dein Name, so ist auch dein Ruhm, BWV171 (New Year 1729) [14:46]
Rachel Nicholls (soprano)
Robin Blaze (counter-tenor)
Gerd Türk (tenor)
Peter Kooij (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki – rec. September 2010. DDD/DSD
pdf booklet with texts and translations included
BIS BIS-SACD-1891 [72:07] – from (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

There certainly are other excellent cycles of Bach cantatas, especially the ground-breaking Harnoncourt and Leonhardt series for Teldec, still available from Warner Classics and as very inexpensive downloads from, and the set which John Eliot Gardiner recorded in 2000, now complete on his own SDG label and available for download from, with some also available from There are also several excellent individual recordings, such as that of the Magnificat and Cantata 110 from Channel Classics which I reviewed in my previous Roundup.

The Suzuki series for BIS is certainly a very strong contender. As you’ll see if you follow my links to the original reviews, my colleagues are running out of superlatives to describe it. I shall content myself simply to echo them and to say that the latest volume is well up to standard. All four of these volumes contain cantatas for the Christmas and New Year period and three of them are available in 24-bit downloads for a little more than the (very reasonable) price of the mp3 and 16-bit lossless.

The linking factor for Volume 49 is the fact that the texts are all taken from a collection written by Christian Friedrich Henrici, known as Picaneder, later to be the librettist of the St Matthew Passion. Cantata 188 exists only in fragmentary form but the reconstruction of the opening concertante at least is fairly secure: lovers of Bach will immediately recognise that it was re-used as a keyboard concerto. The quality of the reconstructed work is such that we can only imagine what other Bach settings of Picaneder texts may have been lost.

The booklet which comes with the deal is excellent though, if I must pick nits, the statement that Estomihi or Quinquagesima is the last Sunday before the beginning of Passiontide is inaccurate: it’s the last Sunday before Lent and the Lutheran calendar didn’t allow cantatas in Lent. Passiontide didn’t begin until the Fifth Sunday in Lent, commonly known as Passion Sunday, though that title has more recently been transferred to the Sixth Sunday, formerly Palm Sunday.

I’ve included Volume 49 because it’s not only the most recent to be released, Cantata 171 was composed for the Christmas period, specifically for New Year’s day, the Feast of the Circumcision. The performances are well up to the standards of the series and the recording, especially in 24-bit format, excellent.

Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710-1784) Cantatas Volume 1
Ach, dass du den Himmel zerrissest, BR-WFB F3/Fk93 (Christmas c.1760) []
Wohl dem, der den Herren fürchtet, BR-WFB F19/Fk76 (September 1752) * []
O Wunder, wer kann dieses fassen? BR-WFB F2/Fk92 (Christmas, pub.1723) * []
Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen, BR-WFB F10/Fk75 (Ascension, mid 1750s) * []
Dorothee Mields (soprano); Gerhild Romberger (alto); Georg Poplutz (tenor); Klaus Mertens (bass); Bachchor Mainz; L’arpa festante/Ralf Otto
* world première recordings.
pdf booklet with texts included.
CARUS 83.362 [79:01] – from (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

[‘A real winner’ – Recording of the Month: see review by Mark Sealey.]

[‘Leap into this world of discovery without hesitation’ – see review of Volumes 1 and 2 by Dominy Clements.]

There’s a good case for regarding W F Bach as at least the equal of his more famous siblings; it’s certainly high time that more of his music was recorded. Carus are really pulling their weight in that regard with two recent recordings, of which this is the only one that I’ve had time to hear so far: the other, on 83.429, is directed by Jürgen Ochs. The music is striking and the performances and recording do it full justice. Two of the cantatas are for Christmas, three of them are receiving first recordings and all four are revelatory., who offer several Carus recordings in lossless sound, don’t yet seem to have added these albums, but they do have several Capriccio recordings of WF, conducted by Max Herrmann which I hope to explore in future roundups.

Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Mša glagolskaja (Glagolitic Mass), JW III/9 (final version) (1928) [39:33]
Sinfonietta, JW VI/18 (1926) [23:32]
Christiane Libor (soprano); Ewa Marciniec (alto); Timothy Bentch (tenor); Wojciech Gierlach (bass)
Jarosław Malanowicz (organ)
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir (Choirmaster: Henryk Wojnarowski)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit – rec. September 2009 and April 2010. DDD
pdf booklet includes texts, which can also be accessed at
NAXOS 8.572639 [63:05] – from (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Mša glagolskaja (Glagolitic Mass), JW III/9 (original version) [40:29]
Zoltan KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Psalmus Hungaricus, Op. 13b. [22:10]
Tina Kiberg (soprano); Randi Stene (contralto); Peter Svensson (tenor); Ulrik Cold (bass); Per Salo (organ); Copenhagen Boys’ Choir
Danish National Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras – rec. 1993. DDD
pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
CHANDOS CHAN9310 [62:39] – from the (mp3 and lossless)

Polish forces here do justice to Czech national(ist) music in what Naxos founder and chairman Klaus Heymann describes as ‘a dream come true for me – Janacek’s non-operatic masterworks on one album.’ It’s not actually the first such pairing – Simon Rattle combined them in a 1981 recording, now available most inexpensively on a super-budget EMI 2-CD set combined with performances from Charles Mackerras (2376062: William Hedley was not entirely convinced – see review).

The Karel Ančerl recording of the Mass on Supraphon, from which I got to know the work for the princely sum of 17/6 is still available, coupled with Taras Bulba – download from in mp3 for £5.99 or for £4.62 from That recording was my benchmark in that it was in the back of my mind as listened to Wit and his team and I didn’t feel the new in any way inferior to the old, with very similar tempi, give or take a few seconds. More importantly, all the power of the older version is also present in the new one – if I say that Wit may well have been listening to the Supraphon recording, I don’t mean that as a criticism. In fact he brings out some of the music’s beauty a little more fully than his predecessor.

At this stage I was forced to think again by reading Nick Barnard’s review of the CD which, though generally positive, expressed some reservations, simultaneously with one from another reviewer which gave the new recording full marks all round. Time to go back to the most recent Supraphon recording from the Meister, Charles Mackerras, courtesy of, I hoped, only to discover that my purchase resolutely refused to download. After almost three days of trying, two tracks still refused to download; I had to re-purchase track 2, the ‘retry’ button for track 4 adamantly refused to work, and track 3 cuts out a minute too soon, so I guess this is one to avoid. What I did obtain sounds superb, so the loss of the Veruju (Credo) is especially galling.

I turned instead to Simon Rattle, courtesy of the Naxos Music Library, a version frequently described as ‘urgent’. Overall Rattle’s performance is a few seconds faster than Wit but the difference is rarely significant and it’s not all one-way: in Uvod (Introduction) and sometimes elsewhere Wit is slightly faster. Despite the qualities of Rattle’s version, I see no reason to prefer it to Wit.

The Chandos recording is strictly not comparable since it embodies a reconstruction of the composer’s original intents. The differences, however, are not huge – they mainly involve the appearance of the Intrada at the beginning and end and some altered rhythms. I’ve seen some criticism of the soloists but this doesn’t require bel canto singing and I found the slightly rougher tone well suited to the style of the music. In many ways this is likely to become my preferred version in future, especially as the Mass is coupled with a fine performance of Kodály’s Psalmus Hungaricus, a long-standing favourite work of mine.

An earlier Naxos recording of the Sinfonietta from Ondrej Lenárd (8.550411) was one of my few serious disappointments with the label – it’s just too underpowered, despite an initial recommendation by Edward Greenfield in The Guardian and its continuing three-star status in the P_ G_. The new version from Wit et al more than makes up with all the power lacking before, despite the paradox that every movement takes slightly longer than Lenárd or Jiri Bělohlávek (Chandos CHAN8897 – see October 2010 Roundup, but NB that the Sinfonietta is better value on an all-Janáček twofer CHAN241-7). Charles Mackerras, who knew more than a thing or two about Czech music achieves strength with similarly slightly broader tempi for this work (EMI Encore and Supraphon). Rattle is consistently a little faster than Wit or Mackerras – I can’t deny that his recording has all the oomph that I found lacking in Lenárd, but so do they without forcing the pace as Rattle does in the andante second movement at 5:38: even Wit here seems a little fast at 5:57 by comparison with Mackerras’s 6:18 (EMI).

Repeated comparisons of both works with rival recordings therefore leaves me more likely to stress the virtues which Nick Barnard finds in the new Naxos recording and disinclined to share his reservations, though he has clearly and cogently stated his ‘working’. With texts included and splendid recording, well conveyed in top-quality mp3, this should be a real winner, but you may wish to try it out first from the Naxos Music Library or from the free version of Spotify if you can bear the adverts.

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Complete Symphonies
Symphony No.1 in d minor, Op13 (1895) [46:13]
The Isle of the Dead, Op.29 [19:48]
Symphony No.2 in e minor, Op.27 (1907) [55:06]
Scherzo in d minor [5:29]
Vocalise (orchestral version), Op.34/14 [6:57]
Symphony No.3 in a minor, Op.44 (1935-6) [37:35]
Symphonic Dances (1940) [34:32]
St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
EMI CLASSICS 5099950088553 [3 CDs: 3:25:40] – from (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Symphony No.2 in e minor, Op.27 (1907) [56:48]
Vocalise (orchestral version), Op.34/14 [6:44]
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer – rec. 2003? DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included.
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA21604 [64:35] – from (mp3 and 24-bit lossless recordings)

Symphony No.2 in e minor, Op.27 (1907)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Sir Alexander Gibson – rec. 1980. DDD
Pdf booklet available.
CHANDOS CHAN8423 [53:59] – download only (no CD) from (mp3 and lossless)

Symphony No.2 in e minor, Op.27 (1907) [59:21]
Vocalise (orchestral version), Op.34/14 [6:36]
Aleko: Intermezzo and Women’s Dance [8:14]
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
EMI MASTERS 5099908528957 [74:11] – from (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Symphony No.3 in a minor, Op.44 (1935-6) [42:47]
Vasily Sergeyevich KALINNIKOV (1866-1901) Two Intermezzi for Orchestra [10:07]
London Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi – rec. 1987. DDD
pdf booklet available.
CHANDOS CHAN8614 [52:45] – download only (no CD) from (mp3 and lossless)

Symphony No.3 in a minor, Op.44 (1935-6) [42:47]
Symphonic Dances (1940)* [36:25]
London Symphony Orchestra; Philharmonia Orchestra*/Neeme Järvi – rec. 1987/1991. DDD
pdf booklet available.
CHANDOS CHAN10234 [79:11] – download from (mp3 and lossless)

EMI win hands down in the bargain stakes with the 3-CD set of Jansons recordings, offered as a download for just £6.99. As Rob Barnett wrote of the CD set, ‘Musically these recordings are always better than dependable and often brilliant’ – see full review. Novices and aficionados alike could do much worse than invest in these readings – but not in the three separately available Encore and Great Artists albums, at £5.99 and £7.99 respectively.

If you just want the symphonies, Andrew Litton’s recording on a 2-CD Virgin set is available for streaming from the Naxos Music Library, which suggests that it will be available from shortly. If and when it is, the download will obviate the problem inherent in the CD format of having the Second Symphony split across two discs.

Readers of a certain age will remember part of the finale of the First Symphony being employed as a TV theme tune, presumably from the Ormandy recording. I chose this movement at random from both the Jansons and Litton recordings – I own the latter on CD from its original single-CD release – and there’s very little to choose between them and the Ormandy, now on a 2-CD Sony Essential Classics set which doesn’t appear to be available for download, though the CDs are inexpensive enough anyway at around £9 in the UK. Litton is just a touch more dramatic than Jansons but I enjoyed hearing both.

Not surprisingly, the Fischer recording is a clear winner in terms of recording quality – it’s available in decent mp3 and in a variety of lossless flac formats, 24/44.1, 24/96 and 24/192. Nor need there be any reservations about the performances of the symphony or Vocalise: this is not just for audiophiles, as the awards which the recording has gained and the string of endorsements on the Channel Classics website make clear. It has to be good if my only niggling criticism concerns the mis-spelling of the name of The Independent in the booklet.

Gibson’s Symphony No.2 is also available in good lossless sound, albeit 16-bit, as well as decent mp3. It’s a real bargain at just £4.99 in both formats, which more than compensates for the shortish playing time. Most earlier versions, such as the classic Ormandy recording on CBS (now Sony Essential Classics) had been fairly heavily cut, so this was warmly welcomed at the time and remains competitive now in terms both of performance and recording, even against Chandos’s later recordings from Polyansky and Noseda.

Previn’s Second, recorded – also complete – a few years earlier but still sounding well, albeit in mp3 only, is also a bargain at £5.99. It’s also more generously timed. The performance – the first, I believe, to be recorded without cuts – has stood the passage of time well, too.

Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra made an abridged recording of the symphony lasting 45:42 in 1951 for US Columbia, a version available in the UK but not the USA and many other countries, from Naxos Classical Archives for £1.99 (9.80342). Stream from Naxos Music Library where available. The sound is thin but perfectly tolerable; it was grossly unfair to play this alongside digital recordings such as Gibson and Fischer – the latter in 24-bit sound, moreover – but it stands up well.

Järvi’s Third (either coupling) is equally inexpensive at £4.99 for the mp3; though the lossless version is priced at £7.99, it’s still quite a bargain. I imagine that most will choose the more generous coupling with the Symphonic Dances, which is also still available on CD, though I’ve listed both. This version of the Symphonic Dances is also available coupled with the Dances from Aleko and Caprice bohémien on CHAN9081 (mp3 for £7.99, lossless for £9.99).

(1873 – 1943)
Vesna (Spring), Op.20 (Cantata for baritone solo, choir and orchestra) (1902) [14:36]
Three Russian Songs for symphony orchestra and chorus, Op.41 (1926) [11:29]
The Bells for chorus, orchestra and soloists, Op.35 (1913) [36:26]
Svetla Vassileva (soprano)
Misha Didyk (tenor)
Alexei Tanovitski (bass)
Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre
BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda – rec. live, July 2011. DDD
pdf booklet with texts and translations available
CHANDOS CHAN10706 [62:53] – from (mp3 and lossless)

Yes, this is the same composer, despite Chandos’s now preferred spelling, which Microsoft Word also prefers. This latest – seventh and final – offering in their Rachmaninov cycle with Gianandrea Noseda is a bit of a mixed blessing. It was recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 July 2011, during the Proms. Reviews were mixed – as, indeed, reviews of Noseda’s earlier Chandos recordings of this composer have been, with John Quinn here on MWI more enthusiastic about his Third Symphony than some others have been. With disagreement even over such fundamental matters as whether Vassileva’s singing in Vocalise was ravishing and glowing or too declamatory and wobbly, I was intrigued to see on which side of the argument my verdict would fall. Alas, I shall never know – that’s the one item from the concert not included here, though there would have been room for it.

I couldn’t summon much enthusiasm for the Spring cantata – perhaps I was expecting something too like Vivaldi’s or Glazunov’s Seasons, but both of their Springs really do evoke the season rather than the thoughts of a would-be wife-murderer. (Admittedly, the Spring puts such thoughts out of his head.) An interesting work but I don’t expect to return to it often. Chandos already had another recording, also coupled with The Bells, available only as a download (CHAN8966) and it forms the filler to their Polyansky recording of the Third Symphony (CHAN9802 – see review in which Ian Lace also appears somewhat lukewarm about this work), so I’m not sure why they have re-recorded it.

Nor was I any more enthusiastic about the Russian Songs; I’d gladly have swapped them for Vocalise, whether glowing or wobbly. The Bells, however, set to words from a Russian translation of Poe, is a minor masterpiece and it receives a good, though not definitive performance here. In the main I found myself in agreement with those who thought that Noseda and his team made a good showing in this work; though I note that the chorus sounds a little under-strength numerically, that’s probably an advantage in listening at home as opposed to the concert hall. There is a minute degree of wobble in Vassileva’s voice but isn’t that authentically Slav?

Though recorded live at the Prom, audience noise and applause are conspicuous by their absence. The original recording was made in 24-bit/96kHz, so I’m surprised that the only lossless option is in 16-bit sound, good as that is.

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 2, A London Symphony (1913, rev.1936) [46:33]
Concerto in a minor for oboe and strings (1942/43) [19:20]
Stéphane Rancourt (oboe)
Hallé Orchestra/Sir Mark Elder – rec. 2010. DDD.
HALLÉ CDHLL7529 [65:56] – from (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library. have beaten other download providers off the mark with this recording and they have done so at a better bit-rate than many of their downloads; although at around 220kb/s it’s still far from ideal, the result sounds perfectly adequate, though the volume needs a bit of a boost. As for the performances, they are all that Michael Cookson says of them in his review – far superior to the Divine Art version of the symphony which I recommended last month as a stop-gap. John Quinn was even more fulsome in his praise – review – awarding a well-deserved Recording of the Month. The Chandos recording with Richard Hickox, of course, remains in a class of its own – a one-off opportunity to record the original score: see my review of the USB version (CHUSB0008) – here.

The new Hallé version is quite a bargain from at £2.94 or less, but its availability for streaming from the Naxos Music Library suggests that it will soon be on offer at a better bit-rate from* For the full CD quality, of course, it’s available post-paid for £11 worldwide from MusicWeb International – here.

* As I was converting this Roundup to html I noted that it is now available from -- here.

Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Orchestral Works, Volume 5
Festival Overture [15:36]
Christmas Eve* [17:53]
Dance of Wild Irravel [5:24]
Nympholept – Nature-Poem for Orchestra [17:50]
Pæan [3:19]
Overture to a Picaresque Comedy [10:51]
Cortège for Orchestra [5:49]
* Malcolm Hicks (organ)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bryden Thomson – rec.1986/7. DDD
pdf booklet available.
CHANDOS CHAN10158X [77:17] – from (mp3 and lossless)

[see the MusicWeb Arnold Bax website – here]

Bax’s Christmas Eve may not be especially seasonal – it’s an evocation of an evening walk in a frosty landscape with a massive organ part – but it seems to be the only available version and this, the fifth volume in Chandos’s reissues of the Bryden Thomson recordings is valuable, especially for Nympholept. Unless, that is, you’re prepared to pay a little more for the CD or download of Vernon Handley’s recording of that work – Graham Parlett thought this probably the finest ever version of this important work (CHAN10446 – see review), finding Bryden Thomson prosaic by comparison, which I think a little unfair. Compare the two versions for yourself in the Naxos Music Library if you can.

Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999) Complete Orchestral Works Volume 7
Retablo de Navidad (Christmas Scene) (1952) [22:54]
Hymns of the Neophytes of Qumran (1965, 1975) [19:18]
Music for a Salamancan Codex (1953) [11:06]
Canticle of Saint Francis of Assisi (1982) [18:30]
Raquel Lojendio, Victoria Marchante, Ada Allende, María Jesús Prieto (soprano)
David Rubiera (baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Comunidad de Madrid/José Ramún Encinar – rec. 2002. DDD
pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
NAXOS 8.557223 [71:48] – from (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

[‘A glorious disc of otherwise unavailable Rodrigo works for various voices and orchestra which yet again gives the lie to the idea of the great Spaniard as a classical "one hit wonder".’ – see review by Neil Horner.]

[‘This is the sort of musical experience I really love: like all the best books it’s hard to get into, but once you’re in it’s a lot harder to get back out. Anyway, who’d want to?’ – see review by Paul Serotsky.]

There’s sweetness and light here for Christmas Day in the settings of Christmas songs in a manner reminiscent of Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne and tougher material for when the turkey and tinsel are but a distant memory. Utterly different from the Concierto de Aranjuez as this music may be, it’s very well worth exploring – perhaps try it from the Naxos Music Library first if you’re not sure: the texts are offered there, too.

This recording remains the only one available of the Christmas music but the three other works are available from an EMI Classics anthology of Rodrigo’s music, coupled with Ausencias de Dulcinea, issued for his centenary and available from in mp3 or to stream from the Naxos Music Library.

Thierry LANCINO (b.1954)
Requiem (2009) [72:09]
Heidi Grant Murphy (soprano, Everyman)
Nora Gubisch (mezzo-soprano, the Sibyl)
Stuart Skelton (tenor, David)
Nicolas Courjal (bass, David the warrior)
Chœur de Radio France
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Eliahu Inbal – rec. January 2010. DDD
pdf booklet included. Libretto in French, Latin and Greek with English and German translations can be accessed online at
NAXOS 8.572771 [72:09] – from (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

The Naxos blurb describes this vast work as ‘a challenging and eloquent contemplation on human mortality’ and founder-chairman Klaus Heyman claims ‘There are few if any contemporary works that are as moving as this one’. Parts made a very powerful impression but, to be honest, I thought the work as a whole more challenging than eloquent; I think it will be some time before I come to terms with it, but I believe that it will be worth persevering, possibly even as rewarding as Britten’s War Requiem. In fact, if I can cast my mind back to the first broadcast of that work, I think my reaction then was similar to that to Lancino now.

I certainly cannot challenge the claim that the sound is spectacular, though even Winamp, which normally joins the music seamlessly, experienced the odd inter-track hiatus. You will have gathered that Lancino, like Britten, has set not just the words of the Tridentine Requiem Mass; the libretto by Pascal Quignard (b.1948) also includes the Song of the Sibyl in French and Greek and ‘David’s’ Psalm 18 – after all, both are mentioned as prophets of the Last Judgement in the Dies iræ: Teste David cum Sibylla. One to try from Naxos Music Library first if you can.

Christmas at St John’s College, Cambridge
A sequence of music leading from the darkness of Advent to the blazing light of Christmas, Epiphany and beyond
Chapel Bell [0:35]
Lenten prose: Rorate cæli [5:21]
O come, O come, Emmanuel [3:25]
Antiphon: O Sapientia [1:00]
Otto GOLDSCHMIDT A tender shoot [2:08]
Herbert HOWELLS A Spotless Rose [3:15]
Lo! He comes with clouds descending [4:44]
Antiphon: O Adonai [1:08]
Edward NAYLOR Vox dicentis: Clama [9:00]
Antiphon: O Radix Iesse [1:02]
Judith BINGHAM The clouded Heaven [4:50]
Antiphon: O Clavis David [1:09]
John RUTTER There is a flower [4:28]
Gustav HOLST This have I done for my true love [5:29]
Antiphon O Oriens [0:57]
Francis POTT Lullay my liking [6:40]
Antiphon O Rex gentium [0:58]
Peter WARLOCK Bethlehem Down [4:49]
Antiphon O Emmanuel [1:00]
MORTEN LAURIDSEN O magnum mysterium [6:50]
O come, all ye faithful [3:54]
Antiphon: Hodie Christus natus est [1:07]
The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/David Hill – rec. 2006. DDD.
pdf booklet with texts and English translations included
HYPERION CDA67576 [74:41] – from (mp3 and lossless)

[‘This is a very fine disc indeed. Though I’ve expressed one or two reservations the overall impression with which I’m left is one of great satisfaction and pleasure. The programme has been assembled with great imagination and the execution is well nigh flawless. When one adds in excellent and very atmospheric sound, first rate notes and texts and translations, it all adds up to a very distinguished package indeed. I shall be surprised if I encounter a finer CD of Christmas music this year.’ See review by John Quinn: Recording of the Month.]

On Christmas Night
John RUTTER (b. 1945)
What sweeter music [4:35]
Traditional French, arr. Stephen JACKSON (b. 1951) Noël nouvelet [3:35]
James BURTON (b. 1974) Balulalow [2:25]
William MATHIAS (1934 -1992) A babe is born, Op.55 [3:24]
Harold DARKE (1888 -1976) In the bleak mid-winter [4:46]
Traditional French, arr.Mack WILBERG (b. 1955) Ding! dong! merrily on high [2:48]
Elizabeth POSTON (1905-1987) Jesus Christ, the apple tree [3:16]
Traditional English, arr.Philip MARSHALL (1921-2005) I saw three ships [2:02]
Sir Richard Rodney BENNETT (b. 1936) Out of your sleep [1:44]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930) Benedicamus Domino [1:25]
John JOUBERT (b. 1927) There is no rose [2:27]
Traditional English, arr. Sir David WILLCOCKS (b. 1919) Tomorrow shall be my dancing day [2:00]
Matthew MARTIN (b. 1976) Adam lay ybounden (2006) [3:13]
Matheo FLECHA the Elder (attrib.) (c.1481-1553) Riu, riu, chiu [2:37]
Tradional English, arr. Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) and Sir Thomas ARMSTRONG (1898-1994) (descant in last verse) O little town of Bethlehem [3:42]
Traditional German, arr. Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621) (verse 1) and Donald CASHMORE (b. 1926) Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen [2:54]
Christopher ROBINSON (b. 1936) Make we joy [2:09]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847), arr. Christopher ROBINSON (b. 1936) (last verse) Hark! the herald angels sing [3:15]
Sir John TAVENER (b. 1944) The Lamb [3:50]
Michael FINNISSY (b. 1946) Telling (2008) [4:06]
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988) Coventry Carol [3:17]
Traditional English, arr. Sir Philip LEDGER (b. 1937) On Christmas night (Sussex Carol) [2:03]
Franz Xaver GRUBER (1787-1863), arr. Sir Philip LEDGER Silent night [3:13]
John Francis WADE (c. 1711-1786), arr. Sir David WILLCOCKS O come, all ye faithful [4:02]
John Challenger (organ)
Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha – rec. January 2011. DDD/DSD
pdf booklet with texts and English translations included
CHANDOS CHAN5096 [74:22] – from (mp3 and 16- and 24-bit lossless)

[‘If I wanted a single disc of Christmas-themed music in my collection I would be happy with this release from Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge.’ – see full review by Michael Cookson]

Two very fine recordings from King’s neighbour. The earlier Hyperion release is for the most part a slightly abridged version of the Advent Carol Service which has now become a tradition at St John’s, while the new Chandos recording offers more traditional Christmas fare, so there is no overlap between them apart from the inevitable O come all ye faithful. Play the Hyperion first – I did so on the eve of Advent Sunday – and reserve the Chandos if you can until Christmas Eve.

Sleep, Holy Babe – A Collection of Christmas Lullabies
Alexander CAMPKIN (b. 1984)
Sleep, Holy Babe * [4:10]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956) A Lullaby * [3:06]
Pierre de MANCHICOURT (c. 1510-1564) O Emanuel (ed. Tom Shorter) * [3:49]
Anthony MUDGE (b. 1974) O magnum mysterium * [3:30]
Trevor LING (b. 1933) Magnificat * [3:38]
Hilary CAMPBELL (b. 1983) Sleep, my dreaming one * [5:01]
Basque Traditional arr. Jonathan RATHBONE (b. 1957) Sing Lullaby * [4:51]
Richard PYGOTT (1484-1549) Quid petis, O Fili? (ed. Tom Shorter) [9:39]
David BEVAN (b. 1951) Magnificat [4:58]
John DUGGAN (b. 1963) O Babe, born bare [2:54]
Daniel BURGES (b. 1975) Coventry Carol * [4:02]
Francis POTT (b. 1957) Lullay, my Liking [7:29]
Blossom Street/Hilary Campbell – rec. March 2011. DDD.
* World Première Recordings
pdf booklet with texts included.
NAXOS 8.572868 [57:07] – from (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

There’s something old here, but mostly something new, with even the Finzi receiving its first recording; only track 7, Sing lullaby, is familiar. I didn’t have time to download this but listened via the Naxos Music Library; it sounds well enough there for me to be confident that the 320kb/s version from will sound even better. The acoustic of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in London is a little cavernous, but that’s not a major problem. The music is a sheer delight and the performances good enough for me to predict that I shall be listening to this a good deal this Christmas and beyond.

Vintage Christmas
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas [3:28]
Let It Snow [3:14]
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town [3:04]
The Christmas Waltz [2:34]
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing [2:21]
The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) [3:58]
Home for the Holidays [2:38]
Christmas Time with You [2:36]
I’ll Be Home for Christmas [3:02]
Silent Night [3:55]
Time with You (duet) [3:14]
Andre Miguel Mayo and Acacia (vocals)
David Ian (piano, guitars, bells)
John Estes (bass, cello)
Brian Fitch (drums)
Booklet included
PRESCOTT RECORDS PR-0001 [34:04] – from (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Jazzy settings of some Christmas standards, several of them with some suitably schmaltzy singing. The booklet, such as it is, is included. I found the whole thing most entertaining though, at just 34 minutes, I’d have liked more of it. You can find more details from


I’ve included many recommendations of seasonal music in earlier years, mostly in the following Roundups – click to follow the links.

* December 2008
* Christmas 2008
* December 2009
* Christmas 2009
* December 2010
* Christmas 2010

There are one or two other reviews which it might be useful to remind you of:

Gerald FINZI Dies Natalis: not exactly Christmas music, despite the title, but a setting of Thomas Traherne’s wonderful evocation of his childhood. I compared recordings on Hyperion and Chandos in the June 2010 Roundup.

I should have added the wonderful recording which Wilfred Brown and Christopher Finzi made for EMI, currently available on a budget-price 5-CD set which also includes the Immortality Ode and some other fine performances of music by VW and Holst: download from for £20.99 on 5099909543355. You may even find the CD set for slightly less than the download. Please refer to Rob Barnett’s review of this and other boxes in the series – here – for full details of the contents. This is still my benchmark for all other recordings and, for all the qualities of those Hyperion and Chandos performances, I play it, in an earlier CD incarnation, more often than any rival version. The set also contains some other staunch favourites of mine.

The original LP coupling was Finzi’s equally wonderful In terra pax, which is a specifically Christmas work. Two recordings are available, from Naxos as part of a Christmas anthology (8.572102 – see review: download from or stream from Naxos Music Library) and on a 2-CD Decca collection of Finzi’s music (468 8072 – see review). Despite Rob Barnett’s ‘well done’, the CD is apparently deleted but the set remains available in mp3 from or stream from Spotify). The Lyrita recording, the return of which RB desired, is now available as SRCD.237: CD or download from in mp3 for £7.49.

In brief

There’s such a wealth or riches this month that I’m recommending some of them in brief.

High on the list is an attractive recording of Concertos for Various Instruments by Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1750). Il Gardellino oblige on Accent ACC24252 – download from (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library. Naxos themselves have done something to make Fasch’s music available but this Accent recording is superb. The mp3 sound is very good and the booklet comes as part of the deal. Only the slightly short playing time [57:40] detracts from the appeal. The same label and performers have an earlier Fasch anthology on ACC24182 – download from German baroque – think Telemann rather than Bach – played with Italianate gusto.

There are also two volumes of Fasch’s music on Chandos (CHAN0751 and CHAN0783) – see November 2011/1 Roundup for Volume 2, where you’ll also find links to Johan van Veen’s review of Volume 1, my review of the Naxos recording of Fasch’s Passion, and other reviews by JV of recordings of Fasch.

At much the same time Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755) was composing in Naples. There’s an attractive collection of his Neapolitan Music for Christmas recorded in 2010 by Roberta Mamelli (soprano), Ursual Eittinger (mezzo), Andreas Post (tenor), Stephan MacLeod (bass) and the Kölner Akademie under Michael Alexander Willens on CPO 777 571-2 [72:51] – from (mp3) or download from Naxos Music Library. There’s a pastoral setting of a Nativity scene, two Magnificats, a Litany of the Virgin Mary and a pastoral Kyrie and Gloria for a Christmas Mass. Most surprisingly, the booklet which comes as part of the deal contains no texts, otherwise everything here is most recommendable.

From an earlier century (c.1610) I’ve already recommended music for Advent and Christmas from Michael PRÆTORIUS (c.1571-c.1621) on Hyperion Helios CDH55446 at budget price – see November 2011/2 Roundup – and there’s a recommendation of a BIS recording of his Christmas music above. I can’t, however, pass by another attractive collection of his Music for Advent and Christmas from the Isaak Ensemble, Heidelberg and the Frankfurter Renaissance Ensemble on Christophorus CHR77142 [74:44] from (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library (also available on mid-price CD with the catalogue number CHE0165-2). A generously timed album, with fresh-voiced singing and enthusiastic wind accompaniment – not over-prominent and enjoyable if not always ideally in tune.

Psallite: a Renaissance Christmas contains music by William BYRD, Josquin DESPREZ, Jakob HANDL, Orlandus LASSUS, John TAVERNER, bothMicheal and Hieronymus PRÆTORIUS et al. Only PEROTIN’s Benedicamus Domino is rather too early to be described as renaissance music. The performers are Chanticleer, directed by Joseph H Jennings and the album is Chanticeleer CR-8806 [59:46]. This is a subdued programme, the singing studied and the tempi often slow by comparison with many of the festive high jinks on offer; it’s none the worse for that, though Now make we joy (tr.5) could have done with being a bit livelier. E la don don and the ubiquitous Riu, riu, chiu (trs.13-14), on the other hand are lively enough. Download in mp3 or lossless for just $7.17 from

There’s no booklet; the texts come with the download of this album, but that’s in mp3 only and costs £7.99. Subscribers to the Naxos Music Library can also obtain the booklet. Though made as long ago as 1982, the recording sounds fine in the lossless download. The physical CD appears to be no longer available, most of the tracks having been incorporated into another album, Our Heart’s Joy: A Chanticleer Christmas.

Earlier still we return to Italy with a collection released in 2003, entitled Christo è nato: Lauding the Nativity in medieval Italy (MSR Classics 1094 [53:09]). The music is by Johannes CICONIA (c.1370-1412), Matteo da PERUGIA (fl.1400-1416) and anonymous works from the Faënza Codex and other collections. The performers are Drew Minter, Mark Rimple, Marcia Young, collectively Trefoil, and the album can be downloaded for £6.30 in mp3 from Whereas all my recommendations from, however, come in 320kb/s sound,’s variable bit-rate doesn’t even quite make it to an acceptable 192kb/s. There are no notes or texts – I understand that there are paraphrases only in the CD booklet, and that is not readily available in the UK anyway – but you can find some details on Drew Minter’s webpage.

Stop Press

If this Roundup is a little later than usual it’s because I waited for the Hyperion recording of Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony, made at the 2011 Proms (CDA67971/2) to be available. For some time now we’ve had a very decent better-than-stop-gap recording pioneered by Marco Polo and reissued on Naxos. That’s not exactly swept away by the new recording but that’s now the version of choice. I’ll say more next time – meanwhile read Rob Barnett’s review (Recording of the Month and Musicweb International's newly announced Recording of the Year) and you’ll find that you needn’t wait for two weeks for that next Roundup. The lossless version of the recording is excellent – sounding, as expected, better than the DAB version of the BBC broadcast on the night. When will the BBC realise that 192kb/s – too often reduced to 160 kb/s – is no longer acceptable for classical music? The imminent end of analogue TV should give them the necessary room to improve their offering.

This is Hyperion’s sole December release, but their January releases are already available to download - here.



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