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JUNE 2011/1 DOWNLOAD ROUNDUP

Brian Wilson

Those who are searching for the previous, May/2 Roundup will find it here. All earlier Roundups can be found here.

In this Roundup I’m reviewing the third release on the very promising new Resonus Classics label – download only in a variety of formats from mp3 to 24-bit. At the same time, Beulah are retreating slightly from the download-only option and offering to burn a CD of your choice, like High Definition Tape Transfers, who will also burn your tracks onto DVD. For their and my convenience, Beulah already supply me with the tracks for each month on a disc in mp3 form, which I then transfer to my external hard drive for playing via Squeezebox.

Recording of the Month

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Piano Trio No.1 in c minor, ‘Poème’, Op.8 (1923) [11:31]
Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok, Op.127 (1967) [25:16]
Piano Trio No.2 in e minor, Op.67 (1944) [25:04]
Susan Gritton (soprano)
The Florestan Trio (Susan Tomes (piano); Anthony Marwood (violin); Richard Lester (cello)
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, January and October, 2010. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
HYPERION CDA67834 [61:53] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Sadly this is scheduled as the Florestan Trio’s last recording before they go their separate ways; in this line-up and with other partners as Domus they have given us some very fine performances. We weren’t short of performances of one or both of the Piano Trios – MDT list 36 recordings in all price ranges and amazon.co.uk have 51 downloads, though some are duplications There’s even strong competition for this exact coupling, from the Beaux Arts Trio (Warner 2564625142), but the Florestan Trio can compete with the best. I can’t remember a performance of the First Trio that lived up to the sub-title Poème so well. Sometimes this sounds like a mere makeweight coupled with the Second Trio, but the quality of the performance here and the fact that the Blok Romances separate the two works means that there need be no invidious comparison.

Susan Gritton’s singing is ideal, too – bleak and powerful without exaggeration – but it’s the Second Piano Trio that inevitably emerges as the major work here. From the opening andante, you know instinctively that this is going to be a first-rate performance, and so it proves. With Hyperion’s usual quality of recording and a booklet to match, this is strongly recommended.

If, for any reason, the Blok Romances don’t appeal, there’s an excellent performance of the two Piano Trios, coupled with Schnittke, on Nimbus (NI5572 – see 5-star review): buy from MusicWeb International at an attractive price, or download from classicsonline.com (mp3).

Two other Shostakovich chamber music recordings that have been favourably reviewed in these Roundups:
- String Quartets 11, 13 and 15: Hyperion – St Petersburg Quartet (January 2011)
- String Quartets 4 & 7; Piano Quintet: Linn – Brown/Schidlof Quartet (September 2009)

Discovery of the Month

Philipp SCHOENDORFF (1565/70-in or after 1617) Complete Works
Philippe de MONTE (1521-1603) Usquequo Domine oblivisceris me? 6vv (1587) [5:25]
Philipp SCHOENDORFF Missa Usquequo Domine 6vv [17:19]
Magnificat sexti toni 5vv (1593) [6:32]
Te decet hymnus 5vv (1600) [2:25]
Philippe de MONTE Magnificat quarti toni 4vv (1602) [6:32]
Philipp SCHOENDORFF Veni Sancte Spiritus 5vv (1600) [2:17]
Philippe de MONTE La dolce vista della donna mia 6vv [2:16]
Philipp SCHOENDORFF Missa super ‘La dolce vista’ (1594) [17:12]
Cinquecento Renaissance Vokal (Terry Wey, Jakob Huppmann (counter-tenor); Tore Tom Denys, Thomas Künne (tenor); Tim Scott Whiteley (baritone); Ulfried Staber (bass))
rec. Kloster Pernegg, Waldviertel, Austria, 21-23 April 2010. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
HYPERION CDA67854 [60:02] – from Hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Hands up all those who had even heard of Philipp Schoendorff? Me neither, but I’m amazed that this particular luminary has been hidden under a bushel for so long. Perhaps it’s because so little of his music has survived – even eked out here with music by Philippe de Monte there’s only an hour*, but, as performed by Cinquecento and recorded by Hyperion, his light now shines brightly. Nor is the inclusion of music by de Monte a mere filler – the motet with which the programme opens features in Schoendorff’s Mass of the same name and the parody Mass which ends the recording is also based on the preceding work by de Monte, under whose direction Schoendorff worked for Rudolf II at Prague Castle.

The (lossless) recording is excellent and the booklet is the usual high-quality Hyperion production, though I question the use of a modern translation of Psalm 12 (13) which differs slightly from the Latin text employed. (The Book of Common Prayer version would have been a much closer representation of the Latin.) You’ll either love or hate the Arcimboldo painting of fruit and veg made into a human face which has been used for the cover. A splendid addition to the four very fine earlier recordings which Cinquecento have made for Hyperion:
- de MONTE Missa Ultima miei sospiri CDA67658 (March 2009 DL Roundup and review)
- REGNART Missa super Œniades Nymphæ : CDA67640 – see review
-
VAET Missa ego flos campi, etc. CDA67733 (May 2009 DL Roundup and CD review: Recording of the Month here)
- Music for the Court of Maximilian II: CDA67579 – see review

Two of these earlier recordings have, inexplicably, languished briefly in the ‘please buy me’ category: don’t let that happen to the new recording.

* The booklet says 60:02 but the Hyperion website 59:55.

***

Francisco de PEÑALOSA (c.1470-1528)
Missa Ave Maria peregrina 4vv [34:59]
Sacris solemniis 4vv [6:14]
Missa Nunca fue pena mayor 4vv [24:47]
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral/James O’Donnell
rec. July 1992, Westminster Cathedral, London
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55326 [66:30] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Scheduled for reissue on CD in July 2011, this is available to download now – ignore the statement to the contrary. If your exploration of Spanish polyphony hasn’t yet reached as far as Peñalosa, this is an ideal opportunity to do so in style: performances of renaissance choral music from Westminster Cathedral and Hyperion are practically self-recommending, and the attractive new price makes this a proposition not to be ignored.

Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585)
Jesu salvator sæculi [4:14]
Gaude gloriosa [17:20]
Sermone blando angelus [5:16]
Magnificat a5 [10:28]
Nunc dimittis a5 [3:15]
Mihi autem nimis [2:28]
Absterge Domine [5:49]
Derelinquat impius [3:55]
Loquebantur variis linguis [3:58]
Suscipe quæso, Domine [9:05]
O nata lux [1:57]
The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood
rec. Arundel Castle, 2005. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
HYPERION CDA67548 [67:45] – from Hyperion-records.co.uk (CD, mp3 and lossless)

I was surprised – shocked even – to discover that such an excellent recording has been selling so poorly as to end up in Hyperion’s ‘please buy me category’ at half price. It won’t be there when you read this review, but I do strongly urge all lovers of renaissance polyphony to buy it in one form or another. Remember that the mp3 and lossless recordings both come with the pdf booklet and at only £7.99. I recommended it in my Tallis Scholars at 30 survey as an important extra purchase alongside the Scholars’ recordings of their namesake, but I’m featuring it here again in order to emphasise its importance.

Where the two are in direct competition, for example in Gaude gloriosa, I expressed a preference for the Scholars: in this piece, the slightly slower tempo and the slight insecurity of the lower voices on Hyperion make me prefer the Gimell recording. Chapelle du Roi on Volume 3 of their complete series (Signum SIGCD003, Music for Queen Mary) are also just that little faster than The Cardinall’s Musick and their performance comes off very well. Subscribers to the Naxos Music Library can compare the Signum recording with the Gimell.

There is, however, enough wonderful music on the Hyperion which is not included in the budget-price 2-CD Gimell set, The Tallis Scholars sing Thomas Tallis (CDGIM203 ) and enough fine singing in most of the programme to repeat my championing of this as a most valuable extra.

Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611) Missa Vidi speciosam and Motets
Ave Maria a 4 [2:48]
Ave maris stella [6:24]
Ne timeas, Maria [3:23]
Sancta Maria, succurre miseris [4:48]
Vidi speciosam – Quae est ista [7:04]
Missa Vidi speciosam [19:26]
Westminster Cathedral Choir/David Hill – rec. March 1984. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
HYPERION CDH55358 [43:53] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

This recording is in a transitional state: the CD is still listed as CDA66129 but it’s already available for download at the reduced price of £4.99 – a pound less than usual for the Helios label, in reflection of the short-ish contents. The new booklet is not yet available but there is a usable scanned copy of the original, with English notes and the texts in English and Latin, so there’s no need to wait. The music, as usual from Victoria, challenges even the greatest of his contemporaries, Palestrina, and the performances do it full justice. There’s just one roughish patch in the Credo where the trebles wobble; that should have been retaken, but the rest is as good as we have come to expect from the collaboration between Hyperion and Westminster Cathedral.

Victoria’s Missa Dum complerentur is also due to be reissued on the Helios label in September 2011, but isn’t yet available at the lower price.

Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672)
Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener in Friede fahren, SWV 432 [4:00]
Ich bin die Auferstehung und das Leben, SWV 464 [3:36]
Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener in Friede fahren, SWV 433 [3:18]
Das ist je gewißlich wahr, SWV 277 [4:43]
Musicalische Exequien, SWV279-281 [32:44]
Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654) Wir glauben all an einen Gott* [3:15]
Martin LUTHER (1483-1546) Mit Fried’ und Freud’ ich fahr’ dahin [3:28]
Vox Luminis (Sara Jäggi, Zsuzsi Tóth, Helen Cassano and Kerlijne van Nevel (sopranos); Barnabás Hegyi and Jan Kullmann (counter-tenors); Philippe Froeliger, Satoshi Mizukoshi, Robert Buckland and Olivier Berten (tenors); Bertrand Delvaux and Lionel Meunier (basses); Ricardo Rodríguez Miranda (bass viol); Masato Suzuki (portative organ))/Lionel Meunier – * Bernard Foucroulle (organ) – rec. 1999.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations available from Naxos Music Library.
RICERCAR RIC311 [55:08] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Most of Schütz’s music is spare, partly as a result of the reduced forces available after the depredations of the Thirty Years War, partly, as in the case of the Matthäus-Passion, because of liturgical restrictions. The music on this recording manages to be both spare and rich, thanks to the qualities of Schütz’s writing and to the quality of the performances, though only a bass viol and chamber organ are used as accompaniment. The Musicalische Exequien comprises a German funeral service or ‘concert’ to a set of texts prepared for his own funeral by Heinrich Reus Posthumus – what a wonderful name for a compiler of funeral texts – and inscribed on his own coffin.

The ‘concert’ itself is short, so all recordings add various other Schütz works. To the Musical Exequies Lionel Meunier and his team have added two other beautiful Schütz settings of the Nunc Dimittis and of other texts appropriate to a funeral, plus an organ voluntary by Samuel Scheidt, one of Schütz’s greatest contemporaries, and a short work by Martin Luther.

The 1987/88 recording by La Chapelle Royale and Philippe Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi Gold HMG501261 – download for £3.64 or less from eMusic.com, but without any texts*) contains a different selection of additional works – three motets and two pieces from Petits Concerts Spirituels II – that means that I’m recommending at least two recordings, though you can have them both for less than the price of one CD. If I were pressed to make just one choice, I might still lean towards the greater variety of instrumentation on Herreweghe’s recording, but only by a small margin.

Some sloppy proof-reading turns fahren into fahen twice in the German text of Nunc dimittis; otherwise the Ricercar booklet – available from the Naxos Music Library but not with the download, a serious omission – is first-rate.

Classicsonline.com also have the Coro recording with The Sixteen and Harry Christophers, this time coupled with the German Magnificat, SWV494, the same two German versions of Nunc Dimittis, SWV432 and 433, as on the Ricercar recording and two pieces from the Symphoniæ sacræ. (COR16036 – here.) Having listened via the Naxos Music Library, I can confirm that this, too, is a strong runner, especially for those admirers of The Sixteen. In general the tempi are slightly faster than on Ricercar: the Exequien take 28:11 against 32:44 from Meunier and 34:52 from Herreweghe. This time the booklet does come with the download as well as from the Naxos Library, though the playing time of 50 minutes is short – none of these recordings is exactly over-filled.

On the basis of owning the original ASV CD from which it’s licensed, let me also recommend a Musical Concepts super-budget recording of works by Schütz, including a short extract from the Exequien (ALC1118, Pro Cantione Antiqua/Edgar Fleet, £4.99, with notes – download from classicsonline.com).

* £7.99 from classicsonline.com – still without the booklet, but in 320kb/s quality throughout: eMusic downloads tend to be at variable bit-rates.

Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) Nymphs and Shepherds
Manchester Schools Children’s Choir; Hallé Orchestra/Sir Hamilton Harty – rec.1929 ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 11BX25 [3:19] – from Beulah (mp3)

It sounds rather twee now, but this recording was a frequently requested favourite on the BBC for over 30 years and there are still plenty of Mancunians and exiles whose (grand)parents, (great) aunts and uncles sang in this and the B-side Humperdinck (below), so it should find a ready market, even in these days when we demand much better recording and greater authenticity – the original in Orpheus Britannicus is for solo soprano and harpsichord, as performed by Nancy Argenta on a budget-price twofer, Virgin 5618662, but not, surprisingly, on Hyperion’s Complete Secular Songs of Purcell.


François COUPERIN (1668-1733) Les Concerts Royaux, Nos.1-4
Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall – rec. 2004 (?) DDD.
ALIA VOX AVSA9840 [62:43] – from passionato.com (mp3)

Les Concerts Royaux No.3 in A
Camerata Instrumentale der Hamburger Telemann-Gesellschaft – rec.1959. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 1BX135 [18:12] – from Beulah (mp3)

Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764) Sonata No.VIII in D: Trio avec un violon ou flute allemande, viole et clavecin
Camerata Instrumentale der Hamburger Telemann-Gesellschaft – rec.1959. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 2BX135 [9:19] – from Beulah (mp3)

The two Beulah reissues, 1BX135 and 2BX135, are taken from an award-winning DGG Archiv LP released in 1961 – French music played better than any French ensemble, according to a contemporary review. Since then we’ve had many recommendable recordings of Couperin ‘le Grand’ and Leclair, but these two reissues, still sounding stylish, are well worth their modest price, even if you have other recordings. The sound is a little dry, but not to the extent that it interferes with listening enjoyment. The Archiv LP also contained two works by Boismortier – perhaps we may have those, too, in due course.

If you purchase the Beulah Couperin for just £1.25, you may well wish to investigate the other Concerts royaux, in which case you can’t do better than Jordi Savall from passionato.com. There’s surprisingly little difference in the chosen tempi on the two recordings. Passionato also have the Trio Sonnerie performances of the complete Concerts on ASV, in mp3 and lossless versions, but most will prefer the rather faster tempi which Jordi Savall sets and his more colourful instrumental line-up. His version is less expensive (£5.99) than the ASV, though in mp3 only, without the lossless option – a shame in view of the fact that the hard disc equivalent is a hybrid SACD.

The Leclair, billed as ‘Sonata No.VIII’ on the Archiv LP and the Beulah website, but (wrongly) given as ‘Sonata No.7’ on the track information, is a Trio Sonata for violin or flute, viol and keyboard. It is Op.2/7 and, as with the Couperin, the performance still sounds stylish even by comparison with the modern recording of the complete chamber music with flute, played by Fenwick Smith et al, on Naxos 8.557440/1. Once again purchase of the Beulah will probably lead you to the classicsonline.com download of the Naxos set – here – or at least to hearing the set from the Naxos Music Library.

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto in e minor for bassoon, strings and continuo, RV484
Marco Constantini (bassoon); I Musici/Maria Teresa Garatti (harpsichord) – rec.1960. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 2BX147 [11:44] – from Beulah (mp3)

Concerto in G for two mandolins, strings and organ continuo, RV532
Gino del Vescovo, Tommaso Ruta (mandolins); I Musici/ Maria Teresa Garatti (organ) – rec.1960. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 3BX147 [12:14] – from Beulah (mp3)

Circa 1962, I used to think I Musici’s Vivaldi and the music of his Italian contemporaries the last word in authenticity – smaller-scale and rhythmically more enticing than the likes of Karl Münchinger and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. Now their style seems almost as dated as Münchinger’s, with steady, rather sedate fast movements. It’s not so much a matter of timing – the Naïve recording of RV484 (OP30496) is only seconds shorter. Nevertheless, I enjoyed re-hearing I Musici in these two concertos, especially in RV532 where the playing is as lively as one could wish. Those who think modern period-instrument performances too fast and lacking in emotional engagement will enjoy them even more, especially as the recordings sound so well in these transfers.

The Four Seasons, Op.8/1-4
Julian Olevsky (violin); Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Hermann Scherchen – rec.1959. ADD/stereo.
BEULAH EXTRA 1-4BX148 [45:19] – from Beulah (mp3)

I approached this recording extremely doubtful that we needed a reissued version of the Four Seasons of this vintage. The fact that this recording first appeared in the UK on the budget Music for Pleasure label in 1968 suggests that it wasn’t too highly regarded even in the 1960s. Certainly Spring opens very quietly and rather heavily from the orchestra, but there’s some light and impressive fiddling from Olevsky and there’s a real feeling of variety – if anything, the contrast between louder and softer sections is too marked.

The slow movement observes the indication in the score for the viola, imitating the goatherd’s dog, to play louder than the rest, an indication which not everyone observes. (Si deve suonare sempre molto forte, e strappato). The overall tempo for this movement is much slower than is now the norm, but not to the extent that I found objectionable – after all, the goatherd is asleep. I did, however, feel like getting out to push the tempo along in the Spring finale and several times in the later concertos. The hunters in the Autumn concerto are never going to catch their prey at this pace. The Beulah transfer of the recording – originally made by Westminster (?) – still sounds well.

By 1968 the Vox Turnabout recording made by Susanne Lautenbacher and the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra under Jörg Faerber had stolen the budget-price market, a version which I owned for many years and would really like to see reissued in the UK – I believe that it’s available from Vox in the US. The best modern-instrument CD or download comes from Alan Loveday and the ASMF with Neville Marriner (Decca Originals 475 7531: Download of the Month – see September 2009 Download Roundup).

Leonardo LEO (1694-1744)
Concerto in D for cello, strings and continuo
Enzo Altobelli (cello); I Musici/Maria Teresa Garatti (harpsichord) – rec.1960. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 1BX147 [17:06] – from Beulah (mp3)

Like the Vivaldi (above) this is taken from an early-1960s recording, SABL199, with music by Durante and Pergolesi, which I remember borrowing from the University Music Library. Leonardo Leo was not exactly a household name then, nor is he now, so I Musici’s championing of his music was and remains praiseworthy. I may not think I Musici the last word in baroque performance, as I did then, but this recording remains enjoyable – a little dogged in places, especially in the finale, but the playing is mainly sprightly, certainly by comparison with the almost contemporary Olevsky-Scherchen Vivaldi Seasons (above) and the recording has transferred very well.

If you wish to explore Leo’s Cello Concertos further, all six are offered on a 2-CD set at super-budget price from Brilliant Classics, 93681, around £8.50 in the UK. (See the review of the larger box set from which these six concertos are taken – here.)

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No.53 in D [24:08]
– with alternative finale (Sinfonia in D, Hob. Ia.7) [4:00]
Symphony No.54 in G [31:02]
Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Fey – rec.? (P) and (C) 2011. DDD.
Pdf booklet included.
HÄNSSLER 98.626 [62:10] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

This is the Volume Fifteen of the series, so by now its virtues are generally known. The music of Haydn’s middle period is free from the Sturm und Drang drama of the preceding works but still very enjoyable when it’s as well played as here – stylish modern-instrument performances that take account of period practice even more than the ground-breaking Decca series with Antal Dorati or Colin Davis’s splendid set of the London Symphonies. The recording sounds well in good mp3.

I recommended a number of Haydn downloads in 2009, including some earlier volumes from this Hänssler series, but so far haven’t included these two symphonies among my recommendations: consider them recommended.

André GRÉTRY (1741-1813) Céphale et Procris: ballet (arr. Mottl)
Le grand Orchestre symphonique de l’INR Belge, Bruxelles/Franz André – rec.1952. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 1BX138 [9:18] – from Beulah (mp3)

Grétry’s music is Beecham lollipop territory: his Suite from Zémire et Azore has just been reissued. (Beecham conducts French Music, EMI 9099322, 6 CDs at super-budget price – see review). The Céphale et Procis ballet is equally enjoyable, though just lacking the Beecham magic. The recording is rather muffled – it sounds older than 1952, more like a 78 rpm recording of the 1940s – but acceptable and free from surface noise. Even in 1952 I note that a reviewer felt that the recording needed a treble boost, and I think the transfer would have benefited from a slight lift. André’s orchestra are no baroque specialists, though their playing is mostly lively enough, so the performance of Mottl’s arrangement sounds more like the kind of realisation that Walton or Respighi made of music of the period, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I enjoy Walton’s Wise Virgins ballet and the like. (See the November 2008 Roundup for the Chandos recording of the Walton).

Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Étude in c minor, Op.10/12* [2:39]
Prelude in A-flat, Op.28/17** [4:02]
Waltz in c-sharp minor, Op.64/2*** [3:25]
Étude in G-flat, Op.25/7^ [4:25]
Étude in c minor, Op.10/5^^ [2:07]
Ignacy Jan Paderewski (piano) – rec.1917***, 1923^ and 1928. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 1BX136*, 2BX136**, 2BX136***, 4BX136^, 5BX136^^ [16:39] – from Beulah (mp3)

Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Étude de Concert in f minor
Ignacy Jan Paderewski (piano) – rec.1923. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 6BX136 [4:49] – from Beulah (mp3)

Ignacy Paderewski’s Chopin and Liszt is holy ground on which I almost fear to tread: like Albert Schweitzer, he was so famous for his extra-musical activities that his playing is almost beyond criticism. His very name became so synonymous with pianistic virtuosity that it was often used as a nickname, as in the long-running comedy programme It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, where it was applied (mispronounced) to the Cambridge-graduate pianist Gunner Graham.

I started with the 1923 Liszt recording, made when he was widely regarded as the greatest living pianist, even though he had only recently returned from his political to his musical career. The first surprise was how good the recording sounded, considering its age, the second that the style of playing didn’t sound completely alien, with sparing use of right-hand-before-left. There is some asynchronous playing – that used to be the style, though it was already becoming old-fashioned – but it’s perfectly tolerable. I didn’t find it enlightening, as I did the Chopin, however.

In Chopin, too, the sound is more than tolerable, though the 1917 G-flat Étude is less than ideal, and the playing still holds up well. These are important historical documents, but they’re much more, too, especially hearing Chopin from a Polish pianist only a couple of generations removed from the composer.

Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Overture in g minor
Queen’s Hall Orchestra/Sir Henry Wood – rec.1937. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 9BX3 [8:48] – from Beulah (mp3)

Now that Bruckner’s Symphonies and Masses are firmly established repertoire, this attractive but untypical Overture isn’t often performed: I believe the only current rival is offered as a filler to Lovro von Matacic’s recording of the ‘Romantic’ Symphony on Testament SBT1050. Sir Henry Wood gives a jaunty performance and few allowances have to be made for the recording.

Symphony No.9 in d minor (ed. Robert Haas)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Bruno Walter – rec.1960. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 1-3BX145 [58:24] – from Beulah (mp3)

It was from Walter’s and Klemperer’s Bruckner and Mahler – a mixture of the two in my case – that most of those of my age came to know those composers. Bruckner’s Ninth was the exception for me, with Jochum on an inexpensive DGG Heliodor early stereo recording providing the gateway, and I had never actually caught up with this classic performance until now.

As recently as 2008 the Sony reissue of this ‘Indian Summer’ recording was being used as the benchmark against which new recordings of the Ninth were judged and often found wanting. Walter was less inclined to tempo shifts than Jochum and, though I maintain a great liking for the latter, with his Bruckner CDs still forming the backbone of my collection*, there’s plenty of room for Walter’s steadier hand, too.

The recording was good for its time and, despite some haziness at the very beginning, still sounds well enough for this to be the prime recommendation for many listeners. There’s an earlier (1952) Walter recording of the Ninth on Archipel and Walter’s Bruckner Fourth remains available from Sony, but the Sony CD of the Ninth seems to have been deleted, so this Beulah download and one from Amazon.co.uk are the only shows currently in town, with the Beulah working out less expensive at £4.00 for the three tracks than the Amazon at £7.49.

* Currently available only as a complete 9-CD set at budget price, DG 469 8102. Download the 2-CD DG Originals coupling of Symphonies 8 and 9 from passionato.com (449 7582).

Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)
Piano Music Vol. 5
Sospiro ‘Valse poétique’ RO241 Op. 24 [2:54]
Marguerite ‘Grande valse brillante, valse sentimentale’ RO158 Op. 76 [4:16]
Bataille ‘Étude de concert’ RO25 Op. 63 [8:27]
Réponds-moi ‘Danse cubaine, caprice brillant’ RO225 Op. 50 [3:17]
Solitude RO239 Op. 65 [4:28]
8ème ballade RO16 Op. 90 [10:34]
Tremolo ‘Grande étude de concert’ RO265 Op. 58 [6:05]
Orfa ‘Grande polka’ RO186 Op. 71 [2:57]
El cocoyé ‘Grand caprice cubain de bravura’ RO57 Op. 80 [7:00]
Polka de salon RO207 Op. 1 [3:30]
Rayons d’azur ‘Polka de salon’ RO220 Op. 77 [3:35]
La chasse du jeune Henri RO53 Op. 10 [9:35]
rec. January 2001, All Saints, Durham Road, East Finchley, London, UK. DDD.
HYPERION CDA67248 [66:00] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Musical mavericks don’t come more intriguing than this; born in New Orleans to a Jewish father and a Creole mother, Louis Moreau Gottschalk was rejected by the Paris Conservatoire and returned to the US before embarking on a concert career in South America. Like Liszt he wrote and performed his own pieces, gaining a reputation as something of a keyboard wizard. Happily, Hyperion engaged Irish-born pianist Philip Martin to record Gottschalk’s œuvre for piano, in a series that spans eight volumes; I came across this fifth instalment on CD a few years ago, and was so astounded by both the music and the music-making that I went out and bought the remaining discs.

On the main MusicWeb International site I’ve reviewed a number of Hyperion’s piano recordings and have always been most impressed by the unforced naturalness of their ‘house sound’; few labels are as consistently satisfying in this respect, and I’m pleased to report this Gottschalk cycle is no exception.

For those new to this composer, his music can best be described as virtuosic yet refreshingly refined and original. And it’s these qualities that make Martin’s performances so compelling; there’s inner detail, subtle shading and rhythmic sophistication, all presented in a warm, clear acoustic. Just listen to the start of Sospiro; it’s almost as if one’s eavesdropped on a musical doodle, which soon morphs into a delightfully sprung little waltz. Martin’s fluent playing is simply astonishing, the intimate scale of this music supremely well judged.

And it just gets better; the winsome waltz Marguerite is buoyed by a gentle bass line, and one has to marvel at how Martin makes the first part of Bataille sing so. A concert étude it may be, but there’s introspection here too, only modulating into something more flamboyant later. Whatever the mood or manner, Martin seems to respond intuitively to Gottschalk’s demands; just listen to how he articulates the slinky Cuban rhythms of Réponds-moi for instance, or the swirling thistle that is Solitude. This is simply gorgeous, a blend of spontaneity and charm that’s a joy to hear.

After the wandering, rather Schumannesque 8ème ballade comes Tremolo, Gottschalk’s pièce de resistance. This is one of those pianistic miracles that will either leave you gasping or laughing out loud – perhaps even a bit of both. The title is self-explanatory, but suffice to say that Martin makes short work of this challenging piece. If you download just one track from this album – heretical as that may seem – then let this be the one. It’s jaw-dropping, I assure you, and will have you reaching for the repeat button.

How do you follow that? Well, the ‘grand polka’ Orfa certainly makes a strong impression; there’s a blend of elegance and brio here, the recording faithfully picking up the discreet bass underpinnings and sparkling treble. Even in the stormy chords of El cocoyé there’s no trace of congestion or hint of strain; piano sound doesn’t come better than this, Gottschalk’s jewel-like figures very well captured by the Hyperion team. I know this piece intimately, and yet it always sounds fresh and spontaneous, with none of the artifice or expressive overload one might expect from such a showpiece.

Rayons d’azur is another of Gottschalk’s perky little polkas, restrained and florid by turns but always beautifully shaped and shaded. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine these pieces being more sympathetically played – or recorded – La chasse du jeune Henri a consummation of all that’s gone before. Articulation, dynamics and rhythms are beyond reproach, making this the perfect sign-off for an altogether enchanting recital.

This is my first Hyperion download – I chose the ‘CD-quality’ flacs rather than the mp3s – and once I’d installed their DL Manager the process was simplicity itself. Including the pdf booklet as part of the download is a nice touch, and one that others would do well to emulate. A must-hear for all pianophiles and those who appreciate top-notch recordings.

Dan Morgan

[As Dan had reviewed the lossless version, I decided to try the mp3 equivalent and can report that the sound is more than satisfactory in that format, too, even though Hyperion employ a variable bit-rate rather than a rigid 320kb/s for their mp3s – their belief is that 320k is not always necessary. As for the music and performances, they are all that Dan says.

I think you’ll want to try some of the other Hyperion volumes, too, or go for the 2-CD Vox recording made by Eugene List with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Berlin Symphony under Igor Buketoff and Samuel Adler – download from classicsonline.com (CDX-5009, mp3 only, for £9.99, complete with booklet). The CD equivalents of these performances are at the front of a cabinet where I can get at them easily: La Nuit des Tropiques (A Night in the Tropics, CD2) is a regular favourite. Try it first, if you can, from the Naxos Music Library, where you’ll also find rival Eugene List recordings of Gottschalk from Vanguard. BW.]

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Hungarian Dances, Nos.1-3, 5-7 and 10.
Hamburg Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt – rec.1953. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 1-7BX144 [19:00] – from Beulah (mp3)

Lively performances of this music, with a zigeuner lilt – performers from Brahms’s native Hamburg, yet playing like true Hungarians. The recording, first issued on a 10" LP, is a trifle muddy in the bass and shrill on top, but not so that it would spoil your enjoyment. Indeed, judging by the 1954 review comments, Beulah have managed to tame some of the shrillness and there’s no significant surface noise. If you are looking for all the Hungarian Dances at budget price, you can’t do better than the Budapest Symphony Orchestra under István Bogár on Naxos 8.550110 – from classicsonline.com – one of their earliest CDs which I bought in the days when only Woolworths sold Naxos, and still one of the best.

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No.2 in c minor, Op.17 (‘Little Russian’)
Cincinatti Symphony Orchestra/Sir Eugene Goossens – rec.1941. ADD/mono
World premiere recording.
BEULAH EXTRA 1-4BX149 [30:07] – from Beulah (mp3)

Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony earned its nickname ‘Little Russian’ because of its use of Ukrainian folk tunes. Though it’s still the least-known of the cycle, it seems incredible that such a tuneful and attractive work had to wait until 1941 for its first recording, from RCA Victor. Beulah, who have already given us this performance on CD (1PD11, with the Fifth Symphony, available as a download from iTunes), now follow up with this recommendable separate download. The sound is surprisingly good for its age and the lively performance was certainly worth preserving.

Symphony No.6 in b minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Charles Munch – rec.1948. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 6-9BX32 [46:16] – from Beulah (mp3)

Munch re-recorded the Pathétique at least once, in 1962 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (SB6550), a version which did not meet with much critical acclaim – indeed when it was reissued on CD, there were unfavourable comparisons with ‘the Munch of old’. Here is that ‘Munch of old’ in a convincing performance of the symphony, nothing to mark down on my critical slate, but nothing that throws any fresh light on the work either. The 1948 recording was still deemed good enough to be issued on LP in 1951. It won’t spoil your enjoyment of the performance, though it sounds more restricted than I had expected for its date. As usual, Beulah have delivered a transfer free of extraneous noises.

Johan SVENDSEN (1840-1911)
Carnival in Paris, Episode, Op.9
Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra/Nikolai Malko – rec.1950. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 1BX131 [10:29] – from Beulah (mp3)

The recording shows its age more than the Elgar Cello Concerto (below). Its roughness was commented on in reviewing a rival recording as long ago as 1954, but that doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of this lively performance of a lightweight piece.


André MESSAGER (1853-1929) Les deux Pigeons: Suite
Orchestra of the Opéra Comique, Paris/Richard Blareau – rec.1952. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 1BX139 [] – from Beulah (mp3)

Unfortunately I didn’t notice until I was about to finalise this roundup that my review disc didn’t contain this recording. I hope to be able to put matters right in the June/2 Roundup.

Three recordings which were contained on the June 2011 disc have already been reviewed in my May/1 Roundup: Elgar Falstaff (Boult 25BX12), Beethoven Symphony No.3 (Boult 26-29BX12) and Rossini La Gazza Ladra Overture (Beinum 7BX37)

Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921) Hänsel und Gretel: Overture
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult – rec.1932. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 31BX12 [7:24] – from Beulah (mp3)

This sounds well for its age and the performance is as reliable as almost any Boult recording of any vintage is bound to be. Now that concerts so rarely begin with an overture and symphonies which used to have an overture coupling on LP now run to two symphonies, there’s certainly a place for this reissue.

Hänsel und Gretel: Dance Duet
Manchester Schools Children’s Choir; Hallé Orchestra/Sir Hamilton Harty – rec.1929 ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 10BX25 [3:14] – from Beulah (mp3)

This is the flip side of the famous Purcell recording (above). It’s equally twee or charming, depending on your point of view and, perhaps, if you have or had a distant relative who sang then. Like the Purcell, the sound is amazingly clear for its age.

Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
The Eternal Gospel, Legend for soprano, tenor, chorus and orchestra (1913)* [18.45]
The Ballad of Blaník (1919) [8.02]
The Fiddler’s Child, Ballad for solo violin and orchestra (1913)** [11.46]
The Excursions of Mr Brouček, Suite for orchestra (1908-17) [20.58]
Gwyneth-Ann Jeffers (soprano: Angel), Adrian Thompson (tenor: Joachim of Fiore), Edinburgh Festival Chorus*; Elizabeth Layton (violin)**
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Ilan Volkov – rec. June 2004 and January 2005. DDD
HYPERION CDA67517 [59.54] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 or lossless)

Of this 2005 Recording of the Month, Evan Dickerson wrote: ‘There are several reasons to give this disc an unqualified welcome. All Janáček fans should be acquiring it without delay, and those as yet unconverted should seriously consider it. Sixty minutes may be slightly short measure for some but it is quality all the way.’ (see review). To which I would only add that the reduced price for the download (£6.99 instead of the usual £7.99) takes account of the short-ish length.

Despite all that, it’s found its way onto Hyperion’s half-price ‘please buy me list’. Do, please, buy it in one form or another. Even though the £5.60 offer for the CD will have ended by the time that you read this, the download is almost as good a bargain.

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No.1 in c minor op.68 [44:06]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Variations on an Original Theme Op.36, ‘Enigma’* [30:26]
John Douglas Todd interviews Sir Adrian Boult (extract from 85th birthday broadcast) [3.32]
George Thalben Ball organ*
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 March 1971 (Elgar); 17 August 1976 (Brahms); BBC Studios, 25 March 1974 (interview). Stereo ADD.
Pdf booklet included in download
ICA CLASSICS ICAC1509 [78:21] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

Sir Edward ELGAR Variations on an Original Theme Op.36, ‘Enigma’
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult – rec.1936. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 30BX12 [26:10] – from Beulah (mp3)

Of the three great Bs who introduced me to much of the classical music repertoire, Beecham, Boult and Barbirolli, I’m beginning to realise how important Boult was in the pantheon. These rather topless BBC recordings from the 1970s may not present him in the best sonic light – perhaps that’s why we haven’t had them released on the BBC Classics label – but the performances were well worth preserving.

In typical Boult fashion, his Brahms steers a middle course, which sounds unadventurous or even boring in print, yet is anything but in practice. The ‘big’ tune in the finale is just right – with enough emotional weight, but never allowed to linger too long – and by this stage the recording seems to have brightened somewhat, though it’s never ideal. The roar of approval at the end is more than justified. Aficionados of Boult’s Brahms may also wish to note that classicsonline.com have a number of his 1950s recordings for £1.99, including the First Symphony and Tragic Overture on 9.80228 – not available in the USA.

The Enigma post-dates Boult’s fourth (?) and last studio recording of 1970 (now EMI Masters 6317832, with Holst Planets – see review) and makes a fascinating comparison with the Beulah reissue of his 1936 version. Some reviewers found problems with both his 1960s World Record Club (later Classics for Pleasure) and 1970 versions, but few, I think, will fail to yield to this ICA recording. Even the sound is better here than in the Brahms, though it dates from earlier. The overall tempo had slowed over the years but Boult remained a firm hand in Elgar, even in the versions of the symphonies which he recorded in the 1970s for Lyrita (SRCD221) – not his best, I think, but that’s a personal and comparative view based on what he really could and did achieve. For an alternative, more favourable view of those symphony recordings, see review and review.

Though the applause for the Elgar is less thunderous, I thoroughly enjoyed both performances. The programme is rounded off with a short extract from an 85th-birthday interview from 1974 on the revealing subject of tempo, including the interesting observation that the opening of a movement is often misleading in setting the tempo.

The 1936 recording sounds amazingly well in the Beulah transfer – where the ICA 1971 recording is a bit tubby, the Beulah of 35 years earlier sounds thinner and lighter, with the merest hint of surface noise. Though Boult took four minutes less than in 1970 or 1971, there’s never any suggestion of haste about his 1936 version, nor did I ever think that the tempi had been unduly dictated by 78 rpm side lengths. A classic very effectively restored at a very reasonable price.

The CHARM project offers the same BBCSO/Boult 78s Enigma free – here – but in a noticeably thinner (though acceptable) transfer with a degree of surface noise and slight distortion -you also have the nuisance of the gaps at the ends of five of the six 78 sides. Try it there and, if you enjoy it, as I think you will, buy the Beulah.

Sir Edward ELGAR Cello Concerto in e minor, Op.85
Anthony Pini (cello); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Eduard van Beinum – rec.1949? ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 8-9BX37 [26:38] – from Beulah (mp3)

This was my first recording of the Cello Concerto, coupled with Cockaigne and Wand of Youth on ACL181, having first appeared on 10" Decca LW3023 in 1950. The chief competition came from Tortelier and Sargent on a 10" EMI recording, a more intense performance that was itself soon to be superseded by the Du Pré-Barbirolli partnership. I’m not sure if it’s because this Pini/Beinum recording was my introduction to the work, but I’ve come to feel over the years that the classic Du Pré recording milks the emotion too much, and I’m happy to return to this more straightforward reading, especially now that the sound is immeasurably improved on that Ace of Clubs release. If you thought that the Elgar Cello Concerto was too intense for your liking, this may be just the corrective that you were looking for.

Charles Villiers STANFORD
(1852-1924)
Fantasia and Toccata in d minor, Op.57 [11:52]
Canzona, Op. 116/2 * [6:57]
Prelude and Fugue in e minor (1874) * [9:51]
Prelude (in form of a Chaconne), Op.88/2 [5:25]
Intermezzo founded upon an Irish Air, Op. 189/4 [5:32]
Epithalamium, Op. 182/5 * [2:00]
Three Preludes and Fugues, Op.193 [15:35]
By the Seashore, Op. 194/1 * [5:08]
In Modo Dorico, from Op. 132/1 [4:45]
Postlude in d minor, Op. 105/6 [5:06]
Tom Winpenny (organ) – rec. Queen’s College, Cambridge, August 2010. DDD
* world premiere recordings
pdf booklet included
RESONUS CLASSICS RES10104 [72:18] – from resonusclassics.com (download only in mp3, aac, 16-bit lossless and 24-bit studio formats).

If you had asked me what enterprising company had recently recorded the original version of Mendelssohn’s Octet, vocal works by Judith Bingham and the organ music of Stanford, I might have guessed Chandos or Hyperion, had I not known the answer. I don’t think anyone could have got off to a more varied and adventurous start than the Resonus Classics label, the first to take the leap into download-only territory and in as wide a range of formats as the more established download sites – wider, indeed, than most. And, though Chandos in particular, Hyperion and Naxos have taken up the cause of Stanford’s orchestral, chamber and vocal music, there was still a need for a good recording to rescue the organ music from its place as prelude or postlude to a church service: it fills that role admirably, but it deserves to be heard in its own right. Now that HRH the Prince of Wales is taking up the cudgels on behalf of Parry (The Prince and the Composer, 27 May 2011, BBC4), it’s time that Stanford, too, received his due (overdue) attention.

The recordings were made on the organ of Queen’s College, Cambridge, an 1892 Binns instrument still largely in the same state as in its Victorian heyday, so ideal for the music. The organist, Tom Winpenny, most recently featured very ably in the Naxos recording of John Rutter’s Gloria (8.572653 – see review and May 2011/1 Roundup). Without much in the way of competition to use as a benchmark – four of the works are receiving world premiere recordings and I couldn’t lay hands on any of the scores in time – this recording now leads the field. There are rival recording of the Postlude, Op.105/6, on a Naxos recording of Stanford’s Anthems and Services (8.555794 – see review) and on OxRecs (OXCD41) and that’s about it.

There may not be much variety in Stanford’s organ music, with most of it designed on a large scale, but Winpenny makes the most of what variety there is. Of the new works Epithalamium is for me the most attractive – why don’t we hear it at weddings? – but there’s no dross here at all unless the sound of a Victorian composer on a Victorian organ really turns you off. At worst the music is workaday, but good, well crafted workaday stuff.

The recording is more than acceptable in mp3 and first-rate in 24/96 flac, the two formats which I was sent for review. Overall, I found this a revealing and enjoyable issue. I look forward to hearing more from Tom Winpenny, here making his solo recording debut, and Resonus, who have now scored an impressive three out of three with their initial releases.

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Orchestral Works: 6
Suite bergamasque (1890-1905, orch. Gustave Cloez and André Caplet) [16:57]
Petite Suite (1889, orch. Henri Büsser) [13:02]
Printemps (1887, orch. Henri Büsser, 1912) [15:18]
En blanc et noir (1915, orch. Robin Holloway, 2002) [17:32]
Symphony in b minor (1880, orch. Tony Finno) [11:15]
Orchestre National de Lyon/Jun Märkl – rec. January and February 2010. DDD
Pdf booklet available with download.
NAXOS 8.572583 [74:21] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

I was not entirely impressed by Volume 5 in this series, which I reviewed as a CD – here and May 2011/2 Roundup – though I was swimming against the flow of the critical tide in thinking some of the tempi too slow and the resulting performances a little dull. Here, too, I wondered if Märkl were not milking the well-known Clair de lune, the third movement of the Suite bergamasque a little too much until I compared his 4:46 with several performances of the piano original which milk the emotion yet more. Even Jean-Yves Bavouzet on his award-winning Chandos series takes almost exactly the same time as Märkl. Yet Yan Pascal Tortelier still seems to me to have the right tempo and right degree of affection for the piece – not too much – despite the marking très expressif – at 4:19. (Chandos budget-price Introduction to Debussy, CHAN2024 or on the 4-CD set, CHAN10144X, which I recommended in the May 2011/2 Roundup).

For me Printemps is the highlight of the new Naxos recording – a most unjustly neglected and magical work which I first got to know from Charles Munch on an RCA recording. (Currently Sony Originals 88697689542). Here again I chose Tortelier as my benchmark among modern recordings and was surprised to find myself preferring Märkl’s slightly faster tempo for the opening très modéré section: he keeps the music moving without ever pushing it too fast – indeed, it’s dreamy at first as the tentative signs of Spring appear. In the second section Märkl and Tortelier choose almost exactly the same overall tempo – both capture the exuberance without being over-exuberant. Though not quite recapturing the remembered magic of that Munch performance, this new recording makes a very acceptable substitute.

Debussy’s sole attempt at writing a symphony – not an amenable musical form for him: he completed only the three sections of the first movement – has survived only in piano-duet score. The version which we hear on this recording has been orchestrated by the American composer and arranger Tony Finno. I haven’t heard the Naxos recording of the work in keyboard form, coupled with Printemps and other things on 8.572385, but there is everything to be said for attempting to reconstruct the music in its original orchestral garb. It’s attractive, generally light-hearted music – as is most of the music on this CD – and the orchestration and performance make a good case for it.

With very acceptable mp3 sound and the booklet as part of the deal, this is a much more attractive proposition than its immediate predecessor.

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Salome (1905)
Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Judea – Reiner Goldberg (tenor)
Herodias, Herod’s wife – Anja Silja (soprano)
Salome, Herodias’s daughter – Inga Nielsen (soprano)
Jokanaan – Robert Hale (bass-baritone)
Narraboth – Deon van der Walt (tenor)
Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Michael Schønwandt
rec.18-23, 25-29 August 1997, Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen, Denmark. DDD.
pdf booklet with texts and translations available.
CHANDOS CHAN 9611 [2 CDs: 98:58] from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, lossless)

George Bernard Shaw dubbed Puccini’s Tosca a ‘shabby little shocker’, an epithet that surely applies to Strauss’s Salome as well. And yet much of this music is richly sensual, only tipping into frenzy and frisson at nodal points in the drama. Sir Georg Solti’s classic Decca set with Birgit Nilsson in the name part is more nervy and propulsive than most, while at the other end of the spectrum is Karajan’s sumptuous EMI version with Hildegard Behrens in the title role. Both are compelling in their different ways, Karajan’s more shocking because it’s so beautiful. And then there’s Karl Böhm’s classic 1972 recording with Leonie Rysanek as the wayward daughter; hers is a fine performance, although there is some stage noise and the singers are set quite far back. Admittedly that’s more as one would hear it in the opera house, but it adds a degree of emotional distance as well.

Inexplicably, Michael Schønwandt’s Salome – much-praised since its appearance in 1999 – has evaded me until now. I was particularly keen to hear what Danish soprano Inga Nielsen brings to this most challenging of roles, and whether this Danish orchestra has the necessary amplitude in Strauss’s more orgiastic moments. Scene I, with Narraboth and Herodias’s Page, sets the stage for a warm, well-balanced recording, the voices close without being unnaturally so. But what one registers even at this early stage is the exemplary playing of the Danish band. So, no quibbles about amplitude here, Schønwandt moving the drama forward without overstretching his singers. South African Deon van der Walt is a ringing, steady Narraboth, the American Robert Hale a sonorous Jokanaan. A word of warning, though; those used to the subterranean sound of the Baptist singing in the cistern (Decca) may be disconcerted to hear him so close.

Nielsen’s Salome is firm of tone, yet with just the right degree of girlish pout as she demands to speak with the fiery prophet. And just listen to the dark storm-clouds that gather in the orchestra, the low brass rasping to thrilling effect. As musical harbingers go, this is potent stuff, Thankfully Schønwandt underlines the drama without overplaying his hand as it were. As for this Salome, she modulates easily from spoilt brat to manipulative coquette; Nielsen clearly understands this chameleon-like character, and is utterly convincing in her swings of mood and manner.

Schønwandt makes the most of Strauss’s musical narrative; indeed, those harp swirls have seldom sounded so flirtatious, the beckoning blackness so Stygian. Full marks to the Chandos team for making this sometimes reticent ensemble sound so rich and creamy, the balance between voices and orchestra well judged. And goodness, how one’s flesh crawls as Salome and the Baptist come face to face; it’s a corrosive mix of fascination and foreboding, those skewed brass figures deeply unsettling. Remarkably, Schønwandt and Strauss collude to create a musical and dramatic vortex here, into which the protagonists are irresistibly drawn. This is yet another of the opera’s dark, downward lurches, so adroitly managed here. But it’s Nielsen, riveted by the ‘wasted’ prisoner, who draws the ear with her fearless, accurate singing. Surely this is as thrilling, various and complex a Salome as we’re ever likely to hear.

Nielsen doesn’t get it all her own way, for Hale steals the limelight – albeit briefly – as he sings most eloquently of Christ and his disciples on Galilee. True, he may not be as overtly dramatic as some, but his Jokanaan, intelligently sung, fits so well with Schønwandt’s more nuanced view of this score. As for the orchestral convulsion that greets Salome’s grotesque demand to kiss the Baptist and the portent-filled music of Scene IV, they’re simply splendid, the sound blossoming without strain in those dense tuttis. Reiner Goldberg is a predatory, wheedling Herod, his fruited metaphors a thinly disguised reprise of Salome’s illicit feelings for Jokanaan; Anja Silja, not always the most ingratiating of singers, is adequate as his long-suffering wife, even if she is prone to squall under pressure. That said, the cast is pretty good, and that goes for the assorted Jews and Nazarenes as well.

Any cavils thus far? Well, as good as Hale undoubtedly is I did find his tone a tad unvarying in his remonstrations with Herodias. A bit more fire and brimstone would not go amiss here, but then this is a side-show, a precursor to the main event dominated by Salome’s bargain with Herod and that famous dance. The latter’s not as wild as it can be, perhaps – some might even find it too laid back – but there’s bags of orchestral detail and Schønwandt does build to a decent climax. Once again, if you like this music played with sheer abandon then Solti’s the man for you; but for a good all-round performance this Chandos recording is hard to beat.

As for Nielsen, her deranged calls for the prophet’s head chill one to the marrow. Curiously there’s more of a sense of theatre in this studio production than there is in Böhm’s staged one, but Karajan and Solti are very persuasive in other ways. Perhaps the greatest strength of this Chandos set is that Schønwandt makes the most of the score without recourse to musical exaggeration or other excess; the result is a grimly compelling narrative from first to last. At the centre of it all is Nielsen’s Salome, increasingly unhinged as her end draws near. The great finale, which burns with a slow, steady heat, is phenomenal, a feat of vocal stamina and dexterity; as for the orchestra, they too seem to draw on hitherto hidden reserves of weight and power at this point.

If you want a downloadable Salome I suspect your options may be limited [see below BW], but I’m tempted to say that even if they weren’t this would still be the one to have. With generally consistent singing, superlative playing and a top-notch recording this should be in every Straussian’s collection. As usual, Chandos offer pdf artwork and liner-notes – including a trilingual libretto – the latter of which can be followed on your computer screen if you’d rather not waste your printer ink. One small moan though; I had trouble downloading some of the tracks and only managed a full set after two or three visits to the site.

Still, a must have for your hard drive.

Dan Morgan

[Like Dan, I had trouble downloading all the tracks – most unusually for the Chandos site, only one third came down the chute each time.

It’s becoming something of a habit to find myself in more or less complete agreement with Dan’s reviews, to the extent of recommending this overall but with very small reservations – the Dance really is a bit too tame. As for the alternatives, Passionato can supply Solti for £12.99 in mp3 only – Decca 414 4412 here or Decca Originals 475 7528 here – and Amazon.co.uk has the latest incarnation of the Karajan on EMI Classics 9668322, again in mp3 only, for £7.49 here. The Karajan download includes a pdf booklet. (But NB: MDT have the Karajan CD set, plus a bonus CD-ROM, currently on offer as I write for just a few pence more than the download.) Amazon also have the Böhm set for download at £11.99 here. BW]

Florent SCHMITT (1870-1958)
La Tragédie de Salomé, Op.50 (complete ballet, 1907) [59:07]
Marie-Paule Fayte (soprano); Rhineland Palatinate State Symphony Orchestra/Patrick Davin
NAXOS 8.550895 [59:07] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

This is the original small-orchestral ballet score for the Ballets Russes from which Schmitt later excerpted the better-known Suite (below) and the version for piano (Naxos 8.572194). It followed hard on the heels of Richard Strauss’s opera (above). The debt to that work and to Stravinsky’s The Firebird is very apparent – more so than in the Suite. It’s all well worth hearing in this, the only recording to the best of my knowledge. The performance does justice to the music and the recording (ex-Marco Polo) sounds well in mp3.

I must admit to liking Salomé in either version a good deal more than Psalm 47, which I find somewhat brash, so there are definite attractions for me in the Naxos recording of the complete score or the new Atma version coupled with the Franck Symphony (below).

Psalm 47, Op. 38* [27:21]
La Tragédie de Salomé, Op. 50 [27:18]
*Andrea Guiot (soprano)
French National Radio Orchestra & Chorus/Jean Martinon – rec. 1972.
Sung texts and translations provided
HIGH DEFINITION TAPE TRANSFERS [54:39] from HDTT (HQCD, DVD & 24bit/96kHz or 24bit/192kHz download). Originally released as EMI ASD 2892

La Tragédie de Salome for orchestra with chorus, Op.50 (1907, rev.1910) [26:23]
Psalm 47 for soprano, chorus, organ and orchestra, Op.38 [26:16]
Sharon Sweet (soprano)
Orchestre Philharmonique et Chœurs de Radio France/Marek Janowski – rec. 1988, 1989. DDD
WARNER APEX 2564 62764-2 [52:39] – from amazon.co.uk (mp3)

Psaume XLVII, Op.38 [30:19]
Suite sans esprit de suite, Op.89 [17:49]
La tragédie de Salomé, Op.50 [30:09]
Christine Buffle (soprano)
BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales/Thierry Fischer – rec. October 2006. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
HYPERION CDA67599 [78:19] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

La Tragédie de Salome for orchestra with chorus, Op.50 (1907, rev.1910)* [25:29]
Le Palais hanté, Op.49 [13:36]
Psalm 47 for soprano, chorus, organ and orchestra, Op.38 ** [28:44]
*Natália Áurea; Regiane Martinez (soprano); Cely Kozuki; Cristiane Minczuk; Fabiana Portas; Maria Angélica Leutwiler; Mônica Weber Bronzati; Vesna Bankovic (mezzo);
** Susan Bullock (soprano); Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra Choir;
Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra/Yan Pascal Tortelier – rec 5-9 July, 2010. DDD/DSD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations available.
CHANDOS CHAN5090 [68:10] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, lossless, 24/96 and surround sound)
Also available as Hybrid SACD CHSA5090 from chandos.net

In all four cases, Psalm 47 failed to impress me as more than noisily exuberant (though see also Rob Barnett’s review). In the case of the HDTT Martinon, that’s partly because early-1970s technology doesn’t seem to have been equal to the task: though Salomé sounds well as a performance and recording, the Psalm seems irremediable. HDTT’s 24/96 downloads usually play perfectly well through Squeezebox, but the Schmitt seemed to be too rich for its liking and kept causing dropouts. Winamp, however, rode to the rescue and played the whole thing securely: if you don’t have Winamp, the free version is easy to download and is well worth having.

The Warner Apex version is the least expensive way to obtain Salomé and Psalm 47, though the shortish playing time reduces the value. Rob Barnett recommended this recording in an earlier 2-CD incarnation: ‘a well-conceived and enthusiastic performance’ of Salomé and a ‘blazingly done’ account of the Psalm – see review. Of the Apex reissue, he wrote: ‘If you are up for impressionist-romantic music of luxurious opulence this is for you.’ – see review. That’s equally true for the download, and you can even have the two tracks of Salomé separately if you prefer, for just £2.58. overall, in terms of value for money and as a performance, this would be my recommendation for those wanting the Salomé – Psalm 47 combination or just Salomé alone.

In its own way, the Hyperion is also a bargain, since it offers an extra 18 minutes in the form of the Suite that isn’t a suite. Though Fischer’s timing for Salomé appears to be out on a limb – four minutes longer than Janowski, with only Nézet-Séguin on the new Atma release (below) coming close – the result is actually as lively and persuasive as any of the rivals. John Quinn wrote a detailed and enthusiastic review of the CD and I can’t do better than refer you to that – here. As he writes, Fischer and the NOW capture the Dionysiac spirit of the music excellently and the recording – in lossless form, at any rate* – does them full justice. The snag, again, is that none of the recordings which I’m considering, Fischer included, makes Psalm 47 seem anything other than brash – it’s just not for me, which is why I recommend that you download just the two tracks of Salomé from the Apex recording. Or, indeed, do the same with the Hyperion where individual works can be purchased separately – Salomé alone costs £3.80 and the Suite £2.25.

* When, occasionally, I have sampled the mp3 of any Hyperion recording – as with the Gottschalk (above) – I’ve been more than happy with the results.

Florent SCHMITT La Tragédie de Salomé, Op.50 [29:11]
César FRANCK (1822-1890) Symphony in D, M48 [41:33]
Montreal Metropolitan Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
ATMA CLASSIQUE ACD22647 [70:44] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Just the Suite (here referred to as a Symphonic Poem) generously coupled with the Franck Symphony, conducted by the up-and-coming Yannick Nézet-Séguin, recently appointed to head the Philadelphia Orchestra. The performance is idiomatic and the Franck coupling – also well performed – may make a more attractive companion for some listeners than Psalm 47 on the rival versions. The mp3 sound is good, even heard in the more restricted version on Naxos Music Library: just don’t believe the statement there that the Franck Symphony is in d minor.

Dan Morgan has also compared some of the versions of Schmitt’s music:

It’s good to see the São Paulo orchestra recording for Chandos; this follows a good run with BIS that yielded, among others, an electric performance of Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto with Yevgeny Sudbin and Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Floresta do Amazonas, the latter well received in the March Roundup. Both were conducted by John Neschling, who was succeeded by Yan Pascal Tortelier in 2009; the good news is that Marin Alsop, who has done such a splendid job in Bournemouth and Baltimore, will take the helm in 2012. I expect great things from that partnership, and I hope many recordings will follow.

Profligacy rules in Florent Schmitt’s sprawling Psalm 47 and the truncated Salome, based on a ballet he was commissioned to write in 1907. Both works are ambitiously scored, the Psalm for large orchestra, chorus, soprano and organ. I know these pieces from Marek Janowski’s 1990 recording, first issued on Erato but now available from Warner Apex. Here I’ll focus on two high-res downloads, one from Chandos and one from HDTT. The latter, taken from a 1972 EMI disc conducted by Jean Martinon, includes a warmly sensuous reading of the abridged Salome. Compared with the hyperactive, attention-seeking Psaume 47 it’s a low-key piece that only betrays its analogue LP origins in the infrequent tuttis.

It’s certainly a pleasing performance – the sections aren’t individually cued as they are on the Chandos version – but I did find myself returning to Janowski’s equally persuasive recording, which is much better recorded. Not surprisingly, Tortelier and his Brazilian band have the most spectacular sound. From the louring bass and soft gong-strokes at the outset it’s clear this is going to be a highly atmospheric performance; it’s also very sensual, Tortelier shaping the Debussian introduction very well indeed. In terms of colour and nuance this reading is streets ahead of Martinon’s, and augurs well for what’s still to come. Climaxes expand naturally with plenty of transient attack.

If anything, Tortelier makes this Salome seem more interesting than it actually is, thanks in part to his forensic attention to detail. That said, he never loses sight of the larger canvas; as for the orchestra, they play with real spirit, especially in the score’s more animated passages. There’s some lovely woodwind playing as well, the whole performance blending polish with passion. I wasn’t very impressed with this reading at first, but I did warm to it on subsequent auditions; for sheer drama it’s the one to have, with Janowski and Martinon less exciting in those dramatic peaks. Also, the ethereal voices in the third section are cleanly focused and well-balanced on the Chandos, making it the most convincing concert-hall experience.

The same holds for Tortelier’s version of Psaume 47, the Brazilian chorus as transported as one could wish. Percussive detail is superb, and even the rather subdued organ doesn’t undermine Schmitt’s towering structures. That said, momentum does flag at times, but that’s nothing compared with the almost constant distortion on the Martinon version. I found it unlistenable, even at modest volume levels, so despite a decent Salome this HDTT download just isn’t competitive.

Would that the reviewer’s task were always so cut and dried; just as I was preparing to anoint Tortelier and his forces Susan Bullock’s horribly wide vibrato forced me to reconsider. True, it’s a punishing solo, more so when pitted against such a mighty noise, but under pressure the close balance simply highlights that distressing beat. To be fair, Martinon’s Andrea Guiot – set much further back – isn’t very distinguished either. Janowski’s soprano, Sharon Sweet, is steadier and more eloquent, but then Janowski’s is a very balanced performance all round. As for the organ, the Erato/Warner one sounds like a real-world instrument in a proper acoustic; EMI’s, played by the esteemed Gaston Litaize, just sounds bizarre.

These reservations aside, I’m not convinced Tortelier has the measure of this unwieldy work; Janowski is less visceral, but then he does dig deeper than his rivals, especially in the Psalm. He and Tortelier offer other works as well; the latter’s reading of a Schmitt rarity, Le Palais hanté, is mildly diverting but nothing more. As before, the playing and recording are good.

I imagine the Chandos performances will be a hit with head bangers, but if you’re looking for a more fulfilling – and considerably cheaper – option then the Janowski is a good buy.

Dan Morgan

Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Et Resurrexit, Op. 49 [17:23]
Six Fantasies on Hymn Tunes, Op. 72 [12:25]
Missa de Gloria, Op. 82, ‘Dublin Festival Mass’ [40:12]
Greg Morris (Organ of Blackburn Cathedral)
(J. W. Walker & Sons, 1969, rebuilt by Wood of Huddersfield, 2002)
rec. Blackburn Cathedral, England, 26-27 April 2009. DDD
NAXOS 8.572601 [70:10] – from classicsonline.com (mp3)

The organ that I knew in my home town of Blackburn has been replaced and the replacement rebuilt since I moved away. I don’t know what my old music teacher, who was the cathedral organist, would say about how it now sounds – or, indeed, about the music of Kenneth Leighton, which wasn’t on the curriculum back then. For me it produces just the right sound for Leighton’s organ music. I knew that it’s a fine instrument for Alkan’s organ music, from a Toccata recording by Kevin Bowyer which I reviewed in the November 2009 Roundup, and I imagine that that it would sound equally well for Messiaen. Indeed, I hear more than a touch of the influence of the French organ school in Leighton’s music, though it’s far from imitative. This new recording joins Naxos’s equally recommendable disc of Leighton’s choral music, An Easter Sequence (8.555795 – see review, also available from classicsonline.com).

John McCABE (b.1939) Edward II – ballet in 2 acts (1993-4)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Barry Wordsworth – rec. November 1999. DDD.
HYPERION CDA67135/6 [58:12 + 55:37] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

This could easily have been my Discovery of the Month, had Hyperion not excelled themselves with the Schöndorff recording. I hadn’t encountered this ballet before – indeed, John McCabe’s music in general has not been frequent listening for me, apart from the odd concert on Radio 3. I came across Edward II among Hyperion’s waifs and strays, consigned to their half-price ‘please buy me’ section owing to the indifference of those like me who haven’t yet discovered McCabe. I should have read Gerald Fenech’s 5-star review.

The offer will have ended before you read this, but the download, at £13.49, costs little more. I strongly recommend purchasing the lossless (flac) version: it’s the same price as the mp3 and flac usually guarantees flawless joins between tracks where the music is continuous, which mp3 doesn’t always manage to do.

The ballet is based on the life of King Edward II, best known from Marlowe’s play of that name and the music is eclectic enough for there to be something for everybody here. There’s even an attempt to capture the spirit of medieval music – though not as successfully as I had hoped – in the funerals for Edward I at the beginning and Edward II at the end. The booklet is not quite up to Hyperion’s usual standard – it appears to be a work in progress, with a temporary scanned version of the CD documentation – but it’s more than adequate. If you play the music via Squeezebox or a similar programme, the track details include a summary of the action.

In Lighter Mood

When I recommended various recordings of music by Michael Prætorius in the December 2009 Roundup, I inadvertently omitted the least expensive, at around £5 on CD or as a download from classicsonline.com for £4.99:

Michael PRÆTORIUS (1571-1621) Dances from Terpsichore (1612)
Thoinot ARBEAU (1519-1595) from Orchesographie (1589)
Dances from the School of Gregorio LAMBRANZI (c.1640)
Anthony HOLBORNE (c.1560-1602) Short Airs, Both Grave and Light (1599)
Christoph DEMANTIUS (1567-1643) German and Polish Dances (1601)
The Prætorius Consort/Christopher Ball – rec. c.1978?
MUSICAL CONCEPTS ALTO ALC1076 [74:50] – CD or download from classicsonline.com (mp3)

I need say only that this foot-tapping collection is as enjoyable as any of the more expensive versions, though I maintain my overall allegiance to the David Munrow recording which introduced us all to the music of Prætorius. The download comes without the booklet which is worth having if, as I believe, this is a straight reissue of a former Regis CD in my collection. Those notes, however, fail to mention that the name ‘Thoinot Arbeau’ is an anagram of Jehan Tabourot, who, as a cleric, presumably didn’t wish to be recognised as the composer of frivolous music. Nor do they mention that the name ‘Prætorius’ is a Latin disguise for the plain German name Schultze or Schultheiss: it was very fashionable to have a Latin- Italian- or even Greek-sounding name.



 


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