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Download Roundup - November 2011/1

Brian Wilson


The previous Roundup is here and earlier versions are indexed here.

Renaissance polyphony holds centre-stage this month, with new recordings of Josquin from the Tallis Scholars on Gimell, Taverner from Alamire on Obsidian and Victoria from Westminster Cathedral on Hyperion.

I’m pleased to report that classicsonline.com finally seem to have got their pricing policy for EMI and Virgin Classics sorted out, especially as regards the budget-price 2-CD sets from both labels, now almost universally on offer at a competitive £6.99 or, occasionally, £7.99. I hope to include several recommendations next month; meanwhile there’s the second volume of Beecham’s Haydn London Symphonies to be getting on with.

Not long ago a bit-rate of 192 kb/s was considered acceptable; now very few download sites offer anything below 256kb/s and many, including classicsonline.com and passionato.com, offer all their mp3s at the full 320kb/s.

Better still, however, several own-label sites such as Hyperion and Coro (thesixteendigital.com) also offer 16- or 24-bit lossless downloads, often at the same price as mp3 or a little more. Recently Gimell, Linn, Chandos (at theclassicalshop.net) and High Definition Tape Transfers have been offering 24/96kHz and even 24/192kHz downloads - large files are involved, but most home broadband speeds are now good enough to contemplate downloading such files. You’ll soon find yourself needing a large-capacity external hard drive - go for 2TB from the start - and you won’t be able to burn the music to CD, but those with younger and sharper ears than my past-their-sell-by-date pair will appreciate the difference. Even septuagenarians like myself can appreciate the greater security of the higher sampling rates.

Now Channel Classics are offering their own high-quality downloads, starting at a reasonable £8.03 for top-rate mp3 and including 24/44.1, 24/96 and 24/192 options. You’ll find my reviews of some of the 24/44.1 and 24/96 recordings below.

Download of the Month: recent repertoire

Josquin des PRÉS (c1440/55-1521)

Missa De beata virgine [38:03]
Credo quarti toni (Cambrai Credo) [9:23]
Plainchant Ave maris stella (verse 1) [0:36]
Missa Ave maris stella [27:56]
Pdf booklet with texts and multi-lingual translations included.
GIMELL CDGIM044 [75:58] - from gimell.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless and 5.1 surround sound)

[The Kyrie of the Missa de beata virgine will be offered as a FREE download for a short time.]

Regular readers and/or fans of the Tallis Scholars will be aware that they are recording the masses of Josquin des Prés and revealing in the process more fully than we already knew what a master of polyphonic music he was. The two works now before us are Marian Masses: the former clearly labelled with Mary’s name and containing additions to the text of the Mass which were excised after the Council of Trent but sung in this recording. The latter is based on the well-known hymn in her honour, the first verse of which precedes the Mass itself: Hail star of the sea. Maris stella, or star of the sea, is one of the more common of the scores of attributes which were attached to Mary in the middle ages.

I hadn’t heard either of these Masses before and there are no rival CDs in the current catalogue, though amazon.co.uk can offer an earlier recording of the Missa de beata virgine as a download here (Harmonia Mundi HMU907136, Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier, with motets by Mouton). The earlier Naïve recordings of the two Masses which Mark Sealey reviewed in a 6-CD box set in 2007 (E8906 - see review) seem to have disappeared from the UK catalogue. I listened to these performances by A Sei Voci via the Naxos Music Library* and I’m not surprised to note that they are perceptively faster overall than the Tallis Scholars - the latter are usually characterised by more thoughtful, but never sluggish tempi. I enjoyed hearing A Sei Voci but I thought them outperformed by the Tallis Scholars.

* available to download from classicsonline.com in mp3: Missa de beata virgine on E8560 here and Missa Ave Maris Stella on E8507 here. Classicsonline.com also have the Dufay Ensemble in the Missa Ave Maris Stella on Ars Musici AM1278-2, complete with booklet, for just £4.99 here. The Dufay Ensemble offer excellent value and sing idiomatically, with a firm bottom line, but the top and inner parts are marginally less secure than the Tallis Scholars. See below for A Sei Voci in Josquin’s Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariæ.

The music is in no way inferior to the better-known Josquin works and the performances perhaps even closer to perfection than any of the Scholars’ earlier recordings or those of any of their close rivals. I realised before I had listened even to half of this new recording that I had found my Download of the Month, despite what else might come my way. Whatever may be the doubts about attributing the Credo to Josquin, perhaps as a first thought - as fully discussed in notes which, while inevitably technical in places, are still transparent to the ordinary reader - it was well worth including here.

The multi-lingual booklet is fully up to Gimell’s usual very high standard - a consistency matched only by Hyperion - and the recording is excellent in the better-than-CD 24/44.1 wma version which I downloaded. The prices range from £7.99 for mp3, via £8.99 for CD quality lossless, to £19.99 for 24/96 5.1 surround sound.

Here followeth a technical paragraph which, despite its complexity, I recommend that you read. Just as Hyperion now offer both flac and alac lossless files, Gimell have now added to their wide range of download options, 16-bit, 24/44.1, 24/88 and 24/176 alac for iTunes users. Alac will also work with the Logitech Squeezebox, but flac won’t work with iTunes and it has to convert wma downloads to wav, so alac may prove the best option. They have also listed the options in groups, as recommended for Windows Media Player and iTunes. Actually Windows Media Player will work fine with these recordings because the music is not continuous between tracks, but I don’t recommend it generally because it introduces 2-second gaps. If you don’t have a programme such as Squeezebox or Linn, download the free version of Winamp.

We already had a fine selection of recordings of the music of Josquin even before the Tallis Scholars embarked on their series three years ago, not least from the Scholars themselves on a budget-price 2-CD set, The Tallis Scholars Sing Josquin, but the most recent releases have added considerably to our knowledge of his work. You’ll find my and other colleagues’ reviews of those earlier volumes as listed below:

The Tallis Scholars sing Josquin
Plainchant: Pange lingua [3.45]
JOSQUIN Missa Pange lingua [29:41]; Missa La sol fa re mi [28:44]; Præter rerum seriem [7:22]; Ave Maria (4vv) [5:29]
Anonymous chanson: L’homme armé [0:47];
JOSQUIN Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales [40:24]; Missa L’homme armé sexti toni [33:05]
GIMELL CDGIM206 [2 CDs: 149:00] (See March 2009 Roundup and Tallis Scholars at 30)

[see August 2011/2 Roundup and below for the Westminster Cathedral recording of the Missa pange lingua on Hyperion Helios]

Missa sine Nomine
[27:39]
Missa ad fugam [31:30]
Missa ad fugam (revised): Sanctus and Benedictus [4:47]; Agnus Dei [2:55]
GIMELL CDGIM039 [68:50]
(See review by Robert Hugill, review by myself (Recording of the Month) and February 2009 Roundup)

Missa Malheur me bat [39:46] *
Missa Fortuna desperata [35:41] **
GIMELL CDGIM042 [75:27]
(See review by Mark Sealey, review by myself and February 2009 Roundup)

The whole of CDGIM042 is very generously included in a box set, GIMBX303, Sacred Music in the Renaissance, Volume 3, 4 CDs for less than the price of 2. (See review by John Quinn, Bargain of the Month and December 2010 Roundup).

You’ll find some other reviews of Josquin below.

Download of the Month: back catalogue

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)

La Stravaganza - 12 Concertos for violin, strings and basso continuo, Op.4 (c.1714)
Concerto in B flat, Op.4 No.1 [7:28]
Concerto in e minor, Op.4 No.2 [9:59]
Concerto in G, Op.4 No.3 [7:55]
Concerto in a minor, Op.4 No.4 [8:01]
Concerto in A, Op.4 No.5 [9:12]
Concerto in g minor, Op.4 No.6 [9:22]
Concerto in C, Op.4 No.7 [7:28]
Concerto in d minor, Op.4 No 8 [6:54]
Concerto in F, Op.4 No.9 [6:49]
Concerto in c minor, Op.4 No.10 [9:06]
Concerto in D, Op.4 No.11 [5:53]
Concerto in G, Op.4 No.12 [9:08]
Rachel Podger (violin)
Arte Dei Suonatori - rec. September 2002. DDD
Pdf booklet included.
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA19503 [54:21 + 48:38] - from channelclassics.com (mp3 and 24/44.1, 24/96 and 24/192 lossless)

[‘These new accounts make the versions from Marriner and Hogwood seem pale, rather lacklustre and somewhat academic and mechanical by comparison. The sound engineers at Channel Classics have provided a top-class sound quality and the annotation is excellent too. A marvellously presented release. No praise is high enough for these performances!’ See full review by Michael Cookson. NB: change of catalogue number from that listed in his review.]

My first download from channelclassics.com direct, as opposed to via other providers, is very easy to recommend. Performance, recording, documentation and price are all very attractive.

To deal with price first: in mp3 this is an absolute bargain at £8.03, effectively two CDs for the price of one; even at what Channel Classics call CD quality it costs a very reasonable £14.28. Actually, at 24-bit/44.1kHz, it’s better than CD quality. The audiophile 96kHz and 192kHz versions cost £17.84 and £19.63 respectively.

Rachel Podger delivers all that I expected and she is very ably supported by Arte dei Suonatori. Together their performances are as delicate as you could wish where the music requires it, but generally lively, dramatic and as extravagant as the title la Stravaganza implies, though avoiding those breakneck tempi which some Italian ensembles produce and which make their performances suitable only when one is in the right mood.

I’m not as ready as Michael Cookson to ditch the Neville Marriner account on Double Decca 444 821-2 - still the version to choose for those averse to period instruments, though I don’t think that many even of these will find much to criticise. The Marriner is available for download from passionato.com, although, at £12.99 for mp3 only, that’s hardly competitive with the Channel Classics or with the parent CDs, available from online dealers for as little as £8.45.

As for Christopher Hogwood’s recording, I’m going to do that annoying and greedy thing that we reviewers often do and advise having both that and Rachel Podger’s version. This time passionato.com’s price of £24.99 for Hogwood’s complete Op.3, Op.4, Op.8 and Op.9 sets, almost seven hours of music, does offer good value (475 7693 - here - mp3 only: no longer available on CD). If pushed, however, I have to agree with MC that the Channel Classics recording is preferable.

Rachel Podger’s tempi are close to those adopted by Christopher Hogwood, or a little faster. Both seem to me to adopt ideal speeds throughout. In Op.4/1, for example:

 
Hogwood
Podger
Allegro
3:13
2:52
Largo e cantabile
2:11
2:11
Allegro
2:36
2:25

Both are about a minute faster overall in this concerto than Neville Marriner, who is rather closer to both in most of the other concertos. Most of the difference is accounted for by Marriner’s slower, more overtly ‘expressive’ tempi in slow movements than is now fashionable. Bear in mind that in 1975 Marriner was considered something of a speed merchant: it was the ‘propulsion’ of his performances of Op.4 that caught the reviewers’ attention.

I chose the Channel Classics 24/44.1 version and thought the downloaded sound excellent. The broadband router which I normally use with the Logitech Squeezebox has been misbehaving recently, so I had to play these recordings via the Winamp player, with no problems. The sound is a little fuller and heavier than usual with period ensembles and there’s no (audible) harpsichord in the continuo, though one is listed, but that’s becoming par for the course, so not a matter for major concern. The archlute, theorbo, organ and guitar compensate, usually perfectly audibly without being over prominent.

Actually I understand that the great majority of downloads purchased from Channel Classics are in the top-of-the-range 24/192 version. Considering that emusic.com charge £7.56 (CD1) and £7.98 (CD2) for the mp3 version of this recording - and that their bit-rates rarely approach the maximum 320kb/s and often fall below 192kb/s - that’s excellent value for audiophile sound at £19.63.

Discovery of the Month

Erhu Chant

Idyllic Tune** [7:50]
Weeping River of Sorrow* [8:00]
Celebrating the Harvest of Grapes*** [5:02]
Ode to Shanmenxia Gorge*** [9:06]
Birdsong echoing in a quiet valley [3:43]
A Bunch of Flowers* [8:49]
Moon reflected in the Twin-spring Lake [8:49]
Ballad of North Henan Province*** [10:04]
Yu Hong Mei (Erhu)
Liu Yin Xuan (Yang Qin (cymbalo))*
Wu Lin (Chinese Harp)**
Chen Zhe (Piano)*** - rec. ? DDD/DSD
pdf booklet included
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCS-SA80206 [61:03] - from channelclassics.com (mp3, 24/44.1, 24/96 and 24/192 lossless)

The discovery lies not so much in hearing the erhu, a two-stringed Chinese instrument, which I’d heard on several LP and CD recordings*, as in the beauty of this recital. I cannot pretend to be any kind of expert on this music, but I do know that I enjoyed the programme very much and that can only have been achieved by idiomatic and accomplished playing, especially on the part of the erhu player, Yu Hong Mei, whose impressive CV/résumé is included in the notes, and her accompanists.

* there are 40 recordings with the erhu in the Naxos Music Library alone, including one of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and the Bach Violin Concerto in a minor. Try the erhu version of the Butterfly Lovers’ Concerto there on Marco Polo 8.225952 or download it from classicsonline.com.

The recording, made in Beijing, is excellent. The booklet, offered as part of the deal, contains photos of the erhu and is very informative, though it describes Celebrating the Harvest of Grapes (track 3) as for solo erhu, when the rear insert correctly describes the piano as participating. To be truthful, I found this and the two other tracks with piano accompaniment slightly less authentically Chinese than the rest.

Freebie of the Month

Vaclav NELHYBEL
Tower Music [2:24]
Giovanni GABRIELI Canzon Septimi Toni No. 2 [2:47]
Jeremy DIBB Provence [4:11]
Giovanni PERGOLESI/Ralph SAUER (arr.) Trio Sonata No. 4 [4:38]
Richard STRAUSS/B.MANSTED (arr.) Alpine Fantasy [10:42]
Rob DEEMER Shock and Awe for Trombone Quartet [9:09]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA Ecce veniet dies illa [3:01]
Enrique CRESPO Bruckner Etude fur das tiele Blech [5:50]
Eugene BOZZA Andantino for Trombone Trio [2:18]
Josef RHEINBERGER/Mark FISHER (arr.) Abendlied Op.69/3 [2:39]
Johann Sebastian BACH/Donald HUNSBERGER Passacaglia in c minor [5:30]
Chicago Trombone Consort - rec? © 2010. DDD.
ALBANY TROY1183 [52:12] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

This was Chandos’ free gift in mp3 format to subscribers to their monthly newsletter from theclassicalshop.net. You will have missed out on this one, but it’s well worth subscribing for the sake of future free downloads as well as the information in the newsletter itself. In any case, the mp3, which sounds fine, will cost you only £4.99, the same price as from classicsonline.com (320k in both cases). If you must have the lossless, that’s a little more at £7.99. It’s a very varied programme of ancient and modern in novel arrangements which should appeal to a wide range of listeners except those who are allergic to a trombone ensemble.

Thanks to some sloppy proof-reading Rheinberger has morphed into Rhineberger (but his name is correctly spelled by classicsonline.com) and JS Bach has somehow been renamed Donald Bach. We knew that there were any number of musical members of the Bach family, but presumably Donald is the first name of Mr Hunsberger who arranged JSB’s music on the final track. Once again, classicsonline.com avoid the mistake. Neither download includes the booklet but classicsonline.com offer the back cover to all comers. I’ve given the time as stated on that back cover, though Windows Explorer times the programme at 55:05 and theclassicalshop.net at 50:12.

Beulah Extra

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Symphony No. 104 in D (‘London’)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan - rec. 1959 ADD/binaural
BEULAH EXTRA 2-5BX18 [26:11] - from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Though recorded by the Decca team, this first appeared in tandem with Mozart’s Symphony No.40 on RCA in 1960. Two variant views of Karajan’s Haydn are encompassed in the one word, ‘controlled’, some would say finely-controlled, others over-controlled. Even when this recording reappeared in 1970 on the Ace of Diamonds label, there wasn’t too much competition, but it wouldn’t now feature high on my own shortlist - which must be headed by the two Philips Duo 2-CD sets of the complete London Symphonies (Nos. 93-104, 442 611-2 and 442 612-2) with Colin Davis and the 5-CD Eugen Jochum set which I recommended earlier this year (DGG 474 364-2 - see July 2011/2 Roundup).

Like Davis and Jochum, Karajan uses a modern-instrument orchestra but I’ve no objections on this count: Haydn’s last six London Symphonies were conceived on a grand scale, as if to out-Beethoven Beethoven, so they work well with a large orchestra. Nor does Karajan over-drive the music - there’s almost as much charm here as from Sir Thomas Beecham - and the recording stands up very well in this transfer, yet ultimately I’d go for Beecham, Davis or Jochum, all available very inexpensively. Classicsonline.com seem finally to have settled on a realistic price of £6.99 for Beecham’s wonderful 2-CD set of Nos.98-104 (see below for review).

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Quintet in E flat for piano and wind instruments, K452
Alfred Brendel (piano); Members of the Hungarian Wind Quintet - rec. 1959 ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 1-3BX165 [23:37] - from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

When this recording was released on the Vox Turnabout label in 1968 in tandem with Piano Concerto No.20*, both sides of the LP received something of a pasting from Stephen Plaistow, as did the record companies for not taking Brendel up in better partnerships and better recordings. There’s no doubt that the competent but rather lacklustre accompaniment here is not in the same league as Brendel’s pellucid playing, but I’d recommend having this reissue for that alone. The recording seems to have been tidied up considerably and now sounds more than acceptable, with a very occasional touch of surface noise.

* reissued on a 2-CD set from Vox, CDX-5177, for around £10.50, download from classicsonline.com for £9.98 or stream from Naxos Music Library.

The record companies did heed SP’s censure and took Brendel up in a big way. Amazon.co.uk have Brendel’s later version of the Quintet on a 2-CD Philips download for £11.99 - here - no longer available in the UK on CD.

Fritz Busch conducts the Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra in a stylish account of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro Overture in a 1934 recording on 1BX164 [3:52] - here. The recording is very acceptable for its age - sounding better, for example, than Sir Henry Wood’s Glinka (below). The sound cuts off very abruptly - perhaps there would have been a case for some artificial reverberation.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.36
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/André Cluytens - rec. 1960 ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 19-22BX82 [35:15] - from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/André Cluytens - rec. 1960 ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 15-18BX82 [33:32] - from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Here are two of Beethoven’s less flamboyant and less well-known symphonies in stylish performances to match the music. I’ve recently praised Karl Böhm and Eugen Jochum on Beulah Extra for the same virtues which André Cluytens’ Beethoven exhibits: old-fashioned music-making in the best sense, with no exaggeration but with no lack of characterisation. With the Berlin Phil at his disposal and recording which still sounds very much more than acceptable, I can think of no better way for newcomers to approach these two symphonies. These performances were recycled several times on LP and one can easily see why they were consistently recommended. Listen for example to the transition from the slow introduction to the main part of the first movement of Symphony No.4 and you won’t find it better handled. These won’t be your only versions of these symphonies, but there’s time later to experiment with period performances and other finesse.

Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857) Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture
Queen’s Hall Orchestra/Sir Henry J Wood - rec. 1937 ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 10BX3 [4:44] - from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

A lively performance, beating super Solti (Romantic Russia, Decca 460 977-2) by a few seconds and even matching Pletnev (A Russian Weekend, Decca 477 6288). I have no doubt that Beulah have done their best with this recording, certainly to the extent of tidying up the 78 surface noise, but the sound is rather thin even for its age.

Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat, S124
Alfred Brendel (piano); Vienna Pro Musica Orchestra/Michael Gielen - rec. 1957. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 4BX165 [19:12] - from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Concerto No.2 in A, S125
Alfred Brendel (piano); Vienna Pro Musica Orchestra/Michael Gielen - rec. 1957. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 5BX165 [21:46] - from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

If I have to single out one item (or, rather two items) from the new Beulah Extra releases, it would be Brendel’s Liszt, despite the availability of these recordings on budget price Regis RRC1362 and Tuxedo TUXCD1013. The CDs are good value at around a fiver each, but the Beulah downloads are even better value at £1.25 (US$1.99) per concerto.

These recordings on the Vox label preceded the major discovery of Brendel’s wonderful way with the Mozart Piano Concertos - we had to wait for World Record Club to bring us those in the early 1960s - so it’s very interesting that Brendel’s talent in these Liszt Concertos was immediately recognised by Roger Fiske, who strongly recommended the recording to ‘Liszt’s admirers and enemies alike.’ Trevor Harvey was if anything even more enthusiastic about the Turnabout reissue at £0.99 in 1970.

The performances are lively, with soloist and orchestra even sharing in some mild syncopation at times, but also sensitive. The recording now sounds better than I recall from the Turnabout LPs* - very good, in fact, for its age - and in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the performances. At Beulah’s attractive price you could afford these as well as the classic Sviatoslav Richter versions on Philips or the Beulah Extra reissue of Samson François’s recordings (1BX108 and 2BX108) which I reviewed in the February 2011 Roundup.

* the superior recording of Katchen and Argenta on Decca Ace of Diamonds, reissued on Decca Legends 470 257-2, with the Hungarian Rhapsody and so on, no longer available on CD, but download in mp3 or lossless from passionato.com - here - is one reason why I stayed with that recording rather than the Turnabout Brendel for the remainder of the LP era.

I haven’t yet heard the new Hyperion recording of Stephen Hough in these two concertos, together with the Grieg, scheduled for release on 1 November 2011, but that looks like one to watch.

Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Overture Carnival
Philharmonia Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch - rec. 1960 ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 5BX166 [8:55] - from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No.9 in G, Op.95 (‘From the New World’)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch - rec. 1960 ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 1-4BX166 [39:26] - from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

This recording of the New World dates from a time when it was still generally known as Symphony No.5. When these recordings were reissued on Classics for Pleasure in 1970 they had the misfortune to find themselves up against Istvan Kertesz’s earlier VPO recording of the New World on Decca, both at less than £1. Before you start thinking that those were the days, multiply that £1 by at least 25 for today’s equivalent. While both were stylish without being over- or under-driven, the Kertesz was generally thought to have a slight edge, so that was the version that replaced Karel Ančerl on the Supraphon LP that I’d owned for some time - a wonderful recording, but Supraphon pressings were hardly the quietest.* Thus I passed up my chance of hearing Sawallisch’s Dvořák, whose acquaintance I’m now pleased to make in these excellent transfers. I can see why Kertesz was marginally preferred but I’d place Sawallisch in my top ten versions of this oft-performed work. The recording still sounds well.

* Download from emusic.com here with Smetana Vltava for £2.10 or less.

Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
North Country Sketches (1913/14) [7:13 + 4:04 + 5:48 + 7:33]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham - rec. 1949 ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 5-8BX43 [24:38] - from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Gustav HOLST
(1874-1934)
St Paul’s Suite [12:29]
Boyd Neel String Orchestra/Boyd Neel - rec. 1949 ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 3-6BX116 [12:29] - from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Somerset Rhapsody [9:24]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Charles Groves - rec. 1952 ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 1BX158 [9:24] - from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

These performances of Delius and Holst are also included on the Classical Britain album which I reviewed in the September 2011/2 Roundup (1PD58).

Boyd Neel and his orchestra provided some staple recordings for Decca in the 1940s and 1950s and the four movements of Holst’s St Paul’s Suite are among their best offerings, presented here in thin but very acceptable sound.

The Somerset Rhapsody has been rescued from Classics Club, later reissued on a crackly Saga LP for 10/- (£0.50). It’s the sort of music that was meat and drink to Sir Charles long before he became the Grand Old Man of British music and it sounds well. Beecham’s Delius has even more classic status, as evidenced by this mono recording of North Country Sketches, which I first encountered on a Philips GL-label LP - originally recorded on 78s (Columbia LX1399-41), and sounding every bit of it on LP as I recall, despite Trevor Harvey’s comments to the contrary when the Philips LP was released in 1964. I wouldn’t have recognised the glowing Beulah transfer as the same recording - either the Columbia original was better than the Philips reissue or Barry Coward has worked magic on it, as he so often does.

The new reissue makes a welcome supplement to the mono and stereo recordings of Beecham’s Delius included in the recent 6-CD anthology of British music from EMI (see Rob Barnett’s review) which was my Bargain of the Month in July 2011/1. An earlier (1945) recording of the Sketches with the LPO features in an all-Delius programme on Somm SOMM-BEECHAM10*, but includes Autumn and Winter only, so the Beulah version is all the more welcome. There are too few recordings of this work to ignore either of these Beecham versions and, in any case, his way with Delius is unbeatable. Vernon Handley on Chandos is the sole current alternative for the complete thing, best obtained on the 2-for-1 The Essential Delius, CHAN241-37, reviewed in January 2009

* Mark Elder and the Hallé have recorded The March of Spring on their excellent recent anthology English Spring (CDHLL7528 - Recording of the Month: see review, review and August 2011/1 Roundup: Download of the Month).

Harry Mortimer and the Sale and District Musical Society with the Fodens, Fairey Aviation and Morris Motors Brass bands perform Stephen Adams’ The Holy City on 6BX156 [4:49] - here. It’s a slightly understated performance and the stereo recording sounds a little on the thin side for its date of 1958.

In another release which should appeal to lovers of band music, Stanley Boddington conducts the GUS Footwear Band in Hérold’s Zampa Overture on 5BX156 [6:25] - a 1959 stereo recording - here.

***

Josquin des PRÉS (c1440/55-1521)
Salve Regina a 5 [7:18]
Missa Hercules dux Ferrariæ [27:13]
Virgo salutiferi [7:39]
Miserere mei, Deus [16:54]
De Labyrintho/Walter Testolin - rec. 2003? DDD?
Texts not included.
STRADIVARIUS STR33674 [59:02] - from hmvdigital.com (mp3)

Pierre de la RUE (c. 1460-1518)
Missa pro defunctis [27:29]
Josquin des PRÉS Missa Hercules dux Ferrariæ [22:36]
La Deploration de Johannes Ockeghem [6:13]
New London Chamber Choir/James Wood - rec. 1985. DDD.
AMON RA CD-SAR 24 [56:34] - from passionato.com (mp3 and lossless)

Josquin des PRÉS
Deus, in nomine tuo [4:23]
Perfunde Coeli Rore [7:20]
Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariæ [30:55]
Inviolata, integra et casta es [3:28]
Miserere mei, Deus [12:43]
Chi a Martello dio gl’il toglia [2:35]
A Sei Voci with Les Saqueboutiers de Toulouse, Ensemble Labyrinthes and Maîtrise des Pays de Loire - rec. Sep. 1996. DDD
No texts.
NAÏVE AUVIDIS E8601 [61:24] - from classicsonline.com (mp3)

The Mass for Duke Ercole of Ferrara is one of Josquin’s most important and accomplished works. It and the other pieces receive an excellent performance from De Labyrintho. Only those who crave the varied instrumental accompaniment which A Sei Voci add to the Mass need seek their alternative, available only as a download from classicsonline.com - Mark Sealey seems to have found that accompaniment tedious for repeated hearing (see review) and I entirely take his point. A little sackbut goes a long way, though the accompaniment undoubtedly peps up the performance on first hearing. The Stradivarius recording and transfer are excellent, the latter at the full 320kb/s. The price is very reasonable, too.

Bargain seekers, however, will not be at all disappointed with the Hilliard Ensemble conducted by Paul Hillier in a slightly faster-paced version of the Mass on a super-budget 2-CD Virgin Veritas set, coupled with several motets and secular pieces, including the well-known Scaramella va a la Guerra. That’s available as 0724356234659 from classicsonline.com in good mp3 for £7.99, again without notes, though these are usually rudimentary for this series anyway. UK readers will find this available on CD as 5623462 for around the same price. Sample via Naxos Music Library.

The New London Chamber Choir offer another fine performance and an alternative coupling, aptly characterised by Robert Hugill: ‘This is an attractive disc and only occasionally do the choir’s very high standards lapse. Perhaps, nowadays, we might expect performances which reflect the tuning and tonality of the 1400s. But Wood and his choir display fine musicality and anyone wanting performances of these works need look no further.’ (See review). I thought the pace of the Josquin a little too fast, not to say rushed, and the opening Kyrie certainly follows too hard on the heels of the final Agnus Dei of the de le Rue Requiem. The recording, especially in lossless format, is good. Again, this can be sampled via the Naxos Music Library.

Josquin des PRÉS

Missa di dadi in 4 parts [29:59]
Missa Faysant Regretz in 4 parts [21:57]
The Medieval Ensemble of London/Peter Davies and Timothy Davies - rec 1984. DDD
No texts.
DECCA OISEAU-LYRE 475 9112 [51:48] - from passionato.com (mp3)

First issued on LP, this doesn’t seem to have survived long in the catalogue in CD format, even when reissued in 2007 at mid price, though it had no competitors for the Missa di dadi, so the passionato.com download is all the more welcome. There may be some doubts about the authenticity of the Missa di dadi, which is based on a song by the English composer Morton - Josquin’s name tended to be attached to other people’s works with the same abandon as Pergolesi’s was later - but the music is well worth hearing. Di dadi refers to the game of dice (Italian dado, plural dadi) and the music is constructed on mathematical principles; forget about these and enjoy. Clarity is the keynote of these performances and the mp3 transfer does justice to the recording. There are no texts but, as they consist only of the ordinary of the Mass, these are easily come by.

Josquin des PRÉS
Missa Pange lingua [32:36]
Planxit autem David [14:45]
Vultum tuum deprecabuntur [27:51]
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral/James O’Donnell - rec.1992. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55374 [75:40] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

This budget-price CD and download contains a recording of the Missa pange lingua, not so much to rival that on Gimell (above) as to place it in another context - that of a cathedral choir more attuned to a continental European manner than its Anglican rivals but, like them, employing boys’ voices as Josquin would have done. For once the performance is slower than that of the Tallis Scholars to allow for the cathedral acoustic. If I marginally prefer the Scholars, the two remaining works and the performance of them are such that, coupled with the attractive price of this recent reissue, you should consider having both performances of the Mass. I made this my Reissue of the Month in the August 2011/2 Roundup.

John TAVERNER (d.1545) Imperatrix inferni: Votive Antiphons and Ritual Music
Quemadmodum [5:39]
Audivi vocem [3:50]
Ave Dei patris filia [14:15]
Dum transisset sabbatum [7:48]
Mater Christi [6:11]
Gaude plurimum [15:28]
[Hodie nobis celorum rex ...] Gloria in excelsis Deo [4:36]
Kyrie ‘Leroy’: O splendor gloriæ [11:51]
Alamire (Grace Davidson, Kirsty Hopkins, Eleanor Cramer (soprano); Ruth Massey, Clare Wilkinson (contralto); Mark Dobell, Nicholas Todd, Ashley Turnell, Simon Wall (tenor); Eamonn Dougan, Timothy Scott Whiteley (baritone); William Gaunt, Robert Macdonald (bass))/David Skinner - rec. 23-25 November 2010. DDD.
Performing editions by David Skinner
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
OBSIDIAN OBSID-CD707 [70:21] - from classicsonline.com (mp3)

There’s a real feast of renaissance polyphony on offer this month. Had the new Tallis Scholars’ recording of Josquin not appeared at the same time, this and the new Hyperion recording of Victoria would have had to fight it out for my Download of the Month - regard them both as very close runners-up. Thankfully, we aren’t short of recordings of Taverner’s wonderful music, thanks principally to the Taverner Scholars on Gimell and on The Sixteen on Hyperion. Alamire have already contributed with Christe Jesu, pastor bone (OBSID-CD705 - see September 2009 Roundup) but we don’t yet have a complete œuvre. While the Easter respond Dum transisset sabbatum has received a number of recordings, some of the other works here are, to the best of my knowledge, not available in other versions.

The Imperatrix inferni, or Empress of the underworld of the title is, of course, the Virgin Mary, to whose honour much of the music here is dedicated. It’s all superbly sung and very well recorded. The download includes the excellent book of notes, texts and translations. I was surprised to see Christe Jesu, pastor bone mis-spelled there, but that’s really picking holes. Try it via the Naxos Music Library and you’ll want the download or its parent CD.

Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611)
Salve regina (5vv) (1583) [4:48]
Missa De Beata Maria Virgine (5vv) [30:22]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525/6-1594)
Surge, propera amica mea, et veni (4vv) [3:48]
Tomás Luis de VICTORIA Missa Surge propera (5vv) [28:58]
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral/Martin Baker - rec. July and October 2010. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts included.
HYPERION CDA67891 [67:52] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611)
O magnum mysterium [4:48]
Missa O magnum mysterium [22:21]
Ascendens Christus in altum [5:01]
Missa Ascendens Christus in altum [20:57]
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral/David Hill - rec. 1985. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts included
HYPERION CDA66190 [53:08] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611)

Ave Regina cælorum for eight voices [4:34]
Missa Ave Regina cælorum for eight voices [19:56]
Ave Maria for four voices [2:08]
Dixit Dominus for eight voices [5:37]
Laudate pueri Dominum for eight voices [5:05]
Laudate Dominum omnes gentes for eight voices [3:19]
Lætatus sum for twelve voices [6:56]
Nisi Dominus for eight voices [5:22]
Magnificat septimi toni for four voices [10:09]
Ave Maria for eight voices [4:15]
Robert Quinney (organ continuo)
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral/Martin Baker - rec. 2004. DDD.
HYPERION CDA67479 [67:02] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

I’m doing the new Westminster recording on CDA67891 and the Taverner (above) a grave injustice by not making either of them my Download of the Month. In this one roundup alone I could easily have found half of my allotted six Recordings of the Year. It’s almost superfluous now to remind you that Victoria’s music rivals that of Palestrina, that the Westminster Cathedral forces do him proud and that they are most ably supported by Hyperion in the form of excellent recordings and an excellent booklet.

This new recording joins several excellent predecessors from Westminster Cathedral Choir in the music of Victoria, as recorded by Hyperion under four distinguished musical directors. CDA66190 is the only one that I haven’t reviewed. The slightly short playing time is reflected in a reduced asking price of £5.99 for the download, so there’s no need to wait for it to be reissued on the less expensive Helios label. Apart from David Hill’s apparent liking for hard g in words like magnum and genitum, which I hadn’t noticed until now, I need hardly say that it and the others listed below are excellent:

- Missa Gaudeamus - a liturgical sequence for the Feast of the Assumption with organ music by Girolamo Frescobaldi (CDA67748, directed by Matthew Martin) - see review, August 2009 Roundup and March 2011/2 Roundup
- Requiem: Officium Defunctorum (CDA66250, directed by David Hill) - see October 2010 Roundup
- Missa Trahe me post te, etc. (CDH55376, directed by James O’Donnell) - see March 2011/2 Roundup
- Missa Vidi speciosam (CDA66129, reissued CDH55358, directed by David Hill) - see June 2011/1 Roundup
- Missæ O quam gloriosum and Ave maris stella (CDA66114, directed by David Hill) - see Hyperion Top 30 and May 2011/2 Roundup
- Missa Dum complerentur, etc. (CDH55452, directed by James O’Donnell) - see September 2011/1 Roundup
- Tenebræ responsories (CDA66304, directed by David Hill) - see March 2010 Roundup

For CDA67479, see September 2011/1 Roundup, together with other recordings of Victoria from Harmonia Mundi, Dynamic and Naxos.

The choristers’ singing on these recordings isn’t flawless - go for The Sixteen or the Tallis Scholars (below) for perfect accuracy - but it’s far and away better than most Spanish choirs manage, if my experiences of hearing Victoria in Toledo Cathedral many years ago are representative, and most will be prepared to forgive minor flaws for the sake of hearing the music performed with boys’ voices. Hyperion don’t have the monopoly on Victoria, of course. Other distinguished recordings of Victoria include:

- Hail Mother of the Redeemer : Coro - Sixteen (May 2011/2 Roundup)
- Lamentations (exc): Chandos - Nordic Voices (+ GESUALDO, WHITE, PALESTRINA) (November 2009 Roundup)
- Missa Dum Complerentur, Simile est regnum cœlorum : Nimbus - Christ Church, Oxford (August 2009 Roundup)
- Missa Gaudeamus a6, etc. Cardinall’s Musick - ASV (March 2011/2 Roundup)
- Requiem (1605), Salve Regina, etc.: Coro - The Sixteen (October 2008 Roundup)
- Requiem, etc (in ‘Renaissance Giants’ and ‘Requiem’): Gimell - Tallis Scholars (Oct 2008 Roundup)
- The Call of the Beloved - Motets and Hymns: Coro - The Sixteen (October 2008 Roundup)
- The Victoria Collection - Coro - The Sixteen (March 2011/2 Roundup)
- The Victoria Collection - Tallis Scholars - Gimell (3 CDs) (March 2011/2 Roundup)

What better way could there be to commemorate the quatercentenary of Victoria’s death than by obtaining and listening to as many of these as possible?

Barbaric Beauty
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)

Perpetuum Mobile: Concerto Polonois in G, interspersed with Dances from Rostock Collection and other collections [14:52]
Les Janissaires and Dances from collections [6:11]
Mourky [10:21]
Dances from Collection Uhrovec, etc. [11:44]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN Hanaquoise interspersed with dances from Boere Tansen (Peasants’ Dances) [7:41]
From Collection Szirmay-Keczer, etc.[11:35]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN Marche [5:47]
Mezzetin en Turc; Dance 277 from Collection Uhrovec; Les Turcs [9:02]
Holland Baroque Society with Miloš Valent (violin), Jan Rokyta (cimbalom or hammered dulcimer and folk recorders), Armenian Duduk (clarinet) - rec. DDD/DSD
Manuscript arrangements: Miloš Valent and Tineke Steenbrink
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA31911 [77:32] - from channelclassics.com (mp3 and 24/44.1, 24/96 and 24/192 lossless)

[follow link above to see 9-minute video]

This is Telemann, but not as we know him. This enterprising new recording offers not his more familiar music in the French and Italian styles but music from Eastern Europe from collections which he himself made or contemporary with him, including the Rostock manuscript, a collection of dances in his own hand. All the music here, both that by Telemann and that from the dance collections, is exotic and very entertaining and the performances are very lively - even more so than those on the Channel Classics Holland Baroque 'straight’ Telemann collection which John-Pierre Joyce reviewed (CCSSA28409 - see review). I’ve given just a hint above of how the performances intermingle Telemann’s music and the folk works which influenced him.

I was already aware of the influence of Polish music on Telemann - there’s even a Dorian CD, DOR90302, entitled Telemann alla polacca - but this collection is a real eye-opener. As for the employment of the Hackbrett, the booklet offers evidence that he knew and employed this instrument, well known since its deployment in the film The Third Man. The rear insert correctly translates this into English as cimbalom or hammered dulcimer - don’t be deceived by the notes which call it a cymbal, a mistranslation of the Dutch cimbaal. Otherwise the notes are excellent, as is the recording which I heard in 24/96 format.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Violin Concertos
Concerto in a minor BWV 1041 [12:14]
Concerto in E BWV 1042 [15:38]
Concerto in g minor after BWV 1056 [9:24]
Concerto in A after BWV 1055 [9:30]
Rachel Podger (violin/director); Brecon Baroque (Bojan Čičíc, Johannes Pramsohler (violins); Jane Rodgers (viola); Alison McGillivray (cello); Jan Spencer (violone); Christopher Bucknall (harpsichord)) - rec. May 2010. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included.
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA30910 [51:18] - from channelclassics.com (mp3, 12/44.1, 24/96 and 14/192 lossless)

We, in common with most other reviewers, seem to have missed this recording when it was released on CD. I’m delighted to remedy the omission now.

Not without justification, and hardly surprisingly, Rachel Podger is a pluralist performer in the Bach Violin Concertos, first as second string in the Double Concertos on Harmonia Mundi HMU90 7155, with the Academy of Ancient Music and Andrew Manze in 1996 and subsequently as chief soloist in this recording for Channel Classics. It’s hardly surprising that this is listed on their home page as one of their best sellers since its release last year (2010). It offers the two well-known solo concertos together with arrangements of two keyboard concertos which may well have started life as violin works and sound well in that form. It’s a shame that the Concerto for two violins was not included - there would have been room for it on a not very well-filled recording.

I’d rate the performances among the liveliest that I’ve heard, the kind that makes you want to sing along, and I would certainly place it in the top half dozen recordings in a competitive field unless you must have the ‘regular’ coupling with one or more of the double concertos. In fact, you can supplement it with Podger, again with the Academy of Ancient Music, in the two-violin concerto, BWV1043, on the Wigmore Hall label from classicsonline.com (WHLive0005, with Handel and Vivaldi, for £4.99)*. The Channel Classics downloaded recording is excellent - I tried the 24-bit/96kHz version - and a fine booklet comes as part of the deal.

* review in the next Roundup

Those who habitually shun period performance - they really need not in this case - will find their needs well catered for with the Arthur Grumiaux recording on Philips Silver Line 420 700-2, available in mp3 from passionato.com - here.

Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758): Orchestral Works, Volume 2
Concerto in D, FWV L: D5 [19:10]
Ouverture in a minor, FWV K: a1 [25:51]
Sinfonia in g minor, FWV M: g1 [10:10]
Concerto in G, FWV L: G13 [18:37]
Tempesta di Mare: Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra/Gwyn Roberts and Richard Stone (artistic directors); Emlyn Ngai (concertmaster) - rec. live, October 2010, March and May 2011. DDD.
All premiere recordings
pdf booklet included.
CHANDOS CHAN0783 [74:12] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

Volume 1 of this series appeared in 2008 and was welcomed by Johan van Veen, though he felt a lack of ‘dynamic shading, not just between notes, but also on single notes, and sometimes the differentiation and articulation could have been a bit sharper. I would have liked the performances to be more sparkling, with more ‘attack’ and with sharper edges.’ - see review.

Volume 2 is, if anything, more welcome; though JV’s reservations still hold good I’m a little less inclined to give them weight. There is still too little of Fasch’s music in the recorded repertoire, though Dynamic and, to a lesser extent Naxos, have been working to put matters right. (See my review of Fasch’s Passion, 8.570326, with links to various other Fasch recordings reviewed by JV.) All the works on both Chandos volumes are receiving their well-deserved premieres on record. Fasch may not be the equal of Telemann and the performances may not have quite the liveliness of Collegium 90’s recordings of that composer, also on Chandos, but I enjoyed everything here enough to send me in search of Volume 1.

The fact that these are live recordings means that we occasionally hear some rustling noises and clicking of keys and, more seriously for some, some inevitable rough edges when period instruments, especially the horns, perform live. I didn’t find any of these disturbing, however.

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) London Symphonies: Volume 2
Symphony No.99 in E flat [25:27]
Symphony No.100 in G (‘Military’) [21:23]
Symphony No.103 in E flat (‘Drumroll’) [30:13]
Symphony No.101 in D (‘Clock’) [28:22]
Symphony No.102 in B flat [21:47]
Symphony No.104 in D (‘London’) [26:39]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham - rec.1957-8. ADD.
EMI CLASSICS 0724358551358 [2CDs 77:09 + 78:24] - from classicsonline.com (mp3) Stream from Naxos Music Library [See review by Terry Barfoot: Bargain of the Month.]

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No 101 in D (‘Clock’) [25:36]
Symphony No 102 in B flat (now known to be the true ‘Miracle’ Symphony) [22:15]
Overture to an English opera Windsor Castle [4:06]
The Hanover Band/Roy Goodman (c.1798 fortepiano) - rec. 1991. DDD.
pdf booklet included.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55127 [52:01] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

At last the price of EMI and Virgin Classics budget-price twofers from classicsonline.com seems to have settled at a competitive £6.99, with a few at a still reasonable £7.99. That means that I can finally recommend the download of Volume 2 of Beecham’s London Symphonies alongside that of Volume 1, already on sale for £6.99, which I reviewed some time ago.

There’s little that I need add: these are supremely stylish performances, even though they employ editions which were already out of date in Beecham’s time and the recording (stereo for this set) has worn even better than the mono of the first volume. Whatever other recordings of these symphonies you have, you need this one.

The Goodman series was, sadly, never completed. Only this recording was made of the second London set and only Nos. 93-95 (CDH55126, reviewed in the January 2011 Roundup) from the first set. The emphasis here is on recapturing period performance - hence the often fairly audible fortepiano and the use of more accurate editions - but the result is far from dead scholarship. In its own way this is just as enjoyable as Beecham, occasionally even more so - try the ticking slow movement from the ‘Clock’. Though the proponents of the one may dislike the other, ideally you need both. You might expect Goodman’s tempi to be faster than Beecham’s but, interestingly, it’s swings and roundabouts in that respect. By comparison with the EMI set the Hyperion CD offers short value, even for 1991 and, though the price is attractive, the booklet comes as part of the deal - identifying No.102 as the true Miracle Symphony, not No.96 - and the lossless flac comes at the same price as the mp3, the Beecham set is the clearer bargain.

Classicsonline.com also have Geoffrey Tate’s very recommendable recordings of Nos.99-104 on three separate EMI Encore recordings but the prices vary from a very reasonable £3.99 to an uncompetitive £8.99. Nos.100 and 102-4 are better value on EMI Classics for Pleasure 5099922836953 at £4.99. (See my review of the Encore CD of Symphonies 102 and 104.)

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Divertimento No. 10 in F, K247 [31:27]
Divertimento No. 17 in D, K334 [44:06]
The Gaudier Ensemble (Marieke Blankestijn, Lesley Hatfield (violins); Iris Juda (viola); Stephen Williams (double bass); Jonathan Williams, Christiaan Boers (horn)) - rec. 2002. DDD
pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67386 [73:35] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Oboe Quartet in F, for oboe, violin, viola, cello, K370 [17:27]
Horn Quintet in E flat for horn, violin, two violas, cello, K407 [18:41]
Quintet movement in F for clarinet in C, basset horn, violin, viola, cello, K580b [12:48]
Quintet for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon in E flat major K452 [25:03]
The Gaudier Ensemble (Marieke Blankestijn (violin); Iris Juda (viola); Jane Atkins (viola); Christoph Marks (cello); Douglas Boyd (oboe) Richard Hosford (bassett horn, clarinet); Nicholas Rodwell (clarinet); Robin O’Neill (bassoon); Jonathan Williams (horn); Susan Tomes (piano))
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55390 [74:00] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
March, K.445 (320c) [2:27]
Divertimento No.17 in D for 2 violins, viola, bass and 2 horns, K334 (320b)* [47:25]
Quartet for oboe, violin, viola and cello in F, K.370† [13:53]
Scottish Chamber Orchestra Ensemble (Alexander Janiczek (director/violin)*†; Ruth Crouch (violin)*; Jane Atkins (viola)*†; David Watkin (cello)†; Nikita Naumov (double bass)*; Robin Williams (oboe)†; Pip Eastop (natural horn)*; Harry Johnstone (natural horn))*
pdf booklet included
LINN CKD376 [63:48] - from linnrecords.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

I reviewed the Hyperion recording of the two Divertimenti in the January 2011 Roundup - the recording had not been purchased for such a long time that it had fallen into Hyperion’s half-price ‘please buy me’ category. I’m constantly perplexed to see what superb recordings are on offer there - it’s worth checking at least once a week: you could build up a wonderful CD library at half price in that way. I hope that neither the Gaudier Ensemble nor the new version from the Scottish CO Ensemble fall into that predicament again - surely every serious collector of Mozart needs a recording of Divertimento No.17. The Oboe Quartet, too, is quintessential Mozart chamber music and, again, there’s the choice here between two excellent versions.

Coupling, price and availability of audiophile 24-bit downloads could well solve the issue. If you are happy with CD-quality 16-bit lossless, the two Hyperion albums cost £7.99 and £5.99 respectively, the Linn costs £10 (mp3 is less expensive at £8, the 24-bit formats cost £18). In purely mercenary terms, you could, therefore, have twice as much music from the Gaudier Ensemble for little less outlay.

In musical terms, it depends whether you want K334 with (Linn) or without (Hyperion) its associated March; I’ve no strong opinion on this issue either way. The Scottish players employ natural horns, played well in tune - not something that can be taken for granted but, as it reduces the difference in sound between them and the Gaudier horn players, it doesn’t materially affect the outcome. Lecturers who need to spot sections will prefer the Linn recording, which divides the six movements - six tracks on Hyperion - into twelve sections, with each of the variations of the second movement on a separate track. Again, that’s an issue that won’t affect the vast majority of listeners, except that the extra divisions on Linn raise the possibility of very slight drop-outs in the music at track changes.

After an opening allegro where tempi are almost exactly alike, the Scottish players take a little longer over most movements than the Gaudiers: the Theme and Variations, for example, take nine minutes on their recording as against 8:21. That makes the music sound a little more stately on the new recording but stateliness never gives way to sluggishness. On the other hand, the Gaudiers are generally a smidgen more lively and lean on the music just a little more in a way which reminds me of the Boskovsky Ensemble’s Decca recordings of Mozart Divertimenti and Serenades. (458 310-2, almost 10 hours of delightful music; CD no longer available but download from passionato.com in mp3 or flac.)

Both recordings are very good and both come with informative pdf booklets. The Hyperion reflects the lighter tone of the Gaudier Ensemble.

Concerning the budget-price Helios recording, I need only repeat what I wrote as recently as the August 2011/2 Roundup:

Very attractive music, though not as often performed or recorded as other Mozart works, with the exception of the Piano Quintet. I need say only that performances, recording and presentation are among Hyperion’s best and that the price is most attractive: I sometimes think that I might just as well cut and paste the whole Hyperion catalogue into one of my roundups and give it a blanket recommendation, apart from the rather underpowered version of Vaughan Williams, Five Tudor Portraits on CDH55004.

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 (1878) [34:19]
Slavonic Dances, Op. 72 (1886-1887) [36:09]
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer - rec. March and May 1999. DDD/DSD
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA90210 [70:28] - from channelclassics.com (mp3, 24/44.1, 24/96 and 24/192 lossless)

[‘Despite my initial reservations Fischer and the BFO have persuaded me there’s plenty of fine music in these collections, much of it revealed to me as never before. Throw in excellent sonics and good liner-notes and you have a most desirable issue. And while Channel’s production values are as high as ever, I don’t care for their flimsy Digipaks, which are susceptible to scuffs and tears. Still, it’s the music that really matters, and after hearing Fischer you’ll be listing your old faves on eBay.’ - see full review by Dan Morgan.]

Regular readers who notice how often I find myself in accord with Dan Morgan will not be surprised to find me in agreement with him again - except that I didn’t even have any initial reservations and, of course, with downloads you don’t have to worry about the cardboard digipack, since all the music is safely stored on your internal or external hard drive, preferably both for security. Alternatively you can choose your own CD case if you burn the mp3 or 24/44.1 download to CDR. I chose the 96kHz download, which is too large to burn onto one CDR but can be got onto a DVD if you have a player capable of playing DVD Audio. The 192kHz version, of course, produces an even larger file but can still be fitted on DVD.

I’ve downloaded channelclassics.com’s recordings in both 44.1kHz and 96kHz versions this month and been more than satisfied with both - they are, after all, in 24-bit form - but real audiophiles will want the top range 192kHz versions. Make sure that you can play them - try the test files available on the Channel Classics website. If your player down-samples or refuses to play the 24/96 and 24/192 versions, you’ll need to invest in a good DAC (digital-audio converter), a step which I still haven’t taken.

I haven’t yet said anything about the performances and many readers will have taken it for granted that this team in Dvořák is pretty well unbeatable, especially those who have read my July 2010 Download Roundup where I preferred the passionato.com download of the earlier Philips release of Symphonies 8 and 9 to Marin Alsop’s then recent recording of Nos. 7 and 8 on Naxos and thought it on a par with Rafael Kubelík on DGG Originals. Devotees of Dvořák will recognise that as high praise indeed and the Slavonic Dances are worthy of a similar encomium.

I haven’t heard the Szell recordings on CD but remember them with affection from a 1961 slightly abridged release on a Fontana LP that also came with a reproduction of a painting. For quite some time I’ve regarded the Naxos recording as my benchmark - one of their earlier issues which used to be available from Woolworth’s only. (Slovak PO/Zdenek Košler, 8.550143 - download from classicsonline.com in mp3.) The Channel Classics performance is in no way inferior to either of those - just a touch livelier where it matters - and the superior recording quality means that this now becomes my version of choice.

Fischer’s recording of those two symphonies has now migrated from Philips to Channel Classics and it’s available in a variety of download formats as opposed to (good) mp3 only from passionato.com. (CCSSA90110 - here.) If, as I expect, it sounds as good as this recording of the Slavonic Dances, also originally from Philips, that might even give it the edge over Kubelík.

Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Two Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34 (1880) [8:47]
Two Melodies for String Orchestra, Op. 53 (1890) [8:20]
From Holberg’s Time: Suite in Olden Style, Op. 40 (1884) [20:06]
Two Lyric Pieces, Op. 68 (1897-99) [7:10]
Two Nordic Melodies for String Orchestra, Op. 63 (1895) [11:07]
Lyric Suite, Op. 54 (1905) [15:42]
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Bjarte Engeset - rec. August 2006 and May 2009. DDD
Pdf booklet included
NAXOS 8.572403 [71:13] - from classicsonline.com (mp3). Stream from Naxos Music Library

Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Symphonic Works: Volume 1
Symphonic Dances, Op.64 [33:05]
Peer Gynt: Suite No.1, Op.46 [15:11]
Peer Gynt: Suite No.2, Op.55 [17:50]
Sorgemarsj over Rikard Nordråk (Funeral March in Memory of Rikard Nordraak), EG 107 (version for orchestra) [10:15]
West German Radio Symphony Orchestra/Eivind Aadland
AUDITE 92.651 [73:20] - from classicsonline.com (mp3) Stream from Naxos Music Library

Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Symphonic Works: Volume 2
2 Elegiac Melodies, Op.34 [9:45]
From Holberg’s Time, Op.40 [20:58]
2 Melodies, Op.53 [9:05]
2 Nordic Melodies, Op.63 [12:20]
West German Radio Symphony Orchestra/Eivind Aadland
AUDITE 92.579 [52:08] - from classicsonline.com (mp3) Stream from Naxos Music Library

Volume 1 of the Audite series has already won golden opinions which I’m entirely happy to endorse. The Symphonic Dances, though less frequently played than the Peer Gynt Suites, are the equal of Dvořák’s better-known Slavonic Dances. They receive an excellent performance, as does the rest of this generously programmed album. The Peer Gynt Suites represent only a fragment of the fine music for that work - I’d welcome hearing Aadland offer the complete incidental music or, at least, a 60-minute-plus selection, but for the moment I’m content with his versions of the Suites as a modern replacement for Fjeldstad’s slightly fuller excerpts from Peer Gynt, coupled with Curzon’s stereo remake of the Piano Concerto which I recommended last month. (Decca 448 5992, download only, see October 2011/1 Roundup). The Audite recording sounds fine in mp3 format.

Volume 2 of the Audite series and the Naxos recording almost exactly duplicate each other, except that the Naxos costs less (£4.99 against £7.99) and contains considerably more music. At under an hour the Audite is short value. Is it worth going for the bargain or does the Audite recording merit costing more than twice as much per second?

First, let me duck the question for a moment and remind you that the real bargain in Grieg downloads, almost eight times as much music for the price of the Naxos download, comes from amazon.co.uk in the form of the 99 Most Essential Grieg Masterpieces, as recommended in the June 2011/2 Roundup by Nick Barnard. There the Symphonic Dances come from a highly recommendable BIS recording (Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Ole Ruud) and the Holberg Suite from the Slovak Philharmonic is pretty good, too. All this and much more besides - over 8 hours - costs just £4.99, so it doesn’t much matter that the Peer Gynt Suites from the Tblisi Symphony Orchestra are less recommendable.

Aadland squeezes just a fraction more emotion out of the Two Elegiac Melodies than Engeset and there’s very little to choose between the two orchestral contributions: at first, for a bar or two, I wondered whether this was the Malmö Orchestra at its best, but I need not have worried. If push comes to shove, I must express a preference for this music not to wear its heart too overtly on its sleeve, so I’m with Engeset on this one by a small whisker. I already knew that he was an accomplished interpreter of Grieg - see review, review and review of his recording of the Piano Concerto and Symphonic Dances on Naxos 6.110060/5.110060 - and this confirms it.

It’s the Holberg Suite that most people will want - just the kind of faux-antiquery that I go for. Here again I liked the slightly faster tempi overall on the Naxos recording. The opening Prelude goes with a real swing without ever sounding rushed. As it happens, in this movement Engeset matches Aadland’s timing exactly and both orchestras ably keep up the pace, so there’s little to choose; both are a little faster than Karajan and a little slower than Marriner to name two classic accounts. Ole Ruud with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, my benchmark among recent versions, is also a shade faster than both (BIS-SACD-1491, download from eclassical.com in mp3 and 16-bit lossless for just $6.89; $10.34 for 24-bit), but there’s very little in it. Ian Lace described the BIS recording as ‘Lovely, warm, sensitive performances of favourite Grieg pieces in superior SACD sound’. (See review).

So it’s a clear recommendation for the first volume of the Audite series but a less clear-cut issue for the Holberg Suite. The BIS download of the Ruud recording from eclassical.com is perhaps still the safest recommendation and it comes in lossless sound for around the same low price as the Naxos. The Naxos recording has the most music and there’s little to choose between the performances there and those on Audite. All three recordings couple the Suite with the Elegiac Melodies and the Nordic Melodies and the Naxos and BIS both also contain the Lyric Pieces. The BIS download comes with the pdf booklet.

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 4 in G (1892, 1899-1900; revised 1910) [56:41]
Miah Persson (soprano); Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer - rec. September 2008. DDD.
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA26109 [56:41] - from channelclassics.com (mp3, 24/44.1, 24/96 and 24/192 lossless flac)

When I reviewed the emusic.com mp3 version of this recording in the July 2010 Roundup, I found myself swimming against the overwhelming tide of critical opinion, not least that of our own Leslie Wright, for whom it was Recording of the Month. Apart from the fact that Channel Classics’ own lossless recording places the performance in a much better light than emusic’s mp3, with inner detail much clearer, though well integrated within the overall sound picture, I’m not sure why my reaction now is much more positive. Those Viennese nudgings of the tempo now seem much more natural than they did a year ago. I’d still place George Szell at the head of the list for this symphony (CBS/Sony 46535), though Dan Morgan and I had some reservations about the High Definition Tape Transfer of that recording in the February 2011 Roundup. For me Fischer now joins recordings by Michael Tilson Thomas (August 2010 Roundup) and Charles Mackerras (February 2011 Roundup) among the best recent versions.

I listened to the 24/44.1 lossless flac version, partly because my broadband router is currently refusing to work with my Logitech Squeezebox and I’m having to use the Winamp player, but I understand from Channel Classics that the great majority of downloads from their site are in 24/192 quality. Time for me to get a DAC, I think.

Bernard HERRMANN (1911-1975)
Moby Dick - A Cantata for Male Chorus, Soloists, and Orchestra
Text selected and arranged by W. Clark HARRINGTON from the novel by Herman MELIVILLE (1936-38)* [46:20]
Sinfonietta for String Orchestra (1935-36) [6:50]
Richard Edgar-Wilson (tenor): Ishmael / Starbuck
David Wilson-Johnson (baritone): Ahab
Poul Emborg (tenor): Harpooner / Sailor / Voice
Rasmus Gravers (tenor): Pip
Uffe Henriksen (bass): Drunken Sailor
Danish National Choir
Florian Helgath (chorus master)
Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Michael Schønwandt - rec. January/March 2011. DDD/DSD
* premiere recording of original version
CHANDOS CHAN5095 [63:24] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and 16- and 24-bit lossless and Studio Surround)

To encounter Bernard Herrmann other than as a film composer or conductor* is rare indeed, though there is a vintage recording of Moby Dick, conducted at its world première in 1940 by Sir John Barbirolli (Barbirolli Society SJB1056). I believe that the Barbirolli recording enshrines the original version, which Chandos claim to have recorded here for the first time, rather than the revised version from the 1960s. Otherwise, even the Varese Sarabande label which offers so many of Herrmann’s film scores has, I believe, only one non-film CD of his music. The only other current recordings of him as conductor of other than film music are the Lyrita CD of Cyril Scott’s two piano concertos, with the LPO and John Ogdon as soloist. (SRCD.251 - see review and review and July 2009 Roundup) as well as his Holst Planets on Eloquence and Pristine’s resurrection of his CBS radio studio recordings of British and American music.

* download Chandos’ own Film Music of Bernard Herrmann, CHAN10577, from theclassicalshop.net here.

Don’t expect Herrmann’s Moby Dick Cantata to have the immediate appeal of his film music or of Philip Sainton’s score for the film of that name. It’s a powerful work, however, which I enjoyed hearing; it captures the spirit of the book, though I don’t expect to return to it often. There are no weak links among the soloists and the chorus, orchestra and direction are persuasive.

The Sinfonietta is a predominantly gloomy work, redolent of the darker side of Bartók without the compensating energy. Even worse, the dead hand of Schoenberg, in post Verklärte Nacht mode, also lies upon it. I have to say that I found it hard to engage with, much less to like, though I’m sure that a good case is made for it here. The recording throughout is very good in 16-bit flac, equivalent to the CD. I know that Dan Morgan, who likes the Sinfonietta more than I did, has been listening to the more expensive 24-bit/96kHz version, which I’ll let him comment on:

Think of Bernard Hermann and his classic scores for Citizen Kane, Psycho and North by Northwest spring to mind. And yet he wrote a fair amount of music for the stage and concert hall; indeed, Sir John Barbirolli - who premiered the piece in 1940 - declared Moby Dick one of the most important works by a young American composer. That may seem overly generous, given the competition, but the cantata certainly increased my admiration for this multi-talented tunesmith. And what a good idea that Danish maestro Michael Schønwandt, should take the helm. His underrated recording of Strauss’s Salome - review - is a slow burner but it’s pretty compelling, qualities I expected to find in this Moby Dick as well. I reviewed the 24/96 stereo download.

There’s an English reticence to Herrmann’s writing here, ‘And God created great whales’ reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony, tenor Richard Edgar-Wilson sounding remarkably Pears-like in ‘Call me Ishmael’. There’s a touch of the introspective Vere as well, but he’s a tad unsteady under pressure. No qualms about the recording though, the louring bass drum and rocking brass of this section very well caught. Despite a pleasing smoothness to the sound it has plenty of range and heft. Balances are nicely judged and, as expected, Schønwandt ensures steady progress and stays well clear of the doldrums.

The Danish chorus sing with quiet intensity throughout, and although diction isn’t always as clear as I’d like they’re simply magnificent in the cantata’s more expansive moments. And I’d say there’s a strong hint of Copland in the insistent rhythms of the hymn/chorus ‘The ribs and terrors in the whale’. As for the protagonists, the baritone David Wilson-Johnson makes a finely calibrated Ahab, the wide, deep soundstage adding immensely to the sense of a vast, heaving deck across which Melville’s characters have to variously sing, shout and snarl. The Danish orchestra plays most beautifully, producing rich, velvety tones when the wind drops as it were, whipping up a storm when it rises.

All too often composers who write well for the big screen have difficulty scaling down their ideas for the concert hall. Not Herrmann, whose quiet, lyrical writing for Ahab in ‘Yonder, by the ever-brimming goblet’s rim’ and Ishmael’s ‘It was a clear, steel-blue day’ are most beautifully scaled and shaped. There’s a sense of inner agonies and dilemmas, of flesh-and-blood characters, that’s strongly reminiscent of Britten at his best. Goodness, this is vocal writing of a high order, Wilson-Johnson both aching and eloquent. Herrmann keeps his sails trimmed to the very end, the apotheosis thrilling without approaching excess. The final pages couldn’t be simpler or more direct, with Ishmael’s subdued ‘And I only am escaped alone to tell thee’.

The Sinfonietta is an attractive if unremarkable filler, the lower strings given a warmth and lustre that’s simply gorgeous. It’s a work of contrast and character, and Schønwandt keeps it scudding along nicely. And despite some slashing, dissonant figures - a precursor of Psycho, perhaps - this is very easy on the ear.

Dramatically, Herrmann’s Moby Dick isn’t as probing or multi-layered as it might be, but then it’s only a 45-minute cantata and not a three-act opera. Musically, some listeners may find his treatment of Melville’s epic tale too restrained. Still, it’s an enterprising project and I urge you to give it a try.

Dan Morgan

James MACMILLAN
(b.1959) Who are these Angels?

And lo, the Angel of the Lord [4:40]
The Strathclyde Motets: Qui meditabitur [5:25]
The Strathclyde Motets: O Radiant Dawn [4:17]
The Strathclyde Motets: Lux æterna [3:44]
The Strathclyde Motets: Os mutorum [4:28]
Bring us, O Lord [6:03]
The Strathclyde Motets: Canticle of Zachariah [3:42]
Benedictus Deus [5:18]
Advent Antiphon [4:23]
The Strathclyde Motets: Pascha nostrum immolatus est [4:22]
Who are these Angels? [5:52]
Think of how God loves you [2:30]
The Strathclyde Motets: Benedicimus Deum cæli [3:02]
Mass of Blessed John Henry Newman [8:55]
Tota pulchra es [4:33]
Capella Nova (Frances Cooper, Michael Haslam, Christina Sampson, Rebecca Tavener, Emma Versteeg, Julia Wilson-James (soprano); Ruth Gibbins, Anne Lewis, Daniel Keating-Roberts, Richard Wyn-Roberts (alto); Malcolm Bennett, Graham Neal, Tom Phillips, Ashley Turnell (tenor); James Birchall, Edward Caswell, Paul Charrier, John Milne (bass)) - rec. 2010. DDD/DSD
All première recordings
LINN CKD383 [72:06] - from linnrecords.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

This is a strongly recommended successor to the earlier Capella Nova recording of James MacMillian’s music on Linn (CKD301 - see May 2009 Roundup). For those not yet acquainted, MacMillan’s music stands in a clear line of descent from renaissance polyphony and the choral music of the twentieth-century heirs of that tradition, especially Herbert Howells, but with an equally clear voice of its own, often evocative of Tallis but also seeming to hark back even beyond the renaissance to the medieval Ars Nova and the music of the Orthodox tradition. It has a haunting beauty but also a sharpness and directness that nevertheless don’t set on edge the teeth of those like myself who shun the likes of later Schoenberg and all their works and, though the music clearly arises from MacMillan’s deeply held Roman Catholicism, I don’t think that you need any spiritual beliefs to appreciate it. If you like, that’s the opposite side of the coin to the way in which the self-styled agnostic Ralph Vaughan Williams - actually more accurately described, like Thomas Hardy, as a Christian agnostic - was able to strike a spiritual note.

The short Newman Mass was composed for the papal visit to the UK in 2010. Like everything here it receives an idiomatic performance from Capella Nova, who already had the earlier Linn CD and a number of ASV Gaudeamus recordings to their credit, and the recording is excellent; I listened to the 16-bit lossless wma. There is no booklet, so the lack of texts is a problem, though most of the words can be found online and the notes can be found on the Linn website. (Link above).

James MACMILLAN
A New Song [4:36]
Mass [35:02]
Christus vincit [6:04]
Gaudeamus in loci pace (organ solo) [6:36]
Seinte Mari moder milde [5:47]
A Child’s Prayer [3:42]
Changed [3:02]
Andrew Reid (organ)
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral/Martin Baker - rec.2000. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
HYPERION CDA67219 [64:23] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

The new Linn recording led me back to this earlier Hyperion release. I refer you to Stephen Foster’s detailed and enthusiastic review of the original CD - ‘This is another triumph for Hyperion and further establishes James MacMillan as a unique and vital voice in British music making.’ (Full review here.) I need only add that the recording sounds extremely fine in the lossless flac download and that all the documentation is included with the download - it’s just a shame that Linn couldn’t have matched Hyperion in giving us the texts and translations.

*

It may be a little early for Advent and Christmas, but I’ve already been listening to an enjoyable download from Resonus of music for that period stylishly performed by Onyx Brass, ranging from Jakob Handl (Gallus), Tallis, Palestrina, Parsons and Monteverdi via Corelli, Schütz and Bach to Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, Cornelius and Holst. (Canite Tuba, RES10105, mp3, aac and up to 24/96 lossless, download only from resonusclassics.com and other sites). More in the next Roundup, for which I’ve already pencilled in two budget-price Hyperion reissues: Epiphany at St Paul’s Cathedral (CDH55443) and Prætorius Music for Christmas (CDH55446). The latter was highly recommendable in its previous incarnation on CDA66200, now it’s even more irresistible.



 
 


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