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DOWNLOAD ROUNDUP: NOVEMBER 2011/2

Brian Wilson

The previous roundup is here and earlier editions are indexed here.

I had expected to be able to write that classicsonline.com had finally sorted out their pricing policy for EMI and Virgin Classics downloads, now that their 2-CD budget sets have settled at £6.99 or, occasionally, £7.99, but new anomalies now seem to have sprung up, with the budget-price Encore label, formerly at £3.99, having been re-priced at £8.99, which is more than the £7.99 which they charge for full-price albums. The recommendable Christian Zacharias set of the Beethoven Piano Concertos is a case in point: the 3-CD pack of the whole set plus the Triple Concerto is offered for a very tempting £6.99, but you’ll pay £8.99 for the single Encore CD of Nos. 4 and 5.

Recording of the Month
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Overture Coriolan [7:00]
Symphony No.5 in c minor, Op.67 [30:04]
Symphony No.6 in F (Pastoral), Op.68 [38:27]
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly - rec. 2007-9. DDD
From DECCA 478 2721 [75:32] - from amazon.co.uk (mp3)

If you are eager to see what all the hype was about, but unwilling to go for yet another complete set of the Beethoven symphonies, you will have to wait until February 2012 to obtain the separate CDs from the set, but they are available to download now at £7.49; that’s not expensive, but you miss the price advantage of buying the whole set.

You may have noted with surprise the fact that the Fifth and Sixth symphonies have been squeezed onto one CD, let alone the bonus. Chailly’s tempi provide the answer: right from the start of the Coriolan Overture you know that this is going to be no-nonsense Beethoven. The grand style is never overdone, however; the opening of the Fifth is comparatively matter-of-fact and all the more effective for it. The whole symphony is taken at quite a pace - reminiscent of Klemperer’s mono EMI recording which fitted on a 10" LP. The first movement, indeed, at 6:38, is actually a minute and a half faster than Klemperer’s earlier Vox recording (CDX2-5527 - download from classicsonline.com). To compare just a few other recordings which I’ve recommended, Sir Charles Mackerras (Hyperion CDS44301/2 - see March 2010 Roundup) and Carlos Kleiber (DG - March 2010 Roundup) come close at 7:04 and 7:22 respectively, while the stereo Klemperer (8:05), Michael Tilson Thomas (SFS Media - July 2011/1 Roundup) at 8:11 and Cluytens (Beulah Extra - January 2011 Roundup) at 8:27 sound just a little too slow.

The slow movement is taken at quite a pace, too - again slightly faster than Mackerras and much faster than Tilson Thomas, Cluytens and Kleiber. If you want grandiose super-inflated Beethoven - not that I’d describe the Tilson Thomas in quite those terms - steer clear of Chailly and Mackerras. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the third movement, again taken at a fast pace, offer quite such contrast between the lilting, dancing theme and the ominously rumbling background. Nor is there any over-emphasis in the finale. I frequently come away from the over-performed Fifth aurally fatigued, battered even, but not so when I hear this Chailly performance - or Mackerras’s.

There’s no hanging about in the Pastoral either. If you’re looking for something dreamy and decorative in the eighteenth-century sense of the word ‘pastoral’, you won’t find it here. You will, I think, experience the storm of emotions that Beethoven had undergone in the course of writing this symphony. It’s easy to listen to the Pastoral with half an ear - it’s even more over-exposed on BBC Radio 3 than the Fifth - but Chailly will make you take notice. Are the peasants dancing a little too leaden, perhaps, or does this version make you think, quite appropriately, of Brueghel? That’s just about my only slight reservation.

So far I’ve left out of consideration the recent period-instrument set conducted by Emmanuel Krivine (Naïve V5258) which I reviewed in the July 2011/1 Roundup. That remains a strong recommendation in its own specialist right, with divided violins especially telling in the Pastoral. I praised the opening of the Fifth Symphony in particular but, though Krivine’s tempi are on the brisk side, that first movement now seems too slow in places alongside Chailly.

The mp3 sound is more than adequate to appreciate the quality of the performances, even though the bit-rate (mainly 236kb/s) is not great. Too late I noticed that HMV Digital have the album for the same price at 320kb/s.

I’m now tempted to buy at least some of the other symphonies, if not the whole cycle. That’s quite a recommendation because I don’t get review access to amazon.co.uk or HMV Digital - what I review from those sources is all paid for by myself. If you’re not sure, Spotify have the complete set and four of the five constituent CDs for you to sample.

Discovery of the Month

Boris Ivanovich TIS(H)CHENKO (1939-2010)

Dante Symphony No.4: Purgatory (1974)
St Petersburg Youth Chamber Choir
St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Verbitsky - rec.2005. DDD?
NORTHERN FLOWERS NF/PMA9969 [50:53]
Download in mp3 or flac from eclassical.com or stream from Naxos Music Library. Buy CD from Musicweb International - here.

Intrigued by several Musicweb International reviews of the music of this supposed heir to Shostakovich on the Northern Flowers label, I decided to try a recording that we haven’t yet reviewed. Like so many late 20th-century works, I think it will take some time for me to come to terms with the music - not that it’s particularly avant-garde, but this one-movement work is reminiscent of the bleaker side of Shostakovich, though it has its serene moments. I suppose that a mixture of the hellish and the heavenly is about right for a symphony entitled Purgatory. Though the work appears to be programmatic, I haven’t been able to track down any notes to download; I assume that the CD offers these.

The performance is presumably as good as we are likely to get and the recording, though it requires some tolerance, is acceptable. Well worth a try from the Naxos Music Library before you decide whether to purchase the CD from Musicweb International or the download from eclassical.com.

Bargain of the Month

Latin Boss: The Centenary Edition

Edmundo Ros and his Orchestra
UNIVERSAL/SPECTRUM MUSIC SPECSIG2045 [5CDs] - from amazon.co.uk (mp3)

100 tracks of the music of Edmundo Ros, who died recently, aged 100, for just £5.49 - around half the price of the 5-CD set, itself something of a bargain - has to be good value. In his own way Ros was as consummate a conductor as Karajan - I choose the comparison deliberately because neither left any rough edges. He combined what he had learned about harmony, composition and orchestration at the Royal Academy of Music with a genuinely popular touch. Some of the pieces represent his take on light classics. The recordings come from the Decca stable and, though no dates are given, they are all good, and all those that I have heard are in stereo. The only disconcerting aspect of this release, apart from the hideous cover, is the fact that each CD combines the fruits of several sessions, with the piano appearing now on the left and then on the right.

Freebies of the Month

Havergal BRIAN (1876-1972)

Symphony No. 8 (1949) [22:44]
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Rudolf Schwarz - broadcast 20 December 1958. ADD/mono

Symphony No. 12 (1957) [12:50]
London Symphony Orchestra/Harry Newstone - broadcast 5 November 1959. ADD/mono
First Performance

[Both downloads available as single tracks in 192 kb/s mp3 from Havergal Brian Society.]

I’m indebted to our Classical Editor, Rob Barnett, for pointing me towards these two attractive downloads from the BBC Third Programme - a useful reminder that Havergal Brian was not quite as neglected as we may have come to believe, especially as Dutton have released a CD of two other broadcasts from 1959, of the Ninth and Eleventh Symphonies (CDBP9798).

The performances sound a little tentative in places but are generally very sympathetic. It’s just a shame that Sir Adrian Boult’s broadcast/premiere of No.8 in 1954 is not extant. The recordings require some tolerance but are certainly acceptable. Well worth having despite the availability of the Naxos (ex-Marco Polo) recording of No.12 (with No.4 on 8.570308 - see review). The Eighth was included in a two CD set from EMI (see review).

Readers from countries where the copyright laws are more stringent than the UK - shortly to be extended from fifty years here and throughout the EU - will have to wrestle with their consciences if they wish to click the disclaimer which allows the downloads.

Erkki-Sven TÜÜR (b.1959)
Fireflower [4:06]
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi - rec. May 2011. DDD.
Download from cincinnatisymphony.org (mp3)

No wrestling with consciences over copyright with my second set of free downloads. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra are offering free recordings of five specially commissioned Fanfares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their first broadcast concert in 1960. I’ve highlighted Fireflower but all five are well worth hearing in performances that cannot be other than definitive.

***

Jacobus CLEMENS (c.1510-c.1556)
Motet: Inclita stirps Jesse [5:17]
Philippe ROGIER (c.1561-1596)
Missa Inclita stirps Jesse (1591 or earlier) [32:29]
Antonio de CABEZÓN (1510-1566)
Cancion francesca glosada (Organ solo) [2:12]
Philippe ROGIER
Missa Philippus Secundus Rex Hispaniæ (1598): Kyrie eleison [3:30] Gloria in excelsis [5:44]
Da pacem, Domine a6 (Instrumental) [1:59]
Missa Philippus Secundus Rex Hispaniæ: Credo in unum Deum [9:11]
Antonio de CABEZÓN
Ave maris stella (Organ solo) [3:58]
Philippe ROGIER
Missa Philippus Secundus Rex Hispaniæ: Sanctus & Benedictus [6:27]; Agnus Dei [3:42]
His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts; Magnificat (Julie Cooper, Alex Kidgell (soprano); Sally Dunkley, Caroline Trevor (mean); Jeremy Budd, Matthew Long (tenor); Ben Davis, Eamonn Dougan (baritone); Christopher Adams, Rob Macdonald (bass))/Philip Cave - rec. February 2011. DDD/DSD.
Booklet with texts and translations included.
LINN CKD387 [74:39] - from linnrecords.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

Thanks primarily to Linn and Magnificat, with able assistance from Hyperion, we now have a substantial recorded collection of the music of the hitherto neglected renaissance composer Philippe Rogier:

* Missa Ego sum qui sum and Motets (Linn CKD109 - see January 2009 Roundup)
* Polychoral Music including: Missa Domine Dominus noster and Domine in virtute tua (Linn CKD348 - see March 2011/1 Roundup)
* Missa Ego sum qui sum and Motets (Hyperion CDA67807 - see May 2010 Roundup)

The new recording, like CKD348, features the use of instrumental accompaniment from His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts in the Missa Philippus Secundus; even those who dislike such accompaniment will find its use here pretty unobtrusive. In all other respects it’s hard to imagine there being any objection to the new recording except from those temperamentally unsuited to renaissance music - and I can’t imagine any of them bothering to read this review. That the Missa Incilita stirps is preceded by the Clemens motet which provides its cantus firmus and that the vocal items are interspersed with instrumental pieces by Cabezón and Rogier himself are plus points in my book.

There are two advantages to downloading here: availability two weeks in advance of the CD release date of November 14th and the provision of a variety of formats, staring with mp3 at £8 and including, for audiophiles, better-than-CD 24/96 and 24/192 Studio Master (£18). I settled for CD-quality 16/44.1 wma (£10) and found the results superb. The excellence of the performances and recording is matched by the booklet of notes, texts and translations. I’ve recently criticised Linn for not always providing these with downloads but they have done us proud this time with a booklet rivalling the kind which Hyperion produces.

Michael PRÆTORIUS (1571-1621)
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland [6:32]
Pueri nostri concinite (Singet und klinget) [3:45]
Dances from Terpsichore [7:03]
Puer natus in Bethlehem (Ein Kind geborn) [6:23]
Quem pastores laudavere [6:22]
Vom Himmel hoch [3:27]
Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen [1:24]
Dances from Terpsichore [7:46]
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern [2:36]
Nun helft mir Gottes Güte schon preisen [3:06]
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral; The Parley of Instruments/David Hill - rec.1986. DDD.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55446 [49:13] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Only the rather short playing time detracts from the appeal of this reissue of music for Christmas interspersed with dances from that wonderful collection Terpsichore. If the dances are a little more restrained than at the hands of their re-discoverer, David Munrow, who threw everything except the kitchen sink at them, that’s in line with the thoughts of modern scholarship. For once I even concur with David Hill’s making his choristers employ the hard g in words like virgine: that’s probably how it was pronounced in North Germany at the time of Prætorius.


Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707) Complete Organ Works - Volume 4
Præambulum in a minor, BuxWV158 [4:35]
Ich Ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BuxWV196 [3:12]
Præludium in g minor, BuxWV148 [6:05]
Canzonetta in C, BuxWV167 [0:58]
Toccata in F, BuxWV156 [8:19]
Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BuxWV180 [3:26]
Fuga in B flat, BuxWV176 [4:30]
Nun Lob, mein Seel, den Herren, BuxW214 [2:41]
Canzona in G minor, BuxWV173 [1:28]
Toccata in G, BuxWV164 [2:55]
Gott der Vater Wohn bei uns, BuxWV190 [3:09]
Canzonetta in a minor, BuxWV225 [2:05]
Passacaglia in d minor, BuxWV161 [5:17]
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BuxWV223 [7:23]
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BuxWV211 [1:59]
Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich, BuxWV182 [2:57]
In dulci iubilo, BuxWV197 [1:31]
Præludium in e minor, BuxWV142 [8:26]
Christopher Herrick (organ) - rec. Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge, January 2011. DDD
HYPERION CDA67876 [71:06] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

[‘Another memorable recording’ - see full review by Byzantion]

Some time ago I complained that this series was progressing very slowly but this follows hard on the heels of Volume 3.

I see no reason to withhold from Volume 4 the warm welcome that I’ve granted to earlier volumes in this series:

* Volume 2 (CDA67809) - January 2010 Roundup
* Volume 3 (CDA67855) - March 2011/2 Roundup

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Concerto Grosso in G, Op.6/1 [11:46]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Concerto in B flat for two violins [10:58]
George Frideric HANDEL Concerto Grosso in d minor, Op. 6/10 [13:56]
Antonio VIVALDI Concerto in B flat for oboe and violin [9:23]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Concerto in d minor for two violins [15:31]
Rachel Podger (violin)
Pavlo Beznosiuk (violin)
Frank de Bruine (oboe)
Academy of Ancient Music - rec.2005. DDD
Pdf booklet included
WIGMORE HALL LIVE WHLIVE0005 [61:36] - from classicsonline.com (mp3)

If you followed my recommendation of Rachel Podger’s recordings of Bach Violin Concertos on Channel Classics in the previous Roundup, this is the ideal way to complete the set, with Podger and Pavlo Beznosiuk together with the AAM in the Bach 2-violin concerto. Live performance means that it comes complete with warts and all but there are remarkably few of these and none are really obtrusive. With good recording, and the booklet as part of the deal, this is excellent value for £4.99.



Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Cantata No.110: Unser Mund sei voll Lachens (BWV 110) [24:15]
Magnificat in D (BWV 243) [39:46]
with interpolations:
Dirck Janszoon SWEELINCK (1591-1652) Hoe schoon lichtet de morghenster [1:48]
Jan Baptist VERRIJT (1600-1650) Currite, pastores [4:16]
Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630) O Jesulein, mein Jesulein [2:37]
Johann Michael BACH (1648-1694) Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe [3:28]
Dorothee Mields (soprano 1)
Johannette Zomer (soprano 2) (Magnificat)
William Towers (alto)
Charles Daniels (tenor)
Stephan MacLeod (bass)
The Netherlands Bach Society/Jos van Veldhoven - rec. December 2009. DDD/DSD
Booklet with texts and translations included.
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA32010 [64:29] - from channelclassics.com (mp3, 24/44.1, 24/96 and 24/192 versions)

Two festive works for Christmas Day, the cantata for performance at the Hauptgottesdienst or chief morning service (Matins + lengthy sermon + Cantata + Eucharist) and the Magnificat for Vespers, sung, as usual on high days, in Latin. Bach’s original setting of the Magnificat contained several Christmas interpolations and, although the Netherlands Bach Society here performs the work in its later version in D, a different set of interpolations has been included, from two of Bach’s better-known and two of his lesser-known predecessors. Inauthentic as the practice may be, it makes an interesting and most enjoyable change from the usual choice.

In other respects, too, this is a version which strongly challenges existing recommendations, maintaining as it does the balance between the sheer beauty and dramatic power of the sections of the text: listen to deposuit potentes and the following esurientes implevit (tracks 18-19).

In words such as magna (Quia fecit mihi magna) the singers employ an interesting compromise between the hard g which would probably have been employed in Germany in Bach’s time and the softer Italian pronunciation, in this case the ñ sound.

If you are looking for a version of the Magnificat without the interpolations, Bach’s or anyone else’s, classicsonline.com offer Andrew Parrot, the Taverner Consort and Players with a fine team of soloists on a super-budget 2-CD Virgin recording, coupled with Cantata No.4 and the Easter and Ascension Oratorios (0724356164758 - here - for just £6.99, albeit in mp3 only). Alternatively and bizarrely, they offer Sigiswald Kuijken’s Magnificat with Cantata No.21 - here - in three download versions - two at £5.99 and the third at £7.99.

You’ll almost certainly wonder where you’ve heard the Christmas Cantata, No.110, before - in one of his self-borrowings, Bach took much of the music from Orchestral Suite No.4, but it’s no worse for that. It’s just about the only Bach cantata for the Christmas season that I haven’t recommended in one anthology or another, so its presence here in a lively performance is an added incentive to go for this recording in one format or another.

The Channel Classics recording is excellent - I chose the 24/96 version but audiophiles will prefer the 24/192, while most listeners will be happy with the better-than-CD 24/44.1. The booklet is of the high standard that I usually associate with Hyperion and Gimell.

Johannette Zomer also features on a collection of 17th-century English music, With Endless Teares (CCSSA26609) which I recommended in SACD form - here - and which comes in mp3 and Channel’s usual range of 24-bit formats.

I reviewed her recording Love and Lament (CCSSA17002) in an acceptable but not ideal mp3 download from emusic.com in the August 2010 Roundup - currently available from Channel only in SACD format.

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

String Quartet in B flat, Op 71/1 [20:09]
String Quartet in D, Op 71/2 [17:00]
String Quartet in E flat, Op 71/3 [21:17]
Takács Quartet (Edward Dusinberre, Károly Schranz (violins); Geraldine Walther (viola); András Fejér (cello) - rec. November 2010. DDD
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67793 [58:28] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

String Quartet in C, Op 74/1 [22:28]
String Quartet in F, Op 74/2 [20:53]
String Quartet in g minor ‘Rider’ Op 74/3 [20:20]
Takács Quartet (Edward Dusinberre, Károly Schranz (violins); Geraldine Walther (viola); András Fejér (cello)) - rec. November 2010. DDD
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67781 [63:43] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

So far the Takács Quartet have performed for Hyperion the works of composers later than Haydn, composers for whom the romantic landscapes on the covers have been thoroughly appropriate. Seeing the wild romantic theme continued here - Op.71 sporting a storm scene in the Yosemite (1865) and Op.74 an 1864 Storm in the Rockies, both by Albert Bierstadt - I wondered if the performances would represent a view of Haydn as precursor in 1793 of the music of more than half a century later. Or would they, perhaps, hint at his Sturm und Drang style continuing longer than we normally think?

Actually, neither of these expectations was fulfilled; what we have is a set of thoroughly conventional performances, as recommendable in their own modern-instrument way as Hyperion’s release of the Op.20 quartets from the period-instrument London Haydn Quartet (CDA67877, 2-for-1: see September 2011/2 Roundup). I see that some other reviewers liked the Op.20 set as well as I did, though others thought it suited only to a limited audience. There need be no such reservations this time.

If anything, I thought the Takács slightly too refined or restrained in Haydn, as if they thought that they had to hold back in a way that they don’t for Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Schumann. Even so, the Takács at less than their very best are by no means to be dismissed; though you may prefer the budget-price versions from the Kodaly Quartet on Naxos, these are not currently available to download in (good) lossless sound, as the Hyperion recordings are, with flac and alac at the same price as the mp3. The Op.71 set is even something of a bargain, with the slightly under-strength playing time taken into account in setting the price at £6.99 instead of the usual £7.99. The recording, made at Wyastone, is very good.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra

CD1 [80:41]
Piano Concerto No.1, Op.15 [36:50]
Piano Concerto No.4, Op.58 [33:07]
Rondo, WoO 6 [10:14]
CD2 [79:19]
Piano Concerto No.2, Op.19 [28:44]
Piano Concerto No.5, Op.73 ‘Emperor’ [37:30]
Beethoven and Mozart: An Obsession? A talk by Howard Shelley [12:40]
CD3 [78:28]
Piano Concerto No.3, Op.37 [34:50]
Piano Concerto, Op.61, arr. from Violin Concerto [43:19]
CD4 [77:59]
Fantasia, Op. 80* [18:31]
Piano Concerto, WoO4, orch. Howard Shelley; premiere recording [24:59]
Triple Concerto, Op.56† [33:51]
Tasmin Little (violin)† Tim Hugh (cello)†
Chorus of Opera North*
Orchestra of Opera North/Howard Shelley (piano and conductor)
Pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHAN10695(4) [4 CDs, times as above] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and 16- and 24-bit lossless)

To try to recommend one recording of the Beethoven Piano Concertos en bloc would be a fool’s errand which I don’t intend to undertake. In any case, no other complete set exactly replicates what we have on offer here from Chandos - others may contain the Choral Fantasia, the piano revision of the Violin Concerto or the Triple Concerto, sometimes all three, but Howard Shelley offers a unique extra in the form of his own orchestration of the Concerto WoO4, the work of Beethoven aged 12 or 13. To quote Barry Cooper’s excellent notes:

The main interest … lies in the piano part, which impresses particularly through its tremendous energy. Its technical demands indicate that, even at such an early age, Beethoven possessed a formidable keyboard technique, especially in the right hand, which predominates almost throughout.

To be offered recordings by two of the finest pianists around in one month - see Stephen Hough’s Liszt and Grieg below - is a treat indeed. If I say that Shelley and his team offer very good performances, with nothing that made me want to scratch away like Beckmesser at my critical slate, but that they didn’t bring any revelations in the ‘regular’ concertos, I don’t mean that as a criticism, rather as a statement of the extent to which all concerned seem to be at one with a composer who is often harder to gel with than we like to think. In fact, there were several passages where I noticed some aspects of the solo or orchestral writing that I hadn’t noticed before, even in Concerto No.1.

For most listeners, Shelley’s Beethoven-as-is approach, with clarity the hallmark, will be a positive virtue, though that doesn’t mean that there’s any lack of power, particularly in the Emperor. No one set can ever be definitive, especially with the likes of Schoonderwoerd’s revelatory chamber-size recordings on Alpha (see below) to supplement the more conventional.

I’ve already mentioned the high quality of the booklet. The recording is as much at one with the music as the performances - I listened in the CD-quality 16-bit lossless: it also comes in decent mp3 and audiophile 24/96 form. If you like to burn your downloads to CD, the first disc will be something of a problem; it’s over 80 minutes so you won’t be able to squeeze the Rondo onto that or either of the other discs unless you drop the talk.

About that fool’s errand … I can only mention a few of the recordings that I consider my benchmarks for judging this new set:

* Stephen Kovacevich and Colin Davis (Philips 475 6319 - from passionato.com),
* Christian Zacharias with Hans Vonk and Kurt Masur on an inexpensive EMI Triple, Nos.1-5 and Triple Concerto - see my review of the CD set: download from classicsonline.com for just £6.99. Don’t even dream of paying £8.99 for just Concertos 4 and 5, which as a budget-price release cost less than that when it was available on CD. Amazon.co.uk have the 3-CD download in several formats, one of which costs a ridiculous £24.42; they also charge an even more ridiculous £9.49 for Nos. 4 and 5 when at the time of writing they have the CD for £0.74 - all download sites have their quirks regarding prices. Caveat emptor.
* Arthur Schoonderwoerd/Christofori Ensemble (Alpha: 1 and 2 ALPHA155 - see July 2010 Roundup; 3 and ‘6’ ALPHA122; 4 and 5 ALPHA079 - see December 2010 Roundup) - for a fine demonstration of what period performances can achieve
* Julius Katchen/Pierino Gamba (Nos.1-5, Triple Concerto, Decca 475 8449, download from passionato.com - see November 2010 Roundup
* Wilhelm Kempff/Ferdinand Leitner (1-5: DGG 427 2372 - from passionato.com)

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Complete Piano Sonatas

Bernard Roberts (piano)
Booklet includes track listings and brief notes.
NIMBUS NI1774 [11 CDs: 10 hours: 45 minutes]

Also available separately:
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.8, Op.13 in c minor (‘Pathétique’) [18:36]
Piano Sonata No.14, Op.27/2 in c-sharp minor (‘Moonlight’) [16:45]
Piano Sonata No.21, Op.53 in C (‘Waldstein’) [26:05]
Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat, Op. 81a ‘Les Adieux’ [17:51]
NIMBUS NI7707 [79:17] - from classicsonline.com (mp3)

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) The Last Three Sonatas
Piano Sonata No. 30 in E, Op.109 [19:40]
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat, Op.110 [19:48]
Piano Sonata No. 32 in c minor, Op.111 [26:33]
NIMBUS NI7710 [66:07] - from classicsonline.com (mp3)

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata No. 21, Op. 53, in C (‘Waldstein’) [25:19]
Piano Sonata No. 17, Op. 31/2, in d minor (‘Tempest’) [26:17]
Piano Sonata No. 31, Op. 110 in A-flat [20:09]
David Wilde (piano)
rec. September and November 2009, and March 2010, Reid Concert Hall, University of Edinburgh, Scotland. DDD.
Booklet of notes included.
DELPHIAN DCD34090 [71:45] - CD or download from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

With two highly recommendable Beethoven recordings on offer this month, you may also be thinking about an integral set of his Piano Sonatas. The virtues of complete sets by the likes of Alfred Brendel are well enough known but, for some reason, we seem never to have got round to reviewing the Nimbus set with Bernard Roberts.

You’ll see that I’ve given download details for the Wilde recording and the separate Roberts releases but not for the Roberts set - at £87.89 from classicsonline.com, you’ll find that better value on CD from Musicweb International: £28 post free at the time of writing - here. With some ingenious organisation, too, the CD set is far less bulky than you might imagine.

I actually started to write a review of the complete Nimbus set for the main pages of Musicweb International some months ago and lost what I’d written, apart from some notes and jottings, when my computer crashed. Suffice it to say that I dipped into sonatas from every period of Beethoven’s working life, comparing what I heard with other versions that I knew, and found that Roberts stood up well to the competition in every respect - not always top dog in a particular sonata, but always close.

Fortunately, when I lost what I’d written, my friend Geoffrey Molyneux, who knows a great deal more about pianism than I ever did and has owned the Nimbus set for some time, came to the rescue. I hope to patch my notes back together to finish that review for the main pages of MWI; meanwhile, though I’m a little more sold on Roberts’ approach than GM and a little less worried by the recording quality, I can’t do better than quote his detailed comments:

I purchased this set of Beethoven piano sonatas about 10 years ago when Nimbus were selling the collection, and also the complete string quartets at rock-bottom prices. There was nothing to lose financially, so they seemed very good value. However I was not always happy with the recording quality, so I am pleased to have the opportunity to reassess these discs.

The three sonatas of Opus 2, written in 1795, are in the traditional four movements of the classical sonata. In the first movement of Sonata No.1 in F minor, Bernard Roberts sets a perfect tempo for the opening Allegro, not too fast, thereby allowing for real clarity in the little triplet semiquaver figure at the phrase end. In the second movement, marked Adagio his playing is full of telling rubato whereby he never loses the sense of pulse. Jenö Jandó on Naxos [download individual CDs from this budget-price source from classicsonline.com - BW] gives an excellent, but rather dry and matter-of-fact performance here. In the ensuing Menuetto, Jandó adopts a steadier tempo than Roberts, but in the Trio section in F major Jando speeds forward, which is the opposite of normal practice in such movements. But both pianists are very effective here. Roberts well portrays the drama of the prestissimo Finale, music which seems, partly because of the F minor key, to anticipate the ‘Appassionata’ sonata of 1804/5.

The second sonata of Opus 2 is in the bright key of A major, and Roberts copes superbly with the technical demands of the triplet semiquavers with great clarity and energy. I like the way he subtly slows into the second subject in a minor key and in more dramatic mood. But brightness and cheerfulness are never far away in this sunny movement. In the ensuing Largo there is much passionate playing as requested by Beethoven with real drama at the moment when the main D major theme returns fortissimo in D minor. The scherzo is a delightful movement played here with delicacy or drama as required, contrasted with a sad Minore Trio section. The Rondo Finale however seems a little ponderous at times, with the same rubato each time the main theme returns.

Sonata No.7 Opus 10 No.3 in D major is the biggest of the three Opus 10 sonatas. Bernard Roberts gives a very fast and lively performance with great impetus. However, I don’t like the little ‘slowing downs’ at the ends of some phrases, such as the opening scale motif in bar 4. This could become irritating on repeated hearings. The texture also sounds a bit muddy in the second subject and also later in the development section, where individual strands of melody are not always as clear as they could be. Sometimes the balance is too bass heavy, for example in the concluding bars. Barenboim is superior in all these respects.

In the second movement, Largo e mesto, Roberts gives a strong and solid performance of great power. Although at times the playing seems a little laboured compared with Jenö Jandó, Roberts’ sense of phrasing is more telling. The third movement Menuetto allegro is in a major key, offering us much needed relief after the tragic intensity of the second movement. Maybe a slightly quicker tempo, as in the Jandó performance, would help the contrast. Roberts captures well the humorous mood of the short, exuberant finale.

The first movement of Sonata No. 24 in c-sharp minor ‘Moonlight’ Opus 27 No.2 can be played successfully at a wide variety of tempi. Herein lies the danger, because if it is played too slowly tedium sets in. I never allow my students to play this movement in competitions because I know the adjudicator will be thinking ‘Oh no, not that again’ Sure enough, you can tell during the first bar whether you are in for a treat or for 5:00 or 6:00 of boredom. Roberts sets a slow speed here, nearly 7:00 for this movement, but it is so beautifully played with lovely cantabile melodic lines that the performance holds the attention from beginning to end. Nelson Freire takes only 5:30, and his performance has much more flexibility of tempo than Roberts. I think he is too quick, because there must be a real contrast between this Adagio sostenuto and the second movement which is marked allegretto. Roberts is very successful in this respect, but maybe his Finale is a little tame in comparison with Freire, who is considerably quicker. Even more exciting in this movement is Rudolf Serkin who gives a thrilling performance. Wilhelm Kempff adopts similar tempi to Roberts in this last movement, but I have a preference for Roberts in this work with his greater subtlety of phrasing and expression.

The two works which form the climax of Beethoven’s so-called middle period are the ‘Waldstein’ and the ‘Appassionata’, the former a bright major key work, the latter tragic and in the minor key to the bitter end. These works were longer than his previous sonatas, continuing further along the new and revolutionary paths hewn out of the rocks by the recently composed ‘Eroica’ symphony with its large subject groups, extensive developments and expansive codas. Also, these two sonatas benefited from Beethoven’s acquisition in 1803 of an Erard grand piano with its extended treble.

Bernard Roberts gives a magnificent performance of the ‘Appassionata’ with real drama in the first movement, nobility, an elegiac mood in the second, and a fast, furious and, fiery tempo in the third. He gives full vent to the explosive dynamics that Beethoven calls for, greater climaxes than in any previously-written sonata. The only downside for me is a certain lack of mystery, for example when the opening four bar melody is repeated a semitone higher in the major key. Surely a contrast of mood is needed in this unexpected moment so early in the sonata, an important harmonic relationship we hear developed later in the work. Similarly, why does the beautiful second subject in the relative major begin so loudly? The crescendo doesn’t come until the theme’s repeat an octave higher! Expressive opportunities missed here, I feel. Listen to Barenboim and you will hear the difference. Perhaps Barenboim is too romantic for some with his greater use of pedal, which he adopts even in the ensuing chromatic scale passage creating a hazy effect. But I find this totally in keeping with Barenboim’s interpretation of the work. Nevertheless, Roberts’ performance is first-rate and very recommendable. Emil Gilels gives a massive and hugely powerful performance of the first movement, but a tad slow for an Allegro assai. Wilhelm Kempff hits just the right tempo here, nigh on perfect in this respect throughout. The occasional wrong note here and there in the first movement doesn’t seem to matter. Both Kempff and Gilels play the second movement beautifully, but Gilels wins in the Finale which is terrifyingly dramatic. The clarity of texture is amazing at this tempo, and Gilels performance is nothing short of phenomenal in its intensity and virtuosity. But Kempff’s performance is really insightful, very convincing and so musical, but maybe his lighter touch and general approach to Beethoven is less convincing here, especially compared with Gilels.

Sonata No. 26 in E flat Opus 81a ‘Das Lebewohl’ (‘Les Adieux’) is a three movement work begun in 1809 at the time when Napoleon’s armies reached Austria. One consequence of this was the departure from Vienna in May that year of Beethoven’s friend and patron the Archduke Rudolf. The first movement begins with an adagio 3-note motif which has the three syllables of the word Lebewohl (farewell) inscribed above them, and this motif is developed in the ensuing Allegro. This adagio and the second movement, andante espressivo (absence) are beautifully played by Bernard Roberts who conveys Beethoven’s feelings of sadness at the course of events. He copes really well with the final movement, (The return) marked vivacissimamente meaning very brisk and lively. However, here and in the first movement’s allegro, Roberts does seem a little stolid and dull when compared with Alfredo Perl on Arte Nova Classics. Perl’s passagework really sparkles and glitters in the finale, and his performance portrays well Beethoven’s happiness at the return of Rudolf to Vienna in January 1810.

Sonata No.30 in E major, Opus 109 is the first of Beethoven’s final three sonatas. They are amongst the greatest music ever written by the composer [or any composer - BW], perhaps only eclipsed by the late string quartets in their invention and with far reaching consequences for the evolution of sonata form. The first movement has an extraordinarily innovative structure with its first subject, lyrical and syncopated and only eight bars in length, leading directly to the second subject, Adagio espressivo. It seems that it takes Roberts quite a while before he gets into his stride here. Everything is perfectly in place as it is in the second movement, Prestissimo, but is it not a little dull! Contrast Barenboim here. His performance is just that touch more characterful, and Barenboim really lives this music. We just need more contrast in dynamics from Roberts, more flexibility in the variety of tempi in the first movement, more spacious lyricism and drama, this latter especially in the second movement. But the third movement is as great a performance of this music as I have ever heard. It is a deeply moving account, and even the less-than-perfect recording quality doesn’t detract from the experience. In the first movement, the recording is so cavernous and reverberant, especially in the higher registers, and the second movement which is pretty fast sounds far too resonant. The recording really has let Roberts down in some of the recording sessions.

In Beethoven’s final Sonata No.32 in C minor, Opus 111, Bernard Roberts sets out with a steady, measured tempo in the highly dramatic opening with its almost violent, characteristic diminished 7th motif. But somehow the performance sounds a little tame, carefully calculated but lacking the fervour that more spontaneity would give to the performance. Jenö Jandó on Naxos is preferable here with a little more forward movement in the opening maestoso. This makes all the difference and Jandó’s ensuing allegro is really hair-raising in its virtuosity, making Roberts seem comparatively dull and wooden. Also, Jandó has the advantage of a much more sympathetic recording. I vividly remember Rudolf Serkin almost running on to the Royal Festival Hall platform to play this work. He rushed to the piano stool and hurled himself into the opening motif before he had barely sat down. Theatrical yes, but this opening needs to give a sense of a great experience about to unfold. The second movement is beautifully played by Roberts. I particularly liked the second variation which had real rhythmic verve and forward thrust, but also the concluding variation with some lovely phrasing and sparkling double trills. Although I like Jandó’s Arietta, the statement of the variation theme does seem a little characterless, but I like his choice of tempi. For example, he moves variation 1 forward a little. Overall the faster music is livelier in Jandó’s than in Roberts’ performance, but Jandó is able to move gracefully towards the serenity of the finale variations. He uses a wide variety of touch and articulation to give an outstanding account, though perhaps without the insights of the greatest players. Also, unless it is my imagination, I can occasionally hear Jandó humming as he plays, perhaps a little irritating on repeated playings.

Overall it is difficult to recommend any one complete set of these sonatas. There are so many excellent versions available including many players I have not mentioned here. As in complete opera performances, one would be lucky to find a version that was truly satisfying all the time in every respect. If you are happy with a rather more romantic interpretation than some players give us, I would recommend Daniel Barenboim’s live performances on EMI Classics (DVDs) from Berlin in 2006. I believe Barenboim to be one of the greatest musicians of our age, and in recent years his performances of the Beethoven sonatas have been unsurpassed in the profound depths of their expression and the meaning with which he imbues these works. I would supplement this with a wide variety of individual CDs, by players such as Kempff, Brendel and Paul Lewis. In the budget division, I would choose Alfredo Perl. As for Bernard Roberts, I would say that he gives some wonderful performances, but sometimes sounds rather uninspired and some sonatas suffer from poor recording. Particularly good recordings are the Opus 10 sonatas and the Appassionata, but sometimes the recordings sound too close and booming and I feel as though I am inside the piano! So Roberts is well worth hearing, but he is not top of my list.

Geoffrey Molyneux

David Wilde offers the middle-period Waldstein Sonata, No.21 on his new recording, one of the works available separately from Nimbus. Nimbus track this as two movements, running the Introduzione and Rondo together, Delphian as three. Some recordings even divide the work into four tracks. Wilde, who takes both sections very slightly faster than Roberts, is closer to the general consensus than Roberts and on the whole slightly preferable. Brian Reinhart made this Recording of the Month on CD - here - and I’m certainly not going to quarrel with that accolade for the download, in good mp3 sound. Whatever the mature version of a Wunderkind is (Wundergraukopf?) Wilde is it - where has he been all this time?

One advantage of the Delphian recording concerns the inclusion of Wilde’s own notes which are informative not only about the music but also about some his decisions in performance. Even at the extremely advantageous price, I could have wished that Nimbus had also offered more detailed notes.

Franz BERWALD (1796-1868)
Symphony No. 1 in g minor (Sinfonie sérieuse) (1842) [31:56]
Konzertstück for Bassoon and Orchestra (1827) [11:14]
Symphony No. 2 in D (Sinfonie capricieuse) (1842) [27:39]
Symphony No. 3 in C (Sinfonie singulière) (1845) [29:06]
Symphony No. 4 in E flat (1845) [28:38]
Christian Davidsson (bassoon)
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Sixten Ehrling
BIS-CD-795/96 [2 CDs: 128:33] - from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Classical Library

The Swedish composer Franz Berwald was something of a polymath, running a number of diverse business enterprises as well as composing four of the most unusual symphonies ever written - remarkable works which sound much more recent than their dates, 1842-45. Sixteen Ehrling recorded these symphonies in the 1960s for Decca and those recordings are still available on the Bluebell label - download from amazon.co.uk in mp3: here and here, or Nos. 3 and 4 from emusic.com: here. Most will prefer his later BIS recordings with the Malmö orchestra, available from eclassical.com; their price of $15.43, in 16-bit lossless or mp3, compares very favourably with the cost from other sites - classicsonline.com, for example, charge £15.98 for mp3 only. Their download of the 2-CD EMI set of the symphonies under Ulf Björlin is also uncompetitive at £14.99 at the time of writing - when last available on CD it cost about half that price.

If you have yet to encounter Berwald’s music, be prepared to be amazed. You won’t hear it better performed than here, but if you are looking for just Nos. 3 and 4 and seeking a bargain, classicsonline.com have the Musica Sveciæ recording (MSCD531 - here) with Esa-Pekka Salonen for just £4.99.

Robert SCHUMANN
(1810-1856): Three String Quartets, Op.41
Quartet no.1 in a minor, Op.41/1 [24:29]
Quartet no.2 in F, Op.41/2 [20:56]
Quartet no. 3 in A, Op.41/3 [28:31]
Doric String Quartet (Alex Redington (violin); Jonathan Stone (violin); John Myerscough (cello); Simon Tandree (viola)) - rec. February 2011. DDD.
Pdf booklet available.
CHANDOS CHAN10692 [74:15] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

[‘This is close to ideal Schumann interpretation’ - see review by Gavin Dixon]

How could I download such excellent performances that capture all the nuances of Schumann’s highly original string quartets, then forget about it for weeks? Part of the answer has to be that I’m getting old and forgetful, but I’d also like to think that it was because there are so many releases of fine music in fine performances - and that at a time when the recorded classical music industry is supposed to be dead - that they just forced it out of my consciousness. After all, there were three excellent releases of renaissance polyphony alone in my previous roundup.

Schumann’s quartets are in many ways stronger meat than even the late Beethoven quartets and there aren’t too many rival versions in the catalogue, certainly not of all three. Göran Forsling recommended the Fine Arts Quartet on Naxos 8.570151 as Bargain of the Month - see review - and Terry Barfoot recommended the Ysaÿe Quartet on Aeon AECD0148 - see review. I haven’t heard either but I very much doubt that they could be preferable to the Doric performance and recording, the latter heard in the CD-quality lossless version. A fine successor in every respect to the Doric Quartet’s Walton on CHAN10661 - see review.

Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Concerto No 1 in E flat, S124 [18:40]
Piano Concerto No 2 in A, S125 [20:34]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in a minor, Op.16 [29:46]
Stephen Hough (piano)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton
HYPERION CDA67284 [69:04] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Unsurprisingly, this recording made it into the Specialist Classical chart in the very first week that it was released.

Alfred Brendel’s first (Vox) recordings of the two Liszt Piano Concertos, reissued by Beulah Extra on 4BX165 and 5BX165 - see November 2011/1 Roundup - provide object lessons in how to turn mere warhorses into thoroughbreds and their reissue at a very reasonable price earned a recommendation from me. At the end of that review I mentioned that these new Hyperion recordings should be worth waiting for and so it proves - if anything Stephen Hough makes all three works here sound even more thoroughbred, achieving a lightness of touch which nevertheless doesn’t preclude bravura. Of course, you can’t have your cake and eat it; if you want these works to sound real barn-stormers, you’ll need to look elsewhere. For most of us, however, with a version of the Grieg Piano Concerto to rival the classic Clifford Curzon or either of Leif-Ove Andsnes’s versions, this sits at or near the top of the tree.

See the October 2011/1 Roundup for Curzon, download only on its own from Beulah Extra or with Peer Gynt Suites on Decca from passionato.com, and my review of the budget Virgin reissue of Andsnes’s first recording, with shorter pieces and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.2, 3913692. If you don’t require both Liszt concertos, that Virgin reissue at around £7 is well worth considering.

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Ein deutsches Requiem nach Worten der heiligen Schrift, Op.45 (A German Requiem)
Irmgard Seefried (soprano); George London (bass-baritone); The Westminster Choir; New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter - rec. 1954. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 4-10BX145 [62:58] - from eavb.co.uk (for December 2011 release)

Though slated for December 2011 release, this is already available, so I decided to grapple with it. Of all the many Requiem settings that I know and of all the works of Brahms, most of which I love dearly, this is my bête-noire par excellence. I just can’t like it however hard I try and however renowned the performance, such as the Rattle (EMI) and Bernius (Carus) recordings which I reviewed in the May 2009 Roundup. For all that I wrote then, I don’t think that I’ve returned to either version. The only recordings that I possess were bought for the sake of the other choral works on the partner disc (Sawallisch, Philips, no longer available) or came as part of a 4-disc set which, again, I kept for the sake of the other music (Ansermet, Decca Eloquence - see review).

If, like me, you are looking for a recording to convince you, there are many virtues on this classic Bruno Walter set, arising not least from his refusal to let the music drag in the outer sections, 1-2 and 6-7, in each of which Rattle, for example is a good deal slower. In No.2, Denn alles Fleisch, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen on Coro take 14:50 against Walter’s 13:08. With excellent solo and choral singing and very good support from the NYPO, this may well do it for you.

The recording, despite Beulah’s treatment, sounds rather drab, even for 1954, though it doesn’t distort, even at climaxes. There’s a Sony Classical transfer, coupled with the Alto Rhapsody - especially good value in the US at $7.54 and with mp3 download, though at a more expensive $9.99 for some off reason. It’s rather less of a bargain from amazon.co.uk at £10.52, with no equivalent download, so I imagine that the many admirers of the work and of Walter’s recording of it will wish to snap up Beulah’s less expensive alternative, seven tracks for £0.75 or £1.00 ($1.20 or $1.61) each, depending on length. I’m just sorry that I can’t be more enthusiastic about the music.

Johan Severin SVENDSEN (1840-1911) Orchestral Works, Volume 1
Karneval i Paris (Carnival in Paris), Op.9 [12:01]
Romeo und Julia, Op.18 [10:01]
Fest-Polonaise, Op.12 [10:41]
Romanze, Op.26* [7:35]
Träume (Dreams) [3:44]
Zorahayda, Op.11 [11:31]
I Fjol gjætt’e Gjeitinn (last year I was herding the mountain goats) [3:50]
Sæterjentens Søndag (Sunday on the Mountain Pasture) [2:41]
Norwegian Rhapsody No.1, Op.17 [7:46]
Norwegian Rhapsody No.2, Op.19 [9:15]
Marianne Thorsen (violin)*
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
CHANDOS CHAN10693 [80:00] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and 16- and 24-bit lossless)

When I reviewed the Beulah Extra reissue of Karneval i Paris in the June 2011/1 Roundup, I remember thinking that this was the kind of music that didn’t get played and recorded as much as it deserved these days. For those who share that thought, Järvi’s performance here makes an idiomatic and entertaining modern replacement. As the generously-timed programme progresses, however, entertaining is about all that Svendsen’s music amounts to. Burn this download to an mp3 CD-R for the car (it’s too long to burn as a music CD-R) and you have music for an 80-minute journey that won’t contribute to whatever blood-pressure-raising incidents happen en route - in my case a 28-mile jam on the M25. With good recording to add to its virtues, I’m sorry to be rather lukewarm in my praise.

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Slavonic Dance in C, Op. 46/1 [4:02]
Symphony No. 9 in e minor, Op. 95, B178, ‘From the New World’ [42:16]
Czech Suite, Op. 39 [23:33]
Slavonic Dance in e minor, Op. 72/2 [5:50]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/José Serebrier - rec. June 2011. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564666563 [75:21] - available in mp3 from amazon.co.uk or hmvdigital.com

Though Marin Alsop has recorded the New World Symphony, for Naxos, it was not with the Bournemouth Orchestra of which she was then chief conductor, so it’s fitting that José Serebrier should do so. This is billed as the first of a series. Let me say at once that, though I wouldn’t place Serebrier’s New World in the very top flight, this first release impressed me enough to make me look forward with interest to the remaining albums. Those who like this symphony to dance will almost certainly be more than happy - the placing of the two Slavonic Dances fore and aft presages the performance of the symphony - especially if their collection lacks a recording of the beautiful Czech Suite.

I’ve stressed the dancing quality of this New World, but that doesn’t mean that it’s merely fast - just the opposite in places - and there’s also plenty of drama where required. It’s merely the strength of the opposition, some of it at budget price, and an occasional tendency to make the music sound episodic that prevents my placing it among the select few at the top of the pile, which include:

* Symphonies 8 and 9: Budapest FO/Iván Fischer (Channel Classics CCSSA90110 - download here - see July 2010 Roundup)
* Symphonies 8 and 9: Rafael Kubelík (DGG Originals 447 4122 - mentioned in July 2010 Roundup)
* Symphony 9 (with SMETANA Vltava): Czech Philharmonic/Karel Ančerl (Supraphon - mp3 from emusic.com - here) OR (with In Nature’s Realm, Othello - here)
* Symphony 9 only: Philharmonia/Wolfgang Sawallisch (Beulah 1-4BX166 - see November 2011/1 Roundup)

I hope that future releases will include the other Slavonic Dances, though I can’t imagine that anyone could improve on the Channel Classics recording from Iván Fischer (CCSSA90210) which I recommended in the November 2011/1 Roundup.

The recording is excellent, as obtained direct from Warners in lossless wav format. Those who commented on the lack of bass in the recent Chandos Delius Concertos recording - I wasn’t among them, but I hear what they mean - will find plenty of what they are looking for here.

If you already have a good version of the New World but would like the Czech Suite, classicsonline.com have the Virgin Classics 2-CD RLPO, CzechPO/Libor Pešek set of the American and Czech Suites, with the Scherzo Capriccioso, The Wild Dove and the Overtures for the attractive price of £6.99 (0094635925050). Emusic.com have Jakub Hrusa’s recording on Supraphon - with the Waltzes and Polonaise, or you can download just the five movements of the Suite for a reasonable £2.10).

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

String Quartet No.13 in G, Op. 106, B192 [36:44]
String Quartet No.12 in F, Op. 96, ‘American’, B179 [26:24]
Pavel Haas Quartet - rec. Rudolfinum, Prague June 2010
SUPRAPHON SU4038-2 [63:08] - from emusic.com (mp3)

[see review by Brian Reinhart: Recording of the Month - here.]

You don’t have to be Czech to play Dvořák, but, unless you’re Charles Mackerras, who was something of an adoptee anyway, it helps. These performances are something special - not for nothing did Brian Reinhart make it his Recording of the Month. More recently, it’s even been voted a well-deserved Recording of the Year. Even if, as is likely, you have another good recording of the American Quartet, this is a mandatory purchase, despite Jonathan Woolf’s slightly less enthusiastic review* - here - if only for the excellent performance of B192, which deserves to be performed almost as much as its better-known partner.

* perhaps caught on a bad day - he admits that he sounds more critical than he feels.

The tracks come by no means at an ideal bit-rate but sound perfectly acceptable; at around 225kb/s, they are at least better than the minimum 192kb/s, not always a given with emusic.com. Their price of £3.36 or less compares favourably with amazon.co.uk’s asking price of £7.49, though that should be offered at around 256kb/s.

Follow up with the Haas Quartet’s earlier Supraphon recording of Prokofiev String Quartets 1 and 2 and the Sonata for two violins - download from emusic.com - here - see review.

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Suite for viola and small orchestra [25:35]
Sir John McEWEN (1868-1948) Viola Concerto [31:14]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Flos Campi (Suite for viola, wordless chorus and orchestra) [19:46]
Lawrence Power (viola)
BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales/Martyn Brabbins - rec. January 2011. DDD
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67839 [76:37] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Another feather in the cap of Lawrence Power, Hyperion and the various orchestras and conductors with whom he and they have recorded music by Rózsa, Serly and Bartók (CDA67687 - see review), Bowen and Forsyth (CDA67546 - see review) and Walton and Rubbra (CDA67587: Recording of the Month - see review and review).

There are several good recordings of Flos Campi, one of the most utterly beautiful pieces of music ever composed, but the VW Suite is also welcome, as is the music by McEwen. That all the music was composed for Lionel Tertis is the key, but no apology need be made for offering them. Even if neither of these fillers is in the same league as Flos, both of them deserve hearings in such fine performances and recordings.

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
A London Symphony (1910 - revised version) [44:49]
William MATHIAS (1934-1992)
Celtic Dances (1972) [13:57]
National Youth Orchestra of Wales/Owain Arwel Hughes - rec. August 2008. DDD.
DIVINE ART DIVERSIONS DDV24135 [58:47] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

[‘This is an admirable pairing and not just for the sound rendition of the Vaughan Williams’ A London Symphony, but also for the unusual and pleasing addition of Mathias’s winsome Celtic Dances to conclude the disc.’ - see review by Em Marshall]

The new Hallé recording of the London Symphony, which earned the Recording of the Month accolade from John Quinn (CDHLL7529 - see review) had not yet made it onto the download list at the time of writing. I hope to be able to review it in the near future; meanwhile the Hickox recording of the original, longer version remains unassailable (see link below to my review of the USB release of all the VW symphonies which he recorded for Chandos), with Barbirolli (remembered from the Pye Golden Guinea LP), Haitink and Handley in the revised score.

The Divine Art recording is by no means to be despised - it’s just a little too business-like at too early a stage in the first movement for my liking but the other movements go well - and it comes with several advantages, not least the inclusion of William Mathias’s attractive Celtic Dances. The download from theclassicalshop.net is inexpensive, too - £4.99 for mp3 or £7.99 for lossless. Classicsonline.com also offer it in mp3 for £4.99 and it’s available for streaming from the Naxos Music Library.

For some inexplicable reason, the classicsonline.com download of the Haitink - here - costs £8.99 instead of the usual £7.99, but it’s still just less expensive than the CD. They have the Handley 2-CD set of Nos. 2 and 6 for £5.99 - here - but steer clear of the alternative Classics for Pleasure single-CD coupling of 2 and 8, which costs £8.99, about 50% more than the equivalent CD. Clearly, I was optimistic in thinking that they had got all their prices for the EMI catalogue sorted out - but amazon.co.uk take the biscuit with a price of £9.49 for the CfP download of 2 and 8, the same as for the (full price) Haitink download.

I recommended the Beulah reissue of Sir Henry Wood’s recording of the VW (34PD3) as a backup version for those with a modern account in the February 2011 Roundup. The mono Boult recordings, too, from the early 1950s, are well worth considering - see November 2010 Roundup.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no alternative version of the Mathias on CD or as a download except the Lyrita Welsh dance anthology (SRCD.334 - see review).

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Film Music Volumes 1-3
Volume 1
Scott of the Antarctic - suite (1948) [41:12]
Coastal Command - suite (1942) [23:43]
The People’s Land (1942) [13:17]
Merryn Gamba (soprano); Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Rumon Gamba - rec. 2002. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10007 [78:30]

[Recording of the Month - see review by Ian Lace]
[‘Immaculately prepared and executed’ - see review by Rob Barnett]

Volume 2
49th Parallel (1940) [38:43]
The Dim Little Island (1949) [7:36]
The England of Elizabeth (1955) [24:22]
All edited or partially reconstructed by Stephen HOGGER
Emily Gray (soprano); Martin Hindmarsh (tenor); Chetham’s Chamber Choir
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Rumon Gamba - rec. 2003. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10244 [70:47]

[‘It is to be hoped that this latest volume will not be the last’ - see review by Christopher Thomas]

Volume 3
The Story of a Flemish Farm (Suite from the film The Flemish Farm) (1942) [25:08]
The Loves of Joanna Godden (1946)* [15:13]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS and Ernest IRVING (1878-1953)
Bitter Springs (1950) [25:57]
* (edited by Stephen HOGGER)
Ladies of Manchester Chamber Choir/Darius Battiwalla
BBC Philharmonic Orchesta/Rumon Gamba - rec. 2005. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10368 [66:37]

[‘Once again [this] will be of considerable interest to the VW enthusiast’ - see review by Christopher Thomas]

Available separately in all formats; also available as a set (3 for the price of 2) on CD (see review) and in mp3 and lossless downloads as CHAN10529 with pdf booklets included- from theclassicalshop.net.

The original reviews say in detail just about everything that I could say about the high quality of the music, the performances and the recordings. I’ve already had my say about Volume 1 - one of the Chandos recordings which I highlighted to celebrate 30 Years of Chandos in the June 2009 Download Roundup, so I need only add that the lossless download is excellent and that it’s well worth making the substantial saving by buying the three albums in the one package - if you go for any one singly, you’ll want the rest anyway. The booklet is (are) actually the three separate booklets from the original releases. Only Chandos’s incorrect claim ‘originally recorded in 2008’ jars; the real dates are as above.

Without suggesting that Chandos have a monopoly on VW - Hyperion have done well by him, too* - I’ve already recommended the USB release of their Vaughan Williams symphonies recordings under Richard Hickox (CHUSB0008 - here), together with three from their earlier Bryden Thomson set to cover the gaps which Hickox left.

* see, for example, their new recording of Flos Campi, above.

Kurt SCHWERTSIK (b. 1935)
Nachtmusiken, Op.104 (2010)* [23:30]
Herr K entdeckt Amerika, Op.101 (2008)* [14:38]
Baumgesänge, Op.65 (1992) [21:26]
* premiere recording
BBC Philharmonic/HK Gruber - rec. August 2010. DDD.
Pdf booklet available.
CHANDOS CHAN10687 [59:52] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and 16- and 24-bit lossless)

Are you looking for approachable but not banal music from a contemporary composer? Here it is: well performed and excellently recorded. I hadn’t heard a note of this before but I thoroughly enjoyed it all. You’ll find all that you need to know about it in the review by Nick Barnard.





Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Cello Concerto (1991)
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello); London Symphony Orchestra/Hugh Woolf
NMC SINGLE D0105 [19:02] - from emusic.com (mp3)

Attractive music in two contrasted movements, completed only just before the composer’s death, and dramatic yet approachable. One could hardly find a better interpreter than Rostropovich, ably assisted here. Although the transfer is at a woefully low 157kb/s, the quality of the performance shines through in this emusic.com version which, at £0.84 or less is something of a bargain. It’s still good value in better-quality downloads at £3.99 or £4.99 (mp3 and lossless flac respectively) direct from NMC - here - but, unfortunately, I don’t have review access to their own downloads.


Howard SKEMPTON (b.1947)
Lento
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Mark Wigglesworth - rec.1991. DDD.
NMC SINGLE D0005 [12:57] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

This haunting work has, deservedly, become something of a cult piece almost on the scale of the once ubiquitous ‘Albinoni’ Adagio or Allegri’s Miserere. At £2.10/£2.70 (mp3 and lossless respectively), the download from theclassicalshop.net is particularly good value, too. If you like Arvo Pärt or Peteris Vasks - the first time I heard it, I thought it was by one of them - you’ll like this.




Epiphany at St Paul’s
Alwyn SURPLICE
Hymn: Brightest and best of the sons of the morning [3:14]
Felix MENDELSSOHN When Jesus our Lord [6:53]
William BYRD Praise our Lord, all ye Gentiles [3:12]
ANONYMOUS Coventry Carol [2:43]
Jacob HANDL Omnes de Saba venient [2:02]
Luca MARENZIO Tribus miraculis [2:57]
Judith BINGHAM Epiphany [4:15]
Peter CORNELIUS The Three Kings (arr. Sir Ivor Algernon ATKINS) [2:41]
William CROTCH Lo! Star-led chiefs [5:20]
Sir Frederick Arthur Gore OUSELEY From the rising of the sun [2:34]
Samuel Sebastian WESLEY Ascribe unto the Lord [14:54]
Herbert HOWELLS Here is the little door [3:49]
Johannes ECCARD When to the temple Mary went [3:37]
Christopher DEARNLEY Hymn: The growing limbs of God the Son [3:14]
William BYRD Senex puerum portabat [2:23]
Gustav HOLST Nunc dimittis [3:36]
Hymn: Was lebet (O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!) [3:09]
Huw Williams (organ)
The Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral/John Scott - rec.2001. DDD
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55443 [72:13] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

It’s a little early to be thinking of Christmas, let alone Epiphany (January 6th), but that won’t stop a flood of new seasonal releases appearing - I see that the big guns of the pop and middle-of-the-road world are already lining up Rihanna against Susan Boyle and Justin Bieber. There’s nothing new in that sense about this collection from St Paul’s, though some of the music will be less familiar. These are first-class performances of their kind, backed by good recording.

Don’t overlook the earlier but slightly more expensive companion recording, Advent at St Paul’s, on Hyperion CDA66994. In fact, if you are looking at liturgical relevance, with Advent preceding and Epiphany following Christmas, that should be your first port of call.





 
 


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