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DOWNLOAD ROUNDUP – OCTOBER 2011/1
Brian Wilson

The September 2011/2 Roundup is here and earlier editions can be found here.

As I was about to close this Roundup, I received details of a new suite of programmes specifically designed for ripping, cataloguing and playing classical music at future-proof bit-rates up to 24-bit/358.2kHz; I’ve yet to encounter anything higher than High Definition Tape Transfers’ 24/192. At present I’m happy most of the time with wi-fi playing of downloaded and ripped music via Squeezebox, but it has its limitations, in that it can cope with 24-bit lossless downloads but only at 48kHz. I’m informed that when it down-samples 96kHz recordings the result is actually inferior to 24/48 sound. Though I don’t understand the technology, and I must admit that my septuagenarian ears can’t tell the difference, I usually burn 24/96 recordings to CDR via Winamp.

I haven’t had time to download and try the limited-time demo which I received, but the suite looks interesting enough and, at €39 or €49, inexpensive enough for me to include a mention here and refer you to musichi.eu, where you’ll find more details, including the demo download.

I’m pleased to see that Ian Lace shares my enthusiasm for the John Wilson CD of music from the MGM Musicals, That’s Entertainment, which I made my Download of the Month in the September 2011/2 Roundup – see his Recording of the Month review.

I thought that Naxos had sorted the prices of budget 2-CD sets on EMI and Virgin Classics at a uniform £6.99, which is competitive with the price of the parent CDs at around £7.65, but I’m amazed to see that several, including Volume 2 of the Haydn London Symphonies (Beecham) have reverted to an uncompetitive £13.98. One album of CPE Bach Concertos, selling on CD for £7.65, is offered in two different forms for £13.98 and a staggering £29.98 respectively. Until the prices are sorted out, I can’t include any more reviews of these downloads.

Download of the Month

Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)

Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra*† [21:43]
Violin Concerto* [25:28]
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (edited by Sir Thomas BEECHAM and Dr Eric FENBY)† [21:23]
Tasmin Little (violin)*
Paul Watkins (cello)†
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis – rec. October 2010. DDD/DSD
pdf booklet included.
CHANDOS CHAN5094 [68:59] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16-bit and 24-bit/96kHz lossless and Studio Surround)

Violin Concerto, RT vii/6* [24:23]
Piano Concerto in c minor, RT vii/4** [22:10]
Caprice and Elegy, for cello and chamber orchestra (piano), RT vii/8^ [7:52]
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, tone poem for orchestra (Pieces for small orchestra, No. 1), RT vi/19/1^^ [6:58]
Brigg Fair (An English Rhapsody), for orchestra, RT vi/16+ [15:30]
Tasmin Little (violin)*; Welsh National Opera Orchestra/Charles Mackerras*/^^
Jean-Rodolphe Kars (piano); London Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Gibson**
Julian Lloyd Webber (cello); Bengt Forsberg (piano)^
London Symphony Orchestra/Anthony Collins+ – rec.1953-1996. ADD/DDD.
DECCA BRITISH MUSIC 470 1902 [76:53] – from passionato.com (mp3)

There are two Downloads of the Month this time – one a new issue, the other an item of back catalogue now available only as a download. What these recordings have in common is Tasmin Little, who is something of a pluralist in Delius, having recorded both the Violin Concerto, as above, and the Double Concerto twice. Her recording of the latter with Raphael Wallfisch was until recently available on Classics for Pleasure, coupled with the Cello Concerto and Paris, and conducted again by Mackerras. The deletions axe seems to have fallen on both these earlier recordings, making the passionato.com download and the new recording all the more welcome.

If I marginally favour the slightly snappier earlier version of the Violin Concerto with Mackerras, there is very little in it; I’m content to let the couplings, excellent in both cases, and/or the question of whether passionato.com’s very good mp3 will do or you must have one of the Chandos lossless versions, decide the issue. If the 24-bit versions are too expensive for you, the 16-bit will do very nicely – at £9.99 it’s reasonably priced whereas the 24/96 at £15.99 and the Studio Surround at £19.99 are more expensive than the SACD.

Discovery of the Month

Peggy GLANVILLE-HICKS (1912-1990)

Etruscan Concerto (Promenade; Meditation; Scherzo) (1954) [15:17]
Sappho – Final Scene (1963) [7:42]
Tragic Celebration (1966) [15:34]
Letters from Morocco for tenor and small orchestra (1952) [14:16]
Caroline Almonte (piano); Gerald English (tenor); Deborah Riedel (soprano).
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Richard Mills, Antony Walker – rec. live 1993 and 2007. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts available from Buywell – here.
ABC CLASSICS 476 3222 [52:57] – from emusic.com (mp3)

[see review by Rob Barnett]

The chief work, the Etruscan Concerto is very much of its time (1954) and clearly evokes other composers in a way which I can’t quite put my finger on – the notes mention Boulanger, Copland, Harris and Lambert and Rob Barnett mentions Hovhaness, which I think especially apt – yet without being in any sense derivative. The Final Scene of Sappho, to words by Lawrence Durrell, is also an attractive work – it reminded me of the tone of Samuel Barber’s Knoxville, but again without sounding derivative.

Tragic Celebration is an orchestral piece which achieves what it says on the box – it’s ballet music on the theme of Jephtha’s tragic vow to sacrifice the first person he sees, which turns out to be his own daughter – without overdoing the tragic mood. Letters from Morocco is another vocal work, this time setting letters written to her by Paul Bowles, with a hint of exotic Arabian rhythms in the manner of Holst’s Beni Mora and Hovhaness again.

The performances by the soloists and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra are idiomatic, as far as I can judge – they certainly make a strong case for all the music and, in any case, it’s Hobson’s Choice, apart from the Naxos Classical Archives 1956 recording of the Etruscan Concerto (9.80083, with Vagn Holmboe’s Chamber Concerto No.10, not available in the USA) unless an enterprising independent (Chandos? Hyperion? Naxos?) joins the fray. RB especially liked Gerald English’s contribution but, just to prove that we don’t always go hand in glove, I thought him the least effective contributor.

At £5.04 or less, this is quite a bargain – the parent CD sells for around £8.50 in the UK. Despite a bit-rate which ranges from a measly 172kb/s to a more acceptable 234kb/s the recording sounds perfectly decent. There are no notes, but Buywell generously offer the pdf booklet to all comers – here.

Bargain of the Month

Roy HARRIS (1898-1979) Symphony No.3

American Symphony Orchestra/Leon Botstein
AMERICAN SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA [16:42] – from emusic.com (mp3)

Roy Harris’s one-movement Third Symphony has a directness of appeal that he never quite equalled again. This live performance may not be quite as magic as the front runners, of which the most accessible, in the absence of either of Bernstein’s recordings, is Marin Alsop’s on Naxos coupled with the Fourth (8.559227 – see John Quinn’s review of ‘an excellent disc’ and April 2010 Roundup) but it’s not far behind. The recording is decent but a trifle muted by comparison with the Naxos. Those who aren’t subscribers to emusic.com, where it costs £0.42 or less, will find the price at amazon.co.uk of £5.99 uncompetitive with downloading the Naxos from classicsonline.com.

October 2011 releases from Beulah Extra

Among the ripe autumn harvest from Beulah for October – here – my favourites are Curzon’s Grieg and Böhm’s Beethoven:

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Symphony No.8 in F, Op.93 [24:09]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Karl Böhm – rec.1955? ADD/mono
BEULAH 6-9BX133 [24:09] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Like the Seventh, Beethoven’s Eighth often languishes under the misapprehension that he was marking time between the Pastoral and the Choral symphonies. They may be much smaller-scale than either of those masterpieces, but I often prefer Beethoven in quieter mode – the Second and Fourth come into that category, too. Böhm’s Beethoven and Mozart has all the virtues of old-fashioned performance at its best, a quality which it shares with Eugen Jochum and with Bruno Walter, whose mono recording of the Eighth with the NYPO was my introduction to this work. I didn’t find the playing slightly routine sounding, as MM did in 1953, but then I didn’t have the heaven-opening Beecham version for comparison, as he did.

The recording is good for its date and sounds well enough in the Beulah transfer not to impede my enjoyment. One small query: the date is given as 1955, but I believe that this is the same performance that was released in 1953.

It’s now possible to build up a decent library of historic Beethoven symphony performances from Beulah – find them here.

Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907) Piano Concerto in a minor, Op.16
Clifford Curzon; London Symphony Orchestra/Anatole Fistoulari – rec.1951. ADD/mono
BEULAH 6-8BX7 [30:49] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Bearing in mind the fact that Clifford Curzon’s stereo remake with Øivin Fjeldstad was the first recording of this concerto that I owned, I was surprised to discover a somewhat lukewarm reception for this 'nearly excellent’ earlier version in 1952, with soloist and recording coming in for some stick and only Fistoulari and the orchestra escaping. Fistoulari’s contribution is certainly praiseworthy, right from as jaunty an opening as I’ve ever heard, and Curzon is somewhat tentative to start with, but matters soon improve. This may not be quite the Curzon whose contributions to the recorded repertoire I revere, but it’s not far short and I know that many prefer it.

The recording is somewhat hollow sounding, but by no means intolerable – not at all bad for its age and Beulah’s magic has eradicated the surface noise. By the finale either my ear had adjusted or the sound had much improved. There’s a rival version from Naxos Historical Archives on 9.80318, coupled with Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, with Enrique Jorda, also from 1951. (Download from classicsonline.com for £1.99 or stream from Naxos Music Library. Not available in the USA). With more music for your money, including a version of the Falla that may not be ideal but is worth hearing, you may prefer the Naxos, unless you live in the USA or somewhere else with copyright lasting more than 50 years, but I think that a little more care over the transfer has been taken at Beulah.

The stereo version received a much more fulsome welcome – ‘Curzon at his best’ – so perhaps we might be offered that from Beulah or High Definition Tape Transfers in the near future. It’s not currently available on a single CD, though passionato.com have it in mp3 and lossless, coupled with Fjeldstad’s Peer Gynt Suites (Decca Classic Sound 448 5992: see below).

Certainly the 1951 release offered poor value, with just the Grieg Concerto taking up a full 12" LP at 39/6 (LXT2627), though later Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain were added on LXT5165. When the stereo remake appeared, there was a choice between a programme including Franck’s Symphonic Variations and the Litolff Scherzo on 12" at 38/- or (later) just the Grieg Concerto on a 10" LP for 18/-. That figure of 18/- would represent something like £25+ in today’s terms, so Beulah’s asking price becomes a real bargain, especially when seen in that context.

The other big warhorse concerto this month is Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No.1 in b flat minor, Op.23, from a 1955 Decca recording played by Julius Katchen with the London Symphony Orchestra and Pierino Gamba on 1-3BX142 [31:33]. Though not very well received at the time, the performance later became something of a classic, but the recording has not survived the passing years very well – it wasn’t even very good for its own time and, though Beulah have surely improved the sound I remember hearing on the Ace of Clubs reissue, the orchestra still sounds thin and ill-defined and the piano desiccated. Many of Katchen’s other recordings remain viable*, but there are too many rivals, even among recordings from the 1950s, to give this a strong recommendation, either in this Beulah release or in that on Naxos Historical Archives 9.80467, where the original coupling with Liszt’s Hungarian Fantasy is preserved. Now if Beulah were to reissue Katchen’s recording of the two Liszt concertos, with Ataulfo Argenta and the LSO …

* The 4-CD set of Beethoven Piano Concertos, Choral Fantasia and Diabelli Variations on Decca 475 8449, for example, from passionato.com (mp3): see November 2010 Roundup.

Beulah already had performances of Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART’s Piano Concerto No.23 in A, K488, with Denis Matthews (1BX42) and Clifford Curzon (with Boyd Neel, 1945: 1-3BX101) as soloists. They now add a recording made by Annie Fischer with Sir Adrian Boult and the Philharmonia Orchestra in stereo in 1960. (5-7BX130 [25:45] – here.) This recording was released with Piano Concerto No.20 on the reverse, previously reissued by Beulah on 1-3BX130, which I reviewed in the May 2011/1 Roundup. If anything, I love K488 more than any other Mozart Piano Concerto and Fischer’s performance is all that I expected after hearing her recording of K466. The accompaniment is good – but did I hear an odd fluffed note soon after the opening? – Boult directs with his usual finesse and the recording still sounds well in this transfer. A fine alternative to the Curzon – see January 2011 Roundup, also the May 2010 Roundup for the later stereo version with Benjamin Britten: ideally you need both Curzon versions and Fischer.

The Busch Quartet from 1935-1938 feature in the music of Franz SCHUBERT: the String Quartet No.8 in B flat (D112) on 9-12BX152 [39:53], the String Quartet No.14 in d minor (D810) on 17-20BX152 [24:53], the String Quartet No.15 in G, Op.168 (D887), on 13-16BX152 [32:59] and Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin in the Piano Trio No.2 in E flat, Op.100 (D929), on 5-8BX152 [38:22]. These recordings are also available as a double album from iTunes as 2-3PD52 for a very reasonable £7.99 or $9.99.

When these performances were reissued on an EMI album in 1987, they were described by Robert Layton as classic and indispensable, a treasury of musical wisdom. I see no reason to demur now unless you require all the repeats to be played, in which case you need to turn, for example, to the Florestan Trio, who also include both versions of the finale of the Piano Trio No.2 (Hyperion CDA67347). Of course the sound is dry but, in this transfer, perfectly acceptable, and the surface noise has been nicely cleaned up with no loss.

An excellent supplement to modern recordings by the likes of the Beaux Arts Trio (Philips), the Florestan Trio (Hyperion), the Kodály (Naxos) and Belcea (EMI) Quartets. It’s less expensive, too, in terms of pence per minute, than the EMI GROC reissue of Quartets 14 and 15.

I’ve already reviewed Felix MENDELSSOHN Elijah, recorded by Sir Malcolm Sargent with the Huddersfield Choral Society and the RLPO as released by Beulah on iTunes. The same recording also comes on 22-23BX13. Please refer to the September 2011/2 Roundup for the review.

Two reissues of GRIEG: the Lyric Suite from Sir Malcolm Sargent and the National Symphony Orchestra (rec.1946) on 20BX13 [14:35] and Peer Gynt Suites Nos. 1 and 2 from the LPO under Basil Cameron (rec.1949) on 7-14BX27 [30:32].

There are several reissues of music by Sir Arthur SULLIVAN. Sir Malcolm Sargent conducts the Pro Arte Orchestra with customary aplomb in the Iolanthe Overture on 21BX13 [7:20], a 1959 stereo recording which sounds a trifle thin but has otherwise come up well. Find it here. This is taken from an HMV Concert Classics recording (XLP20003) which is quite a collectors’ item and from which I hope that we shall have some more reissues.

When it comes to HMS Pinafore sung in Danish in 1958 under the direction of Arne Hammelboe, better known for his performances of Lumbye, the ‘Danish Strauss’, as den gode Frigat Pinafore (2BX157 [26:42]), I’m left with the question which you may recall Mr Weasley asked Harry Potter concerning a rubber duck: what’s it for? The performances are lively enough, however. The same applies to Trial by Jury, an even more quintessentially English work, as Retten er sat on 1BX157 [13:24].

I may not be clear about the purpose of Gilbert and Sullivan in Danish, but I am clear about that of:

Sadler’s Wells Voices: Historic recordings made between 1933 and 1960
WAGNER
Lohengrin (Act1: By Heaven’s behest) Live recording in Sadler’s Wells Theatre Oct 1933 [2:24]
GOUNOD Faust (Garden Scene) 1948 recording [12:55]
MASCAGNI Cavalleria Rusticana (Easter Hymn) 1939 recording [4:43]
BRITTEN Peter Grimes (Act II : Glitter of waves and glitter of sunlight) 1948 recording [13:51]
BIZET Carmen (Habanera and Seguidilla) 1948 recording [3:28 + 2:06]]
VERDI Simon Boccanegra (Act I: Nobles! Plebeians!) 1948 recording [8:46]
SMETANA Bartered Bride (Act II: O dream of love) 1947 recording [4:41]
OFFENBACH Orpheus in the Underworld (Act II: Fly duet) 1960 stereo recording [6:12]
Johann STRAUSS II Die Fledermaus (Act II: Brother mine and sister mine) 1960 stereo recording [3:59]
Joan Cross, June Bronhill, Jeanne Dusseau, Victoria Elliott, Nancy Evans, Joyce Gartside, Anna Pollak, Marion Studholme, Constance Willis, Harry Bridle, Howell Glynne, Booth Hitchen, James Johnston, Arnold Matters, John Heddle Nash, Frederick Sharp, Eric Shilling, Henry Wendon, Alexander Young; Sadler’s Wells Chorus and Orchestra/Warwick Braithwaite; Lawrance Collingwood, Alexander Faris, Michael Mudie, Vilem Tauský
Peter Pears, Joan Cross; Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Reginald Goodall
Edith Coates; London Symphony Orchestra/Walter Goehr
Joan Hammond, Owen Brannigan, Heddle Nash, Frederick Sharp; Philharmonia Orchestra/Lawrance Collingwood; Walter Susskind
BEULAH 1PD43 [63:05] – available from iTunes from 04 October 2011. Details from www.eavb.co.uk.

These recordings date from the glory days of Opera in English at Sadler’s Wells before the ENO transferred to the Coliseum to continue the good work. It represents the varied repertoire that was presented there over three decades; my only reservation is that I would have liked to have heard longer extracts from, for example, Offenbach’s Orpheus. We’ve already had the Overture from that recording on Beulah and the Fly Duet here is very welcome, but how about giving us the complete LP of highlights in a better transfer than the (acceptable) one on Past Classics? Much of the material here was reissued on a 3-LP set in 1972 but has remained unobtainable since then, so the Beulah reissue is most welcome and the transfers sound very well indeed.

Only the sound of the 1933 Wagner and that of Mascagni in 1939 require a deal of tolerance and Beulah have ensured freedom from surface noise even there; everything else sounds very good for its age. My most vivid memory of the Wells is of hearing Janet Baker in the Handel Opera Society production of Orlando in 1966 of which, sadly, I don’t think a recording was ever made, unless one of our readers has a pleasant surprise for me.

The highlights of this Beulah release for me are the substantial chunk of Peter Grimes with Britten’s original Ellen Orford and Peter Grimes together with Reginald Goodall, who conducted the 1945 premiere, and the Offenbach excerpt. For all my reservations about the timbre of Peter Pears’ voice, he remains the Grimes and though Joan Cross as the housekeeper in The Turn of the Screw is still, thankfully, available, I can’t find any other trace of her Ellen Orford in the current catalogue. If you feel inspired to move on to the complete Peter Grimes, passionato.com have the Decca Originals recording conducted by Benjamin Britten himself in mp3 (£12.99) or lossless (£15.99) on 475 7713 here. If you must have a bargain, emusic.com offer the Past Classics version of the same recording for just £1.26 here, but I can’t vouch for the quality of the transfer.

And two recordings from Beulah’s back catalogue which I haven’t yet included in a Roundup:

Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910) Russia, Symphonic Poem* [11:35]
Nikolay RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908) Capriccio Espagnol, Op.34** [13:41]
Hallé Orchestra*; London Philharmonic Orchestra**/Sir Hamilton Harty – rec.1928**, 1933* (mono)
BEULAH 1BX25*, 2BX25** [11:35+13:41] – from Beulah Extra (mp3) here.

These transfers, though rather dry-sounding, belie the dates of the original recordings. The Balakirev, especially, apart from some odd patches of light surface noise, might almost be from an early-50s LP. The change to electrical recording between the dates of the two tracks makes all the difference. It’s the lively Balakirev performance, too, that is the winner for me. I haven’t heard the Dutton transfer of this recording, originally made as part of Columbia’s History of Music, but I can’t imagine that it’s any improvement on what Beulah have achieved. Now will someone please restore the wonderful Beecham recording of Balakirev’s First Symphony?

Max BRUCH (1838-1920) Violin Concerto No.1 in g minor
Alfredo Campoli; New Symphony Orchestra/Royalton Kisch – rec. 1951 (mono)
BEULAH 1-3BX10 [25:19] – from Beulah Extra here.

This recording enjoyed a brief new lease of life, coupled with Campoli’s recording of the Mendelssohn Concerto, in electronic stereo, on the Decca Eclipse label in 1969. By then, of course, the recording sounded rather dated and the bogus stereo did little to improve matters. Despite Beulah’s careful re-mastering, you wouldn’t choose this version for its recording quality, though the affectionate but not over-indulgent performance merits hearing and the imbalance which placed the soloist too forward in the original pressings, at least in the opinion of the Gramophone reviewer, HF, seems to have been quietly corrected.

***

Robert PARSONS (c1535-1572)
Domine, quis habitabit? [5:12]
Peccantem me quotidie [3:44]
Holy Lord God Almighty [3:48]
Deliver me from mine enemies [2:39]
Retribue servo tuo [8:04]
Solemnis urgebat dies’Iam Christus astra ascenderat’ [5:39]
Magnificat [13:15]
Libera me, Domine [7:31]
Credo quod redemptor [3:32]
O bone Jesu [11:42]
Ave Maria [4:56]
The Cardinall’s Musick (Amy Haworth, Rebecca Hickey, Carys Lane, Cecilia Osmond (soprano); Patrick Craig, David Gould, Rebecca Outram, Caroline Trevor (alto); William Balkwill, Mark Dobell, George Pooley, Julian Stocker, Simon Wall (tenor); Robert Evans, Robert Rice (baritone); James Arthur, Robert Macdonald, Stuart Young (Bass))/Andrew Carwood
Pdf booklet included with texts and translations
HYPERION CDA67874 [70:07] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

This would have been a very strong candidate for Download of the Month had I not already made my selection: instead, I shall be considering it for one of my Recording of the Year choices. If there remained any lingering doubts about the high quality of Robert Parsons’ music after the Voces Cantabiles recording (Naxos 8.570451 – see review, review and review) this new release from Hyperion should dispel them. Like Tallis and Byrd his productive career straddled the militant Protestantism of Edward VI*, the return to Rome of Mary I, whose portrait features on the cover, and the modified Anglicanism of Elizabeth I, so that we have settings in Latin and English here. Many of the Latin settings could have featured as the anthem in cathedral and collegiate churches even in the two Protestant reigns and the English settings are, if anything, preferable to those of Tallis and approaching the quality of Byrd’s (English) Great Service.

The performances are all that we have come to expect from Andrew Carwood and his team, the recording, especially in lossless form, does them full justice, and the notes are of Hyperion’s usual excellent standard. There is some overlap with the Naxos, but the two are largely complementary; the latter contains more of Parsons’ English settings.

* as noted in the Hyperion booklet, there is no firm evidence that he was active in the reign of Edward VI.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat ‘Jeunehomme’, K271 [27:47]
Piano Concerto No.12 in A, K414 [21:49]
Rondo in A, K386 [7:55]
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano); die Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
BIS-SACD-1794 [58:36] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- or 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Is this a travesty as one reviewer has suggested or a 5+5-star special as another maintains? The answer will depend on your taste in approaches to Mozart: if you don’t like fortepianos – and this one is not the most endearing I’ve ever heard – and/or small period orchestras, stay clear. If, on the other hand, you’re prepared to listen with an open mind, though you may not rise to the full 5+5 and you may well wish to have at least one less radical recording in your collection, there is much to enjoy here. The Jeunehomme concerto – so named after Mozart’s pupil who was its dedicatee – was his first on a reasonably large scale, so you really need something like one of Brendel’s performances as a reminder that Brautigam and Willens don’t have the only answer – the early version on the budget Alto label, which I reviewed some time ago, will do well enough. (ALC1047, with Concerto No.14 and Sonata No.8 – Bargain of the Month: see review: download from classicsonline.com here).

K414 is much better suited to the small-scale treatment – indeed it’s one of the concertos of which Mozart himself made a chamber-scale version* – and this recording proves hugely successful. Yes, there’s occasional edginess to the strings, paradoxically emphasised by the quality of the recording, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment.

* Recorded in that version by Brendel and the Alban Berg Quartet on EMI – download from classicsonline.com – 0724355696250, with Piano Quartet No.2, here – or stream from Naxos Music Library.

The old adage is true here: de gustibus non est disputandum – there’s no accounting for taste. I thought the recent Pletnev PentaTone recording of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony thoroughly off-message and I see that my MusicWeb colleague Brian Reinhart agrees with me – 13th out of 13 in his collection: see review – but it has recently been chosen not just as a 5+5-star offering but as Recording of the Month. If you’re torn between the two opposing views of this Mozart recording, listen to the substantial (8-minute) sample on the eclassical.com link which I’ve given above. You can’t beat eclassical.com’s pricing system – just $6.90 for mp3 and 16-bit lossless or $10.35 for the 24-bit. Buy the 24-bit and you can come back later for the mp3 for your mp3 player.

Richard WAGNER (1813 -1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, WWV96, an orchestral tribute (Symphonic compilation, arranged 2005 by Henk de VLIEGER (b. 1953)) [47:51]
Eine Faust-Ouvertüre, WWV59 (1840, rev.1855) [11:03]
Deux Entreactes tragiques (Performing version, 1996, by Henk de VLIEGER after compositional sketches from 1832) [12:26]
Overture to Columbus, WWV37 (1835, edited 1907 by Felix MOTTL (1856 – 1911) as concert overture with the title Christoph Columbus) [8:05]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
Rec Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow; 17 – 19 August, 2010. DDD/DSD
CHANDOS CHAN5092 [79:54] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16-bit and 24-bit/96kHz lossless and surround sound).

Chandos have produced several of Henk de Vlieger’s orchestral realisations of Wagner operas. This kind of ‘Wagner without tears’ is far from new: bleeding chunks of the Ring cycle are often performed, such as the Ride of the Valkyries and Magic Fire Music from die Walküre and Siegfried’s Journey to the Rhine from Götterdämmerung; the Venusberg music is the best known part of Tannhäuser, the Good Friday spell of Parsifal and the Prelude and closing Liebestod of Tristan und Isolde, played together as one piece, turn one of the longest operas into one of the shortest on record.

What Henk de Vlieger have done goes beyond these bleeding chunks, however, in an attempt to produce an orchestral synthesis of a complete opera: The Ring – an orchestral adventure (CHSA5060 – see review by Dan Morgan), Parsifal – an orchestral quest (CHSA5077 – see review by Simon Thompson) and Tristan und Isolde – an orchestral passion (CHSA5087 – see review by Rob Barnett). The aim of the process for die Meistersinger, presenting a symphonic whole rather than a potpourri, is well explained in Emanuel Overbeeke’s notes in the booklet, included in the original Dutch as well as in translation.

Essentially the aim is the same as on previous recordings, but these orchestral syntheses have met with mixed reviews here and elsewhere: veteran reviewer Edward Greenfield thought that the Ring conflation worked remarkably well, but our own Dan Morgan was underwhelmed by it, and Simon Thompson was not much more enthusiastic about the Parsifal. The Tristan recording seems to have come off best, holding Rob Barnett’s attention more than Wagner normally does.

Henk de Vlieger starts with a real advantage in the case of die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in that the opening Prelude and that to Act III are established concert pieces which make perfect sense when played on their own. Equally, since this is a more light-hearted work – Wagner’s equivalent of Verdi’s Falstaff, if you like – there’s less of the high ground for us Wagnerites to defend, so that a potpourri of the kind that de Vlieger has sought to avoid, perhaps with the Offenbach/Rosenthal Gaîté Parisienne in mind, might not have been too objectionable. Nor is there one absolutely clear winner among recordings of the opera to point to as definitive in terms of tempo and the like, though most of us will have a firm favourite – in my case the stereo Karajan, recently reissued on EMI 6407882*; for all that I recognise the superiority of the earlier mono version (Naxos Historical 8.110872/5), the recording requires too much tolerance.

* download from classicsonline.com for £9.99: 5099964078854 – here: no libretto but, at £9.99, keenly priced.

In the two preludes Järvi judges the pace very nicely – none of the tempo problems which Dan Morgan noted in the Ring compilation: the opening Vorspiel (9:25) comes within two seconds of the stereo Karajan (9:27); both are a little slower than the mono Karajan (9:11) and all three are a fraction faster than his recording of the same piece on his EMI recording of Wagner Overtures and Preludes (9:34)**. The same is generally true elsewhere and, at the risk of upsetting Wagnerites who are more serious about their man than I am, it was only really in Walter’s Preislied that I missed the vocal contributions. In compensation for any loss, I noted some of the felicities of Wagner’s orchestral writing that normally go unnoticed.

** download from classicsonline.com: 0724347689659 – here.

The inclusion of some rarities adds to the appeal of this recording, not least the Faust Overture, which inevitably invites comparison with Liszt’s Faust Symphony, a comparison from which the less well known Wagner emerges far from defeated. Most of the currently available recordings are of a certain vintage, so the new recording is very welcome.

The two Entreactes (sic) are pretty small beer; I would have had real difficulty in identifying them as the work of Wagner. Closer to the echt-Wagner mode is the final work, the overture to Theodor Apel’s popular play of the 1830s about Christopher Columbus. There’s only one other version in the current catalogue, an early Naxos recording with Alexander Rahbari and the Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra. The neglect is unjustified, though one wouldn’t place it on the top ten list of Wagner works, and the performance here makes a strong case for it.

I listened to this recording in the 16-bit lossless download format, equivalent to the CD layer of the SACD, burning the result to CDR and printing out the booklet to recapture the effect of holding the physical disc in my hand. I thought the recording just slightly lacking brightness at first, but a small boost of volume helped considerably and I think, in any case, that the lack of voices where the memory expects to hear them contributes mainly to the illusion. I didn’t notice the same problem in the purely orchestral works. Sound buffs with large bankrolls may wish to investigate the Studio Surround version in 24-bit flac, though it doesn’t come cheaply, at £19.99 a throw.

I approached this recording with some apprehension in the light of reviews of earlier releases. In the event I enjoyed the whole thing much more than I had anticipated. I think that most Wagnerites who thought those earlier arrangements lacking will be more tolerant of the new recording – and, probably, some non-Wagnerians who find themselves enjoying the Prelude as a separate item will also enjoy it.

Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Peer Gynt – excerpts [39:23]
Piano Concerto in a minor, Op.16 [29:15]
Clifford Curzon (piano); London Symphony Orchestra/Øivin Fjeldstad – rec. 1958 and 1959. ADD
DECCA CLASSIC SOUND 448 5992 [68:38] – from passionato.com (mp3 and lossless)

This recording, no longer available on CD, restores not the original couplings of these two works but a logical rearrangement of the furniture: when last seen on LP on the Ace of Diamonds and later the Jubilee label, the Peer Gynt music took up a whole disc. The performances are thoroughly idiomatic – in the case of the Piano Concerto preferable to Curzon’s more leisurely account conducted by Fistoulari (above) – and the recording, especially in lossless flac, still sounds fine. At £9.99 it’s now a little more expensive than when it was last seen on CD; go for the mp3 at £7.99 if price is an issue. I’m very pleased to report that the download went smoothly, with none of the problems which I reported from passionato.com in my last Roundup. If you want a first-rate version of both works and you are happy with 39 minutes of the Peer Gynt music, this is for you. For all the familiarity of ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’, Fjeldstad’s performance has the power to make you sit up and take notice.

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 3 in d minor (1893-1896, rev. 1906) [104:14]
Mihoko Fujimora (alto)
Knaben des Bamberger Domchores/Werner Pees
Damen des Chores der Bamberger Symphoniker/Tobias Hiller
Bamberger Symphoniker-Bayerische Staatsphilharmonie/Jonathan Nott
rec. live, May 2010. DDD/DSD
Texts not included
TUDOR 7170 [34:45 + 69:29] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

[‘Sadly, Nott’s version is … crippled … by the kind of expressive liberties that give these symphonies a bad name. You have been warned.’ – see review by Dan Morgan]

Symphony No.3 in d minor [99:09]
Suite from the Works of Bach [18:54]
Petra Lang (mezzo-soprano); Netherlands Children’s Choir; Philharmonic Choir;
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly – rec.2000 and 2003. DDD.
DECCA 475 5142 [118:03] – from passionato.com (mp3)
[mp3 box set of Symphonies 1-9 and Deryck Cook’s completion of No.10, Decca 475 6866, also available from passionato.com]

The new Jonathan Nott recording seems set to divide critical opinion: Dan Morgan, as you will see from the quotation above, had little time for it, yet at least one other reviewer has made it a top choice. In view of my tendency to find myself in agreement with Dan whenever we do two-handed reviews, I therefore approached it with some trepidation. On the other hand, I liked Nott’s recording of the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony on Tudor 7158 – see June 2010 Roundup for a comparative review of Nott and Tennsetedt – as did Dan himself – see review (Recording of the Month) and Gavin Dixon – see review.

In the event I can certainly see where Dan is coming from in his reaction to this performance – a natural reaction from anyone who came to this work via Horenstein or Abbado. It didn’t grab my attention as much as they do, but I still enjoyed the performance more than he did and I’m sure that I shall listen to the new Tudor recording.

If you wish to make up your own mind, I suggest that you listen to the extracts from this recording available from classicsonline.com and emusic.com and amazon.co.uk., or stream the whole symphony from the Naxos Music Library. If you do so, pay particular attention to your reaction to the singing, especially of Mihoko Fujimora – as Dan suggests, this will be crucial to your acceptance of the recording as a whole.

Emusic.com offer the download for a ridiculously inexpensive £2.52 or less, but this is music that requires at least the highest possible mp3 bit-rate, which emusic.com rarely offers, so go for the lossless (flac) provided by eclassical.com for $18.74. Return later at no extra cost for the mp3 version (at the full 320kb/s) for your mp3 player if you wish – not that this is the sort of music that I recommend playing in this way. (Actually, I have to admit to being no great fan of mp3 players – even with a decent pair of over-ear ’phones, I hardly ever use mine: it’s currently not even been charged for a long time.)

If you find yourself in agreement with Dan Morgan’s view of the Nott recording, you may wish to investigate Claudio Abbado (see below). Otherwise you should be able to turn to the fairly recent Chailly with greater confidence: this is a straight but by no means characterless performance, presented in very good mp3 sound by passionato.com. It comes at the full 320kb/s bit-rate, though there’s no lossless version and, of course, you will miss the surround channels of the SACD, apparently no longer available, but I had no cause for complaint about the quality of reproduction, even in the more hectic moments. The box set, at £40.99, represents good value – the equivalent CD set costs between £10 and £20 more. So, too, does passionato.com’s complete DG 12-CD box set of Claudio Abbado’s performances of Symphonies 1-9 and the Adagio of No.10 (447 0232, mp3 only for £37.99 – the CD set sells for twice that amount): if anything, Abbado is an even more reliable interpreter than Chailly.

Exchange rate and VAT fluctuations have made Zubin Mehta’s attractive version of the Third Symphony, coupled with the First Symphony on Decca Eloquence 480 1133 less of a bargain that when I reviewed it three years ago, but it’s still well worth considering. (Around £12 in the UK, which still makes the CDs less expensive than the passionato.com mp3 download.)

Howard HANSON (1896-1981)
Symphony No. 3, Op 33 [33:12]
Elegy in Memory of Serge Koussevitsky for orchestra, Op 44 [11:21]
Lament for Beowulf for chorus and orchestra, Op. 25 [17:38]
Eastman-Rochester Orchestra and Chorus/Howard Hanson – rec.1957-1963. ADD.
MERCURY 434 3022 [62:11] – from passionato.com (mp3)

I mentioned this in my previous Roundup in conjunction with the new Naxos recording of Symphony No.1 and Lament for Beowulf, but I also mentioned the unfortunate fact that all my recent ‘purchases’ from passionato.com had failed to download. I’m happy to report that this recording presented itself without problem, along with another stalled download, and sounds fine. If, for all the qualities of the new version (8.559700), you prefer the composer in his own music, you won’t be disappointed by the performance or the mp3 transfer of a recording in the finest vintage Mercury manner. The Eastman-Rochester may not rank among the world’s great orchestras, but they do a more than adequate job here.

Miklós RÓZSA (1907-1995)
Orchestral works – Volume 1
Overture to a Symphony Concert, Op.26a (1956 rev. 1963) [9:07]
Three Hungarian Sketches, Op. 14 (1938 rev. 1958) [20:08]
Tripartita, Op. 33 (1971 rev 1972) [22:20]
Hungarian Serenade, Op. 25 (1932 rev. 1946) [22:44]
BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba – rec. 2008. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10488 [74:46] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

[‘A lovely disc … More please and soon.’ – see review by Rob Barnett]

Volume 2
Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song for violin and orchestra, Op. 4 (1929) [10:01]
The Vintner’s Daughter – Twelve Variations on a French Folk Song, Op. 23a (1953) [16:36]
Notturno Ungherese, Op. 28 (1964) [8:30]
Cello Concerto, Op. 32 (1967-68) [30:01]
Paul Watkins (cello); Jennifer Pike (violin)
BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba – rec. June 2009 and June 2010. DDD.
CHANDOS CHAN10674 [65:40] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

[‘High hopes fulfilled’. – see review by Rob Barnett]

Two strong recommendations here for music by a composer better known for his film music. Like Rob Barnett – follow links above – I thought Volume 2 a worthy successor to Volume 1. If anything, the music is even more enjoyable and the performances and recording at least equal to those on the earlier release. I listened to the 16-bit lossless version in both cases and found it excellent; go for the more expensive 24/96 if your system can cope with 96kHz without down-sampling.

Miklós RÓZSA Orchestral Music Volume III
Sinfonia Concertante, Op.29 (1966) [32:26]
Viola Concerto, Op.37 (1979) [32:44]
Igor Gruppman (violin); Paul Silverthorne (viola); Richard Bock (cello); New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/James Sedares
KOCH INTERNATIONAL CLASSICS 3-7304-2H1 [65:11] – from emusic.com (mp3)

[see appreciative review by Rob Barnett]

This is the least expensive of my three Rózsa recommendations – just £2.94 from emusic.com; though the transfer is at low bit-rates, mostly below 192kb/s, the sound is perfectly acceptable. In any case, this download seems to be the only way to obtain this recording in the UK and the performance of the Viola Concerto is competitive with the recordings listed below, while the Sinfonia Concertante is well worth hearing.

There is now something of an embarrassment of riches of recordings of 20th-century viola concertos. Lawrence Power recorded the Rózsa, Bartók (ed. Serly) and Serly Viola Concertos last year in performances which I thought excellent (Hyperion CDA67687 – see December 2010 Roundup and review by Jonathan Woolf). More recently James Ehnes has recorded Bartók’s Viola Concerto (ed. Serly) alongside his two Violin Concertos (Chandos CHAN10690 – see September 2011/1 Roundup). I liked both of these so much that I can only recommend the purchase of both, even though it means duplicating the Bartók Viola Concerto; don’t ignore the Hyperion because you’ve never heard the Serly work – it’s well worth hearing.

There’s also a Naxos recording of the Rozsa Viola Concerto and Hungarian Serenade which I reviewed in May 2009. (NB: I wrongly said then that it was the Violin Concerto).



 


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