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February 2012_1 Download Roundup

Brian Wilson

The January 2012/1 Roundup is here, January 2012/2 is here and earlier Roundups are indexed here.

Reluctantly I’m having to cease reviewing EMI downloads from classicsonline.com, partly because EMI have apparently placed an embargo on review access to their downloads from this source, but also because I can’t keep up with the vagaries of their pricing structure – no sooner have I recommended, for example, their two 2-CD albums of Beecham’s Haydn at a reasonable though not over-generous £6.99 than the price reverts to an unfeasible £13.98 – almost twice the price of the CD equivalents from some dealers. (They are £5.99 each from amazon.co.uk, £6.99 each from hmvdigital.com.) The same applies to the Classics for Pleasure Previn Nutcracker, now costing a ridiculous £13.98 when amazon.co.uk have both the download and the CDs of this performance in a more recent reissue for £3.99 – see the note at the foot of the Nielsen review below.

Regular readers may recall that passionato.com downloads from the EMI catalogue exhibited the same problem, a feature which I understood was dictated by EMI’s own pricing policy, but that doesn’t explain why amazon.co.uk, hmvdigital.com and even iTunes are able to offer these recordings at more attractive prices.

I shall continue to include some reviews of new EMI releases as heard from the invaluable Naxos Music Library, however. At £7.99 (usually) from classicsonline.com they represent much better value as downloads than the older repertoire which comes at around the same price when the equivalent CDs and downloads from others are less expensive.

Regular readers may also have noticed that I’ve been unable to include any downloads from passionato.com recently; I’m still waiting for my review access to be restored.

Download of the Month

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Sacred works for soprano and concertos

Concerto Madrigalesco, RV129, for strings and continuo [4:27]
Laudate Pueri, RV601, for soprano, flute, string and continuo [23:55]
Il Gran Mogul, RV431a, Concerto for solo flute, strings and continuo [7:59]
Motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera, RV630, for soprano, two violins, viola and continuo [12:14]
Concerto in B flat, RV547, for solo violin, solo cello, strings and continuo [9:32]
Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano); Ashley Solomon (flute); Bojan Čičić (violin); Jennifer Morsches (cello)
Florilegium/Ashley Solomon
rec. St John the Evangelist Church, Upper Norwood, London, 4-6 April 2011. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA33211 [59:01] – from channelclassics.com (mp3 and 24-bit lossless downloads)

This recording is scheduled for release on hybrid SACD in the UK in late February 2012, but is available direct from Channel Classics – here – in advance as a download in a wide variety of formats: mp3 (320kb/s), 24/44.1, 24/96 and 24/192 lossless – all, apart from the mp3 in better than CD quality. Prices start at £7.44 for the mp3, about half the price at which the SACD will sell, while the 24/192 version at £16.53 costs a little more than the SACD. All the downloads also come complete with a pdf version of the booklet. Follow the link above to the Channel Classics website and you’ll find an 8-minute video trailer.

I listened to the 24/44.1 version and thought the sound as excellent as I have found all the recordings that I have heard from Channel Classics, in any format, thanks to the oversight of Jared Sacks – he’s very much more than a recording engineer. He’s certainly that, but he also takes a personal interest in everything that the label produces: he even noticed that I hadn’t been downloading the best-quality 24/192 versions and took me to task ever so nicely for not yet having invested in a suitable DAC to allow me to go beyond what my system will currently cope with.

The chief interest of the new recording is the motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera and comparisons with Emma Kirkby’s recording of this work are inevitable. That’s currently available at budget price on a Double Decca 455 7272, 2 CDs for around £8.50: snap it up while you can – the discs in this series seem to be becoming an endangered species. See review of 467 7812, The World of Emma Kirkby on which it was included – no longer available, though it can also be found on The Very Best of Emma Kirkby (download from hmvdigital.com here.). Regular readers will know that it takes nothing short of a miracle to convince me that any rival version even comes close to an Emma Kirkby recording, so Elin Manahan Thomas, who mentions on the trailer that she first got to know the work from that earlier recording, has a nigh-impossible task. Nor could I omit the Hyperion recording of this motet from consideration (CDA66779, Deborah York and the King’s Consort – see review of complete 11-CD set on CDS44171/81.)

At 5:57 Thomas and Florilegium take the opening aria – larghetto section considerably faster than Kirkby and Hogwood (6:43) or York and King (6:57) but without any sense of hurry. Heard immediately after the others, York and King do sound a trifle languid here. In the remaining sections there is much greater agreement about tempo. More to the point, all three solo voices cope excellently with the florid passage-work and offer very satisfying accounts of the whole motet, with first-class support from their various ensembles. Comparing them collectively with the decent but unexceptional performance on the Brilliant Classics budget box of Vivaldi’s music which I reviewed some time ago (94056, Bargain of the Monthsee review) points up the gulf between these three exceptional performances and the merely good, though that remains an exceptional bargain overall.

Elin Manahan Thomas’s voice shares the purity of that of Emma Kirkby; both warrant the epithet ethereal, though the two are hardly likely to be confused, partly because the younger singer allows a degree more vibrato, not inappropriately in this music. I’m not likely to be jettisoning the single CD on which the Kirkby recording was originally released unless it be to exchange it for the 2-CD reissue. That’s still my absolute desert island choice, but I shall certainly also listen to both York on Hyperion and the new recording.

I greatly enjoyed the performance of Laudate pueri; this time my comparison was with Catherine Bott and the Purcell Quartet on a mid-price Chandos recording which also features the Concerto madrigalesco (CHAN0714Xsee review) and with Volume 7 of the Hyperion series (CDA66819) where it’s sung by Carolyn Sampson with the King’s Consort. Incredibly, this recording, along with Volume 8, is deleted on CD and available on a single disc only from the Hyperion Archive Service or as a download.

The three concerto recordings are by no means negligible, particularly as Il gran Mogul, recently discovered (in 2010), has received only one other recording to date (Avie AV2218: Vivaldithe French Connection 2, La Serenissima/Adrian Chandler – see review and my August 2011/2 Roundup). By coincidence, the two recordings take exactly the same one second short of eight minutes for this work, with minimal differences in the times taken for each movement. In fact, apart from Avie’s preference for the spelling Mogol rather than Mogul, there’s very little to choose between them; both are first class. Perhaps the new recording has a very slight edge; Ashley Solomon is both director of Florilegium and the solo flautist.

The Concerto madrigalesco which opens the recording also features on the Purcell Quartet Chandos recording. The chosen tempi are very similar, as are those on a budget price Hyperion Helios CD where it’s performed by Tafelmusik and Jean Lamon (CDH55190). The chief attraction of the Hyperion, apart from its price, is that the concerto is coupled with Emma Kirkby in two vocal works: In turbato mare, RV627 and Lungi dal vago volto, RV680, and some other fine singers in the Magnificat, RV610b.

You will have deduced by now that I find it very difficult to make a single Building a Library recommendation here. If the combination of vocal and orchestral works appeals, the new recording is as good as any and it’s the only option if you want SACD or a 24-bit download. The Double Decca, on which Emma Kirkby is joined by Catherine Bott in three other cantatas offers superb value as well as performances of very high quality, all at a budget price. The Hyperion Helios also offers a vocal-orchestral combination, again with excellent performances and at a budget price. Nor can I fail to recommend the combination on the mid-price Chandos. Ultimately, personal preference among the excellent solo singers and the choice of works offered can safely decide.

If, on the other hand, you don’t wish to mix the vocal and orchestral, the two volumes which I’ve mentioned from the King’s Consort recordings of Vivaldi’s complete sacred music for Hyperion maintain the very high standard of that whole series. If you think you may be tempted to obtain the complete set, why not save some money by buying the complete 11-CD set or downloading it, preferably in lossless sound? (£76 for the CDs, direct from Hyperion, probably slightly less from some dealers; £55 for the download, which comes complete with all the booklets.)

If it’s the instrumental works which chiefly appeal, have a look at my review of the new BIS recording which includes the Concerto madrigalesco (below).

The Channel Classics booklet is excellent, though I wonder whether the Venetian Carnival mask on the cover is quite the thing for an album containing two sacred works.

Reissues of the Month

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis – rec.1961. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 15-16BX129 [37:49] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Antonín DVOŘÁK
(1841-1904
) Cello Concerto in b minor, Op.104, B191 (1895)
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult – rec. 1957. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 43-45BX12 [38:40] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

I’m going to have my cake and eat it in style this month – not only two reissues of the month, both old friends spruced up in new clothes, but a bargain of the month as well.

The knighthood was a distant dream when HMV took a chance on a promising young conductor called Colin Davis who had been performing Berlioz with Chelsea Opera. Unwilling to let him loose at full price, they released his first recordings on the Concert Classics (this Beethoven) and World Record Club labels (Mozart Oboe Concerto with Leon Goossens and Symphony No. 34). The Mozart met with a slightly grudging critical reception, though not from me – I bought it on reel-to-reel tape and later on a Classics for Pleasure LP reissue and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Beethoven was much more of a runaway success – Edward Greenfield wrote that it was ‘a lively sympathetic account to rival any in the catalogue … [with] well balanced recording’. A performance by Szell and the Clevelanders, reissued that same month, hardly got a look in – and the rest is history. It was my second recording of this under-rated symphony – the first was Bruno Walter’s mono recording on Philips – and I’m very pleased to see that Beulah have reissued it now. It holds its own for me against the many Beethoven symphony recordings which Davis went on to make in the UK, Holland, Germany – the complete set with the Staatskapelle recently reissued on Newton Classics 8802077 at an attractive price – and the USA. The recording is a touch less detailed than we would expect now, but it’s come up very well in this transfer.

Some conductors seem to delight in seeing how fast they can take the finale without losing the orchestra. Davis is fairly fast at 6:42 – all the recordings which I list below are noticeably slower – but the RPO never come off the rails as the NYPO almost threaten to do for Walter at just a few seconds faster. (Now on Archipel, with the Emperor Concerto).

Beethoven’s ‘apotheosis of the dance’ has, of course, received many excellent recordings in recent years, not least from Carlos Kleiber on DG Originals, coupled with No.5 (447 4002 – see December 2008 Roundup and March 2010 Roundup or, for those seeking better-than-CD sound, Vänskä on BIS (BIS-SACD-1816 – see March 2010 Roundup. Download preferably from eclassical.com in 16- or 24-bit lossless sound). Those who prefer smaller-scale Beethoven may wish to turn to the complete symphonies conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras on Hyperion (CDS44301/5 – see March 2010 Roundup) or Emmanuel Krivine on Naïve (V5258 – see July 2011/1 Roundup) or to Nos. 4 and 7 conducted by Douglas Boyd on Avie (AV2169 – see March 2010 Roundup). From an earlier period Beulah have released Erich Kleiber’s 1950 mono recording – an excellent performance but the sound inevitably sounds dated by comparison with the Davis. (9-12BX6 – see March 2011/1 Roundup).

Rostropovich recorded the Dvořαk concerto many times. Though he regarded his Supraphon recording with Talich as the best, this stereo recording with Boult is far superior to the dated mono of that earlier version, available coupled with Othello and The Noon Witch from emusic.com for £2.10 or less or on a Regis CD with the Piano Concerto (RRC1368: Bargain of the Month – see review and review). I listened to the Regis transfer from the Naxos Music Library and found it dim but much more tolerable than I remembered – certainly far better than on the 10/- LP from Woolworth’s on which I first heard it.

Though the balance of the HMV recording is not ideal – a problem inherent in the original – and though Rostropovich went on to make recordings with Giulini (HMV again) and Karajan (DG) and there’s also a BBC Legends recording with Svetlanov, performed at the Proms in 1968 as the Soviet tanks were invading Prague, there’s much to be said for this 1957 recording with Boult. The recording is much more truthful than the Regis transfer of the recording with Talich and the dynamic range is much greater. The performance is only marginally less magical though I can’t quite bring myself to agree with Trevor Harvey who thought that Rostropovich’s interpretation had matured in the interim between the two recordings.

Classicsonline.com offer the most recent EMI transfer of the Rostropovich/Boult recording, coupled with the Brahms Double Concerto for £7.99 but for those requiring only the Dvořαk, the Beulah is a better bargain at £2.00 (£0.75 + £0.50 + £0.75).

Bargain of the Month


Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Aïda.
Aïda: Zinka Milanov (soprano)
Amneris: Fedora Barbieri (mezzo)
Radames: Jussi Björling (tenor)
Amonasro: Leonard Warren (baritone)
Ramfis: Boris Christoff (bass)
The King of Egypt: Plinio Clabassi (bass)
A Messenger: Mario Carlin (tenor)
Priestess: Bruna Rizzoli (soprano)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Opera House, Rome/Jonel Perlea
DISCOVER CLASSICAL MUSIC [3 CDs: 40:44 + 41:18 + 32:47 + 33:10] – from emusic.com (mp3)

For £1.68 or less from emusic.com (or even at £3.56 from amazon.co.uk*), this is a splendid bargain. Though Björling and Milanov were both past their superb best, they still out-perform most of the competition and they are very well supported, not least by Perlea, with whose recording of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, reissued on Beulah Extra, I recently failed to engage. The recording (mono only) still sounds fine and the emusic.com transfer comes at a higher bit-rate (around 230 kb/s) than most of their offerings. There’s no libretto, but what do you expect for the price – and it’s easily available online. If, like me, you have problems with Callas’s voice on the main rival from this period, this is the classic 1950s version to go for. Otherwise, only highlights from this recording are generally available in the UK.

* But don’t pay £24.99 for it from it from Tunes.

***

The Language of Love: Songs of the troubadours and trouvères
Anonymous Por coi me bait mes maris? [2:23]; Dansse Real [3:05]
Gaucelm FAIDIT (c.1150-c.1220) Lo rossinholet salvatge [9:50]
Anonymous La Tierche Estampie Roial [3:08]; En un vergier [6:56]; La Quarte Estampie Royal [2:50]; En ma forest [3:12]
Bernart de VENTADORN (1125-1195) Can l’erba fresch’ [6:18]
Colin MUSET (fl.1200-1250) Volez oir la muse Muset? [6:50]
Anonymous Bele Doette [9:04]
La Prime Estampie Royal [3:40]
Guiraut de BORNELH (c.1140-1200) Reis glorios [7:32]
Duo Trobairitz (Faye Newton (soprano), Hazel Brooks (viell)) – rec. February 2005. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations.
HYPERION CDA67634 [64:48] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

It’s discouraging to see such a fine and recent recording already in the doldrums of poor sales, but Hyperion’s loss is your potential gain – it’s currently on offer at half price, £5.60, for the CD and the mp3 or lossless download. If it’s still in their ‘please buy me’ section, snap it up while you can. If not, go for it anyway – it’s still excellent value for £7.99.

The theme of the programme is fin’ amor or Courtly Love as featured by the troubadours of Provence and the trouvères of Northern France; only the opening lament of the beaten wife falls slightly outside that tradition, to which C.S. Lewis’s Allegory of Love is still a fine introduction, though many of its details are now disputed. The music and performances are immediate in appeal – less purist than the likes of Gothic Voices, who eschew instrumental accompaniment, and more likely to appeal to the general listener – though I hasten to add that the manner of Gothic Voices, who have made many excellent recordings for Hyperion, now mostly reissued on the budget Helios label, is a taste well worth acquiring.

Reviewing the CD – here – Mark Sealey hoped for more recordings of this high calibre from the Duo Trobairitz; I trust that the inexplicable failure of this recording to sell won’t mean that we don’t hear from them again. I’m always very surprised to see what fine recordings end up among Hyperion’s waifs and strays, but they are always worth checking out for real bargains – see the Berwald review below.

As I was about to close this Roundup, another batch of £5.60 knock-downs appeared, including Volume 3 of Hyperion’s complete Sacred Music of Vivaldi (CDA66789here).

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)

Concerto in C, RV114 [5:55]
Sonata a 4 in E flat, ‘Al Santo Sepolcro’, RV130 [4:16]
Concerto in g minor, RV152 [6:21]
Concerto in d minor, RV128 [5:28]
Concerto in d minor, ‘Concerto madrigalesco’, RV129 [4:22]
Sinfonia in C (from La Senna festeggiante, RV 693) [7:06]
Concerto in f minor, RV143 [6:22]
Concerto in g minor, RV157 [6:17]
Concerto in e minor, RV134 [6:06]
Concerto in A, RV158 [7:49]
Arte dei Suonatori/Aureliusz Goliński (leader) – rec. October 2009. DDD.
Pdf booklet included.
BIS-CD-1845 [61:53] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and 16- and 24-bit lossless)

I was impressed by Arte dei Suonatori in the Handel Op.6 Concertos (BIS-SACD-1705/6 see September 2011-2 Roundup and review by Dominy Clements) and in Vivaldi’s Op.4, La stravaganza (Channel Classics CCSSA19503 – see November 2011/1 Roundup and review by Michael Cookson). Deserving label-pluralists that they are, they now pop up again on BIS and I’m impressed again. If you’re looking for a version of the Concerto madrigalesco and don’t want the mixed vocal/instrumental programme on offer on my Download of the Month, you can go for this new recording with confidence. Otherwise, it’s such a short work that you could buy both – or even add the inexpensive Hyperion Helios recording which I’ve listed in that review – without feeling short-changed.

Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Viola Concerto in G [14:06]
Recorder Overture (Suite) in a minor, TWV55:a2 [24:37]
Concerto in F for three violins in F, TWV53:F1 (from Tafelmusik) [14:25]
Concerto for two horns in E flat, TWV54:Es1 (from Tafelmusik) [13:42]
Jiři Strivín (recorder); Ladislav Kyselak (viola); Zdeněk and Bedřich Tylšar (horns); Anna Hoelblingova, Quido Hoelbling, Alexander Jablokov (violins)
Capella Istropolitana/Richard Edlinger – rec.1988. DDD
Pdf booklet included
NAXOS 8.550156 [66:27] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

It may seem perverse to be reviewing a recording which first appeared when Naxos CDs cost £3.99 and were available only from Woolworths – take or leave what remained of the selection which the sales rep had left – but three quarters of these performances have recently resurfaced as the musical accompaniment to a Naxos DVD: Germany: A Musical Tour of Bavaria (2.110537), reviewed by Robert J Farr – here.

The performances are excellent and the 1988 recording is also good, so the CD and download can continue to hold their place in the catalogue with pride.

Concerning the DVD, however, I have some reservations:

• The music takes second place to the visual images – nowhere on the front or back covers are any details given and they appear only in tiny print in the booklet;
• The opening Viola Concerto is omitted, so the playing time of the DVD is only 53:38;
• Both my review copies had a short but very annoying dropout – in the music but not the picture and not present on the CD – soon after the beginning of the second movement of the Recorder Concerto. I emailed Naxos to ask if they could supply a better copy but received no reply, so I had assumed that the fault was generic until I read RJF’s review;
• The picture is in 4:3 ratio, not 16:9;
• The scenes from the glass factory which accompany the eight movements of the Recorder Suite, lasting 24:37 in all, are repetitive – for once I’m glad that the repeats are omitted in the outer movements;
• The images of the Abbey at Weltenburg are mostly of the exterior; very little of the gorgeous interior is shown;
• Played on the same equipment (Cambridge Audio Blu-ray 650BD player), the sound of the CD is marginally preferable to the DVD.

It may well be that none of my reservations about the DVD worry you but I do strongly recommend the CD or download in preference. I’ve never felt let down by any of the recordings which the Capella Istropolitana made for Naxos – modern instruments played with a sense of period style – and this is one of their very best. The Recorder Suite is probably Telemann’s best-known and most-recorded work – 20 versions listed in Naxos Music Library alone – but this is one of the best versions that I’ve ever heard unless you demand period instruments or require all the repeats to be taken in the outer movements. The download is available for £4.99 – very good value when Naxos CDs now seem to retail in the UK for up to £6.99, with amazon.co.uk charging £5.99 for Naxos downloads, and the DVD costs over £10. HMV digital are even charging a ridiculous £7.99 for Naxos downloads of the Maggini Quartet!

Naxos have another fine and stylish recording of the Recorder Suite, in company with other Telemann recorder concertos (8.554018 [64:33], Daniel Rothert; Cologne Chamber Orchestra/Helmut Müller-Brühl – see review) for those who prefer an all-recorder programme and/or wish (just) to hear the harpsichord continuo which seems too often to be swamped these days.

Fans of period instruments will be well served by the Hyperion budget-label Helios recording (CDH55091 [65:17], Peter Holtslag and the Parley of Instruments/Roy Goodman, with two recorder concertos and the Sinfonia in F). Download in mp3 or lossless from hyperion-records.co.uk – here. See review and May 2010 Roundup.

Georg Philipp TELEMANN
Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst (1726) Volume 4: Six Cantatas
The cantatas for middle voice, transverse flute and basso continuo I
Third Sunday of Advent – Vor des lichten Tages Schein (TVWV 1: 1483)* [10:24]
Epiphany Cantata – Ihr Völker hört (TVWV 1: 921) [12:13]
Cantata for the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary – Erscheine, Gott, in deinem Tempel (TVWV 1: 471) [11:20]
Sexagesima Sunday – Was ist mir doch das Rühmen nütze? (TVWV 1: 1521) [10:46]
Oculi Sunday – Wandelt in der Liebe (TVWV 1: 1498)* [10:28]
First Day of Easter – Weg mit Sodoms gift’gen Früchten (TVWV 1: 1534) [12:15]
Bergen Barokk (Franz Vitzhum (counter-tenor); Peter Holtslag (transverse flute); Hans Knut Sveen (harpsichord and organ); Markku Luolajan-Mikkola (baroque cello and viol) – rec. April 2007. DDD.
* first recordings
Pdf booklet included, with texts and translations.
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0084 [67:20] – from toccataclassics.com (mp3)

What enterprising record companies we have access to nowadays – and Toccata is by no means the least among them. In this Roundup alone I’m reviewing their recordings of Telemann at one end of the time scale and Reiner and Raykhelson (below) at the modern end of that scale. All three recordings contain premières and, even more to the point, all three do justice to the music.

We’ve already had the first three volumes in this series and the fourth is as fine as its predecessors, all of which have received praise from myself and my colleagues. The six cantatas here appropriately span the period from Advent IV, the Sunday before Christmas, via Epiphany, Candlemas, Sexagesima, Lent III and Easter in liturgical order. If you’ve started collecting the series, don’t hesitate to buy the new recording; those new to the series would do well to start here too, with the proviso that they will want the earlier volumes as soon as they hear this. Even those who are surprised to find the music quite different from Bach’s cantatas will, I think, find it a pleasant surprise.

The recording captures all the clarity of the solo voice and instruments, though it never rises above 192kb/s. We have to put up with that or less from BBC Radio 3 but Toccata should be raising their game to 320kb/s and lossless downloads. You could wait until classicsonline.com add this to their 320kb/s downloads of Volumes 1-3 – unless you are a member of Toccata’s very worthwhile discount club.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No.1 in F, BWV1046 [22:52]
Brandenburg Concerto No.3 in G, BWV1048 [9:55]
Helen Kwalwasser (violino piccolo, No.1); Eugenia Earle (harpsichord, No.1), Franz Rupp (harpsichord, No.3); New York Sinfonietta/Max Goberman – rec.1960. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 7-10BX112 and 6BX112 [times as above] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

I must confess that I hadn’t expected to hear such stylish and modern-sounding Bach from 1960, four years before Harnoncourt and from a conductor better known for his performances of Haydn – after all, that was the year in which most of us were listening to Karl Münchinger’s 1950 mono recordings of the Brandenburgs, reissued on Ace of Clubs, which now sound very dated. I should have remembered that the Columbia/CBS 2-LP set is quite a collector’s item, with sets on offer on ebay for $30. The tempi in No.3 are a particular revelation – overall Goberman is even slightly faster than John Eliot Gardiner in his recent recording on his own SDG label. Surprisingly, I see that Münchinger in 1950 was quite speedy in this concerto, too.

Perhaps Goberman tries to squeeze a little too much emotion out of the second movement of No.3, at a slow tempo*, but that and some less than ideal ensemble in places are my only small reservations. The recordings, too, are very good for their age – if Lili Kraus’s Beethoven (below) really does date from the same year, there is no comparison.

* 5:04 against Harnoncourt’s (1964) 4:31 and John Eliot Gardiner’s (2009) 3:51.

Johann Sebastian BACH Cantatas 48-51
Cantata No.48, Ich elender Mensch (Trinity 19, 1723) [16:03]
Cantata No.49, Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen (Trinity 20, 1726) [25:41]
Cantata No.50, Nun ist das Heil (incomplete) (St Michael, date, 1728 ?) [3:42]
Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Cantata No.51: Jauchzet Gott (Trinity 15, 1730) [18:02]
Leonhardt Consort/Gustav Leonhardt
WARNER TELDEC [63:29] – from amazon.co.uk (mp3)

Three reasons for this review: I wrote some time ago that I’d try as often as possible to include a Bach recording; the download is incredibly inexpensive (£2.79) and, most importantly I understand that Gustav Leonhardt, who shared this complete pioneering series of period-performance Cantatas with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, has decided quietly and without fuss to lay down his baton (he has since passed away). You don’t need to think about any of those reasons just to enjoy the performances. The recording has transferred well, albeit only at 256 kb/s and, though there are no texts, these are easily available online.

We have moved on in the interim but this whole series still stands up well even against the two modern front-runners, Gardiner and Suzuki (latest release of the latter below), though it’s a shame that they appear simply in numerical order according to the Schmieder catalogue (BWV), mixing cantatas from different dates and for parts of the church year; as it happens, all the works here were written for the autumn period. The whole series is available, mostly at this low price – some cost £6.99: why? – and downloading is now the only way to obtain the individual albums as opposed to the whole boxed set of cantatas or the Teldec complete Bach on 150 CDs due for release shortly. Alternatively, the 6-CD set downloads from amazon.com are also excellent value at £13.49.

Johann Sebastian BACH Cantatas Volume 50 (Leipzig 1726-29)
Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg, BWV149 (St Michael, 1728) [18:58]
Ich lebe, mein Herze, zu deinem Ergötzen, BWV145 [9:17]
Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte, BWV174 (Whit Monday, 1729) [20:57]
Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen, BWV49 (Trinity 20, 1726) [24:21]
Hana Blažíková (soprano); Robin Blaze (counter-tenor); Gerd Türk (tenor); Peter Kooij (bass); Masamitsu San’nomiya (oboe); Yukiko Murakami (bassoon); Ryo Terakado (violin & violoncello da spalla)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki (organ) – rec. February 2011. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included with texts and translations
BIS-SACD-1941 [74:57] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

BIS are now coming into the home straight with this latest Bach cantata release. Having listened to it in mp3 from the Naxos Music Library, I was eagerly awaiting its appearance in lossless sound from eclassical.com; fine as it sounds in mp3, which suggests that the classicsonline.com version should be more than acceptable, the eclassical.com flac version is even better, especially in 24-bit format. At the time of writing there was a special offer – the 24-bit version for the same competitive price as the 16-bit and mp3 and 30% off an earlier recording in the series. Watch out for these regular offers, but even at the normal price, eclassical.com’s 16-bit lossless comes at the same price as the mp3 – at $11.21 that’s more than competitive with the £7.99 which classicsonline.com and others charge for the mp3. The 24-bit is normally a little more expensive.

By coincidence, I’ve chosen a Teldec recording above to illustrate the pioneering Harnoncourt-Leonhardt series which includes Cantata 49, also included on the new BIS recording. Two differences are immediately apparent: Harnoncourt employs boy trebles and his tempi are noticeably slower than the new recording; though they’re not unbearably sluggish, Suzuki sounds more joyful, especially in the soprano aria Ich bin herrlich. The ratio of timings for the opening Sinfonia – 6:13 against 6:44 is typical for the whole work, though Harnoncourt is actually slightly faster in the first bass aria. The question of the soloists will be largely a matter of taste – his treble has an unmatchable innocence and purity of tone but cannot match the assurance and more ‘operatic’ tone of Hana Blažíková. It’s right to use the word ‘enjoyable’ of Bach’s cantatas. They were designed to provide a period of respite in the long – up to four hours – and intense Lutheran Sunday morning Hauptgottesdienst. Both these recordings are enjoyable.

I’m not about to throw out older recordings: Richter on DG Archiv and Teldec, the Harnoncourt-Leonhardt series, Rilling on Hänssler and Gardiner on his own SDG label, but if forced to plump, my desert-island single choice would have to be Suzuki.

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV351 (arr. Sir Hamilton HARTY) [14:45]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/George Weldon – rec.1960. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 1-3BX180 [14:45] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

If you like Handel to sound slow and stately, this should appeal, but for most listeners it’s something of a musical dinosaur. The opening of the Overture is extremely off-putting; though things warm up as it progresses, the following Alla Siciliana (la Paix) takes us back into the doldrums and even the Bourrée fares little better. The final minuet is better, but did we really enjoy Handel like this in 1960? I fear that we did, for no less a luminary than Edward Greenfield, though noting the slow opening, thought the whole LP of the Fireworks and Water Music alert and wonderfully sympathetic. Not for me, though the recording has come up well. Beulah’s reissue of Thurston Dart’s Handel (Water Music, 1-3BX69 – see December 2010 Roundup) has worn much better and is much more recommendable.

If you’re looking for classic recordings of the Hamilton Harty suites from the Water Music and the Royal Fireworks, van Beinum’s early 1950s Decca recording is livelier, though still a little on the portly side and less well recorded. (Download from amazon.co.uk for £4.99). Best of all from this period is the classic Pye/Mackerras recording from 1959, reissued on Testament SBT1253 with Concerto a due cori. Amazon.co.uk have two download versions of this, each costing £3.99; I can’t vouch for the quality of the transfers, though the samples from both sound OK.

NB: though I received this recording with my review batch for February 2012, it doesn’t seem yet to have appeared on the Beulah website, so I imagine that its release has been delayed.

Christoph GLUCK (1714-1787) Iphigenia en Aulide Overture (rev. Richard WAGNER)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer – rec.1960. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 11BX114 [11:24] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

I complained that George Weldon’s Handel (above) was too grand and spacious, but this overture lends itself well to the same treatment from Klemperer, especially in Wagner’s arrangement. Like Jeremy Noble, reviewing the original LP in 1962, the word ‘ponderous’ sprang to mind, then I put that thought to rest and enjoyed the performance. The (UK) Columbia recording has worn well and Beulah’s transfer brings it to life. The original release placed the Gluck at the end of a series of Weber overtures and the Dream sequence from Hänsel und Gretel – perhaps we may have those, too in due course?

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58 [32:16]
Rondo in B-flat for piano and orchestra* [9:48]
Lili Kraus (piano); Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Victor Desarzens – rec. c.1959. ADD/mono
BEULAH 1-3BX179, 4BX179* [32:16 + 9:48] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

This performance begins with one of the most delicate openings that I’ve ever heard for this concerto and the delicacy continues in Lili Kraus’s playing when the soloist enters, showing pianist and conductor to be at one in their view of the music. On that score alone this recording was worth reviving and, though the VSOO was hardly the world’s greatest, they were a good workaday bunch and they prove reliable accompanists. In the finale delicacy is still apparent but soloist and orchestra blend that with a free-wheeling performance.

So far so good, but it appears that there was little that Beulah could do to remedy the rather ragged recording – it’s not just that it’s mono only, which is unusual for a recording made as late as 1959, but it distorts at anything much louder than mf, with clangy piano sound, and doesn’t begin to match the kind of sound that Decca achieved more than a decade earlier in the latter ffrr days of 78s. In fact, since Kraus recorded Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with the VSOO under Rudolf Moralt for Vox in 1952 or 1953, I’m left wondering if Beulah’s date is accurate; what I hear is more like the Vox recordings of that period which I remember, such as Klemperer’s Bruckner Romantic Symphony.

Matters improve somewhat sound-wise in the Rondo and the performance is as good as that of the concerto, so this would be a recommendable separate purchase.

I recently gave a strong recommendation to the Chandos release of the complete Beethoven piano concertos with Howard Shelley, not just the standard five, and I’m pleased to see that others have also given strong endorsements to that set. (CHAN10695(4): Recording of the Month – see review and November 2011/2 Roundup).

I’m currently watching a blu-ray recording of veteran pianist Rudolf Buchbinder as soloist and conductor with the Vienna Philharmonic in the five regular piano concertos; I haven’t yet reached No.4 but the first two concertos encourage me to think that this will also be worth having – no exceptional revelations but thoroughly likeable and reliable performances, all set in the splendour of the Golden Hall and available at an attractive price. Best of all, it’s clear than Buchbinder is enjoying the whole thing immensely – even in the slightly grim picture on the cover there’s the ghost of a smile. (Unitel Classica C Major 708904, around £23 – also on DVD 708808, around £18).

Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868) La scala di seta Overture [6:39]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Die Meistersinger Prelude [9:42]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent – rec.1960. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 25BX13 and 24BX13 [times as above] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Sargent could always be relied on to provide competent performances – often much more than that – of a wide range of repertoire and so it is with these two very different opera openings. Edward Greenfield called the original LP ‘a cracking good bargain’ – the kind of language only Wallace and Grommit use nowadays, but it fits – and the same applies to the Beulah reissue.

One thing that both works have in common is a sense of fun and Sargent brings that out well. The Wagner also has greater depth, however, and Sir Malcolm captures that, too. For all the joke rivalry between Sargent and Beecham – told that Sir Malcolm was touring the Far East, Sir Thomas, who referred to his rival as Flash Harry, joked that would be ‘Flash in Japan’ – both could be trusted to turn in thoroughly idiomatic performances, especially as Sargent is here at the helm of Beecham’s RPO. The recording is more than adequate.

More overtures, mostly from that same ‘cracking good bargain’ LP, are available on a Beulah album, available from iTunes, 7PD13, Sargent’s Overtures – details from eavb.co.uk. I haven’t yet had time to hear that programme – more next Roundup – but it should be possible to purchase with confidence on the basis of these transfers.

Franz BERWALD (1796-1868) Symphonies and Overtures
CD 1 [70:53]
Overture to Estrella de Soria [7:56]
Sinfonie singulière: Symphony No 3 in C [27:53]
Overture to The Queen of Golconda [7:41]
Sinfonie capricieuse: Symphony No 2 in D [27:20]
CD 2 [74:28]
Symphony in A – fragment, completed by Duncan Druce [16:34]
Sinfonie sérieuse: Symphony No 1 in g minor [30:38]
Symphony No 4 in E flat major ‘Sinfonie naïve’ [27:21]
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Roy Goodman – rec. May/October 1995. DDD.
Pdf booklet included.
HYPERION DYAD CDD22043 [2 CDs for price of one: 70:53 + 72:48] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

For a composer who died when Sibelius was only three, Berwald was a remarkable phenomenon whose music sounds well ahead of his time. My prime recommendation for his symphonies remains the BIS recording which I recommended in the November 2011-2 Roundup (BIS-CD795/96, Malmö SO/Sixten Ehrling) in the download from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless). The Hyperion twofer (CD review) runs it pretty close, however, even though this is not the sort of repertoire that I associate with Roy Goodman, and the price is attractive, especially as the set was on offer for £5.60 on CD and as a download at the time of writing – it’s one of the casualties that haven’t been bought for a long time which Hyperion offer in their ‘please buy me’ section.

It won’t remain at that price when you read this, but it’s still good value at the regular £7.99, as against a very reasonable $15.43 for the BIS from eclassical.com, and this review serves as a reminder to look out for Hyperion bargains in that section – they are changed about once a week and the prices of downloads are now reduced as well as CDs.

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata in D, D850 [38:49]
Piano Sonata in G, D854 (Fantaisie) [39:49]
4 Impromptus, D899 [27:26]
Piano Sonata in C, D840 (Reliquie) [25:35]
3 Klavierstücke, D946 [25:29]
Paul Lewis (piano) – rec.2011? DDD.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902115/6 [2CDs: 78:38 + 78:31] – from emusic.com (mp3)

Schubert’s Piano Sonatas are for me as much at the peak of the genre as Beethoven’s and Paul Lewis is generally, but not universally, acknowledged as a fine interpreter of both. It’s what he doesn’t do that attracts both admiration and criticism and it’s exemplified by his performance of D850 at the start of this 2-CD recital: as Melanie Eskenazi noted when Lewis performed this sonata at the Wigmore Hall in 2001, he doesn’t either make it a tour de force or over-emphasise the poetry. (Seen and Heard review here. See also her review of the programme which included D840 here.) I still want the likes of Kempff, Brendel and Curzon* in Schubert’s piano sonatas, but there’s also a place in my collection for Lewis’s plainer but by no means faceless manner.

The recording is a trifle hard, whether because of the piano itself, the inherent nature of the recording or the emusic.com transfer I’m not sure. Piano recordings are notoriously intolerant of any shortcomings in the process – wow and flutter used to be quite a problem – so I suspect that emusic.com’s lowish bit-rate of around 220kb/s is to blame. It’s not a major problem: the ear adjusts and it fits Lewis’s manner of playing, but it might be better to wait for classicsonline.com to add this to their Harmonia Mundi recordings at 320kb/s, though that will probably cost twice as much as emusic.com’s price of £7.14 or less. Amazon.co.uk have the set for £7.49 but their downloads usually come at a maximum of 256kb/s, which may not represent much of an improvement on the emusic.com version.

As I was finalising this Roundup, John Quinn made this Recording of the Month – see review.

* Incredibly, available now only as multi-disc downloads from passionato.com or hmvdigital.com.

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Symphony No. 2 in D, Op.73
Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer – rec. 1956. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 2-5BX114 [39:04] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Inevitably with Klemperer there are moments when you want to get out and give him a push and, though I very much like his craggy approach to Brahms, this symphony is perhaps not the best place to experience it: the Third was my LP version of choice and it’s largely for that and the equally fine Fourth that I recommended the complete EMI set of the symphonies, etc., some time ago – see May 2009 Roundup. The download from amazon.co.uk is now a little dearer than the £3 that I mentioned then, but still ridiculously inexpensive at £4.39. The version from classicsonline.com is uncompetitively priced, though you may wish to sample the streamed version from their siblings at the Naxos Music Library. I can guarantee that version to be free of the troublesome dropout at the start of the St Anthony Variations which afflicted the amazon.co.uk download originally.

Don’t take my comments about the slow tempi too seriously – this recording was made before that final period when Klemperer really slowed down and there are compensating felicities, moments when he brings out the beauty of the music. The recording has come up very well indeed in Beulah’s transfer, hardly sounding its age at all – though in mp3 only, all Beulah downloads are at the full 320kb/s and comparison shows the sound to be little, if any, inferior to the lossless download of Symphonies 2 and 3 from passionato.com which, in any case, is no longer available. Get it instead from classicsonline.com in mp3.

Johannes BRAHMS Violin Concerto in D, Op.77 [39:09]
Commentary by Alan Gilbert on Pelleas and Melisande [11:15]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1971) Pelleas and Melisande, Op.5 [43:30]
Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin); New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Alan Gilbert – rec. live, September 2009. DDD.
NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC 2009/10: 3 [93:56] – from emusic.com (mp3)

The combination of Brahms and Schoenberg is not as arbitrary as you may think – the latter was an admirer of his predecessor and is now acknowledged to owe much of his development to him, even though his subsequent career took him in a very different direction.

The programme opens with a good performance of the first movement of the Brahms – unless, that is, like me, once you’ve heard Heifetz play this concerto on the classic RCA recording with Reiner, everyone else sounds too slow, so that you end up with two slow movements, with too little attention to the allegro marking and too much to the non troppo. I’m afraid that for all his deserved virtuoso reputation, Zimmermann here falls into the slow and dull category too: 22:25 against the Heifetz/Reiner time of 18:37. That apart, those attuned to the mainstream view of this concerto will find much to enjoy here.

Regular readers will be aware that I’m no great fan of later Schoenberg but his earlier neo-romantic works like Pelleas and Verklärte Nacht – but not the Gurrelieder, better dubbed the dreary-lieder for me – are a very different matter. If I’m slightly lukewarm about the Brahms, I really enjoyed this performance of the Schoenberg as much as any that I’ve heard. I could wish that the Pelleas tracks had been available separately – they come only as part of the album – but the download is worth its modest price for this alone.

I could have done without Alan Gilbert’s commentary for repeated hearing, especially as it adds a track to the cost of the download – but look at the total timing and you’ll see that you can skip it and still have a recording that’s too long to burn on one CDR.

The emusic.com recording comes at £2.94 or less for subscribers; alternatively amazon.co.uk have it for £7.49. ($8.99 from amazon.com). iTunes charge £7.99 but include a pdf booklet. The emusic.com download comes at around 230kb/s and sounds fine; I can’t imagine that the other two providers, whose normal bit-rates are around 256kb/s, offer significantly better sound.

If you want the Heifetz/Reiner Brahms, Naxos Classical Archives have a very decent transfer, available for £1.99 from classicsonline.com or £1.26 from emusic.com.

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOSKY (1840-1893)
Suite No.3 in G. Op.55 [37:30]
Paris Concervatoire Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult – rec.1955 ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 39-42BX12 [37:30] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

also available on CD 4PD12, with Symphony No.3 - from eavb.co.uk or amazon.co.uk or download from iTunes..

Rather unhelpfully a recent BBC Radio 3 Building a Library recommendation was for a Boult recording that’s currently unavailable. Very entrepreneurially Beulah offer to come to the rescue with an earlier Boult recording, albeit one that I understand the Radio 3 reviewer placed on a lower level. On the whole I’m more inclined to side with Trevor Harvey – one of the gurus of my early LP collecting days – who thought the performance extremely good and the recording (even in its original mono format) excellent. It’s certainly come up well in this Beulah transfer and there aren’t too many recommendable modern alternatives – Järvi on Chandos, Sanderling on Decca and, perhaps best of all, Jurowski on PentaTone. See also John Phillips’ review of the Maazel reissue on Eloquence – now also available from dealers in the UK.

Johan (Jean) SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 in D, Op.43 (1901-02) [46:14]
Symphony No. 5 in E flat, Op.82 (1914-15, rev. 1916 & 1919) [30:50]
Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä – rec. June 2011. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included. Short video on eclassical.com website – here.
BIS BIS-SACD-1986 [78:04] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

Sibelius’s two most popular and most approachable symphonies in a new performance directed by an acknowledged master with a string of Sibelius recording credits to his name for the same label – a label with no mean track record in the field of Scandinavian music – and expectations are bound to be very high. I really thought I might have a ready-made Download of the Month.

In fact my benchmarks for the new recording have to be the earlier BIS recordings of these two symphonies with Osmo Vänskä and the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, available as part of a set of Sibelius’s orchestral music in decent mp3 sound at an unbelievably inexpensive price from amazon.co.uk, as reviewed by me in the June 2011/2 Roundup. That set offers over seven hours of music for just £5.99 [now £7.99, but still good value] and it includes the original version of the Fifth Symphony as well as the revised version.

I’m going to reverse the usual order of consideration and deal with the recording first. If you’re just looking for mp3 versions of these symphonies, I can’t imagine that you’d be disappointed with the amazon.co.uk downloads; even those with golden ears won’t find too much wrong with the transfers, none of which is at less than 220 kb/s, with some at the full-cream 320 kb/s. The two symphonies come at the lower end of that range but sound much more than acceptable. I listened to the new recording in 24-bit format, however, and even my septuagenarian ears noticed a subtle but distinct improvement in sound over the earlier recordings – less analytical but warmer.

I got to know both these symphonies in recordings made for World Record Club by Tauno Hannikainen. Unfortunately, Hannikainen erroneously excised several bars from the finale of the Second Symphony and, instead of opting for a re-take, tried to pass off the result as a revision by Sibelius. As he was a close friend of the composer, the excuse was taken at face value at first. That recording of the Second Symphony is extant as a download from amazon.co.uk (Hallmark label, at £2.76) and Hannikainen’s recording of the Violin Concerto, with Tossy Spivakovsky (CD review), and Tapiola (CD review) on Grammercy Classical looks like a good bargain for £1.68 or less from emusic.com.

That apart, Hannikainen’s versions of the Second and Fifth served me well as introductions to this immediately appealing music as, subsequently, did Anthony Collins on Decca Ace of Clubs (now Beulah, from iTunes) and, perhaps best of all, Colin Davis in recordings for Philips (still available on two 2-CD sets at budget price: 1-2 and 4-5 on 446 1572; Nos. 5 and 7 also now in SACD on PentaTone PTC5186177), RCA (not currently available in UK) and LSO Live (No.2 and Pohjola’s Daughter on LSO0605; Nos.5-6 on LSO0537; complete symphonies on LSO0191).

Vänskä’s tempi for the Second Symphony have evolved since he made the earlier Lahti recording: in particular, the second movement has now broadened considerably on paper (16:30 against the earlier 14:30). I can’t say that I was aware that the new recording sounded too slow on first hearing, which is all that matters in the long run and the reason why I’m sometimes chary about making comparisons.

Once started down that comparative path, however, I note that most conductors adopt something close to or slightly faster than Vänskä’s Lahti tempo: Collins took 12:39, Hannikainen 14:14, Davis (Philips) 14:38, Davis (LSO) 14:52, Karajan (EMI) 14:32. I therefore listened again to this movement from Vänskä’s Lahti recording and found myself completely won over by his earlier view of what Andante, ma rubato should sound like. The music’s immediacy of appeal is much more apparent in this earlier version; though the new recording makes it sound much more mysterious, my final vote must be for the faster tempo and more urgent movement of its predecessor. In the other movements tempi are a little faster than before and here I thought the new recording easily as good as any that I’ve ever heard.

If the broader tempo for this movement on the new recording doesn’t appeal, you could do much worse than to turn to Vänskä’s earlier (1997) version. If you must have that recording is lossless sound, as opposed to the amazon.co.uk mp3, eclassical.com ride to the rescue again: it’s coupled with the Third Symphony on BIS-CD862 – download from eclassical.com here in mp3 or lossless for $8.98. The Third may be a tougher proposition than the Second, less immediately appealing, but it’s a work that’s well worth persevering with.

That would mean choosing an alternative version of the Fifth Symphony – perhaps the Lahti/Vänskä from eclassical.com: original and final versions on BIS-CD-863 here (mp3 or lossless, $7.94). The comparison between the two versions is fascinating but, if you just want the final version, there’s Karajan on DG Originals 457 7482 (2 CDs, Symphonies 4-7, etc.: download available from hmvdigital.com in 320k mp3 for £7.49 here).

Vänskä’s new Fifth doesn’t contain as many new thoughts about tempi: all movements are within fifteen seconds of their predecessors. It’s a fine performance and I shall be returning to it, though it won’t convince me to choose it in preference to Vänskä Mark I where the Lahti orchestra have the music more in their blood, Davis (any version) or Collins, though the Collins, for all Beulah’s fine work, is hardly the equal of the new BIS. If you wish to hear the Hannikainen version to which I referred, coupled as it originally was, both on World Record Club and later on HMV Concert Classics, with the Karelia Suite, amazon.co.uk offer the Emkay reissue as a download for £3.99 here.

At the time of writing the 24-bit/96kHz version was on short-term offer for the same price ($11.69) as the 16-bit and mp3 versions. That probably won’t still obtain when you read this review but it’s worth watching the eclassical.com website for regular limited-period offers.

Dan Morgan
has also been listening to this recording:

I first encountered Osmo Vänskä not in orchestral Sibelius – which he has already recorded with the Lahti Symphony – but in the endlessly fascinating scores of his compatriot, Kalevi Aho. Those pioneering BIS CDs have pride of place on my shelves, such is the consistency of this conductor’s vision, the unswerving commitment of orchestra and soloists, and the quality of the recordings themselves. Sadly, Vänskä has since decamped to Minnesota, where he and his new band have garnered much praise, notably for their Beethoven symphonies and concertos.

But given the unequivocal success of the Vänskä/Lahti Sibelius cycle it seems strange that BIS have decided to record these symphonies all over again. Indeed, they will have to be very special to eclipse those earlier recordings. And, on the strength of this first offering, is there any sign of that? Initial impressions of the Second Symphony are quite favourable, Vänskä opting for clarity rather than amplitude, emphasising inner voices and shaping the whole most admirably. As a recording it’s not forensically detailed or dynamically exaggerated, and I’m sure many listeners will like the warm, haloed sound. As a performance it’s also quite self-effacing, grand gestures subtly executed, the brass in the closing pages thrilling in its nobility and breadth.

So, a good start, if not an overwhelming one. I suspect this is a slow burner, and that repeated hearings will enhance one’s admiration for this music and maestro. As for the American orchestra, they play well enough, but they just don’t have the character of the Finnish band, which Vänskä built into such a formidable ensemble. And that, I suppose, is the main reason I didn’t take to this new performance as readily as I’d hoped; and there’s fierce competition out there, with rivals, old and new, available as downloads. That said, audiophiles will relish the fact that this new release is available in 24bit/96kHz, although those without high-res sound cards or DACs will find the 16-bit flacs more than adequate.

And if there’s a symphony that could benefit from the extra ‘air’ and unforced amplitude of a well set up high-res recording it’s Sibelius’s Fifth. Certainly, the ear-pricking introduction has weight and atmosphere, the first climax expanding impressively. But it’s the amount of inner detail, extracted with such care, that strikes one most. Some may feel this is achieved at the expense of overall momentum, but there’s a wonderful translucency to both the playing and recording that can’t fail to impress. Rhythms are pleasing too, even if instrumental ‘edge’ is slightly blunted by the well-upholstered sound.

The Minnesota brass are suitably imposing in Sibelius’s trade-mark tuttis, offering somewhat sophisticated thrills rather than atavistic ones. But then that’s Vänskä’s way, the oh-so-civilised Andante glowingly done. Perhaps that’s why I was slightly underwhelmed by the performance; it’s beautifully sculpted and yet, paradoxically, it never quite assumes the solid, three-dimensional ‘presence’ one expects from this great symphony. A combination of the hall’s acoustics and the recording set-up, perhaps. In any event, I was left feeling curiously deflated by these two readings; make no mistake, they’re not bad performances, they’re just not truly memorable ones.

Dan Morgan

http://twitter.com/mahlerei

THE SIBELIUS EDITION Vol.5 – Orchestral Music for the Theatre
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
Göteborgs Symfoniker/Neeme Järvi
6 CDs for the price of 3
BIS-CD-1912/14 [465:27] – from classicsonline.com (mp3)

Reviewing the new BIS recording of the two suites from The Tempest a fortnight ago from the Lahti SO and Okko Kamu, I promised to cover this fifth volume of the earlier Vänskä and Järvi recordings, which includes a complete version of the incidental music to The Tempest, occupying the whole of Volume 3 with the revised version of Kuolema. The performance is idiomatic – a shade more so than the new recording where the two overlap, as in the Overture: eerily dramatic in both versions but a little faster and slightly more dramatic in the older version.

The only question is whether one really wants a complete version with dialogue in Finnish. By coincidence, as I was listening to the new recording of the Suites I heard a complete performance on BBC Radio 3 with dialogue in English and came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t do for repeated hearing. Mercifully, there’s much less spoken material here – very little, in fact, but it is in Finnish, as are the vocal sections. The other complication arises from the fact that the two Suites are also included in this set, though with six well-filled CDs for the price of three you may think that the overlap doesn’t much matter.

With so much excellent music on these six CDs at such a reasonable price, overall it’s impossible to quarrel with Rob Barnett’s very high opinion of this set. (See review with complete listing of contents.) Classicsonline.com mirror the generosity of BIS in offering a reduced price in very good mp3 (£23.97 as against around £30, the cheapest price I’ve found for the CDs), but if you want lossless downloads you’ll need to buy the discs separately from eclassical.com – all at keen prices, but it’s a shame that they don’t offer the set at reduced price. Perhaps they may be encouraged to do so? Meanwhile, don’t forget that ludicrously inexpensive set of essential Sibelius in BIS-derived performances from amazon.co.uk which was my Download of the Month in the June 2011/2 Roundup; it’s now gone up to £7.99, but that still means seven CDs for the price of one. iTunes also have that album for £7.99 but their price of £49.99 for the Theatre Music set is ridiculous – twice as much as the classicsonline.com and likely to be offered at 256kb/s rather than 320kb/s.

Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Symphony No. 1, Op.7 (1889-1894) [35:25]
Saul and David: Prelude to Act II (1902) [5:20]
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn – rec. London, 1967
RCA LP-LSC-2961 [40:45] – from HDTT (24/96 & 24/192 lossless flac)

I haven’t yet heard this, so I’m passing the baton to Dan Morgan. I merely note that the RCA Gold label CD is a collectors’ item, with asking prices of £22+ on the web as I write.

Anyone buying classical LPs in the late 1960s and 1970s will have come across discs from Previn and the LSO. Indeed, my very first purchase was their complete EMI Nutcracker, in a gaudily decorated pink box. [Still one of my favourite versions: download from classicsonline.com – see September 2011/2 Roundup. BW]* They recorded for RCA as well – their Vaughan Williams is still very competitive – this Nielsen selection copied direct from an RCA LP. I must confess to some trepidation when I saw this, as the Jean Martinon/Florent Schmitt download I reviewed en passant last year was a major disappointment; the performances haven’t worn well, but what’s most distracting is the bright, overloaded sound, which makes it almost unlistenable. HDTT, who usually copy from reel-to-reel tapes, must be congratulated for persisting with LP transfers, a daunting task when one considers the age of these originals.

Happily, the first movement of the symphony couldn’t be more of a surprise; first, it’s an arresting introduction from a conductor one doesn’t readily associate with Nielsen and, second, the sound has a warm, analogue-like glow that’s most beguiling. This recording has all the hallmarks of a Previn/LSO collaboration – fine, incisive playing and an abiding freshness, the music persuasively shaped and powerfully projected. I much admired Michael Schønwandt’s reading when I reviewed it for the main site (Naxos 8.570737) but Previn’s has much more thrust and sparkle, the recording itself remarkably detailed and lifelike.

The final pages of the Allegro orgoglioso blaze with the kind of conviction one remembers from the classic Ole Schmidt performances – also with the LSO – and I was struck anew by the firmish bass, smooth strings and vaunting brass. Very impressive, especially as it’s an LP transfer. As for the Andante, it’s a wonderful blend of inwardness and ardour; and, not surprising for a conductor so closely associated with Tchaikovsky ballets, Previn floats the jaunty rhythms of the Allegro comodo in great style, climaxes expanding without hint of stress or strain. Jukka-Pekka Saraste and his Finnish radio orchestra (Apex) are even more engaging here, but there’s no doubt the Previn/LSO partnership is a special one, their music-making noted for its spontaneity and general joie de vivre.

In the Allegro con fuoco the upper strings are a tad steely, but there’s a compensating ballast and body elsewhere. Previn maintains a sense of proportion throughout, those vaulting tuttis never sounding crude or overblown. As for the very brief prelude from Nielsen’s biblical epic Saul and David, it’s an exhilarating snippet, the LSO brass really showing their mettle. I was amazed by just how well the weight and detail of Kenneth Wilkinson’s original recording has been preserved. Indeed, there’s a Wagnerian amplitude here that can’t fail to please.

Hats off to HDTT for this remarkable transfer (also on CD), which makes a vintage recording sound newly minted; and for those of us who remember the Previn/LSO partnership in its halcyon days this will rekindle that excitement and interest. The pdf ‘booklet’ is very basic, but otherwise this download is well worth the few shekels it will cost you.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

* but choose the version on 5099996769454 now for £7.99; the Classics for Pleasure version now costs an unfeasible £13.98. Better still, download or purchase on CD from amazon.co.uk for £3.99.

Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Le festin de l’araignée (The spider’s banquet): Ballet-pantomime, Op.17 (complete) (1912) [32:26]
Padmâvatî: Opera-ballet in two acts (1914-1918) – Suites 1 and 2 [22:27]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Stéphane Denève – rec. October 2010. DDD.
Pdf booklet included.
NAXOS 8.572243 [54:53] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Bacchus et Ariane, Op.43 (complete) [36:14]
Le festin de l’araignée (The spider’s banquet): Ballet-pantomime, Op.17 (complete) (1912) [31:50]
BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier – rec. March 1996. DDD.
Pdf booklet included.
CHANDOS CHAN9494 [67:49] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

This is the fifth and final recording in the Naxos survey of Roussel. As Nick Barnard wrote in his review of Volume 4, there is stiff competition, though only in the case of Le festin. Again, however, there’s nothing to compete at the price and, as there seems to be only one other recording of Padmâvatî currently available in the UK, and that’s of the complete work on an inexpensive 2-CD Gala set (GL100573, LSO/Jean Martinon – rec.1969), there are ample reasons for recommending the new recording. (For a download of the EMI/Plasson complete Padmâvatî, see below).

Add good playing and recording and there’s only one reason not to go for the Naxos recording – the existence of the Chandos version. If you haven’t got a recording of Bacchus et Ariane, I’d advise spending a little extra (the mp3 costs £7.99); if you must have lossless recording the Chandos becomes mandatory. Though the lossless version at £9.99 costs twice as much as the Naxos in mp3, that still represents a worthwhile saving over the CD. The performance is even more idiomatic, the lossless recording has the edge on the classicsonline.com mp3, good as that is, and the coupling will probably appeal to more potential listeners. Enjoyable as I found Padmâvatî, Bacchus et Ariane is a more important work. Both recordings come with useful booklets.

Try out both recordings and their booklets if you have access to the invaluable Naxos Music Library, where you’ll also find an EMI budget-price twofer of Roussel’s music, including the complete Bacchus et Ariane and symphonic fragments from le Festin, together with Symphonies 2-4 (idiomatic performances directed by Messrs. Prêtre, Dervaux and Cluytens – download from amazon.co.uk) and a complete recording of Padmâvatî conducted by Michel Plasson – download in mp3 from classicsonline.com.

Evencio CASTELLANOS (1915-1984)
Santa Cruz de Pacairigua (1954) [17:02]
El Río de las Siete Estrellas (1946) [14:55]
Suite Avileña (1947) [24:26]
Orquesta Sinfónica de Venezuela/Jan Wagner – rec. July 2010. DDD.
Pdf booklet included.
NAXOS 8.572681 [56:23] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Why have we not heard more of this Venezuelan composer? We already had a fine recent recording of Santa Cruz (from Gustavo Dudamel, Fiesta, DGG 477 8337 or 477 7457: Recording of the Month – see review); now may we please have more of his music, preferably brought to us as inexpensively and attractively as this Naxos download? I have just one small complaint – both Santa Cruz and the Suite Avileña feature a number of Latin American Christmas carols, so it would have been more appropriate if the album had appeared a little earlier. Other than that, I simply recommend sitting back to enjoy three works which now rank for me alongside the music of such better known Latin American composers as Villa-Lobos, Ginastera and Revueltas.

Karel REINER
(1910-1979) Music for Cello
Cello Concerto, Op.34 (1941-43)* [33:03]
Sonata Brevis, Op.38 (1946) [10:02]
Elegy and Capriccio (1957/60) [11:31]
Verses for viola and piano** [15:24]
Sebastian Foron (cello)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Zdenek Mácal
Matti Raekallio (piano)
first recordings – rec. December 2010 and June 2011. DDD/DSD
*live recording of world-premiere performance, December 2010.
**played on cello at original pitch
Pdf booklet included
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0083 [71:31] – from toccataclassics.com (mp3)

Toccata claim Reiner as a major missing voice in Czech music and he certainly deserves to be much better known, though I beg to be excused from agreeing that his Cello Concerto, here performed and recorded for the first time, is the greatest of its kind since that of Dvořαk, as Toccata claim in magazine ads. It’s certainly a powerful work and it receives a suitably powerful performance.

My reticence is largely due to the fact that, like most of us, I just don’t know enough about late 20th-century Czech music. I’d never encountered anything by Reiner before – hardly surprising when everything here is a first recording – so, as I’m entirely reliant on Toccata for information, I’ll simply repeat what they offer:

[he] suffered under both of twentieth-century Europe’s major tyrannies. As a Jew he was imprisoned by the Nazis, miraculously surviving a series of atrocities: Terezín, Auschwitz, a camp near Dachau and a death march. Then, back in Prague after the War, he was accused of ‘formalism’ by the Communists. This first CD of a series reviving Reiner’s music presents the large-scale Concerto he completed just before his internment in Terezín – and first heard, in this live performance, only in 2010 – and three chamber pieces which evolve though echoes of Janαček and Martinů to the brittle humour of the Stravinskyan Verses, one of his last works.

As the notes suggest, if you warm to the music of Janαček, Martinů and Stravinsky, to which I would add Bartók, you shouldn’t have too much trouble taking Reiner’s music on board. I have to take on trust that the performances are idiomatic – they certainly sound as if they are – and the detailed notes in the booklet, keyed to the tracks of the recording, are very helpful.

The sound is good but, as these performances were recorded in 24/192 quality and the album will be available on disc in SACD format, it seems a pity that Toccata are still offering their downloads at the minimum acceptable 192kb/s. You may prefer to wait for classicsonline.com to add this to their offerings from the Toccata catalogue at 320kb/s.

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Violin Concerto [30:32]
Double Concerto [20:36]
Lachrymae [13:08]
Anthony Marwood (violin), Lawrence Power (viola)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Ilan Volkov – rec. January 2011. DDD.
Pdf booklet included.
HYPERION CDA67801 [64:16] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Geoff Molyneux got to this before me, so I’m going to let him have the first word:

It is a while since I last heard Britten’s Violin Concerto, completed in 1940, and I had forgotten what a beautiful and moving work it is. This excellent performance is given by Anthony Marwood with Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. There are many interesting features of musical form and structure as well as innovative instrumentation. Listen to the passage about halfway through the second movement with two piccolos and deep tuba. I have never heard that sound anywhere else. The scherzo drives forward as in a whirlwind, and Marwood gives a brilliant performance. The cadenza leads directly into the final Passacaglia, an extraordinarily innovative movement in the history of the violin concerto. There are some very powerful moments in this movement, but the work ends quietly with a sense of ambiguity. Just a few minor quibbles. I am not sure I always like the recorded balance. For example, in the first movement’s opening, the solo violin seems a bit too much to the fore, and in the recapitulation the soloist’s accompaniment is rather obtrusive when accompanying the strings in the beautiful, soft restatement of the first subject. A better balance here is achieved in the Naxos recording with Lorraine McAslan as soloist. I also prefer her marginally slower tempo in the first movement. But both performances are excellent and my complaints about the Hyperion are very minor! The recorded sound is so good and the performers are virtuosic and beautifully lyrical as required.

The Double Concerto was written in 1932 towards the end of Britten’s time as a student at the RCM, but it was not performed until 1997 following Colin Matthew’s realization of the orchestration. This is a very fine piece of music, quite amazing for someone aged only 19. I find it hard to understand why Britten put the work away and why it took so long to be performed. Again this is an excellent performance rivalling those conducted by Nagano and Jurowski. Anthony Marwood is joined by Lawrence Power, and both demonstrate playing not only of great virtuosity but also of subtlety and sensitivity.

The original version of Lachrymae for viola and piano was written in 1950, but on this recording we hear the arrangement for viola and string orchestra that Britten completed just before his death in 1976. Stunning virtuosity is required in this set of 10 Variations on a song by Dowland, and this is provided, together with beautiful phrasing and expressive playing, in this performance by Lawrence Power. Particularly noteworthy in Variation 2 are the soft, sustained chords in the string orchestra, contrasting with dazzling pizzicato playing from the soloist. There is high drama in Variations 4 and 6, and what a wonderful moment it is when we hear the full statement of Dowland’s melody towards the end of variation 10.

Geoffrey Molyneux

All that I need add is to remind you of the earlier Hyperion recording of the Piano Concerto with Young Apollo and Diversions, with Stephen Osborne and, once again the BBCSSO and Ivan Volkov on CDA67625 (Recording of the Month – see review and Hyperion at 30).

Alan SCHMITZ (b.1950) Nineties Timeflow

Allegro for Wind Quintet [4:49]
Dance and Dream Sequence for guitar [6:29]
String Trio [15:34]
March and Serenade for trombone and piano [5:14]
Spiritual Excursion for viola, vibraphone and timpani [7:59]
Bassoon Trio [11:00]
Song and Dance for violin and marimba [12:12]
Love in the Western World for voice and piano [1:33]
David Rachor, Florin Loghin, Franck LeBlois (bassoon)
Northwind Quintet
Concordia String Trio
Todd Seelye (guitar)
Randy Hogancamp (marimba)
Lee Schmitz, Robin Guy (piano)
Leslie Morgan, Leslie (soprano)
Eric Schmitz (timpani)
Christopher Schmitz (trombone)
Randy Hogancamp (vibraphone)
Leslie Pema (viola)
Therese Fetter (violin)
Originally released on Capstone Records in 2001.
RAVELLO RECORDS RR7821 [64 :50] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Recently composed (1990s) music from a contemporary composer that manages to be approachable without sounding banal? If that sounds like squaring the circle, here’s proof that it isn’t impossible. The cover shot, striking and immediate in its appeal really indicates what lies within.

I listened to a CD-quality review download. Classicsonline.com’s mp3 downloads always come at the full bit-rate and, as they offer this recording for £4.99, that would seem a better option than to follow Ravello’s links to iTunes or Amazon, whose mp3 downloads are usually at 256kb/s and who charge £7.99 (iTunes) £6.99/$8.99 (Amazon) for other Ravello downloads. Better still, you may wish to wait until this appears in lossless format from eclassical.com.

There’s no booklet but there are extensive interactive notes on the Ravello website – here.

Igor RAYKHELSON (b.1961) Concertos for Violin and Viola
Violin Concerto in c minor (2007)* [30:54]
Viola Concerto in a minor (2005)** [29:17]
Nikolay Sachenko (violin); Yuri Bashmet (viola)
Novaya Rossiya Orchestra/Claudio Vandelli*, Alexander Slatkovsky** – rec. November 2007 and October 2009. DDD.
first recordings; ** live recording
pdf booklet included
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0130 [60:27] – from toccataclassics.com (mp3)

Thanks to the enterprising work of Toccata, I’d already encountered Raykhelson’s music in the form of the Jazz Suite and other small-scale works – see November 2010 Roundup. Unlike Carla Rees, who thought the music not ‘hardcore’ enough, I found the earlier recording extremely approachable and enjoyable, if not very memorable. Now we have two more substantial works, with Raykhelson’s friend Yuri Bashmet again to the fore in presenting one of them.

Here again the music is very approachable – the Toccata notes rightly speak of the unashamed romanticism of the Violin Concerto and the Viola Concerto is darker in tone but only a little tougher, with a jazzy finale. The performances have to be taken on trust – there are no recordings of either to use as benchmarks, but sound thoroughly idiomatic.

The downloads of both this and the Reiner recording (above) are available in advance of the release date of the CD. The sound, though at only 192kb/s, is very acceptable.

Los Pajaros Perdidos
– The South-American Project
Anonymous Popular Argentinian/Quito GATO Duerme Negrito [2:54]
Ariel RAMÍREZ/Félix LUNA/Quito GATO Alfonsina y el Mar (Zamba) [4:57]
Anonymous Popular Venezuelan Montilla [3:16]
Anonymous Popular Paraguayan Pájaro Campana (Polca) [3:32]
Astor PIAZZOLLA/Mario TREJO/Quito GATO Los Pájaros perdidos (Canción) [3:45]
Anonymous Popular Venezuelan Pájarillo Verde (Pájarillo) [2:32]
Anonymous Popular Paraguayan Isla Sacá (Polca) [3:52]
Constantino RAMONES La embarazada del viento (Gaita Margariteña) [2:50]
Hamlet Lima QUINTANA/Noberto AMBROS/Alfredo ROSALES/Quito GATO Zamba para no morir (Zamba) [3:53]
Pancho CABRAL/Quito GATO/Christina PLUHAR Ay! este azul [3:03]
Juan Bautista PLAZA/Quito GATO El Curruchá [2:38]
Anonymous Popular Venezuelan Caballo Viejo (Pasaje) – Alma Llanera (Joropo) [4:57]
Luis Mariano RIVERA/Quito GATO/Christina PLUHAR La Cocoroba (Joropo oriental) [2:25]
Antonio Nella CASTRO/Hilda HERRERA/Quito GATO Zamba del Chaguanco (Zamba) [3:37]
Adela GLEIJER/Diana RECHES/Quito GATO/Christina PLUHAR Como un pájaro libre [3:33]
Maria Elena WALSH/Quito GATO/Christina PLUHAR Como la Cigarra [3:36]
Otarolo DOMÍNGUEZ Ojito de Agua [2:50]
Anonymous Popular Venezuelan/Quito GATO/Christina PLUHAR Polo margariteño [3:58]
Padre Antonio SOLER/Christina PLUHAR Fandango [9:11]
Consuelo VELASQUEZ Besame mucho (Bolero) [3:44]
Raquel Andueza, Lucilla Galeazzi (soprano); Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor); Luciana Mancini (mezzo); Vincenzo Capezzuto (alto)
L’Arpeggiata/Christina Pluhar (harp)
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5099907095054 [75:23] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

How many pieces of music inspired by birds (Spanish pájaros) can you name apart from Respighi’s Gli Uccelli? There are plenty of them on my ‘fun’ recording for this Roundup – described as a fusion of musical styles, Spanish and Latin American music from the baroque to the present day, arranged by harpist and director Christina Plujar. The centre piece which gives its name to the collection, ‘the lost birds’ is a canción by Astor Piazzolla. I imagine that his name alone will be enough to convince many readers.

If you want to know more about the music or listen to a sample, you’ll find details on the EMI Classics website – here. I no longer have review access to EMI and Virgin downloads from classicsonline.com, so I had to make do with hearing this from the Naxos Music Library; the recording is good enough in that form to make me believe that the 320kb/s version from classicsonline.com will sound very good.

First thoughts

I received an advance copy of Resonus Classics’ next release, the Debussy and Ravel String Quartets performed by the Eroica Quartet just as I was closing this Roundup. (RES10107). These are works to die for in my book – after hearing the Ravel for the first time in the Holywell Music Rooms in Oxford on a balmy Summer evening many years ago, I rushed out the next day to buy the two works on a Supraphon LP. My first reaction to the new recording is not as seminal an event as that – the sort of response that happens only once – and I’m slightly less impressed than I expected to be on the strength of the Eroica Quartet’s very special first appearance on the Resonus debut recording in the Mendelssohn Octet (RES10101). The magic of the music is all there but there’s slightly less power than on some recordings of the Ravel, which opens proceedings.

Perhaps my slight disappointment is due to the fact that I’ve heard these works so many times in modern-instrument performances whereas the Eroica play with gut strings and employ late-19th.century playing styles, still in use when these quartets were composed in the 1920s, which I would normally applaud. Don’t take my reservations too seriously; maybe by the next Roundup I’ll have had time to find more of the undoubted strengths of this recording – I’m already finding more to admire than to criticise even as my first run-through progresses.

Resonus downloads come in a variety of formats from mp3 to 24/96 flac – the latter sounds excellent. Their releases are available direct from resonusclassics.com in all formats, from eclassical.com in mp3 and 16-bit flac and from a variety of download sites in mp3 only, including classicsonline.com.

I’m afraid that Jonathan Harvey’s Bird Concerto with Pianosong (2001) (NMC NMCD177 – from classicsonline.com or emusic.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library) was too much for me – but I did try. Perhaps I was expecting something that lived up more to the hint of Messiaen implicit in the title. It is, however, worth £1.68 to sample the emusic.com download.

Recommended for avoidance

Michael Slattery (tenor and shruti box) and La Nef offer a very idiosyncratic Dowland in Dublin (Atma Classique ACD22650 [49:10]). If you like Dowland jazzed up and made to sound like Celtic folk music you may like this one. I didn’t and the short playing time did even less to attract me. I can well believe the revelation in the booklet that this album arose from a prank dreamed up at a Christmas party! Classicsonline.com are currently offering the first track free – try it or listen to the whole album from Naxos Music Library and make your own judgement.

I can’t recommend paying even £2.52 for the emusic.com download of Roy Harris’s Seventh Symphony as conducted by Eugene Ormandy for the simple reason that it’s an empty file; at a ridiculously low 31kb/s, it’s just not playable. Even the other works on this download by Piston (Symphony No.6) and Schuman (Symphony No.4) are at such low bit-rates that you are much better downloading this Naxos Historical recording (9.82039) from its parent site, classicsonline.com for £1.99 (or stream from Naxos Music Library). The sound is dated but the performances are well worth the small asking price.

Naxos have also made a recent and recommendable recording of the Seventh Symphony (coupled with the Ninth on 8.559050, Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra/Theodore Kuchar – see review and review), also available from classicsonline.com and Naxos Music Library.