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June 2012/2 Download Roundup

Brian Wilson

The previous Roundup, June 2012/1 is here. May 2012/2 is here, May 2012/1 here, and earlier roundups are indexed here.

Download of the Month

Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No.9 in d minor (1891-1896, ed. Nowak, with completed fourth movement)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Simon Rattle – rec. live. February 2012. DDD
EMI CLASSICS 9529692 [82:10] – from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk (mp3)

[‘I suspect that we are hearing from Rattle the closest we shall ever get to Bruckner’s own thoughts.’ See review by Ralph Moore: Recording of the Month.]

Bruckner died before completing the Ninth and, though we have come to know the three finished movements and to regard them as complete in themselves, the composer certainly didn’t regard them as such and authorised the performance of the Te Deum in place of the final movement.

The completion employed here is a four-handed working of the near-complete outline score which Bruckner left; as Rattle himself observes, there’s more Bruckner here than there is Mozart in the conventional version of the Requiem. Certainly this recording makes the best possible case for the completion and I shall definitely return to this four-movement version in future, even in preference to the fine recordings of the three movements that exist, notably from Walter (just £2.67 from hmvdigital.com) Wand (RCA x3 – review, review and review), Jochum (DG 469 8102, in complete symphonies at budget price) and Tintner (Naxos 8.554268 review). I had some reservations about the Hallé version conducted by Mandeal (Hallé CDHLL7524 – see March 2010 Roundup, though further hearing has endeared me to it a little more).

There have been other recordings of attempts to complete the fourth movement, including a Naxos CD of a slightly earlier revision of the version used here, but that’s with the Westphalian Philharmonic, a decent orchestra and a recording which I certainly wouldn’t rule out, but no match for the Berlin Phil. Though it comes on the budget Naxos label, it runs to two CDs, making the price of even the least expensive download, from classicsonline.com, at £9.98, considerably more expensive than the £6.99 which sainsburysentertainment.co.uk charge for the Rattle.

Bargain of the Month

Franz LISZT (1811-1886) 50 Best Liszt
Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat, S124 [17:43]
Piano Concerto No.2 in A, S125 [20:39]
Polonaise brillante, S367 [9:35]
Fantasy on Hungarian Folk-tunes, S123 [5:44]
Fantasia on a theme from Beethoven’s Ruins of Athens, S122 [10:49]
Malédiction, S121 Op. 452 [6:51]
Totentanz, S126 for piano and orchestra [8:00]
Michel Béroff (piano)
Leipzig Gewandhaus, Kurt Masur – rec. 1977. ADD.
Consolations, S172/1-6 [15:00]
Aldo Ciccolini (piano)
Deux études de concert, S145 [6:35]
Georges Cziffra (piano) – rec. c.1963. ADD
Valse oubliée, S215/1 [2:35]
John Ogdon
and performances by Andrea Lucchesini (Piano Sonata in b minor [27:29]), Vladimir Ovchinnikov (Études d’exécution transcendante), Craig Sheppard (opera paraphrases), André Watts (Nuages gris; en rêve), Kun Woo Paik (Liebesträume S541/3) and Jeanne-Marie Darré (Grandes Études de Paganini).
EMI CLASSICS 0838072 [3 CDs: 79:24 + 73:16 + 72:43] – from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk (mp3)

The performances by Michel Béroff and the Lepizig Gewandhaus orchestra under Kurt Masur alone, the first 79 wonderful minutes, otherwise available only as part of a 7-CD EMI box set, are enough to justify the asking price of £1.79. That set, though very good value at around £20, or as a download from classicsonline.com for £14.99, is made to seem ridiculously expensive by comparison.

Performances of Liszt don’t come much better than those by Béroff and Masur and there are other valuables to be had among the other items which I’ve listed in detail. Some of the others may be less than ideal, but you can relegate those and still be pleased with what you have, and at such a low price. There isn’t too much to jettison, however; Lucchesini’s powerful performance of the b-minor Sonata, for example, though no match for the likes of Richter and Argerich, is well worth hearing.

The mp3 transfer comes at the full 320kb/s, along with all Sainsbury’s offerings that I’ve tried, and, despite the age of some of the recordings – mainly EMI – sounds very good.

If you want more, there’s another collection, 100 Best Liszt, even better value for £2.99. There’s more from Ciccolini (including Années de pèlerinage) and songs performed by the likes of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Hermann Prey and Janet Baker, the Faust Symphony (Berlin Philharmonic – conductor not stated: Rattle?) and some other orchestral items, mainly performed by the Gewandhaus Orchestra and Kurt Masur.

There are similar collections from amazon.co.uk, but the track listings suggest that the movements of the piano concertos are scattered among the other works instead of in the right order as on the Sainsbury’s collection – and they cost almost twice as much at £2.99 (50) and £4.99 (100).

Chandos: Hickox Heritage

Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
The Light of Life (Lux Christi), Op.29 (1896) [62:48]
Judith Howarth (soprano, The Mother of the Blind Man)
Linda Finnie (contralto, Narrator)
Arthur Davies (tenor, The Blind Man)
John Shirley-Quirk (baritone, Jesus)
London Symphony Chorus
John Scott organ
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox – rec. 1993. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts available
CHANDOS CHAN10726X [62:48] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872 – 1958)
A Cotswold Romance* (1951), adapted from Hugh the Drover (1910-14) by Maurice Jacobson (1896 – 1976) in collaboration with the composer [39:34]
The Death of Tintagiles (1913) [14:48]
Rosa Mannion (soprano, Mary)*
Thomas Randle (tenor, Hugh)*
Matthew Brook (baritone)*
London Philharmonic Choir *
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox – rec. 1997. DDD.
premiere recordings
pdf booklet with texts available.
CHANDOS CHAN10728X [54:34] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

Gustav HOLST (1874 -1934)
Suite de ballet in E flat, Op.10* [19:24]
A Song of the Night, Op.19/1** [8:31]
The Wandering Scholar, Op.50† [25:24]
Bradley Creswick (violin)*
Lesley Hatfield violin**
Ingrid Attrot (soprano, Alison)†
Neill Archer (tenor, Pierre)†
Alan Opie (baritone, Louis)†
Donald Maxwell (bass, Father Philippe)†
Northern Sinfonia/Richard Hickox – rec. 1996. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts available
CHAN10725X [53:40] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

Frank BRIDGE (1879 – 1941) Orchestral Works: the Collector’s Edition
CD1 [75:47]
Enter Spring; Isabella; Two Poems for Orchestra; Mid of the Night
CD2 [72:34]
Dance Rhapsody; Five Entr’actes; Dance Poem; Norse Legend; The Sea
CD3 [69:51]
Coronation March; Summer; Phantasm; There Is a Willow Grows aslant a Brook; Vignettes de danse; Sir Roger de Coverley (for large orchestra)
CD4 [77:01]
Rebus; Oration (Concerto elegiaco); Allegro moderato; Lament; A Prayer
CD5 [8:17]
Suite for Strings; The Hag; Two Songs of Robert Bridges; Two Intermezzi from ‘Threads’; Two Old English Songs; Two Entr’actes; Valse Intermezzo à cordes; Todessehnsucht; Sir Roger de Coverley (for strings)
CD6 [61:14]
Blow out, you bugles; Adoration; Where she lies asleep; Love went a-riding; Thy hand in mine; Berceuse; Mantle of blue; Day after day; Speak to me, my love! Berceuse (orchestral version); Chant d’espérance; Serenade; The Pageant of London; A Royal Night of Variety
Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano); Philip Langridge (tenor); Roderick Williams (baritone)
Alban Gerhardt (cello); Howard Shelley (piano)
BBC National Chorus of Wales
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox – rec. 2000-2004. DDD.
CHANDOS CHAN10729X [6 CDs – 421:11, individual CD times as above] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

[see overview of the six individual CDs by Rob Barnett, with links to individual reviews].

Sir George DYSON (1883 – 1964)
At the Tabard Inn* [11:41]
The Canterbury Pilgrims† [90:55]
Prologue – The Knight – The Squire – The Nun – The Monk – The Clerk of Oxenford – The Haberdasher and his Fraternity – The Merchant – The Sergeant of the Law – The Franklin – The Shipman – The Doctor of Physic – The Wife of Bath – The Poor Parson of a Town – L’envoi
In Honour of the City‡ [15:08]
Yvonne Kenny (soprano)†
Robert Tear (tenor)†
Stephen Roberts (baritone)†
London Symphony Chorus†‡
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox – rec. October 1996. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts included
CHANDOS CHAN241-43 [2 CDs: 57:25 + 60:42] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

Herbert HOWELLS (1892 – 1983)
Hymnus Paradisi* [46:42]
A Kent Yeoman’s Wooing Song (premiere recording)† [18:21]
Joan Rodgers (soprano)*†
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor)*
Alan Opie (baritone)†
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox – rec. 1998. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
CHANDOS CHAN10727X [65:12] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

[see 5-star review by Herbert Culot and review by Rob Barnett.]

De mortuis nil nisi bonum … but it would be hard to say anything other than good about Richard Hickox, certainly in musical terms, so I’m glad that Chandos have chosen to honour his memory with a series of recordings reduced to lower mid price to be reissued over the coming year. All the first releases, due out on 15 June 2012 but available in advance for download, are self-recommending.

Elgar’s The Light of Life, composed for the 1896 Three Choirs Festival, was in many ways a trial run for The Dream of Gerontius, The Apostles and The Kingdom. It’s less diffuse than any of its successors, concentrating on the healing of the blind man, and more approachable. Much as I love Elgar’s oratorios, with the exception of Gerontius, which I just can’t come to terms with*, I have to admit that my 6-CD box set of Boult’s recordings of all his choral works (3679312) doesn’t get the dust blown off too often.

The Light of Life, then, is the place to start if you wish to get to know the others and this recording is the ideal version. Like all the Hickox reissues, the performance is ideal, the recording and documentation exemplary. In all cases the pdf booklet is available but you have to download it separately – if you wish to save it, you have to obtain it from the Chandos CD page. The one other modern recording, conducted by Sir Charles Groves, is available only in the 30-CD Collector’s Edition (EMI 5036032review). That’s excellent value, but it does involve a considerable outlay.

* I can claim to be in good company: Beecham called it ‘holy water in a German beer-barrel’, but he applied the same tone of disdain to Parsifal and there I must disagree.

Vaughan Williams despaired of his opera Hugh the Drover ever receiving its due and, in truth, it’s not strong on drama, though it has been recorded by EMI (2066362 in the 30-CD VW box set – see review) and Hyperion (CDD22049). His solution, as with Pilgrim’s Progress, was to select the best music for a separate work, in this case in collaboration with Maurice Jacobson. The result is tuneful and attractive and Hickox and his team make ideal performers. The Death of Tintagiles is a much darker work, incidental music for Maeterlinck’s play, but shafts of VW’s characteristic lyricism shine through the darkness. With excellent recording and Chandos’s usual quality booklet available for download, strongly recommended as a VW byway for those who have explored his major routes.

If, like me, you’re a little selective concerning which music by Bridge you really like, you couldn’t find a better advocate than Richard Hickox on this 6-CD set. These authoritative performances have won universal praise, not least from Rob Barnett in the article to which I’ve given the link above. Even if you end by being not quite totally won over by all of Bridge’s ouput, £19.99 (mp3) or £31:96 (lossless) for all this music is excellent value. I certainly ended by liking a great deal more of Bridge’s music much better than I had before. Chandos have, with some justification, chosen this as their Recording of the Month.

We’ve already had a mid-price reissue of these performances of Dyson’s At the Tabard Inn and In Honour of the City of London, coupled with his Symphony in G (CHAN10308X – see review by Rob Barnett) so this 2-for-1 reissue of CHAN9531/2 is something of a nuisance in that it involves duplication, but strongly recommendable in every other respect. The music has some of the quintessential Englishness of Vaughan Williams’ Oxford Elegy and, much as I love Matthew Arnold’s two poems which VW filleted for that work, Scholar Gypsy and Thyrsis, Chaucer’s text, even in the modernised form which Dyson employs, is even greater poetry. There are no rivals for The Canterbury Pilgrims, though At the Tabard (Naxos 8.557720 – download from classicsonline.com) and In Honour of the City of London (Somm SOMM014 – not available for download) exist in other recordings.

We aren’t short of very good recordings of HowellsHymnus Paradisi, notably from David Hill (Naxos 8.570352: Bargain of the Monthreview and October 2009 Roundup), Vernon Handley (Hyperion CDA66488 – Hyperion Top 30 Roundup) and Sir David Willcocks (EMI 0954052review). All these offer valuable couplings – the Naxos the world premiere recording of Sir Patrick Spens, the Hyperion An English Mass and the EMI, a 5-disc set for around £20, also contains works by Delius and Hadley. Ideally, you need at least the Hill and Handley versions for those unique couplings, and it doesn’t help that the Chandos coupling for the Hickox version, a secular wedding cantata is also unique. I can say only that I wouldn’t be without any of them. Rob Barnett found it equally impossible to choose one pre-eminent version in the review to which I’ve given a link above, to which you will doubtless reply that it’s all very well for reviewers who have press access to encourage you to buy more than one recording.

By mistake I chose the mp3 download of this recording (£4.99 as against £7.99 for the lossless) and thought it much more than adequate.

You’ll find a wealth of other recommendations of the music of Herbert Howells, some conducted by Richard Hickox, in my June 2011/2 Roundup.

Lyrichord Recordings

Lyrichord is an enterprising label to which I’ve given too little attention in these roundups, a shortcoming which I hope to remedy in coming months. The CDs are not widely available in the UK, so downloading is the only practical solution.

There are three sub-divisions, Lyrichord Early Music, Lyrichord Classical and Lyrichord World or Archive Series. Classicsonline.com offer the whole series at £7.99 per album, which is broadly comparable with the $9.99 which Lyrichord.com charge for their own downloads. Some are also available from emusic.com, though at a lower bit-rate. With emusic.com’s policy of charging per track, they are sometimes less expensive from this source but, equally, often ridiculously expensive for albums with multiple short tracks.

One of the earliest programmes chronologically contains a selection of the cantigas of King Alfonso el Sabio, Alfonso the Wise (1221/2-1284), a series of poems in praise of the Virgin Mary. On LEMS8003 - from classicsonline.com - Russell Oberlin (countertenor) and Jospeh Ladone (lute) perform the Prologue and cantigas 36, 261, 330, 160, 118, 205, 364, 111 and 340, recorded in 1994. These are comparatively plain performances – just one voice and single lute accompanist throughout – and will probably appeal most to those who subscribe to the minimalist philosophy of Christopher Page, as evidenced in his many recordings with Gothic Voices for Hyperion.

The programme is rather short – 37:10 – and there are no texts, which is a shame because the medieval Galician dialect is hardly common currency, but other recordings of these works are equally remiss in this respect and the cantigas are available online: http://www.cantigasdesantamaria.com/ and Lyrichord offer a valuable paraphrase of each of the cantigas: http://www.lyrichord.com/linernotes/Lems8003US.pdf. This is certainly not the only collection of this music: you’ll find my review of a recording made by the Martin Best Ensemble in 1984 on Nimbus NI5081, together with a comparison with a Naxos recording from Ensemble Unicorn (8.553113) and some historical details here.

I’ve also been listening to a selection from the Ensemble Gilles Binchois recorded on the Ambroisie label in 2005 (AMB9973); here the approach is more varied, with different voices, sometimes in duet, and a greater variety of accompaniment. This recording also comes complete with booklet of notes, texts and French translation. Martin Best’s recording is the most interventionist of the four – all works are ‘arr. Best’; seven singers plus Best himself are named and there’s a whole battery of instruments. The Naxos, with two singers and a range of instruments, falls somewhere in the middle. On this recording the prologue is recited in a kind of Sprechstimme, familiar from some other recordings of medieval music, rather than sung.

In a sense all four recordings are enjoyable and complementary, especially as different selections of the 400 cantigas are chosen for each – the Lyrichord best preserves the serious message of the texts which the others all dilute to some extent with the jollity of the accompaniment, but then some of the cantigas contain a good deal of fabliau-type humour, not too far removed from Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale, as in the account of the priest who made his underclothes from the altar cloth and was punished when his legs grow back to front. Start with the least expensive on Naxos, which comes with some excellent notes, if you haven’t yet encountered the music of Alfonso and move onto the other collections later.

Download from classicsonline.com:
- Lyrichord here (or, for US readers, from lyrichorddownloads)
- Naxos here
-
Nimbus here
-
Ambroisie here

or stream from Naxos Music Library.

‘Early Music’ means everything up to and including the baroque and one of the most delightful recordings in the series comes from the latter,Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin en concerts performed with sheer aplomb by Elaine Comparone (harpsichord) and the Queen’s Chamber Band (LEMS8040 [66:20] – from classicsonline.com, with booklet, or lyrichorddownloads or stream from Naxos Music Library). It’s so good that David Wright had to go and lie down after hearing it – see his 5-star review. My reaction was to wonder how such an unknown set of artists had produced something so thoroughly enjoyable – could I be imagining how good it all was? – so I’m delighted to see that DW agreed with me. I’m sure that you will, too. If you must have lossless sound, you’ll need the Channel Classics recording (below); otherwise honours are about even between these two excellent interpretations.

Lyrichord Classical contains the fewest recordings. Among them is the 2009 recording by Johannes Somary of Haydn’s The Seasons (LEMS8071) which I reviewed and recommended on CD: download from classicsonline.com or stream from Naxos Music Library.

The classical period begins in Lyrichord’s terms with CPE Bach – the six wonderfully unpredictable ‘essay’ keyboard sonatas (Probensonaten), Wq63 (H70-75) performed on a Broadwood hammerklavier of 1796 by Elisabeth Katzenellenbogen (LEMS8078 – download fromclassicsonline.com or, in the USA, from lyrichorddownloads). The music must have sounded as revolutionary to CPE’s contemporaries as Beethoven’s late quartets did to his. These are fleet-fingered and stylish performances on an instrument which doesn’t demand too much tolerance from the listener even if, like me, you aren’t a great fan of the early fortepiano. It’s an easier instrument to record than CPE’s favourite clavichord. The playing time of 40 minutes is definitely on the mean side but this reflects the recording’s analogue origins.

Miklós Spányi offers the same six sonatas on the clavichord, with more repeats, bringing the playing time to 67:55 on BIS-CD-1762, a recording from 2010 which drew plaudits from Kirk McElhearn – review – download from eclassical.com in mp3 or 16-bit lossless ($9.99) or 24-bit lossless ($13.86). In direct comparison, I’d plump for the BIS recording but there’s very little in it; perhaps because of her use of the Broadwood rather than the quieter clavichord, Katzenellenbogen actually makes the music sound more ‘advanced’ than Spányi. Classicsonline.com don’t offer the Lyrichord notes, but these are obtainable from http://lyrichord.com/linernotes/lems8078US.pdf.

Fans of ethnic music can have a field day browsing what’s on offer from Lyrichord World on Naxos Music Library and purchasing what appeals fromclassicsonline.com. Many of the albums come with sleeve notes, as in the case of an enjoyable collection ofChinese Classical Masterpieces for the pipa and chin (LAS7182 recorded by Lui Tsuen-Yuen in 1965 [51:55] – fromclassicsonline.com, with booklet, or lyrichorddownloads or stream from Naxos Music Library).

There’s one Lyrichord recording that I’ve left till last because it’s available not only in mp3 from classicsonline.com and Naxos Music Library but also in lossless sound from hdtracks.com. That’s open to US readers only at present – the only way round that was for me, at their suggestion, to pretend to live at their Broadway NY address – but I’m told that they are planning to open for business to UK customers soon.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz BIBER (1644-1704)
The Sacred Mysteries: Rosary Sonatas for violin and continuo (1670s)
Leah Gale Nelson (violin)
Daniel Swenberg (theorbo); Dongsok Sin (organ); Motomi Igarashi (violone, Sonata XII)
– rec. May 2010. DDD.
Pitch a' = 415Hz. Quarter-comma meantone tuning.
Pdf booklet included.
LYRICHORD LEMS8079 [2CDs: 72:57 + 52:41] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or hdtracks.com (16-bit and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Biber was a remarkable composer and these Rosencrantz or rosary sonatas, illustrative of the Joyful Mysteries, Sorrowful Mysteries and Glorious Mysteries are among his most remarkable and virtuosic compositions. Most notably the music requires the practice of scordatura, retuning of the strings of the solo violin to achieve dramatic and pictorial effects.

Some time ago I reviewed a recording by Maya Homburger, with members of Camerata Kilkenny, on her own Maya label (MCD0603 - review). I thought that thoroughly enjoyable, not least because I first played it at 1.00 a.m. during a sleepless night, but ultimately thought it uncompetitive in a surprisingly full field of available recordings. Several of those rivals are available for comparison alongside the Lyrichord for Naxos Music Library subscribers and for purchase from classicsonline.com:
- William Reiter; Cordaria: Signum SIGCD021 – see review by Gary Higginson (now also on Brilliant Classics 93536 at super-budget price).
- Pavlo Besnosiuk, etc.: Avie AV0038 – see review by Jonathan Woolf
- John Holloway, Davitt Moroney; Tragicomedia: Virgin Veritas 5620622

The Virgin recording comes at super-budget price (2 CDs for around £7.50 in the UK). If you listen via Naxos Music Library, don’t be tempted to press the button to purchase the classicsonline.com download for twice that price – promises to sort out pricing anomalies for budget doubles from EMI and Virgin have yet to be realised and the only download from any provider that costs less than the CD set comes from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk , at £6.99.

Additionally, there’s the recording with Andrew Manze on Harmonia Mundi HMU90731.2review by Jonathan Woolf.

These recordings are all based on sound scholarship and period practice – with the possible exception of Maya Homburger’s employment of a double bass as a continuo instrument – and the Lyrichord is no exception: the provenance of the period- or period-copy instruments is listed in the excellent booklet; baroque pitch and unequal temperament are employed. Where they vary from each other is in the role allotted to the continuo.

I’ve already commented on the quality of the booklet – the only download version of this music to come complete with notes, from both classicsonline.com and hdtracks.com or with the streamed version from Naxos Music Library. Because of the slightly short playing time, the Hyperion download is on offer for just £5.99. See also Guy Aron's review.

Beulah Extra

I didn’t have time to include all Beulah’s June releases in my last Roundup. You’ll find all these downloads at eavb.co.uk/june/

Lili Kraus
performs Weber’s Konzertstück in f minor, Op.79, with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Victor Desarzens on 5BX179 [16:15]. The solo playing is excellent; though the support which she receives from the VSOO is not as good as that offered by Pierre Monteux and the Concertgebouw Orchestra on an earlier recording which she made with them (available from Guild and Audiophile), it’s perfectly adequate. The mono recording, which dates from around 1959, sounds fine. Other than this Beulah release, Kraus and Desarzens in this work are available only on a 3-CD set on the Scribendum label, so the separate issue is welcome.

I reviewed the Beulah reissue of Mravinsky’s stunning recording of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony in the previous roundup. Muir Mathieson, better known as an arranger and conductor of film music, with the Sinfonia of London in the Sixth Symphony, Pathétique, Op.74, on 5-8BX93 [44:19] from 1958 is not in the same class. Nevertheless, though there are no revelatory insights, this is a sound performance with power where it’s needed and there’s tenderness, too, while the recording still sounds fine. The third movement goes with real abandon and the lamentoso aspect of the finale is all the more effective for not being overdone. The tempi are remarkably similar to those chosen by Mravinsky on his classic version of this symphony with the Leningrad PO (DG). I prefer both to Beulah’s earlier reissue of Munch’s 1948 recording on 6-9BX32.

There’s more Tchaikovsky from Kirill Kondrashin (Capriccio Italien with the RCA Symphony Orchestra, 1BX189 [15:47] – rec. 1958, stereo) and Fritz Reiner (Marche Slave with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1BX190 [10:27] – rec. 1958, stereo). Kondrashin’s recording from the 1960s was coupled with the Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol on an RCA Victrola LP – rather short value and, as I recall, the recording sounded over-bright. The Beulah transfer loses the brashness without diminishing any of the vitality that marks this performance. Now may we have the Rimsky, please? The two are paired on an RCA Living Stereo CD but not everyone will want the Kabalevsky and Khachaturian couplings.

The Reiner Marche Slave (RCA again) also sounded rather too bright on its first appearance but it, too, sounds much smoother in the Beulah transfer, with no loss of detail. The performance is thoroughly idiomatic and exciting. Again, there’s a Sony/RCA CD but you may not want the 1812 Overture and short works by other composers which it contains, in which case the Beulah single release is ideal.

Rudolf Kempe was no mean interpreter of Richard Strauss but I hadn’t particularly associated him with the Waltz King, Johann Strauss the Second. Beulah have reissued his accounts of the Intermezzo from Thousand and one Nights (2BX64 [6:49]) the Emperor Waltz, Op.437 (5BX64 [10:20]), Im Krapfenwaldl Polka (3BX64 [4:20]) and the Dynamite Waltz, Op.173 (4BX64 [7:55]), all recorded for HMV with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in 1961. It gained the approval of W.A. Chislett whose judgement on recordings of light classical music I came to respect greatly, so it’s hardly surprising that I enjoyed this selection. The performances are in the best Viennese tradition and the recordings have worn well.

Gilbert and Sullivan take us even deeper into W.A. Chislett territory and Sir Malcolm Sargent with the Pro Arte Orchestra, also from 1961 is the ideal interpreter of the Pirates of Penzance Overture. I have to confess not to be a great fan of G&S other than Mikado, the overtures and in pastiches like Pineapple Poll, so this is just enough for me, especially as WAC described the performance (of the whole opera) as ‘the most musical’ version (26BX13 [7:38]).

It’s certainly good fun if you don’t take it too seriously – Sir Malcolm ensures that we don’t – and the recording still sounds fine in this transfer.

Sir Malcolm Sargent also features in Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Othello Suite (27BX13 with the New Symphony Orchestra – rec. 1932 [12:34]) and the ballet suite from Gustav Holst’s The Perfect Fool (28BX13 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra – rec. 1946 [10:38]). For all that Coleridge-Taylor is being taken more seriously these days, it would appear that the only recent rival version of the Othello Suite is on the enterprising Marco Polo label (8.223516 – download from classicsonline.com or stream from Naxos Music Library). The music is attractive – though it’s got little or nothing to do with Shakespeare’s play, it’s unjustly neglected – the performance makes it sound enjoyable and the Beulah transfer of the recording is miraculously good for its age, with near-silent surfaces. Incredulous that it could have been made as long ago as 1932, I checked and found the review in the November Gramophone of that year. The originals must have been played very carefully with thorn or fibre needles – remember those, in the Imhof top hat box? – though I note that W.R. Anderson in 1932 found that his copies didn’t stand up well to fibres.

We have plenty of modern recordings of Holst’s Perfect Fool ballet*. Sir Adrian Boult’s 1954 mono LP version for Decca, also with the LPO, on Beulah 17BX12 - see August 2010 Roundup - and recently reissued on Heritage (HTGCD233, with The Planets, etc), and his stereo remake (Eloquence 480 2323, 2 CDs, again with The Planets, etc. – review – or Decca 470 1912, 2 CDs, with St Paul’s Suite, etc. – review: Bargain of the Monthreview review – or Belart 461 3542, at budget price, with Bax Tintagel) are perhaps even more classics than Sargent’s. There need be no reservations about this release, however – a thoroughly idiomatic performance in a recording which sounds exceptionally good for its age.

The Classics for Pleasure CD on which Sargent’s later recording with the RPO was coupled with The Planets and Beni Mora seems to have been deleted but it’s available from classicsonline.com.

* most notably from Richard Hickox (Chandos CHSA5069) reviewed by Rob Barnett and in my February 2009 Roundup.
***

Los Ministriles in the New World
Piffaro: the Renaissance Band
NAVONA NV5875 [69:33] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

This recording contains music by Gaspar Fernandes, Santiago de Murcia, Antonio de Cabezón, Diego Ortiz, Cristóbal de Morales, Juan de Padilla and Juan Arañes, taken mostly from the Obras de musica para tecla, arpa y vihuela. Some of the music is anonymous, composed in Bolivia, and some of it began as sacred or secular vocal music, all arranged for wind band, with occasional support from harp, vihuela and percussion. If that sounds like a recipe for an unvaried approach, the reality is quite otherwise.

Occasional pieces, like track 5, an arrangement of la dame le demande, and the Portuguese Senhora del mundo (tr.25) will be familiar to lovers of renaissance sacred and dance music, but there’s plenty of equally enjoyable material that you’re not likely to have heard. On paper it seems odd to end with an arrangement of Deus in adiutorium meum, the opening versicle of Vespers, but it makes a fitting conclusion to the programme.

To quote the publicity material, this is ‘A broad and varied collection of Early Music placing its focus on the transplantation of Spanish early music into the New World and the cross-cultural melding of Spanish, Indian, and African music. The music on this recording presents both the old and the new, an amalgam and broad sampling of the songs, motets, masses, villancicos, recercadas, differencias, and dances that entertained, educated, and edified both indigenous peoples and the Iberian newcomers alike in el Nuevo Mundo.’

That’s about all the background information that I can give you, since the booklet of notes doesn’t form part of the download deal; you get the back cover only with a list of composers and works, but it’s not necessary to know the details of this recording to find it entertaining. The download sounds well and comes at an attractive price of £4.99.

For the ensemble, Piffaro, in different repertoire, please refer to review of Kile Smith Vespers (2008) (Navona NV5809: Recording of the Month): excerpt on a Navona sampler which I reviewed in the July 2011/1 Roundup.

Tune thy Musicke to Thy Hart: Tudor and Jacobean music for private devotion
Thomas TOMKINS (1572-1656)
O Praise the Lord, All Ye Heathen [3:44]
John AMNER (1579-1641) O ye little flock [7:06]
John TAVERNER (c.1495-1545) In nomine a 4 [2:03]
Robert RAMSEY (c.1590-1644) How are the mighty fallen [6:29]
Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585) Purge me, O Lord [1:51]
John AMNER A stranger here [5:04]
Robert PARSONS (15135-1572) In nomine a 4 No. 1 [2:35]
John BROWNE (d.1505) Jesu, mercy, how may this be? [10:03]
Robert PARSONS In nomine a 4 No. 2 [2:18]
Giovanni CROCE (1557-1609) From profound centre of my heart [4:36]
John DOWLAND (1563-1626) I shame at mine unworthiness [2:20]
Thomas CAMPION (1567-1620) Never weather-beaten sail [2:38]
William BYRD (1543-1623) Why do I use my paper, inke and penne? [2:18]
Thomas TOMKINS When David Heard [5:02]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1623) See, see, the Word is incarnate [6:18]
Stile Antico and Fretwork – rec. 2011. DDD.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU807554 [64:45] – from classicsonline.com (mp3)

The title is something of an oddity: there is a lute song of Thomas Campion with those words, but it’s not included here.* Even more peculiarly, classicsonline.com persistently call this Time thy Musicke to thy Hart. Nor am I persuaded that this is ‘long neglected repertory’, as Harmonia Mundi claim – there are other recordings and some of the pieces, such as Campion’s Never weather-beaten sail, are very well known.* The least familiar item is a contemporary translation in sonnet form of a setting of Psalm 130 by the Venetian composer Giovanni Croce.**

That said, plus the fact that there are no texts with the download – iTunes offer the booklet, but their downloads are at a lower bit-rate – everything else is sweetness and light: a selection of beautiful music for voices and viol consort from a golden period of English music, excellently performed and very well recorded. Perhaps the Byrd Why do I use? might have been performed with a little more punch – it was an impassioned plea for tolerance on behalf of the recusant Catholic community whose priests were suffering what the text described as ‘their glorious death’, but that’s my only reservation.

* both Campion pieces are included on Move now with measured sound, Hyperion CDA67268 – see March 2012/1 Roundup.

** From profound centre of my heart I cried
To Thee O Lord, Lord let thine ear draw near me,
To note my mournings, and quick-quickly hear me;
Hear my sad groans, to thy sweet grace applied.
Lord, if thou look with rigour down unto us, to mark our sin,
O who shall then abide it? But, if with pardon thou be pleas’d to hide it
(If mercy thou vouchsafe) what shall undo us?
Upon thy word my soul hath firmly reared
Her tower of trust, there is my hope possessed;
With thee is mercy, that thou may’st be feared;
Mercy, for those that are in soul depressed.
Israel’s redeemer, whom thou hast endeared
Becomes through thee, of sinner, saint and blessed.

Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764) Pièces de clavecin en concerts (1741)
Premier Concert [9:54]
Deuxième Concert [18:35]
Troisième Concert [13:53]
Quatrième Concert [10:36]
Cinquième Concert [13:06]
Aapo Häkkinen (harpsichord); Petri Tapio Mattson (violin); Mikko Perkola (viola da gamba) – rec. 2010. DDD/DSD. Pdf booklet included.
ALBA ABCD318 [66:25] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

[see review by Dominy Clements.]

Premier Concert [10:02]
Deuxième Concert [22:14]
Troisième Concert [13:08]
Quatrième Concert [10:36]
Cinquième Concert [13:26]
Rachel Podger (violin), Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord), Jonathan Manson (viola da gamba)
– rec. 2002. DDD/DSD. Pdf booklet included
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA19002 [66:39] – from channelclassics.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

We really are spoiled for choice when it comes to recordings of this music – three excellent performances, the two listed above and the Lyrichord in the review at the head of this Roundup, all available in good mp3 sound with the added advantage of 16- and 24-bit lossless versions, at a slightly higher price, in the case of the Lyrichord and Channel Classics versions.

The mp3 from Channel Classics comes at a slightly lower price than the Alba and Lyrichord recordings from classicsonline.com (£7.44 against £7.99) but it’s the 24-bit downloads from Channel, especially the 24/192, which I understand sell the best and it’s worth going for the highest quality that your set-up will cope with. If pushed to a choice, I’d go for the Channel Classics version, but it’s a very close call in terms of performance.

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Music for the Royal Fireworks; Water Music, HWV348-50
Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Nicquet – see April 2009 Roundup
GLOSSA GCD921606 or GCDSA921616 [61:47] – from classicsonline.com (mp3)

The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock – see April 2009 Roundup
DG ORIGINALS 477 7562 [72:28] – from hmvdigital.com (mp3) or deutschegrammophon.com (lossless)

[Alternatively available as part of budget-price 6-CD Collectors’ Edition 463 0942 – see April 2010 Roundup. Download from deutschegrammophon.com (lossless)]

The King’s Consort/Robert King – see April 2012/1 Roundup
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55375 [66:55] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon – rec. 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557764 [70:50] – from classicsonline.com (mp3)

Water Music
Philomusica of London/Thurston Dart – see December 2010 Roundup
BEULAH EXTRA 1-3BX69 [43:42] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Water Music Suite (arr. Hamilton HARTY)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/George Weldon – rec. 1960 ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 4BX180 [16:03] July 2012 release from eavb.co.uk (mp3)








If you were inspired by the Royal Jubilee Pageant to look for a version of Handel’s Water Music, all the above recordings are recommendable.

Thurston Dart’s recording represents the earliest phase of the ‘authentic’ movement; it still stands high among my recommendations and all the period-instrument versions that I’ve listed owe something to it. Moreover, none of them is sufficiently purist as to put off haters of the school of authenticity. Though Nicquet’s natural horns require some tolerance, as does Mallon’s improvised tambourine, both will continue to find a place in my collection – in fact, I own the Naxos CD.

At £4.99 each the Naxos and DG downloads are the least expensive but the Hyperion, for just £1 more, also offers lossless sound. If I must plump, it has to be for the Hyperion.

If you absolutely abhor period instruments and all their works, Neville Marriner’s various recordings with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields for Decca, Philips and EMI are available from hmvdigital.com; the least expensive of these features the Water Music alone for just £2.99 from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk. The SCO/Gibson recording on Chandos (CHAN8382 – download from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless) would be competitive if it were to be reduced from full price.

The Harty arrangement was more or less the main show in town when George Weldon recorded it in 1960; even Mackerras, who had performed the original wind version of Fireworks made do with the Harty Water Music. It’s the version that most of us grew up with and it’s still worth having when it’s performed as well as it is here, as long as we bear in mind that it’s as much a 20th-century artefact as Beecham’s Handel arrangements, Love in Bath and The Great Elopement and Walton’s tweaking of Bach in The Wise Virgins – how many of us got to know Sheep may safely graze from the EP of Walton’s arrangement, endlessly played at primary school assemblies? My review copy of the Beulah arrived with a note saying that I wouldn’t like it, but I do, though I long to give Weldon a push at times when he lets the music drift, and the recording still sounds well.

George Frideric HANDEL
Concerti Grossi, Op.3/1-6 (HWV312-7) (1734) [57:20]
Concerto Copenhagen/Lars Urik Mortensen (organ) – rec. 2009. DDD
CPO 777488-2 [57:20] – from classicsonline.com (mp3)

[Recording of the Month – see review by Michael Greenhalgh: ‘[S]tate of the art interpretations for today [with a strong] sense of the engaging comeliness of the music’s variety and elegance’].

Michael Greenhalgh preferred these performances to the more overtly exciting reissue of Mark Minkowski and les Musiciens du Louvre, from 1992, on the budget Apex label. Like him, I initially thought Mortensen a trifle staid but soon came to appreciate the virtues of these readings.

I haven’t heard the Warner Apex reissue, but there’s another budget-price version that I would recommend alongside the new recording: Roy Goodman and the Brandenburg Consort on Hyperion Helios CDH55075 – see my review of the CD: download from hyperion-records.co.uk in mp3 or lossless for £5.99. Goodman includes both the genuine and spurious versions of No.4 – the latter may not be by Handel but it’s an attractive work.

The CPO recording is good, but so is the Hyperion, which also comes in lossless sound and with a pdf booklet. To obtain the CPO in a lossless version you’ll need to pay £10.00 for the prestoclassical.co.uk download or wait for it to appear from eclassical.com, where it’s likely to cost less than that.

George Frideric HANDEL Esther
First reconstructable version (Cannons, 1720) (HWV50a)
Robin Blaze (alto, Priest of the Israelites)
Matthew Brook (bass, Haman)
James Gilchrist (tenor, Assuerus)
Susan Hamilton (soprano, Esther)
Thomas Hobbs (tenor, 1st Israelite)
Electra Lochhead (soprano, Israelite Boy)
Nicholas Mulroy (tenor, Mordecai)
Dunedin Consort/John Butt – rec. July 2011. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet with texts included.
LINN CKD397 [2 CDs: 65:31 + 34:11] – from linnrecords.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

1732 Version – Première Recording of Oratorio in 3 Acts (HWV50b)
Rosemary Joshua (soprano, Esther)
James Bowman (countertenor, Ahasuerus.)
Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano, Mordecai)
Christopher Purves (bass, Harman)
Rebecca Outram (soprano, Israelite Woman)
Andrew Kennedy (tenor, First Israelite)
Cecilia Osmond (soprano, Second Israelite)
The London Handel Orchestra/Laurence Cummings – rec. live 2007, in collaboration with the London Handel Society
SOMM SOMMCD 238-9 [68:27 + 68:50] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

Originally dubbed an oratorium, Esther is usually regarded as the first English oratorio, but it has not fared well in numbers of recordings: apart from the two listed here, of the 1720 and 1732 versions, there’s one version from Harry Christophers and The Sixteen on Coro COR16019, a reconstruction of an even earlier 1718 version – see review and review of this recording when it was available on the Regis label. All three versions have their virtues, so what we lack numerically is made up for in terms of quality. The Coro can be obtained, with libretto, from classicsonline.com or streamed from the Naxos Music Library.

It’s not long since Somm produced the first recording of the 1732 revision of Esther; now Linn bring us a credible restoration of the 1720 original, as performed at Cannons for the future Duke of Chandos, he of the Chandos Anthems. I shan’t get into much detail about the differences between the versions, since Linn offer the raison d’être for their performing version for all to read on their website – here. As you will see from the comparative playing times, there is a good deal more music in the 1732 version, including rearranged versions of two of the Coronation Anthems: My heart is inditing and (to a different text) Zadok the Priest. Handel had already borrowed from himself and others in the 1720 version but you’re less likely to spot these than those in 1732.

If you must have all the music of 1732, you won’t go far wrong with the Somm recording. It’s far more than a stop-gap version and it’s available in mp3 and 16-bit lossless from theclassicalshop.net – a first-rate performance, with excellent soloists, well recorded (live, with a modicum of applause) but there’s no libretto. If you subscribe to the Naxos Music Library you will be able to download the 1718 libretto which comes with the Coro recording but that, of course, is radically different in some respects: the opening words between Harbonah and Assuerus in the 1718 and 1720 versions don’t occur until Scene 3 in 1732.

The Dunedin Consort, John Butt and Linn have already brought us some excellent recordings of Handel and Bach* and this new Esther is worthy to stand with them. Their approach is on a smaller scale than that on Somm, as befits a putative performance at Cannons at around the same time as the first version of Acis and Galatea, which the Dunedin Consort have also performed (see below). If pushed to make a choice, I’d abandon the extra items and go for the new recording of the 1720 version. This was a strong candidate for Download of the Month – the singing is very good on both sets, but the Linn is more historically informed, comes complete with libretto and an excellent set of notes and is less expensive than the Somm: the prices range from £8 for mp3 (as against £14.98 for the Somm from theclassicalshop.net and £15.98 for the Coro from classicsonline.com) via £10 for 16-bit lossless (against £19.98 for the Somm). The Linn recording also comes in 24/96 and 24/192 versions for audiophiles – there’s no Somm or Coro equivalent of these.

* most of these have received high praise from MusicWeb International reviewers, including myself – there’s only one partially critical review in this list:
- Handel Messiah (1742), CKD285 – see review: Recording of the Month and November 2009 Roundup
- Bach St Matthew Passion (1742), CKD313 – see review: Recording of the Month, March 2010 Roundup and review
- Handel Acis and Galatea (1718), CKD319 – see review: Recording/Download of the Month
- Bach Mass in b minor, CKD354 – see July 2010 Roundup

Arias for Guadagni – the first modern castrato
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Saul: O Lord, whose mercies numberless [5:28]
Theodora: The raptur’d soul [8:19]
The Choice of Hercules: Yet can I hear that dulcet lay [4:06]
Belshazzar: Destructive War, thy limits know [2:16]
Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783) Didone Abbandonata: Ah che dissi, infelice! [1:26]
Didone Abbandonata : Se resto sul lido [5:35]
Didone Abbandonata : Odi colà la frigia tromba? [0:29]
Didone Abbandonata : A trionfar mi chiama [6:35]
John Christopher SMITH (1712-1795) The Fairies: Say, lovely Dream! [5:42]
Thomas ARNE (1710-1778) Alfred: Vengeance, O come inspire me! [6:52]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788) Symphony No. 1 in D, Wq183/1 [10:18]
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787) Ah! Non turbi il mio riposo [3:40]
Orfeo ed Euridice (Orphée et Euridice): Dance of the Blessed Spirits [2:18]
Che puro ciel [5:50]
Ahimè! Dove trascorsi? [1:14]
Che faró senza Euridice? [3:48]
Gaetano GUADAGNI (1728-1792) Pensa a serbarmi, o cara (insertion aria for Ezio) [3:58]
Iestyn Davies (countertenor)
Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen – rec. August 2011. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
HYPERION CDA67924 [77:52] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

Johann Adolph HASSE (1699 -1783) Hasse reloaded
Didone abbandonata (Dramma per musica, 1742) excerpts [36:54]
La Gelosia (Cantata da camera, 1762) [20:42]
Artaserse (Pasticcio zum Dramma per musica, 1734)
Aria: Or la nube procellosa (Insertion aria by Nicola Porpora) [04:45]
Valer Barna-Sabadus (counter-tenor)
Hofkapelle München/Michael Hofstetter – rec. June 2011. DDD.
Pdf booklet with Italian texts and German translations included
OEHMS OC830 [62:28] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

By coincidence, Hyperion and Oehms have both released recordings of Hasse’s music. Fortunately the two releases are complementary.

Hasse was due for a revival and that’s the leitmotiv behind the Oehms release and its rather quirky title, as countertenor soloist Valer Barna-Sabadus maintains in the booklet. There’s certainly enough here to make me wish for a complete recording of Didone abbandonata, from which we hear the Sinfonia and four arias. All concerned make strong advocates for Hasse’s music. I hadn’t encountered the soloist before but I shall certainly be looking for further opportunities to hear his beautifully clear-toned voice. How far its apparent strength is due to careful microphone positioning I’m not sure, but he seems to have greater carrying power than more established rivals such as Andreas Scholl – much as I love Scholl’s singing, I found the ability of his voice to fill the stage a slight problem in reviewing his DVD recording of Handel’s Giulio Cesare.

Oehms and the Hofkapelle München have already done good service for Hasse with another recording of excerpts from Didone and other works, this time with Stefani Irányi as soloist (Lamenti, OC811 – download from classicsonline.com (mp3, £7.99) or eclassical.com (mp3 or lossless) for $10.89) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

Iestyn Davies on Hyperion casts his net wider with a series of arias connected with the castrato Guadagni, including one composed by the singer himself. Davies is better-known than his Romanian-born rival, with a recording of Porpora cantatas already to his credit on Hyperion (CDA67894review). He may not have quite the power of Barna-Sabadus but what he lacks in that respect he more than makes up for in sheer musicality. As before, he’s very ably accompanied by Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen and the recording is excellent – I listened to the 24-bit version. I look forward to hearing much more from both these young singers – and more music by Hasse.

Lionel MONCKTON (1861-1923)
La Cingalee (1904)
The Arcadians (1909)
Quaker Girl (1910)
Pirjo Levandi (soprano), Jeanne Servchenco (soprano), Mariliina von Uexküll (soprano), Julie Lill (alto), Oliver Kuusik (tenor), Annika Tonuri (mezzo), Mart Sander (baritone)
Chorus and Bel Etage orchestra/Mart Sander – rec. 2002 and 2003
DIVINE ART DIVERSIONS DDV24110 [69:08] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

[‘The principals and band prove worthy ambassadors for this music, much of which they have excavated on disc for the first time.’ See review by Jonathan Woolf.
‘Full marks to the Estonians for reviving this important music by Monckton in an excellent recording with good orchestral backing.’ See review by Raymond Walker]

Herman FINCK (1872-1939) The Finck Album
Cheero! [1:58]
In the Shadows [4:06]
Hullo, Girls! [2:43]
My Waltz Queen * [3:22]
Jocoso [2:48]
Dear Old Fighting Boys [3:11]
Pirouette (dedicated to Anna Pavlova) [2:54]
Venetia (from Decameron Nights) [4:51]
My Lady Dragonfly – Ballet Suite [15:44]
The K-Nuts Medley including ‘Gilbert the Filbert’ and ‘I’ll Make a Man of You Yet’[3:16]
Queen of the Flowers * [5:04]
Moonlight Dance [3:50]
Decameron Nights – Orchestral Suite [13:46]
Kelli Uustani, Pirjo Levandi (sopranos); Mart Sander (baritone)
The Principals and orchestra of Theatre Bel-Etage, Tallinn, Estonia/Mart Sander – rec. 2007. DDD
* new lyrics by Mart Sander
Pdf booklet included (no texts)
DIVINE ART DIVERSIONS DDV62402 [67:54] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

[‘If you enjoy early twentieth century light orchestral music, operetta, shades of Empire, ballet warmth, and some spirited and committed, small-scale performances, then you will enjoy this album of Herman Finck’s easy-going music. It certainly deserves to stand alongside the better known Monckton.’ See review by Jonathan Woolf]

I’ve already praised Mart Sander and his team in a Divine Art collection of 1930s music associated with Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra, Five Fifteen (DDV25034review and November 2010 Roundup). I need only say that these two recordings are also very enjoyable, if slightly less immediate in terms of nostalgic appeal. Here again (Mr) Mart Sander’s voice is just right for pre-war music. Please refer to the CD reviews to which I’ve given links for full details.

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1892-1894) [9:05]
La mer (1903-1905) [21:53]
Jeux (1912-1913) [17:06]
Khamma (orch. Charles Koechlin) (1911-1912) [19:48]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, October 1957 (Prélude, La mer), May 1958 (Jeux), December 1964 (Khamma)
Pdf sleeve art but no booklet
LINN/UNIVERSAL UNI010 [68:00] – from linnrecords.com (mp3, 16-bit lossless & 24/96 Studio Master)

After a few tentative shoots the Linn/Universal download catalogue is now growing apace. Among the latest additions is this delectable Debussy collection, last seen as a 24/96 Decca Legends disc. As with all the CDs in that series it was a high-res re-master, but comparing the Linn/Universal Studio Master of Solti’s Mahler Eighth with the Legends disc confirms just how remarkable these newly minted downloads are (review). And that isn’t a one-off, either; the Davis Symphonie fantastique (review) and Steinberg’s Planets and Zarathustra (review) have also been renewed in a way I scarcely thought possible.

Speaking of analogue classics, Decca’s partnership with Ansermet and his Swiss band yielded quite a few, many now available on the Eloquence label. As for this Prélude it’s hard to believe it dates from 1957, so rich and three-dimensional is the sound. As a performance it’s glorious, weighty but still diaphanous, Ansermet judging the ebb and flow of this music to perfection. True, the upper strings are a little edgy, but the trembling, evanescent character of this lovely piece isn’t compromised one bit. A far cry from the dull run-through by Jun Märkl on Naxos and a reminder – if it were needed – of Decca’s engineering skills of the period.

La mer is no less immersive, ‘De l’aube à midi sur la mer’ as atmospheric as one could hope for. The subtle interplay of instruments has seldom been better caught, or the woodwinds more seductively rendered. The conductor doesn’t dawdle either, yet there’s no sense of rush or raggedness, the OSR clean-limbed and cultured at all times. And although the sound is immediate it has enough ‘air’ to suggest a broad soundstage. As a piece of scene painting La mer has few equals, Ansermet mixing his colours with consummate skill. ‘Jeux de vagues’ is played with plenty of point and polish, the piercing brass and billowing harp figures simply breathtaking.

‘Dialogue du vent et de la mer’ is suitably ruffled, the bass drum and cymbals captured without stress or strain. As always Ansermet calibrates the climaxes with great skill, so they never seem arbitrary or overdriven, the final bars simple thrilling. As a performance I’d put this alongside that of Lan Shui and his Singapore orchestra, available from eclassical.com. In terms of sound the latter is hard to beat; as a reading it’s up there with the best as well. But it’s a mark of Decca’s sophisticated engineering – and re-mastering techniques – that the sonic gap between these two recordings is not as wide as you might think.

Jeux gets a delightful outing as well, the music shaped with an authority and emphasis that doesn’t undermine its charm. As for the OSR they play with real feeling, relishing Debussy’s soft textures on the one hand and his crisp rhythms on the other. Some listeners may find Haitink (Philips) more beautiful, but for insight and energy Ansermet is in a class of his own. The same is true of Khamma, written for piano and orchestrated by Charles Koechlin under the composer’s supervision. It’s rhythmically taut, the notes given the kind of shimmer one hears in Ralph van Raat’s recording of Koechlin’s Les heures persanes (Naxos 8.572473). That said, edges are well defined and Ansermet’s direct, unsentimental way with this music ensures it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

This is another fine Studio Master, although the earliest recorded items – Prélude, La mer and Jeux – have more of that warm, analogue loveliness than Khamma, recorded several years later. But that’s just nit-picking, for this is a treasurable collection that’s well worth your time and, at £18, quite a few of your hard-earned shekels.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The Planets: Suite, H125, Op.32 [49:24]
Lyric Movement for viola and small orchestra, H191* [11:49]
Colin MATTHEWS (b.1946)
Pluto, the Renewer [6:22]
Timothy Pooley (viola)*
The Hallé Choir and Orchestra/Mark Elder – rec. 2001. DDD
Pdf booklet included.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55350 [75:00] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

[‘This is an excellent recording which possesses a strong feel for the individual characters of the movements and looks upon the work with somewhat fresh eyes.’ See review by Carla Rees.]

Both Dan Morgan and I were disappointed with the recent Andrew Davis recording of The Planets for Chandos – it’s just too under-powered where it matters for my liking. I mentioned this budget-price Hyperion recording at the time as a possible substitute, but didn’t follow up with a detailed review. In fact, I see no good reason to pay more than Hyperion’s £5.99 for this popular work – it receives an idiomatic performance, is well recorded, comes with a booklet of Hyperion’s usual top-drawer quality, and offers Colin Matthews’ Pluto on a take-or-leave basis; you can programme the CD or download to avoid the link passage and Pluto and end with the traditional fade-out at the end of Neptune if you prefer. Though the opening of Mars is taken sedately and the whole movement is slightly slower than from Davis, there’s more power where it’s needed.

There’s just one other bargain Planets in the same price range which some may prefer – Sir Adrian Boult’s final version with the LPO, released to celebrate the conductor’s 90th birthday. It comes currently in two forms, both available from a number of download sources for around the price of the Hyperion. On a 2-CD set with other recordings of Holst from a variety of sources it was welcomed by Bob Briggs (EMI 6278982review: download from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk for £5.99). There’s also a single-CD release coupled with his LSO recording of Elgar’s Enigma Variations (EMI 6317832review by Michael Cookson: download from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk for £4.99, classicsonline.com for £5.99, or stream from Naxos Music Library). His 1954 Nixa recording, with an earlier LPO, has just been reissued on Heritage HTGCD233, coupled with The Perfect Fool and Bax Tintagel – from classicsonline.com (£4.99) or stream from Naxos Music Library, both with pdf booklet.

York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Violin Concerto in e minor, Op.33 (1913) [37:42]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat, Op.11 (1903) [26:07]
Lorraine McAslan (violin)
Michael Dussek (piano)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Vernon Handley – rec. 2005. DDD
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7169 [64:09] – from hmvdigital.com (mp3)

[See detailed review by Michael Cookson – ‘a valuable release that will be one of my Records of the Year’ and review by Rob Barnett: Recording of the Month.]

Piano Concerto No 3 in g minor (Fantasia) Op.23 [17:47]
Piano Concerto No 4 in a minor Op.88 [42:53]
Danny Driver (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins – rec. 2007. DDD
Pdf booklet included.
HYPERION CDA67659 [60:49] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

[Recording of the Month – see review]

York Bowen’s star has risen considerably in the last decade, thanks largely to Dutton and Hyperion. As well as the two albums listed here, Dutton have recorded Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 (CDLX7187review), the Quintet for horn and string quartet, etc. (CDLX7115review), Viola Sonatas (CDLX7126 – NB: low stocks reported but available as part of box set LXBOX2011 review), Flute, Oboe and Clarinet Sonatas (CDLX7129review), Music for one and two pianos (CDLX7218) and the Violin and Cello Sonatas (CDLX7120review: no longer listed on the DuttonVocalion website except as box set LXBOX2011review). A few of these are available for download from iTunes, amazon.co.uk and hmvdigital.com.

Hyperion have brought us his Viola Concerto (CDA67546, with Forsyth Viola Concerto – review), Piano Music (CDA66838 review), the Viola and Piano Sonatas (CDA67651/2 review) and the Piano Sonatas (CDA67751/2review), in the Hyperion share of which Lawrence Power, Danny Driver and Martyn Brabbins have been prime movers. The Viola Concerto has also been recorded on Centaur CRC2786 review: download from classicsonline.com (mp3).

ClassicO have recorded his Second Symphony (CLASSCD404review: no longer available even as a download), Chandos Symphonies 1 and 2 (CHAN10670review and May 2011/2 Roundup) and piano music (CHAN10277, 10410 – mentioned in May 2011/2 Roundup 10506 and10593) and British Music Society some of his chamber music (BMS426CD review and review: download from classicsonline.com). Download the Hyperion recordings from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless) and the Chandos from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless). The Viola Sonatas on Naxos are available from classicsonline.com (mp3). Many of these recordings can also be streamed from Naxos Music Library. The Violin Sonata has been recorded by the English Music label (EMRCD001 with Bliss and Walford Davies:Recording of the Month reviewreview – July 2011/1 Roundup).

Bowen may not have had a strikingly original voice but he more than makes up in terms of sheer listenability. The two recordings of concertos which I’ve listed in the heading, from Dutton and Chandos, are complementary. If you want to complete the piano concerto set, however, with No.2 from Dutton, you are going to end up with a duplicated No.3. (Download from hmvdigital.com.) That’s not a huge problem: it’s a short work and both the Hyperion and Dutton recordings are thoroughly idiomatic, with Lorraine McAslan in particular a strong advocate for the Violin Concerto. CDLX7169 is available from hmvdigital.com for the unbelievably low price of £1.99; snap it up in case that’s an error which is due to be rectified. Otherwise I can strongly recommend both recordings.