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Download News 2012/22

Brian Wilson

The previous Download News, 2012/21 is here. Previous roundups are indexed here.

Recording of the Month

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Harpsichord Concertos
Concerto No.VI in F, BWV1057 [16:11]
Concerto in g minor, BWV1058 [13:09]
Concerto No.I in d minor, BWV1052 [21:09]
Concerto No.IV in A, BWV1055 [13:22]
Retrospect Ensemble/Matthew Halls – rec. St George’s Church, Chesterton, Cambridge,
27– 29 September 2011. DSD
Pdf booklet included
LINN RECORDS CKD410 [64:24] – from linnrecords.com (SACD, mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

Like all recent Linn recordings, this one is available in hybrid SACD form or as downloads from linnrecords.com in a variety of formats – mp3, CD-quality lossless and Studio Master 24/96 and 24/192 quality.

Several recent Linn releases – Corelli Concerti Grossi, Op.6 (CKD411: Avison Ensemble – review), Zelenka Sonatas (CKD415review), and music by Parsons, White and Byrd from Magnificat (CKD417) – vied with this for the Recording of the Month, as did the latest Bach release from BIS and Suzuki: Volume 52 of their Cantata series containing BWV140, 112 and 29 (below).

From the opening of BWV1057, Bach’s own recycling of the material from the Brandenburg Concerto No.4, I knew that this was an instant winner – but anything that Matthew Halls and the Retrospect Ensemble touch seems to turn to gold. There are other, larger-scale performances of these concertos and I shall turn to them from time to time still, not least to the vintage Trevor Pinnock set on DG and Angela Hewitt (piano) and Richard Tognetti on Hyperion*. Despite my general aversion to Bach on the piano, Angela Hewitt is the exception, but it’s to this more intimate Linn recording that I’m most likely to revert. You just need to accept that Angela Hewitt’s and Matthew Halls’ takes on the music are both excellent but quite different. This is music-making on the same scale as those original performances in the Leipzig coffee shop where the works were first performed.

Scholarship concerning pitch (415Hz) and temperament (1/6 comma meantone) meets sheer musical enjoyment here. The music goes with a swing without sounding mechanical and the recording is excellent – I listened to the SACD and to the 24/96 flac from the range on offer. The pdf booklet is first-class, too. I seem to be criticising Linn covers this month – the Corelli is far too funereal for such wonderful music and performances – and I wasn’t too keen on this Bach cover, but that’s the only reservation that I can muster.

I reviewed Matthew Halls’ recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations some time ago (Linn CKD356: my only doubt was whether most listeners would want the full 91 minutes with all repeats taken – see March 2010 Roundup), so the high quality of this recording of the concertos comes as no surprise, and I’ve enjoyed the other recordings that he’s made with the Retrospect Ensemble and the King’s Consort:

Purcell Ten Sonatas in four parts (Linn CKD332 – see May 2009 Download Roundup and June 2009 Download Roundup) and Twelve Sonatas in three parts (Linn CKD374 – see October 2011/2 Download Roundup)
Bach Easter and Ascension Oratorios (Linn CKD373 – see May 2011/1 Download Roundup)
Handel Parnasso in festa (Hyperion CDA67701/2: Recording of the Monthreview)

The CD layer of the recording is excellent but the SACD layer and the 24-bit download both add that little extra that makes them worth the cost, which is not exorbitant with even the 24/96 and 24/192 versions costing only £18. The SACD comes at £12 direct from linnrecords.com and possibly for slightly less than that from some online suppliers.

Gawain Glenton’s notes in the booklet are not the least of the virtues of this new recording.

Now may we have the other keyboard concertos including those for two, three and four solo instruments from these performers? Unless and until we do and for those who can’t wait, there’s one other set of performances on much the same scale as those of the Retrospect Ensemble that contains the solo keyboard concertos BWV1052, 1055 and 1056 on a 6-CD set from Alpha with the concertos for two– three– and four-keyboards, the Brandenburg Concertos, Orchestral Suites and Violin Concertos (ALPHA811 – see my April 2012/1 Download Roundup).

* Volume 1 on CDA30003 should be your starter on mid-price CD or download (mp3 and lossless)

Discoveries of the Month

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
(1872-1958) Early and Late Works

Folk Songs of the Four Seasons Suite (1949) edited by Roy DOUGLAS (1952) [14:06]
Bucolic Suite (1900/1) [19:28]
Dark Pastoral for cello and orchestra (1942/3, orch. and completed David MATTHEWS 2009) [10:55]
Serenade in a minor (1898, ed Julian RUSHTON, 2011) [26:25]
Guy Johnston (cello); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates – rec. May 2012. DDD.
Premiere recordings
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7289 [71:09] – from hmvdigital.com (mp3 and m4a)

Dutton have once again done what they – and Chandos and Hyperion – are so good at, bringing us recordings of English music that’s out of the run of the mill. Only the Folk Songs have been recorded before – a 2009 premiere version of the complete set on Albion ALB010review; this recording features the orchestral suite which Roy Douglas made with VW’s approval. There are no undiscovered masterpieces here but all the music is well worth getting to know and performances and recording do it justice. It’s a treasure for lovers of VW, not least because it includes a reconstruction of the only extant parts of the Cello Concerto that was intended for Casals but never completed, here given the appropriate title Dark Pastoral.

Of the available sources for downloading this recording – iTunes, to which the Dutton web-site will direct you – amazon.co.uk and hmvdigital.com, now absorbed into 7-digital, the last named provides the best compromise between price (£7.49) and quality (320kb/s mp3 or m4a). As well as the opportunity to download, you can now play your purchases via the 7-digital library. Brief notes are available from the Dutton web-site here.

The Australian Voices
William BARTON (b.1981
) Kalkadunga Yurdu [3.04]
Lisa YOUNG (b.1959) Other Plans [3.57]
Gordon HAMILTON (b.1982) To an Early-Flowering Almond [3.39]; Diana [9.19]; We Are Children [3.36]
Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Bogoroditse Devo [2.43]
Franz BIEBL (1906-2001) Ave Maria [5.23]
Nicholas NG (b.1979) Stellar Mansions [3.34]
J A FREYLINGHAUSEN (1670-1739) (arr. Gordon HAMILTON) Macht hoch die Thür, die Thor macht weit [4.15]
Traditional (arr. Gordon HAMILTON) Maria durch ein Dornwald ging [3.09]
Franz Xaver GRUBER (1787-1863) (arr. Gordon HAMILTON) Silent Night [3.11]
Amber EVANS (b.1993) To the Evening Star [2.51]
Robert DAVIDSON (b.1965) We Apologise [6.44]
Peter CLARK (b.1991) Pessoa Chorus I [2.52]
Gordon HAMILTON Toy Story 3 = Awesome! [4.21]
Australian Voices/Gordon Hamilton – rec. 2011-2012. DDD.
WARNER CLASSICS 2564654860 [63:37] – from amazon.co.uk (mp3)

I’m indebted to the press pack for information about this recording of music entirely written or arranged by Australian composers, with one exception:

"It is with a distinctive, fresh sound and high artistic energy that The Australian Voices commission, perform and record the music of Australian composers. Since 1993 the ensemble has championed an astonishing flourishing of new Australian vocal music, having commissioned hundreds of new works. The ensemble tours internationally each year and has been recognised by many international awards, including multiple gold medals at the World Choir Games (2006) and first prizes at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod (2001). In 2012 the ensemble gave twenty performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and a live in-studio broadcast on BBC3 in London. Recently they have created new works specifically intended for "performance" on YouTube. Gordon Hamilton’s composition Toy Story 3 = Awesome! has been viewed over 100,000 times. Other clips, such as Tra$h Ma$h and We Apologise, have created controversy, forging new directions in choral music. Hamilton has been Artistic Director since 2009 and is considered one of Australia’s most exciting young conductors and composers." There’s a good mix of vigorous and quieter music.

Allowing for a degree of advertising hype, that describes the package pretty well. My review access came with a booklet of notes and texts but I haven’t been able to discover any download site which offers the booklet; as some of the texts and the raisons d’être behind some of the compositions are somewhat complex, you may well prefer on this occasion to go for the physical CD.

Advent, Christmas and Epiphany

A Tudor Christmas
HENRY VIII (King of England)
Pastime with good company [1:50 ]
Traditional Coventry Carol [3:46]
William BYRD Rorate coeli [4:30]
HENRY VIII Consort No. 3 [1:05]
John TAVERNER Christe Jesu pastor bone [3:33]
HENRY VIIIConsort No. 3 [1:05]
Orlando GIBBONS This is the record of John [4:11]
Robert PARSONS Ave Maria [4:27]
Thomas RAVENSCROFT Remember, O Thou Man [5:05]
HENRY VIII Consort No. 12 [1:25]
Christopher TYE While shepherds watched [2:59]
William BYRD From Virgin pure this day did spring [3:12 ]
HENRY VIII Consort No. 2 [1:33]
Christopher TYE Laudate Nomen [2:09]
Thomas TALLIS O nata lux de lumine [1:45]
John SHEPPARD Magnificat a 4 [5:58]
Anonymous Sweet Was the Song the Virgin Sung [1:55]
Richard PYGOTT Quid petis O fili [9:16]
HENRY VIII Consort No. 13 [1:41]
Thomas WEELKES Hosanna to the Son of David [1:55]
Victoria Davies (harp)
Christ Church Oxford Cathedral Choir/Stephen Darlington
THE GIFT OF MUSIC CCLCDG1098 [63:20] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Late medieval and renaissance English music for the Christmas season is here interspersed with instrumental music by Henry VIII. The concept of Christmas music for the Tudors is, however, a little stretched by the last piece, a setting of words appropriate to Palm Sunday by a composer who is mainly associated with the Stuart period. Carping apart, however, the quality of the music – from a golden age of English composition and mostly not staled by endless repetition – singing and recording make this a recommendable collection at an attractive price (£4.99 from classicsonline.com). The lack of texts is a minor problem.

Another Oxford Choir, that of Magdalen conducted by Bill Ives, and others offer A Victorian Christmas on CCLCDG1004. As the Victorians invented, or re-invented Christmas this, too, is well worth considering.

You’ll find a great deal more Christmas music on the Gift of Music label. eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) and classicsonline.com (mp3) both have Christmas Impressions: Musical Footsteps in the Snow (CCLCDG1174), also available for streaming from Naxos Music Library and classicsonline.com and Naxos Music Library have several other collections – check them out from the classicsonline.com Gift of Music index here. The selection ranges from plainchant on Christmas Vespers from the monks of St Frideswide’s (CCLCDG1042) to the music of contemporary composer Bob Chilcott on Christmas Impressions and The Christmas Story (CCLCDG1101).

Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755) Neapolitan Christmas II
Cito pastores (arr. L. ODA) [18:57]
Laudate pueri (detto il Grottesco) in G (1732, arr. L. ODA) [6:54 ]
Litanie a due voci con Violini: Kyrie eleison (arr. M.A. WILLENS) [9:10]
Missa in afflictionis tempore in F (1749, arr. M.A. WILLENS) [35:16]
Thilo Dahlmann; Alberto terDoest; Ursula Eittinger; Christina Kuhne; Monica Piccinini; Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
CPO 777734-2 [60:15] – from classicsonline.com or stream from Naxos Music Library

Before I encountered the CPO Volume I of the Christmas music of Durante (777571-2 – see December 2011/1 Roundup), he was known to me only as the actual composer of a mass spuriously attributed to Bach (BWVAnh.26 – recorded on CPO 999834-2). I enjoyed Volume I but must urge a degree of caution about Volume II; unless the notes, to which I don’t currently have access – the ‘booklet’ that comes with the download is just a cut-down 4-page affair – make a Christmas connection for the Missa in afflictionis tempore, I can’t see how a mass in time of affliction makes its way onto a Christmas-themed programme.

Volume 1 is now available in mp3 and lossless sound from eclassical.com – an attractive proposition for lossless, but classicsonline.com remains the less expensive download for mp3 only. Johann van Veen has recently reviewed both volumes – review.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Cantatas Volume 52: Leipzig 1730s-40s ( I )
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140 [26:09]
Kantate zum 27. Sonntag nach Trinitatis (Sunday before Advent, 25 November, 1731)
Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt, BWV 112 [12:59]
Kantate zum Sonntag Misericordias Domini (2nd Sunday after Easter, 8 April, 1731)
Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, BWV 29 [23:27]
Kantate zum Ratswechsel, Leipzig 1731 (Council election, 27 August, 1731)
Hana Blažíková (soprano); Robin Blaze (counter-tenor); Gerd Türk (tenor); Peter Kooij (bass); Masamitsu San’nomiya (oboe and oboe d’amore); Natsumi Wakamatsu (violino piccolo and violin); Masato Suzuki (organ)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki – rec. September 2011. DSD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
BIS-SACD-1981 [63:29] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

Strictly speaking, this is out of place here – only one of the three cantatas has anything to anything to do with the season, BWV140, and that’s for the Sunday last before Advent rather than for Advent itself when, as in Lent, there was no music in the churches at Leipzig. That last Sunday after Trinity, however, is traditionally associated with the season that was about to start – the collect for the day, beginning ‘Stir up, O Lord’ led to the association in England with preparing the Christmas pudding at that time.

As for the performances, they are everything we have come to expect from this combination – I think we’ve all run out of new superlatives to describe them – and the recording (24-bit for the same price as 16-bit and mp3 as a brief introductory offer) and notes also maintain the high standards.

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Nutcracker (Casse-Noisette / Shchelkunchik) Op.71 Complete Ballet [90:39]
From Swan Lake (Le Lac des Cygnes) Op. 20: Pas de deux (Appendix)
Introduction (orch. Vissarion SHEBALIN) [4:37]
Variation 1 (orch. Vissarion SHEBALIN) [0:53]
Variation 2 (orch. by the composer) [0:52]
Coda (orch. Vissarion SHEBALIN) [2:24]
From Eugene Onegin Op. 24: Polonaise (Act 3) [5:00]
Children’s Choir of the Bolshoi Theatre
Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre Moscow/Alexander Vedernikov – rec. Moscow, February 2006. DSD.
PENTATONE PTC5186 091 [47:22 + 57:17] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

We don’t seem to have reviewed this when it was released, though Dan Morgan gave it a very favourable mention when reviewing the most recent reissue of André Previn’s classic recording – here. That Previn version remains one of my favourites – as well as the CfP download from classicsonline.com which I recommended some time ago, it’s available in its newest garb, the version which Dan reviewed, for just £2.99 from sainsburysentertainment.com, which has to be a bargain in anyone’s book.

Nevertheless, I’d back the PentaTone against all comers, with details that I don’t hear on other recordings – and I’ve heard a few, with the classic Ernest Ansermet recording among the best of them (Decca Eloquence 480 0557 or Brilliant Classics 94031, 6 CDs for around £16).

Like the performance, the recording is notable for bringing out inner detail that I hadn’t noticed before. The sound trades a small degree of clarity for a full-spread stereo sound picture; I think the trade-off is worthwhile. The mp3 and 16-bit lossless version come at the same reasonable price, $18.78, but the 24-bit is rather steep at almost twice the price, $34.43, so I listened to the mp3 and 16-bit versions – once you’ve downloaded the lossless for home listening, you can return for the mp3 to play on your mp3 player or in the car. With the mp3 there are a couple of awkward gaps between tracks, but they aren’t a major problem; in most cases there’s a pause in the music between tracks. The lossless version, if played via the right player from your PC or burned to CDR obviates any inter-track gap problems. I compared the mp3 disc which I burned with the 16-bit on the same system and was surprised that the mp3 reproduced almost as well as the lossless.

A Winter’s Light: A Christmas Collection
Bob CHILCOTT (b.1955)
This is the truth* [3:24]
Trad arr. Jonathan RATHBONE (b.1957) Gabriel’s Message [1:45]
Jan SWEELINCK (1562-1621) Hodie Christus natus est [3:46]
Michael PRÆTORIUS (c.1671-1621) arr. Jan SANDSTRÖM Es ist ein Ros entsprungen [4:03]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) Sing Lullaby [3:31]
Pierre VILLETTE (1926-1998) Hymne à la Vierge [3:58]
Bob CHILCOTTSweet was the song* [4:15]
David WILLCOCKS (b.1919) Of the Father’s heart begotten* [3:03]
Giovanni GABRIELI (c.1555-1621) Hodie Christus natus est [4:17]
Bob CHILCOTT Rejoice and be merry* [1:50]
Walford DAVIES (1869-1941) O little town of Bethlehem* [5:30]
C Armstrong GIBBS (1889-1960) The Stable Door [2:29]
Adophe ADAM (1803-1856) arr. J.E. WEST O Holy Night* [5:40]
Harold DARKE (1888-1976) In the bleak mid-winter* [4:43]
Gabriel JACKSON (b.1962) The Christ-child [5:02]
John RUTTER (b.1945) Nativity Carol* [4:26]
James Lord PIERPOINT (1822-1893) arr. B. PARRY Jingle Bells [2:45]
Bob CHILCOTT Christmas-tide [3:08]
Greg LAKE (b.1947) arr. Jonathan RATHBONE I believe in Father Christmas [3:17]
Jonathan RATHBONE (b.1947) Carol Medley* [3:14]
Martin Ford (organ)*
Vasari Singers/Jeremy Backhouse
rec. Tonbridge School Chapel, Tonbridge, Kent, UK, 10-12 February, 2012. DDD
Pdf booklet with sung texts, which may also be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/573030.htm
NAXOS 8.573030 [73:48] – from classicsonline.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

As with the Resonus Classics release from Worcester College Oxford which I reviewed in the 2012/21 News, the emphasis here is on music written or arranged by contemporary composers, though none of it ‘difficult’ and there’s more traditional fare too. Extracts from Bob Chilcott’s On Christmas Night have the lion’s share, attractive music, but for me the highlight is a peaceful and ethereal arrangement by Jan Sandström of the Prætorius setting of Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen. Even traditionalists can’t complain about the arrangement – the music and words pre-date even Prætorius, who himself was making an arrangement. There’s plenty of variety, too, with the more solemn mood giving way to secular fun at the end. Jonathan Rathbone’s piece is largely ‘borrowed’ from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé but none the worse for that. With the Vasari Singers delivering it all and Naxos providing a good recording this will be regularly on my menu this Christmas.

Christmas with Mandolins
Turlogh O’CAROLAN (1670-1738)
Planxty O’Carolan – Irish Suite for Flute, Percussions and Mandolin Orchestra [9:50]
Francesco PICCONE (XVII Century) Pastorale for Mandola and Continuo [2:52]
Giuseppe VALENTINI (1681-1753) Sonata per il SS. Natale, anno 1716, for Mandola and Lute [6:19]
G. Battista GERVASIO (?) (XVIII Century) Pastorale for two Mandolins and Continuo [2:30]
Ignazio BITELLI (1890?-1956) E’ arrivato il Messia (The Messiah has come) – Pastorale for Guitar [3:06]
L’Albero di Natale (The Christmas Tree) – Pastorale for Mandolin and Guitar [3:02]
Benvenuto TERZI (1892-1980) Nevicata – Pastorale for Guitar [5:22]
Giuseppe PETTINE (1876-1966) Christmas Song for Mandolin [2:28]
G. Alberto GHIGNOTTI (XIX Century) La Notte di Natale (Christmas Eve) – Pastorale for Mandolins and Guitar [3:35]
Simone SALVETTI (1870-1950) La Notte di Betlemme (Bethlehem’s Night) – Pastorale and Preghiera for Mandolins and Guitars [4:06]
Giuseppe MILANESI (1851-1950) Visioni Natalizie (Christmas Visions) – Pastorale for Mandolin Quintet [4:33]
Giacomo SARTORI (1878-1947) Notte di Natale (Christmas Eve) – Pastorale for Mandolin Orchestra [5:36]
Amedeo AMADEI (1866-1935) Impressioni di Natale (Christmas Impressions) for Mandolin and Guitar [6:35]
Notte di Natale (Christmas Eve) Little Suite for Orchestra [9:28]
Lorenzo BIANCHI (1958-1996) Natale! Kleine Weihnacht Ouverture – for Mandolin Orchestra [5:29]
Ugo Orlandi, Marina Ferrari, Sergio Zigiotti, Maria Cleofe Miotti (Mandolins and Mandolas), Alessandro Bono (Guitar)
Quintetto a Plettro ‘R.Calace’
Orchestra di Mandolini e Chitarre ‘Città di Brescia’/Claudio Mandonico – rec.1998. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
ARTS CROSSING 49005-2 [73:52] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

This is a fun recording which can be played with enjoyment at any time of the year – the opening Suite from an eighteenth-century Irish composer is not specially linked to Christmas and only those with a detailed knowledge of renaissance and baroque Italian Christmas music are likely to pick out the seasonal hints in the other compositions, mostly to be found in the Pastorale sections, where it’s difficult not to hear the word pastores (shepherds) in the background.

Capstone collection from Ravello

In the previous Download News I mentioned some of the recordings in this series; here are a couple more which may interest you.

Daniel ADAMS (b.1956) Shadow on Mist
Isorhythmic Concerto for percussion solo and symphonic wind ensemble (1998) [12:51]
Robert McCormick (soloist); New Music Tampa Wind Ensemble/Dr. William Wiedrich – rec. live, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 30 March, 1999
Three Movements of unaccompanied Marimba* (1979) [7:33]
Alloy for percussion trio** (1990) [7:26].
Ambience for percussion septet** (1988) [8:17]
Lignumvitae for percussion trio** (1995) [5:10]
Shadow on Mist for percussion quintet with flute**/*** (1999) [8:58]
Stratum** (1981) [5:25]
Two Antiphonal Portraits for twelve percussionists** (2000) [4:14+7:24]
* Robert McCormick (soloist); ** The McCormick Percussion Ensemble; *** Kim McCormick (flute)
2-page pdf booklet included
RAVELLO RECORDS RR7824 [67:18] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

As with some of the material that I reviewed last time, the opening work and some of the other tracks here lie outside my admittedly somewhat conservative comfort zone, but I enjoyed the soloist’s gymnastics in the Three Movements for unaccompanied marimba, the virtuosity of all concerned in the title track, and the sheer urgency of the close of Antiphonal Portrait 2, and not just for the agility of the playing. Those of a more adventurous spirit are recommended to give the album a try.

Though a ‘booklet’ is included, it contains no notes; you’ll find some details on the composer here, whence the following information is derived:

Third prize winner in the 2000 PAS Composition Contest, Isorhythmic Concerto is scored for the three families of non-pitched percussion; wood, metal and skins. Lignumvitae (tree of life) uses only wooden percussion instruments. A serious, highly effective, pointillistic work, Lignumvitae demands tight ensemble playing and well-developed listening skills from the players.

The work which gives its name to the album, Shadow on Mist, was composed for flautist Kim McCormick and the University of South Florida Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Robert McCormick. It was inspired by the pictorial imagery of South Florida. The flautist alternates between C-flute, alto, flute, and piccolo.

There’s more percussion music by Daniel Adams and other composers on Ravello Classics RR7804, from classicsonline.com (mp3), eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

Even if you don’t have access to Naxos Music Library where you can preview all these recordings – indeed, the whole Ravello catalogue – it will cost you only £4.99 ($7.99 in the USA, I believe) to try them for yourself from classicsonline.com.

***

Where late the sweet birds sang: Latin Music from Tudor England
William BYRD (c.1540 – 1623)
Christe qui lux es et dies [5:05]
Robert WHITE (c.1538 – 1574) Lamentations a5 [22:48]
Robert PARSONS (c.1535 – 1572) Ave Maria [4:50]
William BYRDDomine, quis habitabit [9:30]
Robert PARSONS Domine, quis habitabit [4:37]
William BYRD Quomodo cantabimus [8:35]
William BYRD De lamentatione [12:26]
Robert WHITE Christe qui lux es et dies (IV) [6:50]
Magnificat/Philip Cave
rec. St George’s, Chesterton, Cambridge, UK, 23– 26 Jan 2012. DSD
Texts and translations included – as pdf booklet with download
LINN RECORDS SACD CKD417 [75.31] – SACD and mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless downloads from linnrecords.com.

The title is a quotation from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 in which he compares his winter mood to ‘Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang.’ Since Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity this has usually been taken to refer to the remains of the abbeys which were dissolved under Henry VIII and which had mostly fallen into ruin by his time, the stone having been removed for building, and the singing of the sweet birds to the plainer style, setting English not Latin words, which had replaced the ‘late’ (former) elaborate polyphony of the earlier half of the sixteenth century.

The interpretation is not universally accepted – some prefer to regard the image as one of avenues of leafless trees in winter – and, indeed, given the richness of Shakespeare’s imagery it’s possible that he wanted to evoke both images. As a peg on which to hang a short selection of Latin-texted music from the latter half of the century, however, it will serve very nicely.

About William Byrd’s loyalty to the Roman church there can be no doubt, though his beliefs appear to have been tolerated at court, where he composed in English and Latin for Queen Elizabeth’s Chapel Royal, but the tenor of the two texts which are included here – how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? and part of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, bewailing the fate that has overtaken Jerusalem – shows how much he regretted what had been lost. There is, indeed, a series of settings by Byrd and his Catholic contemporaries that seem to have been intended as a kind of dialogue, often on the theme of loss: these collaborations with Palestrina, Victoria, Peter Philips and Giovanni Gabrieli are included on a valuable and inexpensive Classics for Pleasure recording from King’s College Cambridge, directed by David Willcocks (5860482). You can obtain that King’s recording on disc for around £5 and as a download for around £3.50 and none of the items overlap with the new Linn recording; it’s a different manner of singing Byrd, but well worth having.

Nor are there any overlaps between the Byrd on the new recording and another inexpensive recording which I’d recommend as the starting point for anyone looking to begin a collection of his music: The Tallis Scholars sing William Byrd (Gimell 2-for-1 CDGIM208, containing the three masses, the Great Service and a selection of shorter works in Latin and English – see The Tallis Scholars at 30).

There’s another recording which contains quomodo cantabimus? and places it specifically within the setting of Byrd’s Catholicism. On a collection entitled The caged Byrd (Chandos Chaconne CHAN0609 – see October 2008 Download Roundup) I Fagiolini pair the work with one by the continental composer Philippe de Monte which sets the first part of that psalm (137): Super flumina Babylon, by the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, to which Byrd’s setting of quomodo cantabimus? how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? may be seen as a response, the Lord’s song being the Latin Mass and the strange land Elizabeth’s England.

It’s a measure of the quality of Magnificat that I can mention their singing of the four Byrd works on the new recordings in the same terms as King’s and the Tallis Scholars. That comes as no surprise in view of the number of fine recordings that they have already made for Linn; I’m running out of superlatives to describe them:

The Golden Age – Volume 1: Europe CKD052 – September 2009 Download Roundup
Palestrina: Song of Songs CKD174 – October 2009 Download Roundup
Rogier: Missa ego sum qui sum CKD109 – January 2009 Download Roundup
Rogier: Music from the Missæ sex CKD387 – November 2011/2 Download Roundup
Rogier: Polychoral works CKD348 – March 2011/1 Download Roundup
Tallis: Spem in alium CKD233 – September 2009 Download Roundup
Victoria: Requiem – Officium defunctorum CKD060

If Byrd’s Latin-texted music was mostly written for the recusant community to which he belonged, it remains something of a mystery why other composers such as Parsons and White also composed music with Latin texts. It may be that it was intended for the Chapel Royal, where the queen favoured a conservative order, or for collegiate churches where Latin was permitted if it was ‘understanded of the people’, as the Act of Uniformity puts it. There was, as the notes in the booklet point out, a Latin version of the Book of Common Prayer, intended for the universities – the Eucharist from that book is still celebrated at the start of full term in the Oxford University church – and for those parts of Wales and Ireland where English was not spoken, so it may well be that Parsons and White intended their music for Oxford and Cambridge, or it may just be that old habits die hard.

One such habit, the performance of the Lamentations of Jeremiah at Mattins for the latter part of Holy Week, is perpetuated by the settings here of both White and Byrd. Though prescribed in the 1549 book, the 1552 and 1559 Prayer Book had moved these readings away from Holy Week; they weren’t restored until 1662 and then only at the beginning of the week, so it’s unlikely that either setting was intended for a liturgical context, though White’s setting could have been intended as an anthem at the end of Mattins or Evensong. Indeed, White seems to have made something of a speciality of settings of Lamentations; there are several other recordings of this 5-part set but there is also a 6-part setting (sung by Gallicantus, with other music by White on Signum SIGCD134review – and a setting of the lections from Lamentations for Good Friday on a recording of similar settings by Gesualdo, Palestrina and Victoria sung by Nordic Voices on Chandos Chaconne CHAN0763: Recording of the Monthreview – and November 2009 Download Roundup).

Parsons’ setting of Ave Maria seems clearly not to have been intended for use within the Roman rite, since he sets only the biblical greeting and omits the traditional ending in which Mary is asked to pray for sinners, reflecting the reformers’ belief in Jesus as man’s only mediator and advocate.

What all the music here has in common is a tendency to move away from the more florid style of polyphony that characterised earlier Tudor church music to a one note per syllable system. That’s common not just to English music of the period; the Council of Trent enjoined a similar principle on composers for the Roman rite and paradoxically Byrd’s Great Service of music for Anglican use contains some music more elaborate than any of the works here. Emphatically, however, less florid does not mean less interesting.

Magnificat, who have shown themselves to be ideal interpreters of the more elaborate style, are just at home with this plainer music; their performances are restrained and intimate without in any way under-valuing what they sing.

This is one of three recent Linn releases which they have kindly provided for me in both SACD and 24/96 download format – both the CD and SACD 2.0 layers and the download sound excellent.

An excellent release is made even more so by the first-rate notes from Sally Dunkley, who was responsible for editing the music here, and a further note from Philip Cave on pitch. Since I’ve criticised some of Linn’s recent cover shots, let me add that the one for this recording is particularly eye-catching. There are some minor niggles about the translations: ‘you … speak to us of the heavenly Light’ is not quite the same as lumen beatum prædicans – giving us a foretaste of the blessed light.

Those very minor grumbles apart, this is another triumph for Magnificat and Linn.

Footnote: as I was converting this Download News to html I noticed that Signum have just recorded Gallicantus in the paired motets by de Monte and Byrd to which I have referred (The word unspoken, SIGCD295: Recording of the Month - review.)

Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Missa In illo tempore [26:26]
Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers, 1610) [82:05]
Magnificat (II) a 6 voci [16:02]
Midori Suzuki, Yukari Nonoshita, Yoshie Hida (sopranos), Mutsumi Hatano (mezzo), Gerd Türk, Stephan Van Dyck, Yosuke Taniguchi (tenors), Stephan MacLeod, Yoshitaka Ogasawara (basses)
Bach Collegium Japan and Chorus/Masaaki Suzuki
BIS-CD-1071/2 [124:33] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Just when you think it’s safe to assert that there are two solid recommendations for a particular work, something new appears or you remind yourself that you’ve overlooked an earlier recording. In the case of the Vespers of 1610 I thought I had it all sewn up: the King’s Consort on Hyperion at full price or Andrew Parrott on Virgin (without libretto) at super-budget price and (with libretto) on EMI Great Recordings at mid price. Then eclassical.com decided to make this available as a reduced price bonus alongside the latest volume in their Suzuki Bach cycle (see above); lo and behold, it’s another very strong contender. Even at the regular price of $19.19 that’s less expensive than classicsonline.com’s price for this download in mp3 only; at the temporarily reduced price of $13.43 it’s a snip.

Like Hyperion, BIS offer all the music contained in the 1610 publication. It’s a shame that the booklet is not offered with the download – classicsonline.com and Naxos Music Library don’t have it either – but the texts of the Mass and Vespers are not hard to find online; Hyperion offer the de luxe booklet that comes with their King’s Consort recording free to all comers. Like King on Hyperion, the BIS recording comes in very good lossless flac at the same competitive price as the mp3.

Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713) Concerti Grossi, Opus 6
CD1
Concerto Grosso in D, No.1 [11:17]
Concerto Grosso in F, No.2 [10:40]
Concerto Grosso in c minor, No.3 [10:52]
Concerto Grosso in D, No.4 [9:23]
Concerto Grosso in B-flat, No.5 [10:25]
Concerto Grosso in F, No.6 [11:56]
CD2
Concerto Grosso in D, No.7 [9:02]
Concerto Grosso in g minor, No.8 [14:18]
Concerto Grosso in F, No.9 [7:53]
Concerto Grosso in C, No.10 [12:30]
Concerto Grosso in B-flat, No.11 [9:30]
Concerto Grosso in F, No.12 [9:53]
The Avison Ensemble/Pavlo Beznosiuk – rec. July 2011. DSD
Pdf booklet of notes included.
LINN SACD CKD411 [2 SACDs: 65:10 + 64:27] – SACD, mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless from linnrecords.com

[This review has already appeared on the main pages of MusicWeb International]

Corelli’s Op.6 Concerti grossi were effectively the model for Vivaldi and his other successors. My introduction to these concerti, some fifty years ago from a Supraphon LP of five or six of them played (as I recall) by Ars Rediviva, a group who, despite their impressive Latinate title, were much less in tune with the music of this period than the Avison Ensemble, nevertheless came as much of an epiphany moment, like Keats looking into Chapman’s Homer, as my earlier introduction to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. It’s no reflection on that Czech ensemble to describe their performances as heavy – at the time we were listening to meaty performances of Bach and Vivaldi from the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and Karl Münchinger and thinking how clever we were to be enjoying such ‘rare’ early music as the Brandenburg Concertos and Four Seasons. Autre temps

Since then there’s been a revolution in playing the music of this period and we have had some fine performances of these concerti grossi, notably on period instruments:

– The English Concert and Trevor Pinnock, currently on a 2-CD DG set at mid price, 474 9072
– Nicholas McGegan with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (Harmonia Mundi HCX3957014/5 – see review, now available as download only)
– Roy Goodman and the Brandenburg Consort on a 2-for-1 Hyperion Dyad set (CDD22011).
– Nos.4, 8, 11 and 12 with Sonata a Quattro in g minor and Fuga a Quattro voci: Chamber Orchestra of the New Dutch Academy/Simon Murphy (PentaTone PTC5186031)
– No.4 on London calling: Music by Handel and his contemporaries (BIS-SACD-1997: Barokksolistene/Bjarke Eike – see review and May 2012/1 Download Roundup)
– Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi (currently unavailable in the UK: Nos.1-6 only available for download on Opus 111 OP30147 from classicsonline.com).

Even if period instruments don’t appeal, Neville Marriner adopts a light touch with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields on Double Decca 443 8622, two CDs available for around £9. Also in the budget category and light-ish in touch are performances on Naxos from Capella Istropolitana and Jaroslav Kr(e)cek (Nos. 1-6 on 8.550402 and 7-12 on 8.550403. No.8 is also available on a CD of Christmas Concerti, Naxos 8.550567).

Now along comes the latest release from the Avison Ensemble whose performances of the music of their namesake on the Divine Art label and subsequent appearances in Handel and Vivaldi on Linn have also received high praise, not least from me:

– CKD362: Handel Concerti Grossi, Op.6/1-12 – Download of the Month: July 2010 Download Roundup
– CKD365: Vivaldi Concerti, Op.8/1-12 – see October 2011/2 Download Roundup

On opening my latest parcel of review discs, then, I had the highest expectations on seeing the set of Corelli’s Op.6, housed in a gatefold triptych and, as I see, offered at an attractive price – effectively 2-for-1 or even less from some online suppliers. In brief, if you don’t yet have a set of these ground-breaking works, or even if you have, perhaps, No.8, the ‘Christmas’ Concerto, in a collection of similar works, you won’t regret buying any of the versions which I’ve named; the new recording from the Avisons, who have a strong claim to offer the lightest and airiest accounts that I’ve heard is not least among them. If you want SACD into the bargain, then you can forget about choice and plump for the new Linn set.

We have grown used to some very fast tempi for music of this period, especially from Italian ensembles. While Pavlo Beznosiuk is no slouch, he’s certainly no speed merchant either; the adagio sections of the first movement of No.7, for example, seem to be taken more slowly than is normal nowadays yet, at 2:27 the time for this movement overall is equal to that on the Marriner recording and surprisingly faster than Pinnock who takes 2:38. For some really airy playing try the finale of this concerto at 1:11, exactly the same time as on the Pinnock recording.

No.8, fatto per una note di Natale, the beautiful ‘Christmas’ concerto, is the best known of the set. In the adagio-allegro-adagio movement of No.8 Beznosiuk adopts a faster overall tempo than Pinnock, Krcek or Marriner, though I never felt any sense of undue haste and the opening adagio is given due weight. Again in the pastorale: largo where the shepherds of the Nativity are evoked, the new recording doesn’t hang around but the mood is well evoked without heavy underlining. You will, I think be disappointed with that tempo only if you’re inseparably wedded to the ponderous way that these movements used to be treated, most notoriously by Herbert von Karajan (DG E419 4132 or 419 0462, with different Christmas music couplings). Karajan takes 5:04 for the pastorale, Marriner and McGegan are a shade too fast perhaps at 2:22 and 2:45 respectively; Beznosiuk happily splits the difference at 3:42, with Goodman in close agreement at 3:43 and Pinnock is a shade slower at 4:06. Compromise isn’t always the right answer but I’m with Beznosiuk, Goodman and Pinnock here.

The PentaTone recording from the New Dutch Academy is the most difficult to classify: in some ways the sound is weightier than we are used to from period performances and tempi sometimes seem a little on the slow side without being heavy, but in the pastorale of No.8 they really let fly with a combined time for the allegro and largo (on one track) of 4:41. That means that they take less time for the two combined than Karajan for the largo alone and more than a minute less than Beznosiuk or Goodman. The allegro section is fair enough at their tempo but the largo is surely too fast, though it came as less of a surprise the second time that I heard it. Nevertheless the PentaTone set is well worth exploring, especially as the Op.6 concerti were first published in Holland; try it from the Naxos Music Library if you can.

You’ll also find there a complete recording of Op.6 from Cantilena (Chandos CHAN6663 (2)); it has some interesting qualities and comes inexpensively in their Collect series at around £10.50, but it’s better to spend a little more on the new Linn recording or the Hyperion twofer. The separate movements are not tracked but Cantilena’s time for the largo of No.8 is around five minutes, almost as slow as Karajan, though far less heavy.

The Linn recording is good – truthful without trying to be spectacular – and the booklet of notes does justice to Corelli’s music. The SACD stereo layer adds greater depth to the sound picture without adding heaviness. Linn have recently kindly supplied me with both SACD and 24/96 download versions of three of their recent recording and, though this Corelli set was not among them, and I’ve heard only the SACD, I have no doubt that the downloads, especially the 24-bit versions, are equally recommendable.

The best news of all is that this is apparently the harbinger of a complete series of Corelli’s chamber music from the Avison Ensemble. I look forward with anticipation to what is to follow.

I have just one small grumble about the presentation: after the attractive cover pictures on the Handel and Vivaldi recordings, the graveyard angel surely sets the wrong tone for these life-giving works. Don’t let it put you off.

Hitherto Pinnock and McGegan have been my prime recommendations for these concertos and if price is a consideration Goodman is also very good; without wishing to desert them, The new set stands as a strong alternative for those looking for SACD.

Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1745) Sonatas (c.1722/3)
Sonata V in F, ZWV181/5 [16:14]
Sonata III in B-flat, ZWV181/3 [15:11]
Sonata VI in c minor ZWV181/6 [14:52]
Andante from Simphonie à 8 Concertanti in a minor, ZWV189 [2:58]
Ensemble Marsyas (Josep Domènech Lafont, Molly Marsh (oboe); Peter Whelan (bassoon); Thomas Dunford (theorbo); Philippe Grisvard (harpsichord/organ); Christine Sticher (violone)) with Monica Huggett (violin) – rec. August 2011. DSD
Pdf booklet included
LINN RECORDS CKD415 [49:43] – from linnrecords.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

Dominy Clements has already reviewed this recording – here – and it’s also received high praise in other quarters, so I can be quite brief.

The only instrumental music by Zelenka that I’d encountered previously to this recording comes on an elderly Teldec CD from the Concentus Musicus Wien and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, now on 2564697648. The best known music on that CD is the oddly named Hipondrie – yes, it does mean hypochondria, but no-one seems to know why it’s so called – and it’s the name that has probably maintained that work in the repertoire, together, perhaps, with the fact that apart from Zemlinsky the composer is just about the last in alphabetical order.

That doesn’t mean that the music is not worth hearing – far from it; though it’s good second-rate rather than first-rate

The Harnoncourt recording contains an account of the Sonata in g minor, ZWV181/2 for two oboes, bassoon and continuo, so it’s complementary to the new Linn which contains three other sonatas from that series. These works are witty, enjoyable, enterprising and challenging and they receive performances here at least as good as from Concentus Musicus, with the same blend of scholarship (pitch = 415Hz and Silbermann II temperament) and musicality that the older recording displays, together with the fruits of more modern scholarship.

Indeed, having been recorded at the York Early Music Festival, they seem to have captured some of the magic which surrounds that event. I hadn’t encountered Ensemble Marsyas before. Their namesake challenged Apollo to a musical contest, which is pretty apt as an indication of the high calibre of their playing, but I hope that they don’t share his fate of being flayed alive for his impertinence – not for nothing does Apollo’s name derive from the Greek verb to destroy.

With excellent recording – I’ve listened to both the SACD and 24/96 download – and a booklet of notes that wouldn’t shame even Hyperion, I have only one grumble. I refrained from complaining about the short playing time on the second CD when I reviewed the Accent recording of Zelenka’s funeral music (see below) on the grounds that any fill-up would have seemed irrelevant, but that doesn’t prevent my pointing out that 50 minutes on the new Linn recording is very short value when we could have been given more of the sonatas from ZWV181.

For those seeking more Zelenka, Hyperion have two very worthwhile recordings of his sacred music:

Lamentations (CDH55106) – see March 2010 Roundup
Litaniæ de venerabili altaris sacramento, etc. (CDH55424) – see January 2012/1 Roundup

and there’s the Offficium defunctorum and Requiem on Accent (ACC24244) – also January 2012/1 Roundup.

Dominy Clements compared the new Linn recordings with those on a complete set on Accent ACC30048 and preferred the Marsyas Ensemble. I haven’t yet heard the Accent recordings but I hope to visit them for a future Download News – you can try them for yourself if you have access to the Naxos Music Library – but I doubt if they offer much if any improvement over the performances and recording on the Linn release – good second-rate music made to sound almost first-rate by these performances – except for that short playing time, and even the Accent set is not over-generous, with 111 minutes spread over two discs.

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 85 in B flat, ‘La Reine’ [25:48]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91)
Exsultate, jubilate, K165 [15:40]
Mass in C, K317, ‘Coronation’ [25:51]
Teresa Wakim (soprano)
Paula Murrihy (mezzo)
Thomas Cooley (tenor)
Sumner Thompson (baritone)
Handel and Haydn Society Orchestra/Harry Christophers – rec. April 2012. DDD
Pdf booklet included
CORO COR16104 [67:27] – from thesixteendigital.com (mp3, aac and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

We’ve had to wait slightly longer for this recent Coro release to appear as a download: we’ve already had Handel’s Saul (COR16103) and Volume 2 of The Sixteen’s Palestrina (COR16105) and I’ve welcomed both. Harry Christophers has already recorded that mighty skeleton Mozart’s Mass in c minor (COR16084 – download in mp3 from classicsonline.com) and his Requiem (COR16093 – see October 2011/2 Roundup), so I had high expectations of this new Coronation Mass.

The Handel and Haydn Society are the USA’s oldest early-music specialists so it’s hardly surprising that their performance of the best-known of Haydn’s Paris symphonies, which opens the programme, should challenge existing recommendations. With the first-movement repeats included and generally quite leisurely tempi, it challenges the fairly recent DHM set from Nikolaus Harnoncourt – except, of course, that Haydn specialists are likely to want to have that or another complete set of these wonderful symphonies.

That’s just the starter, however, and it’s followed by another appetiser in the form of Exsultate jubilate. It would take a superb off-planet performance to oust Emma Kirby’s performance for me (Decca Oiseau Lyre 411 8332 or Eloquence 476 7460) and this is not quite that. Reviewing the Kirkby recording alongside Carolyn Sampson in the November 2010 Roundup, I thought that the latter sounded a little plummy by comparison; here the problem is reversed – I thought Tessa Wakim, though sweet-voiced, just a little too small in tone and slightly subdued by comparison, though by no means was I put off by that from moving on to the main course.

If Wakim’s singing in Exsultate is a little lacking in power, the Kyrie of the Coronation Mass opens forcefully from all concerned; here again I thought Wakim’s tone a little too soft and sweet – she’s slightly outsung by her fellow soloists – but it’s not something that I want to over-emphasise. In the Coronation Mass it’s Emma Kirkby and her fellow performers again who hold the field for me (Decca 436 5852 – January 2010 Roundup), but you may well prefer the couplings on the new Coro recording to the Vesperæ solemnes de confessore on that Hogwood-directed recording.

Others may well be more impressed than I was by Ms Wakim’s voice and she shines brightly in the Agnus Dei of the Mass, a piece so redolent for me of the Countess’s remembrance of better times in Figaro, than she does elsewhere. Though I can’t imagine that anyone wouldn’t go overboard for Ms Kirkby, this movement alone, with all concerned capturing the sheer exuberance of its final section, would sell the new Coro recording at least as a very fine runner-up.

The Coro recording is good, especially as heard in 24-bit lossless flac – the acoustic is just a little thick in places but not to any serious extent. The quality of the Coro booklet is an added advantage; I don’t know of any download site that provides a booklet with either of the Kirkby recordings.

For the recent Chandos recording of the Coronation Mass, Exsultate jubilate, Missa Brevis, Ave verum corpus and two Epistle sonatas, from St John’s, Cambridge (CHAN0786), see March 2012/1 Roundup.

Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826) Wind Concertos
Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in f minor, Op. 73, J.114 [20:24]
Bassoon Concerto in F, Op. 75, J.127 [18:13]
Horn Concertino in e minor, Op. 45, J.188 [16:09]
Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra in c minor/E-flat, Op. 26, J.109 [9:14]
Maximiliano Martín (clarinet)
Peter Whelan (bassoon)
Alec Frank-Gemmill (horn)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Alexander Janiczek
rec. Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 5-9 September 2011. DSD.
Pdf booklet included with download
LINN RECORDS CKD409 [64:31] – SACD, mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless downloads from linnrecords.com.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra are going from strength to strength in their recordings for Linn; some have come very close for me to being definitive, and this is as successful as any to date. I liked the SCO with Robin Ticciati in Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique – others were even more enthusiastic, with Dan Morgan and Simon Thompson both making it Recording of the Monthreview and review.

Their Mozart symphony recordings with Sir Charles Mackerras were an all-round success: Nos.38-41, CKD308: Recording of the Month review – and February 2009 Download Roundup; Nos.29, 31-2, 35-6, CKD350review and April 2010 Download RoundupRecording of the Month. With Alexander Janiczek at the helm I greatly enjoyed their performance of Mozart’s Colloredo Serenade and Divertimento K521 on my first encounter with them (CKD320 – January 2009 Download Roundup), so it’s hardly surprising that the new recording is such a delight.

Another reason for my lack of surprise at placing this new Linn recording at the top of the tree is that I’m by no means the first to sing its praises – it’s already received top rating or something very close from at least three reviewers in music magazines and one radio CD review.

The only reason that I can think why this wouldn’t feature as a top choice for anyone in search of Weber’s concertos for wind instruments would be a preference for the Chandos album which features the second clarinet concerto in place of the bassoon concerto, with Michael Collins playing the clarinet and conducting and Stephen Stirling as horn soloist, which Michael Cookson thought a fine release (CHAN10702 – see review). Weber completists may like to note that Chandos have just squared the circle as it were by offering the bassoon concerto, with Karen Geoghegan as soloist, on a release which offers the two Symphonies and Berlioz’ orchestration of the Invitation to the Dance. (CHAN10748: BBCPO/Juan Menja).

I began with the expectation of comparing the new recordings of the two clarinet works with Collins on Chandos and with what have come to be generally regarded as the two benchmarks for these works, offering both clarinet concertos, the concertino and the orchestrated version of the Clarinet Quintet: Sabine Meyer (EMI Great Recordings 5679882review and review – or Sabine Meyer spielt Weber, identically coupled on EMI Electrola Collection 6020962, both mid-price) and Martin Fröst (BIS BIS-SACD-1523 review). These remain the top choices for anyone requiring Weber’s complete output for the clarinet concertante and I hope to get round to reviewing them in a future Download News: the Meyer is especially good value as a download in 320kb/s mp3 from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk at just £4.99 for the Electrola reissue, while the Fröst comes in mp3, 16– and 24-bit sound from eclassical.com as well as on SACD.

Maximiliano Martín’s performances, however, of the first clarinet concerto and the concertino are so good and he’s so well supported by the SCO and Alexander Janiczek as to stand their ground against all comers. They capture both the sheer fun of the music – there’s plenty of that – and the more reflective moods; I hope that Martín will also give us the second clarinet concerto and the quintet or its orchestrated version soon.

Much as I’d have liked to have had those other two clarinet works, I certainly can’t complain about the performances of the bassoon and horn works which separate the clarinet concerto and concertino here. Not even Richard Strauss comes closer than Weber to rivalling the Mozart horn concertos and Alec Frank-Gemmill makes a very strong case for Weber, showing us what Flanders and Swann might have made into another success, while Peter Whelan makes an equally strong case for the bassoon concerto as a rival to Mozart’s. (A good question for a quiz night: name any composer other than Vivaldi, Mozart and Weber who wrote a solo bassoon concerto.) I can’t think of the word ‘bassoon’ without thinking ‘buffoon’ and there’s plenty of buffoonery here, especially in the perky finale, but Whelan also brings out the reflective, rather plangent mood of the slow movement, too.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Alexander Janiczek offer ideal accompaniment throughout and the recording is equally recommendable.

Both those Chandos recordings come in CD form and as a download in mp3, 16-bit and 24/96, giving the Linn recording the edge in that the physical disc is available as an SACD and as up to 24/192 Studio Master download format. As I don’t yet have a DAC that can cope with 24/192, I listened to the recording in better-than-CD 24/96 format. That should give a fair indication of what to expect from the SACD stereo layer of the equivalent disc – I’ve been able to compare some recent Linn releases, though not this one, in both formats – and it’s very good indeed.

David Kettle’s notes in the booklet, which comes as a pdf document for downloaders, are very valuable. They round off an excellent release, strongly recommended to all but those seeking all the clarinet concertante works on one disc; they will need to turn to Meyer or Fröst, with Meyer clearly replacing as bargain of choice the worthy performances of the two clarinet concertos and concertino on Naxos 8.550378.

Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
L’Oiseau de feu (The Firebird) 1910 Ballet Score (‘Fairy-tale ballet in two tableaux for orchestra’) [47:03]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-93) arr. Igor STRAVINSKY
Pas-de-Deux (L’Oiseau bleu – Bluebird; from the ballet ‘The Sleeping Beauty’) [5:09]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) arr. Igor STRAVINSKY Canzonetta, Op. 62a for two clarinets, four horns, harp, and double bass [3:24]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-49) orch. Igor STRAVINSKY
Nocturne in A flat, Op. 32 No. 1 [7:31]
Grande Valse Brillante, Op. 18 [6:07]
Igor STRAVINSKY Greeting Prelude for the 80th birthday of Pierre Monteux [0:51]
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton – rec. October 2009, June 2010. DSD
Pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-1874 [71:40] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

[‘If you want a stunning treat and a Firebird which will last you for the next decade or so, this is the place.’ See review by Dominy Clements.]

There’s very strong competition for any new version of the Firebird; to name just those that I own, have owned or reviewed:

Stravinsky’s own recording on a mid-price release with the Rite of Spring (Sony SMK89875) or as part of the multi-disc set
Yakov Kreizberg in Monte Carlo with Petrushka, the Rite of Spring and Pulcinella (OPMC001, 3 budget-price CDs – Recording of the Month: review)
Simon Rattle on a budget twofer with the Rite of Spring, Petrushka and Apollo (EMI 9677112review)
Ernest Ansermet (Decca Eloquence 480 3780 with NPO or 1955 recording with OSR from classicsonline.com for just £1.99)
– Antal Doráti (Mercury – download from hmvdigital.com.

I’d hate to plump for any one of these at the expense of the others but the new BIS recording can hold its own against them and in one important respect it wins by being available in SACD or in 24-bit lossless sound; only Iván Fischer’s recording of the Firebird Suite, with the Rite of Spring and Scherzo à la Russe on Channel CCSSA32112 can beat that, with mp3, 24/44.1, 24/96, 24/192 and even DSD on offer – SACD review and March 2012/1 Roundup.

The Litton performance brings out the more reflective side of the music than most but there’s plenty of energy at the climaxes. Rattle and Stravinsky himself offer tremendous bargains; their couplings are more to the point than the bitty additions to the new BIS – this is really a one-work recording for me – and I wouldn’t want to be with the composer’s own recording in particular, but Litton makes a strongly recommended alternative or addition.

I played this recording first late at night with the volume low to avoid disturbing the neighbours and it seemed lacking in energy; at normal listening levels it’s a very different picture.

Naxos have just reissued Gerard Schwarz’s Seattle recording from 1986, formerly on Delos, where it’s still available with commentary by Natalia Makarova (DE6005). A first hearing via the Naxos Music Library establishes this, too, as a strong contender, especially as a download from classicsonline.com, but the attractive price is somewhat offset by the short value – just The Firebird and Fireworks, a total playing time of 52 minutes. (Naxos 8.571221).

Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Piano Concerto No. 1 in D flat, Op.10* (1912) [16:05]
Piano Concerto No. 4 in B flat, Op. 53* (left hand, 1931) [23:13]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in G, Op.55* (1932) [24:07]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in g minor, Op.16 (1913)** [31:03]
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, Op.26 (1921)** [27:17]
Boris Berman (piano)*; Horacio Gutierrez (piano)**; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Neeme Jarvi – rec. 8-12 May 1989 and 7, 8, 11-12 May 1990. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHAN8938 [2CDs: 121:14] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

[Nos. 1, 4 and 5 also available separately on CHAN8791 [63:13] ]

Piano Concerto No. 2 in g minor, Op. 16 (1913) [31:45]
Piano Sonata No. 2 in d minor, Op. 14 (1912) [18:26]
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, Op. 26 (1921) [29:16]
Freddy Kempf (piano); Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton
– rec. Bergen and Stockholm, July-August, 2008. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-1820 [80:48] – from eclassical.com (mp3 16– and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

I recently recommended the Chandos complete set of the Prokofiev Symphonies, so their complete Piano Concertos set makes for a logical next step, especially as it’s available as a 2-for-1 offer. (Don’t choose the more recent 2009 reissue on CHAN10522 which, though less expensive on CD than its separate components, is more expensive as a download than CHAN8398. Sort out the logic of that if you can! If, however, you only want mp3, hmvdigital.com offer CHAN10522 for just £7.49.) I’ve listed the separate catalogue number for Nos. 1, 4 and 5 for those who already have the Freddy Kempf recording of Nos. 2 and 3 and don’t wish to have two versions of those works, though the single disc costs as much as the 2-CD set.

In the June 2010 Roundup I briefly endorsed Dominy Clements’ enthusiastic review of the Freddy Kempf/Andrew Litton recording on BIS. I’m still of the opinion that it deserves high praise and I’ve included it here as a reminder of its merits and to point out that it’s no longer available from passionato.com, who no longer do downloads, but in mp3 and 16-bit lossless from eclassical.com and, for a little more, in 24-bit sound.

The classic Sviatoslav Richter version of No.5 seems to have reverted to full price on CD but the less expensive DG Originals release, coupled with Piano Sonata No.8, remains available as a download from hmvdigital.com. The Martha Argerich/Charles Dutoit recording of Nos. 1 and 3 is available from a number of sources; the best match of 320kb/s sound and price (£4.99) is to be found at sainsburysnetertainment.com. The only reason against buying these two recordings would be that while there is no overlap between them, it leaves you without Nos. 2 and 4.

Sergei PROKOFIEV
Romeo and Juliet: Suite No. 1, Op. 64bis (1936); Suite No. 2, Op. 64ter (1936)
Suite No. 3, Op. 101 (1946) (performed in the order the music appears in the ballet score)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton – rec. June 2005. DSD.
Pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-1301 [72:14] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16-and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Ideally, I recommend the complete ballet – from Previn (EMI, coupled with Raymonda in its latest reissue, 9677012) or Ashkenazy (Decca, reissued last year, 478 3100), both available inexpensively, but if you think the complete score is a bit too much, this recording represents an ideal compromise – the music from all three suites played in the order that it appears in the ballet. It covers more ground than the Supraphon recording conducted by Karel Ančerl from which I got to know this work – now coupled with Peter and the Wolf on SU36762 – but it lacks just a little of the sheer energy that Ančerl conveys. The only download of the Ančerl that I’ve been able to find, from hmvdigital.com, will save you one penny over the price of the CD from MDT.

This recording needs to be played at a higher than usual volume level to make its full impact – at normal levels it sounds surprisingly tame.

Steve REICH (b.1936)
Triple Quartet (1999) [14:45]
Duet (1994) [5:14]
Different Trains (1988) [27:14]
The Smith Quartet – rec. 2005. DDD
Pdf booklet included
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD064 [46:59] – download from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library (no booklet)

[‘One could make the case for this disc as the near-ideal representation of Reich’s considerable contribution to the string quartet genre. If you’re into Reich, don’t hesitate.’ See review by Tony Haywood.]

To Tony Haywood’s review I need only add my own appreciation of the music – I’m a great fan of all the so-called minimalists – and performances and to add that the download is in good quality, even in mp3 format.

In lighter mood

English Country Dances

The Lord Zouches Maske
Pavan
The Long Dance
Branle des Sabots
Pinagay
Branle de l’Official

Branle des Lavandieres
Nowel’s Galliard
The Earl of Essex Measures
Gathering Peascods
Millisons Jegge
The Ould Almaine
Quadran Pavin
Can She Excuse (The Earl of Essex Galliard)
Branle de la Guerre
Branle des Chevaulx
Branle[s] d’Escosse

The Queens Almaine
Coranto
Il Canario
Bassa Pompilia

Jenny Pluck Pears
Drive the Cold Winter Away
Graies Inne Maske
The Broadside Band/Jeremy Barlow – rec. 2003. DDD.
Pdf booklet from classicsonline.com or Naxos Music Library
THE GIFT OF MUSIC CCLCDG1246 [69:20] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Let me quote the ‘blurb’: Cheery English dances from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in vibrant arrangements from The Broadside Band. From the Long Dance to the Country Dance, the band’s shawms and sackbuts, recorders and hurdy-gurdies present a series of tuneful, rhythmic pavanes and galliards, branles and canarios.

I need only to apply one corrective – ‘English’ is a bit misleading here, as can be seen from the music with French titles, actually taken from Thoinot Arbeau’s Orchésographie, a 1589 collection of late-medieval and renaissance French court dances. (Facsimile online here.) Only a small percentage of the music comes from Playford’s English collection, but that doesn’t make the Arbeau pieces any less enjoyable; there’s even a tenuous Christmas connection in that the branle de l’official (tr.6) provides the tune of the well-known carol Ding dong merrily on high, though before it came to have any such association.

There’s a trade-off between the downloads: eclassical.com offer lossless sound as well as mp3 at but classicsonline.com, in decent mp3 only, also offer the booklet and charge only £4.99. If you want lossless, the eclassical.com price of $12.48 is certainly not exorbitant – it’s a little less than buying the CD direct from The Gift of Music – and if you have access to the Naxos Music Library it’s possible to download the booklet there. One way or the other, the booklet is worth having for its brief descriptions of the various dances.

Thoinot Arbeau’s real name was Jehan Tabourot – he simply rearranged the order of the letters, probably because he was a priest and didn’t wish his identity to be known, even though the title page claims respectability for l’honneste exercise des dances. You’ll find reviews of more of his music on Alto ALC1076 (June 2011/1 Roundup) and Musica Rediviva MRCD001 and MRCD005 (May 2012/2 Roundup) and more from Playford’s Dancing Master on Chandos CHAN9446 (March 2011/2 Roundup).

Yet more mainly light music from this period can be found on Elizabethan and Jacobean Consort Music – excellent performances from Catherine Bott and Michael George with the New London Consort and Philip Pickett (CKD011 [56 minutes] – from linnrecords.com (mp3 and lossless)). There are inevitably overlaps with similar collections, but none, so far as I can see from a quick check, with the Gift of Music recording. Delightful, though not very Christmas-y: the programme opens with Now is the month of Maying, though you may wish to down a jar or two of Mother Watkin’s Ale, the penultimate track, perhaps seasoned with Nutmeg and Ginger, the final track, during the festive season.

Don’t overlook the companion recording of earlier Music from the time of Columbus on Linn CKD007 which I mentioned in the January 2009 Roundup and the September 2012/1 Roundup.

Mozart on DVD

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte, K620
Kathleen Battle (soprano) – Pamina
Francisco Araiza (tenor) – Tamino
Manfred Hemm (baritone) – Papageno
Luciana Serra (soprano) – Queen of the Night
Heinz Zednik (tenor) – Monostatos
Kurt Moll (bass) – Sarastro
Andreas Schmidt (Speaker)
Barbara Kilduff (soprano) – Papagena
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/James Levine – rec. 1991. DSD.
Direction: Brian Large
Design: David Hockney
NTSC. All regions. Picture 4:3. PCM stereo.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD 0730039 [169:00]

I’ve already declared my preferences for Die Zauberflöte without dialogue on CD – hence my allegiance to Otto Klemperer (EMI 9667932) and the 1950 Herbert von Karajan (EMI Historical 3367692, a bargain for around £8) and the Past Classics download of the Ferenc Fricsay* – but on DVD it’s a different matter: what seems merely tedious when heard makes sense in the context of the pictures. Spectacle, too, is important, which is where my choice of this NY Met production** with designs by David Hockney scores, even though it’s recorded in narrow 4:3 format rather than 16:9. Your television probably has a setting which will convert 4:3 to 16:9 without distortion but with loss of a little of the picture top and bottom. This is less expensive than the other James Levine DVD set on TDK; even though there are some grounds for preferring the performance there, it, too, comes in 4:3 format.

Some casting weaknesses there are, but they concern the minor parts; the Three Ladies could hardly be expected to match Klemperer’s star line-up but they also fall short of Fricsay’s team. Slightly more seriously, Francisco Araiza is a little less than heroic as Tamino in vocal and acting terms, but not so as to spoil my enjoyment; it’s only by comparison with the likes of Anton Dermota (Karajan, 1950), Nicolai Gedda (Klemperer) or Ernst Haefliger (Fricsay) that he’s a little wanting.

* June 2012/1 Roundup. For those who prefer Fricsay with dialogue, there’s a Naxos Classical Archive download (9.80720/1 – September 2012/1 Roundup).

** not to be confused with Levine’s abridged English-language performances at the Met or his German version for children from Salzburg.