DOWNLOAD NEWS 2013/16
Download News 2013/15 is here and the index of earlier editions is here.
Some recent editions of Download News have been so over-long that regular readers seem to have missed some of the reviews. As an experiment, Im including an index with this edition. BR = Brian Reinharts reviews. = Recording of the Month
ARNOLD Symphony No.3, with BUTTERWORTH Shropshire Lad; VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony No.3 (LPO/Arnold, Music of England 5, Beulah)
ARNOLD, FARKAS, IBERT, NIELSEN Music for Wind Quintet (BIS) (BR)
BACH Christmas Oratorio (Layton, Hyperion)
Sacred Cantatas Volume 55 (Suzuki, BIS)
BARBER, COPLAND, GERSHWIN Piano Concertos (Wang/Oundjian, Chandos)
BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra (Stokowski) (Everest)
BEETHOVEN Piano Concertos 1 and 3 (Jacoby, ICA)
Symphony No.7 (LSO/Krips, Everest)
Piano Sonatas 28-32 (Levit, Sony)
Piano Sonata No.30 (+ SCHUBERT Piano Sonata No.21, CHOPIN) (Pressler, BIS) (BR)
BRAHMS Violin Concerto (Wolf/Collins); Hungarian Dances (Schmidt-Isserstedt); Tragic Overture (Klemperer) (Beulah)
BRITTEN Works for string orchestra (Camerata Nordica, BIS)
String Quartets (Takács, Hyperion; Endellion, Warner; Emperor, BIS)
A Ceremony of Carols (in Hodie) (Sixteen, Coro)
Britten to America (Elder, etc., NMC)
BRUCKNER Symphony No.7 (LPO/Skrowaczewski) (BR)
BUTTERWORTH Shropshire Lad (Hallé/Boult) (see Arnold)
Banks of Green Willow (LPO/Boult) (see Music of England 6)
CHOPIN Piano Works (Popowa-Zydrón, CD-Accord) (BR)
Nocturne in c-sharp minor (see Beethoven Piano Sonata No.30) (BR)
COPLAND Piano Concerto (Chandos: see Barber)
CORRETTE Noël Symphonies (Arion Trio, Atma)
CORRETTE, DANDRIEU, DAQUIN Noëls (instrumental) (Les Boréades, Atma)
DAQUIN Noëls (organ) (Herrick, Hyperion)
ELGAR Falstaff (Boult) (see Music of England 6)
GERSHWIN Piano Concerto (Chandos: see Barber)
HANDEL Organ Concertos, Op.4 (Richter, Beulah)
HAYDN Symphonies 96 and 97 (Van Beinum, Beulah)
HOLST Perfect Fool (LPO/Boult) (see Music of England 6)
IBERT Music for Wind Quintet (see Arnold) (BIS) (BR)
GINASTERA Estancia, Panambi and VILLA LOBOS Little Train (Goossens, Everest)
JANÁČEK Sinfonietta; Glagolitic Mass (Mackerras, Ančerl) (Beulah)
LASSO Christmas Motets and Prophetiæ Sibyllarum (Weser-Renaissance, CPO)
LISZT Piano Music (Cameron, Cala)
MAHLER Symphony No.9 (Ludwig, Everest)
MOZART Clarinet Quintet and Trio (Naïve) (Meyer/Quatuor Mosaïques, BR)
NIELSEN Music for Wind Quintet (See Arnold) (BIS) (BR)
PROKOFIEV Lieutenant Kijé; SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No.9 (LSO/Sargent) (Everest)
PROKOFIEV Symphony No.5 (LSO/Sargent) (Everest)
RESPIGHI Pines and Fountains of Rome (Sargent, Everest)
SCHUBERT Works for Violin and Fortepiano II (Ross and Cole, Naxos)
SCHUBERT Piano Sonata No.21 (see Beethoven) (BIS) (BR)
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No.6; Stepan Razin (Polyansky, Chandos)
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No.9 (LSO/Sargent – see Prokofiev) (Everest)
Symphony No.9; Stepan Razin (Kondrashin, HDTT)
TCHAIKOVSKY Swan Lake (Järvi, Chandos)
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony No.3 (LPO/Boult) (see Arnold)
Greensleeves Fantasia; English Folk Song Suite (Boult) (see Music of England 6)
VILLA LOBOS Little Train of the Caipira (see Ginastera) (Everest)
VIVALDI Four Seasons and other concertos (Naïve) (Europa Galante/Biondi, BR)
ZELENKA Magnificat, Christmas Mass, Dixit Dominus (Larpa festante, Genuin)
Christmas Collections (Christophers, Coro; Vänskä, BIS; Hillier, Harmonia Mundi)
Music of England 5 – see ARNOLD Symphony No.3 (Beulah)
Music of England 6: VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, ELGAR, BUTTERWORTH and HOLST (Beulah)
I must mention one recording which reached me too late for detailed review, so doesn't feature in the Index:
Richard WAGNER Complete Ring Cycle; Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim - rec. 1991 and 1992.
WARNER CLASSICS USB 256464126-5
The equivalent of 14 CDs in both mp3 and lossless wav form, plus libretti and translations, leitmotifs from the operas and two documentary videos on one 16GB USB from amazon.co.uk or mdt.co.uk. I need hardly expatiate on the well-known virtues of these recordings, to which I nevertheless hope to return next time. Target price £34.73, so if anything this is an even better bargain that Warner's earlier release of all Bach's extant works on USB – effectively, downloading without the hassle and at very little more cost; bear in mind that you could pay £20 for a blank 16GB USB alone. (See review of most recent DVD set - Recording of the Month – but NB the USB contains audio only, as on the CD set, apart from the documentaries mentioned.)
The bad news is that the Amazon download of the Bayreuth/Thielemann Ring (Opus Arte) which seemed such a wonderful bargain when I mentioned it was too good to be true - it's now £50 more than it was.
Ill begin with a reminder of some reviews from DL News 2013/15:
Johann Sebastian BACH Christmas Oratorio: Stephen Layton: Hyperion CDA68031/2. See also review by John Quinn: Recording of the Month.
• Joy to the World: an American Christmas: Handel and Haydn Society/Harry Christophers: Coro COR16117
• Carols from the Old and New Worlds: Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier: Harmonia Mundi dAbord HMA1957079
• Rós: Songs of Christmas: Det Norske Solistkor: BIS-SACD-2029. See also review by Dominy Clements
Coro have released in lossless sound two of The Sixteens Christmas recordings which were previously available only in mp3:
• COR16004: Hodie: an English Christmas Collection. The central work in this collection of English Christmas music of the 20th century by Howells, Britten, Tavener, Leighton and Warlock is Benjamin Brittens A Ceremony of Carols. From thesixteendigital.com (mp3, aac, flac and alac).
• COR16085: A Traditional Christmas Carol Collection II. This collection includes familiar seasonal favourites such as Unto us a boy is born and It came upon the midnight clear together with some less well-known gems like The Cherry Tree Carol and Gloucestershire Wassail. From thesixteendigital.com (mp3, aac, flac and alac). A Traditional Christmas Carol Collection I is on COR16043. From thesixteendigital.com (mp3, aac, flac and alac).
I need hardly repeat what I said of the earlier mp3 versions, that the performances and recordings make these two collections well worth adding to your Christmas listening.
• Manfred Cordes conducts Weser-Renaissance in Christmas Motets by Orlando di LASSO (1532-1594) on CPO 777468-2 [64:44] – from eclassical.com, mp3 and lossless, or stream from Naxos Music Library, both with pdf booklet – interspersed with his settings of the Prophetiæ Sibyllarum, the Prophecies of the Sibylls. The most famous of these was the Sibyl of Cumæ, a frightening old woman described in Book VI of Vergils Æneid, but she was reputed to have several colleagues across the Mediterranean world and they were believed to have foretold the birth of Christ, hence their inclusion here. As Robert Hugill commented in his review, the singers could make much more of the words – a polite way of saying that they are virtually indecipherable. The performances are otherwise attractive but if its the Prophetiæ that you principally want, theres a much better recording by the Brabant Ensemble on Hyperion CDA67887 – see August 2011 DL Roundup.
• Joulun ihmemaa (Christmas Wonderland): Finnish Christmas Music
Laulupuu Choir of Lahti
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
BIS-CD-947 [64:31] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library
With Christmas still a way off, I find it difficult to listen to the well-known music for the season, but most of this is unfamiliar enough to play in mid-November and still be entertaining at Christmas. Theres Leroy Andersons Sleigh Ride, Franz Gruber – Stille Nacht – and Michael Prætorius – Vom Himmel hoch – though all sung in Finnish here, it isnt all quite as exclusively unfamiliar as the subtitle implies. Performances are all that you would expect from the Lahti SO and Osmo Vänskä and the recording (16-bit only) is very good. The choir are a bit sugary in Joulun kieli (the language of Christmas) and Winter Wonderland, but it is a Christmas recording.
• Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1747) is quite a name to conjure with, especially as hes almost the last significant composer in alphabetic order and wrote some music with the mystifying title Hipocondrie – hypochondria. That wouldnt signify if his music were not worth hearing but this older contemporary of Bach and Handel wrote in a manner that sometimes prefigures the style of Haydn; his Magnificat in D, ZWV108, Christmas Mass, Missa Nativitatis Domini, ZWV8, and Dixit Dominus, ZWV68 are good examples. (Genuin GEN11213 [56:46]) The performances by soloists, Marnburg Bach Choir and Larpa festante/Nicolo Sokoli do the music justice, though Id have liked to hear the words more clearly – partly Zelenkas fault, I think, for sometimes pitching even solo voices against powerful instrumentation, though the singers could have made more of their diction. The music bounces along in radiant mood; even the Kyries at the beginning of Mass hardly sound penitent. The lossless recording from eclassical.com is excellent. They also offer mp3 – download both for the one price – but not the booklet of texts; if you have access to the Naxos Music Library its available there.
• BIS offer a strong challenger to this performance of the Magnificat in D, from Masaaki Suzuki, on a recording which also includes the Bach Magnificat, that of his predecessor Kuhnau, and another Zelenka setting, in C. BIS-CD-1011: download from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, with booklet). If you dont have the Bach, and even if you do – perhaps from Richard Hickox and his team on Chandos CHAN0518, with Vivaldi – the BIS recording merits serious consideration.
• Michel CORRETTE (1707-1795) Noël Symphonies Nos. 2-6 bounce along even more. This is music of a type that was popular in 18th-century France: choral or, in this case, instrumental settings of popular Christmas tunes. If you know Charpentiers Messe de Minuit youll recognise the opening movement immediately, a setting of où sen vont ces gais bergers, but Corrette casts his net wider than just the French repertoire.
The Comic Concertos which complete the album are also fun – some of the dance movements are borrowed from Rameaus Les Indes galantes. Performances are by the Arion Trio (Atma ACD22192 [66:52] – from eclassical.com (mp3 or lossless) or Early Music EMCD-7768, from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library).
• Theres some overlap with another Atma album of Noëls by CORRETTE, Jean-François DANDRIEU (c.1682-1723) and Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772): this time the performers are Les Boréades de Montréal and the instrumentation is more varied – theres even the sound of rustic bagpipes (ACD22118 [56:05] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)). You may prefer to sample Daquins Noëls in organ format, however, from Christopher Herrick on a budget-price Hyperion CD (CDA66816 – from hyperion-records.co.uk). Though formerly released on the budget Helios label – review – it now returns to the full-price CDA series for those who order the CD from the Archive service, but the download is a snip at £4 for mp3 or lossless and the pdf booklet is included – theres none with the Atma recordings.
The Everest label has been in and out of the UK catalogue over the years but now almost fifty of their releases are being made available by BMG on CD and as downloads. Ive mentioned some of them in earlier editions and I hope to cover most of these releases. This is by way of reminding you of those that Ive covered so far and mentioning some of the others.
Everest prided themselves on the quality of their early stereo recordings, many of which were made on 35mm film rather than tape, and most still sound very well indeed. For that reason US readers should consider HD Tracks, who offer these recordings in 24-bit sound – some in 24/96 but most in 24/192 – be aware that the latter in particular are very large files. At present they sell only to US purchasers, so that rules out prospective purchasers from the rest of the world.
The alternative is iTunes and mp3. I tried some from there, too, and the results are still very acceptable, especially as some of the tracks come at rather higher than the customary iTunes 256kbs. As the format of the original albums has been maintained, timings are short at around 35-45 minutes but the iTunes price of £5.99 or $7.99 partly covers that. All the albums, from both sources, come with a pdf booklet.
Several of these recordings were released in the UK on the World Record Club label. Ive already mentioned in earlier editions the recordings of the Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Ninth Symphony (SDBR3006) and Aaron COPLAND Third Symphony (SDBR3018) as my introductions to those works, together with Eugene Goossens less recommendable Sheherazade (SDBR3026).
• Bela BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra played by the Houston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski joins the Vaughan Williams and Copland as one of the highlights of these reissues. (SDBR3069 [31:54]) Stoki could be wilful but he only occasionally goes over the top in this recording and the Houston players perform out of their skin for him. I rate this impassioned reading as a vintage recording of the work alongside Reiner (RCA) from much the same time and Solti (LSO and Chicago SO, both Decca).
That doesnt mean that the sound is dated; its bright and fresh – perhaps a little too bright. Its worth spending the extra on the HD Tracks 24/96 transfer unless you cant cope with such a large file or your system wont play 24-bit downloads or you think $17.98 too much for just 32 minutes of music. iTunes offer it for £5.99/$7.99 in mp3 – or, strictly speaking, m4a.
• Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92 (SDBR3088 [30:11]). The London Symphony Orchestra and Josef Krips recorded the whole cycle of Beethoven symphonies. I owned some of these on World Record Club, though not the Seventh, and remembered them as very competent but little more, so I was surprised to find this recording comparable in quality to the André Cluytens and Colin Davis versions from roughly the same vintage on Beulah Extra. With recording quality that still sounds well, this is easily worth the £5.99/$7.99 that iTunes are asking. Most importantly, Krips sets a good pace for the third and fourth movements – fast enough to justify the apotheosis of the dance tag but not so fast as to come off the rails. There are other, unofficial, downloads of all the Beethoven symphonies from Krips – iTunes themselves have the whole set for £5.99 and Amazon one for even less – but I cant speak for their quality.
• Gustav MAHLER Symphony No.9 in d minor: London Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Ludwig (SDBR3050-2 [75:23]). I hadnt progressed beyond Mahlers First and Fourth symphonies when this recording was released on two World Record Club LPs so I didnt go for it. There was not much competition at the time – just Jascha Horenstein on a not well recorded Vox 3-LP set with the First Symphony – so this became the version to have until Barbirolli recorded the work with the Berlin Phil.
That Barbirolli performance remains my go-to CD, but I was very pleasantly surprised by this Leopold Ludwig account, not least for the quality of the LSOs playing and the way that the recording still sounds bright and fresh, if a trifle brash at times. HD Tracks have it in 24/192 sound – here: be warned; these are very large files – and iTunes offer it less expensively in mp3.
• Ottorino RESPIGHI The Fountains of Rome [15:54] and The Pines of Rome [20:36] (SDBR3051 [36:30]) were recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Malcolm Sargent. This is Technicolor music and it requires performance and recording to match. Sargent was a jack of all musical trades, usually highly competent though not often more, but he struck gold here, capturing both the brighter and more subdued aspects of the music, and the recording still sounds very well indeed, even in mp3. From iTunes (mp3/m4a) with pdf booklet.
This might not be my first choice for a recording of this vintage – that would be Reiner on RCA, more generously coupled – but the Everest recording is still well worth considering and Ive enjoyed encountering it again.
• Ferde GROFÉs Grand Canyon Suite [32:08] is also Technicolor music; it receives an idiomatic performance from the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and the composer on SDBR3044 [47:17] where its coupled with his less well-known Piano Concerto in d minor [15:10] in which Jesus Maria Sanroma is the soloist. I listened to this in a 24/96 download from HD tracks; theres also 24/192 and its also available in humble mp3 guise from iTunes; both sources include the pdf booklet. With music representing a bucking bronco in On the Trail (tr.3) and simulated thunder in Cloudburst (tr.5), you might think it banal but I rather like it. I did find it harder, though, to relate to the Piano Concerto, which follows too hard on the heels of the Grand Canyon Suite. The recording is a trifle dry but that suits the music quite well, especially in the vivid Cloudburst – though that cannot match the Cincinnati recording on Telarc which pits the orchestra against real thunder.
• No-one knew the Alexander SCRIABIN Poème de lExtase [19:15] better than Leopold Stokowski, whose performance with the Houston Symphony Orchestra features on SDBR3032 along with the lesser-known Azerbaijan Mugam of Fikret AMIROV [13:13: 32:54 total time]. The Scriabin doesnt lack power where needed but the performance is surprisingly delicate, too. Some of the spice of other performances is lacking but theres plenty to compensate and the recording of both works has worn very well. The coupling is based on Azerbaijan folk songs; its somewhat episodic – at one point you might be forgiven for thinking a piano concerto had strayed into the mix – but thats often the nature of such music and it receives a suitably colourful performance. I was confident that there wouldnt be a rival recording but such is the resourcefulness of Naxos that I see it figures on a whole CD of Amirovs music (8.572170 – review). From HD Tracks (24/96 lossless) or iTunes (mp3).
• STRAVINSKYs Ebony Concerto [9:14] is performed by its dedicatee Woody Herman (clarinet) and his Orchestra on SDBR3009 [32:41] – from iTunes (mp3), both with pdf booklet. The coupling is the Symphony in Three Movements, with the LSO and Sir Eugene Goossens [23:27].
This is more valuable for the short concerto than the symphony, of which there are many more recommendable versions. You could purchase the three movements of the concerto separately, but crazy pricing means that iTunes would charge you £0.99 per track – thats almost half the cost of the complete album for nine minutes of music.
• The value of having a Hungarian at the helm for Zoltan KODÁLYs comparatively rare Psalmus Hungaricus [21:44] on SDBR3022 [39:57] is diminished by having it sung in English, though the performance is powerful enough.
The coupling is a stylish performance of BARTÓKs Dance Suite [17:13]. János Ferencsik conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra in both works, with Raymond Nilsson (tenor) and the LPO Chorus in the Kodály. From iTunes (mp3) with pdf booklet.
• Heitor VILLA-LOBOS The Little Train of the Caipira (from Bachianas Brasileiras) and Alberto GINASTERA Estancia – ballet suite and Panambi – ballet suite – was all rare repertoire when the LP was released and its not over-represented even now. You wouldnt have expected the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Eugene Goossens to have got into the spirit of this South American music, but they do and the result is most enjoyable, though the LP got a po-faced response in 1962 and again in 1967. The Little Train is short but highly entertaining; it features on a budget Classics for Pleasure which I reviewed some time ago and on a whole album of train-inspired music (Railroad Rhythms, Hänssler CD93.187)*. Unless you must have the two Ginastera ballets complete (a more recent LSO on Naxos 8.557582) this Everest album will still do very nicely, even allowing for the very short playing time. The recording quality, which is bright and forward to suit the music, warrants buying the 24-bit lossless. (SDBR3041 [29:10]). From HD Tracks (24/96) – here – or iTunes – here – both with pdf booklet. Incidentally, a glance at my Portuguese dictionary tells me that Ive been wrong for years in thinking that Caipira was a place; its Brazilian Portuguese for a peasant.
• You wouldnt normally think of Sir Malcolm Sargent as a great interpreter of PROKOFIEV or SHOSTAKOVICH but he makes more than a decent fist of both. When SDBR3054 [46:05] was first released in the UK on World Record Club, it contained the only current recording of the Shostakovich Ninth Symphony [25:30]. The coupling is Prokofievs Lieutenant Kijé [20:35] – from HD Tracks (24/96 lossless) or iTunes (mp3). On SDBR3034 he performs Prokofievs Fifth Symphony [42:44] – from HD Tracks (24/96 lossless) or iTunes (mp3). Tempi are mostly a shade slower than Karajans (DG Originals), except in the third movement where Sargent keeps the music moving faster at the expense of some of the intensity, but they work well and while you wouldnt wish to make either your first choice now, they are well worth having as alternatives. Both recordings still sound well.
* Theres a less entertaining arrangement for violin and piano on Marco Polo 8.223527.
Recording of the Month
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Sacred Cantatas Volume 55
Cantata BWV69 Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele (1748) [19:00]
Cantata BWV30 Freue dich, erlöste Schar (1738) [33:57]
Cantata BWV191 Gloria in excelsis Deo (c.1743-46) [14:17]
Hana Blaíková (soprano); Robin Blaze (counter-tenor); Gerd Türk (tenor); Peter Kooij (bass)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki – rec. February 2013. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklets included
BIS BIS-SACD-2031 [67:14] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)
(See review by David Barker: One of the most important recording projects of the last few decades has reached its triumphant conclusion.)
Finis coronat opus: the end crowns the work. This may not be the only way to listen to Bachs cantatas but these recordings from Masaaki Suzuki for BIS, of which this is the final, triumphant, volume, seem to find their way into my listening even more often than John Eliot Gardiners complete series for SDG.
If I havent said it all before, David Barker has done so in his review, so Ill merely echo the text of the final work, Gloria in excelsis, glory to God in the highest. It may not technically be a cantata, though its numbered among them in Schmieders catalogue – its actually a movement from one of Bachs short Lutheran Masses in a transitional form before it became part of his great b-minor Mass – but it rounds off the series in superb style, especially as its Christmas-related text makes it appropriate for the forthcoming season.
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Organ Concerto in g minor Op.4/1 [17:07]
Organ Concerto in B-flat Op.4/2 [10:32]
Organ Concerto in g minor Op.4/3 [11:37]
Organ Concerto in F Op.4/4 [15:46]
Karl Richter Chamber Orchestra/Karl Richter (Steinmeyer organ, Markuskirche, Munich) – rec. 1958. ADD/stereo
BEULAH EXTRA 2-5BX169 [55:02] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)
These recordings are available separately, but together they make an attractive album of the Op.4 Organ Concertos that can still hold its own in many ways against modern recordings such as that of Richard Egarr (Harmonia Mundi) or Ton Koopman, though the latter is an outstanding bargain, combining the Op.4 and Op.7 works on two Warner Apex budget CDs. Richters use of a modern full-size instrument instead of a chamber organ would be questionable nowadays, but he compensates by sensitive selection of stops and the use of a chamber orchestra. In their time these recordings were excelled only by Thurston Darts greater period awareness – Beulah have already given us Darts stylish recordings of Handels solo organ music and the Water Music; perhaps we might now have his recordings of the Organ Concertos. With the 2-CD Warner Teldec set of Richters Op.4 and Op.7 apparently no longer available, I hope that Beulah will also bring us the second set. Theres a very inexpensive Hallmark download which reproduces the original mono LP sleeve, but I cant vouch for its quality and one user review on Amazon comments adversely on the quality of the transfer, whereas the Beulah has been done with the usual care and the quality is very good indeed for its age. Even if all other recordings of this music were to fall victim to spontaneous combustion, Id be happy enough with these Richter interpretations.
Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No.96 in D (Miracle) [22:18]
Symphony No.97 in C [24:24]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Eduard Van Beinum – rec.1952/3. ADD/mono
BEULAH EXTRA 30-37BX37 [46:42] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)
Eduard van Beinums Haydn is stylish – more stylish than Sir Thomas Beechams of a slightly later vintage – and its still very enjoyable, but it just lacks that last degree of magic that Beecham, for all his deliberate avoidance of the most accurate editions and period style, brought to the music. (See review of most recent reissue in a 6-CD box set.)
These recordings have been reissued on Australian Decca Eloquence, together with No.94 (4768483) but you may well prefer their availability separately and inexpensively from Beulah, especially as the Eloquence is out of stock at the UK distributor as I write. I havent heard the Eloquence transfer but I doubt if it improves very much on the Beulah. Theres no disguising that these are early-1950s recordings, but the sound is as listenable as the performances.
Ive retained Beulahs attribution to No.96 of the Miracle title, though some modern research has tended to associate that actual miracle – the chandelier that fell just behind members of the audience who had surged forward to applaud – with No.102.
Beulah have also given us two albums of Max Gobermanns attractive performances of some of Haydns earlier symphonies – see DL News 2013/2.
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15 [36:20]
Piano Concerto No.3 in c minor, Op.37 [36:26]
Ingrid Jacoby (piano)
Sinfonia Varsovia/Jacek Kaspszyk – rec. April 2013. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
ICA CLASSICS ICAC5107 [72:46] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library
The performance of the First Concerto begins with a light but expressively played orchestral ritornello with real clarity of texture; everything can be heard. Here in the first movement there is some fine playing, sometimes energetic, sometimes more tranquil in mood. Stephen Kovacevich and Colin Davis are just a fraction slower in this movement, and also a touch heavier. Jacoby shows herself to be fully equipped to perform the virtuosic passages with great deftness and brilliance, but with a good sense of style too. The Largo second movement, although slow, never drags and always has a sense of forward movement. Ingrid Jacoby and her orchestra play with a wide variety of expression. Kovacevichs performance has a slightly warmer sound and his performance has a feeling of greater maturity.
Jacoby gives a superb account of the third movement, full of wit but also charm where necessary. But Kovacevich is master of these concertos and in this movement he explores even more expressive possibilities than Jacoby. Also I feel a little uneasy with some of the slight tempo changes we sometimes experience which suggest that Jacek Kaspszyk is not always entirely in control.
The orchestra and conductor establish an appropriate tempo at the start of the Third Concerto, the first of this composers concertos to show real movement away from the classical works of Haydn and Mozart, as well as his own first two concertos. There is energy as well as characterful playing here. Ingrid Jacoby enters stylishly and I like the variety of articulation she provides.
Jacoby gives a well-controlled performance of the second movement Largo, full of expression and dynamic contrast. Stephen Kovacevich and Colin Davis give a similarly slow performance, at least in comparison with some of todays modern practitioners. Davis orchestra sounds a bit thick texturally, but it is deeply felt and gives the woodwind soloists a chance to shine. I love the warm, characterful tone of the bassoon.
Jacoby and her players give the final movement a rather lightweight performance which sometimes seems rather jolly in mood. Maybe a little more drama would be appropriate here. I feel that the main slow theme which appears in a later episode is rather too slow but it does allow the fine tone of the orchestras principal clarinet to be heard to good advantage. The faster tempo gradually returns as we move through a fugato section and the performance romps home in the lively coda. Stephen Kovacevich and Colin Davis give the main theme more strongly accentuated performance which helps make for a more dramatic result and their conclusion is more exhilarating.
Ingrid Jacoby is a fine player who always plays with real musicality, good phrasing and characterful articulation. She plays with virtuosity as well as sensitivity. The pianos high register sounds glittering and brilliant when needed, though I fear that this may not be to everyones taste. The orchestral playing is excellent and the recording is bright and clear so can be recommended as a fine and worthy modern performance. There are, however, many great performances of these works already on the market including that by Stephen Kovacevich.
Let me merely add that I share Geoffs general enjoyment of these performances and his use of the Kovacevich/Davis recordings as his benchmark. Ive given the link to classicsonline.com for the mp3 download of the ICA recording. Wait a little longer, however, and eclassical.com should have it in mp3 and lossless, albeit slightly more expensively and without the booklet – they already offer the two earlier releases in the series in both formats.
The whole set of the Beethoven concertos from Kovacevich and Davis remains my favourite and the Philips discs make regular forays to my CD player. They are currently available on mid-price Decca Virtuoso:
• Nos. 1 and 2 4784225
• No. 3 and Violin Concerto (Grumiaux) 4784027
• No. 4 and 5 4783350
Download for £4.99 each from 7digital.com. [BW]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Sonata No.28 in A, Op.101 [21:26]
Piano Sonata No.29 in B-flat, Op.106 (Hammerklavier) [41:44]
Piano Sonata No.30 in E, Op.109 [18:51]
Piano Sonata No.31 in A-flat, Op.110 [19:42]
Piano Sonata No.32 in c minor, Op.111 [27:32]
Igor Levit (piano) – rec. January/February 2013. DDD
SONY CLASSICAL 88883703872 [63:10 + 66:06] – from iTunes (mp3)
A first recording by a BBC New Generation artist which challenges the hegemony of Brendel and Kempff in these mountain peaks of Beethovens late output? Having seen three reviews which said so, I had to listen for myself. Having purchased it, I see that its also become a MusicWeb International Recording of the Month – see review by Dominy Clements.
The first thing that struck me was the cleanness of the playing, with minimum use of pedal, though with plenty of power brought to bear where relevant. Apparently Levit has studied baroque keyboard music in preparation for Beethoven, so its hardly surprising if Angela Hewitts Bach and Beethoven came to mind as I listened. The result is that the light and dark, the contrasting qualities which pervade Beethovens late sonatas and quartets, are very well brought out. One of my reservations in reviewing a recording of No.30 from Panyiotis Demopoulos (Divine Art Diversions DDV24142 – review) was the failure to bring out both the tuneful and barnstorming aspects of the music but Levit gets that balance just right.
Im not going to throw out my existing recordings: Nos.30-32 from Bernard Roberts (Nimbus NI7709) or as part of a complete set (NI1774) – review – Wilhelm Kempffs set of Nos. 27-32 on DG, costing a little less, £7.49, in full 320kb/s sound and with one extra sonata, from 7digital.com and Alfred Brendels recordings of Nos.27-32, again at £7.49, in 320kb/s sound, also from 7digital.com. Brendels later digital recording of Nos. 30-32 is available in the UK as an import, E4467012. The Roberts recordings, on single CD or in the box set, can be purchased at competitive prices from MusicWeb International – follow link to review above for details.
iTunes offer the 2-CD Levit set for £7.99 in a mastered for iTunes transcription. While this is not at the top quality 320 kb/s – more like 258 – the resulting sound is much more than acceptable. If it must be 320kb/s, sainsburysentertainment.co.uk have the set for £8.99. If you prefer to go for the CDs for the booklet, though I understand that theres very little about Levit there, you should be able to find these for around £11.
(See also Brian Reinhart's review of Menahem Pressler in No. 30, below.)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Works for Violin and Fortepiano, Volume 2
Rondo in b minor, Op.70, D895 [16:29]
Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen, Op. posth.160, D802 [23:27]
Fantasie in C, Op. posth.159, D934 [29:19]
Jacqueline Ross (violin), Maggie Cole (fortepiano) – rec. October/November 2011. DDD
Violin by G B Guadagnini, Turin, 1777. Bow by Etienne Pajeot, early 19th century. Fortepiano by Graf, Vienna, 1826; tuned and prepared by Alastair Laurence, curator of Finchcocks
Tuning: a' = 430
Pdf booklet included
NAXOS 9.70182 [69:39] Download only – from classicsonline.com (mp3 or lossless) or eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, no booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library
I reviewed Volume 1 of this series (9.70164) in DL Roundup August 2012/2 and mentioned both volumes as alternatives likely to appeal to those who preferred period instruments when reviewing the 2-CD Hyperion set of all Schuberts works for violin and piano (CDA67911/2) in DL News 2013/14. That earlier Naxos recording – also download only – included the three sonatas or sonatinas of Op.137, D384, 385 and 408, and the Sonata Op. post.160, D574.
I wrote of the first volume that academic research and period instruments certainly didnt equate with dull and dry performances and the same is true of its successor, this time recorded at Finchcocks and making use of a Graf fortepiano in the collection there. Im no lover of the very dry sound of some fortepianos but you would have to be an out and out hater of the instrument to object to that employed here. The performances are based on autograph manuscript sources. For the first two works unequal temperament is employed, with equal temperament for the Fantasie.
Mss Ross and Cole offer better value than the Hyperion set, though that in turn is slightly less than the usual cost of downloading two CDs; the Naxos recordings are just £4.99 (mp3) or £5.99 (lossless) each from classisconline.com – dont pay more, sometimes for lower bit-rates, from other providers, but be aware that classicsonline.coms lossless downloads come as one long file; if you wish to have the tracks separately, the eclassical.com download can be yours for a little more, at $12.47. Instead of the brief Sei mir gegrüsst* on Hyperion, Ross and Cole include the substantial and enjoyable Trockne Blumen variations, originally composed for flute and piano but here sitting very comfortably on violin and piano. The notes are briefer than those from Hyperion – as usual, those are hard to beat – but the Naxos ones are informative. For what its worth, too, the Redouté rose on the cover, in keeping with Naxoss other recordings of Schuberts chamber music, is very attractive.
* a more extended set of variations on this tune, in any case, features in the andantino of the Fantasie (track 13).
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Don Juan Fantasy [17:42]
Hungarian Rhapsody No.13 [8:16]
Funérailles: Octobre 1849 [13:26]
Hungarian Rhapsody No.5 [6:14]
Valse Oubliée No.1 [3:48]
Les Préludes [6:20]
Matthew Cameron (piano) – rec. c.2010. DDD
CALA RECORDS [72:48] – from amazon.com, amazon.co.uk or iTunes (mp3).
Geoff Molyneux and I have already written with approval about another Matthew Cameron piano recital: Romantic Favorites (DL News 2013/14). That album contained a good deal of Liszt, something of a speciality for the pianist, so its no surprise that this earlier recording is completely devoted to that composer. I had one small reservation about the other album, concerning the dramatic content of La Campanella, but there are no reservations this time: theres bravura aplenty here, but with delicacy where its required. Theres plenty of dexterity, too, as on the previous album so, unless you restrict yourself to listening to Liszt from one of the big names of the past, this album is well worth having. Im accustomed to listening to Les Préludes in its orchestral garb and prefer it that way, but the piano version here is very enjoyable. With 73 minutes on the clock and an attractive price – $6.93 from amazon.com, or £6.23 from amazon.co.uk – its good value, too.
There was one very small glitch in the files which I received for review but the Amazon and iTunes downloads, at a nominal 256kb/s rather than the 192kb/s which I heard, should be fine.
The Art of Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Tragic Overture, Op.81 [12:30]
Philharmonia Orchestrea/Otto Klemperer – rec. 1961 ADD/stereo
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77 [41:03]
Endre Wolf (violin); Sinfonia of London/Anthony Collins – rec. 1958 ADD/stereo
Hungarian Dances, WoO1, Nos. 1-3, 5-7 and 10 [18:54]
Hamburg Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt – rec. 1953. ADD/mono
BEULAH 1PD84 [72:27] – due for release by amazon.co.uk and iTunes
Klemperer is for me the Brahms conductor par excellence and nowhere more so than in the Tragic Overture, which benefits particularly from his rather weighty style and still sounds very well in this transfer. Not that weighty necessarily means ponderous: Klemperers 12:30 is faster than Marin Alsops 14:04 (with Symphony No.1 and Academic Overture, Naxos) and only a shade slower than Riccardo Chaillys 11:45 with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra on his new Decca set of the symphonies and orchestral works (4785344). Chailly makes the opening of the work sound sprightlier, which some may prefer, but this is the Tragic Overture and, for all that Ive enjoyed hearing Chaillys new recordings of the symphonies, I prefer Klemperer in this overture.
The Violin Concerto comes from a World Record Club release and the performance is new to me. Tempo is of the essence in the first movement of this work, with most interpretations taken too slow for anyone who, like me, cut their musical teeth on Heifetz and Reiner, Reiners remake with Szeryng or Szeryng with Monteux (all RCA). Wolf and Collins take 22:51, which is around the norm, but a little too dreamy for me, despite the urgency of the solo and orchestral playing. Listen to Heifetzs 18:51 – try it from Naxos Music Library if you can – and I think you wont want to hear it any other way, but if you still prefer dreamy for this movement, Wolf and Collins could be your men in this good transfer. The YouTube excerpt from the first movement might help you decide.
When this recording of the concerto was made, just the one work was deemed sufficient for an LP but Beulah make up good value with the Tragic Overture and seven of the Hungarian Dances, the latter taken from a 1953 10 LP (LW5066). Inevitably the sound is several notches below that on the rest of the album but perfectly tolerable, especially as the over-bright top of the LP has been tamed. If iTunes and Amazon can come close to matching the sound of the lossless (wav) version of this album – would that they would take leaf out of the books of others and offer 320kb/s mp3 or even lossless – you should have no complaints.
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Swan Lake, Op.20: ballet in four acts (1877)
James Ehnes (violin)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
Rec. Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway, 18 June and 3-6 December 2012. DDD/DSD
CHANDOS Hybrid SACD CHSA5124 [2 CDs: 81:17 + 73:24 = 154:41]
[also available as CHAN5124, mp3,16– and 24bit lossless download from theclassicalshop.net.]
We werent exactly short of highly favoured versions of Swan Lake, so any new recording has to have a distinctive selling point to compete. In this case its the high-quality recording, available as a hybrid SACD and a lossless download, though I was too early for the 24-bit variety. As with classicsonline.coms flac downloads, often posted later than the mp3, the early bird doesnt always get the worm.
Among those recordings which Ive heard in various formats the ones to rival or excel include:
• LSO/André Previn – a strong contender on a budget EMI twofer (9676842) or even less expensively as an mp3 download from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk or classicsonline.com, both at £4.99. The 1976 recording needs hardly any allowance for its age. See review and download review of earlier CFP release.
• Minneapolis SO/Antal Doráti – a transcription from Past Classics, of a 1957 recording which shows its age but sounds tolerable and enshrines a performance still very well worth hearing – see download review of this and the Fistoulari on the same label.
• LSO/Anatole Fistoulari – about two thirds of the score recorded in mono in 1952; another Naxos Classical Archive download.
• Concertgebouw/Anatole Fistoulari (excerpts) – Fistoularis single-LP stereo remake from 1961: Decca Eloquence 4429032: Bargain of the Month – review.
• Philadelphia Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch, EMI Gemini 5855412, another very worthwhile budget-price twofer.
• Montréal SO/Charles Dutoit, Decca 4783097, 2 CDs at mid price.
• Mariinsky Theatre O/Valery Gergiev – not as complete as claimed: its actually the 3-act performing edition from 1895. Decca 4757669 – download review: now available from 7digital.com. 76 minutes of highlights also from 7digital.com.
As with Neeme Järvis earlier Chandos recording of Sleeping Beauty (CHSA5113 – download review) I absorbed as many of these earlier versions as I could before listening in detail to the new recording. I enjoyed that recording of Sleeping Beauty, as did Dave Billinge, though Nick Barnard had mixed feelings – joint review – and the new recording shares its virtues. Well worth considering especially for the SACD and 24-bit sound quality.
Look out for my review on the main pages of MusicWeb International of The Nutcracker, a production from Dutch National Ballet recently reissued on blu-ray at budget price (£8 or less) and which I enjoyed.
The Art of Leo JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Katyá Kabanová: Prelude [4:49]
Pro Arte Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras – rec. 1959. ADD/stereo
Glagolitic Mass [39:49]
Eduard Haken (bass), Vera Soukupova (contralto), Beno Blachut (tenor), Libuse Domaninska (soprano), Jaroslav Vodrazka (organ)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Prague Philharmonic Choir/Karel Ančerl – rec. 1961. ADD/stereo
BEULAH 1PD66 [69:36] – from iTunes (mp3)
The music of Janáček never had better interpreters than Sir Charles Mackerras and Karel Ančerl. Ive already commended the Mackerras items in Beulah Extra form: Sinfonietta 2013/11, Kátya Kabanová Prelude, 2013/14. Even the slightly harsh recording seems appropriate to the music.
Hearing the Ančerl recording of the Glagolitic Mass on a 17/6 (£0.87) Supraphon recording (stereo, too, for that bargain price) was an eye-opener; as an undergraduate I probably terrorised my neighbours by repeatedly playing it at full blast. Like all Supraphon LPs, it had none too quiet surfaces; when I caught up with it again on cassette, the crackle had gone but so had some of the power of the recording.
Having gone for Mackerrass version on Supraphon as a download, I was pleased to make the acquaintance of the Ančerl again and to see how well Beulah had managed to tame the noise without taming the music. It sounds its age more than the Sinfonietta but not by much, and the powerful performance is still well worth having as a pendant to the Mackerras (My Life with Czech Music, Supraphon SU40422, 4 CDs, or his recording of the original version on Chandos CHAN9310). You can play this Beulah transcription at full blast without fear of noise or distortion. Try not to annoy the neighbours.
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
The Love for Three Oranges, Op.33 (1919) (complete opera, sung in Russian)
Viktor Ribinsky (bass) – Le Roi de Trèfle
Nina Polyakova (soprano) – Fata Morgana
Lyutsia Rashkovets (contralto) – La Princesse Clarice
Vladimir Makhov (tenor) – Le Prince
Boris Dobrin (baritone) – Léandre
Yuri Yelnikov (tenor) – Truffaldino
Ivan Budrin (baritone) – Pantalon
Gennady Troitzky (bass) – Tchélio
Tamara Yerofeyeva (contralto) – Linette
Tamara Medvedeva (mezzo) – Nicolette
Tatyana Kallistratova (soprano) – Ninette
Georgi Abramov (bass) – La Cuisinière
Yuri Yakushev (bass) – Farfarello
Nina Postavnicheva (mezzo) – Sméraldine
Ivan Kartavenko (tenor) – Le Maître de Cérémonies
Miroslav Markov (bass) – Le Hérault
Moscow Radio Soloists, Chorus and Symphony Orchestra/Jemal Dalgat – rec. 1962 ADD/stereo
BEULAH 1PD46 [103:56] – from iTunes or amazon.co.uk (mp3)
The Suite which Prokofiev made from this opera is well enough known but the opera itself is a rare beast, especially when sung as here in Russian. The two most easily obtained current recordings are in English and French, with Gergievs Russian recording now in a box set or download only in the UK. If youre trying to place this recording, made in 1961 or 1962 for Melodiya but not released in the UK on EMI until 1971, the conductors name is variously transliterated as Dzhamal or Jamal, Dalgat or Dalghat.
This is not one of Prokofievs many masterpieces but I enjoyed hearing this vigorous performance – its not surprising that Chicago took to it in 1921 – and the quality of the re-mastered sound is miraculous for anyone who remembers any of the MK LPs which reached these shores.
Note the playing time – this is excellent value for the price of one album, less than £8, a fraction of the price of the Melodiya CDs of this performance. Theres no libretto or even synopsis, but the plot is virtually nonsensical and Chandos generously offer the pdf booklet which comes with their recording in English to all comers: CHAN10347. One small grumble: Beulah give the title as The Love of Three Oranges – though that title is common, I understand that The Love for Three Oranges is more correct.
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
The Execution of Stepan Razin, Op. 119 (1964) [27:33]
Symphony No. 9 in E flat (1945) [23:54]
Vitali Gromadsky (bass)
Russian State Cappella
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin – rec. 1965. Transferred from Angel/Melodiya four-track tape
Pdf artwork/sleeve notes included
HDDL397 [51:27] – from HDTT (24/96 & 24/192 flacs)
Symphony No. 6 in b minor, Op. 54 (1939) [32:37]
The Execution of Stepan Razin, Op. 119 (1964) [26:16]
Anatoly Lochak (bass)
Russian State Symphonic Cappella
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Valeri Polyansky -rec. 18 June 1999, Mosfilm Studio, Moscow (symphony); 14 June 2000, Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory (Stepan Razin)
Pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHAN9813 [59:00] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16-bit CD quality)
I recently reviewed Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Helsinki Phils new Shostakovich disc from Ondine, which includes The Execution of Stepan Razin; that prompted me to revisit other recordings of this seldom-heard score. I was especially intrigued to see that HDTT have re-mastered Kondrashins classic account, coupled with the Ninth Symphony, and ordered the 24/96 flacs for review. As for Valeri Polyansky hes no slouch when it comes to Shostakovich, and his three volumes of the composers film scores are well worth investigating (review). Polyanskys Razin – coupled with the Sixth Symphony – is reviewed here in its 16-bit form, although the website states it was originally recorded in 24/96.
The headline act here is Kondrashin, whose Shostakovich recordings have a very special place in the hearts of all DSCH devotees. Thankfully the raw Soviet-era sound of the Melodiya LPs was tamed in both the Aulos set (review) and the Melodiya box (review); more importantly, judicious re-mastering has preserved the heat and energy of these unique performances. Indeed, after listening to Polyanskys Sixth I turned to Kondrashin on Aulos and was swept away once more by its momentum and dramatic coherence. Polyansky strikes me as rather more heart-on-sleeve in the opening Largo, whereas Kondrashin is direct and unsentimental yet loses nothing of the symphonys ambiguities.
Polyanskys Russian band are remarkably refined, and the more spectral moments in this opening movement are beautifully done, although I do find Kondrashin brings out the works Mahlerian moods better than most. Moreover, Polyanskys gaunt climaxes, though thrilling, arent quite so overwhelming; that said, he does find a chill in the Largo thats most effective. He also brings a sustained intensity to those long-breathed passages thats utterly compelling. So different from Kondrashin, yet equally compelling in his own way.
One might long for the rougher edges and singleness of purpose that characterise the Kondrashin account, but the immaculate playing of the Russian State Orchestra and the fine recording make Polyanskys Sixth very persuasive indeed. The mix of bright detail and deep, punctuating weight in the strange Allegro is impressive, and its only in the Presto that I miss Kondrashins more dishevelled progress. Still, theres plenty of sardonic humour – what the nay-sayers call banalities – and while Polyanskys closing pages arent as pell-mellish as Kondrashins they are more tidily recorded.
Assuming that most downloaders also have – and will continue to buy – physical discs I will point to Mark Wigglesworth on BIS, André Previn on EMI/Warner and Dmitri Kitaienko on Capriccio (review) as very decent CD Sixths. I would happily recommend Kondrashin and Polyansky to anyone interested in this unjustly neglected work. As far as I know the Kondrashin is only available as part of those Aulos and Melodiya boxes, but perhaps HDTT will rectify that some time soon.
Which leads me very neatly to their transfer of the Ninth. The opening Allegro is as nimble and quick-witted as ever, but the re-mastering is just astonishing in its added range and tonal sophistication. Indeed, only hints of raggedness in the tuttis betray the recordings provenance; even so, its well balanced and the timbres are true. The side drums snap more decisively than ever, and Kondrashin is brisk but never rushed. A good indication of the sonic superiority of this fine transfer is the deliciously tactile woodwind playing in the Moderato, the mercurial trumpets in the Presto and the lugubrious tuba in the Largo.
Few performances of the Ninth are as satisfying as this, for it spans such a wide spectrum of moods and colours. On CD I wouldnt want to be without Wigglesworth (BIS) or Haitink (Decca). The latter – perhaps destined to be reborn as one of UMGs high-res BD-As – is impeccably pointed, and I return to it often. That said, HDTT have reinvigorated Kondrashins already indispensable Ninth and Im sure Ill revisit that many times too.
Now for The Execution of Stepan Razin, the tale of the eponymous 17th-century rebel who tried to overthrow the Tsar and was executed for his pains. Bizarrely, Razins decapitated head continues to defy church and state, which makes it a pertinent piece for the Soviet Unions artistic thaw of the early 1960s. In my review of the Ondine CD I remarked on the intelligent and persuasive singing of the Chinese bass-baritone Shenyang, although he – and all others – tremble before Kondrashins mighty bass Vitali Gromadsky.
Polyanskys Russian forces certainly have the rasp and robustness the piece demands and his mixed chorus – nicely arrayed in a pleasing soundscape – sing well; what a pity the performance is let down by the wide vibrato of his bass, Anatoly Lochak. I also find the recording – taped in a different venue – gets a tad relentless after a while. Gerard Schwarz (Naxos) and Herbert Kegel (Decca) sound somewhat anaemic in this red-blooded Russian company, and neither of their basses is entirely convincing either.
For sheer propulsion and unflinching defiance Kondrashin and his impassioned forces are without peer in Stepan Razin, and the HDTT transfer drives home that point most forcefully. True, choral climaxes are very constricted, but their crisp diction and the recordings vivid, widescreen presentation cant fail to thrill. As in the Sixth Symphony Polyansky teases out buried colours and rhythmic nuances rather more successfully than Kondrashin, although he does lose essential thrust in the process. The hopping fleas and other pictorial touches are well managed in both performances.
Gromadskys flesh-and-blood portrayal of Razin is utterly convincing and Kondrashin judges the works dramatic peaks to perfection. His yelping chorus and death drums are blood-curdling, too. Even if the ending seems a little anti-climactic Stepan Razin remains one of Shostakovichs most vital and interesting scores. No, not in the same league as Babi Yar – with which its often compared – but well worth hearing nonetheless.
Id be happy with Polyansky and Kondrashin in these symphonies, but for Op. 119 the choice is much simpler; its Kondrashin by a country mile, especially in this fine new transfer. Unfortunately HDTTs cover art/sleeve notes are a mess and could do with some careful proof-reading; they certainly cant compete with the detailed booklets that Chandos supply. Still, that matters less when the transfer is this good.
Kondrashin is electrifying in both works; the more subtle Polyansky is good in the symphony, but hes let down in Op. 119 by a disappointing bass.
American Piano Concertos
Samuel BARBER (1910-1982) Concerto for piano and orchestra, Op.38 (1962) [27:40]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990) Concerto for piano and orchestra (1926) [15:39]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937) Concerto (1935) [31:53]
Xiayin Wang (piano); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Peter Oundjian – rec. February and April 2013.
Pdf booklet available
CHANDOS CHAN5128 [75:44] – from theclassicalshop.net (SACD – CHSA5128 – mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless and surround sound)
The new coupling cuts across previous recommendations:
• BARBER: Piano Concerto (John Browning/George Szell), Violin Concerto, etc. – Sony SBK87948 – review and Bargain of the Month review. Now superseded by Sony 88697529892 or Sony SMK89751 (Piano, Violin and Cello Concertos), both at mid price.
• COPLAND: Piano Concerto and The Tender Land Suite (Benjamin Pasternack/Robert Hanson) Naxos 8.559297 – review and Bargain of the Month review
• GERSHWIN: Piano Concerto and Second Rhapsody (Orion Weiss/JoAnn Falletta) Naxos – 8.559705 – April 2012/1 DL Roundup or one of André Previns recordings – for CBS (now Sony 82876787682), EMI (now Warner Parlophone 4332882 – review – or 9671352 – review and review) and Decca (4782120) all at mid price.
Of these the Browning/Szell remains the benchmark for the Barber, making a work thats less approachable than his Violin Concerto more amenable and, adverse comments which Ive seen about the quality of the UK CD aside, this remains my benchmark. By comparison, if you didnt know the music I think youd have to listen to the concerto several times in the new Chandos recording to get into the music. In some ways this may be the more idiomatic reading of a work that makes few concessions.
The other concertos are less well known, largely, I think, because their respective composers better-known works (Appalachian Spring, Rhapsody in Blue) have overshadowed them. Coupling them with this competitive version of the Barber should help to get them better known, as they deserve to be, especially the short jazz-inspired Copland. The Gershwin may not have the pizzazz of Rhapsody in Blue but it receives an idiomatic performance here which reminds us that its at least by the same composer.
Both Xiayin Wang and the RSNO play very well under the direction of Peter Oundjian; if this is the coupling that appeals to you, I see no good reasons not to go for it. The 24/96 Chandos download is clearly superior to the older CBS/Sony recordings in particular and the download comes complete with pdf booklet. Try listening via Naxos Music Library if you can.
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1977) Britten 100: Britten to America
The Ascent of F6: Incidental music [32:50]
An American in England: Women of Britain [17:30]
Roman Wall Blues [2:19]
On the Frontier: Incidental music [23:20]
Britain to America: Where do we go from here? [2:06]
Samuel West (narrator), Andrew Kennedy (tenor), Jean Rigby (mezzo), Mary Carewe (mezzo), Huw Watkins (piano)
Ex Cathedra/Jeffrey Skidmore
Hallé Orchestra/Sir Mark Elder, Harry Ogg – rec. 2013. DDD
Pdf booklet included
NMC NMCD190 [78:41] Due for release on 9 December 2013.
NMC round off Britten centenary year with some minor works which have never been recorded. I cant claim that there are any neglected masterpieces among these settings of words by WH Auden, Christopher Isherwood and Louis MacNeice, made on his return from America with Peter Pears during World War II. The music was written at the time that Peter Grimes and the Serenade for tenor, horn and orchestra were gestating and shares some of the qualities of those works, to which it forms an interesting pendant. Though a conscientious objector, Britten did his bit for the war effort with two of these works, An American in England and Britain to America, BBC/NBC co-productions designed to make the people of the USA aware of wartime conditions in the UK.
The music is dated only in the same sense that Audens poetry of the period is dated, i.e. its clearly of its time, but it still has relevance in a world about to remember the outbreak of WWI and, inevitably, WWII. The performances could hardly be bettered, so that if any of these works should be recorded again, they would serve as benchmarks. At the time of writing the album is scheduled for release on CD in early December, when I take it that it will also appear as a download from Amazon and iTunes, though in mp3, not in the lossless (wav) format which I received for review.
Benjamin BRITTEN Works for string orchestra
Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge, Op.10 [27:12]
Simple Symphony, Op.4 [17:34]
Lachrymae for viola and strings, Op.48a [14:15]
Two Portraits [13:44]
Elegy for Strings (world premiere recording) [8:10]
Camerata Nordica/Terje Tønnesen
Pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-2060 [80:55] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)
I could easily have made this my Discovery of the Month – not for the music, of which there are several rival recordings, but for the performances. Expectations can be extremely deceptive. My first thought on seeing a Norwegian orchestra performing Britten was Dr Johnsons remark about a female preacher he had heard – that it wasnt well done but, as in the case of seeing a dog standing on its hind legs, the miracle was that it was done at all. I dont know what the good – but highly prejudiced, even for his own day – Doctor would have thought of women priests and bishops or of Brittens music, let alone in a Norwegian performance, but even on first run-through I was very favourably impressed with the power of this performance of the Bridge Variations, enhanced as always by the immediacy of the BIS recording, especially in 24-bit format.
Im not going to abandon the excellent budget-price Andrew Davis recording of the Variations (Warner Apex 8573890822, with Young Persons Guide – review of earlier 4-CD release) or Ivan Volkovs of Lachrymæ (Hyperion CDA67801 – Recording of the Month: review and DL Roundup February 2012/1), but this new recording runs them very close. The remaining works here also rival other recordings, including Brittens own account of the entertaining Simple Symphony. With a unique coupling and the inclusion of a first recording, this is well worth considering.
String Quartet No. 1 in D, Op.25 (1941) [24:11]
String Quartet No. 2 in C, Op.36 (1945) [26:52]
String Quartet No. 3, Op.94 (1975) [25:33]
Takács Quartet – rec. February 2013. DDD
Pdf booklet included.
HYPERION CDA68004 [75:53] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)
String Quartet No. 1 in D, Op.25 [25:44]
String Quartet No. 2 in C, Op.36 [27:26]
String Quartet No. 3, Op.94 [25:33]
Three Divertimenti [9:52]
The Endellion String Quartet – rec. July 2013. DDD.
WARNER 2564642008 [53:10 + 35:25] – from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library
String Quartet No.1 in D, Op.25 [21:21]
Alla Marcia (1933) [3:08]
String Quartet No.3 [26:17]
Emperor Quartet – rec. May 2005. DDD/DSD.
pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-1570 [55:40] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library
Takács: renowned for their Beethoven and Schubert recordings, the Takács Quartet now turn their attention to Britten. With slightly faster tempi than the Endellion Quartet, they fit all three regular quartets on one CD, which makes them good value; mp3 and 16-bit lossless are available for only a little more than the Endellions download, with 24-bit just a little extra. The recordings, made in Nimbuss Wyastone Hall Studios, are very good.
Endellion: This is a new recording made in July 2013, not a reissue of their older performances, which remain available in a 6-CD box, also in 13-CD and 37-CD sets. The three numbered quartets could have been fitted on one CD, with a squeeze, so spreading to a second disc, even with the addition of the short Divertimenti, makes this less attractive than the Hyperion on CD, but the sainsburysentertainment.co.uk price of £6.99 redresses the balance.
Emperor: This is also rather short value, but the eclassical.com per-second pricing policy takes care of that. To obtain their recording of No.2, however, involves the purchase of a second disc or download, BIS-SACD-1540, on which youll also find the Three Divertimenti, the Miniature Suite and the String Quartet in D. If there were prizes for best cover, these BIS recordings, sporting Maggi Hamblings giant Sea Shell, would win it.
All three recordings are well worth considering but for the convenience of having all three acknowledged quartets on one recording and for the quality of performances and recording my final vote goes to the Takács on Hyperion.
Music of England Volume 5
Malcolm ARNOLD Symphony No.3 [34:54]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Malcolm Arnold ADD/stereo
George BUTTERWORTH A Shropshire Lad – Rhapsody [8:24]
Hallé Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult – rec. 1942. ADD/mono
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony No.3 (Pastoral) [25:40]
Margaret Ritchie (soprano); London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult ADD/mono
BEULAH 5PD76 [78:23] – from iTunes and Amazon.co.uk (mp3)
Beulah are giving us Sir Adrian Boults mono recordings of the VW symphonies piecemeal, coupled with other 20th-century English music. Unless you must have all your VW together, this is an excellent scheme, especially when the couplings are as good as they are here.
Arnolds own recording of his Third Symphony, made for Everest, is definitive; it comes in a very good transfer and in stereo. There is a CD reissue on the Phoenix label but its currently out of stock in the UK and its considerably more expensive. Fans of hi-res sound may wish to wait to see if it reappears from HD Tracks, like some of the other Everest reissues which Ive listed earlier, but most will be happy with Beulahs transfer – if iTunes and Amazon can preserve in mp3 the quality of the lossless (wav) version which I received for review.
Ive sung the praises of Boults 1950s Decca recordings of VW, even in preference to his EMI stereo remakes, so often that I need hardly repeat them here. Inevitably, the mono sound cannot match the quality of the Arnold recording but the transfer is as good as any that Ive heard.
Boults Shropshire Lad is also mono and a touch dry, but well transferred considering its 78 provenance, and the performance captures the magic of the music. The 1942 version was chosen because Boults 1954 recording is already available separately from Beulah Extra.
Music of England Volume 6
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
Fantasia on Greensleeves [4:44]
English Folk Song Suite [10:54]
Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult – rec. 1959. ADD/stereo
Sir Edward ELGAR Falstaff – Symphonic Study in C, Op.68 [33:41]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult – rec. 1956. ADD/stereo
Sir Edward ELGAR Chanson de Nuit, Op.15/1 [4:07]
Chanson de Matin, Op.15/2 [3:22]
George BUTTERWORTH The Banks of Green Willow – Idyll for Orchestra [5:23]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult – rec. c.1954. ADD/mono
Gustav HOLST The Perfect Fool, ballet music, H150 (Op.39) [10:31]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult – rec. 1955. ADD/mono
BEULAH 6PD76 [72:41] – from amazon.co.uk or iTunes (mp3)
In many respects this is the most attractive of Beulahs recent releases. Whatever other, more recent, recordings you may have of some or all of the music, this album is well worth acquiring – 73 minutes of classic performances, mostly in decent stereo and all of it well refurbished. Whether you choose iTunes or Amazon, its all yours for less than £8. I thoroughly enjoyed making the acquaintance of all these recordings again and not just for the sake of nostalgia.
The VSOO items were made by Westminster and represent the best of the recordings which Boult made for them – the Viennese orchestras Planets and Tallis Fantasia from the same period were less than idiomatic. Falstaff comes from a recording made for Pye/Nixa in 1956 and while there are some moments of insecurity in the playing, they can easily be discounted in such an idiomatic performance. The recording sounds very well for its date. Only a preference for Sir Adrians less than ideal 1973 EMI recording would preclude purchasing this version.
Boults Butterworth on its Ace of Clubs reissue, with music by Walton and Van Beinums Elgar (The Wand of Youth), was my introduction to The Banks of Green Willow and A Shropshire Lad; its very sensitively performed and the recording still sounds well. Boults stereo remake is available from Lyrita (SRCD.245: Recording of the Month – review, review and review). Boults Perfect Fool in its stereo remake remains available on a 2-CD British Collection set of Holsts music (4701912) or Australian Eloquence (4802323, 2 CDs, with Bernard Herrmanns Planets) but the earlier performance is equally magic and the mono sound has come up very well in the Beulah refurbishment.
Brian Reinharts Reviews
Favourite Music for Wind Quintet
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Wind Quintet, Op. 43 (1922) [25:48]
Ferenc FARKAS (1905-1972)
Antique Hungarian Dances (1959) [9:32]
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Three Short Pieces (1930) [6:13]
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Three Shanties (1952) [7:04]
Frösunda Wind Quintet
rec. 16-18 March 1979, Wik Castle, Sweden
pdf booklet included
BIS-CD-136 [48:37] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library
This was one of eClassicals supercheap daily deals so I snapped up the FLACs. Its a sheer delight from first note to last. Seriously, if youre in the least interested by wind music you wont stop smiling. The Frösunda Quintet was a terrific ensemble with no weak links, and they have the amiable disposition to dispatch all these works with flair.
The Nielsen wind quintet is a repertoire classic, justifiably, and performed brilliantly, but everything else here is inexplicably rare. Farkas Hungarian Dance tunes are pure folksy pleasure. Malcolm Arnolds shanties and Jacques Iberts miniatures are sweet treats too.
The playing time is short (48 minutes), but remember, eClassical charges by length, so its going to be an even better bargain. Really, if you find yourself not having fun at any point during this program, call a mental health professional.
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Four violin concertos, The Four Seasons [40:38]
Violin Concerto in C, RV 171 [9:46]
Concerto for Strings in B flat, RV 163, Conca [3:27]
Fabio Biondi (violin); Europa Galante
rec. 1991, Graz, Austria
NAÏVE LA COLLECTION NC40018 [54:13] – from classicsonline.com (mp3 and lossless)
Older release on OP569120 available in mp3 and lossless from eclassical.com.
Naïve has started reissuing some classic baroque and classical repertoire in a budget line. They begin with, among other discs (one of which Ill get to right below), Fabio Biondis Four Seasons with Europa Galante. Take note: this is not the same recording that has appeared on Virgin Classics. The Virgin recording is gutsier, more dashing, and more eccentric. On it youre likely to hear less typical continuos (organs, lutes), and a bracing amount of novel phrasings, dynamic shifts, and ornamentations. Kirk McElhearn says of the newer Virgin recording, Not only is the performance itself far better, and more refined, but the sound is far cleaner and more limpid. The 1992 recording (which were discussing here – BR) sounds like a demo tape in comparison to this version.
The drama, eccentricity, and lively flair are all here, too. Theyre just different, and a little more restrained. Its a bit like hearing a jazz trio play the same songs on two different nights. The texts are the same, but everything feels a little different. I prefer the night on Virgin, but if you appreciate what Im saying about jazz and improvisatory elements, you will like comparing the two. The Virgin recording is my all-time favourite Four Seasons; this definitely still stands in the top ten. You get two concertos as a bonus, including the shortest Vivaldi concerto Ive ever heard: just three minutes!
(NB: the UK download price of £7.99 (mp3) or £10.99 (lossless) is not competitive with the eclassical.com price of $9.56 for mp3 and lossless. One of the online suppliers who advertise on MusicWeb International currently has the CD for £5.95, reduced from £8.15. Like BR, I rate the later Biondi recording on Virgin (now Erato) as one of my all-time favourites – review of budget box set of Op.3 and Op.8. BW.)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Clarinet Quintet in A, K581 [31:38]
Trio for viola, clarinet, and piano, Kegelstatt [19:36]
Wolfgang Meyer (clarinet), Patrick Cohen (fortepiano), Quatuor Mosaïques
rec. 1985 and 1993 (?), other info not provided
NAÏVE LA COLLECTION 40023 [51:14] – from classicsonline.com (mp3 and lossless)
Now heres another in that Naïve series, available in MP3 or FLAC. The Quatuor Mosaïques, probably the worlds leading period-instrument quartet, plays Mozarts Clarinet Quintet with Wolfgang Meyer. What is it with clarinettists being named Meyer? See also: Sabine and Paul.
This one is, Id say, not essential. The Kegelstatt Trio is a wonderful performance, with the period basset clarinet and fortepiano adding special interest. Patrick Cohen is excellent sitting in on piano. But the Mosaïques period instruments only succeed in making the writing of the quintet seem thicker, rougher. Its not like the performances are much faster than normal, theyre just fuller and darker in tone. This might appeal to you, or not. Personally I prefer the modern-instrument coupling of these two works starring the Prazak Quartet and Pascal Moraguès.
You should also be aware of another period-instrument recording of the clarinet quintet, coupled with a bunch of interesting unfinished works, even a world premiere.
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E major (ed. Skrowaczewski) (1881-83 rev. 1885) [68:56]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Stanisław Skrowaczewski.
rec. live, 24 October 2012, Royal Festival Hall, London. DDD
pdf booklet included
LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA LPO-0071 [68:56] – from classicsonline.com (mp3 or lossless)
Stanisław Skrowaczewski is one of the worlds leading Bruckner conductors. His recorded cycle on Oehms is one of the great ones – and one of the most underrated – and on this CD the London Philharmonic is performing from a version of the score which he edited himself. Unfortunately for my tastes, that means the second movement climax includes the timpani and cymbal crash, but hey, nobodys perfect.
This is certainly a very good performance. The LPO strings glow with health in the first two movements, and the trombones and tuba are impressive in the last. Especially finely shaped are the rather awkward secondary subjects in both of the first two movements. If youre sensing a but coming, here it is: I do prefer a slightly quicker basic pace in the finale – 12:51 here; only Sanderling live on Hänssler is both slower and better. The last movement does, just by a bit, lack the vital force of the first three.
To give you an idea of where Im coming from on this work, my reference recordings are Blomstedt/Dresden, Jochum (EMI), Sanderling, and for an eccentric (read: fast) alternative, Harnoncourt. Even in that company, this new album earns a place. Its a good start for the beginner and a treat for the connoisseur.
Recording of the Month:
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Prelude No. 25 in c-sharp minor, Op. 45 [5:09]
Three Mazurkas, Op. 50 [10:54]
Fantasy in f minor, Op. 49 [12:55]
Three Mazurkas, Op. 56 [12:08]
Berceuse in D flat, Op. 57 [4:51]
Three Mazurkas, Op. 59 [9:45]
Barcarolle in F sharp, Op. 60 [9:06]
Polonaise No. 7 in A flat, Op. 61, Polonaise-fantaisie [14:00]
Katarzyna Popowa-Zydrón, piano
rec. 7-9 September 2012, Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall, Warsaw
CD Accord ACD189-2 [78:52] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library (both with pdf booklet). Also available on CD from MusicWeb International.
Easy nominee for 2013 Best Album with the Worst Cover Art. Apparently they were going for a sort of White Album effect here, but the Chopin playing contained inside is far from bland or bizarre. Katarzyna Popowa-Zydrón delivers excellent playing of the Fantaisie in f minor and Barcarolle, plus a fairly quick, effective Berceuse and a big grab-bag of mazurkas. The mazurkas dont have as sharp a rhythmic profile as some competitors, but thats okay.
If it feels like theres not much to say, well, there isnt. This is consistently high quality, maybe not unforgettable but Popowa-Zydrón never puts a foot wrong and is never dull. Ive reviewed ten new Chopin releases in the last year and a half alone. For pure enjoyment this ranks second behind Yevgeny Sudbin and ahead of, among others, Lang Lang. By the way, Popowa-Zydrón was the piano teacher of Rafal Blechacz. She was in the Chopin competition herself once, the year of Krystian Zimermans triumph, but was knocked out of the derby by a nasty case of the flu.
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Piano Sonata No. 30, Op. 110 [20:15]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Piano Sonata No. 21, D960 [45:07]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849) Nocturne in C sharp minor, Op. posth. [4:06]
Menahem Pressler (piano)
rec. February-March 2012, Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk, England
pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-1999 [69:28] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library
What do we mean when we say an artist plays something “maturely? This is important because Menahem Presslers recital here, recorded at age 88, comes across as being profoundly mature.
Well, I think, for starters it means the playing is not impulsive. Pressler plays with care, with consideration, never indulging a chord or a particularly pretty moment at the expense of preservation of tempo, of a sonatas structure. Hes not exactly cautious, but hes also not exactly going to do anything you have never heard before.
It also means the playing is error-free. I dont mean technical errors although there is a pretty iffy moment in the Beethoven fugue. No, I mean errors in judgment or taste. Only the pickiest listener will ever say, thats too loud, thats too fast, that moment is underplayed; Pressler doesnt need to be contrarian to draw attention to himself. Heck, he doesnt need to draw attention to himself. His over fifty years with the Beaux Arts Trio have already established him as one of the great piano artists of the century.
Like his solo career, this disc isnt flashy. It isnt one-of-a-kind. The Beethoven is generous, broad in tempo, warm, like Gilels on DG but with a little less emotional power in the final fugue. Broad in tempo and warm also describe the Schubert, where the scherzo is slower than most, and also where the dissonances of the first movement are downplayed. That foreign, jarring E-natural in the beginning melodys second bar is totally inaudible. The Chopin nocturne is tenderly played, but not indulged, because Pressler knows you dont have to swoon over every phrase to convey its feeling.
So I guess mature also means literal in some ways. This recital is a whole lot less about the artist than it is about the composers. Its not attention-grabbing. I guess Im not totally thrilled, but thats because this is not the thrilling kind of pianism. While thrills can get old, good taste never does.