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DOWNLOAD NEWS 2013/17
by Brian Wilson

2013/16 is here and the index of earlier editions is here.

Last time I included an index and I’m repeating the experiment this time and making it cumulative: items marked 2013/16 are from the last edition and those marked BR are from Brian Reinhart’s reviews in that edition. I’ve also added my six Recordings of the Year (ROTY). = Recording/Bargain of the Month

AHO Symphony No.15, etc. (BIS) (2013/17)
ARNOLD Symphony No.3, with BUTTERWORTH Shropshire Lad; VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony No.3 (LPO/Arnold, Music of England 5, Beulah) (2013/16)
ARNOLD, FARKAS, IBERT, NIELSEN Music for Wind Quintet (BIS) (BR) (2013/16)
BACH CPE Symphonies (Manze, Harmonia Mundi) (2013/17)
BACH JS Complete extant works (Warner USB) (ROTY)
Trio Sonatas (+ VIVALDI) (Bream/Malcolm, RCA) (2013/17)
Advent Cantatas (Gardiner/SDG, Suzuki/BIS) (2013/17)
Christmas Oratorio (Layton, Hyperion) (2013/16); (Herreweghe, Erato) (2013/17)
Sacred Cantatas Volume 55 (Suzuki, BIS) (2013/16) (ROTY)
BARBER, COPLAND, GERSHWIN Piano Concertos (Wang/Oundjian, Chandos) (2013/16)
BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra (Stokowski) (Everest) (2013/16)
Miraculous Mandarin Suite; Music for strings, percussion and celesta; Four Pieces (Gardner, Chandos) (2013/17)
BEDNALL Welcome all Wonders (Queen’s College, Oxford, Signum) (2013/17)
BEETHOVEN Piano Concertos 1 and 3 (Jacoby, ICA) (2013/16)
Symphony No.7 (LSO/Krips, Everest) (2013/16)
Piano Sonatas 28-32 (Levit, Sony) (2013/16)
Piano Sonata No.30 (+ SCHUBERT Piano Sonata No.21, CHOPIN) (Pressler, BIS) (BR) (2013/16)
BERLIOZ Bi-centennial Edition (Davis, LSO Live) (ROTY)
BRAHMS Piano Concertos (Hough, Hyperion) (2013/17)
Violin Concerto (Wolf/Collins); Hungarian Dances (Schmidt-Isserstedt); Tragic Overture (Klemperer) (Beulah) (2013/16)
BRITTEN Violin Concerto, Sea Interludes (Orchid Classics) (2013/17)
Works for string orchestra (Camerata Nordica, BIS) (2013/16)
String Quartets (Takács, Hyperion; Endellion, Warner; Emperor, BIS) (2013/16)
A Ceremony of Carols (in Hodie) (Sixteen, Coro) (2013/16)
A Ceremony of Carols, Missa Brevis, etc. (Britten Choral Edition II, Finzi Singers, Chandos) (2013/17)
A Ceremony of Carols, Missa Brevis, etc (Westminster Cathedral, Hyperion) (2013/17)
Britten to America (Elder, NMC) (2013/16)
BRUCKNER Symphony No.7 (LPO/Skrowaczewski) (BR) (2013/16)
BUTTERWORTH Shropshire Lad (Hallé/Boult) (see Arnold) (2013/16)
Banks of Green Willow (LPO/Boult) (see Music of England 6) (2013/16)
† CHARPENTIER, Marc Antoine Noëls pour les Instruments (Ricercar) (2013/17)
CHILCOTT Rose in Winter (Commotio, Naxos) (2013/17)
CHOPIN Piano Works (Popowa-Zydrón, CD-Accord) (BR) (2013/16)
Nocturne in c-sharp minor (see Beethoven Piano Sonata No.30) (BR) (2013/16)
Nocturnes (Katin, Beulah) (2013/17)
COPLAND Piano Concerto (Chandos: see Barber) (2013/16)
CORRETTE Noël Symphonies (Arion Trio, Atma) (2013/16)
CORRETTE, DANDRIEU, DAQUIN Noëls (instrumental) (Les Boréades, Atma) (2013/16)
DAQUIN Noëls (organ) (Herrick, Hyperion) (2013/16)
DEBUSSY
La Mer (Munch) – see Music of France 1 (Beulah) (2103/17)
DOWLAND etc Jacobean Lute Music (Lindberg, BIS) (2013/17)
DUKAS
L’Apprenti sorcier (Solti) – see Music of France 1 (Beulah) (2013/17)
ELGAR Falstaff (Boult) (see Music of England 6) (2013/16)
GERSHWIN Piano Concerto (Chandos: see Barber) (2013/16)
HANDEL Organ Concertos, Op.4 (Richter, Beulah) (2013/16)
HAYDN Symphonies 96 and 97 (Van Beinum, Beulah) (2013/16)
HERTEL Die Geburt Jesu Christi (CPO) (2013/17)
HOLST Perfect Fool (LPO/Boult) (see Music of England 6) (2013/16)
† HUMPERDINCK Hansel and Gretel (in English) (Mackerras, Chandos) (2013/17)
HURLSTONE, HYDE, D’OLLONE and WIREN Piano Trios (Trio Anima Mundi, Divien Art) – also HURLSTONE Piano Concerto, Piano Trio, etc (Lyrita) (2013/17)
HYDE Piano Trio see Hurlstone
IBERT Music for Wind Quintet (see Arnold) (BIS) (BR) (2013/16)
GINASTERA Estancia, Panambi and VILLA LOBOS Little Train (Goossens, Everest) (2013/16)
JANÁČEK Sinfonietta; Glagolitic Mass (Mackerras, Ančerl) (Beulah)
LASSO Christmas Motets and Prophetiæ Sibyllarum (Weser-Renaissance, CPO) (2013/16)
LISZT Piano Music (Cameron, Cala) (2013/16)
MAHLER Symphony No.9 (Ludwig, Everest) (2013/16)
MENDELSSOHN String Quartet 5; Octet (Mandelring Quartet, Audite) (2013/17)
MESSIAEN La Nativité (Ericsson, BIS) (2013/17)
MOERAN Violin Concerto – see Vaughan Williams (Little/Davis, Chandos) (2013/17)
MONTEVERDI Heaven and Earth (King’s Consort, Vivat) (ROTY)
MORALES O Magnum mysterium (Cordes, CPO) (2013/17)
MOZART Clarinet Quintet and Trio (Naïve) (Meyer/Quatuor Mosaïques, BR) (2013/16)
MOZETICH, LANGER, SCHNITTKE, BENNETT Violin Works (Mints, Quartz) (2013/17)
NIELSEN Music for Wind Quintet (See Arnold) (BIS) (BR) (2013/16)
D’OLLONE Piano Trio see Hurlstone
PITTS, John Piano Music (Kings, 1equalvoice) (2013/17)
PROKOFIEV Lieutenant Kijé; SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No.9 (LSO/Sargent) (Everest) (2013/16)
PROKOFIEV Symphony No.5 (LSO/Sargent) (Everest) (2013/16)
RESPIGHI Pines and Fountains of Rome (Sargent, Everest) (2013/16)
SAINT-SAENS
Piano Concerto 2 (Lympany) see Music of France 1
SCARLATTI, A Pasotral Cantata (+ Christmas Concertos) (Standage, Chandos) (2013/17)
SCHNITTKE Konzert zu drei (see Mozetich) (2013/17)
SCHUBERT Works for Violin and Fortepiano II (Ross and Cole, Naxos) (2013/16)
SCHUBERT Piano Sonata No.21 (see Beethoven) (BIS) (BR) (2013/16)
SHEPPARD Sacred Choral Works (St John’s, Cambridge, Chandos)
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No.6; Stepan Razin (Polyansky, Chandos) (2013/16)
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No.9 (LSO/Sargent – see Prokofiev) (Everest) (2013/16)
Symphony No.9; Stepan Razin (Kondrashin, HDTT) (2013/16)
SIBELIUS Symphonies 1 and 4 (Vänskä, BIS) (2013/4, 2013/17)
† STRAUSS, R Die Frau ohne Schatten (Böhm, Naxos Archives) (2013/17)
SIBELIUS Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4 (Vänskä, BIS) (2013/17)
TAVERNER Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, Magnificats (2013/15) (2013/17) (ROTY)
TCHAIKOVSKY Nutcracker (Dutch National Ballet, Arthaus DVD and blu-ray) (ROTY)
Swan Lake (Järvi, Chandos) (2013/16)
TELEMANN Ouvertures (Orchestral Suites) (Zefiro, Arcana) (2013/17)
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony No.3 (LPO/Boult) (see Arnold) (2013/16)
Greensleeves Fantasia; English Folk Song Suite (Boult) (see Music of England 6) (2013/16)
The Lark Ascending with MOERAN, DELIUS and ELGAR (Little/Davis, Chandos) (2013/17)
On Wenlock Edge (+ DOVE, WARLOCK) (Padmore, Harmonia Mundi) (2013/17)
VILLA LOBOS Little Train of the Caipira (see Ginastera) (Everest) (2013/16)
VIVALDI Four Seasons and other concertos (Naïve) (Europa Galante/Biondi, BR) (2013/16)
VIVALDI Trio Sonatas (+ BACH) (Bream/Malcolm, RCA) (2013/17)
WIREN Piano Trio see Hurlstone
ZELENKA Magnificat, Christmas Mass, Dixit Dominus (L’arpa festante, Genuin) (2013/16)
Christmas Collections (Christophers, Coro; Vänskä, BIS; Hillier, Harmonia Mundi) (2013/16)
Christmas Collections ( RIAS Kammerchor/Rademann, Harmonia Mundi; Clare College, Harmonia Mundi); Holman, Hyperion; Verhoeff, Christophorus; Fullington, Loft; Adrenacci, K&K; Toronto Consort, Marquis; La Colombina, Accent; Ratstatt Ensemble, Carus; Various, Carus) (2013/17)
Nine Lessons and Carols (King’s) (2013/17)
Music of England 5 – see ARNOLD Symphony No.3 (Beulah) (2013/16)
Music of England 6: VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, ELGAR, BUTTERWORTH and HOLST (Beulah) (2013/16)
Music of France 1: THOMAS, SAINT-SAENS Piano Concerto 2 (Lympany); DUKAS L’Apprenti sorcier (Solti); DEBUSSY La Mer (Munch) (Beulah) (2013/17)
† Swingin’ at Maida Vale (Benny Carter, George Shearing, Beulah) (2013/17)
Piers Lane goes to town (Hyperion) (2013/17)
Digital Discoveries (British Music) (NMC) (2013/17)

Christmas Recordings

Despite all the hype that brings the Christmas decorations out in shops and restaurants ever earlier – the season to be jolly now seems to have been brought forward to mid-September – for millions of people all over the world the festival really begins when the single chorister intones Once in Royal David’s City as the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, processes into the chapel on Christmas Eve. Over the years Decca and EMI have brought out selections from the service but last year the college opened business on their own record label with the complete 2010 service directed by Stephen Cleobury, plus some additional items, including a roll-call of the Cleobury commissions (KGS0001, 2 CDs). See John Quinn’s review for details; download from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library. Both come with pdf booklet but its legibility will depend on the size of your monitor – it’s just legible on a 23" screen.

Christmas Recording of the Month
Christmas! Noël! Weihnachten!
Felix MENDELSSOHN BARTHOLDY (1809-1847)
Frohlocket, ihr Völker auf Erden, Op.79/1 [1:38]
Uwe GRONOSTAY (1939-2008) Die Nacht ist vorgedrungen [2:26]
Johann ECCARD (1553-1611) Ich lag in tiefster Todesnacht [2:46]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920) In der Christnacht, Op.60/1 [3:39]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf, Op.74/2 [5:37]
Johann ECCARD Nun liebe Seel, nun ist es Zeit [2:59]
Über’s Gebirg Maria geht [3:07]
Arvo PÄRT (b.1935) Magnificat [6:47]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Ave Maria [3:47]
Virga Jesse [5:01]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963) Salve Regina [4:20]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907) Ave maris stella [3:32]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621) Hodie Christus natus est [3:16]
Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621) In dulci jubilo [4:23]
Es ist ein Ros entsprungen [3:01]
Francis POULENC Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël [11:09]
Eusebius MANDYCZEWSKI (1857-1929) Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! [3:57]
RIAS Kammerchor/Hans-Christoph Rademann – rec. January 2013. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902170 [70:00] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

Hans-Christoph Rademann is a most versatile conductor with a range from Schütz and the Bach family to Wolfgang Rihm and a considerable discography on Carus and Harmonia Mundi. There’s also some unusual fare here that’s well worth listening to. Hands up those who had even heard of Eusebius Mandyczewski, though his setting of Stille Nacht! will sound familiar enough. Beautiful singing from the RIAS Choir and a fine booklet of notes make this very enjoyable. If I must choose a memorable track it has to be their performance of Arvo Pärt’s setting of the Magnificat.

The recording is very good. One small oddity: the 24-bit version of this download comes unusually at 24/48– you may need to reset your DAC.

Veni Emmanuel: Music for Advent
Chant: Veni, veni Emmanuel
William BYRD: Vigilate
Antiphon I: O Sapientia
Herbert HOWELLS: The fear of the Lord
Antiphon II: O Adonaï
Roderick WILLIAMS: O Adonai, et Dux domus
Antiphon III: O Radix Jesse
Michael PRAETORIUS (arr. Jan SANDSTRÖM) Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen
Antiphon IV: O Clavis David
John SHEPPARD: Audivi vocem de cælo
Antiphon V: O Oriens
John RUTTER: Hymn to the Creator of Light
Johann Sebastian BACH: Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV436
Felix MENDELSSOHN: Say, where is He born, there shall a star from Jacob (Christus)
Antiphon VI: O Rex Gentium
Peter WARLOCK: Bethlehem Down
Graham ROSS: I sing of a maiden*
Antiphon VII: O Emmanuel
John TAVENER: God is with us
Antiphon VIII: O Virgo virginum
Sergei RACHMANINOV: Bogoroditse Dyevo
Herbert HOWELLS: Magnificat (Gloucester Service)
Graham ROSS/Traditional O Come, O come, Emmanuel* (adapted from a French Missal)
* world première recordings
Nicolas Haigh (organ scholar); Choir of Clare College, Cambridge/Graham Ross – rec. 2012.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU907579 [76:31] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

Because the University term is over by early December, several Cambridge colleges have developed a tradition of holding an Advent Sunday carol service; that from St John’s has been broadcast by BBC Radio 3 for several years. This one, from Clare, is about as good as you could hope for, with an attractive combination of old and new, well sung and recorded. I’ve been pleased to see the record companies recently giving chances to the Oxford and Cambridge colleges who are not normally associated with music and this is a good example.

Those who find John Rutter’s music saccharine should be more impressed with his Hymn to the Creator of Light and the late John Tavener’s God is with us is a tribute to his memory, though not so intended when it was recorded. Only the protracted ending of the arrangement of Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen struck a less than ideal note for me. I’m not sure why eclassical.com provide two identical booklets.

(See also review by John Quinn.)

Heiligste Nacht: Music for Advent and Christmas by BUXTEHUDE, VIVALDI, TELEMANN, HOMILIUS, Michael HAYDN, MENDELSSOHN, REGER and SAINT-SAËNS
Performers include Dresden Chamber Choir, Vocal Consort and Instrumental Concert; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Talinn Chamber Orchestra; Stuttgart Chamber Choir and Orchestra; Ratstatt Vocal Ensemble; Vienna Chamber Choir and Orchestra; I Vocalisti; Württemberg Chamber Orchestra of Heilbronn. Rec.? (P) 2007-2011. DDD.
CARUS 83.369 [78:55] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, no booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library (with minimalist pdf booklet)

This is a very mixed bag indeed – music for Advent and Christmas beginning with a stylish performance of the Sinfonia and Chorus of Buxtehude’s Ihr lieben Christen, freut euch nun, BuxWV51, and ending with the inevitable Stille Nacht. An attractive collection, despite its very mixed pedigree, and well recorded, but the lack of texts is a handicap – even the ‘booklet’ which Naxos Music Library and classicsonline.com offer contains only the front and rear covers together with a list of contents which duplicates the rear cover.

The inclusion of snippets from the Vivaldi Gloria and Stille Nacht, of each of which you may well have more than one recording, is also a negative consideration.

Nativity: Christmas Music from Georgian England

Luke Green (organ); Psalmody; The Parley of Instruments/Peter Holman – rec. 2003. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts included
HYPERION CDA67443 [71:06] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Despite the warm welcome that it received ten years ago, the CD is now available only from the Archive Service but the download is readily available. Some of the composers are anonymous and even those named you will probably never have heard of, so this could be just what you are looking for to break the mould of familiarity this Christmas. Only the setting of Lo he comes with clouds descending, still in use today, Joy to the World, Thomas Adams’ organ variations on Adeste fideles and the hymn itself, are at all likely to be familiar.

The music is charming and accomplished rather than complex or memorable, but it’s all very enjoyable and helps to dispel the idea that Christmas was a cheerless affair in the late eighteenth century. You may recall that the ‘highlight’ of the feast in Silas Marner was the baking of lard cakes with IHS pricked on them and the recitation of the Athanasian Creed with its ferocious damnations of all unbelievers at Mattins. Some of the music recorded here would have helped soften the occasion; in fact two ‘carrils’ are mentioned in the book, God rest you merry, gentlemen and Hark the erol angils [sic] sing. Neither of these is recorded here but the latter is included on another enjoyable recording by the same performers of English Christmas music from this period on budget-price Hyperion Helios CDH55325review and Christmas Downloads 2009.

Christmas in Russia: Russian Orthodox Christmas Vigil
Andrey Bliznyuk (priest); Alexy Zaitsev, Vladislav Sokolov (deacon)
Don Cossack Choir/Marcel Nikolayevich Verhoeff – rec.2008. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts (in Cyrillic) and translations included
CHRISTOPHORUS CHR77336 [76:21] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

Unless you are Russian, Bulgarian or Ukrainian, the music here is likely to be just as much out-of-the-way as on the Hyperion recording above. It’s the Christmas Eve version of what is sometimes known as All Night Vespers, actually Compline and Matins of the greater feasts, in this case of Christmas, celebrated in Russia on 6 January.

I take the performances, given their source and the fact that they were recorded in a church in Moscow, to be authentic – they certainly sound so and they are well recorded: turn down the volume a notch or two.

An American Christmas: Shapenote Carols from New England and Appalachia
Tudor Choir/Doug Fullington – rec. 2002. DDD
LOFT LRCD-1060 [78:20] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, no booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library (with booklet of texts and music examples)

Shape-notes originated in New England in the late eighteenth-century as a simple notation for congregational singing. Unlike tonic sol-fa, the notes are printed on a musical stave, with the shape of the note representing the pitch. Some of the music on this anthology will be more familiar than that on the Hyperion recording, though not in the simpler, mostly unison settings performed here: as the booklet puts it, these are ‘old favorites in unfamiliar guises and … now obscure songs that were once as familiar to rural Americans as “White Christmas” is now’.

The Tudor Choir and their director Doug Fullington, who sang with the Tallis Scholars on their US tour in 2000, are past masters in this repertoire. There’s a particularly fine performance of a canonical setting of While shepherds watched, where the choir’s virtuosity nevertheless retains some of the rawness of rural singing. With good recording, this is most enjoyable; it’s just a shame that you can obtain the booklet only if you can obtain it from the Naxos Music Library or by downloading in mp3 from classicsonline.com.

South American Christmas: Es Sol claro e luciente
Grupo de Canto Coral Buenos Aires/Nestor E Adrenacci – rec.?
K&K VERLAGSANSTALT KuK296 [40:48] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless, no booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library (with pdf booklet).

Vigorous Baroque Latin American Christmas music in vigorous performances and recorded live at a UNESCO concert at Kloster Maulbronn. As well as Iberian composers, of whom the best-known is Juan de Araujo – Los coflades de la estleya – ‘the companions of the star are going to Bethlehem’, track 9 – there’s traditional Amerindian repertoire. For all the vigour of the opening traditional cachuas, the third track, Juan García de Zéspedes’ Convidando está la noche – ‘the night is inviting’ – outdoes them rhythmically. There’s gentle music here, too, such as Gaspar Fernandes’ lullaby Mi niño dulce e sagrado – ‘my sweet holy child’ – on track 4.

At 41 minutes, this is all too short; the eclassical.com per-second pricing policy takes care of that, but surely the audience on the night got more? Unfortunately, too, the booklet contains no texts, only first lines and translations of them, though you should find some of the texts online. Be aware that eclassical.com have two versions of this download with different covers, for the same price in mp3 and 16-bit lossless; only the version listed above also comes in 24-bit sound for a little more. There’s also an mp3-only download from classicsonline.com, with pdf booklet, for just £4.99.

There’s a longer selection of Christmas Music from Latin America and Spain from The Toronto Consort/David Fall is on Marquis Classics MAR-435 [67:51] – rec. 2011, from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

There’s one overlap – another version of Convidando está la noche – and you may well have one or more recordings of the ubiquitous Riu, riu, chia, but this also is an enjoyable set of performances, slightly more refined than the K&K but equally lively, well recorded, albeit mp3 only, and with pdf booklet containing helpful notes but no texts.

More refined still is Christmas in Spain and the Americas in the Sixteenth Century (La Colombina, Accent ACC96114 [70:05]) from classicsonline.com (mp3, with pdf booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library. There are Latin settings here by composers such as Victoria, Guerrero and Morales but also texts in Spanish which were interspersed in the office of the day at Christmas, not always with the approval of the authorities but always enjoyable.

The four singers of La Colombina perform all this music with aplomb and with evident enjoyment and the 1996 recording, even though mp3 only, is good. This time the booklet includes texts and translations.

Assisi Christmas Cantatas consists of premiere recordings of music associated with Assisi by Italian composers of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Apart from Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, Op.6/8 – a shame that it’s included, as you’re likely to have at least one recording – the only composer that you’re likely to have heard of is Nicola Porpora (Stelle lucide). Ruth Ziesak (soprano), Ingeborg Dansk (contralto) and L’Arte del Mondo are directed by Werner Erhardt in fine performances of unfamiliar but attractive repertoire. (Phoenix 149 [67:32] – rec. 2008.) For full track details see review by Johan van Veen. From eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, no booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library with pdf booklet of texts and translations.

It’s back to German-speaking Central and Northern Europe for a collection of Advent and Christmas music, Freue dich, du Tochter Sion – ’Rejoice, O daughter of Sion’ – from Ratstatt Vocal Ensemble on Carus 83.393 [57:40] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

The music is by Hammerschmidt, Selle, Eccard, Schein, Prætorius, Rosenmüller, Lübeck and Bernhard and none of it is likely to be too familiar. There’s no booklet with this one, only the titles on the back cover. You may find a lossless version from eclassical.com if you wait a little longer.

Johann Wilhelm HERTEL (1727-1789) Die Geburt Jesu Christi (The birth of Jesus Christ)
Berit Norbakken Solset, Alexandra Rawohl (sopranos); Marcus Ullmann (tenor); Wolf-Matthias Friedrich (bass)
Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens – rec. January 2013. DDD.
CPO 7778092 [63:35] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, no booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library (with abridged pdf booklet – track listing but no texts)

Don’t expect anything close to matching Bach’s Christmas Oratorio or Schütz’s Geburt Jesu Christi, but this is attractive music, well performed and recorded. No texts, however.

Cristóbal de MORALES (c.1500-1553)
O magnum mysterium and other Christmas motets are performed by Weser-Renaissance/Manfred Cordes on CPO 7778202 [69:18], recorded in January 2013 – from eclassical.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library. Neither offers the booklet though NML do give you the back cover with the list of tracks and timings.

These are attractive performances of Morales’ intricate polyphony, though I marginally prefer the Brabant Ensemble on Hyperion in O magnum mysterium (with Magnificat and Lamentations, CDA67694review).


Christmas Recording of the Month
Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704)
Noëls pour les instruments, H534, plus Christmas music in instrumental arrangements, and his settings of other French carols feature on a new recording from Ricercar alongside music for Benediction (pour un reposoir) which gives its name to the collection. The collection concludes with his Sonata à8, H548a. Performances by Les Dominos and Les Agréments are directed by Florence Malgoire (RIC338) from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library, both with large pdf booklet of texts and translations.

The performances here a shade less unbuttoned than one some other recordings of this repertoire – more Noëls by Corette and Daquin feature in 2013/16 – but the whole album is very enjoyable.

Bob CHILCOTT (b.1955) The Rose in the Middle of Winter
Commotio/Matthew Berry – rec. April 2013
Pdf booklet with texts included
NAXOS 8.573159 [79:29] – from classicsonline.com (mp3 and lossless flac) or stream from Naxos Music Library

(for full details see review by John Quinn)

This latest offering from Bob Chilcott has been hailed, with justification, as in the John Rutter mould and there’s nothing wrong with that in my book, though I know some traditionalists for whom anything of that sort is anathema.

John Quinn has said it all in his review, so I need only add that the download does justice to the music, performance and recording. Not too sure about the cover shot of the rose, though – I thought it was a cross-section of a frozen red cabbage at first.

David BEDNALL (b.1979)
Welcome all Wonders – A Christmas Cantata (2011)
Choir of The Queen’s College, Oxford/Owen Rees
Olivia Clarke and Paul Manley (organ); Simon Desbruslais (trumpet) – rec. March 2012. DDD
pdf booklet with texts included
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD335 [77:52] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Once again I refer you to John Quinn for a detailed review of this ‘original and very rewarding addition to the Christmas choral repertoire’. Without any collusion between us, you can be pretty certain that our preferences coincide, so once more it remains only for me to add that this is powerful music, not particularly ’Christmassy’ in the conventional sense and certainly not over-sweet – track 3, A Virgin shall conceive, sounds more like Wilfred Owen’s ’bugles calling … from sad shires’. It’s all well performed and recorded. the full booklet comes with the download and the mp3 download (no lossless equivalent on this occasion) is good.

Try either the Chilcott or the Bednall from Naxos Music Library, as I did, and you’ll want the classicsonline.com download – again, as I did. A small grumble: the texts of the first two sections is from Pope, about whose ‘poetry’ I concur with Keats (‘rocking horse rhyme’) but things get much better thereafter, with words by the likes of Milton and Crashaw.

Weihnachten durch die Jahrhunderte
II
(Christmas through the Centuries II)
Performers include Camerata Vocale Freiburg, Augsburger Domsingknaben, Knabenchor Hannover, Flautando Köln
Pdf booklet included – no texts.
ARS MUSICI AM233746 [70:58 + 74:27] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

(Full list of contents and performers online at classicsonline.com or naxosmusiclibrary.com.)

The programme, a mix of the reasonably familiar and the unfamiliar, contains what it says on the tin – beginning with chant and proceeding via the likes of Senfl and Prætorius to excerpts from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio which end CD1. CD2 commences with Leopold Mozart’s Musical Sleighride – not Christmas music specifically, but wintry – and proceeds via Haydn. Mendelssohn and Reger to excerpts from Alfred Koerppen’s (b.1926) Zu Weihnachten in Deutschland at the end. If Koerppen’s dates fill you with dread at the prospect of neo-post-serial racket – whatever that might be – let me assure you that his Christmas music, also available complete on AM232344, from Naxos Music Library, is very traditional. The bells of Freiburg Munster frame the whole programme.

Performances are variable – the trebles on some of the tracks on CD1 are a bit painful to hear – but generally good/very good and the recording does them justice. The lack of texts in the booklet creates a problem, however.

I haven’t had time to hear Volume I (AM233599), but it, too, is available for download from classicsonline.com.

Incarnation
Matthew MARTIN
Adam lay ybounden [3·39]
Veni, Veni Emanuel (13th century) [3:30]
Herbert HOWELLS Long, long ago [6:00]
Lullay, lullay: Als I lay on Yoolis Night (14th century) [7:16]
Francis POTT Balulalow [2:56]
Qui creavit celum (13th/14th century) [2:52]
Jonathan DOVE The Three Kings [4:37]
This endere nyghth I saw a syghth (15th/16th century) [7:06]
Kenneth LEIGHTON A Hymn of the Nativity [6:54]
Letabundus (12th/13th century) [3:23]
Benjamin BRITTEN A Boy was Born [29:10]
Trebles of Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir
Gabrieli Consort/Paul McCreesh – rec. December 2012. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts included
SIGNUM SIGCD346 [77:25] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

I’m delighted to see Paul McCreesh’s own Winged Lion label, in conjunction with Signum, renewing the tradition of a Christmas album from the Gabrielis, such as DG Archiv used to produce. The blurb describes this as: An inspiring sequence of Christmas music ancient and modern, culminating in Britten’s virtuosic choral masterpiece, A Boy Was Born. I can’t really argue with that. Britten apart, there’s an interesting blend here of old (12th/13th to 15th/16th centuries) and new, with three living composers, Messrs Martin (b.1976), Pott (b.1957) and Dove (b.1959).

There’s nothing to rival the Britten but everything here receives a performance of such quality as to make the whole programme very worthwhile and the recording is very good. Only the inclusion of the Britten makes me hesitate – very slightly – to commend this to those who already have good recording of A Boy was Born.

Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992) La Nativité du Seigneur, 9 méditations pour orgue (1935)
Hans-Ola Ericsson (1987 Grønlund Organ of Luleå Cathedral) – rec.1988. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
BIS-CD-410 [61:13] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

This is a good time of year to remind you of the review of this recording which Dan Morgan and I wrote in September 2011.

The links to passionato.com downloads listed there no longer apply; choose the eclassical.com link or you may wish to consider Olivier Latry’s complete set of Messian Organ Works on DG from 7digital.com.

If you were entranced by hearing the beautiful Alessandro SCARLATTI Pastoral Cantata played by Rob Cowen on Radio 3 on 8 December, let me remind you of its availability from theclassicalshop.net. CHAN0754 contains the Scarlatti plus Telemann’s In dulci jubilo and Christmas concertos by Manfredini, Vivaldi and Corelli; in the run-up to Christmas this is being offered at £2.49 (mp3) or £3.99 (lossless).

I thought this virtually self-recommending – DL Roundup December 2008 – and still do. Be aware, however, that Johan van Veen was much less impressed – review.

***

NMC Recordings

NMC have released a special set of eight CDs, available singly or collectively, entitled Digital Discoveries (British Music Collection). Individual volumes can be downloaded for £5.99 (mp3) or £6.99 (flac) and the complete set costs £35 – details from nmcrec.co.uk. I have to admit that on first hearing much of the music lies outside my comfort zone but new music of this kind tends to grow on me and I’m persevering, so I’d encourage even crusty old traditionalists like myself to give it a go.

The NMC Britten recording which I reviewed in 2013/16 (NMC D190) can be downloaded in mp3 or flac or ordered on CD from nmcrec.co.uk. It’s also available from amazon.co.uk and iTunes.

***

Archipel Machaut – Medieval Music and New Music
Mixtura; Katharina Bäuml (shawm); Margit Kern (accordion)
rec. 5-8 November 2012, Hainsfarth Synagogue, Hainsfarth, Germany
Pdf booklet included
GENUIN GEN13284 [66:39] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

(see review by Jake Barlow for full track details)

This one slipped past me until Jake Barlow chose it as one of his Recordings of the Year. I must admit to normally being underwhelmed by arrangements of medieval music with modern instruments – even by the much-feted Officium CDs – and by combinations of old and new. This one, however, works well for me, not so much that I might have made it my Recording of the Year but well enough for me to enjoy it.

Those of a nervous disposition might be well advised to skip the penultimate track, OD.

John TAVERNER (c.1490-1545)
Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas [41:21]
Magnificat for four voices [11:04]
Magnificat for five voices [13:23]
Magnificat for six voices [13:13]
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips – rec. Merton College Chapel, Oxford, 2013. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
GIMELL CDGIM045 [79:03] – from gimell.com (mp3 and various 16– and 24-bit lossless formats) or hyperion-records-co.uk (mp3, 16/44.1, 24/96 and 24/176.4)

I’ve already made this Recording of the Month (2013/15) and it’s also one of my Recordings of the Year, so I’m not surprised that Geoff Molyneux has also fallen for its charms:

The Tallis Scholars and their director Peter Phillips crown forty years’ achievement in performing and recording polyphony with this magnificent performance of Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas by John Taverner. One of this composer’s greatest works, the Missa is also one of the most difficult to perform. For example, in the very first section, Gloria we hear some very high passages in the sopranos, performed here seemingly effortlessly and with great beauty. Generally speaking the singers must excel in very wide registers and the Tallis Scholars are certainly not wanting in this regard.

For much of the time there are two voices to a part but sometimes only one, and this provides for an enormous variety of textural possibilities. The ear never tires of hearing ever-new textures, performed here with great sensitivity and variety of mood, dynamics and expression. Excellent balance is always maintained even when the vocalists are working so hard to achieve perfect intonation, particularly in passages in high registers.

Each section of the Missa is quite long but the singers maintain the intensity and concentration throughout, and the quality of the performance is never compromised. Overall, Peter Phillips and his singers seem to have a rather more relaxed view of this work than on their earlier recording from 1983. No doubt this is the result of so many years of experience in performing this style of music.

It is all beautifully and expressively phrased and Peter Phillips displays his usual ear for balance as well as an ability to steer these lengthy and complex movements to successful climaxes.

The three settings of the Magnificat are equally well performed. The four voice version is the easiest to listen to as the points of imitation make the structure very clear. The five voice Magnificat sounds very different, partly due to the lower voices being used. Listen for example to the gorgeous texture at Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est and also to the final section, Gloria. The beautiful deep sound is tellingly interrupted by the sopranos for the concluding line of the text. The extreme difficulty and virtuosic technique required in the performance of the Magnificat for six voices reminds us of the Missa. This is very much evidenced in the magnificent account of the Gloria Patri, et Filio which brings this superb recording to its conclusion.

As usual on Gimell recordings the sound is excellent and benefits from the acoustics of the venue at the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford.

Geoffrey Molyneux

John SHEPPARD (c.1515/20-1558) Sacred Choral Works

Gaude gaude gaude Maria [14:00]
In pace in idipsum [6:09]
The Lord’s Prayer [3:01]
In manus tuas Domine [4:23]
Mass ’The Western Wynde’: Gloria [4:03]
Hæc Dies [2:34]
Mass ’The Western Wynde’: Credo [4:20]
Sanctus [3:10]
Benedictus [1:50]
Agnus Dei [5:03]
Christ rising again [3:48]
Spiritus Sanctus procedens II [9:58]
Æterne Rex altissime [4:24]
Libera nos 1 [3:18]
Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha – rec. January 2013. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
CHANDOS CHSA/CHAN0401 [70:01] – from theclassicalshop.net (SACD, mp3 16– and 24-bit lossless)

St John’s and Andrew Netsingha here boldly go where groups associated with the other, older university have made their mark – The Clerkes of Oxenford, The Tallis Scholars, The Sixteen and Christ Church Cathedral Choir in particular. My introduction to the music of John Sheppard came from The Clerkes and my benchmark for the Western Wind Mass is the Tallis Scholars’ recording, an added attraction of which is its availability in a 2-for-1 package (Gimell CDGIM210: Bargain of the Monthreview).

In direct comparison I’d still choose that Gimell recording for the Western Wind Mass, partly because I prefer to hear it in one go rather than divided into three sections, as on Chandos. I also prefer the slightly more leisurely pace at which Peter Phillips leads The Tallis Scholars on that recording. That’s not to say that it sounds rushed on Chandos, merely that I like the extra room to breathe which The Scholars give it – as also do The Sixteen and Harry Christophers on another splendid bargain set of English polyphonic music on Hyperion (CDS44401/10 – 10 CDs from hyperion-records.co.uk for £40 in mp3 or lossless: Bargain of the Monthreview).

In one important respect St John’s outshine even The Tallis Scholars. Archbishop Cranmer’s directive on setting English texts was designed to make the words paramount yet, though Sheppard’s setting of the Lord’s Prayer is simpler than his Latin works, it’s still hard to make the words audible. The Scholars have not recorded this, but they did include it in the concert in Canterbury on which I reported for Seen and Heard – here – and others have recorded it. I had yet to hear the words with any degree of clarity, even in the flesh in Canterbury, until this new Chandos recording, which achieves an ideal combination of words and music.

That’s partly due to the quality of the recording, especially in 24/96 format. The first time through I mistakenly left my DAC set at 24/44.1, which sounded fine, but re-setting it the next time round added a degree of sharpness to the sound which answers the question, is it worth paying a little more for the 24/96? On the other hand, if you’re looking to economise with the mp3, that’s pretty good, too. If you must have SACD or 24-bit download the Chandos recording is a must. If you prefer Sheppard’s music sung by an all-male choir, too, the St John’s recording will appeal, as will the recording of his Second Service and other works from Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford, with only a few items overlapping with St John’s, on Nimbus NI5480review.

In a spirit of ecumenism the new recording acknowledges Sheppard’s links with Oxford – specifically with Magdalen College – by including Magdalen Bridge and Tower on the cover and a 17th-century view of the College on page 2 of the booklet. The notes in the booklet are an additional recommendation, though I’m not sure why hæreses (heresies, false beliefs) in Gaude, gaude, virgo Maria is translated as ’rivalry of beliefs’.

Jacobean Lute Music
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
A Fancy; Battle Galliard; Sir John Langton’s Pavan
Thomas ROBINSON (c. 1560-1610) Merry Melancholy; A Galliard; Walking in a Country Town; A Gigue; The Spanish Pavan; A Gigue; A Toy; Row Well, you Mariners
Robert JOHNSON (c. 1583-1633) Pavan; Fantasia
Daniel BACHELER (1572-after 1610) Mounsiers Almain; Prelude; La Jeune Fillette; Courante; Pavan
Cuthbert HELY (fl. 1620-48) Fantasia; Saraband
Jacques GAULTIER [?] (fl. 1617-1652) Two Courantes; Cloches
Anonymous A Scottish Dance; Draw Near to Me and Love Me; Hence to me Molly Gray; A Scottish Tune; Scottish Hunts Up; Prelude; John Come Kiss Me Now
Jakob Lindberg (lute by Sixtus Rauwolf, Augsburg c.1590)
BIS BIS-SACD-2055 [81:12] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)
(Due for release on SACD in January 2014, but available for download in advance).

Of those masters of the lute who have flourished since the pioneering days of Julian Bream (see below) none has been more accomplished or productive than Jakob Lindberg – I count 42 recordings in the current catalogue, 35 of them for BIS, all available for download from eclassical.com. The music here is mostly less well known but well worth hearing in such fine performances, so well recorded.

Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1678-1741)
Ouvertures à 8 per tre oboi, fagotto, archi e continuo (Orchestral Suites)
Ouverture in D, TWV55:D15 [22:19]
Ouverture in d minor, TWV55:d3 [26:09]
Ouverture in B, TWV:B10 [24:49]
Zefiro/Alfredo Bernardini – rec. May 2010. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
ARCANA A371 [73:17] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Like the Orchestral Suites of Bach, Telemann’s Overture/Suites are composed of dance tunes, sometimes with thematic links between movements. Apart from a few well-known examples, however, Telemann’s are less well known and performed than the Bach, yet everything here is thoroughly delightful and the sprightly performances are highly enjoyable. The recording does full justice to the playing.

The opening Suite, D:15, also features on a BIS recording from L’Arte dei Suonatori which is also very enjoyable (BIS-SACD-1979review and DL News 2013/3). You can compare the two in Naxos Music Library; overall, the BIS recording digs a little deeper into the music and varies the mood more, whereas the new one on Arcana is more lively. Both are well worth consideration; the availability of 24-bit sound on BIS will appeal more to audiophiles but the 16-bit Arcana is very good.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Trio Sonata No.1 in E-flat, BWV525 [10:41]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Sonata in C, RV82 [10:03]
Johann Sebastian BACH Trio Sonata No.5 in C, BWV529 [13:18]
Antonio VIVALDI Sonata in g minor, RV85 [7:36]
Julian Bream (lute); George Malcolm (harpsichord) – rec. 1969. ADD
SONY RCA 886444034562 [41:39] – from iTunes (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Many waters have flowed (hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei) as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus phrased it, since the sleeve of this recording caught my eye and I took the LP home to delight in it, yet here it is again with that same cover of Julian Bream and George Malcolm on a garden seat among the cow parsley. Our knowledge of baroque music has also greatly expanded since 1969 but these performances still sound fresh and enjoyable.

The short playing time matters little when the price is as low as £3.99.


Johann Sebastian BACH Cantatas for Advent

Bach composed three cantatas for the First Sunday of Advent in Leipzig, Nos. 36, 61 and 62, and one for Advent IV, No.132, in 1715 – in Leipzig there were no cantatas to provide relief during the long Hauptgottesdienst between Advent I and Christmas. The recordings on all four complete recorded cycles are very good – only personal preference need influence choice. My own listening regularly includes all four.

On the earliest set, from Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt for Teldec and Hänssler's cycle with Helmut Rilling the cantatas are presented in numerical order according to the BWV catalogue, which takes no account of order of composition or attribution to a particular Sunday or festival.

On CD the Teldec set is now imprisoned in a monster box but it’s still possible to download individual volumes or sets of volumes very inexpensively from classicsonline.com* and the USB stick containing all the Teldec recordings of Bach’s extant works remains available – review: snap it up soon, stocks are becoming depleted. These pioneering performances in the use of period instruments and boy trebles can still hold their own against more recent recordings.

* 35 and 36 here; 61-63 here for £2.99 each. The album with Nos. 131-133 is unavailable separately as I write but amazon.co.uk have the 6-CD set of 119-137 for £14.59 here.


Helmut Rilling on Hänssler is also still well worth hearing and, though on offer in a multi-CD box, individual discs remain available at lower mid-price. Many of the individual albums are available for download from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless). Nos. 58-61 (CD92.019) are here. All are also available from classicsonline.com, though at a price only a little less than the mid-price CDs, and for streaming from Naxos Music Library. If I had to jettison one set for my Desert Island, this would have to be it, but very reluctantly.

John Eliot Gardiner recorded all four of these Advent cantatas, together with Nos. 70 (Trinity XXVI) and 147 (Visitation) on his pilgrimage: Soli Deo Gloria SDG162 (2 CDs) [133:40] – from classicsonline.com (mp3, with pdf booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library. Nos.36, 61 and 62 also remain available in Gardiner’s abortive series for DG Archiv (E4635882) and all the cantatas which he recorded for DG, with the Passions, Christmas Oratorio and b-minor Mass can be downloaded from prestoclassical.co.uk for £39.65 (mp3) or £49.55 (lossless).

I recently awarded Recording of the Month status to the last two recordings in Masaaki Suzuki’s now complete set for BIS and that accolade stands for the complete series which, I imagine, will now also appear in box-set format. The only thing which I find a trifle annoying is the order in which the cantatas are allocated: Volume 47 contains Nos. 36 (Advent I, 1731, after an earlier Birthday Cantata*), 47 (Trinity XVII, 1726) and 27 (Trinity XVI, 1726) – BIS-SACD-1861 [68:16]. Download from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).

Volume 7 (BIS-CD-881, from eclassical.com, mp3 and lossless) is more logically coupled, with Nos. 61 and 132 (both Advent) accompanying No.63 (Christmas) and, less logically, No.172 (Pentecost). Volume 28 contains Cantatas 62, 139 (Trinity XXIII), 26 (Trinity XXIV) and 116 (Trinity XXV) (BIS-SACD-1451, from eclassical.com, mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless, unusually at 24/88.2.) All the BIS downloads come with pdf booklets and all can be streamed from Naxos Music Library.

* Suzuki and his team have recorded the birthday version, BWV36c, on Volume 3 of their recordings of the secular cantatas (BIS-SACD-2041, with Nos. 173a and 202 – from emusic.com, mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Christmas Oratorio – an afterthought

In 2013/15 I made the new Hyperion release of this work Recording of the Month. Bargain-hunters who are happy with mp3 only and don’t require the libretto may well be content with Philippe Herreweghe’s 1989 recording with Collegium Vocale Ghent, formerly on Virgin Classics and now Erato 5099930300958, a 2-CD set at budget price on disc.

In reviewing the Hyperion I gave a link to a classicsonline.com download costing £4.99 but there’s an even less expensive download at £3.99 also from classicsonline.com. Be careful to follow this link for the right one – and be aware that classicsonline.com do vary their prices quite often.

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Chamber Music for Strings 3
String Quartet No.5 in E flat, Op.44/3 [33:21]
Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op.81 [8:33]
Octet in E flat, Op. 20* [32:00]
Mandelring Quartett with *Quartetto di Cremona – rec? (P) and © 2013.
AUDITE 92.658 [74:00] – from emusic.com (mp3 and lossless, no booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library (with back cover)

Both emusic.com and myself, having missed out on earlier volumes, have entered this series via the side door, as it were. Nor have my MusicWeb International colleagues reviewed any of the earlier volumes, it seems, though they have been generally welcomed elsewhere.

My only serious reservation about this fine third volume concerns the inclusion of the Octet – wonderful music, but so popular that you may well already have one or more very good recordings. Not a problem if you don’t mind acquiring another fine recording, but bear in mind the almost-complete set of Mendelssohn’s works for string quartet – all six numbered works – from the Cherubini Quartet on a budget 3-CD EMI set – review – and the even more complete Henschel Quartet on Arte Nova – review. The Arte Nova set is available only as a download, in 320kb/s mp3 from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk: the CDs are on offer for as much as £109.60 as I write.

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Orchestra-symphony No.1 in D, Wq.183/1, H663 [11:13]
Orchestra-symphony No.2 in E-flat, Wq.183/2, H664 [10:56]
Cello concerto in A, Wq.172, H439* [20:01]
Orchestra-symphony No.3 in F, Wq.183/3, H665 [10:17]
Orchestra-symphony No.4 in G, Wq.183/4, H666 [11:13]
Alison McGillivray (cello)*
The English Concert/Andrew Manze – rec. March 2006. DDD
Pdf booklet included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU807403 [64:21] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

I wonder why we have had to wait so long for this recording to appear. Far from finding CPE’s music ‘tedious, repetitive and unrewarding, as one reviewer (not MusicWeb International) has recently written, for me he’s often quirky and unpredictable but enjoyable. Actually that reviewer did make an exception for the four Hamburg symphonies of 1775/6, recorded here, so we can agree on the merits of this programme. As for the performances, it will be enough for most prospective purchasers that they are in the capable hands of The English Concert and Andrew Manze – and they will be right. The Cello Concerto, too, a fairly popular work as far as recordings go, is delectable and receives a fine performance. The recording, too, is very good, which brings me back to my original question.

An earlier incarnation of The English Concert with Trevor Pinnock at the helm won an award with an LP of CPE’s slightly earlier set of six Hamburg string symphonies, Wq182/1-6, transferred to DG CD 4775000 in 2004 but now available only as a download (mp3 from 7digital.com, mp3 and lossless from deutschegrammophon.com).

Fréderic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturnes 1-20
Peter Katin (piano) – rec. 1955. ADD/mono
BEULAH 1PD85 [90:36] due for release by iTunes and Amazon (mp3)

This set was released on two Decca LPs and most complete recordings of the Nocturnes run to two CDs, albeit often with extra couplings so the reissue on one album is generous. There are plenty of fine vintage and modern recordings – Rubinstein (RCA or Naxos Historical, not including the Op. posth.; Katin includes one of these) and Hewitt (Hyperion, with Impromptus) to name one of each – but Peter Katin’s interpretations equal the best of them in making music to which I don’t listen very often sound attractive.

The recording has transferred well: the piano tone is secure and there is only a very occasional reminder of LP surface blemish. The original review of Nos.11-20 mentioned a slight degree of tonal insecurity but I heard no trace of that on the Beulah transfer; if iTunes in m4a and Amazon in mp3 can match the .wav transfers which I received for review there should be no problems in that regard.

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No.1 in d minor, Op.15 [49:02]
Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat, Op.83 [48:51]
Stephen Hough (piano)
Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra/Mark Wigglesworth – rec. January 2013. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67961 [2 CDs for the price of one: 49:02 + 48:51] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

It was very thoughtless of Brahms to make each of his piano concertos short value on CD but too long to pair them on one disc. The Gilels set, in all other respects my benchmark for these works on DG, adds seven short Fantasias but I for one don’t want to hear such small beer after the concertos. Hyperion’s 2-for-1 offer seems to offer a very reasonable solution to the problem, making the mp3 and 16-bit lossless at £7.99 less expensive than any download of the Gilels pair that I can find and even the 24-bit at £12 only one penny more than that Gilels download.

I wondered if the Mozarteum Orchestra, which I associate more with the music of their eponymous composer, could produce the power to match those Gilels/Jochum recordings or earlier exponents of this music such as Curzon (Decca, mono and stereo, with Szell and Knappertsbusch) and Serkin (CBS, with Szell and Ormandy – you even got a reproduction of a Great Masters painting with the Fontana mono reissues) at whose hands I learned to love these concertos. I need not have worried; there’s plenty of power here to the extent that I wondered at times whether Brahms the romantic was not in danger of shutting out Brahms the classicist. It’s Stephen Hough who best manages to combine those two elements and it’s chiefly because of his contribution that I considered this for Recording of the Month status.

The recording conveys both the power and the delicacy of the different strands of the music, especially in 24-bit form. As usual, I also tried the mp3 and that is more than acceptable.

Recording of the Month: Back Catalogue
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1922)

Hansel and Gretel (in English, translated David Pountney)
Hansel – Jennifer Larmore (mezzo)
Gretel, his sister – Rebecca Evans (soprano)
Gertrude, their Mother – Rosalind Plowright (mezzo)
Peter, their Father – Robert Hayward (baritone)
The Witch – Jane Henschel (mezzo)
The Dew Fairy – Sarah Tynan (soprano)
The Sandman – Diana Montague (mezzo)
The Cuckoo – Sarah Coppen
New London Children’s Choir
Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras
Pdf booklet with libretto available
CHANDOS CHAN3143(2) [58:47 + 42:17] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

I’m not sure how Hänsel und Gretel came to be regarded as suitable for children at Christmas – as in pantomime all ends happily, but only by a narrow margin and after some pretty culpable child abuse. Humperdinck may smooth some of the nastiness out – in the original Grimm story, the parents deliberately get the children lost in forest so as not to have to feed them – but it’s still X-rated stuff.

The version to have is still Karajan’s 1953 classic mono recording (EMI, now Warner, Naxos or Past Classics – December 2011/2 DL Roundup) but those who want a more recent version in English will hardly be disappointed with this Mackerras recording. There are no weak parts but it’s Mackerras’s place at the helm above all that guarantees success. The recording is very acceptable in mp3 and better still in lossless sound.

Bargain of the Month
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Die Frau ohne Schatten, Op.65, TrV234 (1917)
Hans Hopf (Kaiser), Leonie Rysanek (Kaiserin), Ludwig Weber (Barak), Elisabeth Hoengen (Dyer’s Wife), Judith Hellwig (Stimme des Falken), Murray Dickie (Bucklige), Alfred Poell (Wächter der Stadt), Eberhard Wachter (Wächter der Stadt), Karl Terkal (Erscheinung eines Jünglings), Kurt Bohme (Geisterbote), Oscar Czerwenka (Einarmige), Hilde Rossel-Majdan (Stimme von Oben), Harald Proglhof (Einäugige), Ljubomir Pantscheff (Wächter der Stadt), Emmy Loose (Ein Hüter der Schwelle des Tempels)
Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Karl Böhm – rec. 1955. ADD/mono
NAXOS CLASSICAL ARCHIVES 9.81159/61 [3CDs: 66:37 + 66:20 + 64:19] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

This 1955 Decca recording, made concurrently with a production at the Vienna State Opera, is not ideal, though there are some respects, not least the conductor’s sure hand at the tiller, in which it is preferable to more recent recordings: Böhm recorded the work again, live, for DG in 1977 and Solti, from the Salzburg Festival, for Decca in 1992. Some vocal shortcomings apart, this is an incredibly inexpensive way to get to know this longest and most complex of Strauss’s operas, a work often compared, with justice, to Wagner. It’s just £5.97 from classicsonline.com in top bit-rate mp3; even less and still sounding tolerable from emusic.com at just £1.26 if you are prepared to put up with a lower bit-rate (144kb/s – I thought the days of such low bit-rates were long past).

The recording has been reissued a number of times on LP and CD in stereo – no longer available, with one hopeful seller offering it for £124 on Amazon – but this Naxos transfer sounds resolutely mono, though otherwise it has come up amazingly well.

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) On Wenlock Edge (1907) [21:17]
Ten Blake Songs (1957) [18:42]
Jonathan DOVE (b. 1959) The End (2012) [8:53]
Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930) The Curlew (1920-22) [23:20]
Mark Padmore (tenor); Nicholas Daniel (oboe/cor anglais); Huw Watkins (piano)
Members of Britten Sinfonia/Jacqueline Shave – rec. May 2012. DDD/DSD
English texts and French translations included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU807566 [72:35] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

VW’s bitter-sweet Housman-texted melancholia in Wenlock Edge is here very appropriately coupled with Warlock’s slightly more bitter/less sweet Curlew. Mark Padmore’s singing, very well supported by the instrumentalists and recording engineers, fully deserves the Recording of the Month accolade which John Quinn awarded – review – though I should warn potential purchasers that drama is paramount throughout in a manner that you may think exaggerated, to the extent that some words are almost inaudible and others are rendered almost in the manner of Sprechstimme. If pressed to make a choice, I prefer Padmore’s manner to that of Ian Partridge on the classic EMI recording from which I got to know On Wenlock Edge after having previously fought shy of the work on the basis of an (Argo RG20?) recording which an undergraduate friend had tried to convert me to. I think Mark Padmore would have dome a much better job of convincing me.

The coupling on Harmonia Mundi is more logical than that with the instrumental works on Mark Padmore’s earlier Chandos recording with the Schubert Ensemble (CHAN10465download review), though that is very fine, too.

For another very fine recording of Wenlock Edge and The Curlew there’s James Gilchrist with the Fitzwilliam Quartet (Linn CKD296); you may prefer the coupling of Ivor Gurney’s Ludlow and Teme, also settings of Housman texts. Bargain-lovers will hardly go far amiss with another Wenlock Edge/Ludlow and Teme coupling on Hyperion Helios CDH55187 (Adrian Thompson, the Delmé Quartet and Ian Burnside, with Stephen Varcoe in Gurney’s Western Playland). Finally, at the risk of spoiling you with choice, there’s a Signum recording which I like, which couples Wenlock Edge and Ludlow and Teme with music by Ian Venables (b.1955) (SIGCD112download review). You can compare all except the Hyperion via Naxos Music Library.

E.J. MOERAN (1894 – 1950)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1937-42) [32:52]
Frederick DELIUS (1862 – 1934)
Légende, for Violin and Orchestra (c. 1892-95) [8:09]
Gustav HOLST (1874 – 1934)
A Song of the Night for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 19/1, H 74 (1905) [8:33]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857 – 1934)
Chanson de matin, Op. 15/2 (1899) [3:02]
Chanson de nuit, Op. 15/1 (1897 – 99) [3:42]
Salut d’amour, Op. 12 (1888) [3:13
(Premiere recordings in this arrangement)
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872 – 1958)
The Lark Ascending, Romance for Violin and Orchestra (1914, revised 1920) [15:33]
Tasmin Little (violin)
BBC Philharmonic/Sir Andrew Davis
Pdf booklet available
CHANDOS CHAN10796 [75:45] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

With The Lark Ascending regularly featuring high on the Classic FM popularity chart, it’s not surprising that the final work on this recording gives its name to the whole album. Nor will it surprise me if that makes it a best-seller, though I’m hard put to know why the work is so popular; it’s by no means VW’s best music or even, for my money, anywhere near as appealing as the Tallis Fantasia. Full marks to Chandos and the performers, then, for not filling the rest of the programme with pop classics.

We weren’t short of good recordings of the Moeran Violin Concerto – Chandos are competing against their own version with Lydia Mordkovich as soloist on CHAN10168X at lower-mid price, with the Cello Concerto and Lonely Waters and there’s a very fine Lyrita recording with John Georgiadis as soloist on SRCD.248, with Rhapsody for piano and orchestra and Rhapsody No.2review and review. It’s a very close call which of these I would choose for my Desert Island, so price, coupling and recording quality can safely be your deciding factors. There are even two historic versions on Divine Art (27806, Campoli, with Douglas Coates’ Violin Concerto - review) and Symposium (SYMPCD1201, Sammons, with Fantasy Quartet and Serenade in G - review).

You can sample both Chandos recordings from Naxos Music Library but that won’t give you an idea of the excellence of the 24/96 version of the new recording, with the Mordkovich available only in (good) mp3 and 16-bit lossless and the Lyrita only in mp3, but very good value at £2.10 from emusic.com. Recording quality wouldn’t be my only reason for plumping for the new recording – Tasmin Little and Andrew Davis seem to me to bring out both the rhapsodic aspects of the music and its power just a little more than the opposition.

Chandos are also competing against themselves in the two Elgar Chansons, this time with their own recording of Nigel Kennedy plays Elgar, on which he teamed up early in his career with Peter Pettinger (piano) (CHAN8380), an attractive collection but I think most will prefer the orchestrations on the new CD. These and the Delius and Holst works are attractive makeweights and The Lark Ascending, for all my amazement that it’s so popular, is well done. Another winner, then, from a team which has brought so many fine recordings of English music in the recent past.

Romantic Piano Trios
William HURLSTONE (1874-1906)
Piano Trio in G, Op. posth. (1905) [29:28]
Miriam HYDE (1913-2003) Fantasy-Trio in b minor, Op.10 (1933) [9:00]
Maximilien Paul Marie Félix (Max) D’OLLONE (1875-1959) Piano Trio in a minor (1920) [29:06]
Dag WIREN (1905-1986) Piano Trio No.1, Op.6 (1932) [15:55]
Trio Anima Mundi Ensemble – rec.? (P) 2013. DDD.
Pdf booklet available
DIVINE ART DDA25102 [38:35 + 45:11 = 83:29] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Slightly too long for one CD, these works have been fitted on two discs, which, totally illogically, means that while the CDs are available at a special price of around £12 from one online dealer, the same people will charge you £16 for the mp3 download and £20 for the CD-quality lossless. Similarly, theclassicalshop.net, from whom I obtained the download, charge an uncompetitive £14.70 and £18.90 respectively. With amazon.co.uk the gap is even larger: CD for £9.34 and they will also rip the mp3 for you, mp3 download £14.98. That’s unless someone has seen some sense by the time that you read this review, as classicsonline.com have done by charging as for one disc, £7.99, your best bet as I write for mp3 only. Would that everyone took a leaf from eclassical.com’s per second charging policy, or hyperion-records.co.uk’s of charging less for short recordings.

Beef over, let me turn to the music. There are no undiscovered masterpieces here but plenty of the sort of often impassioned late romantic chamber music that I must admit to being very fond of.

Performances and recording are very good, but I leave you to decide if it’s worth paying more for the lossless download than for the CDs and much more than the classicsonline.com mp3. Try listening via Naxos Music Library; I did and though the sound is noticeably inferior to theclassicalshop.com’s lossless, it sounds decent enough to make me think that the classicsonline.com mp3 will be acceptable to most.

I’m particularly partial to the Hurlstone by whom Lyrita have done well in performances by the LPO and Nicholas Braithwaite (SRCD.208 and SRCD.2286review); the Piano Trio (Tunnell Piano Trio) accompanies his Piano Concerto and Piano Quartet on the latter. There’s also a good recording of his Piano Quartet on Meridian (CDE84519DL News 2013/8).

If it’s principally the Hurlstone Trio that you are after and you don’t have SRCD.2286, I’d recommend going for that. It’s available very inexpensively, for £5.04 from emusic.com or for £8.49 for those who are not emusic.com members from 7music.com, in both cases in mp3 only, at the full 320kbs from the latter but only at around a barely acceptable 180kbs from the former.

Trio Anima Mundi are really not far behind, however, and the Hurlstone Trio is only part of the story, however, as far as the Divine Art recording is concerned. The other works are also well worth hearing and they, too, receive very good performances to the extent that David Barker, noting that I’d downloaded this recording, tried it and made it a last-minute entrant to his Recordings of the Year choices. Add John France’s review and that’s a sizeable chunk of the MusicWeb International team in favour of the new recording.

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 1 in e minor, Op. 39 (1898) [34:43]
Symphony No. 4 in a minor, Op. 63 (1910-11) [38:28]
Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä – rec. May/June 2012. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-1996 [74:10] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

(See also review by Dan Morgan and 2013/4 DL News)

The first movement of Symphony No.1 begins with a beautifully played clarinet solo although at first the timpani roll is barely audible. Also I think that the conclusion of this solo is far too soft unless you are prepared to adjust your volume settings for the later very loud passages. This is certainly a very exciting performance of the first movement, but for my taste much too fast and rather glib. Vänskä takes two minutes less in this movement than Sir Colin Davis, whose recording with the London Symphony Orchestra (RCA Victor Red Seal) allows the music breathing space. Vänskä’s excessive speed seems particularly noticeable and hurried in the passages where there is fast rhythmic configuration. After all it is marked to be played Andante, ma non troppo.

Similarly I find that Davis captures the mood of the second movement perfectly and again Vänskä seems just that bit too fast at the start. In fact Vänskä takes all four movements faster than Davis. Vänskä comes into his own with Movement 3 Allegro-Lento which is very lively and the recording is crystal clear. The orchestra soloists are able to demonstrate their virtuosity at high speed here and the wind players display some lovely tone in the Lento.

Vänskä sets a high tension for the arresting opening of Movement 4 very well. I was beginning to get used to the faster tempo but on listening to Davis again I still find his more measured approach preferable. But Vänskä is very successful in the romantic ‘big’ tune and the passion here seems very sincerely felt. The fast sections are always colourful and virtuosically played, with great clarity between the sections and instruments of the well-balanced orchestral sound. However I feel that Sir Colin Davis’s interpretation is more successful. Also his orchestra is richer sounding and more full-bodied, less lean and dry than Vänskä’s Minnesota performance, and I feel that the Davis approach is more appropriate for this late Romantic Symphony.

With the Fourth Symphony we move into another world, far away from the Romanticism of Tchaikovsky and others into something tragic and intense and totally new. Seeming to deliberately move away from influences from the past but also to eschew the new modernism of Stravinsky and Schoenberg, Sibelius has found in Osmo Vänskä a fine interpreter in this dark and brooding music.

Sibelius said that the opening motif is ‘as harsh as Fate’. Vänskä sets the mood perfectly and gives a deeply compelling performance of the First Movement. I was surprised that he was slower than Colin Davis, Herbert Von Karajan and Sir Malcolm Sargent. Karajan’s Berlin Philharmonic sounds really lush and quite resonant and it was refreshing to hear Vänskä’s leaner sound. Sir Colin Davis is mellower at the start but builds his climaxes magnificently – a very fine account. Vänskä gives a fine, clearly articulated performance of the fast and fleeting Second Movement, Allegro molto vivace, and the Fourth Movement is well played, with the virtuosity of the orchestra demonstrated to good effect. The ensemble of the strings in fast passages is admirable and the wind soloists are excellent. Once again there are some very soft passages which are virtually inaudible unless you adjust the volume levels but this is just a minor niggle.

There is much to admire and enjoy in Vänskä’s performance of these two symphonies of Sibelius, particularly the Fourth. The same symphonies are paired on one disc in Colin Davis’ cycle on RCA and if I had to choose between the two, Davis would be my first choice. Personally I do not find any problem with the Barbican acoustics on this recording. Karajan’s account used to be my benchmark for the Fourth Symphony, and it is undoubtedly a masterful performance. Particularly effective and dramatic is the Finale, but nowadays it sounds bit bloated and resonant for modern tastes, particularly compared with for example Vänskä.

One of Sir Malcolm Sargent’s finest performances is of this Symphony, recorded with the BBC Symphony Orchestra from the Proms in 1965 on BBC Legends. The sound is very good, very few coughs from the audience and a minimum of hiss, and it is combined with an equally magnificent Vaughan Williams Fourth.

Geoffrey Molyneux

Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)

The Miraculous Mandarin – Suite, Op.19, BB82 (1927) [19:08]
Music for strings, percussion and celesta, BB114 (1936) [31:01]
Four orchestral pieces, Op.12, BB64 (1912/1921) [22:48]
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner – rec. July 2011, March 2013. DDD/DSD
pdf booklet available
CHANDOS CHAN5130 [72:33] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless and Studio Surround sound)
(also available as SACD, CHSA5130)

The bar is set very high by my benchmark recordings of these works, principally Fritz Reiner (RCA: his Music for strings, percussion and celesta is imprisoned in a monster box, though still available separately with Concerto for orchestra and Hungarian Sketches as an inexpensive download from amazon.co.uk) and Georg Solti (Decca, in London and Chicago).

I wondered at first if Edward Gardner and his Melbourne players could equal those benchmarks and, though the Miraculous Mandarin Suite is so well characterised that I’d have liked the whole ballet*, at first I thought they were missing both the mystery and power of Music for strings, percussion and celesta, but they were only biding their time.

The Four pieces are rarer beasts, especially in orchestral form, and not on a par with the other music, but Gardner and his team make them worth hearing.

Without quite challenging Reiner and Solti at the very top of the tree, this newcomer makes a very good alternative, especially if you’re looking for 24/96 surround sound from the top-level download (£19.99) or the SACD.

* for that you need to seek out Iván Fischer – various couplings on Philips but available to download only from 7digital.com or prestoclassical.co.uk.

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Concerto for Violin in d minor, Op.15 (1938-1939) [32:38]
Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Op.33a (1944) [16:31]
Matthew Trusler (violin)
Symfonieorkest Vlaanderen (Flanders Symphony Orchestra)/Seikyo Kim (concerto); Jan Latham-Koenig (interludes) – rec October 2012 (concerto); live, June 2013 (interludes). DDD
Pdf booklet included
ORCHID CLASSICS 100037 [49:27] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

Britten’s music is certainly not the sole preserve of British composers, as the recent BIS recording of his orchestral music (2013/16) has demonstrated, but competition is especially fierce in these two works. The list of good recordings of the Sea Interludes is too long to itemise and four recordings of the Violin Concerto are especially hard to beat or even equal:

• Decca E4173082: Mark Lubotsky and Benjamin Britten (with Piano Concerto – Sviatoslav Richter). Still my benchmark recording. Download from 7digital.com
• Naxos 8.557198: Lorraine McAslan and Steuart Bedford (with Canadian Carnival Overture and Mont Juic). Ex-Collins Classics, this CD is out of stock at present but can be downloaded from classicsonline.com (mp3, with booklet) or streamed from Naxos Music Library.
• Hyperion CDA67801: Anthony Marwood and Ilan Volkov (with Double Concerto and Lachrymæ) – Recording of the Monthreview: DL News February 2012/1
• Chandos CHAN10764: Tasmin Little and Edward Gardner (with Piano Concerto) – review and Recording of the Month in DL News 2013/6

Nick Barnard found the most recent recording – Onyx ONYX4113: James Ehnes and Kirill Karabits (with Shostakovich) – something of a disappointment, though I was more impressed – DL News 2013/10.

The new Orchid recording needs a volume boost to deliver the full power of the performance – until I turned it up a notch or two I was beginning to think it not much more than an efficient run-through and there are still moments in the second movement when it failed to grab my attention fully, but then everything came right again at the start of the third, a performance of power here where it’s required and the end of the movement is suitably soulful. On the whole, though I enjoyed this recording of the concert overall, it doesn’t offer a serious challenge to the four versions that I’ve listed.

The Sea Interludes follow much too hard on the heels of the concerto, allowing very little time to emerge from the near-meditational state which that ending encourages. A different conductor, one with a professed long-term love of Britten and recorded live, with well-deserved applause, brings a more idiomatic Britten style. You would hardly be likely to buy the recording for these works alone, however, so the album as a whole remains a creditable runner-up for me.

The short playing time need not worry purchasers – it’s taken into account in the selling price of $8.85.

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

Jubilate Deo in E flat [2:38]
Te Deum in C [8:36]
Antiphon, Op.56b [6:04]
Missa Brevis in D, Op.63 [10:19]
A Wedding Anthem, Op.46 [9:45]
Sweet the Song [2:59]
A Ceremony of Carols, Op.28 [21:48 ]
Festival Te Deum, Op.32 [6:35]
Jubilate Deo, in C [2:32]
Susan Drake (harp)
Finzi Singers/Paul Spicer – rec.1997. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts available
CHANDOS CHAN9598 [71:00] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)
(Also included in The Britten Choral Edition, 3 CDs, CHAN10771(3)X at mid price.)

Benjamin BRITTEN
A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28 [23:51]
Missa Brevis in D, Op. 63 [10:50]
A Hymn to the Virgin for double choir [3:32]
A Hymn of Saint Columba for choir and organ [2:07]
Deus in adjutorium meum (Psalm 70) [6:15]
Jubilate Deo in E flat (1934) [2:35]
James O’Donnell (organ), Sioned Williams (harp)
Choir of Westminster Cathedral/David Hill – rec. January 1987. DDD.
pdf booklet with texts included
HYPERION CDA66220 [49:10] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

With two major works, the Ceremony and Missa Brevis, in common, there is strong competition here. There are many other very worthwhile recordings of the Ceremony, including that from The Sixteen which I mentioned last month, and a more recent one from Hyperion, with Saint Nicolas (CDA67946), but the two listed here have slipped through my Christmas-tide net in the past and deserve to have that oversight put right. Both combine very good performances and recording with the availability of a pdf booklet. Otherwise the choice is clear: boys’ voices on Hyperion, an all-Britten programme on both the Hyperion CDs and the Chandos against a Christmas-themed programme on Coro.

The short playing time of the Hyperion is taken care of by the price – £5.99 in mp3 or lossless, as against £7.99 and £9.99 respectively for the Chandos.

Freebie of the Month
Marjan MOZETICH (b.1948)
Violin Concerto ‘Affairs of the Heart’* [23:26]
Elena LANGER (b.1974) Platch (for violin and strings, premiere recording) [16:05]
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998) Konzert zu drei (Concerto for 3, for violin, viola, cello and chamber orchestra) [21:38]
Ed BENNETT (b.1975) Sometimes it rains [7:38]
Roman Mints (violin); Kristine Blaumane (cello); Maxim Rysanov (viola)
New Prague Sinfonia*; West Kazakhstan Symphony Orchestra/Mikel Toms – rec. 2005. DDD
Pdf booklet available
QUARTZ QTZ2052 [68:47] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

This is the latest free mp3 download for subscribers to theclassicalshop.net’s monthly newsletter. It’s not music that I’d normally be reviewing but I found it hugely enjoyable, especially the ethereally beautiful Mozetich and the powerfully plangent Langer – and what have you got to lose by signing up to a free newsletter? Roman Mints’ name is prominent on the cover and it’s something of a showcase for him. The mp3 is very good but I imagine it’s worth paying a little more for the lossless version.

Sometimes it rains is a bonus track, from another Quartz recording, Game Over, QTZ2010 – that really is outside my comfort zone.

John PITTS (b.1976) Piano Music
Changes for 20 nifty fingers* [3:04]
Toccata [9:41]
Airs and Fantasias [65:05]
Bonus Download Track: Are you going? for piano triet*/** [4’44]
Steven Kings (piano) with John Pitts* and Daniella Acker** (piano) – rec. August 2008. DDD
1EQUALMUSIC 1EMIPM08 [82:34] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

The first piece in this intriguing collection is entitled Changes for 20 nifty fingers and starting simply in typical minimalistic style with a small but rhythmic melodic figure, the music becomes ever more complex, building to an exciting climax. This very difficult music is superbly played by Steven Kings who is joined in this piece by the composer.

Toccata is a substantial, very modern-sounding piece characterised with Bartókian aggressiveness, Messiaen-like colours and rhythms and even Boulezian discord at times. Mostly ferocious in mood, even quieter passages are punctuated with stabbing single accented notes and dissonant chord clusters. In one moto perpetuo section there seems to be a reference to the last of Ginastera’s Three Argentinian Dances. But the piece has its own distinctive character and shape and I feel it is one of the more interesting pieces on this recording. It is played superbly with great clarity, variety of attack and articulation by Steven Kings.

Then follow the Seven Airs and Fantasias in a different mood altogether. These pieces are described in the programme notes as ‘intensely pleasant’, something you could not say about the foregoing music. I have never been a fan of minimalism, so much being tedious in the extreme, but these pieces are mostly short enough to maintain the interest as each has its own mood and musical ideas. The brevity of the pieces here helps us in to enjoy the colour achieved in the composer’s use of the vast tonal range and registers of the piano, for example in Clockwork 5/4. Fantasia 2 for prepared piano is fascinatingly and beautifully coloured. The fast and furious figuration builds to a grand climax when Westminster Chimes is heard, using the unprepared lower register of the keyboard. The kaleidoscope of colours in this extraordinary piece is very affecting and it provides a real contrast with the rest of the cycle.

I did find Parallel Octaves a little tedious with its constant if varied repetition, but Sarabande has an attractive melodic line and the music moves forward to a climax before returning to the simpler style of the opening. Fantasia 4: Wind Chimes is an evocative and immediately accessible piece and it seems like the central lynch pin of the Seven Airs and Fantasias. It is the most substantial piece of the set but maybe it takes a touch too long to reach its grand climax. The listener’s interest is mostly maintained though, especially when it is as well played as it is here by Steven Kings.

After this drama maybe we need some time to reflect and in the next piece, entitled Calmly contented we have permission to relax for a while. Cantabile mist is also very calming and is indeed very pleasant and easy on the ear. The final Fantasia of the set All in a chord is attractive with the chord’s constantly changing notes and dynamics. Eventually a simple melody is heard in various registers of the piano and this piece forms a fine conclusion to the cycle.

I should add that some of the pieces could well be used for pedagogical purposes and they could be of interest to students of an intermediate to advanced standard.

The final piece Are you going makes for a grand climax to this recording. It is an amazingly complex and virtuosic tour de force for three pianists, in which the melody Scarborough Fair is pulled rhythmically around and surrounded by all manner of glittering colours. It must have taken much rehearsal to achieve the immaculate ensemble we can enjoy here, so congratulations to all three players.

Are you going for piano triet brings this fine recording of interesting and evocative music to an exciting conclusion. As usual with Hyperion it is well recorded and it is all well worth listening to.

Geoffrey Molyneux

Kalevi AHO (b. 1949)

Minea (Concertante Music for Orchestra) (2008) [18:59]
Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra (2005)* [28:14]
Symphony No.15 (2009-2010) [30:08]
*Eero Munter (double bass)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä (Minea); Jaakko Kuusisto (concerto); Dima Slobodeniouk (symphony)
rec. Sibelius Hall. Lahti, Finland, February 2011 (Minea), May 2010 (concerto) & May 2011 (symphony)
Pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-1866 [78:19] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– & 24-bit lossless)

A new recording from the long-running Aho/BIS partnership is always an event. Among recent instalments is a collection of the composer’s organ works (review) and pieces for oboe (review), both of which confirm the well of inspiration hasn’t run dry. Some of my colleagues struggle to find an entrée to Aho’s eclectic œuvre, but for others the attraction is immediate and sustained; perhaps embarking on a detailed survey of this music helps one get a better grasp of the composer’s goals and idiom. In any event I’ve yet to be disappointed by Aho’s steady output, which always strikes me as fresh and inventive.

Osmo Vänskä was a key part of this ambitious project before he left for Minnesota in 2003; sadly the US orchestra’s much-publicised lock-out and Vänskä’s eventual resignation as their musical director brought to an end a very promising relationship. Minea, written for the Minnesotans, pre-dates this acrimonious break-up. Designed to be played by every member of the orchestra it’s a rhythmically vital and varied work that uses Middle Eastern and African instruments – the darabuka and djembe – last heard in Aho’s 14th Symphony, Rituals (review). As always rhythms and colours are subtle and interesting, and that ensures the music doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Aho has written concertos for so many different – and unexpected – instruments, so it’s no surprise he’s alighted on the double bass at last. Cast in five continuous, lightly scored movements the piece sets the soloist against a reduced orchestra in order for it to be more easily heard. The dark, louring sound that emerges has a mournful charm that, in less experienced hands, might seem lugubrious. Aho’s sound world – original, ear-pricking – is superbly rendered in this finely detailed recording. It’s a skittish piece, with some wonderful pizzicato playing from Eero Munter in Cadenza, while the buzz and hum of the central Presto must surely bring to mind the composer’s so-called ‘Insect Symphony’ (No. 7).

The concerto is remarkably restrained, and there are times when one is reminded of the double bass’s limited range and colour palette. That said, Aho keeps it alive with some striking sonorities and rhythms, and the carefully calibrated percussion add a certain exoticism to the proceedings. Dynamics are superbly judged and the recording – a 44.1kHz original – is both polished and pointful. Happily there’s no striving for effect, so Cadenza II – marked Misterioso – comes across as a simple yet effective piece of nachtmusik. What is most appealing though – in the instrumental skeins and swirls of the finale especially – is this composer’s unerring ability to pare down the music without sacrificing body, colour or innate lyricism.

Lahti’s Sibelius Hall has a fine acoustic, and the BIS team must know it well by now; it certainly seems to favour smaller-scale works with plenty of inner shape and detail, but like all superior concert halls it can also cope with mammoth works, such as Aho’s Symphony No. 12, Luosto. The small-scale 15th, in four titled movements, follows the economy and concentration of the other works here. Its ‘foggy’ first movement – Nebbia – is highly cinematic, and the Lahti players tackle the slips, slides and foghorn-like brass writing with aplomb. As ever, unexpected colour washes and rhythmic snatches keeps one keenly focused throughout.

Aho has called this symphony his very own ‘apotheosis of the dance’, and the quiet, pulsing rhythms of the second movement – aptly titled Musica bizzarra – certainly bear that out. Again, there’s a veiled exoticism here, and climaxes fall back to a hypnotic beat; in turn that induces an unsettling sense of something – or somewhere – just beyond one’s ken. Aho, somewhat prone to enigmatic utterances, plays the sphinx even more these days. Paradoxical as it may seem, the unwinding Interludio manages to be oblique yet never blank, and the weave of the finale – Music strana – contains surprisingly jazzy threads.

Aho fans will find much to enjoy here. This is the composer at his most concentrated, yet behind the mask is a quick – and quicksilver – intelligence that never takes the listener for granted. As contemporary pieces go all three works are very approachable, and there’s none of the dry academicism that leaves one feeling sternly instructed yet curiously unfulfilled. The composer’s liner-notes are as clear and concise as ever, and the entire package reaffirms the high production values of this most valuable series.

Minimal but not minimalist; music of tantalising character and contrast.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

Piers Lane goes to town
Katharine PARKER (1886-1971)
Down Longford Way [2:34]
Alan LANE (1932-2002) Toccata [4:31]
Anthony DOHENY (b. 1938) Toccata for Piers Lane [1:53)
John IRELAND (1879-1962) Ballerina [4:39]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) arr. Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965) Jesu, joy of man’s desiring [4:03]
Billy MAYERL (1902-1959) Marigold [2:58]
Léo DELIBES (1836-1891) arr. Ernö Dohnányi (1877-1960) Naila Waltz [7:29]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Daisies [2:32]
Zez CONFREY (1895-1971) Dizzy Fingers [1:57]
Mark SAYA (b. 1954) Barcarolles [5:42]
Manning SHERWIN (1902-1974) arr. Regis Danillon (b. 1949) A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square [3:33]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963) Nocturne No. 4 in C minor ‘Bal fantôme’ [1:36]
Alec TEMPLETON (1910-1963) Bach goes to town ‘Prelude and Fugue in swing’ [3:04]
Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960) Jamaican Rumba [1:01]
Robert KEANE (b. 1948) The Tiger Tango [3:20]
Antony HOPKINS (b. 1921) Variations on a well-known theme [14:13]
Sigfrid KARG-ELERT (1877-1933) Arabesque No. 1 in G flat major ‘Filigran’ [2:57]
Dudley MOORE (1935-2002) Beethoven parody ‘And the same to you’ [4:28]
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) Irish tune from County Derry [3:38]
Piers Lane (piano) – rec. June 2012, Potton Hall, Dunwich, UK
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67967 [76:08] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16-bit lossless & 24/96 Studio Master)

Hyperion have a knack for programmes such as this; for instance, I much enjoyed A Maiden’s Prayer, Philip Martin’s enchanting array of miniatures (review), and The French Album with Stephen Hough (review). Moreover, the sonics of both collections – played in a most engaging and intimate style – are well up to the high standards of the house. As usual I listened to the Studio Masters which, at £12, are slightly more expensive than the equivalent CDs. Are they worth it? Yes, past experience suggests they are, for the high-res sound on offer here is as good as it gets. Throw in an easily navigable website, cover artwork and good liner-notes and you have a very professional, well-presented package for your money.

Pianist Piers Lane presents an enticing selection of pieces, many of which could be categorised as light music/easy listening. That’s not to say they’re anodyne or without their challenges; indeed, even wistful little works such as Katharine Parker’s Down Longford Way require a certain discipline and sense of style if they are to be more than background music to a meal. Lane’s detailing here is exquisite, and the recording is warm and clear. The two Toccatas – one written especially for him – are crisply done, and while there’s a pleasing geniality to these scores they are not without an underlying rigour.

Programming is everything in such collections, and the more formal pieces are neatly interleaved with lighter, more expansive ones. John Ireland’s Ballerina pirouettes most delicately, and Lane’s judicious use of rubato ensures the music never sounds florid or self-indulgent. The poise and focus of Myra Hess’s Bach arrangement – played with symmetry and soul – is a joy to hear. Dynamics are subtly shaded and, oh, what a gorgeous, glowing piano tone. As for Mayerl’s bright-faced marigolds they nod cheerfully in the sunlight, and the lilt of the Delibes/Dohnányi waltz is a delight. Teasingly tuneful, brimming with brio and ever so slightly swoopy the latter is a real charmer.

Rachmaninov’s fragile Daisies highlights Lane’s expressive range, Zez Confrey’s Dizzy Fingers and Mark Saya’s Barcarolles his supple rhythms and wonderful sense of touch. Neither is overblown; indeed, the entire programme is perfectly executed and proportioned. Even the iconic A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square – so discreetly delivered – is as evocative as ever. Poulenc Bal fantôme is a pearl of a piece, small and beautifully formed, and Alec Templeton’s Bach goes to town and Arthur Benjamin’s Jamaican Rumba really do go with a swing and a sway.

The rest of the programme is just as seductive, from the now passionate, now gentle Tiger Tango and the dynamic contrasts of Antony Hopkins’ Variations on a well-known theme to the glittering little Arabesque by Karg-Elert and Grainger’s musty-eyed but never mawkish Derry tune. Sandwiched in between the last two is Lane’s version of Dudley Moore’s Beethoven parody, And the same to you. The irrepressible, multi-talented Moore is a hard act to follow, and while Lane is hardly a dud he’s not the impish Dud either.

I can’t possibly end on a note of equivocation, for this pianist’s easeful playing and generosity of spirit makes this a must have for all pianophiles. Indeed, the combination of exemplary musicianship and top-notch sound adds up one of the best piano recordings I’ve heard this year.

Chockful of good things; Hyperion’s done it again.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

Music of France: Volume 1
Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896)
Mignon Overture [8:25]
National Symphony Orchestra/Anatole Fistoulari – rec. 1945 ADD/mono
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921) Piano Concerto No.2 in g minor, Op.22 [22:21]
Moura Lympany (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Jean Martinon – rec. 1951 ADD/mono
Georges DUKAS (1865-1935) L’Apprenti sorcier [9:51]
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Georg Solti -rec. 1957. ADD/stereo
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) La Mer [23:07]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch – rec. 1958. ADD/stereo
BEULAH 1PD87 [63:44] – available soon from amazon.co.uk and iTunes.

Beulah have already embarked on an attractive series of albums of reissues of classic performances of English music. On the basis of this first volume of a similar French venture, the omens are already looking good. The stand-out on volume 1 is Solti’s L’Apprenti sorcier. The recording was hailed on its appearance, coupled with Respighi’s Rossini confection, La Boutique fantasque, as ‘excellent light music to show off your new stereo equipment to good advantage’ – a decent second-hand copy was one of my first stereo LPs – and it still sounds very well indeed in this transfer. Just two small niggles: Beulah have already released this on its own (Beulah Extra 1BX16July 2010) and, as received for review, it follows too hard on the end of the Saint-Saëns.

Fistoulari’s Mignon Overture, from 1945, could hardly be expected to sound as well but in Beulah’s transfer it hardly shows its age and the performance was well worth preserving.

By the time that Moura Lympany’s Saint-Saëns was reissued in bogus stereo on Decca Eclipse in 1974, it sounded badly dated. About the quality of the solo performance and the orchestral support, however, there has never been any doubt and Olympia produced a much better CD transfer in 1989 – now sunk with the rest of that label. I didn’t hear that Olympia version but I doubt if it bettered this Beulah reissue which has tidied the sound up to a degree that we can appreciate the Lympany’s performance. It’s still a bit thin, but much more than tolerable. Even if you have a more recent recording, such as Stephen Hough’s award-winning set of all the concertos (Hyperion CDA67331/2review) or Jean-Yves Thibaudet (Nos. 2 and 5, Decca 4758764review), this Beulah reissue is well worth the small outlay.

Beulah give the date 1958 for the Munch La Mer but the penultimate time that it was reissued, on an RCA Papillon CD, the date given was December 1956. No matter – it, too, has come up well and the performance, if not quite in the same league as the Lympany and Solti items, is well worth preserving.

Light Music Recording of the Month
Swingin’ at Maida Vale: The Decca Sessions 1936-1944

Benny Carter and his Orchestra with Elizabeth Welch (vocalist) – rec. 1936 ADD/78s
George Shearing – rec. 1939-1944 ADD/78s
BEULAH 1PD36 [71:19] – due for release by Amazon and iTunes (mp3)

This release, taking its title from the opening track, is self-recommending to fans of dance band music – and I’m one of them, despite my predilection for more serious fare such as renaissance polyphony. I enjoyed this very much and the transfers belie the age of the recordings; one or two tracks betray a degree of surface presence rather than hiss or crackle and even these are not off-putting, while the rest are almost completely noise-free. This album is choc-a-bloc with foot-tapping music well performed and in sound that is still well worth hearing. You will, however, have to excuse the repeated typo of Madia for Maida.

The Benny Carter tracks, made when he was working in England with Henry Hall, cost over £1 when they were reissued on the budget Decca Ace of Clubs label in 1964 – that’s at least £25 in today’s values. Add the George Shearing half of the album – even in an era when the likes of Carroll Gibbons, Joe Loss, Ambrose and Billy Cotton were at the height of their powers his recordings were sought after – and you see what a bargain the Beulah reissue is.



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