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DOWNLOAD NEWS 2013/8
by Brian Wilson


See the Download News archive here.

I have to apologise for a longer than usual gap in producing this edition and its predecessor, 2013/7 - here - largely occasioned by problems with my PC and the new model which I bought to replace it – no sooner had I got the hang of using Windows 8 than everything had to be uninstalled and reinstalled. As a result this DL News is late and over-laden even though I’ve gathered together a number of recent Beulah albums in a separate DL News to celebrate their forthcoming 20th birthday.

Carlo GESUALDO, Prince of Venosa (c.1561-1613)

Fifth and Sixth Books of Madrigals (1611)
Delitiæ Musicæ/Marco Longhini – rec.2010 and 2011. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
NAXOS 8.573147-9 [3 CDs: 3:02:41] – from classicsonline.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Fifth Book of Madrigals (1611)
La Venexiana
GLOSSA GCD920935 [64:10] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Sixth Book of Madrigals (1611)
Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis – rec.1994. DDD.
PAN CLASSICS PC10229 [70:50] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library (with booklet)

La Compagnia del Madrigale – rec. June/July 2012. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts included
GLOSSA GCD922801 [77:42] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

O Dolorosa Gioa – Madrigals
Philippe De MONTE Di mie dogliose note [3:47]
Pomponio NENNA Occhi miei che vedeste giov’ an [4:14]
Giovanni MONTELLA Se lontana voi sete [2:04]
Carlo GESUALDO Moro, lasso, al mio duolo [4:05]
Se la mia morte brami [4:21]
Beltà poiche t’ assenti [4:32]
Canzone del Principe [6:05]
Gioite voi col canto [3:44]
Se non miro non moro [3:34]
Se vi duol il mio duolo [3:58]
Asciugate i begli occhi [4:28]
Mercè grido piangendo [5:05]
Lasguisce al fin [4:52]
Tu m’uccidi, o crudele [3:40]
Luzzasco LUZZASCHI Ahi cruda sorte mia [3:33]
Lungi da te cor mio [3:24]
Itene mie querele [1:43]
Maria Galassi (harp), Andrea Damiani (theorbo)
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini – rec. c.1999. DDD.
NAÏVE OPUS111 OP30486 [67:10] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library (no booklet from either).

Gesualdo is famous – notorious even – for having killed his wife and her lover and it’s popularly supposed that his music is so intense because of his guilt at that deed. If that’s so, the Borgias did a pretty good job of hiding their guilt, but it is true that his sacred and secular music is darker than that of his contemporary Monteverdi. If your idea of a madrigal is the English variety such as It was a lover and his lass or Now is the month of Maying, Gesualdo will be quite a shock to your system. The question at issue in these recordings of his final two books of madrigals is how slow and how intense the music should be and there’s quite a range to choose among.

Naxos: this is the final volume of the series. Longhini’s earlier volumes, like his recordings of Monteverdi, have met with a mixed response from myself and other MusicWeb reviewers. Both the style of performance, with an all-male cast and counter-tenors on the top line, and the almost universally slow tempi take some getting used to, so I suggest that you try it out from Naxos Music Library if you can; otherwise listen to some of the short snippets which Naxos include on their web page.

I reviewed Books 1 and 3 in this series in my June 2011/2 Download Roundup and, as then, my response to their latest release remains generally favourable but with reservations about the balance with an all-male ensemble and the often very slow tempi adopted. On this occasion I think these work but try some of the madrigals first along with the other recordings that I’ve listed via Naxos Music Library. Taking just the first two madrigals from Book 6 at random, Alan Curtis is fastest, la Venexiana and Alessandrini occupy the middle ground and Longhini is very much slower than any of the competition, hence the need to run to three CDs. Book Five fares rather better but the opening two madrigals take 4:19 and 4:18 respectively against 3:11 and 3:08 from la Venexiana, 3:44 and 3:34 from Alan Curtis, so the difference is still quite marked.

The mp3 sound is much more than acceptable – the lossless version was not yet available when I obtained my review download. Naxos’s lossless versions come in one long file with no separate tracks; there’s another lossless version from eclassical.com, but that comes without the booklet of notes and texts.

Pan Classics: Il Complesso Barocco are a group with an excellent track record in baroque music for various labels – I’m currently looking forward to having enough spare time to listen to their latest recording for Virgin Classics, Handel’s Giove in Argo (72311622). Their recording of Book Six makes a more secure recommendation for me than the Naxos. Their DVD recording of music by Gesualdo didn’t get much of a recommendation from Tim Perry, who advised leaving it well alone – review – but that was more because of Werner Herzog’s film than the performances. On Pan Classics they deliver impassioned performances of this very emotive music, so I can think of no good reason why the recording was not released until 2011 when it was recorded in 1994. Tempi are generally the fastest on offer here without ever sounding peremptory.

From eclassical.com it comes in mp3 and very good lossless sound but there’s no book of words. Classicsonline.com have the book but offer mp3 only. The way to square that circle is to purchase the download from eclassical.com and download the booklet from Naxos Music Library.

The two Glossa recordings would probably be my desert-island compromise, by which I don’t mean to imply that the performances are in any way middling. La Venexiana are a distinguished and established ensemble whose work I’ve praised before and I enjoyed their singing in Book 5. I hadn’t encountered la Compagnia del madrigale before but they also acquit themselves very well in Book 6. As I was converting this review for the web, I note that Johan van Veen has also enjoyed this recording of Book 6 and made it a Recording of the Month.

Concerto Italiano: if you’re not willing to invest in the 3-CD Naxos or the Pan Classics CD of Book 6, this selection, mainly drawn from Books 5 and 6, together with madrigals by some of Gesualdo’s influences and contemporaries, may be just what you are looking for. Even if you intend to buy one of the other recordings, you may be interested in hearing this recording which places Gesualdo in context.

There are also recordings of Books Five and Six on the Globe label which I haven’t been able to hear, but were well liked by Gary Higginson – review. For the recent first recording of Gesualdo’s Sacræ Cantiones, Book II (Vocalconsort, Berlin, Harmonia Mundi HMC902123) see 2013/4 Download News. The eclassical.com download of this now comes with the pdf booklet with texts and translations, the lack of which I bemoaned.

Discovery of the Month
Bartłomiej Pękiel (c.1610-c.1670)

Missa a14 (Kyrie and Gloria) [3:20 + 3:48]
Resonet in laudibus [1:49]
Dulcis amor Jesu [6:28]
Magnum nomen Domini [1:49]
Audite morales [12:55]
O Adoranda Trinitas [2:55]
Nativitas tua [4:06]
Missa Concertata (La Lombardesca) (Kyrie and Gloria) [3:10 + 5:01]
Assumpta est Maria [2:42]
Missa Concertata (La Lombardesca) (Credo) [9:23]
Ave Maria [3:21]
Missa Concertata (La Lombardesca) (Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei) [1:36 + 1:35 + 1:51]
The Sixteen/Eamonn Dougan
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
CORO COR16110 [65:59] – from thesixteendigital.com (mp3, aac, lossless flac and alac)

There are two discoveries here – the music of Pękiel, otherwise very sparsely represented in the catalogue, and the debut of associate director Eamonn Dougan in his first complete solo flight in the hot seat. Both are well worth your acquaintance.

The ghost of Monteverdi is hovering in the background of the music but it’s well worth hearing in its own right. There are no neglected masterpieces here, but there are no ineffective or over-imitative works either, and the performances, recording and booklet all do the music justice.

The recording comes in a variety of formats and prices, two lossy (mp3 and Apple’s aac at £7.99) and two lossless (flac and Apple alac at a rather pricey £16.50). It’s possible to purchase a passport for all formats for £19.50, which is well worth considering if you intend both to listen in 24/96 lossless and on an mp3 player or burn to CDR – the lack of an intermediate 16/44.1 flac version means that it’s impossible to burn the flac files to CDR – they are too large for that. Unless you can burn and play DVD/A, then, you’ll be limited to mp3 on disc.

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Dixit Dominus, RV807 [26:44]
In furore iustissimae irae, RV626* [14:07]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Dixit Dominus, HWV232 [34:01]
Lucy Crowe (soprano)*
La Nuova Musica (Anna Dennis, Helen-Jane Howells, Augusta Hebbert, Esther Brazil (sopranos); Christopher Lowrey (counter[-tenor); Simon Wall, Tom Raskin (tenors) James Arthur (bass))/David Bates
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU807857 (35683115) [74:52] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

George Frideric HANDEL
Gloria in excelsis Deo [16:05]
Emma Kirkby (soprano)
Royal Academy of Music Baroque Orchestra/Laurence Cummings – rec. 2001. DDD
Dixit Dominus, HWV232 [31:31]
Hillevi Martinpelto (soprano), Anne Sofie Von Otter (alto)
Stockholm Bach Choir, Drottingholm Baroque Ensemble/Anders Öhrwall – rec. 1985. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
BIS-CD-1235 [47:36] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library
[see reviews by Kirk McElhearn and Peter Woolf]

There have been other recordings of the Handel Gloria but the BIS version can claim primacy, having been recorded soon after the work was discovered and almost universally accepted as the work of the young composer, in 2000. Having recorded the new work, BIS had to look around for something with which to couple it and decided that the Dixit Dominus of several years earlier would do well. In the event there is something of a mismatch, not least in terms of recording quality: the Gloria still sounds fresh and clear but Dixit Dominus is slightly distantly recorded. For all the quality of the performance, too, there’s a clear contrast between the soprano and Emma Kirkby.

With Emma Kirkby’s second thoughts on the Gloria, recorded with London Baroque, also available from BIS, with the Nine German Arias (BIS-CD-1615), the new Harmonia Mundi would seem to offer a better prospect, especially if you don’t have a recording of the two Vivaldi works.

In fact, this is RV807, not one of the more frequently recorded Vivaldi Dixits, RV594 and 595, and there are only four other recordings currently available; it’s not even included in the complete Hyperion Vivaldi Sacred Works, presumably because its misattribution to Galuppi had not then been cleared up. It receives a very good performance here, as does its very different Handel counterpart – less dramatic than you may be used to, but convincing. The whole is well recorded, especially as heard in 24-bit sound – 24/88.2, incidentally, which Windows 8 can cope with; users of earlier versions should set their DAC at 44.1.

I have not yet heard the Avie recording of Dixit from Apollo’s Fire or their even more recent one from Queen’s College, Oxford, and the Brook Street Band, apart from an excerpt on Radio 3, but Johan van Veen was not very impressed with the former – review. I hope to return to the newer Avie recording later. John Eliot Gardiner’s recording of Dixit and Zadok the Priest on Warner Apex remains a very worthwhile bargain recommendation, though it offers short value and cuts across other recommendations for Zadok with the other Coronation Anthems – review – download in earlier Erato guise from classicsonline.com for £4.49 or stream from Naxos Music Library. Classicsonline.com have the King’s/Willcocks recording on EMI Encore for just £2.99, with the Coronation Anthems (Ledger); listed in 2005 among the 100 Best Budget CDs, this is still well worth considering – try it first from Naxos Music Library.

Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767) Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst Volume V (Hamburg 1725-6)
The cantatas for high voice, violin and basso continuo I
Gott will Mensch und sterblich werden, TWV1:694 (Annunciation) [7:55]
Jauchzt, ihr Christen, seid vergnügt, TWV1:955 (3rd Sunday after Easter) [11:52]
Erwachet, entreißt euch den sündlichen Träumen, TWV1:584 (for Exaudi) [10:28]
Schmücket das frohe Fest mit Mayen, TWV1:1256 (Whit Monday) [8:52]
Die Kinder des Höchsten sind rufende Stimmen, TWV1:349 St John the Baptist) [10:01]
Packe dich, gelähmter Drache, TWV1:1222 (St Michael) [10:30]
Bergen Barokk
First complete recording
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCCC0102 [59:41] – from toccataclassics.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Two pieces of very good news first: this latest volume is well up to the standard of its four predecessors and toccataclassics.com now offer their downloads, formerly available only in 192kb/s mp3, in 320kb/s mp3 with lossless flac at a small premium, commensurate with what you would expect to pay from other providers.

On some of the earlier volumes the cantatas were more akin to what we would expect from a Bach cantata, but all these are for a single soprano soloist. The solo singing from Mona Julsrud is excellent – ethereal in quality to such an extent that I’d place her not far off Emma Kirkby – but diction is a real problem, to the point of inaudibility, which is ironic since care has been taken to pronounce German as it would have been in Telemann’s time. The notes even make the point that Telemann required clear diction. That apart, the lossless version sounds very well indeed.

Recording of the Month
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Clavierübung III
Stephen Farr (Metzler Organ, Trinity College, Cambridge) – rec. 3-4 April 2013. DDD
Pdf booklet includes chorale texts and full organ specification
RESONUS RES10120 [105:08] – for release by resonusclassics.com (mp3, aac and lossless)

I received this hot off the press little over a month after the recording had been made. It won’t be generally available until July 2013 but it’s such an important release that I had to include it in this edition of DL News. I’ve been looking forward to its release since it was announced – I mentioned it in my review of the very fine but very different organ recital of music by Lennox and Michael Berkeley in 2013/7 DL News. As on Kay Johansen’s highly regarded recording (Hänssler 92.101), the works from Clavierübung are bookended by the Prelude and Fugue, BWV522, and the four Duetti, BWV802-805 are also included.

All lovers of Bach’s music should be prepared to order this new Resonus recording in advance, even if you already have a recording of the Clavierübung, such as the one included in the Teldec-Warner Complete Works which I recently reviewed in USB format: Recording of the Month – review – or Kevin Bowyer’s complete survey for Nimbus, available on CD or on mp3: Bargain of the Monthreview. My colleague Byzantion has also reviewed the Nimbus set – review – and I’m indebted to him for being able to point the impecunious and those who like to compare towards a completely free set of Bach organ music, performed by James Kibbie of UMich for download in aac format – here.

For those wanting just a single-CD selection from Clavierübung III, there’s a fine version on Maya from Malcolm Proud on another Metzler organ – review – but I’m not going to make detailed comparisons with that or the classic Helmut Walcha or the Teldec or Nimbus recordings because I was so completely sold on this new recording that I have no real reservations. In the space of two days I’ve listened to two recordings which have bowled me over – this and a Beulah reissue of Furtwängler performing Brahms Fourth Symphony, which I’m planning to review in a separate DL News dedicated to Beulah’s recent album releases (2PD72 – from iTunes or Amazon).

The Furtwängler Brahms shines through what remains a rather crumbly recording despite Beulah’s usual first-rate efforts but this Bach recording needs no apologies. I received a variety of formats for review and chose to listen to the highest quality 24-bit/96kHz flac. Resonus usually offer mp3, aac and 16-bit flac; for higher quality you normally have to turn to eclassical.com, which may also entail a brief wait. The sound is excellent and the quality of the release is heightened by the excellent notes in the pdf booklet, which include the German texts of the chorales on which Bach wrote organ preludes and a specification of the Metzler organ at Trinity.

I also downloaded the mp3 version of this recording for burning to CD for use in the car but I fear that Bach playing of this quality may prove too excitable for that purpose and lead to dangerous driving. When it’s dragged to a USB stick and played via the USB socket of my amplifier, you’d hardly think this was mere mp3.

Recording of the Month
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Piano Concerto No.17 in G, K453 [30:10]
Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat, K595 [29:09]
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Orchestra da Camera di Mantova/Hannu Lintu – rec. July 2011. DDD
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67919 [59:19] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless) [K595/ii available on free Hyperion Sampler HYP201305]

These two Mozart concertos may not be quite top of the tree in my book – that would be No.23, K488, with its nearest neighbours as close runners-up – and I already have so many recordings of each that I recently cleared out my CDs of Jenö Jandó’s Mozart concertos (Naxos), but I predict that I shall be regularly playing these new versions. This is Mozart performance of the highest order – but I expected that before even the first note began to play on the basis of Angela Hewitt’s earlier successes on Hyperion. With even better music here than on her earlier disc of Nos. 6, 8 and 9 – review and October 2011/2 DL Roundup – a different conductor, good recording and Hyperion’s usual quality booklet of notes, this deserves a strong recommendation.

The slightly short playing time is reflected in the download price – only £7.85 even for the 24-bit.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Mass No.19 in d minor, K626 (Requiem)
Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano), Christine Rice (mezzo), James Gilchrist (tenor), Christopher Purves (bass)
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
Academy of Ancient Music/Stephen Cleobury
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
KINGS KGS0002 [2 CDs: 128:22] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

The 17th-century writer Sir Thomas Browne named two things that it would be very interesting to know but which were ultimately unknowable: What song the sirens sang [to Odysseus] or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women. To that list I can add the question of what version of the Mozart Requiem is the best; the answer is equally desirable and equally unfathomable. The Naxos Music Library alone lists dozens of versions, of which the most recent is from Stephen Cleobury, the second release on King’s own label.

The new recording tries to be all things in offering the conventional Süssmayr completion together with other versions of what Mozart didn’t complete as appendices: Maunder’s Amen, Levin and Beyer’s Sanctus, Druce’s Benedictus, Levin’s Cum sanctis tuis and Finnissy’s Lacrimosa. So far so good, especially as the performance is fine, but I think that King’s have made a mistake in offering a second 66-minute disc as part of the deal, an audio documentary on the work. That inevitably doubles the cost for the sake of something that most will want to hear only once.

I enjoyed the performance, especially as, unlike the recent rival from New College, Oxford, where the soloists are drawn from the choir, professionals are employed. I thought the New College version – again, an own-label production – good of its kind (October 2011/2 Download Roundup), but John Quinn was less impressed – review – and the use of professionals, especially a soprano rather than a treble, on the new recording makes a great deal of difference.

The King’s choir sings well, if with some inevitable very slight shortcomings in the treble department, and the direction is vigorous. The download sound is good and the booklet is included, but on disc the main programme is offered on SACD and it’s available from online dealers for little more (in some cases less: currently £11.75 from one dealer) than the classicsonline.com price of £15.99.

So can I answer that initial question? Only by pointing to a number of very good versions. If push comes to shove I go for Neville Marriner’s Philips recording, now available again as a Decca Virtuoso download (no CD in the UK: £4.99 from 7digital.com). The mp3 sound is very good, but if you insist on lossless flac, that will cost you £9.49 from deutschegrammophon.com.

Two other Philips recordings remain very good value:


Sir Colin Davis, with the ‘Great’ Mass and Coronation Mass, 438 8002 (2 CDs, budget price)

Peter Schreier, with Ave Verum Corpus and Coronation Mass, 464 7202 (mid price) – sounding just a little ponderous beside more recent recordings but a real bargain at 79 minutes playing time.

Harry Christophers (Coro COR16093) is also well worth considering: October 2011/2 Download Roundup.

Those interested in hearing Süssmayr’s own Requiem alongside his completion of the Mozart should try to hear the Avie recording (AV0047review). It’s available from Naxos Music Library or as a download from classicsonline.com, but without the booklet, which is a shame since the German texts of the Requiem, as authorised for use in parts of Austria, will be unfamiliar.

Bargains of the Month
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Complete Overtures Volume 1

La gazza ladra [9:50]
Semiramide [12:27]
Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra (Il barbiere di Siviglia) [7:28]
Otello [8:34]
Le siège de Corinthe [9:34]
Sinfonia in D ‘al Conventello’ [4:03]
Ermione* [8:08]
Prague Philharmonic Choir*
Prague Sinfonia Orchestra/Christian Benda – rec. September 2011. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
NAXOS 8.570933 [60:04] – from classicsonline.com (mp3 and lossless)

[‘This is an admirable start to what looks like being a very desirable series.’ See review by John Sheppard and slightly less enthusiastic review by John Whitmore.]

Complete Overtures Volume 2
Guillaume Tell [11:37]
Eduardo e Cristina [9:17]
L’inganno felice [6:07]
La scala di seta [6:01]
Demetrio e Polibio [6:31]
Il Signor Bruschino [4:52]
Sinfonia di Bologna [5:26]
Sigismondo [8:30]
Prague Sinfonia Orchestra/Christian Benda – rec. September 2011. DDD.
Pdf booklet included.
NAXOS 8.570934 [58:21] – from classicsonline.com (mp3 and lossless)

I got to know five of the Rossini overtures long ago from a recording on which Pierino Gamba conducted the LSO – still available as a download from 7digital.com, though I can’t vouch for the quality – and I’ve owned or heard many more since then, but these new Naxos recordings are about as good as it gets. Of the items in common with the older recording, only la Gazza Ladra packs a little less punch than I recall from Gamba.

I have to admit that I’m not the greatest fan of Rossini’s operas – apart from Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Il Turco in Italia and l’Italiana in Algeri, I don’t know them all that well, so perhaps I should repair the omission – but I do very much enjoy the overtures when played with as much panache as they are here.

My reservations are hardly worth mentioning – perhaps the violins could tap their bows a bit more vigorously in the Signor Bruschino Overture and there’s room for at least one more overture on each volume. The recording is very good, especially in lossless format for £1 or $1 extra. If you dislike Naxos’s practice of supplying their lossless flac recordings as one long file, eclassical.com have Volume 1 in mp3 and lossless – here – and will no doubt be adding its successor in due course.

There will be two more volumes to complete the set. If you can’t wait that long, 7digital.com have the ASMF/Neville Marriner 3-disc recording for £15.99 – here. You may also wish to add the Toscanini recording of six Rossini overtures (1956) if you live in a country where copyright laws allow you to download the Naxos Classical Archives release of these (9.80684, not available in the USA).

Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847)
Concerto in d minor for Violin, Piano and Strings, MWVO4 (1823) [35:26]
Polina Leschenko (piano)
Richard Tognetti (violin)
Australian Chamber Orchestra
Octet in E flat, Op. 20/MWV R20 (1825) [30:50]
Members of the Australian Chamber Orchestra
(Richard Tognetti, Helena Rathbone, Satu Vänskä, Rebecca Chan (violins)
Christopher Moore, Nicole Divall (violas)
Timo-Veikko Valve, Julian Thompson (cellos)
Pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-1984 [66:58] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

Two works by the youthful genius Mendelssohn, of which the Octet is deservedly well known, the concerto far less so. There are just four recordings of the concerto; this is the only version with this coupling. For two of the others, on Harmonia Mundi, with the a minor Piano Concerto, and Claves with the Violin Concerto see review. There’s an earlier BIS recording on BIS-CD-713, coupled with shorter Mendelssohn works.

I share Dave Billinge’s view that the modern grand piano tends to overshadow proceedings a little too much but I also share his overall recommendation of the performance and recording – review. I enjoyed hearing the earlier work but if it’s just the wonderful Octet that you’re looking for, there are many very fine alternatives which (just) have the edge on the BIS recording, including:

Resonus RES10101: Eroica Quartet and friends – the original unrevised version, well worth having not just for curiosity sake but very well performed and recorded (download only – March 2011/2 DL Roundup)
• Wigmore Hall Live WHL001: Nash Ensemble (with Beethoven Clarinet Trio) – see March 2009 DL Roundup. As well as the emusic.com download listed there, classicsonline.com offer this in better quality mp3 and with booklet for £4.99.

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartet No.12 in F, Op.96, (American) [26:40]
Bedřich SMETANA(1824-1884)
String Quartet No.1 in e minor, (From my Life) [26:32]
Tokyo String Quartet (Martin Beaver, Kikuei Ikeda (violins), Kazuhide Isomura (viola), Clive Greensmith (cello)) – rec. February 2006. DDD/DSD.
Pdf booklet included.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU807429 (37862837) [53:11] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16 and 24-bit lossless)

The pairing of these two quartets takes us down a well-trod path. I was expecting this valedictory recording from the Tokyo Quartet to be very special and, indeed, I did very much enjoy it, but there is some very strong competition, coupled thus – from the Alban Berg Quartet, download only – or differently.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I didn’t immediately warm to this understated account of the American Quartet and I see that at least one other reviewer (not MusicWeb International) thinks the opening movement rather too relaxed. It’s not until the third movement that this performance comes alive for me and then the quality of their playing captures the quirkiness of the music and, here and in the finale, makes up for the slight disappointment earlier.

For satisfaction in every movement, however, though downloads from these sources are available only in mp3 sound, I’m still likely to turn to the Wihan Quartet (with Quartet No.11, Nimbus Alliance NI6114review) or the Pavel Haas Quartet (with No.13, Supraphon SU4038-2: Recording of the Month review and review; November 2011/2 DL Roundup.) Both of these are slightly more generously coupled, too, than the new Harmonia Mundi, which has room to spare for another quartet – I have an old Hungaroton CD with the Bartók Quartet offering the Debussy and Ravel Quartets together with the American Quartet, 74 minutes and at the budget price of £3.99 when it was last available.

The Tokyo Quartet, however, respond much more idiomatically to Smetana’s dramatic quartet – if you don’t know the work, it catalogues the ups and downs of his life, the latter most vividly depicted by the sustained note, almost a screech of despair, which signalled the onset of the composer’s deafness. I hate to use the cliché that it’s a game of two halves and it’s almost worth having the recording for the Smetana alone, though there are other very fine accounts, notably from the Škampa Quartet on another Supraphon recording (with Quartet No.2, SU3740-2) or the Dante Quartet (very good value with Quartet No.2 and Sibelius String Quartet, Hyperion CDA67845review and August 2011/1 DL Roundup).

The contrast between the playful, dancing opening of the finale and that awful screech is well marked on the new recording, though the Tokyo Quartet could make rather more of the horror. The Moyzes Quartet on Naxos play the light-hearted opening a little too seriously and under-play the horror so, although they offer good value with the two quartets plus My Home at budget price, I can’t really recommend them.

The Alban Berg Quartet, recorded live (EMI, download only), in their account of the finale give premonitory warnings of the catastrophe to come but without thereby diminishing the effect of the screech that effectively ended Smetana’s career. With a good account of the American Quartet as coupling, this could be your ideal recommendation, especially as classicsonline.com have it for £6.99 (mp3 only as against $9.57 for the eclassical.com Harmonia Mundi download in mp3 and lossless).

The 24-bit Harmonia Mundi recording is, unusually, at 88.2 kHz, a frequency which Windows doesn’t support, unless you have Windows 8. If you have a DAC and it doesn’t automatically select the right frequency, choose 44.1.

Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Joyeuse marche (c. 1888) [3:40]
Overture to ‘Gwendoline’ (1879-1885) [9:23]
Habañera (c. 1885) [4:11]
España (1883) [6:12]
Lamento (1874) [7:44]
Bourrée fantasque (1897) [6:44]
Suite pastorale (c. 1888) [19:05]
Three movements from ‘L’étoile’ (1877) [8:11]
Two movements from ‘Le Roi malgré lui’ (1884-1887) [12:28]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Neeme Järvi
rec. 27-29 June 2012, Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland
Pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHSA 5122 [77:15] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16-bit lossless & 24/96 Studio stereo and surround)

Talk about bearding the lion in his den; here Järvi confronts Ansermet in repertoire for which the latter was justly famous (review). Järvi’s recent Raff recording with the OSR impressed me a great deal (review) as did the Victoria Hall’s new, cutting-edge recording facilities. I do find this conductor rather po-faced at times, not to mention rhythmically inflexible – as in his Suppé collection – so I wondered how he would fare against Ansermet, that most natural and spontaneous of musicians. The latter’s devotion to Chabrier is well known, and his breathtaking and buoyant performance of España – recorded in fine stereo in 1964 – is peerless.

Undaunted, Järvi starts with a bracing – and rhythmically supple – Joyeuse marche, in which the timps, bass drum and percussive interjections are superbly caught. Balances are very pleasing and there’s plenty of fine detail too. Even more intoxicating is the overture to Chabrier’s ‘serious’ opera Gwendoline, whose turbulent opening instantly recalls Bizet’s Carmen. It also has a jaunty interlude that brings to mind an Ealing comedy before it builds to a big, surf-breaking climax that stays this side of good taste – but only just. I’ve not heard this piece before and I played it several times, if only to marvel at the polished playing and at the laugh-out-loud excitement of the closing bars.

Järvi follows that with a silky and sensitive Habañera – goodness, how well the OSR are playing for him – although I much prefer the stronger dynamic contrasts and sheer passion of Ansermet’s more idiomatic account. It says something about the quality of the Järvi /OSR combination that their detailed and very well sprung España comes close to supplanting Ansermet’s. Almost, but not quite, although the ‘tingle factor’ in the Chandos recording is hard to beat. So different from the elegiac Lamento, graced with some lovely cor anglais playing from Alexandre Emard; not a great work, but a little gem nonetheless. Ditto Mottl’s transcription of the vigorous Bourrée fantasque, even if it doesn’t feel much like Chabrier.

The four miniatures of the Suite pastorale are Chabrier’s transcriptions, and they have all the delicacy and point one would expect from him. As ever, Järvi and the OSR sound ultra-sophisticated, which isn’t always desirable here. That’s certainly true of the village dance, which lacks Ansermet’s delectable perk and rustic charm. That said Sous-bois has a rich Burgundian flavour that seems entirely apt, and the little Scherzo-valse is crisply done. All very pleasing – and well played – but Järvi’s suite isn’t as fresh or as invigorating as Ansermet’s. Remarkably Decca’s elderly recording doesn’t yield much to Chandos’s in terms of detail, presence and timbral accuracy, although the tuttis are clearly strained at times.

What I miss most in Järvi’s Chabrier – and in some of his more recent recordings – is a sense of personality. Sometimes he’s just too detached, so that incidental charm and colouristic touches barely register. The Offenbachian overture to the opéra bouffe L’Étoile is a case in point; it only sparkles intermittently. Similarly the two entr’actes are deftly done but they’re woefully short on character. That said, Järvi makes amends with an urgent, nicely shaped account of the dancing Fête polonaise from Chabrier’s opéra-comique about reluctant royalty, Le Roi malgré lui. Predictably Ansermet’s performance is more sharply drawn and his rhythms are emphatically accented. The same applies to these competing versions of the Danse slave.

The lion may have been bearded in his den but he’s still the undisputed king of this repertoire. If you prefer your Chabrier filtered through a metropolitan lens – urbane, streamlined – then Järvi’s your man. However, if you like some extra swing to your rhythms and a vigorous stomp to your bucolic dances – some dirt on its boots, as it were – then Ansermet is the one to go for. When the latter’s Chabrier appears as a high-res download – Universal, please note – it will be even more desirable than it is already. Still, Järvi is well worth hearing, not least for the glorious Gwendoline.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

Recommended Bargain Buy
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Tzigane [11:00]
Édouard LALO (1823-1892) Symphonie espagnole, Op.21 [32:51]
Karl Amadeus HARTMANN (1905-1963) Concerto Funèbre for violin and string orchestra * [21:51]
Ida Haendel (violin)
Andre Gertler (violin)*
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ančerl– rec. 1964 and 1968. ADD.
SUPRAPHON ANčERL GOLD SU3677-2 [65:44] – from emusic.com (mp3)

[‘A confident recommendation.’ See review by Ian Lace and review by Terry Barfoot.]

The Lalo Symphonie – music for violin and orchestra at about its most easy-going, from 1873 – and the rather tough Hartmann concerto from that ominous year 1939 make strange bedfellows. The Lalo has appeared on various Supraphon releases, more obviously coupled, but these are classic vintage performances and the recordings still sound fine, though some may be troubled by the close balance of the soloist in Lalo and Ravel.

At £4.20 or less, the emusic.com download is the least expensive that I can find – amazon.com’s price is almost as much as buying the physical CD – and the bit-rate of around 236kb/s is within shouting distance of amazon.co.uk’s usual 256kb/s.

For alternatives, more logically coupled:

Lalo:

• Eloquence 462 4792: Arthur Grumiaux; Lamoureux O/Rosenthal (with Saint-Saëns, Chausson and Ravel) – review. The earlier reissue on Philips Concert Classics remains my benchmark.

Hartmann:

• Hyperion CDA67547: Alina Ibragimova/Britten Sinfonia (with solo violin works by Hartmann) – review and Download News 2012/24.
• Warner Apex 092740812-2: Thomas Zehetmair/Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie (with Berg and JanáčekViolin Concertos, at budget price) – review.

For more Lalo:

Overture Le Roi d’Ys; Violin Concerto in F, Op.20; Scherzo in d minor; Concerto russe, Op.29: Chandos CHAN9759: Olivier Charlier (violin); BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier – rec. 1999. DDD. [71:18] – with pdf booklet from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Fantaisie norvégienne Hyperion Helios CDH55396: Philippe Graffin (violin); Ulster Orchestra/Yan Pascal Tortelier (with Lalo Guitarre, Fauré, Saint-Saens, etc.: Rare French Works for violin and orchestra) – from hyperion.co.uk (mp3 and lossless): see DL Roundup March 2011/2.

None of this music has quite the immediate appeal of the Symphonie espagnole, but it’s all very enjoyable, especially the Concerto russe, and you’re unlikely to find better performances or recordings. I’ve already recommended the inexpensive Hyperion Helios collection but the Chandos album is also a desirable purchase.

There’s an alternative version of the Concerto russe on BIS-SACD-1890, which Byzantion thought appealing if sometimes straight-laced (review) – download from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Symphony in C [26:59]
Jeux d’Enfants – Suite [10:48]
La Jolie Fille de Perth – Suite [12:14]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet – rec.c.1960. ADD
HALLMARK [50:01] – from emusic.com (mp3)

[also reissued with other works and music by Turina on a 2-CD Eloquence set, 480 0457 – see review.]

For £2.52 or less, this is very good value. The music, of course, is Beecham territory and Ansermet is not quite in that league in conveying the music’s magic – who is? – but he makes a very good shot at it. Compare Ansermet’s light-hearted and enjoyable account of the third movement of the Symphony with Beecham – review – and you’ll miss the way in which the latter makes the music bounce along as if of its own accord. Nevertheless, whichever version you choose, the Symphony is an essential listen and this version certainly won’t fail to convey its attractions. It’s a more attractive proposition than the recent Virgin CD from Paavo Järvi – review.

If you’re going for the Beecham, go one better than the single CD and obtain his Bizet (Symphony, L’Arlésienne Suites, Carmen orchestral music, Patrie and Roma) in Sir Thomas Beecham conducts French Music (EMI 9099322, 6 CDs for around £18 – review; download for £13.99 from classicsonline.com), where you’ll also find the Lalo Symphony which was originally coupled with the Bizet.

The Decca recording still sounds well apart from an occasional, almost inaudible thud lasting for three or four revolutions of the LP source. The 1954 mono recording of the Symphony is also available, coupled with the Overture Patrie, on Naxos Classical Archives, from classicsonline.com (mp3).

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Souvenir de Florence, Op.70 [34:16]
Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906) String Quartet No.2 in a, Op.35 [26:27]
The Raphael Ensemble – rec. 1993. DDD.
Pdf booklet included.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55426 [60:43] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Reviewing the Keller Quartet’s recording of the Souvenir de Florence on a budget-price 2-CD Warner Apex set, with the three String Quartets – review – I thought it worth paying a little extra for other recordings, including this Hyperion when it was at full price. The coupling of a work dedicated to Arensky’s mentor, Tchaikovsky when the third movement (track 6) is a set of luscious variations on the better-known composer’s music, makes this recording particularly apt. Now that this well-recorded CD is available less expensively, it’s even more desirable and I was pleased to make its acquaintance again.

Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Symphony No. 2 in E flat, Op.63 (1909-11) [54:44]
Sospiri for strings, harp and organ, Op.70 (1913-14) [3:50]
Elegy for strings, Op.58 (1909) [4:14]
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
Pdf booklet included.
BIS-SACD-1879 [63:54] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Dr Johnson once famously compared a female preacher to a dog standing on its hind legs – it was not well done but the miracle was that it was done at all. For some reason, though we don’t expect French music to be performed or conducted solely by French musicians, or German music by Germans, English music seems to defy all but British and American conductors. There are some remarkable exceptions – Karajan’s Planets (Decca and DG), Monteux’s Enigma Variations and Haitink’s Vaughan Williams symphonies spring at once to mind – but they are the exception rather than the rule. So is this Elgar recording one of those exceptions or more of the dog-on-hind-legs variety?

I’m giving Geoff Molyneux the first word on the matter because he likes it somewhat better than I did at first, though not much more, and I’ve come round more to his opinion:

As someone who first heard the great Elgar orchestral works under Boult, Barbirolli and especially Sargent at the Proms, it comes as quite a surprise to hear this light-sounding all– dancing first movement conducted by Sakari Oramo. The performance does not really catch fire until the lead-in to the recapitulation which is magnificent and the best part of the movement. Oramo judges it very well and creates some real excitement and passion as the music moves forward. What a contrast with Barbirolli, whose extremes of tempo change and rubato, together with his passion, emotion and drama may be a bit too much for some listeners. Barbirolli’s is the slowest performance and the small ritenuto and poco sostenuto just before 11 is very slow indeed. Actually the ensuing second theme of the second subject is played much more slowly than Elgar’s tempo marking. Indeed this passage almost grinds to a halt at one point. But I love it!!

This is idiomatic Elgar performance to me. More middle of the road is Sir Malcolm Sargent from the Colston Hall, Bristol from the 1960s. This live radio broadcast sounds very good, and apart from some bad brass playing here and there, especially and unfortunately near the beginning, the BBC Symphony Orchestra plays magnificently. I don’t feel that Colin Davis’s performance is a contender here. The first bar is far too stretched out, and we hear Sir Colin groaning in the background. Then follows the main theme which starts at a reasonable speed but gets faster and faster as Sir Colin realises that he started too slowly in the first place. Also I really dislike the Barbican acoustics on this recording.

The best modern recording of this movement is surely that by Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé. The sound is beautifully integrated and very idiomatic. The strings are rich in tone, the rubato is perfect and the piece is played so expressively. Listen to the second subject! The whole movement is passionate and exciting and the climaxes are approached convincingly. It is the best recorded version too. Elgar’s own recording from the 1930s is the fastest of all, probably because of the difficulties in recording techniques of the time, but it is nevertheless of great historical interest.

Oramo sets the sad tone of the second movement funeral march very well. The strings of his orchestra are not so rich, and the brass not so well-integrated as in other recordings. There is some attractive dolcissimo playing at 71 and this builds to a fine climax. Further on the ppp (very, very soft) is so quietly played it was quite difficult to set the volume of my equipment to accommodate this as well as the very loud passages. I don’t much like the oboe a bit further on in his important solo passage and a little later the intonation of the whole orchestra is not quite of the perfection we expect at this level of performance. Again the brass tone is not quite integrated and the horns in particular are not quite up to the mark. I can only describe the playing of the Hallé under Mark Elder as absolutely fabulous in this movement. The string section is of the highest international standards producing a devastatingly beautiful sound, as indeed do the brass and woodwind. Andrew Davis with the Philharmonia Orchestra on Signum Classics knocks nearly two minutes from Elder’s timing in the second movement, and he has a somewhat less indulgent view. It is a compelling performance nevertheless, but Andrew Davis seems to want to keep the music moving at all costs.

Next we come to the third movement, nightmarish with moments of lyrical relief. Oramo’s is the fastest performance I heard whilst reviewing this CD, coming in at seven and a half minutes. There is great clarity in spite of the speed, and the conductor pulls back the second subject appropriately and it is very attractively played. Although very lightly and deftly executed, some of the scampering figures in the violins at the start seem to disappear from audibility. But Oramo doesn’t seem to pull off the huge climax in the centre of the movement as well as others. Elgar told an orchestra he was conducting to imagine the throbbing in the head experienced by a feverish man. The throbbing becomes worse and worse until it overwhelms all thoughts and feeling. He told the percussion to ‘give me all your worth! I want you to drown the rest of the orchestra’.

Most terrifying of all in this passage is Sir Malcolm Sargent but at the double fortissimo the engineers seem to turn down the volume slightly and that is a shame. Maybe they were taken by surprise at the ferocity of the music at this point. Also matchless in this passage are Barbirolli and Elder. The Hallé of today has the edge over the orchestra of Barbirolli’s time and some woodwind passages are a tad out of tune in the Barbirolli with not such a nice tone. Elder gives a magnificent performance with just the right tempi selected and perfectly judged rubato, for example when he moves into the first episode. Elder observes meticulously Elgar’s dynamic markings, and he and the Hallé give a truly thrilling performance of this movement. Richard Hickox and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales produce some fine playing in this movement with some beautifully realised woodwind solos, but sometimes there is a lack of clarity in the recording and the orchestra sounds a bit too far back. Jeffrey Tate and the London Symphony Orchestra also give a fine account of this movement on EMI Classics.

Again Oramo seems to have a rather lightweight approach to the start of the Finale, but the orchestra does make a very attractive sound. The second subject has a sense of Nobilmente but I wonder why Oramo makes an unmarked diminuendo just before 143. I can see a reason for getting a little softer, but unlike Elder who does not do this, Oramo seems to lose momentum here. There is great clarity, almost clinically so, in the very fast and virtuosic passages written for the violins at the beginning of the development section. We don’t often hear such detail at this point and later on fast woodwind figuration sounds really nice and clean. But sometimes the balance seems wrong. For example at the beginning of the recapitulation, the main theme in the cellos marked to be played softly (p) is nearly obliterated by long sustained notes (soon developing into a countermelody) marked to be played very softly (pp) in the clarinets and cor anglais. You can hear the correct balance at this point on the Elder recording with the Hallé. Sometimes the very soft sections on the BIS recording are just that bit too soft for my equipment to cope with. I must turn up the volume for example, just before the ‘Spirit of Delight’ theme towards the end. However Oramo’s closing section is beautifully and movingly played.

Equally passionate and thrilling as Elder and Barbirolli in this movement is Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra on EMI Classics, authoritative and without the excesses of Barbirolli. Boult starts quite steadily but then makes a gradual but convincing accelerando (though this is not marked by the composer) leading to the transition theme. Indeed, on rehearing this recording after a long time, I was quite surprised at the liberties he takes. Regarding the Barbirolli performance, it is a tribute to the musicians involved that the ensemble is so immaculate bearing in mind the indulgent rubato and wide variety of tempo.

Oramo and his forces give attractive performances of Sospiri and Elegy as fillers on this disc. Sospiri is given a gentle and beautifully phrased but swift account coming in at under 4 minutes. Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra give a somewhat slower account, with a richer, more sumptuous sound. Richer and slower still are Tate and Barbirolli who take around 5 minutes and more to explore this music’s expressive possibilities. Elder’s recording includes a more substantial work, the Introduction and Allegro for Strings and a fine account it is too, together with a reading of Shelley’s Spirit of Delight poem.

Sakari Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra give a very fine performance of the Elgar second symphony but ultimately I don’t feel that it stands up well compared with the great recordings of the past and other versions of more recent times, especially that by Mark Elder. Although there is sense of purpose and much beauty and clarity of detail, Oramo’s performance does not reach great heights of passion and excitement. If you are a newcomer to this work and want a wonderfully recorded, modern version equal in stature to those of Boult, Sargent and Barbirolli, the one to go for is Mark Elder and his fabulous Hallé orchestra. Elder conducts as though he were born to perform this music. He understands the architecture, passion and emotion of this music totally and is a match for his illustrious forbear in the post of Musical Director of the Hallé. Truly wonderful conducting and playing then, and this recording will be the one to join those of the three great conductors of yesteryear already on my shelves.

Geoffrey Molyneux

Sakari Oramo gets off to such a shaky and uncertain start as almost made me write off his performance, but it develops into a sensitive account about half way through the first movement. Even then there are moments when Oramo and his performers seem to mistake hesitancy for sensitivity, so my impression by the end of that opening movement was that this was a very good effort rather than a success, though I have to admit that the climaxes are really stunning. It’s not so much that Oramo is too slow – at 17:45 he takes just 15 seconds longer than Sir Adrian Boult with the LPO on his budget-price 2-CD set of the symphonies, Introduction and Allegro, In the South, etc. (EMI British Composers 3821512: Bargain of the Monthreview. Download in 320kb/s mp3 from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk for £6.99.) – it’s just that he seems to take a roundabout route getting there.

On Lyrita, Boult takes a minute less, just 16:31, for this movement. I know that many prefer that recording, but I’m not among them, largely because Boult was browbeaten into abandoning his principle of dividing first and second violins left and right. As Christopher Howell notes in his review, Boult never was the man to make the opening of this symphony explode off the page, but on EMI he urges rather than drives the music forward in such a way as to give us a clear topographical demonstration of where the music is coming from and where it’s going in a way that Oramo never quite manages.

If, for any reason, Boult is not your man, his student Vernon Handley, again with the LPO, in 1980, also shows how to make a time of 17:36 minutes not seem over-long for this movement when it’s conducted with a clear sense of direction. (Budget-price Classics for Pleasure 5753062, with Sea Pictures. I haven’t found a download that is less expensive than the CD, which you should find for around £6.) Elgar himself may have polished off the movement in 14:36 and the result is undeniably bracing, but the decision may well have had much to do with providing suitable breaks at the ends of 78rpm sides. (Naxos Historical 8.111260, with Cello Concerto or download EMI complete 9-CD edition from classicsonline.com in 320kb/s mp3 for £13.99). Even Sir Georg Solti, who modelled his Elgar performances on the composer’s own timings, doesn’t quite manage that, at 15:29. (Double Decca, with Symphony No.1, etc.)

In the slow movement the new recording is more successful but it’s still Boult who shows it to us in a single span. At that point I originally gave up on this recording and suggested to Geoff Molyneux that I’d welcome his thoughts, without telling him what I thought. He has made me listen again and I have to say that I feel more sympathetic than I did first time round – maybe I was in the wrong mood or the very different Boult interpretations were too much at the back of my mind. I haven’t analysed the remaining two movements too closely because I mostly enjoyed hearing them, though I share Geoff’s reservations even about these movements and about the place of this performance overall.

Apart from the odd balance problem, which troubled me less than it did Geoff, perhaps because he listened to the streamed version, the recording is good, though even the 24-bit is only at 44.1kHz.

Most of the recordings which Geoff compared are available from Naxos Music Library and for download from classicsonline.com:


Barbirolli: Symphonies 1 and 2, In the South, Serenadehere – only £5.99. Sainsburysentertainment.co.uk have the 5-CD set Barbirolli conducts Elgar for £19.99 – here.)
Tate: Symphonies 1 and 2, Cockaigne, Sospirihere – excellent value at £3.99 for a 2-CD set
Elder: Symphony No.2, Introduction and Allegrohere
Andrew Davis (Signum): Symphonies 1 and 2, Froissarthere. (NB: less expensively available from 7digital.com) There’s also his earlier Warner recording of Symphony No.2, In the Southhere – very good value on Apex at £3.99.
Colin Davis: Symphony No.2 – here – or Symphonies 1-3 for the same price as the Second alone, at £7.99, from 7digital.com.

The Hickox performance (Chandos CHSA5038, with In the South) can also be streamed from Naxos Music Library but the download is best purchased in mp3 or lossless from Chandos’ own website, theclassicalshop.net. My safest recommendation in my January 2010 Download Roundup.

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Don Quixote, Op. 35. Fantastic Variations on a theme of knightly character* [40:11]
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 [14:59]
*Alban Gerhardt (cello); *Lawrence Power (viola)
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/Markus Stenz – rec.6-9 January 2012. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67960 [55:11] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless). [Excerpt included on Hyperion free April 2013 Sampler.]

[See also review in 2013/7 DL News.]

Right from the start of this performance it is clear that the conductor has the measure of the work. We are delighted by the deft touch and clarity of detail. Indeed Stenz and his soloists are able to match Karajan with rich luxuriant sound where needed but with much greater clarity in the more complex sections where everything you want to hear can be heard, and this adds to the cumulative effect of these passages.

There is lovely tone from the winds in the introduction and a velvety rich sound from the second violins and violas in their motives representing Quixote’s courtesy, followed by a gorgeous, rich and very German sounding oboe depicting Dulcinea.

Sometimes some solos seem a bit too far towards the back of the texture. For example the violin solo here sounds distant, but remarkable clarity is achieved in this complex, latter part of the introduction. Now and then Karajan has more intensity and drama, for example when the trumpets and tuba suddenly interrupt Dulcinea’s theme on the oboe. Karajan’s recording is much more resonant and this seems rather old-fashioned nowadays, and on repeated hearings I began to develop a preference for the new Hyperion. As much as I like Pierre Fournier’s often intense and fabulous playing on the Karajan recording, he is matched by Alban Gerhardt, now established as one of the best cellists around. He is strong and robust as we begin Variation 1 in which Quixote attacks the giants (windmills) and the Cologne band produces some fabulous playing in the battle with the sheep. However I felt that Karajan’s flutter-tonguing winds sound rather more sinister and menacing.

Variation 4 is suitably dramatic at the start and very impressively played with strong rhythmic vitality. However in the second section where the trumpets, trombones and bassoons play slowly in unison, the clarinet interjections can barely be heard at the start, sounding too distant. Variation 5 takes us into a haunting, moonlit night as Quixote keeps vigil over his imaginary love. The cello solo is beautifully and movingly played by Alban Gehardt. The ensemble is immaculate in the ensuing lively variation. Of course Strauss’s orchestration is extraordinary and wonderful. In Variations 7 and 8, representing the Ride through the air and the Ill-fated voyage on the enchanted boat, the Cologne orchestra depicts these scenes in performances of great clarity in this complex music. Hyperion’s suitably spacious recording reliably accommodates wind machine and all. After the drama of the final variation, the Finale representing the death of our hero is very movingly and beautifully played by Gerhardt and the orchestra.

Whilst both Gerhardt and Power are magnificent I think that the real star of this performance is Marcus Stenz who conducts and shapes the piece with great skill, musicality and insight.

Till Eulenspiegel is a great masterpiece with musical depictions of Till’s merry pranks, but even if you know nothing of the story, the piece works as a symphonic and organic whole. This performance sounds lean and clear and some passage are more swift than usual. The opening section dances merrily along with lightness of touch. There is much clarity here compared with more traditional approaches to this work. Recordings such as the fine performance given by Haitink and the Concertgebouw on Philips are more resonant and warm sounding. This can be heard right from the start of Haitink’s recording in which the Introduction is also a bit slower.

Once again, Stenz demonstrates a real mastery of the different moods and ever-changing tempi in Till. The orchestral playing is first class and the performance is a match for any of the great performances already available. Highly recommended.

Geoffrey Molyneux

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Symphony No. 1 in d minor, Op.13 (1895) [45:32]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in f sharp minor, Op. 1 (1891, rev. 1917) [24:37]
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
Singapore Symphony Orchestra/Lan Shui – rec. August 2012, Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore
pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-2012 [70:58] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16/44.1 & 24/96 lossless)

Lan Shui and the Singapore Symphony feature in one of my favourite BIS collections, Seascapes, released back in 2007 (review). Musically and sonically this is one of the label’s finest recordings, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. That’s the good news; the not so good is that their take on Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony lacks essential fire (review). As for pianist Yevgeny Sudbin, who made such an impact with his bracing account of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, he’s already given us the Paganini Rhapsody – coupled with Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony – both of which were welcomed by Dominy Clements (review).

At the time of writing this new release was part of eclassical’s weekly discount offer, in which the 24-bit flacs are downloadable for the same price as the 16-bit versions. It’s a shrewd strategy that offers impecunious listeners a taste of high-res music at a very sensible price but what of the performances? My first impressions of this Op. 13 are mixed, to say the least. The opening movement certainly has necessary gravitas – and a lovely vein of lyricism – but if you prefer sheer heft and energy others, such as Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Concertgebouw on Decca, are probably a better choice.

That said, the playing of these Singaporeans is always committed and the recording is good, if not spectacular. It’s only when one comes to the characterful Allegro animato that this performance sounds a trifle bland compared with the best. Animated it isn’t, and robbed of vital momentum the music is inclined to stretch and sag. Still, there’s some pointful playing here, and the Larghetto has its share of melting moments. More controlled than most this is a reading that may not make an impact first time around; indeed, I found that subsequent auditions were more revealing and rewarding.

The start of the Allegro con fuoco is arresting – fine contributions from the trumpets and side drum – but tension wanes quickly thereafter. It seems Lan Shui doesn’t have a particularly strong or intuitive grasp of the symphony’s structure, and that makes for a sometimes piecemeal performance. Just sample Ashkenazy here and that lack of cohesion is all too obvious. Listening to the repetitive finale – bombastic is the better word – it amuses me that the man who wrote it took such a withering view of that extended march in Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’; that said, if you really want to be bludgeoned into submission just listen to Ashkenazy.

It’s clear from the very first bars of the concerto that Sudbin brings the same nervous energy to the piece that he did to the Tchaikovsky First. Add to that much-needed weight and thrust and this has all the makings of a very fine performance. I do like his heated rhapsodising, the very antithesis of Valentina Lisitsa’s more inward reading for Decca, and his focus is unwavering. The orchestra are kept on their toes throughout, and their crisp, emphatic tuttis are thrilling. Goodness, Sudbin is a remarkable pianist, and how fortunate that he and his magnificent Steinway D are so sympathetically recorded by Ingo Petry and his dedicated team.

The Andante is glorious, with wonderfully refined and deeply reflective playing from orchestra and soloist respectively; they also acquit themselves well in the mercurial Allegro vivace, where precision and passion are yoked to intoxicating effect. As much as I warmed to Lisitsa’s view of this work Sudbin’s very different one is ample proof that great music responds to a myriad of interpretations. Indeed, in my Lisitsa review – not yet published at the time of writing – I speculated that Sudbin’s Rachmaninov could just be the strong and consistent cycle we’ve all been waiting for. Listening to this terrific Op. 1 I’m now sure of it.

If only this performance of the First Symphony were as gripping as the concerto this would be my Recording of the Month. At least downloading allows one to mix and match, so if it’s Sudbin you want just buy the tracks you want. I’ve now downloaded his Paganini Rhapsody which, on first acquaintance, sounds every bit as exciting and insightful as his Op. 1. The pdf booklet is up to the high standards of the house.

A slow-burning version of the symphony that rewards repeated hearing, and a fierily eloquent concerto that burns with the best of them.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

Like Dan, I thought this version of the First Symphony slightly lacking in power in places, to the extent that I found my attention wandering at times, but that may be because the first recording that I ever heard of this neglected work, Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (CBS, now Sony SB2K63257, all three symphonies on 2 CDs) is lurking in the back of my mind – older readers will remember that version of the opening of the finale used as the music for Panorama. I can’t find that as a download, but the CD set is inexpensive. Alternatively, there’s the winning Chandos recording, with the even more neglected Youth Symphony and The Isle of the Dead (CHAN10475, BBC Phil/Noseda) which I reviewed in the 2012/24 DL News – see also review by Bob Briggs – and that can be downloaded in mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless from theclassicalshop.net.

Lan Shui’s finale may not open in quite such a blaze of glory as it does from Ormandy – a little more fuoco would have been welcome – but if the movement comes in a bit like a lamb, it certainly goes out like a lion.

If you buy the recording for the sake of the First Piano Concerto – though, as Dan suggests, you can purchase that separately – you’ll certainly be getting a better performance of the symphony than the one over which Glazunov presided for its premiere, a débacle which caused Rachmaninov’s nervous breakdown, from which he emerged to compose the Second Piano Concerto and dedicate it to his therapist.

The first concerto is much less of a warhorse than its successor and it’s comparatively infrequently performed, often in tandem with the equally neglected fourth concerto, as on another BIS recording with Noriko Ogawa, the Malmö SO and Owain Arwel Hughes (BIS-CD-975) which I liked – September 2012/2 DL Roundup – better than did Christopher Howell – review. My benchmark for this work remains the 2-CD Hyperion recording of all four piano concertos (CDA67501/2: Stephen Hough; Dallas SO/Andrew Litton – December 2011/2 DL Roundup); though that isn’t available for download, for copyright reasons, the CD set comes at mid price. Alternatively, theclassicalshop.net offers the Earl Wild and Jascha Horenstein recording of all four concertos, still sounding well despite its age (CHAN7114 – also reviewed in December 2011/2 DL Roundup).

Even the Hyperion recording fails to convince me that the neglect of the First Piano Concerto is too unjust and the same is true of the new recording, but both come about as close as any set of performers is ever likely to. Perhaps I’d warm to it more if its successors hadn’t been such barn-stormers that it suffers by comparison. The 24-bit recording is very good throughout and the download comes with the full booklet. For all my minor reservations about the performance of the symphony and the quality of the concerto, I enjoyed hearing this.

Havergal BRIAN (1876-1972)
Symphony No. 22 ‘Symphonia brevis’ (1964-65) [9:22]
Symphony No. 23 (1965)* [13:44]
Symphony No. 24 in D (1965)* [16:29]
English Suite No. 1, Op.12 (1905-06) [25:51]
New Russia State Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Walker – rec. August 2012. DDD.
*world première recordings
Pdf booklet included
NAXOS 8.572833 [65:27] – from classicsonline.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

This is not, as I expected, a Naxos reissue of an earlier Marco Polo release of Havergal Brian’s music, of which there have been many, with several still available on that label in download form only, but a new recording from an equally unlikely quarter and one which offers first-ever recordings of two symphonies from a productive period in his composing career. No.22 has appeared before but doesn’t appear to be currently available in any other form. Forget any ideas of Havergal Brian as a facile composer whose music is easy to absorb; it all receives a strong performance here – neither the music nor the performance could be described as placid.

In fact, none of these symphonies from the mid-1960s, which can be seen as linked, yields its secrets easily and I know that I shall have to try several times if I’m to have any hope of coming to terms with them. Though I'm lacking a benchmark, the performances sound idiomatic and they are well recorded.

The English Suite of six decades earlier is smaller beer and as approachable as Elgar’s Wand of Youth. With such unfamiliar music the notes are essential and you get them with the classicsonline.com download, so don’t look elsewhere. Try from the Naxos Music Library first if you’re unsure.

William HURLSTONE (1876-1906) Piano Quartet in e minor op. 43 (1904) [24:31]
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953) Gipsy Life(1935) [5:24]
Thomas DUNHILL (1877-1946) Piano Quartet in B minor op. 16 (1903) [31:58]
Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Piano Quartet in one movement (1922) [11:26]
The Primrose Piano Quartet: Susanne Stanzeleit (violin); Susie Mézáros (viola); Bernard Gregor-Smith (cello); John Thwaites (piano) – rec. 5-7 September 2003. DDD
MERIDIAN CDE84519 [73:15] – from emusic.com (mp3)

[‘This is a classic and generous collection of rare English chamber music. I look forward to much more from this source. Predominantly for those with a taste for music written under the benevolent but far from exclusive aegis of Brahms and Dvořák.’ Recording of the Month: see review by Rob Barnett.]

Reviewing a new recording of the Bax Piano Quartet from the Cappa Ensemble (Nimbus Alliance NI6230 - review) led me to this, the only other recording generally available to feature that work. (The piano/orchestra arrangement, Saga Fragment is available on Chandos CHAN10159: see below).

The new recording is coupled with Piano Quartets by Frank Bridge, William Walton, and a new work, Noct, by Ian Wilson (b.1964). Both sets of performances and recordings are good enough for choice of coupling to be your guide and, while the Bridge and Walton works exist in rival recordings – though not as many as they deserve: see below for another Nimbus recording of them – the Ian Wilson work on Nimbus and the works by Hurlstone, Quilter and Dunhill on Meridian are much rarer beasts. There’s one rival recording of the Hurlstone (Lyrita SRCD.2286, with other works by the same composer) and no current rivals for the Dunhill or Quilter.

The bit-rate of the emusic.com download is not great (around 180kb/s) but the sound is quite adequate and didn’t prevent my enjoyment of the programme.

The recording of Saga Fragment with Margaret Fingerhut as piano soloist comes on Volume 6 of the mid-price Chandos reissues of Bryden Thomson’s LPO recordings of Bax’s music (CHAN10159 – review). It’s coupled with the Russian Suite, Four Songs for tenor and orchestra, Golden Eagle and Romantic Overture, 77:39 in all, and available in mp3 and lossless sound from theclassicalshop.net.

Recommended Bargain Buy
Joseph (Josef) HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)

Amontillado, Op.123 [9:26]
The Viking (after H.W. Longfellow, The Skeleton in Armour), Op.32 [19:02]
Three Blind Mice Variations, Op.37 [14:37]
Ulalume, Op.35 [12:56]
Brandenburg State Orchestra, Frankfurt/Howard Griffiths
CPO 777442-2 [56:01] – from emusic.com or classicsonline.com (both mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library (no booklet from either).

Two of these works, the first and last, are based on rather gruesome stories by Edgar Alan Poe, though Amontillado, a story of a blood-feud which ends with one of the antagonists being lured to a wine-cellar and walled up alive, is dramatic rather than blood-curdling. The Brandenburg State Orchestra is hardly among the world’s greats but they make a good job here under the direction of Howard Griffiths whose recording of the Finzi Cello Concerto, Eclogue, etc., on Naxos received the blessing of MWI classical editor Rob Barnett and Terry Barfoot – review.

Both downloads are offered at bargain price – the emusic.com version for £1.68 or less, sounding acceptable at around 220kb/s, the classicsonline.com at the highest bit-rate for £4.99, but neither comes with a booklet.

Joseph HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)
String Sextet in D, Op.43 (Henry Vaughan) [24:40]
Piano Quartet No.1 in g minor, Op.21 [28:03]
Symphonic Quintet No.1 in g minor, Op.44 [27:01]
Endre Hegedüs (piano), New Haydn Quartet, Sandor Papp (second viola), Janos Devich (second cello) – rec. 1994 and 1995. DDD.
MARCO POLO 8.223736 [79:30] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library (with pdf booklet).

Joseph HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)
Sonata in F for violin and piano, ‘The Grasshopper’ (1917 version – Authorised Original Version) [26:20]
Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946)
Sonata in F for viola and piano, ‘Colleen’ (1919) [40:02]
Rupert Marshall-Luck (violin and viola); Matthew Rickard (piano) – rec. August 2011. DDD
with pdf booklet
EM RECORDS EMRCD003 [67:01] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

[See reviews by Rob Barnett, Nick Barnard and Jonathan Woolf.]

I can’t claim that Joseph Holbrooke is a neglected genius, but I’ve been interested in his music ever since a colleague who restricted his music collection to 20th-century British and American and jazz loaned me his Lyrita LP of The Birds of Rhiannon. Well, it is a romantic title, especially if you know the Mabinogion and Arthurian literature, and maybe the music doesn’t quite live up to the expectations it conjures up – it didn’t at first, though I’ve come round to it – but I do recommend that if you don’t know anything by Holbrooke that’s where you ought to start: Lyrita SRCD.269, with music by Granville Bantock and Cyril Rootham – reviewreviewreview and download review.

The chamber music on these two recordings may well be your next port of call. It’s likely that the Marco Polo will be reissued in the near future less expensively on the Naxos label – the CD is no longer available – but the eclassical.com download is inexpensive enough to make it unnecessary to wait. There’s no booklet from them – a shame when listeners are unlikely to be familiar with the music – but subscribers to Naxos Music Library can obtain it there.

It’s the EM recording, however, that steals the show. Both the Holbrooke and Bantock works are strikingly dramatic and they receive performances to match. As on the Lyrita recording, Holbrooke and Bantock make interesting companions. No lossless recording this time, but the mp3 – and even the streamed version from Naxos Music Library – won’t disappoint. Rob Barnett’s comment about the recording quality – ‘commandingly assertive’ – applies to the performances too.

If by now you’ve found yourself attracted to Holbrooke’s music, you’re ready to try Volume 23 of Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series containing another work with an evocative Celtic title:

Joseph HOLBROOKE Piano Concerto No.1, ‘The Song of Gwyn ap Nudd’, Op.52 (1908) [35:52]
Haydn WOOD (1882-1959) Concerto in d minor for piano and orchestra (1909, first recording) [33:13]
Hamish Milne (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins – rec. 1999. DDD
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67127 [69:05] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

[‘Unhesitatingly recommended.’ See 5-star review by Ian Lace and review by Colin Anderson: ‘No doubts about the superb performances or sound quality, and if the music itself is variable and easy to deride, it is also curiously likeable’.]

Once again, no masterpieces here but very enjoyable music, very well performed and recorded and with Hyperion’s usual high level of presentation, including the poem which inspired the Holbrooke concerto. If the inclusion of that work in the Romantic Piano Concertos series makes you expect a warhorse, you’ll be disappointed, though the more dramatic Haydn Wood concerto has moments more like what you were expecting – quite different from the light music that we associate with his name.

If you’re looking for the more familiar light Haydn Wood, try complete albums of his music on Marco Polo 8.223402 from the Slovak Radio SO/Adrian Leaper and 8.223605, the same orchestra with Ernest Tomlinson – the CDs are deleted, possibly to return on Naxos less expensively, but available to download from classicsonline.com (mp3) or to stream from Naxos Music Library: see August 2009 DL Roundup for both.

Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Vetrate di chiesa (Church Windows, P150)* [26:46]
Metamorphoseon modi XII, theme & variations for orchestra, P169* [25:37]
Feste Romane (Roman Festivals)** [24:24]
Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome)** [16:40]
Pini di Roma (Pines of Rome)** [21:48]
Belkis, Queen of Sheba: orchestral suite* [22:31]
Impressioni brasiliane (Brazilian impressions)* [18:46]
Philharmonia Orchestra/*Geoffrey Simon; **Yan Pascal Tortelier – rec. 1984, 1985 and 1991. DDD.
Pdf booklet available
CHANDOS CHAN241-45 [2-for-1: 77:12 + 80:14] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

This is a self-recommending reissue in two-for-one format of recordings which were top recommendations – sometimes the only versions – at full price. The music is unfailingly colourful – in places Technicolor-full – and the performances do it justice, while the recordings, albeit only 16-bit, still sound very well. The Chandos recording of Gli Uccelli (The Birds) and Botticelli Pictures (CHAN8913) is now deleted on CD; though the download remains available, which suggests that an inexpensive reissue of that is also planned.

Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Early Orchestral Works – Volume One
(first recordings)
Prélude en form de scherzo, H181a (1929, orch. 1930) [1:30]
Orchestral movement, H90 (1913-14) [8:31]
Posvícení, H2 (1907) [6:18]
Nocturna I, H91 (1914-15) [8:28]
Little Dance Suite, H123 (1919) [42:50]
Sinfonia Varsovia/Ian Hobson – rec. 19-21 December 2012. DDD.
Pdf booklet available
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0156 [68:20] – from toccataclassics.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

[‘Once hooked and interested in exploring further, this series of early orchestral works looks like becoming an indispensable part of the Martinů discography, and I applaud its arrival wholeheartedly.’ See review by Dominy Clements.]

This is not the place to begin to explore the music of Martinů, but it’s an excellent recording for those who already know some of his better-known works. The music is mostly much more placid than you may expect, remarkably like the English pastoral school at times, and the performances very good – there’s no benchmark, of course, against which to compare them. The recording sounds fine in lossless flac – just a little more expensive than the mp3. Had the Freitas de Branco below not been my Discovery of the Month, this might well have been it.

Discovery of the Month
Luís de FREITAS BRANCO (1890-1955) Orchestral Works:
4
Symphony No. 4 (1944-52) [42:20]
Vathek – Symphonic Poem in the form of variations on an Oriental Theme (1913) [34:03]
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra/Álvaro Cassuto – rec. April 2010. DDD
Pdf booklet included
NAXOS 8.572624 [76:23] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

The blurb on the back cover describes Portuguese composer’s Luís de Freitas Branco’s fourth and final symphony as an appealing masterpiece; I’m not so sure about the noun but the adjective will do well enough – all the music here is very attractive and colourful and, in Vathek, often exotic. Though Naxos have recorded a good deal of other music by Freitas Branco, I hadn’t come across him before, only his brother Pedro the distinguished conductor of the music of Falla, so this constitutes a pleasant discovery.

Gary Higginson, reviewing the previous volume in November 2010, and noting that the Fourth Symphony was already in the can, confidently expected that Volume 4 would follow very soon, but we’ve had to wait over two years for it. More to the point he thought the RTÉ Orchestra and Álvaro Cassuto persuasive advocates for the music, and I find myself in complete agreement with that verdict.

Most recent Naxos releases from classicsonline.com come with lossless flac available for £1 or $1 extra; this is available in mp3 only but it sounds fine.

Ernest John MOERAN (1894-1950)

Cello Concerto (1945) [28:44]
Serenade in G (original version, 1948) [23:18]
Lonely Waters (c.1931) [8:01]
Whythorne’s Shadow (1931) [5:01]
Guy Johnston (cello)
Rebekah Coffey (soprano)
Ulster Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta – rec. February 2012. DDD
Pdf booklet included
NAXOS 8.573034 [65:18] – from classicsonline.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Baxos Music Library

[‘Not to be missed by the serious Moeran enthusiast. Rewarding music-making by performers who have re-imagined the concerto.’ See review by Rob Barnett.]

E.J MOERAN – A Concert
Violin Concerto [32:26]
Fantasy Quartet [12:25]
Serenade in G (original version, 1948) [24:52]
Albert Sammons (violin);
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
London Symphony Orchestra/Basil Cameron
Leon Goossens (oboe); Carter String Trio – rec. 1946-48. ADD/mono
SYMPOSIUM SYMP1201 [72:36] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

[‘We should be eternally grateful for the foresight that made these recordings in the first place and the goodness and wisdom of those who permitted their issue and who handled the technical side with such care.’ See 4-star review by Rob Barnett.]

Comparative recordings (Cello Concerto)
• LYRITA SRCD.299: Piers Coetmore (cello); LPO/Sir Adrian Boult (with Cello Sonata) – review, review, review and June 2012/1 DL Roundup
• CHANDOS CHAN10168X (mid price) Raphael Wallfisch (cello); Bournemouth Sinfonietta/Norman del Mar (with Violin Concerto, Lonely Waters, Whythorne’s Shadow) – review and February 2009 DL Roundup. Both the above reviewed in June 2012/1 DL Roundup.

(Serenade – original version)
• CHANDOS CHAN10235X: Ulster Orchestra/Vernon Handley (with In the Mountain Country, Rhapsody No.1 and No.3, Nocturne) – review. Download from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless).

Rob Barnett, who admits to having found the Cello Concerto rather diffuse in earlier performances, preferred the new recording as making more sense of the music for him. Certainly the Lyrita is not without technical flaws in the performance of the solo part, but it remains vitally important as embodying the thoughts of the work’s dedicatee, the composer’s widow, and the Chandos offers excellent value for money. Without wishing to displace either of those from my collection, I’m very happy to endorse RB’s high regard for the new recording and to record the fact that it sounds very well in download form, too.

If you have access to the Naxos Music Library, you can compare the Naxos and Chandos versions there before buying. Otherwise choice of coupling should be a safe guide. (I originally mis-typed sage guide – well, that too.)

An article in Gramophone in 1947 expressed the hope that the as yet unrecorded Moeran Violin Concerto might not suffer the fate of the Walton Violin Concerto, which had been allowed to ‘stray into a foreign recording studio, with dire results’. The word was that Albert Sammons might be persuaded to come out of retirement to record the work with Sir John Barbirolli. Correspondents in 1949 were still pleading for a Sammons version, unaware that he had recorded the work at a public concert in April 1946, not with Barbirolli but with Sir Adrian Boult.

The recording has been left as is, with initial tuning noises, some audience disturbance and a fair degree of surface crackle or radio interference – the retention of the latter means that the sound is reasonably full-bodied for its vintage. With equally authoritative performances of the other works – and the Third Programme announcements in the BBC English of the time – it’s well worth putting up with the shortcomings of the recording.

Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Much Ado about Nothing (Incidental Music – first complete recording) (1920)
University of North Carolina School of the Arts
Drama Soloists: Jackie Robinson – Beatrice; Ari Itkin – Benedict; Daniel Emond – Claudio; Jessica Richards – Hero; Romolo Wilkinson – Leonato; Christian Daly – Don Pedro; Drew Bolander – Balthasar; Chesley Polk – Antonio; Nik Danger-James – Don Juan
University of North Carolina School of the Arts Symphony Orchestra/John Mauceri – rec. March 2012.
Pdf booklet available.
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0160 [69:05] – from toccataclassics.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

We’ve had the suite before but this is the first recording of the complete score, with brief speeches but without connected dialogue and it’s very welcome, especially as the music is less open to the usual gibe about less corn than gold than is the film music or the violin concerto. Ian Lace, who made it Recording of the Month categorised it as a delight for committed Korngold fans, but I think it will appeal to a wider audience, too.

William WALTON (1902-1983) Piano Quartet in d minor (1919) [28:49]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941) Phantasy in f minor (1910) [12:24]
Guillaume LEKEU (1870-1894) Piano Quartet (1893) [23:25]
Frith Piano Quartet (Benjamin Frith (piano); Robert Heard (violin): Louise Williams (viola): Richard Jenkinson (cello)) – rec. October 2010. DDD.
Pdf booklet included.
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6183 [65:38] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

[see reviews by Paul Corfield Godfrey – here – and Jonathan Woolf – here.]

In reviewing a new Nimbus Alliance release coupling the Bridge and Walton piano quartets with Bax’s one-movement quartet and a new work by Ian Wilson (b.1964), Noct for piano quartet – here – I was surprised to find Nimbus duplicating their own good work of a year ago. At the time of writing the new release was not yet available for download. You may wish to wait, since I’ve recommended it with very minor reservations and you may prefer the Bax coupling to the Lekeu work included on this earlier recording, but if you’re happy to try the Lekeu – listen, perhaps, via Naxos Music Library first – you should be happy with the Frith Quartet.

I enjoyed hearing the unfinished Lekeu Piano Quartet, completed by d’Indy, but there are other recordings, including three available from Naxos Music Library on the Ricercar, Atma and Virgin Classics labels. The Ricercar and Atma recordings couple the work with other chamber music by Lekeu; the budget-price 2-CD Virgin recording (without the d’Indy completion of the second movement) comes with works by Chausson, Saint-Saëns and Castillon – review: download for £4.99 from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk (mp3).

Alternatively, my benchmark for the Bridge is the recording from the Dartington Piano Trio with Patrick Ireland (viola) on a budget Hyperion Helios recording (CDH55063, with the Phantasie Trio and Trio No.2), recommended by Rob Barnett – here – and included with other recordings of Bridge in what I described as a treasure trove of English chamber music in my 2013/4 Download News.

I had expected to find the Walton Piano Quartet better provided for in the catalogue than the six recordings which seem currently to be generally available. Jonathan Woolf and Paul Corfield Godfrey both liked the Frith Quartet performance, though both had reservations about whether potential buyers would want the Lekeu coupling. Certainly the Bax single-movement quartet makes a more logical partner, unless you followed Rob Barnett’s advice and bought the Meridian recording of that work – see above.

There are also front runners from the Maggini Quartet and Peter Donohoe, with the String Quartet (1947) – keen value on Naxos 8.554646 at budget price – and the Nash Ensemble, with other Walton works, on Hyperion CDA67340. Comparing these in my May 2012/1 Download Roundup, I wrote that both these competing recordings of the Piano Quartet are excellent, both come with informative booklets and both are offered in good mp3, but the Hyperion coupling is more varied and more generously coupled – especially attractive if you already have a version of the String Quartet – and Hyperion’s lossless sound can be yours for the same price as the mp3. These remain obvious choices for anyone seeking an all-Walton programme.

The two Nimbus recordings yield little to the opposition – either can be recommended, depending on your preferred coupling. If you are looking for the Bax there appears to be only one current rival recording to the new Nimbus recording, more adventurously coupled with music by Dunhill, Hurlstone and Quilter (as reviewed above, Meridian CDE84519: Recording of the Monthreview). You may find that recording hard to come by, but it’s available as a CD or download from amazon.co.uk – here – and it can be downloaded for £4.20 or less from emusic.com – here. It’s also available for streaming from Spotify.

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 7 in C, Op.60, Leningrad (1941)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko – rec. 1-3 June, 2012. DDD
Pdf booklet included
NAXOS 8.573057 [79:15] – from classicsonline.com (mp3 and lossless)

John Quinn compared this, the eighth and latest in the RLPO/Petrenko Shostakovich cycle, with another recent offering from Andris Nelsons on Orfeo and the 1988 Chicago SO/Bernstein DG recording – review. Like JQ, I thought Petrenko slow to get off the mark but when the relentless march builds up to a climax the blood begins to course in such a way as to override any objections.

One reviewer (not MusicWeb International) has given this an ‘outstanding’ rating. I wouldn’t go that far, but I enjoyed it overall; it’s far better than Naxos’s earlier version from Ladislav Slovak and the recording is good. I listened to both the mp3 and lossless (flac) versions; the mp3 sounds fine but the lossless is worth the expenditure of an extra pound or dollar. The logic of classicsonline.com’s policy of lumping all the tracks together for their lossless downloads continues to elude me, however; I can see why they might offer mp3 this way, to avoid gaps between tracks when played from an mp3 player – except that they don’t do it with mp3, only with flac.

It’s a shame that DG chose to yoke the Bernstein with the First Symphony for its reissue on their Grand Prix label, but you’ll find it for £7.49 in 320kb/s mp3 from 7digital.com. You’ll find lossless flac download from the DG website, but currently at a price higher than you’ll find by clicking the MDT purchase button from JQ’s review.

Ferde GROFÉ (1892-1972) Hudson River Suite [18:11]
(King) Norodom SIHANOUK (1922-2012) Cambodian Suite [6:43]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946) La vida breve, Act II: Danza [3:05]
Paul WHITE Five Miniatures: No. 5. Mosquito Dance (version for orchestra) [1:00]
Terig TUCCI (1897-1973) La bamba de Vera Cruz [2:19]
Hershy KAY (1919-1981) Western Symphony: Saturday Night [5:23]
André Kostelanetz and his Orchestra – rec. 1955. ADD.
NAXOS CLASSICAL ARCHIVES 9.81034 [36:11] – from classicsonline.com (mp3)
[Not available in the USA, Australia, Singapore and certain other countries.]

There are several interesting rarities here. To the best of my knowledge there’s only one recent recording of the Hudson River Suite, from the Bournemouth SO/William Stromberg on another Naxos album (8.559017 – see review (5 stars) and review). If you enjoy his Grand Canyon Suite and On the Trail, you should like this, too.

Hersky Kay is better known as an arranger of the music of Gershwin and others, so the excerpt from his Western Symphony was a discovery – a discovery eclipsed, however, by the inclusion of King Sihanouk’s three-movement Cambodian Suite. I’d been completely unaware that the man who ruled Cambodia had been a composer. The music makes few gestures, however, towards SE Asia; if you didn’t know, you might well think it had been composed by the likes of Ferde Grofé, perhaps partly because of the way that Kostelanetz plays it.

The recording is very good for its age. Though the playing time is short, it’s well worth £1.99 to explore this album. You may well find that the tracks play in the wrong order unless you add a 0 before 1. to 9. (Back up the music first and do it very carefully).

Discovery of the Month
Mario LAVISTA (b.1943)
Complete String Quartets (First complete recording)
String Quartet no.2, Reflejos de la Noche (1984) [10:30]
String Quartet no.3, Música para mi Vecino (1995) [12:25]
String Quartet no.4, Sinfonías (1996) [16:26]
String Quartet no.5, (Seven Inventions) (1998) [11:07]
String Quartet no.1, Diacronía (1969) [7:55]
String Quartet no.6 (Suite in five parts) (1999) [13:49]
Cuarteto Latinoamericano – rec. February 2007. DDD
Pdf booklet available.
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0106 [72:12] – from toccataclassics.com or theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

If I mention the influence of Stockhausen and 1960s experimental music, many of you who share my tastes in music will probably shy away, but I’m more than willing to make an exception for the music of Mario Lavista. Experimental much of it may be – and decidedly tough in the case of the First Quartet, sensibly not offered as the first work here, presumably to avoid giving the wrong initial impression – but I found it fascinating and often hypnotic. The performances are presumably authoritative and the recording in lossless form is excellent. Byzantion recommended the music as an essential for any music-lover – review – and Mark Sealey was also appreciative – review – to which I’m pleased to add a belated third recommendation.

A Night at the Opera
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
arr. Giuseppe MARTUCCI Concert Fantasy on La Forza del Destino, Op.1* [8:53]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835) arr. Sigismund THALBERG A te, O cara, Op.70/1 [5:40]
Vincenzo BELLINI arr. Andrew WRIGHT Fantasy on La Sonnambula, Op.3 [8:00]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) arr. Franz LISZT Recitative and Romance O, du mein holder Abendstern from Tannhäuser, S444 [7:42]
Richard WAGNER arr. Franz LISZT Isolde’s Liebestod, S447 [7:48]
Andrew WRIGHT Thalbergiana, Op.1 [6:25]
Giuseppe VERDI arr. Sigismund THALBERG Concert Fantasy on La Traviata, Op.78 [8:26]
Vincenzo BELLINI arr. Sigismund THALBERG Casta diva, Op.70/19 [6:25]
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864) arr. Andrew WRIGHT Concert Fantasy on Robert le Diable [5:23]
Andrew Wright (piano) – rec. Reid Hall, Edinburgh, 5-6 September 2012.
* first commercial recording
From amazon.co.uk (mp3) or cdbaby.com (CD, mp3 or flac, with sleeve notes).

Though these transcriptions were intended by their arrangers for bravura public performance and for domestic consumption in an age before musical reproduction was available, there’s still a place for them even now when the vocal originals are so easily available on demand when they’re as well performed as they are here.

The essence of the transcriptions is for the likes of Liszt to show off their technique and there’s oodles of that on display here, but without neglecting the music’s emotional content. The only exception that I thought at first I was going to make concerns the Liebestod – initially it seemed a trifle understated, but that makes the emotional fireworks all he more effective when they explode. Though I’m not a great fan of Maria Callas, I missed her voice in Casta Diva, but this is as good as it gets in piano transcription.

One listener at Amazon has already given this a rave 5-star review and I see no reason to demur. If you’re happy to pay in dollars, however, CD Baby offers the better deal – their price of $8.49 is slightly less than amazon.co.uk’s £7.49 and though they don’t offer the pdf booklet which I received for review, they do include all the sleeve-notes on their web-page and they offer 320kb/s mp3, as received by me for review, rather than Amazon’s usual 256kb/s, and even lossless flac. The recording sounds fine, if a trifle close and Andrew Wright’s notes cast light on an area of the repertoire with which I was all too unfamiliar.

There’s an increasing tendency for artists to publish their own recordings without benefit of a label. If they were all as good as this, we wouldn’t need the record companies.

For another experience of the same kind, try the first volume of the projected Toccata Classics planned series of Wagner arranged for the piano by August Stradal and performed by Juan Guillermo Vizcarra (TOCC0151 – download in mp3 or flac from toccataclassics.com: see review by Nick Barnard).

Geoffrey Molyneux has also listened to A Night at the Opera:

This fascinating disc brings together some well-known pieces as well as several transcriptions with which I was previously unfamiliar. The late nineteenth century composer Giuseppe Martucci wrote mostly orchestral and instrumental music and no operas which was unusual for Italian composers of the time. I found his Concert Fantasy on La Forza del Destino very convincing, especially as this is an early work by this composer. It provides plenty of opportunities for virtuosic display by the performer. Andrew Wright plays with a really glittering tone in the brilliant right hand accompanying passage-work and he also shows a good grasp of the music's episodic structure. I particularly enjoyed the first of the two Thalberg transcriptions, A te, o cara from I Puritani. This piece contains much expressive and decorative music, attractively played here by Andrew Wright who always allows the melody to sing through the texture however complex.

Liszt's transcriptions of Wagner are of course very well-known, and Wright is particularly successful with a through-composed work such as Isolde's Liebestod. There is more drama here than in those pieces which consist basically of a succession of largely unconnected themes, often associated with Italian opera of this period. However he adopts a rather slow tempo for the main theme of the Liebestod which is fine for a singer who has a better possibility to sustain the tone, something rather more difficult to achieve on a piano. However there is a real sense of drama here. Wagner, Liszt and Wright together achieve a massive climax at the music's climactic point, and Isolde's Liebestod is the highlight of the disc for me. Probably this is because the work is created from one of the greatest pieces of music of the late nineteenth century!

I felt that Wright was really at his best when performing his own arrangements. I really enjoyed his fabulous and rich sounding piano in Thalbergiana, with its judicious mix of romantic melody and pianistic acrobatics. We hear beautifully expressive playing, excitement and drama in his version of Bellini's La Sonnambula, and Wright concludes his performance with a fine flourish of powerful virtuosity. Similarly virtuosic and entertaining is Wright's Concert Fantasy on Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable, and this makes for a superb climax to a fine and interesting disc.

The entire programme is superbly and thrillingly played and the music is full of interest, including some unusual repertoire. The excellent recording copes magnificently with the vast range of tone colour and dynamics demanded by the pianist. This is a disc well worth hearing. Highly recommended.

Geoffrey Molyneux


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