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DOWNLOAD NEWS 2013/5
by Brian Wilson


See the Download News archive here. Download News 2013/4 may be found here.

You can find the Osmo Vänskä recording of Sibelius Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4, which I reviewed in 2103/4, at eclassical.com (BIS-SACD-1996, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless).

Bach on a stick: Bargain of the Month

Warner Classics are due to release a USB memory stick containing their Teldec Complete Bach Edition on April 20th, 2013, Record Store Day, at a special price of £120. (2564 66112-7). Thereafter it will cost £180 from Amazon, still a bargain price for the equivalent of 153 CDs plus one DVD – the least expensive offer that I can find for the CD edition is just under £250 – but it’s well worth looking out for the one-day special price; I presume that you will be able to pre-order. Even if you miss out, however, I can’t think of a more spectacular bargain than to have the complete extant works of JSB on a memory stick the size of a pencil eraser for under £200.

The heart of the collection consists of recordings made by Nikolaus Harnoncourt with Concentus Musicus, Wien, and Gustav Leonhardt with his consort in the late 1960s and 1970s: the complete sacred cantatas, passions, masses, orchestral suites, keyboard works and so on. In some cases their contributions are complemented by such eminent contributors as Ton Koopman (complete organ music) and Il Giardino Armonico (Brandenburg Concertos), borrowed from other labels in the Warner Empire (chiefly Erato) and occasionally licensed from Universal and other companies.

In addition to the music there’s a 1-hour DVD documentary, a huge pdf booklet with full track details, shorter booklets of notes on individual works or groups of works and two indexes by BWV number, one of them as an Excel spreadsheet.

The recordings are formatted as 320kb/s mp3. I would have liked to have had lossless sound, as with the USB sticks which Chandos has made available, but there isn’t a USB stick large enough for that, so the best-quality mp3 is a reasonable compromise.

In my complete review on the main MusicWeb International pages I shall be suggesting some alternatives to supplement the Teldec versions and I list some of these here, with more to follow in my next Download News:

I have been very impressed by Café Zimmerman’s 6-CD set of Concertos avec plusieurs instruments, interweaving the Brandenburg Concertos, Orchestral Suites, Violin and Keyboard Concertos. (ALPHA811review and April 2012/1 Download Roundup: also available separately). Only the Keyboard Concerto BWV1058 is missing from the collection – that’s available with BWV1052, 1055 and 1056 on Mirare MIR085 – reviewed in the same April 2012/1 Download Roundup.

More recently Volume 1 has appeared of a very promising set from Æolus with Aapo Hakkinen and the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra (BWV1052, 1053 and 1056, AE-10057 – see 2013/3 Download News.) There’s also a very fine selection of four of the keyboard concertos, harbinger of another set, from Matthew Halls and the Retrospect Consort (Linn CKD410: Recording of the Month review and review).

The lute music on the Complete Edition is performed on the lute – which Bach probably couldn’t play – and the lute-harpsichord, a keyboard instrument which emulated the sound of the lute and of which Bach owned two. In order to avoid having to transpose any of the notes, Stephan Schmidt has made a recording on a 10-string guitar with extended bass; try this and you’ll hear the music with a degree of extra sonority. This 2-CD set (Naïve V4861) is about as good as it gets for a complete set on the guitar. Subscribers to the valuable Naxos Music Library can listen to it there but it’s best downloaded in mp3 and lossless sound from eclassical.com. With a lossless copy for domestic playing and an mp3 CDR for use in the car and in the bedroom on sleepless nights, I’ve very much enjoyed listening to this programme.

Those who dislike the use of boys’ voices in the cantatas, as employed in the Teldec edition, will find an excellent range of alternatives, one of which, Masaaki Suzuki’s series for BIS, now very close to the end of its run, has just released its 53rd Volume – see below. Other period-instrument recordings of note include those directed by John Eliot Gardiner (on his own SDG label, with a few also on DG Archiv), Ton Koopman (Channel Classics) and Sigiswald Kuijken (Accent – one cantata for each Sunday or Feast Day: see Volume 13 below). For those who prefer modern instrument there’s the Hänssler series with Helmut Rilling at the helm.

I shall be listening again during Holy Week to both of the Harnoncourt recordings of the Passions included on the USB, but not to the exclusion of the two new recordings of the St John Passion which I made joint Recordings of the Month in 2013/4 News (Linn and Hyperion) and I shall also try to fit in one or both of the John Eliot Gardiner Passions and the Linn recording of the St Matthew Passion which I mentioned there.

Recording of the Month

Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Le Corsaire, Op. 21 (1844) [8:03]
Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict (1862) [7:58]
Overture to Les Francs-juges, Op. 3 (1826) [11:47]
Le Carnaval romain, Op. 9. Ouverture caractéristique (1844) [8:25]
Waverley, Op. 1. Grande ouverture (1827-1828) [9:53]
Le Roi Lear, Op. 4. Grande ouverture (1831) [15:20]
Overture to Benvenuto Cellini Op. 23 (1838) [10:34]
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis
rec. 11-14 June 2012, Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway
Pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHSA5118 [72:00] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16-bit lossless, 24/96 stereo and surround)

Over-attached to the Beecham classics, I was a little less than overwhelmed by this recording last time round, so it’s only fair that I should agree to Dan Morgan’s suggestion of making it a Recording of the Month and to give his review pride of place:

It’s good to see that ENO music director Edward Gardner is to succeed Andrew Litton as chief conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic; even better news is that Chandos will record the new partnership. Litton’s BIS recordings with this band haven’t impressed me greatly, but the Bergen orchestra certainly has; indeed, their recording of Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie with Juanjo Mena was one of my picks of the year for 2012 (review). The sonics of the latter – it’s a humble 16/44 original – are a triumph of good engineering, and I did wonder whether Chandos could match Hyperion’s success in this regard.

I’m rather more ambivalent about Sir Andrew Davis, whose Planets, Japanese Suite and Beni Mora with the BBC Philharmonic struck me as curiously bland and uninvolving (review). Even the recording seemed to fall short of Chandos’s usually high standards. Is this Berlioz collection any better? Emphatically, yes. Davis kicks off with a truly memorable Le Corsaire that had me marvelling anew at the energy and fire of the piece, not to mention the contribution of this fine ensemble. Bland is not a word one could use to describe this now inward, now extrovert performance, captured in sound that’s wide-ranging without ever being self-consciously ‘hi-fi’.

There’s frisson aplenty in this recording and, with the exception of Cellini, Davis’s pacing is ideal; even more impressive is his unfailing attention to Berlioz’s beguiling rhythms and striking sonorities. Just sample that lovely, gently rollicking tune near the start of Béatrice et Bénédict; it’s beautifully articulated. As for the nicely scaled finale, an aural exeunt omnes if you will, it’s despatched with great élan. If anything the dark-toned Les Francs-juges – the magisterial brass writing looks ahead to the Requiem – is even finer. I’ve long enjoyed Sir Colin’s Dresden account of the piece on RCA/Sony, but Sir Andrew’s alert, highly dramatic account knocks that old favourite into a cocked hat.

It’s not often that a recording makes one hear familiar works as if for the first time, and this is one of them. Most gratifying, perhaps, is that Sir Andrew – like his illustrious namesake -simply reminds us of the genius that is M. Berlioz. Indeed, I’d say this new recording eclipses Sir Colin’s Dresden collection in every respect; yes, it really is that good. The supple rhythms of Le Carnaval romain are an absolute joy, and I imagine the almost antiphonal interplay of instruments would sound even more life-like in multichannel.

There are no duds here; even the Op. 1 Waverley gets a persuasive – and most impassioned – performance. I simply can’t recall a reading of this early work that unearths so much detail and is essayed with such disarming loveliness. As for Lear, those big, surging, Beethovenian string passages have unusual breadth and weight, Berlioz’s Shakespearian précis a vital mix of public pageantry and personal pain. After all this turbulence Davis’s measured account of the overture to Benvenuto Cellini burns with a lower flame, but then Sir Andrew finds some mighty bellows to stoke up the furnace later on. Not quite as visceral as Zinman perhaps – the Bergen percussion is more tastefully recorded – but it’s still a rousing climax to this splendid programme. One can only hope that despite Gardner’s appointment this isn’t the end of the Davis/Bergen partnership, for they clearly make great music together.

Huzzahs all round; a Berlioz collection to trounce all others.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

Reissue of the Month


Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525/6-1594)

Missa de beata Virgine (6vv) [40:24]
Missa Ave Maria (4vv) [33:20]
Westminster Cathedral Choir/James O’Donnell – rec. March 1989. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55420 [73:44] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

All I really need do is to report the availability again, at budget price, of these two Marian masses, since the performances, recording and presentation from this source are self-recommending. Due for release in May 2013 on disc, it’s available now for download.

In fact, this is an excellent opportunity to remind readers of the earlier CDs in this series of Palestrina recordings from Westminster Cathedral/James O’Donnell, all available for £5.99 in mp3 and lossless download format:
•  Missa Æterna Christi munera, etc. CDH55368review and March 2011/1 Download Roundup
•  Missa Ecce ego Johannes, etc. CDH55407 – Hyperion at 30 Roundup
•  Missa O Rex gloriæ; Missa Viri Galilæi CDH55335 – June 2010 Download Roundup

Second Thoughts

Renaissance Radio

Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of The Tallis Scholars: Sacred Music From The Renaissance Era For Celestial And Secular Radio
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
GIMELL CDGIM212 [2CDs 151:46] – from gimell.com (mp3 and lossless)
[for full details please refer to 2013/3 DL News]

What a great anniversary collection this is. It serves to remind us of the consistently high quality this ensemble has always achieved over a period of many years. Congratulations to all involved during the past 40 years. We have been introduced to so much fine music by this ensemble.

The first piece is a shortened version of Allegri’s Miserere, beautifully sung with fabulous tone and impeccable intonation with good contrast between the choirs. The excellence of this performance is mirrored in all the succeeding pieces, motets and anthems, and movements from longer works by a wide variety of composers from renaissance times.

Next we hear a lovely motet by Josquin followed by two more motets, both in seven parts by Cipriano de Rore and Clemens non Papa, the latter with its gorgeous sweeping phrases and performed at just the right tempo. Mouton’s motet Salva nos, Domine, like so much of this composer’s work, sounds quite simple but in reality the polyphony is complex. It makes a nice contrast texturally with the previous pieces, beginning as it does in the bass voices, richly performed here by the Tallis Scholars.

I particularly enjoyed Joseph lieber, Joseph mein, such a famous carol by Praetorius. It is given a solid performance at a steady tempo and this seems like perfection to me. The Agnus Dei II from Missa Et ecce terrae motus (known as the Earthquake Mass) by Brumel is one of the more unusual pieces in the collection. Even in the Agnus Dei, the music is strong and sometimes disturbing.

The madrigals of Gesualdo with their extraordinary modulations and harmonies are well-known to me, so I was pleased to hear some of his motets here. Precibis et meritis is more traditional in style, and austere and reflective in mood, without the crazy but thrilling harmonic excesses of some of Gesualdo’s madrigals.

I was impressed by the majesty of Guerrero’s Ave virgo sanctissima. It is beautifully performed and Peter Philips builds the work to a powerful and moving central climax.

Amongst the Tallis works I particularly enjoyed O nata lux. The Tallis Scholars make the most of the unusual harmonies and dissonances which creep in unexpectedly at the cadences.

In a style all of his own, William Cornysh is represented on this recording with his motet Ave Maria, magnificently performed by the men of the Tallis Scholars. The performance of White’s Christe qui lux es III gives us a chance to appreciate the beautiful quality of the sustained tone in their high voices. Then follow three interesting settings by Sheppard of In manus tuas.

Tallis’s Why fum’th in fight is particularly interesting because this was Vaughan Williams’ inspiration in his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

The recording concludes with the Nunc dimittis from Byrd’s the Great Service, a piece of notable inventiveness, nobility and beauty. This provides a fitting climax to this fabulous recording.

Geoffrey Molyneux

Discovery of the Month

Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1891)

Pictures from an Exhibition
Calvin Hampton (organ of Asbury First Methodist Church, Rochester, NY) – rec. live 1982. ADD.
HIGH DEFINITION TAPE TRANSFERS HDDL364 [33:10] – from highdeftapetransfers.com (24/96 and 24/192 lossless flac)

I’m not greatly enamoured of the piano original of this music, even in Demidenko’s stunning performance – July 2012/1 Roundup – but this arrangement for the organ makes an ideal compromise between the keyboard original and the Ravel orchestration. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing this live recording, never before commercially released as far as I’m aware, and sounding excellent in HDTT’s 24-bit transfer. If your DAC will cope with 24/192, that’s the version to go for, but even the 24/96 is spectacular. I suppose the title Pictures at an Exhibition has stuck now, but shouldn’t it really be Pictures from an Exhibition?

***

ALFONSO el Sabio (Alfonso the Wise) (1221-1284) Cantigas de nuestro señor
CSM 423: La Creación del Mundo (Creation) [9:02]
CSM 424: Epifanía. La Adoración de los Reyes Magos (Epiphany) [7:40]
CSM 425 Resurrección (Easter) [4:13]
CSM 426 Ascensión (Ascension) [6:23]
CSM 427 Espíritu Santo (Pentecost) [10:32]
CSM 406 Las Mayas (May time) [13:14]
CSM 403 Los Siete Pesares [5:40]
Música Antigua/Eduardo Paniagua – rec. 2011 (?) © 2012.
PNEUMA PN1280 [56:45] – from emusic.com (mp3)

This is the most recent to date of the series of the Cantigas (roughly ’songs’) attributed to Alfonso el Sabio for the purpose of recording which in their entirety Eduardo Paniagua founded Música Antigua in 1994. The extent of Alfonso’s own involvement remains debatable, as do some aspects of Paniagua’s approach to performance, but the result is very enjoyable even to modern ears. Paniagua has worked with Arab musicians in some of his recordings and the influence of Arabic tradition is evident in these performances; given Alfonso’s reputation for tolerance of and interest in Jewish and Arab culture, that seems more than reasonable.

The Cantigas were meant to be much more than enjoyable and five of the seven collected here were intended to remind the faithful of aspects of the life of Jesus, so the lack of texts is a handicap. As they were written in a language closer to Portuguese than modern Spanish, that’s a significant problem. You’ll find the texts in the original Galician with notes for singers at http://www.cantigasdesantamaria.com/index.html: click on Index to find the pieces listed by CSM number. 423-427 are what it says in the title – Cantigas of Our Lord; 406 is a hymn to the Virgin Mary, long associated with the month of May, while 403, indicated as suitable for Quinquagesima, the Sunday before Lent, deals with the seven sorrows of Mary during the life of her son. You may also find the Oxford Cantigas database useful – home page here.

The bit-rate of the mp3 download is not ideal – around 200kb/s – but that’s better than some of emusic.com’s offerings and the result is more than acceptable.

You’ll find a good selection of the Cantigas in performances that sound quite different from each other on:
•  Pneuma PN680: Música Antigua/Eduardo Paniagua – March 2009 Roundup
•   Nimbus NI5081: Martin Best Medieval Ensemble – review
•   Warner Apex 2564 619242: Camerata Mediterreana/Joel Cohen – review: download earlier Erato release from classicsonline.com
•   Naxos 8.553133: Ensemble Unicorn – download with booklet from classicsonline.com or stream from Naxos Music Library
•  Ambroisie AMB9973: Ensemble Gilles Binchois – download with booklet from classicsonline.com or stream from Naxos Music Library
•   Arts Music 47528-2: Soloists; Theatrum Instrumentorum/Aleksandar Karlic – download from classicsonline.com or stream from Naxos Music Library
•   Lyrichord LEMS8003: Russel Oberlin (counter-tenor); Joseph Iadone (lute) – download from classicsonline.com or stream from Naxos Music Library

Ludwig SENFL (1489/91-1543) Missa Paschalis (Easter Mass), Motets and Songs
Missa Paschalis (Kyrie) [5:36]
Missa Paschalis (Gloria) [10:35]
So ich sie dann [1:36]
Carmen in Re [1:41]
Im Maien [1:55]
Missa Paschalis (Sanctus) [6:11]
Missa Paschalis (Agnus Dei) [3:06]
Ach Elslein [1:45]
Ich Stuend [2:55]
Wohl auf [3:15]
Ave Maria (super Josquin) [11:21]
Was wird [2:01]
Carmen in La [1:33]
So man lang macht [4:30]
Fortuna ad voces musicales [3:28]
Quis dabit oculis (Festa; arr. Senfl?) [5:46]
QuintEssential (Christopher Watson (tenor), Robert Macdonald (bass), Andrew Lawrence-King (harp))
The Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge/David Skinner – rec. May-July, 2008. DDD.
OBSIDIAN OBSID-CD704 [66:51] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

If you like the music of Josquin, whose Ave Maria provides the cantus firmus for one of the tracks here, you’re almost certain to like that of Senfl too. Though apparently sympathetic to Luther and his reformist cause and though he became laicised and married, Ludwig Senfl seems to have remained faithful to the Roman Catholic Church – certainly he continued to compose music for its rite. The two are certainly not incompatible, since even Erasmus, though accused of having laid the egg that Luther hatched, backed off from supporting his hatchling and the two began a long exchange in scholarly Latin on the nature of Free Will.

Luther himself was a lover of polyphonic music and commissioned from Senfl a setting of the compline text in pace in idipsum, now lost, so he would probably have enjoyed all the music on this recording. (See Johan van Veen’s review of Works for Martin Luther and the Reformation, Christophorus CHE1047-2. Download earlier release of this recording from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library).

This performance separates the Kyrie and Gloria, based on an Easter chant, and the Sanctus and Benedictus, based on an Advent chant. Though there are sound musical reasons for this separation – the second pair seems to have been ‘borrowed’ from another Senfl Mass – I found the interposition between these two pairs of the smaller-scale music, some of it secular, rather off-putting. That’s my only grumble, however, and it’s a problem that can be overcome if you find it really annoying by re-numbering the tracks in Windows Explorer: tracks 06 and 07 become 03 and 04 and the original 03, 04 and 05 are re-numbered 05, 06 and 07. Back up the music first and do the changes very carefully.

The performances are very good – but steer clear if you hate polyphonic music with sackbuts and cornets, as performed here by QuintEssential – as is the recording in lossless sound. As always with eclassical.com, mp3 and lossless come at the same price and you can download one, then return later for the other. There’s no booklet, but texts, translations and notes are available at http://www.thegiftofmusic.com/acatalog/info_CD704.html.

Peter PHILIPS (1560/61-1628) Cantiones sacræ octonis vocibus (1613)
Benedictus Deus noster [3:33]
O quam suavis est II [4:57]
Jubilate Deo omnis terra [3:34]
Benedictus Dominus [3:49]
Veni Sancte Spiritus [4:38]
Beati estis [3:09]
Ecce panis angelorum [4:49]
Salve regina, vita, dulcedo [6:01]
Regina cæli lætare [4:01]
Panis sancte, panis vive [3:57]
Cæcilia virgo [7:33]
Veni Sancte Spiritus (organ solo) [5:31]
Gaudens gaudebo [3:09]
Beata Dei genitrix [3:42]
Alma redemptoris mater [4:17]
Hodie nobis de cælo [5:09]
Royal Holloway Choir
The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble/Rupert Gough – rec. January 2012. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
HYPERION CDA67945 [71:59] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

Peter Philips has been aptly described as the lost English composer of the renaissance, having fled to continental Europe in order more openly to profess his Roman Catholic allegiance. Like Byrd he made clear his beliefs by choosing a preponderance of texts referring to the Eucharistic Real Presence and prayer to the Virgin Mary, two major causes of dissension at the reformation. Despite his probably having studied with Byrd and adopted many aspects of the master’s style, his music is, if anything, more ardent, more intense and spectacular than Byrd and Tallis who, though Roman Catholics, also composed some of the earliest masterpieces for the Anglican liturgy. In this there is a parallel with Philips’ contemporary, the poet Crashaw who became a Roman convert and whose poetry is more intense than that of his Anglican contemporary, George Herbert.

These 8-part settings are less well known than the 5-part works contained in the earlier (1612) book, though some items from both collections were included on a Naxos CD which received rather mixed reviews (8.572832reviewreview and January 2012/1 Download Roundup). Oddly enough Naxos and Hyperion disagree on the title of the 8-part collection, Naxos rendering the dative of octo as octonibus, Hyperion as octonis.

In case you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask, I believe from the remaining rags of my classical education that octonis is correct and that octonibus is a mistake occasioned by the ending of vocibus.

Despite what I’ve said about the music not being well known, Hyperion already had recordings of some of the 5– and 8-part motets on an earlier recording made by the Choir of Winchester Cathedral and the Parley of Instruments directed by David Hill, on budget-price Helios CDH55254. O quam suavis est II and Salve regina are contained on that collection, which I recommended alongside a Naxos recording of the 5-part motets in the May 2010 Download Roundup; that means that only around ten minutes are duplicated between the two Hyperion recordings. There is also a Chandos recording of the 5-part collection (CHAN0770review and July 2010 Download Roundup).

As on the Winchester recording, the music on the new release is accompanied instrumentally, in this case with sackbuts, cornets and organ, but the effect is varied and never overdone and I found myself enjoying the result more than when Chandos recorded Byrd’s Great Service with the same instrumentalists, which I thought too much of a good thing (CHAN0789review and May 2012/2 Roundup). The practice is ably defended in the booklet of notes and supported by an illustration of sackbuts and cornets in use at High Mass.

My inclination would be to recommend the earlier, inexpensive Hyperion recording first to those coming fresh to Philips and then to move on to the new Hyperion collection. Both Hyperion recordings and that of the five-part motets on Chandos are preferable to the Naxos recordings, though those, too, are not to be dismissed. All five recordings have been regular late-night listening recently.

Gregorio ALLEGRI (c.1582-1632) Miserere (Psalm 51: reconstructed original and elaborated versions)
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers – rec. October 2012. DDD
Pdf booklet included – and score with de luxe version.
CORO COREPSIN1 [11:42] – from thesixteendigital.com (mp3, aac, alac and flac versions)

Though The Sixteen already had a very creditable recording of Allegri’s Miserere (COR16014) – indeed, it’s something of a theme tune for them and The Tallis Scholars – their 2013 Choral Pilgrimage will feature this reconstructed version which begins with the closest that we can get to the original, from Vatican manuscripts, gradually adding the accretions which the work developed over the centuries and ending with the thoroughly inauthentic version with the top C that is normally sung today – the result, it appears, of a ‘fortunate’ scribal error. Downloads are available in various qualities and each can be had with or without the score. We’ve had other reconstructions of the earlier version(s) of the Miserere, but this one is fascinating.

The Trio Sonata in 18th-century Italy
Tomaso Giovanni ALBINONI (1671-1750)
Balletto in G, Op.3/3 (1701) [5:21]
Francesco Antonio BONPORTI (1672-1749) Sonata in g minor, Op. 6/7 (1705) [4:54]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Folia, Op.1/12 (1705) [9:13]
Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747) Sonata II from XII Sonatas for the Chamber (1732) [8:06]
Nicola PORPORA (1686-1768) Sonata, Op.2/III (London, 1736) [10:56]
Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695-1750) Sonata V from XII Sonate a due Violini, e Violoncello, e Cembalo, se piace, Opera Terza (Paris 1743) [9:27]
Pietro LOCATELLI (1695-1764) Sonata in D, Op.8/8 (1744) [13:10]
Domenico GALLO (c. 1730– ?) Sonata No.1 in G (c. 1750?) [5:49]
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770) Suonata a tre in d minor (undated manuscript) [8:47]
London Baroque (Ingrid Seifert, Richard Gwilt (violin); Charles Medlam (cello); Steven Devine (harpsichord)
Pdf booklet included
BIS-CD-2015 [77:14] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

This is the last in a series of recordings which London Baroque have made for BIS of the seventeenth– and eighteenth-century Trio Sonata and I really need only report that it’s well up to the distinguished standard of the earlier volumes. Its predecessor, The Trio Sonata in Eighteenth-century England, reviewed by Johan van Veen in January 2013 (BIS-CD1726here) is also available from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless).

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Flute Concerto, Op. 10/1 in F, RV433 ‘La tempesta di mare’ [6:38]
Flute Concerto, Op. 10/2 in g minor, RV439 ‘La notte’ [8:48]
Flute Concerto, Op. 10/3 in D, RV428 ‘Il gardellino’ [10:09]
Flute Concerto, Op. 10/4 in G, RV435 [7:01]
Flute Concerto, Op. 10/5 in F, RV434 [8:41]
Flute Concerto, Op. 10/6 in G, RV437 [8:31]
Concerto in D, RV783 [9:54]
Concerto for 2 flutes, strings and continuo in C, RV533 [6:52]
Barthold Kuijken (transverse flute)
La Petite Bande (Annelies Decock (violin I); Ann Cnop (violin II); Marleen Thiers (viola); Benjamin Alard (harpsichord); Frank Theuns (transverse flute II in RV 533))/Sigiswald Kuijken (violoncello da spalla) – rec. October 2010. DDD.
ACCENT ACC24241 [66:34] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library (with pdf booklet)

If you have been listening to BBC Radio 3’s month of Baroque Spring, you may be feeling a little sated with Vivaldi. I hope you aren’t, however, and that you’re prepared to look beyond the Four Seasons to the rest of his Op.8 – there are eight other concertos in that collection – and beyond. Not too far beyond come these flute concertos, assembled and published as his Op.10, though mostly written before, as you can see from the RV numbers above.

In recommending a recent Nimbus recording I forgave the short value represented by just the six Op.10 works because the proceeds are going to a good cause, but I’m pleased that Accent give us better value, with two extra concertos. I don’t know of any better performances, on period or modern instruments, and the recording sounds well in the eclassical.com lossless download. If you want to come back for the mp3 version, you can always do that with ecalssical.com: there’s no once-for-all policy with them, as there is with some others. If you want the booklet, however, you’ll have to obtain that from the ever-valuable Naxos Music Library or go for the classicsonline.com download (mp3 only).

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Cantatas, Volume 53 (Leipzig, 1730s-40s)
Cantata No.97: In allen meinen Taten, BWV97 (Unknown occasion, 1734?) [25:05]
Cantata No.177: Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV177 (Trinity IV, 1732) [23:01]
Cantata No.9: Es ist das Heil uns kommen her, BWV9 (Trinity VI, 1732?) [18:28]
Hana Blažíková (soprano); Robin Blaze (counter-tenor); Gerd Türk (tenor); Peter Kooij (bass); Kiyomi Suga (flauto traverso); Masamitsu San’nomiya (oboe); Yukiko Murakami (bassoon); Natsumi Wakamatsu (violin)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki – rec. February 2012. DSD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
BIS BIS-SACD-1991 [67:37] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

As I was writing about the wonderful bargain of having all Bach’s music on a single USB and enjoying the chance to listen again to performances of all the sacred cantatas directed alternately by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt, BIS produced their latest – and one of the last – volume in their strongly competitive series. My only complaint, as with earlier volumes, is that the cantatas included are connected by only the slenderest of links – but that’s no more tenuous than Teldec’s run of BWV numbers.

For a short time the 24-bit version is available at the same price as the 16-bit and mp3 and Masaaki Suzuki’s 1998 performance of Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri (BIS-CD-871) is available at a 30% discount. Even if these offers have ended when you read this review, look out for similar offers – there’s always one.

Cantatas for the Church Year, Volume 13: Cantatas for Easter
Kommt, eilet und laufet (Easter Oratorio, 1725) [42:18]
Cantata No.6, Bleib bei uns, den es will Abend werden (Cantata for Easter Monday) [17:19]
Yeree Suh (soprano), Petra Noskaiová (alto), Christoph Genz (tenor), Jan van der Crabben (bass)
La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken – rec.2009. DDD.
Texts not included
ACCENT ACC25313 [59:37] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

[‘If you find [Suzuki or Gardiner] too regimented and too detail-focused, then Kuijken might just be the man for you.’ See review by Gavin Dixon.]

Reviewing Volume 15 (ACC25315), the last in this mini-series of one cantata for each Sunday of the year – here – sent me back to some of Sigiswald Kuijken’s earlier volumes. I also enjoyed Volume 9 (ACC25309), Cantatas for Advent – December 2010 Roundup – so I wasn’t surprised to find his take on these two Eastertide works equally to my taste. After the various recordings of the Bach Passions which I’ve mentioned above, Kuijken’s recordings of these two works will be on my menu for Easter Sunday and Monday.

The most economical way to obtain the Easter Oratorio is on a budget-price Virgin twofer, directed by Andrew Parrott, together with another Eastertide Cantata, No.4, the Ascension Oratorio and the Magnificat: just £5.99 from classicsonline.com, whose mp3 downloads are usually at the full 320kb/s.

If it has to be SACD or lossless sound, then it’s Masaaki Suzuki on BIS-SACD-1561, the Easter and Ascension Oratorios – see review by Paul Shoemaker – or the Retrospect Ensemble and Matthew Halls in the same coupling (Linn CKD373: Recording of the Month review– and May 2011/1 Roundup).

If you already have a recording of the Easter Oratorio and are looking for a good performance of Cantata No.6, you’ll find it conducted by Christophe Coin together with other concertos featuring the violoncello piccolo on Naïve E8918, a mid-price CD: Bargain of the Month – review. At $11.16 the eclassical.com download of this recording in its original incarnation on E8555 will save you mere pence over the CD (guide price £8 or a little less) and the same is true of downloads from other providers at £7.99.

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Concerti Grossi, Op.6/1-12
Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon – rec. August 2011. DDD.
Pdf booklet included.
NAXOS 8.557358-60 [3 CDs: 48:44 + 60:29 + 58:28] – from classicsonline.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

This should be the least expensive set of the Op.6 concerti currently available, though the fact that it spreads to three discs for £14.97/$20.97 (mp3) or £17.99/$23.99 (flac) means that it isn’t; Linn (Avison Ensemble/Pavlo Beznosiuk – Download of the Month), Harmonia Mundi (AAM/Andrew Manze) and ABC Classics (Australian Baroque/Paul Dyer) manage to fit their sets onto two CDs – the Linn can be downloaded for prices ranging from £13 to £25, or for around £20 on SACD; the Manze can be bought for around £20 on CD and the Dyer set is on sale on disc for as little as £13.

Additionally the classic recordings of Op.3 and Op.6 with Trevor Pinnock at the helm of the English Consort are coupled with the Water Music, Fireworks Music and Concerti a due cori in a budget-price 6-CD box set (DG Archiv 463 0942 – around £30; download for £17.49/£20.99 (mp3/lossless) from deutschegrammophon.com). Avie have squeezed Christopher Hogwood’s Op.3 and Op.6 (formerly Decca Oiseau Lyre) onto three CDs, available for £25 post paid – here (AV2065review).

Mallon’s performances are light and airy but the versions which I’ve listed above are not only more economically available, in the last resort they all carry rather more weight – in a positive sense – than the new Naxos release. The qualities which make Mallon’s Water Music and Fireworks Music (8.557764) so attractive are not quite enough for the Op.6 concertos.

Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Septem verba a Christo in cruce moriente prolata (Seven words of Christ as He died stretched out upon the cross) (1736)
Sophie Karthäuser (Soprano)
Christophe Dumaux (Counter-tenor)
Julian Behr (Tenor)
Konstantin Wolff (Bass)
Akademie für alte Musik, Berlin/René Jacobs – rec. immediately after concert premiere, Beaune Festival, August 2012. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902155 (33205695) [80:30] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

Pergolesi cannot possibly during his short life have written all the music that has been attributed to him at one time or another – hardly any of ‘his’ music which Stravinsky borrowed for Pulcinella is now thought to be by him – but these Seven Words from the Cross do now seem to be securely attributed. More importantly the music is extremely moving and the performances and recording, especially the 24-bit version, are excellent. The Gospel texts are sung in plainsong and each is followed by Pergolesi’s ‘comments’ – if you know Haydn’s Seven Words, especially the choral version, you’ll be familiar with the format.

I’m delighted to report that there’s a booklet of texts and translations – has someone been paying attention to my grumbles? The only problem is that, as is becoming common with pdf booklets, it’s the wrong shape and size to print and fit into a CD case.

Vivere
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Quartet in d minor, Opus 76/2 (1797-1799) [19:14]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Quartet in d minor, D.810, ‘Death and the Maiden’ (1824-26) [37:53]
Jörg WIDMANN (b.1973) Jagdquartett (3rd String Quartet, 2003) [11:00]
Ragazze Quartet (Rosa Arnold, Jeanita Vriens (violin); Annemijn Bergkotte (viola); Geneviève Verhage (cello)) – rec. September 2012. DSD.
Pdf booklet included
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA34613 [69:00] – from channelclassics.com (SACD, mp3, 24-bit lossless and DSD)

The notes in the booklet make it clear that the Ragazze Quartet were well aware that they were competing on strongly contested turf and were somewhat taken aback when they were invited by Channel Classics to make this recording. Though the comment applies especially to the Schubert, getting Haydn’s late quartets right is no easy matter, either. Though I have my own favourite and much-heard recordings of both these works, I tried as much as possible not to make comparisons. In one important respect the new recording has no rivals since I don’t know of any other version of either work in 24-bit sound.

Modern instruments are employed but with classical bows, specially made for the quartet for the occasion. Whether assisted by the bows or not I don’t know, but the Haydn begins with a vigorous and convincing account of the opening movement. The quality of the recording helps, too – not just left-and-right but with central placing also convincingly conveyed. The second movement has to be a compromise between the slightly contradictory halves of Haydn’s indication: andante o più tosto allegretto and the Ragazze Quartet steer an excellent coursed between Scylla and Charybdis; more importantly, they convey the charm of the music without sounding Dresden China-ish.

I said that I wouldn’t compare but after listening and forming a favourable impression of this performance of the Haydn I checked against the Kodály Quartet on Naxos – one of the most consistent series of recordings of the whole of Haydn’s quartet output – and found tempi very similar, confirming my impressions that the Ragazze Quartet judge this work admirably throughout, yet, from recollection, the Naxos performance is slightly less adventurous. Though that was one of the very first CDs that I bought – from Woolworths – and was amazed that even a budget label (£3.99 in those days) could sound so bright and fresh, the new Channel Classics recording improves on that experience.

The Kodály Quartet have also recorded Schubert’s string quartet output, but it was with a younger group in mind, the Belcea Quartet (EMI: Recording of the Monthreview*), that I listened to the new Death and the Maiden Quartet. The Belcea 2-CD set with the String Quintet and Quartets 14 and 15 contains the repeats in the opening allegro, which the Ragazze don’t take – it’s possible to argue either way on this one, but the repeats make the movement very long, over 16 minutes from the Belceas, and the Takács Quartet don’t include them, either. Otherwise the new performance captures all the power and the beauty combined in this movement in a manner so typical of Schubert – with more than a nod in the direction of his hero Beethoven’s late quartets.
* By one of those crazy anomalies, I see that amazon.co.uk are asking more for the download than for the CDs. Only sainsburysentertainment.co.uk (mp3) seem to charge slightly less for the download.

The slow movement is highly affective in places and jaunty in others – again there are two halves to the tempo indication, andante con moto, and it’s all too easy to over-stress one or other of these, but the Ragazze get it about right. Maybe they could have afforded to have been just a little more expansive, but the multi-award-winning Takács Quartet (Hyperion CDA67585 or CDA30019, with Quartet No.13: Recording of the Month review and December 2009 Roundup) are a little faster still and I don’t recall them sounding breakneck.

Excellent accounts of the scherzo and finale follow – the latter sounding especially strong and vigorous at just a few seconds short of the time on the Takács recording and even closer to that taken by the Belcea Quartet.

The programme is rounded off with a contemporary work. The booklet notes prepare the reader for a stormy work in the manner of Schumann’s more extrovert persona but the opening shout took me rather by surprise. Widman does to traditional hunting music what Ravel did to the Viennese waltz in la Valse – the result sounds like Mozart’s Musical Sleighride on steroids and, for me, it ends the wonderful performances of the Haydn and Schubert on the wrong note.

I find that download speeds from Channel Classics vary tremendously – some imponderable variable between Holland and my home in SE London – sometimes as low as 100kb/s, which means that it takes hours to download a 24/96 file, sometimes ten or fifteen times that rate. This one, downloaded in the small hours on a sleepless night, came down the line at a very creditable 1500kb/s.

Joachim RAFF (1822-1882)
Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 140 (1866) [33:08]
Orchestral Prelude to Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' WoO 49 (1879) [14:10]
Orchestral Prelude to Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' WoO 50 (1879) [11:22]
Orchestral Prelude to Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' WoO 51 (1879) [9:46]
Orchestral Prelude to Shakespeare's 'Othello' WoO 52 (1879) [8:14]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Neeme Järvi - rec. 25-27 June 2012, Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland
Pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHSA5117 [76:59] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16-bit lossless, Studio 24/96 stereo)

The Schweizerdeutsch composer Joseph Joachim Raff is new to me, which is hardly unusual as much of his prolific output - including 11 symphonies, a number of concertos and two operas - has been largely forgotten. Musically self-taught Raff numbered Hans von Bülow, Richard Strauss and Franz Liszt among his friends and mentors; indeed, he was the latter's assistant at Weimar from 1850 to 1853. As for recordings there are more than I expected to find, several by Czecho-Slovak forces under Urs Schneider on the old Marco Polo label.

This Chandos release is the first in a projected series of Raff recordings from Neeme Järvi and Ernest Ansermet's legendary old band, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Recorded in the equally famous Victoria Hall, Geneva, this new disc makes use of the venue's high-res recording set-up RAVENNA, technical details of which are provided a the end of the booklet. More than half a century ago Decca engineers were making history with some of their first stereo recordings, so it seems fitting that today's OSR should benefit from the newest recording technology too. That said, Ansermet/OSR remasters have astonishing range and presence, a testament to the skill of those early pioneers.

As for Järvi's return to Chandos and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra it's been a patchy affair; their Saint-Saëns collection is pleasing if not exceptional (review) and their disc of Suppé overtures is simply outclassed by the likes of Charles Dutoit and the Montreal orchestra (review). All too often Järvi seems a little disengaged and/or peremptory, and the sound of these high-res downloads doesn't strike me as anything remarkable either. Not surprisingly I approached this Raff set with some trepidation.

From its quietly atmospheric opening the Second Symphony is very soon revealed as a work of solid craft and engaging character. Vaguely Mendelssohn-by-way-of-Haydn in spirit the first Allegro has plenty of buoyancy and thrust, not to mention some echt-Romantic brass writing. Happily Järvi seems rather more genial than of late, and the Andante con moto emerges with a charming blend of warmth and lilt. True, there are grey patches in Raff's writing - and a hint of prolixity - but there's enough invention to keep one listening to the end.

The OSR are in splendid form and the high-res recording is remarkably detailed and three-dimensional; tuttis bloom with ease and the firm, muscular bass pays dividends in those strong, timp-led passages. Does the symphony outstay its welcome? In the Allegro vivace - Trio perhaps, but then Raff makes amends with a taut, fizzy finale that keeps Järvi and his band on their toes. At the risk of being accused of damning with faint praise I'd say this is a most entertaining work, persuasively played and very well recorded. And even though it's written for large orchestra Raff uses his resources sparingly.

What of the four Shakespeare Preludes? 'The Tempest' has some ear-catching tunes - the recording has tremendous presence, which really brings out the felicities of Raff's string writing - and the piece has a real sense of drama. This music certainly grew on me, and I found myself admiring Raff's deft, understated style. 'Macbeth' is somewhat low-key but it's as robustly scored and executed as anything here. As for 'Romeo and Juliet' it has plenty of ardour, a strong vein of lyricism and some lovely horn playing. The virile 'Othello' is perhaps the most striking of the four pieces; there's an almost Verdian line here and a palpable sense of tension that builds to an imposing - but characteristically restrained - climax.

After an initial encounter some listeners may be tempted to bury this download in the darkest recesses of their hard drives; indeed, that was my first impulse, but subsequent auditions were far more positive. A commendable enterprise, and one that promises to be eminently collectable.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

I Was Glad – Sacred Music of Stanford and Parry
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)

Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in A, Op. 12 (1880) [11:12]
Sir Hubert PARRY (1848-1918) I was glad (1911 version) [6:61]
STANFORD Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in G, Op. 81 (1902) [8:15]
PARRY ‘Coronation’ Te Deum in D (1911) [14:25]
STANFORD Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in B flat, Op. 10 (1879) [7:18]
PARRY Blest Pair of Sirens (1887) [9:11]
STANFORD Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in C, Op. 115 (1909) [7:31]
PARRY (orch. Elgar) Jerusalem (1916) [3:03]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano); David Wilson-Johnson (bass)
Choir of The King’s Consort
The King’s Consort/Robert King – rec. September 2012. DDD
English texts included
VIVAT101 [67:52] from vivatmusic.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

The release of this recording caught my eye just as I was closing the previous Download News – how could it not when I’m on record as considering both composers overdue for reappraisal? In the event, John Quinn, who has made it a Recording of the Month, has said it all – review – so I need only add that the download also includes the CD booklet – not always provided with downloads – and that the CD-quality 16-bit lossless version sounds fine. I had to pay for this download – no review access – but it’s money well spent; by bringing us closer to how the composers intended their music to sound, these performances join a growing list of recordings which show that it need not sound at all stuffy.

Manuel Maria PONCE (1882-1948) Concierto del sur [25:03]
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999) Fantasia para un gentilhombre [21:25]
Andrés Segovia (guitar); Symphony of the Air/Enrique Jorda – rec. May 1958. ADD.
NAXOS CLASSICAL ARCHIVES 9.80916 [46:28] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

These recordings, made for MCA as part of the Segovia Golden Jubilee celebrations, were first released in the UK on the Brunswick label, then allied to Decca, and subsequently subsumed into the Universal empire, hence their availability on the DG Segovia Collection (471 4302review; also on a single CD, with Boccherini, DG Originals E474 4252).

The Rodrigo is the sort of music that I wallow in – music from the classical period and earlier, reshaped for a modern orchestra in the manner of Respighi’s Ancient Airs or Gli Uccelli or Warlock’s Capriol – and it receives an authoritative performance which not even Julian Bream was to excel. The Ponce, the result of his tour of South America in 1941, is much less of a masterpiece but well worth hearing in this performance.

The recording hardly sounds fresh-minted – I imagine that the DG transfer from the master tapes is preferable – but it will do very nicely. I suppose it was sensible to omit the original short track on which Segovia spoke a few words in English.

There’s also an eclassical.com download; it’s a little more expensive than from classicsonline.com (£1.99) but mp3 and lossless come at the same price. This version, however, currently has a blank fifth track, the ricercare of the Rodrigo Fantasia – as has the mp3 version from emusic.com and, apparently the over-priced version from amazon.co.uk. I’ve reported the problem to eclassical.com, but it hasn’t yet been fixed, so classicsonline.com is currently the only show in town for this.

Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Early Chamber Works
Quintet in G for two violins, viola and two cellos (1908) [38:17]
String Quartet in A (1902) [31:26]
Divertimenti Ensemble (Paul Barritt, Rachel Isserlis (violin), Jonathan Barritt (viola), Josephine Horder, Sebastian Comberti (cello)).
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7131 [69:43] – from amazon.co.uk (mp3)

[‘Highly recommended, not only to Bax enthusiasts but to anyone who feels like exploring some attractive, out-of-the-way English music from the early years of the twentieth century.’ See review by Graham Parlett.]

The music is every bit as enjoyable and the performances as adept as Graham Parlett says. Add the fact that the mp3 sound is much more than adequate and we were all set for a strong recommendation – but the first two tracks failed to download and were declared time-expired within seconds of having been purchased. Eventually I was able to retrieve the missing tracks from the Cloud but not before I had posted a one-star grumble on the Amazon website which, surprisingly, was placed online and allowed to stand apparently without anyone reading it – certainly before anyone made any attempt to contact me. I did receive a reply eventually, but it wasn’t particularly helpful, as it was couched in terms more suitable for a novice when I’d indicated that I was a seasoned downloader. Amazon should think carefully about customer relations and why there are so many adverse comments on their site.

Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960)
Concertino for piano and orchestra [26:17]
Concerto quasi una fantasia for piano and orchestra [14:36]
Lamar Crowson (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra/Arthur Benjamin – rec. ? First released in UK 1972.
NAXOS CLASSICAL ARCHIVE 9.80978 [40:53] – from emusic.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

About the only piece of music that I knew by Arthur Benjamin before I encountered the Dutton recording of his music for violin, viola and orchestra (CDLX7279review and January 2012/2 Roundup*) had been his Jamaican Rumba, which may lead you to expect middle-of-the-road music here. The Concertino is not demanding, so I suppose that it might just qualify for that description, though the Concertino is not all easy going.

With Benjamin himself in command and with Lamar Crowson, who had previously recorded some of his piano music for Lyrita as soloist (review), these are authoritative and enjoyable performances and the recording is very good for its age – hardly surprising when its provenance stems from Everest. The transfers are at 230kb/s and sound more than adequate; classicsonline.com have the album in 320kb/s sound, but at £1.99 as opposed to emusic.com’s very economical £0.84. There’s no current rival for either work.
* the download from amazon.co.uk is slightly less expensive than that from iTunes to which I gave a link.

Giles SWAYNE (b. 1946) Stations of the Cross (2004/5)
Book I
1. Jesus is sentenced to death [4:50]
2. Jesus takes up the cross [2:13]
3. The first fall [2:20]
4. Jesus and his mother [5:10]
5. Simon of Cyrene [4:18]
6. Veronica [3:51]
7. The second fall [7:52]
Book II
8. The women of Jerusalem [5:00]
9. The third fall [3:13]
10. Jesus is stripped of his clothes [4:33]
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross [2:49]
12. Jesus dies on the cross [3:43]
13. Jesus’ body is laid in his mother’s arms [2:47]
14. Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb [7:40]
Simon Niemiński (organ of St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Edinburgh) – rec. 3-5 October, 2012. DDD.
All tracks are world premiere recordings
Pdf booklet included, with full specification of the organ
RESONUS CLASSICS RES10118 [60:28] No CD equivalent. Download from resonusclassics.com (mp3, aac and lossless) or eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

This is another very welcome first from Resonus, introducing us to Giles Swayne’s meditations on the suffering of Jesus. Though he is an avowed atheist put off by his Roman Catholic boarding school, a large amount of music on religious themes features in Swayne’s musical output, including a setting of the Stabat Mater, music inspired, like these Stations of the Cross, by the Passion. John Quinn, though clearly not at ease with Swayne’s music generally, found that the most approachable work on a Naxos recording made by Clare College (8.572595review.) Robert Hugill, who seems rather more at home with the idiom, if that’s the right expression, thought the Naxos recording a hugely impressive achievement: Bargain of the Month review. There are also Four Passiontide Motets on a Delphian recording (DCD34033).

Having heard none of Swayne’s music apart from the rather daunting Cry (NMC NMCD016) and tending to align myself with John Quinn’s tastes in music, I approached the new recording with some trepidation. I need not have worried; Swayne studied for a time with Messiaen and there are clear echoes of the master’s organ music here – indeed, I would go so far as to say that there’s nothing that you couldn’t relate to if, like me, you love Messiaen’s organ music without finding it at all ‘easy’.

The performance sounds idiomatic – as with almost all Resonus Classics recordings, the repertoire is ground-breaking, so there are no benchmarks to consider – and the (2007) organ of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Edinburgh, is well suited to the music. With good recording – I listened to the 24/96 flac supplied for review – and helpful notes in pdf form, I strongly recommend giving this a try.

Eric WHITACRE (b.1970) Sainte-Chapelle (2013)
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips – rec. Merton College Chapel, Oxford
Pdf booklet includes Latin text and English, French, German & Spanish translations
GIMELL GIM802 [8:37] – from iTunes (mp4)

This is The Tallis Scholars’ first digital single, a recording of music commissioned for their 40th anniversary celebrations. The music is beautiful and compelling – a phrase lifted from John Quinn’s review, which I recommend that you read – possessing the quality that I’ve encountered in other music by Eric Whitacre* of being clearly modern yet equally clearly the heir of centuries of tradition without sounding at all imitative. The performance is by definition authoritative and the recording good, though I hope that Gimell will at some point in the near future be offering it in something better than iTunes’ variable bit-rate m4a (this recording hovers between around 170kb/s and 258kb/s).

I’m less positive about the Latin text – a piece of modern kidology designed to sound authentic – and the ‘booklet’ which contains just a few pictures and the text with multi-lingual translations and doesn’t even print out at the right size to fit in a CD case. £0.79/$0.99/€0.99 is not unreasonable for an 8-minute piece but adding the ‘booklet’ bumps that up to a less feasible £1.29.

* Cloudburst and other works, Hyperion – see October 2010 Download Roundup; Water Night, Decca – see May 2012/2 Download Roundup.

Muir Mathieson’s Classics
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Serenade No.13 (Eine kleine Nachtmusik) [14:36]
Franz SCHUBERT Symphony No.5 in B-flat [21:56]
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No.6 in b minor [44:19]
Sinfonia of London/Muir Mathieson – rec. 1958. ADD/stereo
BEULAH 1PD934 [80:51] – from iTunes (mp4) or amazon.co.uk (mp3)

All these recordings have been released before on separate Beulah Extra downloads:

•   Eine kleine Nachtmusik on 2BX93
•   Schubert Symphony No.5 on 1BX93 – both in November 2010 Download Roundup
•  Tchaikovsky Symphony No.6 on 5-8BX93 – in June 2012/2 Download Roundup

The Sinfonia of London didn’t actually exist: the title conceals an ad hoc group of top musicians from the London orchestras who came together, in different permutations, to record for EMI and their subsidiary, World Record Club. Their recording of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik with Muir Mathieson is light and sprightly without ever sounding superficial and the 1958 stereo is still easy on the ear. The same comments apply to the stylish Schubert Symphony No.5 – but don’t forget the superb Beecham recording of Schubert’s Third, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies (EMI Great Recordings – see May 2009 Roundup).

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

The Amazon download is marginally less expensive than that from iTunes and comes (I presume) at the same bit-rate of 256kb/s. The separate Beulah Extra releases remain available at 320kb/s.

Colin Davis conducts Overtures
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

Guillaume Tell [11:28]
La Gazza ladra [10:09]
Semiramide [12:15]
Il signor Bruschino [4:56]
L’Italiana in Algeri [7:35]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Idomeneo, Re di Creta, K366 [4:52]
Die Entführung aus dem Serail [5:30]
Die Zauberflöte, K620 [7:01]
la Clemenza di Tito [4:55]
Don Giovanni, K527 [6:06]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis – rec. 1962. ADD/stereo
BEULAH 2PD44 [79:07] – from iTunes (mp4) or amazon.co.uk (mp3)

This is a very generous helping of early Colin Davis recordings. The Mozart overtures were included in a set of nine released on HMV CSD1406 in 1962, then considered a generous helping and offered at slightly less than full price. I agree with Edward Greenfield, who thought some of the performances a little too powerful, but that’s much better than making Mozart’s music sound too delicate and the strength of the music is by no means over-stressed here.

The Rossini overtures followed on CSD1436 a little later that year. I thought the William Tell overture just a little too refined, but probably that’s because I watched the Lone Ranger too much in my mis-spent youth, with its break-neck version of the end of this overture as its signature tune. As in the other overtures, it’s the affectionate charm of the performances that wins the day.

These recordings marked Sir Colin’s promotion from World Record Club and HMV Concert Classics to the slightly more up-market CLP/CSD label – soon, of course, he was commanding top price on a number of labels, and these recordings helped him on his way.

The remaining overtures from the Mozart LP have been separately released by Beulah Extra: La finta Giardiniera on 34BX129, Der Schauspieldirektor on 35BX129 and Le Nozze di Figaro on 36BX129. All from eavb.co.uk and all still very much worth having.

All the recordings, top of the class in their day, still sound very well indeed thanks to Beulah’s re-mastering. We’ve already had some classic Davis recordings from Beulah, including Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony (15BX129) and Mozart Symphonies Nos. 29 (1BX129) and 39 (4BX129). Now, please, may we have a release of the World Record Club recording of Mozart’s Symphony No. 34 and Oboe Concerto, the latter with Eugene Goossens, which first made Davis famous and which used to be available on Classics for Pleasure? The concerto is on Testament SBT1130, with some other Goossens recordings, but there’s a strong case for its separate release.

Late Thoughts


My colleague Patrick Waller, who has been investigating the vagaries of download pricing alerted me to two bargain versions of Wagner’s complete Ring cycle on 7digital.com: from Hans Swarowsky and a pick-up team of Czech singers and instrumentalists who had fled the Soviet invasion of that year (1968) to East Germany and a more recent set of live recordings from the 2008 Bayreuth Festival, directed by Christian Thielemann. Though I’m hardly short of recordings of Wagner, I decided that I could afford £4.49 for the Swarowsky – yes, that really is the price for the whole cycle and, crazily, for each of the four constituent operas if bought separately.

Downloading was far from uneventful – only the first nine of the ten CDs downloaded with the Download Manager; the other tracks had to be obtained one at a time manually – and the resulting download suffers from rather nasty glitches at the joins of tracks, even when played in Songbird, which usually eliminates such problems, once common with mp3 but far less so nowadays. Otherwise the sound quality of the 320kb/s transfer is decent and the performances are at least good enough to provide an impecunious beginner with a respectable performance of the whole Ring.

I had thought that this might make a Bargain of the Month listing, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you can afford better. Patrick Waller reports problems downloading the £7.99 Thielemann, too, which leaves Barenboim’s 1991/2 recording, at £28.99, apparently the least expensive safe offering from 7digital. Be aware, however, that I haven’t sampled it and that 7digital also offer exactly the same recording for £44.99! Sainsburysentertainment.co.uk also offer the Barenboim for £28.99 and £40.99 – thus neatly making Patrick’s point about the illogicality of download pricing.

Richafort Requiem for Josquin

In my recent review of the Harmonia Mundi reissue of the Richaford Requiemhere – I stated that this was one of only two recordings of this work. An eagle-eyed reader with an excellent memory, Alfred Jacobsen from the Netherlands, has reminded me that the work was recorded some time ago by Opus 111, when the music was attributed not to Richafort but to a mysterious composer called Engarandus Juvenis, about whom nothing is known. That recording is no longer available, but we both missed a Signum recording which spreads the sections of the Requiem across the programme (SIGCD005: Chapelle du Roi/Dixon – review) and Signum have just released yet another recording of this work with the King’s Singers which I’ll be looking out for (SIGCD326).


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