DOWNLOAD NEWS 2013/15
DL News 2013/14 is here and the index of earlier editions is here. There are two important fortieth birthdays to celebrate.
For their 40th birthday BIS are running a special offer 40% off 40 of their best-known albums for 40 days. I often have to say of a particular BIS offer from eclassical.com that it will have ended by the time that you read my review, but that I advise checking out whatever the current offers are theres always at least one. This time I need not add anything to discourage you if youre quick: go to http://www.eclassical.com/pages/bis-records-40-years.html and theres bound to be something to interest you. With the festive season approaching, for example, why not go for Emma Kirkbys concert of Christmas Music (BIS-CD-1135 review and DL Roundup December 2011/2) for just $5.83 in mp3 and lossless flac? There is also a 40-track sampler: 3 hours and 40 minutes for $7.99.
The Tallis Scholars, also 40, have re-recorded the Taverner Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas for their own label, Gimell, this time with three settings of the Magnificat as couplings see below for this Recording of the Month.
This month its the turn of Naxos in need of some catching up. Click on the catalogue numbers for links to downloads from classicsonline.com or stream from Naxos Music Library.
9.702915: Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Préludes, Books I and II (orch. Colin MATTHEWS): [85:17]. Click on the catalogue number for a link to the classicsonline.com download (mp3 only) or stream from Naxos Music Library (both with pdf booklet). Theres another Jun Märkl recording of these two books of Préludes for Naxos, in the Peter Breiner orchestration, with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (8.572584 review and review). This is a download-only release of the versions with the Lyon National Orchestra, previously contained in the 9-CD box set where they are spread across two discs.
You pay your money and take your pick as between the Matthews and Breiner orchestrations; Matthews tends to be more colourful, Breiner closer to the piano originals. Ive no strong opinions either way; in 2012/20, à propos of the Breiner, I recommended staying with the keyboard versions, specifically with Angela Hewitt on Hyperion CDA67898. I didnt listen to Ms Hewitt for comparison this time, which is perhaps why I enjoyed these orchestrated versions more but as adjuncts, not as replacements.
8.573186: Sergei PROKOFIEV Symphony No.4 (revised version), Op.112, and The Prodigal Son, Op.46, played by the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop from classicsonline.com (mp3, with pdf booklet) [78:12]. This recording replaces an earlier Naxos album with the same coupling from the Ukraine National SO and Theodore Kuchar. The Fourth, drawn largely from the ballet with which its coupled on both these recordings, is not one of Prokofievs greater works but all concerned here make a good case for it. The download is mp3 only at the time of writing; I downloaded too soon for the lossless version, which is now available what happened to the policy of making mp3 and flac available simultaneously? but it sounds well.
You may wish to complement this recording of the revised version with Neeme Järvis of the original (1930), coupled with the Third Symphony (Chandos CHAN8401). Järvis recording of the revised version comes on CHAN8400 and both versions are included in the box set of his recordings of all the symphonies (CHAN10500 (4)).
Leslie Wright was less impressed with Marin Alsops recording of the Fifth, though he enjoyed the coupling, The Year 1941 (8.573029 review). For my discussion of alternative versions of the Fifth, including Järvi, see DL News 2012/20.
8.573188: Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH Fourth Symphony in c minor, Op.43 [64:59], is a more substantial work than the Prokofiev, though highly controversial in its time. This is the latest volume (No.9) in Vasily Petrenkos cycle with the Royal Liverpool Phil.
Though completed in 1936, the work was withdrawn following Stalins bad-tempered reaction to Lady Macbeth and not performed until 1961. Its easy for us now to see that the music was a protest against the harshness of life under the Soviet regime, an aspect which Dan Morgan thought lacking in this recording Shostakovich-lite: review though he expected others to be more impressed.
So far I havent seen any other reactions but the opening is certainly spikey enough for someone like me who first got to know the work from Eugene Ormandys CBS recording (72129 and reissued on 61696) and, more recently, from an Olympia reissue of Gennadi Rozhdestvenskys 1985 Melodiya recording with the USSR Ministry of Culture SO (OCD156 sadly, no longer available*, though the 1962 recording still is, on BBC Legends). Ormandy emphasised the Mahlerian aspects of the work. I dont hear more than an occasional hint of Mahler from Petrenko, but I did think that he developed the harshness of the music more than Dan Morgan gives him credit for. Once again I was too early for the lossless flac from classicsonline.com, but the mp3 is good.
Regular readers will know that I usually agree with Dan, but I did find more in this Shostakovich Four than he did and I could happily live with it. Try it for yourself if you can from Naxos Music Library short snippets wont do it, I think or go for a version that we both like very much:
BIS-SACD-1553: Netherlands Radio PO/Mark Wigglesworth [65:37] follow link from catalogue number to eclassical.com (mp3, 16 and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet). You can stream this, too, from Naxos Music Library. At $9.84 (mp3 and 16-bit lossless) its not much more expensive than the Petrenko and less expensive than Järvi (below), thanks to eclassical.coms per-second pricing, with 24-bit only a little more. Even the dismal unloved scene on the cover fits the bill.
Alternatively: CHAN8640: another powerful performance, from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi [61:07]. Follow link from catalogue number to theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).
Simon Rattles recording is also well worth considering its available from sainsburysentertainment.com for a ridiculously inexpensive £0.89, so its well worth having as a second version. The second movement is seriously mis-labelled as Russian Funeral, actually the title of the Britten filler on track 4, and I had some problems with getting this download from the download manager but an email to Sainsburys customer services brought speedy redress in the form of tracks which could be downloaded directly.
* Someone really should reissue all those Olympia/Melodiya recordings even the over-lit sound is appropriate to the music and they were mostly more generously coupled than the new Naxos, the BIS or the Chandos, with Jazz Suite No.1 on the CD with the Fourth Symphony.
8.559024: Samuel BARBER (1910-1981): The School for Scandal Overture, Op.5 [8:42]; First Essay for Orchestra, Op.12 [8:20]; Symphony No.1, Op.9 [21:44]; Symphony No.2, Op.19 [30:59]: Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Marin Alsop [69:45]. Mp3 or stream from Naxos Music Library (both with pdf booklet). Adrian Smith wrote: Performance and recording are first class and this disc is a must for anyone who enjoys late-romantic music with something new to say review and John Phillips awarded a full five stars review; only Colin Clarke was a little less enthusiastic review. With good mp3 sound, this will do very nicely unless you must have the lossless sound on the Chandos recording of both symphonies, the School for Scandal Overture and the ever-popular Adagio which Colin Clarke preferred and with which Id be equally happy (CHAN9684: Detroit SO/Charles Dutoit [68:12] from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).
Theres a lossless version of the Naxos from eclassical.com but, at $12.56, thats more expensive even than the CD. At the other end of the spectrum, those looking for a bargain should check out Leon Botstein with the American Symphony Orchestra on their in-house label subscribers to emusic.com can have this in decent mp3 for £0.42 or less.
Recording of the Month
John TAVERNER (c.1490-1545)
Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas [41:21]
Magnificat for four voices [11:04]
Magnificat for five voices [13:23]
Magnificat for six voices [13:13]
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips rec. Merton College Chapel, Oxford, 2013. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
GIMELL CDGIM045 [79:03] from gimell.com (mp3 and various 16 and 24-bit lossless formats) or hyperion-records-co.uk (mp3, 16/44.1, 24/96 and 24/176.4)
To celebrate their 40th anniversary in November 2013 Peter Phillips and his team have chosen to revisit one of their earlier successes, the Taverner Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, a summation of Taverners art as well as our own as he puts it.
Lets be clear that the earlier 1984 recording of the Mass on CDGIM004, recorded like its successor in Merton College Chapel, remains one of the high points of the Scholars remarkable achievement and the coupling, the Western Wind Mass and the Easter respond Dum transisset Sabbatum, make that still much more than a historical curiosity, with the kind of performances that only a few ensembles have been able to rival since. I shant be disposing of my ancient copy of that disc, though the Western Wind Mass from it has been reissued in a less expensive 2-for-1 collection of Tudor music on CDGIM209 Bargain of the Month: review thus clearing the way for the new release, the Benedictus from which was foreshadowed in another inexpensive twofer, Renaissance Radio, CDGIM212, earlier this year Recording of the Month: review and DL News2013/3.
Its almost superfluous at this late date to comment on the style of the Tallis Scholars. Regular listeners to their output will not be surprised to learn that Peter Phillips tempi have broadened noticeably in the interim, with the concluding Agnus Dei, for example, now taking 9:39 as against the earlier 7:59, which was already slightly more deliberate than Paul Hilliers 7:44 (with Ars Nova, DaCapo 8.226056 review). Stephen Darlington with Christ Church Cathedral Choir from next door, but actually recorded in Merton College chapel, where both Gimell recordings were made had already made a case for slower tempi (Avie AV2123 review).
Darlington takes the Gloria even more slowly: 12:56 against 9:47 (Hillier), 10:25 (Phillips 1984) and 11:45 (Phillips 2013) but the miracle is that all these recordings are so good in their own terms that they all sound right unless you start making direct comparisons. The daCapo may sound a little more exciting, the Avie a little more deliberate than either Gimell recording, but any one of these would serve superbly to lift the hearers soul, into a better place. If theres anything that Ive learned about tempi, especially in music of this period, its that they are only relative. Peter Phillips now paces the Mass more deliberately than he did in 1984, yet that earlier version in no way sounds hurried, nor does the new sound slow.
To these fine recordings I should add The Sixteen under Harry Christophers a splendid bargain at £4.99 (mp3 or flac) on Hyperion Helios CDH55052, with Audivi vocem, and an even better bargain in a budget box set of English polyphonic music (CDS44401/10 review and Bargain of the Month review; download in mp3 or flac for £40.). The Tallis Scholars tend nowadays to adopt slower tempi than The Sixteen, but in 1984 when they both recorded the Taverner Mass the boot was on the other foot: Christophers takes nine minutes longer than Phillips Mark I and even three minutes longer than Phillips Mark II, with a Gloria which clocks in as the second longest of the four under consideration, yet, nonetheless, still sounds glorious. (12:29, but that includes the short respond Gloria tibi Trinitas; Darlington takes 12:56, Phillips 2013 11:45, Phillips 1984 10:26, Hillier 9:47).
Darlington offers the advantage of prefacing the Mass with an extended farced Kyrie; Tudor composers often did not set this section polyphonically, presumably expecting it to be chanted, but the arrangement on the Avie recording works well, as did that on the earlier Gimell recording where the Mass is preceded by Taverners Kyrie Leroi. To have repeated that would have put the new recording over 80 minutes perhaps it could have been included as a bonus with the download. Christophers prefaces the Gloria with the Vespers respond Gloria tibi Trinitas which forms the cantus firmus not something which could have happened in liturgical practice, but effective.
There are recordings of the 4-part Magnificat on Hyperion (CDH55053 and CDS44401/10) and New York Polyphony (Avie AV2186); Christ Church have recorded the 5-part (Nimbus NI5360 review) but this seems to be the only recording of the six-part work, and of all three in the same programme. Unsurprisingly, The Tallis Scholars take the music at a slowish pace but not one that ever drags and these three items add to the appeal of the new recording.
Subscribers to Naxos Music Library can compare the earlier Gimell, the Ars Nova and Avie recordings of the Mass there. I shall not be ditching any of the other recordings that Ive mentioned, having just listened to them all practically continuously over several days with no sense of satiation, but Ill certainly be listening regularly to the new recording I hope for as long as Ive been listening to the two recordings from 1984.
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1525/6-1594) Music for Pentecost
Dum complerentur [6:11]
Missa dum complerentur [29:40]
Veni Sancte Spiritus [3 settings: 2:20 + 2:23 + 4:14]
Veni Creator Spiritus [8:53]
Magnificat sexti toni [13:41]
Spiritus Sanctus replevit totam domum [3:39]
Westminster Cathedral Choir/Martin Baker rec. March 2002. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55449 [71:01] from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)
I thought I had covered all the Hyperion recordings of Palestrina from Westminster Cathedral in one form or another, but I seem to have missed this one in its full-price incarnation. Its the wrong time of year, of course, for music for Pentecost (Whitsun) but the budget-price reissue is very welcome in every other respect.
The only alternative recording of Palestrinas Pentecost Mass widely available in the UK comes from Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford (Nimbus NI5100 from classicsonline.com (mp3 only) or on CD, which Robert Hugill regarded rather as a fine example of the English Cathedral tradition review available from MusicWeb International, currently £12 post paid here. The Nimbus brings happy memories of hearing the Christ Church choir sing Palestrina as an undergraduate but in all other respects including, now, price, the Hyperion is preferable.
Luca MARENZIO (1553-1599)
Primo Libro di Madrigali a cinque voci (1580)
Dolci Affetti (1582) Sestina: Mentre ti fui si grato
Primo fiore della ghirlanda musicale (1577): Donna bella e crudel (reconstructed by James Chater)
La Compagnia del Madrigale rec. 2010 and 2011. DDD.
pdf booklet with texts and translations included
GLOSSA GCD922802 [67:29] from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library
Thoroughly delectable music, excellently performed and recorded. If you know Monteverdis madrigals but have yet to encounter Marenzio, you should not hesitate. This is my second encounter with la Compagnia de Madrigale; if anything I was even more impressed than with their earlier Glossa recording of Gesualdo DL News 2013/8. In Marenzio they take more time to let the music breathe and add more colour than the sparser-sounding Concerto Vocale (Harmonia Mundi, below).
Classicsonline.com and Naxos Music Library also offer the very fine Naïve/Op.111 recording of Marenzios First (and only) Book of 4-part madrigals (1585), Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini in mp3, OP30117, which eclassical.com also offer in mp3 and lossless for around the same price, making that the better buy. Neither of these comes with the booklet of texts, however. Alessandrinis award-winning selection of madrigals from Marenzios various collections seems to have disappeared from separate availability but comes in an inexpensive 2-CD set with the 4-part works and a book (NC40010).
Theres just one copy left for sale at amazon.co.uk as I write of the Concerto Vocale/René Jacobs 1981 selection of Marenzios 5-part madrigals (Harmonia Mundi HMA1901065) and the seller is asking £34.99 for what was a budget-price release, so the eclassical.com download (mp3 and lossless) is good value at $8.74, reflecting the short playing time (48 minutes). Once again, however, theres no booklet.
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Christmas Oratorio, BWV248
Katherine Watson (soprano); Iestyn Davies (counter-tenor); James Gilchrist (tenor); Matthew Brook (bass)
Trinity College Choir, Cambridge
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Stephen Layton rec. January 2013. DDD.
pdf booklet with texts and translations included
HYPERION CDA68031/2 [2 CDs: 151:46] from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16 and 24-bit lossless)
This is one of Stephen Laytons and Hyperions regular Christmas presents, joining their Britten Ceremony of Carols and St Nicolas from last year, Handels Messiah (2009) and Rutters Christmas music, to name just some of the highlights. Sample some of the earlier offerings inexpensively on A Christmas Present from Polyphony (NOEL2) and Christmas through the Ages (NOEL1).
Competition in the Christmas Oratorio is strong, not least from:
• BIS-CD-941/2: Masaaki Suzuki. Though recorded before most of the cantatas which have been so widely praised, this recording shares the virtues of that series indeed, the so-called Oratorio is actually a collection of six cantatas for Christmas and the New Year/Epiphany period. The booklet is now available with this download from eclassical.com.
• VIRGIN CLASSICS (now ERATO) 5099909633452: Philippe Herreweghe. A highly recommendable budget-price recording the link I gave to classicsonline.com now costs even less, at £4.99. I compared both of these in December 2011/1.
and the Coro recording mentioned below.
In one very important respect the new Hyperion download is ahead of the field: the Herreweghe sounds well in good (320kb/s) mp3, the Suzuki better still in lossless sound, but only the new recording comes in 24-bit form and the recording is absolutely first-rate. Were the performance not to match, of course, that would hardly matter, but this is everything that we have come to expect from Stephen Layton and his team, for example in Volume 2 of the Handel Chandos Anthems. Even before Id heard the whole of Part 1, Id decided that this will be my version of choice for listening this Christmas, though not to the exclusion of the others listed.
George Frideric HANDEL (1658-1759) Orlando, HWV31 (1733)
Orlando Owen Willets (counter-tenor)
Angelica Karina Gauvin (soprano)
Medoro Allyson McHardy (mezzo-soprano)
Dorinda Amanda Forsythe (soprano)
Zoroastro Nathan Berg (bass)
Pacific Baroque Orchestra/Alexander Weimann rec. 2012. DDD
Pdf booklet with text and translation included
ATMA CLASSIQUE ACD22678 [3 CDs: 2:37:57] from eclassical.com (mp3, 16 and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library
With two very good versions in the catalogue, from Christopher Hogwood (Decca) and William Christie (a budget-price 6-CD Warner set, with Alcina) any newcomer needs to be equally good to survive. This one was recorded after the Vancouver Festival in 2012, with the period-instrument Pacific Baroque Orchestra.
I still marginally prefer one of the older alternatives but Id be perfectly happy to have the new Atma release as my sole version: singing, direction and recording are all very good. Try the two principal singers at the end of Act II, tracks 35-38 to judge for yourself: Angelicas Verdi piante and Orlandos mad aria, Ah stigie larve. The 24-bit lossless version is especially good, but costs $42.65; if youre happy with mp3 (at 320 kb/s) or 16-bit, the eclassical.com price of $28.43 compares well with what other download sites are charging for mp3 only.
Now, if someone were to discover a long-lost recording of Janet Baker in the title role with Anthony Lewis at the helm, a magic production which I vividly remember seeing and hearing at Sadlers Wells in 1966
George Frideric HANDEL Ottone, Re di Germania (1723)
Ottone (King of Germany) James Bowman (counter-tenor)
Teofane (Daughter to Romano, Emperor of the East) Claron McFadden (soprano)
Gismonda (Widow of Berengario, a Tyrant in Italy) Jennifer Smith (soprano)
Adelberto (Son of Gismonda) Dominique Visse (counter-tenor)
Emireno (A corsair, but really Basilio, brother to Teofane) Michael George (bass)
Matilda (Cousin to Ottone, and promised in marriage to Adelberto) Catherine Denley (mezzo)
The Kings Consort/Robert King rec. 1993. DDD
Pdf booklet with text and translation included.
HYPERION CDS44511/3 [3 CDs: 174:29] hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)
With the McGegan/Harmonia Mundi recording of similar vintage long deleted, Hyperion have the catalogue to themselves at the moment, so the reissue at a lower price effectively three-for-two is generous.
This is not among my top Handel operas I have to admit that its a long time since I took out the McGegan set of CDs but Handel and Bach even on auto-pilot are better than all their contemporaries. Actually Ottone is better than that; though it didnt grab my attention straight after listening to Orlando, I did very much enjoy hearing this reissue.
Ive seen James Bowmans singing here described as affected but that didnt trouble me unduly; try Tanti affani (tr.48), an aria which Bowman has also recorded separately, again with the Kings Consort (CDH555370), to see how you react. If youre happy with that aria you should be happy with the entire recording.
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Octet (D803) (1824)
The Gaudier Ensemble rec. December 2001. DDD.
pdf booklet included
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55460 [59:43] from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)
The budget-price reissue makes this even more desirable than when I recommended it at full price on CDA67339 alongside, but not in preference to Wigmore Hall Live WHL0017 April 2012/2. That recording comes with a filler the beautiful Der Hirt auf dem Felsen but the lower price of the Hyperion makes amends for the short-ish playing time. Either of these or the other recordings which I mentioned in that earlier review will serve to blow away the cobwebs of melancholy.
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Hungarian Rhapsodies Nos. 1-6 (orch. Liszt and Franz DOPPLER) (1858-1860) [70:24]
Orchester Wiener Akademie/Martin Haselböck rec. October 2012
Pdf booklet included
CPO 777797-2 [70:24] from eclassical.com (mp3, 16 and 24-bit lossless)
(See reviews by Brian Reinhart and Rob Maynard: Recording of the Month.)
Ive encountered Haselböcks Liszt with the period-instrument Wiener Akademie before (NCA60246 and 60250 review). I was impressed by these performances of the tone poems but not quite ecstatic, especially by comparison with Masur, and that was my first reaction when I first heard this CPO recording so at first I was surprised to see it as Recording of the Month, which prompted me to listen again. I seem originally to have been so under-whelmed that I downloaded and listened in July and have only now returned in late October.
Even now Im not quite so carried away as my colleagues Im still marginally inclined to prefer Iván Fischer (Philips, from hmvdigital.com) but I can now appreciate what I missed in July. That Fischer recording is available in mp3 (also in lossless, for a little extra, from deutschegrammophon.com) but the clincher that places the CPO top of the pile as a download is that its also available from eclassical.com in 24-bit sound and that it comes complete with pdf booklet.
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908) Scheherazade
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Eugene Goossens rec. 1958. ADD/stereo
Pdf booklet included
EVEREST SDBR-3026 [42:48] from iTunes (mp3)
Theres nothing at all wrong with this recording but theres nothing special, either, to match the Everest reissues of the Copland Third Symphony (below) or the Vaughan Williams Ninth (DL News 2013/14). If I were looking for a recording of this vintage, Id go unhesitatingly for Beecham (EMI, now Warner: £5.99 from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk, mp3) except in one regard: good as the Beecham sounds for its age, the Goossens has worn even better. Good value at £5.99/$7.99 but thats the same price as the Beecham, which also contains the Polovtsian Dances.
The Art of Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Toward the Unknown Region [12:10]
London Symphony Choirs and Orchestra/Sir Malcom Sargent rec. 1957 (?)
Symphony No.9 [34:53]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult rec. 1958.
Tuba Concerto [12:44]
Philip Catelinet (tuba); London Symphony Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli rec. c.1954.
BEULAH 1PD39 [59:46] from iTunes and amazon.co.uk (mp3)
Im not sure of the provenance of Toward the Unknown Region the recording sounds too thin to have been taken from the HMV LP released in 1957 but this early work doesnt receive too many outings and Sargent and his team do it justice.
The highlight of this album is the very good transfer of the Ninth Symphony. Like bananas and London buses, reissues sometimes appear in bunches in this case in pairs, with an Everest reissue which I hailed only a few weeks ago in DL News 2013/14. When Decca, having recorded all the other symphonies with Boult and the LPO, refused to do the Ninth, a little-known American company, Everest, did the honours. The recording took place mere hours after VWs death and the Everest reissue includes the brief eulogy which Boult recorded. There would have been ample space for it here, but maybe it was better to omit it.
Having bought the World Record Club release of this recording, I got to know this orphan symphony well and Ive always wondered why Decca missed out on it; Im pleased now to have a choice of recordings, with the Beulah less expensive than the Everest reissue and more easily obtained.
Everest include no fillers with the symphony so Towards the Unknown Region and the equally neglected Tuba Concerto are bonuses. The latter appeared on an HMV 10" LP coupled with Evelyn Rothwells account of the Oboe Concerto at around 20 minutes, could that not have been fitted on, too, to make a more generous album? Shake off memories of Tubby the tuba and its an enjoyable work in a fine performance. There are a number of modern recordings, not least on a Chandos 2-CD set of all VWs concertante works under the direction of Bryden Thomson, but this reissue has come up sounding remarkably well.
If you intend to go for the Chandos, at the time of writing one of those ridiculous anomalies means that the 2-CD set is less expensive than the download the former effectively 2-for-1, with no reduction in price for the download: CHAN9262. The Previn recording (BMG) seems to be unavailable.
Philip SAWYERS (b.1951)
Violin Sonata No. 1 (1969) [13:46]
Violin Sonata No. 2 (2011) [21:05]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Violin Sonata in e minor, Op.82 (1918) [26:46]
Steinberg Duo (Louisa Stonehill (violin) and Nicholas Burns (piano)) rec. January 2013. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6240 [61:37] from classicsonline.com (mp3)
This is an odd pairing on the face of it, especially when we are not short of fine versions of the Elgar, more logically coupled with Finzi and Walton, for example, on another Nimbus CD (NI5666 review). Either way its win-win for Nimbus, but I do slightly prefer both the coupling and the performance, from Daniel Hope and Simon Mulligan, on that earlier recording.
If you buy the new recording for the sake of the Elgar but are apprehensive about the Sawyers couplings, fearing some avant-garde onslaught, let me set your fears aside. I doubt whether Elgar would have had any problems relating to the music, which is attractive often dramatic but never strident but I cant imagine that Im going to choose to listen to either work very often. If you want to decide for yourself, the Steinberg Duos performance of the first sonata can be seen and heard on YouTube here and their Canadian premiere of the second sonata here. Their Elgar is here. I do recommend sampling from there or Naxos Music Library you may well appreciate all three performances rather more than Ive indicated. Having seen and heard those live performances on YouTube, Im beginning to wonder if I havent under-estimated these recordings.
If neither the new nor the older Nimbus coupling of the Elgar appeals, theres an alternative in the form of a Channel Classics recording of Elgar, Sibelius and Grieg (Isabelle van Keulen and Robert Brautigam, CC72171 Recording of the Month review). Subscribers to Naxos Music Library can try out all three and all three can be downloaded from classicsonline.com but the two Nimbus recordings are also available on CD at competitive prices from MusicWeb International.
Ive left the best till last: if forced to choose a desert island recording, despite the blandishments of all these fine offerings, Id go for a Hyperion Helios recording on which the Nash Ensemble play the Piano Quintet and the Violin Sonata an ideal combination of couplings, performances and budget price (CDH55301). Theres strong competition in the Quintet from a full-price Hyperion recording I compared the two in July 2011/2 but if the coupling appeals, I repeat my advice to go for the lower-priced version from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1912)
Symphony No.5 in c-sharp minor
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer rec. September 2012. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA34213 [74:09] from channelclassics.com (SACD, mp3, 16 and 24-bit lossless and DSD)
I enjoyed Iván Fischers earlier recording of Mahlers First Symphony CCSSA33112, Recording of the Month though I was less enthusiastic about No.4, CCSSA26109 July 2010 DL Roundup and my MusicWeb International colleagues have had similar mixed reactions to some of the other albums.
Be warned that the adagietto of the Fifth is taken slowly 10:42 in total thats not vastly slower than what might be considered the norm of around ten minutes, but you dont need to fully persuaded of the Kaplan theory to lean towards Simon Rattles 9:32. Bernstein was slower still, on both CBS (now Sony) and especially on DG (11:16) and I readily admit to listening to the latter performance as my first choice. Fischer makes his tempo work, but there were moments when I feared that he might lose the thread.
Otherwise this is a strong contender, albeit in a competitive market which is still headed by Bernstein on mid-price DG (4776334) despite that slow adagietto. By comparison Fischer just fails to catch fire quite as effectively. The 24/96 recording is very good indeed; the Bernstein is available only in mp3 or 16-bit flac as a download.
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Masonic Ritual Music for tenor, male voice choir and organ, Op. 113 [41:06]
Hannu Jurmu (tenor)
Harri Viitanen (organ)
YL Male Voice Choir/Matti Hyökki
Masonic Ritual Music for tenor and orchestra, Op. 113 (arr. Jaakko KUUSISTO) (2007) [30:16]
Mika Pohjonen (tenor)
Pauli Pietiläinen (organ)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra /Jaakko Kuusisto
rec. April 2010, Helsinki Cathedral, Finland (original version); May 2008, Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland (arrangement)
BIS-CD-1977 [72:05] from eclassical.com (mp3, 16 & 24-bit flac)
BIS have rendered sterling service to the music of Sibelius with their incomparable Sibelius Edition, from which the first piece here the original version of the Masonic Ritual Music is taken (BIS-CD-1936/38). Rob Barnett was complimentary about the performance in his review. Despite a 2008 recording date for the Jaakko Kuusisto arrangement this seems to be the first outing for the piece. Curious listeners may also wish to investigate the organ-only version, magisterially played by Kalevi Kiviniemi and superbly recorded by the ever-reliable Mika Koivusalo (review).
As Andrew Barnett points out in his excellent liner-notes, Sibelius revised and added to his Op. 113, so various performing permutations are possible. That said, the version recorded here is a sensible and authoritative one. What of the music itself? Kiviniemi makes it sound very grand, but never grandiose, and one senses that Sibelius is in fine fettle, even at this late stage in his composing career. Listening to the original version scored for tenor, male voice choir and organ doesnt dispel or diminish that impression at all.
The opening hymn may not have quite the heft that makes Kiviniemi so memorable, but Harri Viitanen plays well and the BIS recording is superb. Its all very solemn, although Im happy to say it avoids somnolence; the perfectly placed tenor Hannu Jurmus ringing tones add to the powerful sense of occasion. The organ sound is full and warm, and while I miss Kiviniemis bold colours and strong contrasts this account has an intimacy and generosity of spirit thats most appealing. As for the YL choir, whom I first heard in a cappella music by Einojuhani Rautavaara, they are in good voice, and their characterful singing is well caught in what seems to be a most grateful acoustic.
Im delighted to have heard this version of the Masonic Ritual Music at last, and Id urge others Sibelians or not to seek out this recording at once. I see there are others in the catalogue, but Id be very surprised if they combined the musical and sonic virtues in evidence here. As for eclassical, their site is as straightforward and intuitive to use as ever, and the download process was quick and painless. That said, I did notice one audible glitch between tracks; its a very brief one though, and the first Ive encountered in these well-priced downloads to date.
Thats the good news; now for the not so good news. Placing an arrangement such as Kuusistos immediately after the work from which its derived is fraught with risk. I recommend you dont listen to these performances back to back, for on first hearing the arrangement seems rather bland. Its certainly proficient and its well played, but it lacks the expressive range and subtleties of the original. Kuusistos valiant attempt at Sibelian sonorities doesnt sound very convincing, and at times the music is frankly overblown. However, listening to the piece on its own is more rewarding; I certainly liked it more the second time around.
Otherwise the package is well up to the high standards of the house. I have to smile when I read the breast-beating, hair-tearing laments of disgruntled SACD fans who say high-res downloads are sonically inferior and way too expensive. One need only look at what eclassical has to offer to know they are wrong on both counts. Indeed, Id be hard-pressed to tell that these are 44.1kHz originals, such is the sophistication and range of the recordings. Its also BISs 40th anniversary, so while Robert von Bahr and I have had our disagreements I do wish him and his team all the best for the future.
The Sibelius is a real find; Kuusistos arrangement is pleasing but unmemorable.
Rachmaninov Piano Concertos
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in f-sharp minor, Op. 1 [26:24]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
USSR RTV Large Symphony Orchestra/Kurt Sanderling rec. Moscow in 1955
Piano Concerto No. 4 in g minor, Op. 40 [25:52]
Yakov Zak (piano)
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Kyrill Kondrashin rec. Moscow, 1954
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 [21:10]
Yakov Zak (piano)
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Kyrill Kondrashin rec. Moscow, 1952
Piano Concerto No. 2 in c minor, Op. 18 [30:38]
Lev Oborin (piano)
Radio Orchestra/Alexander Gauk rec. Moscow, 1947
Piano Concerto No. 3 in d minor, Op. 30 [39:09]
Lev Oborin (piano)
USSR State Orchestra/Konstantin Ivanov rec. Moscow, 1949
Pdf booklet included
APR RECORDINGS APR6005 [2 CDs for the price of one: 143:13] from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)
Hyperion, who offer the best modern recording of these works (Stephen Hough and Andrew Litton, not available for download), now do us the great favour of bringing these APR transfers of classic Russian versions. Dont expect much of the recordings even in 1955 Russian LPs were not the highest of fi and APR admit that the originals left a great deal to be desired. Nevertheless, they have cleaned the sound up very well indeed, reducing surface noise on CD1 effectively to zero without diminishing the frequency range, limited as it is by the original.
If you thought the first concerto was a non-starter and even Stephen Hough doesnt convince you, Richter and Sanderling ought to do it, clangourous piano tone and thin orchestral sound notwithstanding. Similarly, the fourth concerto is as cogent in this performance as the classic Michelangeli recording (EMI and Beulah). In these two concertos and the Paganini Rhapsody the sound is tolerable.
I wouldnt buy this set for the better-known second and third concertos. Oborins performances are good but the 78 sound here is even more crumbly and with more remaining clicks and plops than the later recordings of Nos. 1, 4 and the Rhapsody, but this second CD comes as a bonus, worth an occasional outing.
Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Overture: Pelleas and Melisanda, Op.5 (1900, ed. from MS Martin Yates) [17:25]
Concerto in D for piano and orchestra, Op.10 (1900, ed. and realised Martin Yates) [30:50]
Concerto for cello and orchestra, Op.19 (1902, completed and revised Martin Yates) [20:53]
Peter Donohoe (piano)
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Martin Yates rec. November 2012. DDD
World premiere recordings
No booklet but brief details from duttonvocalion.co.uk
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7302 [69:08] from emusic.com (mp3. c.220-235kb/s)
Some of Martin Yates detective work has gone into each of these early works to varying degrees and all three were well worth both the effort of rescuing and Duttons diligence in placing so much of Cyril Scotts music before us. I cant imagine more persuasive performances and the recording is very good, too; the emusic.com downloads average around 230kb/s, which is not far below what iTunes and amazon.co.uk would offer and, at £2.10 or less, its less expensive than either.
For the regular Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 and Early One Morning (Lyrita SRCD.251, John Ogdon) see review. For reviews of the Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet (Dutton) and links to other reviews of downloads of Scotts music (Lyrita and Chandos), see DL News 2013/7.
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
London Symphony Orchestra/Aaron Copland
Pdf booklet included
EVEREST SDBR-3018 [40:19] from iTunes (mp3)
This is another old friend like the Vaughan Williams Ninth Symphony which I reviewed last time, I owned this recording on a World Record Club LP as an undergrad, c.1963. For all the qualities of other recordings, notably Leonard Bernstein (CBS/Sony and DG) and James Judd (Naxos) theres something very special about Copland conducting his own work and the recording has come up very well indeed still little short of demo quality.
The Everest CD of the Symphony with Billy the Kid, which used to be available, is selling for over £40 as I write, so the reissue as a download is very welcome. At just over 40 minutes its short on playing time but the iTunes price of £5.99 compensates and Im pleased to see that the download has broken iTuness former 256kb/s barrier, clocking in at around 285kb/s. Now can we have that little extra push for 320kb/s or even lossless sound, please?
Theres also a pdf booklet but why does it print out far too large to fit a CD case?
When the Everest recording first appeared via WRC the two most respected reviewers of the day were at odds over the quality of the music, performance and recording. Im on the side of the angels in all three respects. There was a similar disagreement over the quality of Neeme Järvis recording with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, coupled with Roy Harriss Third Symphony, on Chandos CHAN9474 from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet). No argument that this coupling offers the two most significant symphonies by any American composer but it depends whether you can accept Järvis fast tempi in the Harris 16:28 overall as against Marin Alsops (Naxos) 18:03, but only marginally faster than Leon Botstein whose American Symphony Orchestra recording on their own label I praised last month. If you want this logical coupling, hallowed in the past by Leonard Bernstein, who wasnt much slower in the Harris, at 17:09, Id go for it but you may wish to try via Naxos Music Library first.
Joy to the World An American Christmas
Traditional I wonder as I wander [2.33]
Morten LAURIDSEN O magnum mysterium [6.05]
Traditional Joy to the world [2.25]
It came upon the midnight clear [2.46]
Gustav HOLST In the bleak midwinter [4.36]
William BILLINGS Shepherds, rejoice! [1.52]
Traditional In dulci jubilo [3.07]
Bob CHILCOTT The Shepherds Carol [3.28]
Charles IVES A Christmas Carol [2.23]
John RUTTER There is a flower [4.34]
Traditional O little town of Bethlehem [3.25]
Angels we have heard on high [2.55]
Herbert HOWELLS A spotless Rose [3.18]
Hieronymous PRÆTORIUS In dulci jubilo [3.43]
James BASSI Quem pastores laudavere [4.25]
William BILLINGS A virgin unspotted [2.50]
R. L. PEARSALL In dulci jubilo [3.35]
Traditional O little town of Bethlehem [3.29]
Mykola LEONTOVICH Carol of the Bells [1.25]
Handel and Haydn Society/Harry Christophers rec. January 2013. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts included
CORO COR16117 [63:02] from thesixteendigital.com (mp3, aac and 24-bit lossless)
Carols from the Old and New Worlds
While Shepherds Watched [4:33]
The Shepherds Star [3:41]
Charles IVES A Christmas Carol [2:55]
Joy to the World! [1:40]
The Apple Tree [2:23]
Christmas Hymn: A Virgin Unspotted [2:41]
Away in a Manger [2:13]
While shepherds watched their flocks by night [1:36]
Hark! The herald angels sing [1:30]
Jean SIBELIUS En etsi valtaa, loistoa [2:45]
Still, O Himmel [2:33]
Süsser die Glocken [2:38]
Still, still, still I [2:01]
Gaudete, Christus est natus [1:27]
Personent hodie [1:30]
The Yorkshire Wassail Song [1:45]
HENRY VIII Green growth the holly [3:16]
Here we come a-wassailing [2:04]
The Cherry Tree Carol [4:27]
Gustav HOLST In the Bleak Midwinter [3:55]
There is no rose [3:41]
A New Years Gift (Greensleeves) [1:48]
A wassail, a wassail throughout all this town! [2:22]
Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier
HARMONIA MUNDI DABORD HMA1957079 [61:31] from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library
Despite a few inevitable overlaps between these two releases, both are well worth adding to your collection.
Coro: this is not the brash affair that you might expect from the Christmas-card cover; even the pseudo-Handelian Joy to the World receives the most tasteful performance Ive ever heard. It contains slightly more familiar material than the Harmonia Mundi, so its a little less suitable for year-round listening, but theres some material that isnt specifically seasonal or familiar and the presence of Harry Christophers at the helm of the Handel and Haydn Society lends it distinction well above the run of the mill. Good recording and the inclusion of the booklet provide added incentives.
Harry Christophers other Christmas recordings with The Sixteen are also worth revisiting. The following are available from thesixteendigital.com in lossless sound:
• COR16027 Christus Natus est: an early English Christmas
• COR16034 BRITTEN Ceremony of Carols, etc.
• COR16043 A traditional Christmas Carol Collection I
Classicsonline.com also offer (mp3 only)
• COR16004 Hodie: an English Christmas Collection
• COR16017 BACH Christmas Oratorio
• COR16085 A traditional Christmas Carol Collection II
• COR17003 The Sixteen Christmas Compliation budget price sampler
Presumably these will be added to thesixteendigital.coms lossless collection in due course. All can be streamed from Naxos Music Library
Hillier: Plenty of distinction here, too, mostly offering less familiar fare: the very first track is an earlier, now unfamiliar, setting of While shepherds watched, with another setting on track 8. Other tracks feature familiar music with unfamiliar words. Since this is not filled with the umpteenth versions of old favourites, I didnt find it uncomfortable to listen to it in late October.
Unfortunately there is no booklet, so no texts and translations, which are needed at least for track 10, En etsi valtaa, loistoa (I do not seek power or glory), a setting by Sibelius of a Finnish version of a Swedish poem. One other word of caution at $11.07 the download is hardly competitive with the £5.75 being asked for the budget-price CD by at least one online supplier. classicsonline.coms asking price of £7.99 (mp3, no booklet) is also uncompetitive.
RÓS: Songs of Christmas
Michael PRÆTORIUS Det hev ei rose sprunge (Behold, a Rose is springing)
Trad No koma Guds englar (The Angels of God)
Instrumental improvisation on Ricercata Segunda by Diego ORTIZ
Rós Suite for Christmas devised by Grete PEDERSEN (tracks marked*):
HILDEGARD of Bingen O vis æternitatis (O eternal Force) (short version)*
O frondens virga (O leafy Branch)*
Trad Eit barn er født i Betlehem (A Child is born in Bethlehem)*
HILDEGARD of Bingen Ave, generosa (Hail, Magnanimous)*
Ola O. FAGERHEIM I denne søte juletid (In this blessed Christmas Time)*
Trad Den fagraste rosa (The Fairest of Roses)*
Trad, after Helge DILLAN/Oskar FOLDEN, arr. Rolf LISLEVAND Maria, hun er en jomfru ren (Mary is a Virgin Pure) (instrumental)*
Mitt hjerte alltid vanker (My Heart forever Dwells)*
HILDEGARD of Bingen O vis æternitatis (O Eternal Force) (long version)*
Per NØRGÅRD Julens glæde (The Joy of Christmas)
Trad Et lite barn så lystelig (Christmas Verse)
Gustaf NORDQUIST Jul, jul, strålande jul (Yule, Yule, radiant Yule)
Berit Opheim (vocals)
Gjermund Larsen (violin)
Rolf Lislevand (lute)
Bjørn Kjellemyr (double bass)
Det Norske Solistkor (The Norwegian Soloists Choir)/Grete Pedersen rec. April 2013. DSD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
BIS-SACD-2029 [52:30] from eclassical.com (mp3, 16 and 24-bit lossless)
If youre looking for something out of the ordinary for Christmas, this could well be it. Apart from the opening Prætorius setting and the three works by Hildegard, everything else is likely to be a voyage of discovery, and a delightful one at that, which need not be restricted to Christmas listening.
I hadnt encountered the Norske Solistkor before but I enjoyed this so much that I now intend to investigate their other recording for BIS, also available from eclassical.com: White Nights, impressions of Norwegian folk music (BIS-SACD-1871).
Where comparisons can be made, in the Hildegard with Gothic Voices (Hyperion) and Sequentia (DHM/BMG) I didnt find the Norwegian choir lacking, though Id still urge listeners to go for A Feather on the Breath of God (Hyperion CDA66039 or CDS44251/2, 3 CDs) and one or more of the many recordings which Sequentia have made: a good place to start would be the selection which was recently reviewed by Simon Thompson here.
One small complaint: the original German words of the opening Es ist ein Ros entsprungen are so well known that it seems odd to have them sung in Norwegian.