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DOWNLOAD NEWS 2013/13
Brian Wilson

Follow these links to earlier editions:

• 2013/12 – here
• 2013/11 – here
• 2013/10 – here
• Index of earlier editions – here

A small but important amendment to something which I wrote in 2013/11: I mentioned that the BIS recordings of the Beethoven symphonies from the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä are available on disc as a set, 5 discs for the price of 2, but I didn’t point out that the discs are actually hybrid SACDs – BIS-SACD-1825/6. I’m indebted to Robert von Bahr of BIS for reminding me and also for elucidating why eclassical.com’s per-second pricing policy differs from one label to another – it’s all to do with the price which individual labels charge.

Discovery of the Month
A Scottish Lady Mass – Sacred Music from Medieval St Andrews

Introit: Gaudeamus omnes [02:38]
Kyrie: Rex, virginum amator [04:26]
Gloria – Per precem [05:36]
Gradual: Propter veritatem [02:55]
Alleluya: Ave Maria gratia plena [03:44]
Alleluya: Virga florem germinavit [03:59]
Sequence: Missus Gabriel de celis [06:22]
Sequence: Hodierne lux diei [05:13]
Offertory: O vere beata sublimis [02:50]
Sanctus – Mater mitis [03:57]
Sanctus – Christe ierarchia [07:52]
Sanctus – Voce vita [05:44]
Agnus Dei – Archetipi mundi [04:57]
Agnus Dei – Factus homo [03:27]
Communion: Principes persecuti sunt [01:41]
Red Byrd, Yorvox – rec. April, May 2004. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
HYPERION CDA67299 [66:05] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Despite Johan van Veen’s conclusion that this ‘is a disc with fascinating music, which is a must for everyone interested in early liturgical repertoire’ – review – it keeps languishing in the unwanted ‘please buy me’ category. It currently costs just £5.60 as a download or CD; if it’s still there at that price when you read this, and if enough readers with even the slightest interest in medieval music are prepared to chance their arms, we can get it out of dudgeon dire.

The music is beautiful in a timeless way and though we can’t know how it sounded originally, I’m sure that its unknown creators would have been delighted with the performances here. The recording is very good in both formats and the usual Hyperion quality booklet comes as part of the deal.

Cipriano de RORE (c.1515/16-1565) Missa Doulce mémoire, etc.
Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice
HYPERION CDA67913 [74:28] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)
[full details and review in DL News 2013/11; see also review Recording of the Month]

We quite often hear madrigals by Cipriano de Rore, of which he wrote over one hundred as well as other secular music, so it is good to hear these rarities from his sacred output. Whereas de Rore’s madrigals are important works preparing the way for the revolutions of Monteverdi, the sacred music seems rather more conventional, harking back to Josquin. There are five extant masses by de Rore, and the first of the two recorded here is Missa Doulce mémoire. Right at the start we are treated to beautiful, smooth lines of flowing melody in the Kyrie and Christe, mostly homophonic in style. The texture varies from three to six parts, with the addition of a baritone in the second part of the Agnus Dei. The balance between the parts is always carefully judged and the dynamics and phrasing meticulously prepared.

For me, the most moving piece in this collection is the motet Fratres: Scitote with text by St Paul from Corinthians describing the instigation of Holy Communion. Musically speaking the words are depicted with a judicious mix of counterpoint and homophonic, chordal style in ever-varying textures. This is all very beautifully performed by the Brabant Ensemble. For example, the singers achieve a new and different colour in the chordal section at hoc est corpus meum (this is my body). After the devotional tone of this moment we return to imitative style as the music builds in a crescendo and eventually dies away to a whisper at the end.

Rore composed over eighty motets and the first of the three on this recording is O altitudo divitiarum which also sets words by St Paul as he describes the unfathomable wisdom of God. This is slow-moving and devotional music with constantly changing textures, and the voices are largely presented in imitative style with many suspensions. The performers capture well the devotional spirit and mood encapsulated in St Paul’s words.

The final work presented is another Mass, Missa a note negre, a piece perhaps in a more conservative and conventionally imitative style, but very attractively performed here. Stephen Rice and his singers maintain interest throughout. In the Credo for example, they make effective and dramatic contrasts in moods at Et incarnatus est and in the ensuing exultant Et resurrexit. Later on I like the light, bouncy performance of Osanna in excelsis and finally the devotional feel of the Agnus Dei.

This is a very fine collection of unfamiliar sacred music by de Rore. It is superbly performed, demonstrating a thorough and detailed understanding of the texts together with excellent balance between the voice parts. The intonation is always perfect. The Brabant Ensemble directed by Stephen Rice have added another fine recording to their output. The collection is very well recorded and it has a warm ambience.

Geoffrey Molyneux

The Phoenix Rising: The Carnegie UK Trust and the revival of Tudor church music
William BYRD (c. 1540-1623)
Ave verum corpus [4:08]
Thomas TALLIS (c. 1505-1585) Salvator mundi (I) [3:20]
William BYRD Mass for five voices:
Kyrie eleison [1:36]
Gloria in excelsis Deo [5:29]
Thomas MORLEY (1557-1602) Nolo mortem peccatoris [3:13]
Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625) O clap your hands together [5:34]
William BYRD Mass for five voices: Credo [9:55]
Robert WHITE (c. 1538-1574) Portio mea [6:53]
Christe qui lux es et dies (IV) [6:23]
Orlando GIBBONS Almighty and everlasting God [2:17]
William BYRD Mass for five voices: Sanctus and Benedictus [4:30]
Thomas TALLIS In ieiunio et fletu [4:38]
William BYRD Mass for five voices: Agnus Dei [3:46]
John TAVERNER (c. 1490-1545) O splendor gloriæ [12:53]
Stile Antico – rec. November 2012. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet with texts and translation included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU807572 [74:24] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

[See reviewRecording of the Month – by John Quinn.]

There are recordings of Byrd’s Masses set within a liturgical concept and others where all three Masses are performed ‘straight’ without interpolations, but this disc represents a new concept, interspersing the sections of the five-part setting with other music by Byrd’s predecessors, contemporaries and successors.

The earliest music, oddly, comes last, illustrating the rather more florid style of Tallis’s and Byrd’s predecessors in setting the Latin rite. The remarkable thing is that Taverner was already moving towards a plainer style and later composers such as Morley and Gibbons retained the older style in English settings. The programme thus demonstrates the essentially organic development of this music of the period despite all the religious upheavals as well as highlighting the work of the Carnegie Trust is making this wonderful repertoire available. Morley’s Nolo mortem is particularly interesting in setting first the Latin text then an English ‘commentary’.

I may slightly prefer individual performances of the Byrd Mass and the other items but it’s pointless to list them because the new Harmonia Mundi release hangs together as a unique programme. I had considered making this Recording of the Month but John Quinn has forestalled me.

As usual, I listened to the 24-bit lossless and the mp3 – it’s possible to have both for the price of the 24-bit – and both sound very good, so those wishing to economise with the 16-bit lossless should not be disappointed.

This is the latest in a series of fine recordings which Stile Antico have made for Harmonia Mundi:

HMU807463: TALLIS and BYRD Heavenly Harmonies: Recording of the Monthreview
HMU807509: SHEPPARD (c.1515-1558) Media Vita : see April 2010 DL Roundup– download from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, with booklet) or emusic.com (mp3)*
HMU807419 (SACD)/907419 (CD): TALLIS and BYRD Music for Compline – See review of Calliope CAL9623 – July 2012/2 DL Roundup.
HMU807559: CORNYSH, GIBBONS, TALLIS, etc. Passion and Resurrection: Recording of the Monthreview and DL News 2013/4
HMU807517: BYRD, SHEPPARD, TALLIS, TAVERNER and WHYTE Puer natus estreview
HMU807489: PALESTRINA, GOMBERT, LASSUS, VICTORIA.: Song of Songs – see review of Linn CKD174, October 2009 DL Roundup
HMU807554: Tune the Musicke to thy Hart: Tudor and Jacobean music for private devotion – review and June 2012/2 DL Roundup

* The emusic.com download costs a mere £2.94 but comes at a less than ideal bit-rate and without the booklet.

Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704)
Miserere des Jésuites H193-193a [25:09]
Antienne H526 [2:37]
Annunciate superi H333 [10:36]
Overture H536 [5:30]
Litanies de la Vierge, H83 [16:32]
Ensemble Correspondances/Sébastien Daucé – rec. January 2013. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902169 [60:24] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

Harmonia Mundi already had a much more than serviceable account of the Litanies which form the title work of this new release, a recording by Les Arts Florissants and William Christie, recently reissued at mid price (HMG501298, also HMX2908510/19, 10 CDs at budget price) and there’s a recommendable budget-price recording from Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel (Naxos 8.553173) so their inclusion in pride of place on this new release is a work of supererogation but nevertheless very welcome.

The Miserere, H219, also receives a recommendable performance from La Chapelle Royale and Philippe Herreweghe on another Harmonia Mundi recording (HMA1951185); that, too, can be downloaded in mp3 and lossless from eclassical.com but, at $10.78, it’s more expensive than the CD, which can be found online for around £6, and even classicsonline.com’s £5.99 (mp3) represents very little saving.

Sébastien Daucé and his ensemble have been around for only a few years but have already established a reputation with their recordings for Zig Zag. Transferring now to Harmonia Mundi, they offer, in addition to the Litanies, the less well-known six-part motets written for the House of Guise, headed by the Miserere – a setting so sumptuous you’d hardly recognise the penitential nature of the words. The sumptuous performance which it receives sets the tone for a very fine new recording. Only the rather dull cover detracts.

The initial offer of 24-bit sound for the same price as mp3 and 16-bit lossless will have ended by the time that you read this but I also tried the mp3; it’s very good of its kind, so the hard-up need not have too many worries about the quality of the 16-bit version. If you don’t like the plush religious music of this period, this is not for you, but I’d certainly like to hear more Charpentier from this group.

It’s the wrong time of year for Charpentier’s Leçons de ténèbres for Holy Week but the performance by Il Seminario Musicale and Gérard Lesne on a budget Virgin twofer also deserves strong approval – review: downloading for £6.99 will save you little if anything on the CD target price of around £7.50.

Bargain of the Month
Agostino STEFFANI (1654-1728)
Stabat Mater (1727)
Beatus Vir [5:15]
Non plus me ligate [6:21]
Triduanas a Domino [2:50]
Laudate Pueri [9:35]
Sperate in Deo [12:56]
Qui diligit Mariam [10:02]
Cecilia Bartoli, Nuria Rial, Yetzabel Arias Fernandez, Franco Fagioli, Julian Prégardien, Daniel Behle, Salvo Vitale,
Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera
I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis
No texts.
All world premieres except Stabat Mater.
DECCA 4785336 [72:01] – from amazon.co.uk (mp3)

Steffani made the reverse of the more well-trodden journey that Handel was to make a few years later – in his case from Italy to Germany. Based in Munich, he nevertheless seems to have composed the Stabat mater in Protestant Hanover for the benefit of the London Academy of Ancient Music. It’s a striking work which has received far less attention than its due, certainly less than Pergolesi’s setting.

At £1.59 the Amazon download of the new Decca recording is a real bargain, even though it comes without texts – who’s complaining at that price, especially when the text of the Stabat mater is not hard to obtain, though those of the other works are. In fact, Amazon do offer a version with digital booklet, but that costs £8.49. The performance of the main work is impassioned and dramatic; for the many fans of Cecilia Bartoli it’s almost mandatory but others may prefer the less impassioned, though equally devotional recording made by The Sixteen and Harry Christophers and coupled with a fine performance of Handel’s Dixit Dominus on Coro COR16076. Try that recording from Naxos Music Library if you can, where it comes complete with booklet.

If you already have a good performance of the Handel, the new Decca offers six works new to the catalogue and although I thought the performances of these and Stabat mater a little too theatrical at first, I very much warmed to them the second time around. Potentially this is a release to rival in importance another Decca release – Robert Hollingworth’s CD of Striggio of a couple of years ago (4782734). Next stop, perhaps, more of Cecilia Bartoli’s recent productive diggings into Steffani’s music: Mission (Decca 4784732review) and/or:

•Agostino STEFFANI (1654-1728) Cantatas, Duets and Sonatas: Monique Zanetti (soprano); Pascal Bertin (counter-tenor); Fons Musicæ/Yasunori Imamura. PAN CLASSICS PC10131 [73:37] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, no booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

Secular cantatas of the type which Handel later composed in Italy and instrumental music, presenting a lighter side of Steffani’s music. The more intimate manner of the music and the stylish approach make a welcome contrast with the Decca recording but the lack of texts – the Naxos Classical Library offers no help here – is a problem.

I Viaggi Di Faustina: Faustina Bordoni’s journeys to Naples
Nicola PORPORA
Son prigioniera, Raggio amico di speranza (Poro)
Sinfonia (Agrippina)
Leonardo VINCI Scendi da questo soglio, Un guardo solo ancor (Il Trionfo di Camilla) Confusa, smarrita, Non ti minaccio sdegno (Catone in Utica)
Ecco mi parto (Parto ma con qual core)
Francesco MANCINI Canta e dì caro usignolo, Sinfonia, Spera sì, mio caro bene (Traiano)
Domenico SARRO Tortora che il suo bene (Partenope)
Concerto per flauto e archi
Antonio Maria BONONCINI Lasciami un sol momento (Rosiclea in Dania)
Roberta Invernizzi (soprano)
I Turchini/Antonio Florio
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
GLOSSA GCD922606 [63:50] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

Good news for lovers of fine baroque music superbly sung: this is superlative in every respect. Even better news: it’s billed as the first of a series focusing on famous Italian singers from the 17th and 18th centuries, whose travels (viaggi) bear witness to the intense level of artistic activity then taking place in the major cities of Europe. I don’t know what Faustina Bordoni, who inspired this recording, sounded like – pretty good, by all accounts – but I imagine that Roberta Invernizzi, who already had a fine Glossa recording of Vivaldi and several for Opus 111/Naïve and Virgin to her credit, could have given her a very fair run for her money. The availability of the booklet and the recording quality – good in mp3, even better in lossless flac – are additional good news.

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Suonate a solo facto per M. Pisendell (Dresden Violin Sonatas)
Violin sonata in G, RV25 [10:22]
Violin sonata in c minor, RV6 [12:05]
Violin sonata in F, RV19 [17:38]
Violin sonata in C, RV2 [15:57]
Violin sonata in A, RV29 [6:25]
Baltic Baroque – rec. venues and dates not provided with download
ESTONIAN RECORD PRODUCTIONS ERP6312 [62:27] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Brian Reinhart reviewed this in the last DL News from the classicsonline.com download and was somewhat disappointed. It’s also available from eclassical.com in mp3 and lossless for $11.27, which is competitive with the classicsonline.com price for mp3 only. There’s no booklet but there’s none with the classicsonline.com download either, only a rear cover which doesn’t open correctly.

I was rather more enamoured of the music than BR, though it’s not his most inspired repertoire and this is hardly the most urgent Vivaldi recommendation. You may find yourself in a happier hunting ground with another selection of these sonatas composed for the virtuoso Pisendell in Dresden:

• Sonatas RV26, 34, 5, 15, 28 and Saraband in C, so no overlaps with the Estonian selection, in lively but not over-lively performances by Fabio Biondi (violin), Maurizio Naddeo (cello) and Rinaldo Alessandrini (harpsichord) (Naïve/Opus11 OP30154 – rec. c.1996), well recorded in mp3 and lossless from eclassical.com.

Baroque Recorder Concertos
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741
) Flautino Concerto in G, RV443 [10:29]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767) Overture (Suite) TWV55a2 in a minor for recorder (flute), strings and continuo [26:24]
Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695-1750) Concerto in F [12:08]
Antonio VIVALDI Recorder Concerto in c minor, RV441 [10:31]
Recorder Concerto in C, RV444 [9:08]
Pamela Thorby (recorder)
Sonnerie/Monica Huggett – rec. 2001. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included
LINN CKD217 [68:50] – from linnrecords.com (SACD, mp3 and lossless)

Though by no means of recent provenance, this is one of Pamela Thorby’s recordings that I had missed. Though there are several other recommendable recordings of the Telemann Suite in particular – I haven’t counted but I think it may be his most often recorded work – this is a very valuable collection, more varied than you might imagine, very well performed – almost a given when you look at the personnel involved – and recorded. There’s no 24-bit version, so fans of the highest fi will have to turn to the SACD, but I have no complaint at all concerning the 16-bit flac.

If you missed the other recordings of Pamela Thorby on Linn, they include:

CKD291: Garden of Early Delights – review and January 2009 Download Roundup
CKD341: The Nightingale and the Butterfly – review and July 2010 Download Roundup
CKD223: HANDEL Recorder Sonatas

All except CKD217 can be sampled from Naxos Music Library.

For the new Linn recording of the Brandenburgs, to which she contributes, see below.

Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Zoroastre (1756 version)
Zoroastre, founder of the Magi – Mark Padmore (haute-contre)
Abramane, high priest of Ariman – Nathan Berg (tenor)
Amélite, heiress to the throne of Bactria – Gaelle Mechaly (soprano)
Erinice, princess of the blood of the Kings of Bactria – Anna-Maria Panzarella (soprano)
Zopire, priest of Ariman; La Vengeance – Matthieu Lecroart (bass)
Narbanor, priest of Ariman – Francois Bazola (bass)
Oromasès, King of the Genies; Ariman – Eric Martin Bonnet (bass)
Céphie, Bactrian girl – Stephanie Revidat (soprano)
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie – rec. live 2001. DDD.
Supplement includes dances omitted from live performance plus 1749 ending of Act V.
WARNER CLASSICS 2564658889 [3CDs: 2:42:39] – from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk (mp3)

I can be fairly brief in welcoming the return of this old friend, a well-established classic, now at mid-price, especially as I’ve written a fuller review of the CD set, due to appear on the main MusicWeb International pages (target price on disc around £17.50 in the UK or £9.99 in 320kb/s mp3 from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk). The CD booklet doesn’t contain the libretto, only a synopsis which you should be able to find online, so there’s every reason to save by going for the download. Robert Hugill welcomed the earlier release of this recording in terms which I can only endorse and urge you to read – review. The music, singing and above all William Christie’s direction of Les Arts Florissants make for a most enjoyable experience.

Should you have any doubts and have access to the invaluable Naxos Music Library, you can try Zoroastre there, apart from the appendix to CD 3 containing the dances omitted from the live performance and the original 1749 ending of Act V. Don’t, however, judge the recording quality from the streamed version; as heard on CD the sound is very good and the Sainsburys mp3, though I haven’t heard it, is likely to be not far behind.

A Strong Contender
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Brandenburg Concertos 1-6 [93:00]
Dunedin Consort/John Butt – rec. May 2012. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included
LINN CKD430 [2 CDs: 93:00] – from linnrecords.com (SACD, mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

John Butt, the Dunedin Consort and Linn have another winner on their hands; not only are performances and recording first-rate, with period horns much more tolerable than most, but the SACDs and downloads are offered as two for the price of one. I’ve already praised John Butt and his team in the two Bach Passions and b-minor Mass, but the new release proves equally desirable. What a long way we have come from the days when we thought Karl Münchinger the last word in the Brandenburgs; now we even have several really good period-instrument versions to choose from and this is by no means the least among them.

Some musicological detective work on period practice has been involved, as explained in the notes, which are included with the download – scholarly but not solely aimed at specialists. The differences from other recordings are less marked than in the case of the recent St John Passion, strikingly set within the context of Lutheran Vespers, and they are certainly not of the obtrusive slap in the face variety. Nothing to frighten the horses, then, but certainly not a bland interpretation, either. I suspect that this may well become one of the versions to which I turn most frequently in future. I’m not, however, sure how appropriate the cover is.

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Chandos Anthem No.8, O come let us sing unto the Lord, HWV253 [30:58]
Chandos Anthem No.6a, As pants the hart, HWV251b [20:00]
Chandos Anthem No.5a, I will magnify Thee, O God, HWV250a [23:55]
Susan Gritton (soprano); Iestyn Davies (counter-tenor); Thomas Hobbs (tenor)
The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge
Orchestra of the Age Enlightenment/Stephen Layton – rec. July 2012. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts included
HYPERION CDA67926 [74:48] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 16– and 24-bit lossless)

Excellent quality of sound, judicious balancing in the orchestra and clarity of texture are immediately apparent in the opening sonata of the first of the three anthems recorded here, O come, let us sing unto the Lord. In fact these are qualities which characterise all the performances here. The first chorus is fast and lively with very clear diction. Each consonant seems to urge the music forward and onward, and there is always spirited accompaniment from the orchestra. Thomas Hobbs’ voice seems totally appropriate in his aria, O come, let us worship and fall down. His sustained tone is really beautiful and his voice is a great pleasure. Hobbs’ phrasing and expression are also well conceived. However Susan Gritton has too much vibrato for my taste in her aria O magnify the Lord and I am not too keen on her sound generally, particularly on some long notes in certain registers. However there is some very attractive singing from the counter tenor, Iestyn Davies in The Lord preserveth. Great rhythmic precision and vitality is demonstrated in the final chorus, and every word can be heard even at the helter-skelter tempo adopted here.

The sonata which begins As pants the heart for cooling streams includes some well-played and virtuosic violin music, but the singers soon set a different tone in their first chorus. This is my favourite piece in this collection and so I am happy it is performed so well. It is melancholic and reflective, a very different mood now admirably captured by Stephen Layton and his forces. I like Susan Gritton much better in some parts of her range in her aria Tears are my daily food. She phrases and shapes her melodic lines beautifully, but why do some notes have more vibrato than others? Better to have no vibrato at all. Again Thomas Hobbs is magnificent in Now when I think thereupon, though admittedly there is some vibrato here too.

The Chorus I will magnify thee O God, my King in Chandos Anthem No.5 really dances along. Ev’ry day I will give thanks unto thee is again beautifully sung by Thomas Hobbs. He gives the beautiful aria The Lord preserveth all them that love him a refined legato phrasing. Then there is a dramatic contrast when he really attacks but scattereth abroad all the ungodly. He copes superbly with the florid writing on blessed in the penultimate number, with every note clear and perfectly in tune.

This is a very enjoyable and refreshing collection, superbly performed, and the recording quality, as always with Hyperion, is excellent.

Geoffrey Molyneux

It’s been some time since we had the predecessor to this recording from these forces, though with the AAM instead of the OAE and Emma Kirkby as an even more enticing soprano soloist: Chandos Anthems 7, 9 and 11a on CDA67737review – but worth the wait. If, as I assume they will, Hyperion complete the set, it will offer a lighter, more free-wheeling alternative to the Chandos recordings: CHAN0554, 4 CDs, also available separately, CHAN0503-6.

At present the Chandos individual downloads are in mp3 only – I’m not sure why; my archived copy of CHAN0503 is in lossless sound – and though the box set appears to offer mp3 and lossless, it won’t allow me to purchase the latter. The performances are very good – The Sixteen and Harry Christophers practically guarantee that – but there is one major respect in which I prefer the Hyperion: I don’t warm to Ian Partridge’s voice which opens the proceedings on the very first anthem in the box. That’s a purely personal response, which you may very well not share and it isn’t fatal even for me when the performances are so good; try the samples from theclassicalshop.net or, better still, if you can, from Naxos Music Library.

The recording sounds fine, even in mp3 and the booklet, with texts, is available to all-comers. As it’s mp3 only for the moment, I should point out that 7digital.com offer the whole set for just £7.49 – no booklet, but that’s freely available from the Chandos site.

Some other Handel recommendations, mainly vocal – not precluding a more detailed review in a future DL News where I haven’t given a link:

• BIS BIS-SACD-2027: Water Music; Occasional Oratorio Overture – Haydn Sinfonietta, Wien/Manfred Huss – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless). Distinguished playing on this new recording but, unless you must have 24-bit sound, the King’s Consort on budget-price Hyperion Helios CDH55375 (from hyperion-records.co.uk, mp3 and lossless – see April 2012/1 DL Roundup) and Trevor Pinnock (DG Archiv, 2 CDs – from 7digital.com, mp3 only) are both a little lighter on their feet, couple the Water Music with the Fireworks Music and offer better value. The DG recording, on 2 CDs, also adds several other orchestral works; see April 2009 for review of earlier single-CD release and comparison with Hervé Niquet on Glossa.
• Beulah 1-3BX69: Water Music – Philomusica/Thurston Dart. A stylish and inexpensive reminder that Dart was a leading light in the rediscovery of authentic performance, well worth having alongside more recent recordings or even in its own right: see December 2010 DL Roundup.
• Hyperion Helios CDH55075: Concerti Grossi, Op.3/1-6 – Brandenburg Consort/Roy Goodman – review: download from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless, with booklet)
• Linn CKD362 (3 CDs): Concerti Grossi, Op.6/1-12 – Avison Ensemble/Pavlo Besnosiuk. Download of the Month, July 2010 Roundup. There’s no need to look for alternatives, but I still also listen with enjoyment to Christopher Hogwood (Avie, with Op.3) which I own in its earlier Decca incarnation, and Arte dei Suonatori/Martin Gester (BIS-CD-1705/6September 2011/2 Roundup).
• DG 4630942: Water Music, Fireworks Music, Op.3 and Op.6 Concerti Grossi, etc. – English Concert/Trevor Pinnock: this 6-CD budget box can still give the later recordings which I’ve listed a good run for their money. Mp3 or lossless from deutschegrammophon.com. See April 2010. For other recordings of the Water Music and Fireworks Music, see June 2012/2.
• Harmonia Mundi 807466: Organ Concertos, Op.4/1-6 – Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr (organ) – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless). These are less demonstrative performances than most of the rival versions, but very satisfying and just (but only just) pipping the similar chamber-scale performances on Avie at the post. Alternatively, for a selection from Op.4 and Op.7 plus The Cuckoo and the Nightingale, Simon Preston and Trevor Pinnock, DG E4473002, see April 2009. 7digital.com also have their complete 3-CD set. Ton Koopman’s excellent set of Op.4 and Op.7 is best purchased on CD (Warner Apex 2564627602, 2 discs, around £7).
• Beulah 22BX69: Organ Music – Thurston Dart. See 2013/9 DL News.
• Harmonia Mundi 807857 (35683115): Dixit Dominus (with VIVALDI Dixit Dominus) – La Nuova Musica – see 2013/8 DL News.
BIS-CD-1235: Dixit Dominus; Gloria in excelsis Deo – Emma Kirkby (soprano); Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble/Andres Öhrwall – see 2013/8 DL News.
BIS-CD-1615 Neun deutsche Arien; Gloria – Emma Kirkby’s second stab at the Gloria is just as desirable – see 2013/8 DL News.
BIS-SACD-1695: Handel in Italy – Emma Kirkby – see 2013/8 DL News.
Glossa Portrait GCDP10002: Handel in Italy – Roberta Invernizzi and Emanuela Galli (soprano), Romina Basso (mezzo) and la Risonanza/Fabia Bonizzoni – rec. 2005-2009. Download in mp3 and lossless from eclassical.com. Slightly confusingly, this is another recording with the same title as the BIS/Kirkby and equally desirable, apart from the fact that it comes without booklet. This 2-CD set brings together two hours of Italian cantatas from GCD921521-4, a series which I praised highly in March 2009 and three further volumes which have appeared since then, all of which remain available separately from classicsonline.com. Delectable music, delectably sung, whether you choose BIS or Glossa – preferably both, despite the inevitable overlaps. Another Glossa Handel recording to consider:
• Glossa Cabinet GCD80001: Trio Sonatas Op.2/2 and 3; Recorder Sonatas Op.1/4 and 11; Violin Sonatas, HWV346b and Op.1/14 – Arcadia Ensemble and Arcadia Trio, rec. 1992. Download in mp3 and lossless from eclassical.com. An attractive introduction to Handel’s chamber music, though you’ll find better performances of individual works in other collections such as The Trio Sonata in 18th-century England (BIS-CD-1765review: download from eclassical.com, mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless, with booklet) or the complete Op.2 Trio Sonatas (Sonnerie, Avie AV0033: Recording of the Monthreview and February 2011 Roundup) or the near-complete set on Hyperion Helios CDH55280 at budget price (Convivium – review) or London Handel Players’ recording for Somm of the Op.5 Trio Sonatas (CD044review). Pamela Thorby’s excellent recording the Handel recorder sonatas is on Linn CKD223. The Glossa has a very attractive cover but there’s no booklet. The CD is released at less than full price but the eclassical.com price of $10.13 is still very competitive.
BIS-SACD-1436: Great Oratorio Duets – Robin Blaze, Carolyn Sampson; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Nicholas Kraemer. From eclassical.com (mp3 16– and 24-bit lossless, with booklet). I’m not sure about the ‘great’ but the music, singing, accompaniment and recording are too good to care.
• Decca 4758746: Arias – Danielle de Niese (soprano); les Arts Florissants/William Christie – see November 2009 for this and several other Handel recommendations.
• DG 4776547: Arias: Ah! Mio cor – Magdalena Kožená (soprano); Venice Baroque/Andrea Marcon
• DG First Choice 4779965: Arias – Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone); Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Charles Mackerras. Now reissued at mid-price; be careful to choose the version at £5.49 from 7digital.com (mp3) – they also have the same recording for £7.49. Excerpts from this and the Kožená recording on Handel Gold – review.
• Decca 4756569: Arias for Senesino – Andreas Scholl (counter-tenor); Accademia Dantone/Ottavio Dantone – review and January 2010 DL Roundup: download now not from passionato.com but from 7digital.com (mp3). Two other Andreas Scholl recordings, this time from Harmonia Mundi, are reviewed in November 2009.
• Harmonia Mundi 3955183: Arias for Senesino – Drew Minter (counter-tenor); Philharmonia Baroque/Nicholas McGegan – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, no booklet). CD now available only as part of 4-disc set.
• Harmonia Mundi 902077 (31009884): Ombra cara – arias mainly for Senesino – Bejun Mehta (counter-tenor); Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/René Jacobs. See 2013/3 DL News
• Hyperion Helios CDH55370: Heroic Arias – James Bowman (counter-tenor); King’s Consort. See July 2012/2 DL Roundup.
• Aparté AP048: Handel Bad Guys – Xavier Sabata (counter-tenor); il Pomo d’Oro/Minasi – review and 2013/10 DL News.

Some related strong choices from the Palladian Ensemble, all available in mp3 and lossless from linnrecords.com:

CKD982: The complete Palladian Ensemble collectors’ series, comprising all the albums listed below, which are also available as 2-CD pairs:
CKD010: An Excess of Pleasure
CKD015: The Winged Lion – music from Venice
CKD036: JS BACH Trio Sonatas
CKD275: JS BACH Sonatas and Chorales
CKD100: The Sun King’s Palace – music by COUPERIN, MARAIS and RÉBEL from Versailles
CKD221: MARAIS and RÉBELLes Elémens
CKD041: A Choice Collection – music of Purcell’s London
CKD126: MATTEIS, etc Held by the Ears

Also from the Palladians, but not in the complete collection:

CKD292: TARTINI and VERACINI The Devil’s Trill – from linnrecords.com.
CKD050: Trios for Four: HANDEL Trio Sonatas, Op.2/1 and 4; Telemann Sonatas in g minor and a minor; Leclair Ouverture in G, Op.13/1; Quantz Sonata in C – from linnrecords.com

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91)
Piano Concerto No.20 in d minor, K466 [26:14]
Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat, K595 [26:35]
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
Die Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
Rec. Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, July 2012. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included
Fortepiano by Paul McNulty 2011, after an instrument by Walter & Sohn, c.1802
BIS-SACD-2014 [53:34] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

This is the latest release in a series of recordings of the Mozart piano concertos which has received a good deal of stick in certain quarters, quite unjustified in my opinion, relating to the impact of soloist and orchestra. It has even led to an acrimonious exchange between Michael Willens and one reviewer. On the other hand, earlier volumes have not quite risen in my opinion to the top five-star ratings awarded by some reviewers.

I’m not a lover of the fortepiano per se, but I did enjoy this recording and its predecessors precisely because of the quality of the orchestra and solo instrument which received the opprobrium. This time the solo instrument is a copy of a different and rather more mellifluous Walter original from that used in the earlier recordings:

BIS-SACD-1794: Piano Concertos 9 and 12; Rondo in A – download review
BIS-SACD-1894: Piano Concertos 24 and 25 – review and download review
BIS-SACD-1944: Piano Concertos 17 and 26 – download review
BIS-SACD-1964: Piano Concertos 19 and 23 – download review

BIS-SACD-1964 contains a performance of my favourite among all these favourites, Piano Concerto No.23, K488, but the new recording runs it at least a very close second, principally for the fine performance of Piano Concerto No.20, though that of No.27 also made me warm to that work as much as any performance that I have heard of it. On second hearing I’m inclined to rate this volume even higher than its predecessor. As before, the solo performances are sprightly and stylish with strong orchestral support. I have thought some of the earlier releases slightly lacking the last degree of involvement with the music, but that comment would apply much less in the present instance, with only my very top recommendations for No.20 rivalling or excelling Brautigam and his team:

• Stephen Kovacevich with the LSO and Colin Davis – currently unavailable; snap up a copy of the Philips coupling with No.23 if you can
• Clifford Curzon with the ECO/Benjamin Britten or LSO/István Kertesz (Nos. 20, 23-24, 26-27, Decca Legends 4684912, 2 CDs, or coupled as on BIS, Nos. 20 and 27, Decca 4767092, download only from prestoclassical.co.uk, or Curzon’s complete Decca recordings, 4784389, 23 CDs)
• Alfred Brendel with the ASMF/Neville Marriner (Nos. 19-21, 23 and 24, Decca Duo 4422692, 2 CDs)
• Mitsuko Uchida with the ECO/Jeffrey Tate (Nos. 19-23, Decca Duo 4685402). See download review for the Brendel and Uchida, both excellent value on CD or as downloads.

As for the competition on the fortepiano, I thought Arthur Schoonderwoerd a little too Dresden-china-ish in No.20: Accent ACC24365 (with No.21) – see download review. Brautigam’s performance is snappier and free from comparisons with delicate porcelain. Otherwise fortepiano-seekers will have to turn to Malcom Bilson’s complete set with John Eliot Gardiner and his English Baroque Soloists on DG Archiv: E4631112, 9 CDs for around £45 or download in 320kb/s mp3 from 7digital.com for £28.99.

Competition is slightly less fierce in No.27, with Clifford Curzon/Benjamin Britten (see above) and Alfred Brendel/Neville Marriner (Nos. 9, 15, 22, 25 and 27, Decca Duo 4425712review) my top dogs. If you tend to think of this concerto – as I usually do – as not quite reaching the Elysian heights of Nos. 20-24, Brautigam could be the man to make you think again. Certainly I thought it far less easy than usual to maintain that point of view after hearing the new recording.

The recording is very good in mp3 and excellent in 24-bit format – on offer for a limited time at the same price as mp3 and 16-bit. The smallish orchestra and the solo instrument are well balanced so that the former sounds full-bodied; not large-scale, but by no means pint-sized or desiccated as described in those notorious reviews, and the soloist shines without being too forward.

I’ve said that I wouldn’t quite have given earlier volumes that top 5-star rating, but this is the best of the series so far. Were we still in the business of awarding stars, I think I might go for four-and-a-half. 54 minutes is a bit mean for a CD these days; if you download from eclassical.com, their policy of charging per second brings the price down to $8.03 for the 16-bit and mp3 versions.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.1 in C, Op.21 – rec. 1961. ADD
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/André Cluytens
BEULAH EXTRA 24-27BX82 [25:21] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Symphony No.3 in E-flat, Op.55 (Eroica)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/André Cluytens – rec. 1960. ADD
BEULAH EXTRA 28-31BX82 [47:46] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

Overture: The Creatures of Prometheus, Op.43
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/André Cluytens – rec. 1961. ADD
BEULAH EXTRA 32BX82 [5:37] – from eavb.co.uk (mp3)

We’ve had Cluytens in Beethoven from Beulah before – Symphony No.2 and Symphony No.4 (November 2011/1 Roundup), Symphony No.5 (January 2011), Symphony No.6 (February 2011), Symphony No.7 (33-36BX82), Symphony No.8 (37-40BX82) and Symphony No.9 (December 2010) – performances which have worn very well and are still well worth considering, perhaps alongside more recent alternatives. Now they complete his run of the symphonies.

Among the new releases I particularly enjoyed the First Symphony – it’s to Beethoven in less grand mode than in the Eroica, Fifth and Choral symphonies that I turn most often and I like the way that Cluytens refuses to try to make this work sound more than what it is – inspired by Mozart and Haydn but with hints of the Beethoven to come. By the same token I also enjoyed Cluytens’ Seventh and Eighth, though it’s Colin Davis’s 1961 Seventh with the RPO that really captures the spirit of that work for me (Beulah 15-16BX129 – February 2012/1).

I think Cluytens may have shared my reservations about Beethoven in grandiose manner because his Eroica emphasises the music’s beauty rather than its drama. I see that Edward Greenfield said much the same when reviewing the CFP LP reissue. That’s not to say that the performance is flaccid, but among recordings of this vintage I much prefer Klemperer, especially his mono recording. One huge improvement over the original LP release and reissues is having the Funeral March complete without the irritating LP side-turn that we used to have to make.

The recordings have come up almost as good as new and I didn’t hear a trace of surface noise. These releases are good value, too – the First Symphony for £2.50 and the Eroica for £3.50, with the Overture for £0.50.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 4 in B-flat, Op.60 [32:55]
Symphony No. 7 in A, Op.92 [39:23]
The Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Joshua Bell
SONY CLASSICAL 88765448812 [72:15] – from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk (320kb/s mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Having recently favoured several recordings of Beethoven symphonies – Basic Repertoire, 2013/11 DL News – I hardly expected a serious rival for these two, my favourites when I don’t want Beethoven in full pomp. There’s nothing very special here and that’s why I liked the performances – good, straight, lively accounts with a small modern-instrument orchestra long used to performing like period-instrument ensembles. If for any reason you don’t like Herreweghe (Pentatone PTC186315) or Boyd (Avie AV2169), both similarly coupled, as I do, this could be your ideal version.

The recording is a trifle thin as heard from Naxos Music Library at 120kb/s, but that shouldn’t be a problem if you choose the 320kb/s version to which I’ve given a link. The cover’s a bit garish, too, but that’s how CBS covers used to look in the pre-Sony days – they’ve even resurrected the old two-pointed stereo symbol.

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Otello (1887)
Otello, a Moor, general of the Venetian forces – Aleksandrs Antonenko (tenor)
Iago, his ensign – Carlo Guelfi (baritone)
Desdemona, wife of Otello – Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano)
Emilia, wife of Iago – Barbara Di Castri (mezzo-soprano)
Cassio, a captain – Juan Francisco Gatell (tenor)
Roderigo, a Venetian gentleman – Michael Spyres (tenor)
Lodovico, ambassador of the Venetian Republic – Eric Owens (bass-baritone)
Montano, Otello’s predecessor as governor of Cyprus – Paolo Battaglia (bass)
A Herald – David Govertsen (bass)
Chicago Symphony Chorus, Children’s Choir and Symphony Orchestra/Riccardo Muti – rec. live, April 2011. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts included
CSO RESOUND CSOR9011301 [66:54 + 69:03] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

By omitting Shakespeare’s Act I, Verdi and his librettist Boito not only brought the action within the single day and place prescribed by the Aristotelian unities; more to the point he produced a succinct opera which runs for a little over two hours and concentrates a great deal of impressive music and powerful emotion within that span. For those reasons it joins Aïda, Don Carlo(s) and Rigoletto at the top of the tree of my Verdian favourites – a more selective list than my Wagner favourites, which encompass just about his whole output.

This live version from Chicago does the work justice but for some reason which I cannot understand, the mp3 version sounds brighter, more immediate and much more impressive on my system than the lossless flac.

Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Swan Lake, Op.20: ballet in four acts (1877)
James Ehnes (violin)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway, 18 June and 3-6 December 2012. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet available
CHANDOS CHAN5124 [2 CDs: 81:17 + 73:24 = 154:41] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and 16-bit lossless)
[also available as Hybrid SACD CHSA5124]

This is an interim set of thoughts – look out for a more detailed review in the next DL News or on the main MusicWeb International review page.

We weren’t exactly short of elite versions of Swan Lake, so any new recording has to have a distinctive selling point to compete. In this case it’s the high-quality recording, available as a hybrid CHSA and lossless download, though the latter, surprisingly, is not of the 24-bit variety. Among those recordings which I’ve heard in various formats the ones to rival or excel would be:

• LSO/André Previn – a strong budget-price release on an EMI twofer (9676842) or even less expensively as an mp3 download from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk or classicsonline.com, both at £4.99. The 1976 recording needs hardly any allowance for its age. See review and download review of earlier CFP release.
• Minneapolis SO/Antal Doráti – a transcription from Past Classics, of a 1957 recording which shows its age but sounds tolerable and enshrines a performance still very well worth hearing – see download review of this and the Fistoulari on the same label.
• LSO/Anatole Fistoulari – about two thirds of the score recorded in mono in 1952; a Naxos Classical Archive download in dated but decent sound.
• Concertgebouw/Anatole Fistoulari (excerpts) – Fistoulari’s single-LP stereo remake from 1961: Decca Eloquence 4429032: Bargain of the Monthreview.
• Philadelphia Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch, EMI Gemini 5855412, another very worthwhile budget-price twofer.
• Montréal SO/Charles Dutoit, Decca 4783097, 2 CDs at mid price.
• Mariinsky Theatre O/Valery Gergiev – not as ‘complete’ as claimed: it’s actually the 3-act performing edition from 1895. Decca 4757669download review: now available from 7digital.com. 76 minutes of highlights also from 7digital.com.

As with Neeme Järvi’s earlier Chandos recording of Sleeping Beauty (CHAN5113download review) I absorbed as many of these earlier versions as I could before listening to the new recording. Having listened to them wholly or in part, I enjoyed Järvi’s Swan Lake as much as his Sleeping Beauty, which Dave Billinge also liked, though Nick Barnard had mixed feelings – joint review. Most of those predecessors are good at least in part for the quality of the violin soloist and that’s true of James Ehnes’s contribution here, too. Though I’ve noted that there’s no 24-bit version, at least as yet, the 16-bit and even the mp3 both sound very well.

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Horn Concerto No. 1 in E-flat, Op.11 (1882/3) TrV117) [15:17]
Horn Concerto No. 2 in E-flat (1942) (TrV283) [18:17]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Horn Concerto (1949) [14:56]
Concert Music for Brass and Strings, Op.50 [16:08]
Dennis Brain (horn)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch (Strauss)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Paul Hindemith (Hindemith) – rec.1956. ADD/mono/stereo
EMI CLASSICS GROC 5677832 [65:07] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Horn Concerto No. 1 in E-flat, Op.11 (TrV117) [15:26]
Horn Concerto No. 2 in E-flat (1942) (TrV283) [18:22]
Dennis Brain (horn)
Philharmonia Orchestra/ Wolfgang Sawallisch
NAXOS CLASSICAL ARCHIVES 9.80060 [33:48] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)
[also available in a revised version with Beethoven Piano Quintet on 9.81007 – from classicsonline.com]

With the EMI recording out of the catalogue on disc – temporarily, I assume – either of the listed downloads or the recent budget-price Regis release (RRC1407, the two Strauss concertos and the Hindemith concerto) becomes de rigueur. If you haven’t yet obtained these performances in some form or other, now is your chance.

I reviewed the EMI when it was available from passionato.com in mp3 and lossless – October 2010 Roundup – but downloads from that source are no longer available, so it’s mp3 only at present. The least expensive of these at the full 320kb/s bit-rate comes from classicsonline.com (£4.99 for the UK version with Nipper, £7.99 for the Angel version) and I suggest staying with that transfer. Not only do you get the two Hindemith works for the same price, the recording sounds much better – for once the Naxos, even in lossless flac from eclassical.com, sounds somewhat undernourished. If you must economise, in any case, the classicsonline.com transfer, albeit in mp3 only, adds the Beethoven Piano Quintet and costs only £1.99 – but it’s not available in the US and several other countries.

Strongly proposed
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) The Art of Rachmaninoff

The Bells, Op.35 [34:17]
EIizaveta Shumskaya (soprano); Mikhail Dovenman (tenor); Alexei Bolshakov (baritone); Russian Republican Chamber Choir;
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Kyril Kondrashin – rec.1960s. ADD
Piano Concerto No.4 in g minor, Op.40 [24:34]
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (piano); Philharmonia Orchestra/Ettore Gracis – rec. 1960. ADD
Preludes, Op.23/5 in g minor [3:45]; Op.32/5 in G [3:02]; Op.32/12 in G# [2:15]
John Ogdon (piano) – rec. 1960s. ADD
BEULAH 1PD67 [67:50] – from iTunes, amazon.co.uk and amazon.com (mp3)

We are already in Beulah’s debt for reissuing another Melodiya recording of Rachmaninov, the Third Symphony (Svetlanov) and Symphonic Dances (Kondrashin) (1PD81); now they bring us Kondrashin’s Bells, equally well restored. If the source was the MK recording which used to be available for the princely sum of 19/6 (£0.95) the result is a miracle indeed, with nary a hint of the surface noise which afflicted MK pressings even worse than Supraphon LPs, but not at the expense of the sound which is luminous and clear by contrast with anything that I could ever get out of MK LPs; there’s just a hint of strain in loud passages. While some of the singing may strike Western ears as unsubtle, this is a performance with an impact such as I’ve never heard before. I’ve been somewhat ambivalent about The Bells, but Kondrashin convinces me.

The virtues of Michelangeli’s performance of Piano Concerto No.4 are too well known to need rehearsing here. If you thought this the orphan among Rachmaninov’s concertos, this should make you think again. My only reservation is that you may well have one of the EMI releases in which the coupling is the equally mandatory Ravel Piano Concerto. The latest EMI Masters CD, 0852802, adds Haydn. See Ian Lace’s 5-star review of earlier EMI reissue and Rob Barnett’s review of the Alto reissue of the Rachmaninov with Richter’s recording of Piano Concerto No.2. The Beulah transfer sounds a trifle dry at first but the ear soon adjusts.

If you go for this Beulah version of the Rachmaninov and find yourself pining for the Ravel, without wishing to duplicate the Rachmaninov, Michelangeli’s version of the Ravel is also available on an EMI budget twofer alongside Munch’s Daphnis et Chloë Suite 2, Janet Baker’s Shéherézade, Karajan in Boléro and Alborada del Gracioso, Martinon’s Pavane, the Melos Ensemble in Introduction and Allegro, Gavrilov’s Gaspard de la Nuit and Plasson’s Ma Mère l’Oye and La Valse: 2376712review: download from 7digital.com.

John Ogdon’s recording of three of the preludes makes a brief yet enjoyable appendix on Beulah.

• Musicweb Classical Editor Rob Barnett has also listened to this recording:

I am grateful to Brian Wilson for letting me hear Beulah’s latest piece of recuperative advocacy for Rachmaninov and the exultantly unsophisticated Melodiya sound of the 1960s. There had to be a follow-up to Beulah’s similarly exalted Kondrashin Symphonic Dances and Third Symphony. If you must have smoothly produced modern sound then this Kondrashin conducted The Bells from the 1960s is not for you. There are compensations for accepting Soviet analogue sound, a bit of pre-echo/print-through before the massed choral entries and a modest degree of evidence of 50 year old LP provenance - you can hear the occasional scuff and rumble - quite rare really. The plus points lie in this recording's overwhelmingly neon-lit passion and its Russian fervour only just under steely control from Kondrashin. This is a roaringly glorious account of The Bells which moves with rapidly acquired eruptive speed from hypnotically still and tender to climactic paean. The singing has the whole-tone amplitude familiar from Alexander Sveshnikov's RSFSR Choir LP of the same composer's Vespers (ASD2973); how about it Beulah - it’s a winner. Of the three fine soloists the soprano is magnificently potent in riding the orchestral furnace blast yet gentle too.

The LP from which this CD/download was made must surely have come from the EMI-Melodiya ASD vinyl issue later included in their all-Soviet Rachmaninov orchestral box SLS847. Given its age and our current obsession with digital perfection this piece of Soviet rapture is not as well known now as the more smoothly recorded Piano Concerto No. 4 (Michelangeli/Gracis). The Michelangeli is a classic of the gramophone, much reissued - and now not only by EMI. Alto reissued it on CD from LP sources quite recently. It shares the kinetic excitability of the Kondrashin Bells. Last time I heard this sort of thing was in the under-praised Nimbus version with John Lill and a natural advocate of the wild-eyed Russian style, Takuo Yuasa. We end with three of John Ogdon's Preludes. I had forgotten how good is his Op. 23 No. 5 - the epitome of romance havering unstably on the tipping point between tears and impulsive action. Just one criticism of Beulah - the pianist's name is John Ogdon not John Ogden. I fervently hope that Beulah will reissue other treasures of the Soviet studios. There are three I would single out:

1. EMI-Melodiya ASD2607 (exceptionally fine accounts of the Scriabin and Arensky Piano Concertos)
2. the Casella-dedicated First Symphony of Georges Enescu with Rozhdestvensky conducting an utterly possessed Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra - Melodiya C-523
3. Francesca da Rimini (Tchaikovsky) conducted by Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov with the USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra heard on Olympia OCD139 (deleted). Rough Soviet-style sound but the most breathtaking/gasping version I have ever heard. Thanks to Nick Barnard for introducing me to this.

Strongly Recommended
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The Hymn of Jesus [22:55]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934) Sea Drift* [27:54]
Cynara [11:37]
Roderick Williams (baritone)*
Hallé Choir and Orchestra/Sir Mark Elder – rec. live (with applause), 2012. DDD.
HALLÉ CDHLL7535 [62:28] – from eclassical.com (mp3)

I had to squeeze this in at the last minute, though I’d only listened once when I closed this DL News and I had to jettison some Rautavaara items till next time. The Hallé and Mark Elder go from strength to strength, challenging strong existing versions in the Holst (Sir Adrian Boult, Double Decca 4701912 or Decca Eloquence 4802327; Richard Hickox, Chandos CHAN8901) and Sea Drift (Bryn Terfel/Richard Hickox, Chandos CHAN9214).

There are no texts from emusic.com and the bit-rate is not ideal – 202-226kb/s, so you may prefer to wait for classicsonline.com to offer it at 320kb/s – but it’s a bargain from emusic.com at £1.68; the recording sounds perfectly satisfactory and the more expensive amazon.com download is not likely to come at a much higher rate. The low bit-rate is probably not to blame for the slightly recessed choral sound.

Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Violin Concerto No.1, BB48a, Sz36 [22:06]
Violin Concerto No.2, Sz112 [35:48]
Isabelle Faust (violin)
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Harding – rec. April 2012. DDD
Pdf booklet included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902146 [57:54] – from emusic.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

These are not the most exciting performances of the Bartók concertos that you will ever hear, but they are deeply considered and very satisfying. Give them a little time to breathe – at first I thought the opening of No.1 a little too delicate – and they come to life most convincingly.

As usual, I downloaded and listened to the two extremes, mp3 and 24-bit lossless and both are very good of their kind. The fairly short playing time is reflected in the price ($10.42, mp3 and 16-bit /$15.63, 24-bit).

I recommended Arabella Steinbacher’s performances of these two concertos with Marek Janowski (PentaTone) as my top choice, even in preference to Kyung Wha Chung in December 2010 – review – and that, too, remains highly desirable if you prefer this music with a bit more oomph. Download that, too, in mp3, 16– or 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet, from eclassical.com. ($10.98, mp3 and 16-bit/$20.12, 24-bit). The emusic.com version which I reviewed back in 2010 is less expensive, at £2.10, but comes at a lower bit-rate.

Alternatively, James Ehnes performs the two Violin Concertos and the Viola Concerto on a well-filled Chandos CD (CHAN10690). That’s another version which I place high on the list: see review – from theclassicalshop.net in mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet (£7.99/£9.99/£15.99). We’re lucky to have so much choice.

Yehudi Menuhin fans will find his recordings of the violin and viola concertante works of Bartók, plus the Duos and solo Violin Sonata on an inexpensive 2-CD Gemini set – a notable bargain, which you should find on disc for around £7.50, little more than the price of downloading: review.

NB: Those who hanker after a more fiery version of Concerto No.2 may prefer Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Peter Eötvös on a Naive recording which you will find review in the next DL News.

Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Stabat Mater, Op. 53 (1925-1928) [23:25]
Harnasie, Op. 55 (1923-1931)* [34:59]
Lucy Crowe (soprano)
Pamela Helen Stephen (mezzo)
Gabor Bretz (baritone)
*Robert Murray (tenor)
BBC Symphony Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
rec. 5-6 January 2013, Fairfield Halls, Croydon, UK
CHANDOS CHAN5123 [57:59] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16-bit lossless, 24/96 Studio stereo and surround)

This is the seventh and latest instalment in the Chandos Muzyka Polska series. At the helm is British-born Edward Gardner, recently appointed principal guest conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic. Among his Lutoslawski recordings is this fine collection; it was well received by Dominy Clements, who also welcomed his first Szymanowski disc (review). Up until now I’ve been following Antoni Wit’s Naxos cycle, which has yielded memorable accounts of Symphonies 1 and 4 (review); Valery Gergiev and the LSO have now entered the fray, although their performances have polarised opinion.

In six movements, the Stabat Mater is scored for a modest orchestra, mixed chorus and three soloists. The hushed opening of ‘Mother, bowed with grief appalling’ is as luminous as I’ve ever heard it, and soprano Lucy Crowe’s aching lament is beautifully sung. Austere – skeletal, even – this is Szymanowski distilled; Gardner and his forces may seem a little distant – Gergiev is weightier and more immediate – but in the chorus-dominated ‘Is there any, tears withholding’ the Chandos sound blooms nicely. As for the score’s folk-like elements they are clear but not too emphatic, and mezzo Pamela Helen Stephen – soaringly secure – is radiant in ‘Love’s sweet fountain, Mother dear’.

Goodness, what a quietly compelling performance this is, helped in no small measure by Gardner’s subtly shaped and sensitively scaled reading. The chorus is splendid too, ‘In thy keeping, watching, weeping’ especially affecting. I like to think the acoustic of the Fairfield Halls, Croydon – my ‘local’ – has a part to play in this finely focused, most elegant recording. There are no weak links here – baritone Gabor Bretz is rock steady in the ecstatic ‘Maid immaculate, excelling’ – but really it’s the two women who suffuse this performance with their pure, filigreed singing.

I can’t imagine a more soul-searching account of the Stabat Mater than this, or a more atmospheric, ‘hear through’ recording. Gergiev has the bolder sound, but he omits the organ and his soloists are much more variable. In any event he doesn’t come close to the spiritual core of this remarkable piece. That said, I find the ultra-refined Chandos recording a little too recessed for my taste, even if it does underline the restrained loveliness of the piece. I often wonder if the balances in these stereo downloads are very different from the surround mix, or the CDs/SACDs. I must try a comparison at some point, if only to satisfy my curiosity. Anyone out there have a view on this?

The ballet-pantomime Harnasie finds Szymanowski in forthright folk mode, although the ‘Spring departure for the mountain pastures’ – marked Andante tranquillo – is a serene pastoral painted in glowing colours. ‘Courtship’ is blessed with the same clarity and nuanced delivery that so impresses in the Stabat Mater, but one could argue that such a refined approach doesn’t work so well here. Wit has more muscle and sinew, but then Gardner does bring a rare sparkle and suavity to the robbers’ march and dance.

For all its felicities I really yearned for more vigour and volatility in this performance – witness this intoxicating arrangement for four hands, two pianos – and I suspect the unexaggerated, slightly cool recording doesn’t help. That said, there are gains in that we are made much more aware of Szymanowski’s telling use of colour and sonority. The chorus sings incisively in ‘Wedding’ and the discreet percussion in ‘Capping of the Bride’ is superbly rendered. The singing in ‘Song of the Siuhaje’ has moments of Orffian energy and the pulsing ‘Góral Dance’ is colourful and crisp. Again I wished for added edge and excitement in the raid, dance and abduction, but clearly that’s not Gardner’s way.

So, a stand-out Stabat Mater, but for all its insights this Harnasie doesn’t displace the earthier, more robust Wit version. The beauty of downloads is that one is able to ‘cherry-pick’ the best bits; in this case I’d buy the Stabat Mater but I’d give Harnasie a miss. There are very detailed liner-notes by Adrian Thomas, and sung texts – in English and Polish – are included.

A sublime opener; the rest is beautiful, but lacks essential drive and passion.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

Russian Masters 2
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Russian Overture, Op.72 [13:01]
Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Gauk
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Symphony No.5 in d minor, Op.47 [44:32]
New York Stadium Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski – rec. 1959. ADD.
Festival Overture, Op.96 [5:45]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Georges Prêtre
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887) In the Steppes of Central Asia [5:45]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Georges Prêtre
BEULAH 3PD11 [69:02] – from iTunes, amazon.co.uk and amazon.com (mp3)

The selling point here is Stoki’s recording of the Shostakovich symphony, a work of which he conducted the first Western recording in 1939 (Music and Arts MACD1232, with Nos. 6 and 7). Having been introduced to the work by Karel Ančerl (Supraphon and briefly Music for Pleasure) and André Previn – RCA, still my preferred version, I was surprised to find this version at first sounding a little under-powered – is it that music that once sounded ‘difficult’ and earth-shattering has become so much part of the repertoire or is it maybe that the recording, though a very good transfer, has less impact than the Prokofiev which precedes it? In any event, by ten minutes into the first movement there’s all the power and drama that you could want and that’s true of the finale, too.

Though billed as the New York Phil, I take this to be the 1959 Everest recording with the Stadium Orchestra, which briefly appeared in the UK as a World Record Club LP and re-surfaced, again briefly, as SDBR3010. It wouldn’t be my first choice – it’s not just the recording that makes the strings sound rather thin – but the maestro’s many fans will wish to have it. Again I find myself in the good company of Edward Greenfield who, I find, said much the same in 1969.

You wouldn’t buy this for the fillers but you wouldn’t be disappointed if you did. The Prokofiev was originally the filler for Kondrashin’s recording of the Sixth Symphony. The dashing account of the Festival Overture came with Prêtre’s recording of Symphony No.12 and the much quieter Borodin was part of a concert of Russian music.

Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Concert Music for Strings and Brass, Op.50 [16:20]
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra* [27:29]
Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber [19:35]
Leonidas Kavakos violin*
BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier – rec.2000. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN9903 [63:32] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

[‘The triumph of this particular disc is the Violin Concerto, which is performed with tremendous panache’. See review by Christopher Thomas.]

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1939)* [27:15]
Sonata for Solo Violin, Op.31/2 (1924) [9:05]
Sonata in E flat for Violin and Piano, Op.11/1 (1918)** [8:40]
Sonata in E for Violin and Piano (1935)** [9:10]
Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi* – rec. 2009. DDD/DSD
Enrico Pace (piano)** – rec.2012. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-2014 [68:11] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

With this recording of the Violin Concerto BIS now have most of the major orchestral works of Hindemith under their belt. Dan Morgan and I were both somewhat disappointed with their earlier recording of the Mathis der Maler Symphony, Nobilissima Visione and the Symphonic Metamorphoses from Sao Paolo – review – but the new recording is cut from better cloth.

I’ve taken so long to evaluate my response to the new BIS and to compare it with the Chandos and David Oistrakh/Paul Hindemith (Decca E4702582 or 4767288, both 2-CD sets, the latter download only) – still my benchmark – that other reviews have overtaken me and made it their equivalent of Recording of the Month. I need only add that the performance of the concerto rivals that earlier Decca version and that the high-quality recording (especially in 24-bit form, but impressive even as mp3) and the coupling are additional recommendations.

The Chandos recording is still well worth considering if you prefer the orchestral couplings there to the chamber works on BIS or have the ECM recordings of these; otherwise I’d go now for the BIS.

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Film Music – Vol. 1

Fragments from the music to the ‘Maxim’ trilogy, Op. 50a (arr. Lev Atovmyan)
(1935-1939) [27:15]
Music from ‘The Man with a Gun’, Op. 53 (1938) [8:22]
Music from ‘A Girl Alone’, Op. 26 (1931) [21:02]
Music from ‘King Lear’, Op. 137 (1970) [18:18]
Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus
BBC Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky
rec. 2002, Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, UK
pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHAN10023 [73:34] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16-bit lossless)

Film Music – Vol. 2
Suite from ‘The Golden Mountains’, Op. 30 – Incidental music to the film by Sergei Yutkevich (1931) [14:24]
Suite from ‘The Gadfly’, Op. 97 – Incidental music to the film by Alexander
Faintsimmer (1955) [42:20]
‘Volochayev Days’, Op. 48 – Incidental music to the film by the Vasiliev brothers (1936-1937) [9:16]
BBC Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky
rec. 2003, Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, UK
pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHAN10183 [65:50] – from theclassicalsshop.net (mp3, 16-bit lossless)

Vassily Sinaisky, the BBC Phil’s principal conductor from 1996 to 2012, has recorded some fine Russian discs for Chandos. Chief among them are these two volumes of Shostakovich’s film music. Frank Strobel (Hänssler), Michail Jurowski (Capriccio) and Mark Fitz-Gerald (Naxos) have also added to the growing list of recordings in this genre. Listeners who dismiss and deride film music – a surprising number, alas – should make an exception here; these scores are well worth exploring, even if most are just fragments and arrangements.

The first CD kicks off with excerpts from the ‘Maxim’ trilogy – The Youth of Maxim (1935), The Return of Maxim (1937) and The Vyborg Side (1939). Although made by the Eccentrics Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg these films – the tale of a worker’s rise to head of the national bank – seem pretty conventional. The music, though, has Shostakovich’s fingerprints all over it, from ‘Courage, my friends’ – the Sheffield Philharmonic Choir are wonderfully fervent here – and the dark, cello-led lament for the death of an old worker to the infectious little waltz and the hurly-burly of ‘Struggle at the barricades’. Sinaisky and his players revel in these tunes, big and small, and the recording – made at the much-missed New Broadcasting House, Manchester – is exceptionally vivid and weighty.

As John Riley points out in his excellent liner-notes The Man with a Gun (1938) is an early example of kinoleniniana, or films that idolised Lenin. Given the permafrost that took hold of Soviet arts in the 1930s this is a safe soldierly tale made more interesting by a varied and incisive score. Remarkably one never gets the sense that Shostakovich is ‘slumming it’ with these often bitty tunes, which emerge with tremendous verve and vitality. The Finale, with its heraldic brass and thumping bass drum, is especially thrilling.

The 1931 silent Odna (A Girl Alone) tells the story of Yelena Kuzmina, a young teacher from Leningrad who is posted to the Altai Mountains where she’s ostracised by the parents and left to die in the cold. Saved by the children she’s taken back to Moscow by plane at the end of the last reel. Poignant and bizarre by turns, Odna is blessed with finely crafted, piquant music that’s best appreciated in its entirety; which is why I must recommend Mark Fitz-Gerald’s complete recording for Naxos. That said, Sinaisky and his orchestra are never less than satisfying, even if one only gets glimpses of this oft-startling score.

This initial volume rounds off with Shostakovich’s austere, borderline frigid score for Kozintsev’s King Lear (1970). As Riley puts it, the film’s parallels with Brezhnev’s ‘rudderless state’ are unmistakable; indeed, it’s difficult to imagine such pointed and pithy Soviet film music being penned even a few years earlier. ‘The Voice of Truth’ has seldom sounded so glacial, its title as darkly ironic as it was possible to be in a society where the real Pravda was in short supply. Sinaisky draws superb playing from the BBC Phil, who are as much at home with these gaunt outlines as they are with the broad brush strokes of the earlier scores. How enigmatically it all ends, the Fool – licensed to articulate seditious thoughts – finally silenced.

Volume 2 returns to a Revolutionary theme with The Golden Mountains, centred on the 1905 steelworkers’ uprising that preceded the infamous massacre that took place later that year. It’s a mixture of bold statements and delightful asides, the Hawaiian guitar in the Waltz a good example of the latter. Not one of the composer’s most memorable scores perhaps, but worth hearing nonetheless. As before the recording is big and bold, with the slightly soft edges one remembers from Chandos releases of old.

The Gadfly (1955) continues the Revolutionary theme, although this time it’s focused on the unification of Italy. The suite has fared well on record, but Sinaisky makes it seem much more symphonic than usual; the Contradance is delicate, the Folk Dance blends passion with polish, and the Interlude is both attractive and unsettling. The Barrel Organ Waltz is delightfully done, and Sinaisky makes the most of the score’s colouristic touches. Rhythmically he’s just as astute – the Galop, so crisply played, retains a certain charm – and the harp-led Andantino emerges as one of Dmitri’s loveliest miniatures. The Romance and Intermezzo are limpid but not limp, and Peter Dixon’s cello playing in the gentle Nocturne is just gorgeous.

The Gadfly is full of good things, and I doubt you’ll hear this music more lovingly presented or more atmospherically recorded than it is here. This splendid series ends with Volochayev Days (1937), a rather crude piece of propaganda based on the Japanese attack on Vladivostok in 1918. A bright little overture and a concluding fragment sandwich a fairly restrained piece of ‘battle music’, whose mood is more light-hearted than one might expect. Interesting, but eminently forgettable.

It would be idle to pretend Shostakovich wrote anything like his best music for the movies, but there’s enough of quality and interest here to warrant investigation. Kudos to Chandos and Sinaisky for treating these scores with the care and attention they deserve. John Riley’s fascinating liner-notes complete a fine package.

Plenty to enjoy here; a must for DSCH fans and completists alike.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

As usual, when Dan reports on the lossless version, I tried the mp3 and that sounds pretty well, too – if you’re happy with best-quality mp3, it’s safe to save the £2.00 difference.

I also listened to the equally compelling Volume 3, this time in both 24-bit lossless and mp3:

Suite from ‘Hamlet’ [28:47]
From ‘The Unforgettable Year 1919’* [7:29]
Suite from ‘Five Days and Five Nights’ [32:59]
Suite from ‘The Young Guard’ [10:05]
Martin Roscoe (piano)*
BBC Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky – rec. October 2004. DDD
Pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHAN10361 [79:47] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

Other fine Chandos recordings of Shostakovich include:

Ballet Suite No.1 (1949)* [13:34]
Ballet Suite No.2 (1951)* [19:37]
Ballet Suite No.3 (1952)* [15:46]
Festive Overture Op.96 (1947) [5:52]
Ballet Suite No.4 (1953)* [12:49]
Ballet Suite No.5 from The Bolt, Op.27a (1931) [29:17]
Suite from Katerina Ismailova (Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District) (1943/1962) [16:59]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Jarvi – rec. 1987/88. DDD
* Edited by Lev Atovmyan
No booklet, but that for alternative release on CHAN10088 (below) can be downloaded
CHANDOS ENCHANT CHAN7000 [2 CDs: 113:01] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)
[NB: Beware – also available at a higher price as CHAN10088, mp3 only]


Basic repertoire: Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) War Requiem

Who could have though fifty years ago that the War Requiem would come to be so well represented in the catalogue? Currently available and recommendable, not necessarily in order:

•Decca Originals 4757511 (2 CDs) – Britten’s own recording – review and download review – recently also reissued at a slightly higher price on two CDs and a blu-ray audio disc (4785433) and available without the rehearsal excerpts on mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless from linnrecords.com (UNI177). In one format or another this still holds its own against all comers.
• Arthaus 108070 (blu-ray) or 101659 (DVD) – the 50th-anniversary recording in Coventry Cathedral directed by Andris Nelsons. Recording of the Month review.
• Chandos CHAN8983-4 (CD - download from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless, or stream from Naxos Music Library, both with pdf booklet) or CHSA5007 (SACD). This version conducted by Richard Hickox also contains Sinfonia da Requiem and Ballad of Heroes. NB: good value, but presumably due for reissue in the near future in the less expensive Chandos Hickox edition.
• BBC Legends BBCL4062: a live recording, complete on one CD, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, with Britten himself in charge of the smaller ensemble. Download from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library, both with pdf booklet
• EMI 5059092: a 2-CD set with Simon Rattle conducting the War Requiem and Charles Groves Bliss’s Morning Heroes; also Rattle conducts Britten, EMI 2427432 (5 CDs). Both these are at budget price.
• LPO LPO0010: conducted by Kurt Masur – from classicsonline.com with pdf booklet. NB: better value on disc at around £10 (2 CDs) or £12 (one non-hybrid SACD). Stream from Naxos Music Library.
• Hänssler Classic 98.507: (2 SACDs) conducted by Helmuth Rilling – review. Rather poor value with no fillers on two CDs for around £23, but the 7music.com download comes at the full 320kb/s and costs just £7.99 – others charge twice that amount.

Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Symphonic Works – Volume 1
Uwertura tragiczna (Tragic Overture) [7:47]
Nocturne [17:27]
Uwertura bohaterska (Heroic Overture) [5:37]
Katyn Epitaph [7:37]
A Procession for Peace [7:44]
Harmony [15:01]
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Łukasz Borowicz
CPO 7774972 [61:13] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Symphonic Works – Volume 6
Concertino for Timpani, Percussion and Strings (1979/80) [15:41]
Symphony No. 9, Sinfonia della speranza (1986) [42:33]
Konzerthausorchester Berlin/Łukasz Borowicz
CPO 7776852 [58:14] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, no booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library (with booklet)

‘The Sinfonia di Speranza reflects my musical interpretation of the ideal of hope: within its notes I have tried to incorporate a spiritual message, an expression of my faith in mankind as well as my longing for racial and religious tolerance among all people’.

Panufnik fans will want both of these recordings and the others listed below. Other readers should perhaps first dip into one or more of these recordings via the Naxos Music Library – a most valuable tool for checking before buying.

Eclassical.com also have mp3 and lossless downloads of Volumes 4 (7776832) and 5 (7776842). For details see reviews by Rob Barnett (Volume 4; Volume 5) and Michael Cookson (Volume 5). As with Volume 6, it’s a shame that the booklet is not offered as part of the deal, as it is by classicsonline.com, though their versions come in mp3 only for the moment – they are adding more and more lossless flac downloads. If you have access to the invaluable Naxos Music Library, the booklets can be downloaded from there. Volume 3 is available from classicsonline.com or for streaming from Naxos Music Library.

For my review of Symphony No.5 (Sinfonia di Sfere) on Ondine ODE1101-5, well worth having though it involves duplicating Symphony No.3 from CPO, please see August 2010 DL Roundup. The passionato.com link no longer applies and there’s no substitute in lossless sound, but classicsonline.com have it in full-strength mp3, with booklet (or stream from Naxos Music Library). (NB: Sinfonia di Sfere is No.5, not No.6 – a typo has crept into that 2010 review.)

Panufnik’s Cello Concerto, performed by its dedicatee Rostropovich, is available as a single from NMC (D010S – see November 2011/2 DL Roundup).

Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006) The Return of Odysseus, Op.119* (1976, premiere recording) [28:20]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974) Suite Française, Op. 248b (1944) [15:57]
(Normandie [1:46]; Bretagne [3:42]; Île de France [2:07]; Alsace-Lorraine [5:10]; Provence [3:12])
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Toward the Unknown Region (1907) [13:17]
Anne Taylor (soprano); The City of Glasgow Chorus
Orchestra of Scottish Opera/Graham Taylor – rec. October 2005. DDD
Pdf booklet included
DIVINE ART DDA25035 [57:54] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

[see review by Rob Barnett – ‘An essential purchase for Arnold enthusiasts who will be richly rewarded by The Return of Odysseus. Milhaud fans will want this orchestral version of the suite. RVW’s following will be pleased to hear a more sensual version of Toward the Unknown Region’ – and review by Paul Serotsky]

A hugely enjoyable rip-roaring performance of a most interesting Malcolm Arnold byway for those who already know the comparatively well-travelled highways of his orchestral music. Chandos and Naxos have served us very well there but Divine Art offer the icing on the cake. Inevitably Arnold brings a lighter touch to a serious subject – if you want serious go for Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria. The couplings are equally valuable, though the VW is less rare than the other works. The recording sounds well, especially in lossless form; I didn’t listen on headphones, so didn’t experience Paul Serotsky’s problem with lack of front-to-back perspective. Not a new release but theclassicalshop.net have only just issued it in download form; better late than never.


Bargain of the Month
John LANCHBERY (1923-2003)

The Tales of Beatrix Potter (soundtrack from the Royal ballet film)
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra/John Lanchbery
EMI CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE [51:49] – from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

A wonderful bargain at £2.99: tuneful music, splendidly realised with the composer/arranger at the helm, very well recorded and presented in top-quality (320kb/s) mp3 – just a trifle over-bright, reflecting the soundtrack origin. UK purchasers with a Nectar card even get four bonus points. Only the lack of notes indicating which music was raided for the ballet – mostly Victorian music hall and Sullivan – detracts slightly.

If you don’t already have Lanchbery’s equally (even more?) colourful arrangement of La Fille mal gardée, the two can be obtained together on a recent EMI twofer (now Warner Classics Parlophone) – £4.99 from classicsononline.com (mp3).


Brooklyn Rider: A Walking Fire
LJOVA (Lev ZHURBIN) (b.1978)
Culai (2011-2012) [18:19]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945) String Quartet No. 2 Sz.67 (1915-1917) [27:10]
Colin JACOBSEN (b.1978) Three Miniatures for String Quartet (2011):
Majnun’s Moonshine [3:42]
The Flowers of Esfahan [7:21]
A Walking Fire [5:39]
Brooklyn Rider (Johnny Gandelsman, Colin Jacobsen (violin), Nicholas Cords (viola), Eric Jacobsen (cello))
DECCA/MERCURYCLASSICS 4810278 [61:55] – from amazon.co.uk (mp3, with pdf booklet)

This album takes its name from the final work, the third of Jacobsen’s Three Miniatures, so that nowhere on the cover would you know that it contains at its heart a fine performance of Bartók’s Second String Quartet. I think that a shame, since it deprives it of a potentially greater audience.

The programme begins with a recent work influenced by the gypsy fiddler known as ‘Culai’, reminiscent of Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody, yet clearly modern without sounding too spikey, and closes with three pieces by a member of the quartet, Colin Jacobsen, none of which should prove too difficult for those who buy the recording primarily for the Bartók – indeed, that work, in this strong performance, is in many ways the toughest ask here.

Well worth considering, then, if the programme appeals … but how many prospective purchasers will be content with just the one Bartók quartet? Listen to the second and you’ll be needing its five companions, preferably from the Takács Quartet on Mercury’s sister label, Decca (4552972*) or the Belcea Quartet (EMI 394002 – from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk, mp3, or stream from Naxos Music Library). Those in search of a bargain should consider the Tokyo String Quartet, recently reissued on Decca Eloquence (4807120) or the Keller Quartet on Warner Apex – review.

* download only – mp3 from 7digital.com, mp3 and lossless from prestoclassical.co.uk – surely due for reissue on CD?

David Barker’s Reviews

With Chandos having a summer break, releasing only Richard Hickox re-issues in June and July, I thought I would trawl their back catalogue for recordings I missed first time round.

Kurt SCHWERTSIK (b.1935)
Nachtmusiken
Herr K. Entdeckt Amerika
Baumgesänge

BBC Philharmonic/H K Gruber – rec. 2010. Pdf booklet available
CHANDOS CHAN10687 [59:52] Download from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 16– and 24-bit lossless)

I have to admit to judging a book by its cover when this was first released in 2011, leaping to the conclusion that this was avant-garde because of the conductor, HK Gruber, whose music I had sampled and found not to my taste. As it turns out, Schwertsik and Gruber are close friends, and the music is well-written and accessible, a point made by my colleagues, Nick Barnard and Byzantion, when I took the trouble to actually read their reviews. Lest you think that it is simple and undemanding fare, please think again – it is complex, without being complicated.

Nachtmusiken is a film score in search of a film, and very much an exercise in spot the "influence". The first movement "Janáček appeared to me in a dream" gives the game away rather easily, but it doesn’t take much to find Shostakovich in the fourth movement march and Mahler in the finale.

The title of Herr K. Entdeckt Amerika comes from an unfinished Kafka novel, but the musical connections to the four named movements is rather tenuous. This work, later expanded into a full-scale ballet, grabbed me rather less than its disc-mates, but at under 15 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome and certainly has its interesting moments.

Baumgesänge (Tree songs) is the earliest work on the disc, dating from 1992, and despite the title, purely orchestral. Had the work lacked its programmatic title, I certainly wouldn’t have made any connections to trees, but I would not have enjoyed it any less. It is, by turns, dramatic, swooning, ironic and joyous, and a work that deserves to be heard.

Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Sacred service
Louis Berkman (baritone)
The Zemel Choir – London Symphony Orchestra/Geoffrey Simon
rec. 1978
CHANDOS CHAN8418 (re-issued as CHAN10288) [51:00] Download from theclassicalshop.net: CHAN8418 (mp3 and lossless) ~~ CHAN10288 (mp3 only, budget price)

The original release of this dates back to the LP era. Perhaps, this explains a different quality to the sound: not as vivid as more recent Chandos recordings, but compensated for by the warmth. Am I imagining that this is how LPs used to sound?

The work itself is dramatic and moving, reminding me very much of Vaughan Williams in Dona nobis pacem. The Zemel Choir does particularly fine work, as one would expect from a Jewish group in this repertoire.

The re-issue is only available in mp3 format, while the original is in both lossless and mp3. Oddly, the two identical (I presume) mp3 versions are priced very differently – original £7.99, re-issue £4.99 – go figure.

Ola GJEILO (b. 1978)
Northern Lights
Ola Gjeilo (piano) Harrington String Quartet; Alison Chaney (soprano); Ted Belledin (tenor saxophone)
Phoenix Chorale/Charles Bruffy – rec. 2011
Pdf booklet available
CHANDOS CHSA5100 [59:43] Download from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

A collection of gentle choral works, some accompanied by various groupings as you can see from the performer list. They are in the Karl Jenkins/Howard Shore mould, and hence, do not present an intellectual challenge. They are, however, beautifully performed, and very soothing after a difficult day.

My colleagues, Brian Wilson and Karim Elmahmoudi, each found much to like, particularly Brian who made it his Discovery of the Month. John Quinn, while acknowledging the quality of some of the works, didn’t particularly enjoy the accompanied pieces, finding them quite unoriginal. I can understand his reservations, but the music clearly suited my mood, and I did enjoy the variety in the instrumentation.

If you want a balm rather than a purge, this might well be the medicine for you.

Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Invitation to the dance
Symphonies 1 & 2
Bassoon concerto
Karen Geoghegan (bassoon)
BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena– rec. 2012
Pdf booklet available
CHANDOS CHAN10748 [74:46] Download from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

Somehow Weber’s music had evaded my attention, perhaps because his best known works are in the areas of opera and wind instruments, neither among my favourites. That being the case, I was quite unprepared for the quality of this music.

Invitation to the dance is a Berlioz orchestration of a Weber piano work, and is a ravishing combination of the former’s skills with orchestral colours and the latter’s talents for melody.

The two symphonies date from the first decade of the nineteenth century, and as such, are in the shadow of Beethoven’s Eroica, Fifth and Pastoral. If you attempt to make this comparison, then Weber comes out much worse for wear, but then again, who doesn’t? Better to see them as a bridge between Haydn and Schubert.

I’m afraid that I feel that the bassoon is one of those instruments that should heard but not seen, by which I mean that it adds interest in the background in an orchestral work, but its place isn’t at the front in the spotlight. Even Mozart can’t convince me otherwise, and for all the fine playing of Karen Geoghegan and the sweet melodies in this concerto, it is still the bassoon. If you don’t have this aversion, I’m sure you will enjoy it greatly.

Miklós RÓZSA (1907-1995)
Overture to a Symphony Concert
Three Hungarian Sketches
Tripartita
Hungarian Serenade
BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba – rec. 2008
Pdf booklet available
CHANDOS CHAN10488 [74:46] Download from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

Rob Barnett welcomed this first volume of the orchestral works of the famous Hungarian film score composer back in 2009 – review; also October 2011/1 Roundup. Progress in the series has been rather slow since then, there being only two more releases. Given the quality of this one, it is to be hoped that more are to come soon.

The Hungarian-titled works are the highlights. Not surprisingly, given their titles, they are on the lighter end of the spectrum, but only in the best sense. The Serenade is so redolent of Vaughan Williams, that I feel Rózsa must have had been to a performance of the London Symphony before he wrote this. It is a delightful work, beginning with a light-hearted march which I can only describe as rustic, the inner movements rapturously melodic, and the final dance, raucous and folk-inflected. The second of the Sketches is a small-scale masterpiece.

The other works are more showy: the overture would be a perfect orchestra and audience warm-up – though I wager it never is – while the martial Tripartita brings to mind Shostakovich’s Symphony 11.

I will certainly be listening to volumes 2 and 3, which feature the violin and cello concertos, soon.



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