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DOWNLOAD NEWS 2013/14
Brian Wilson

Index of earlier editions – here

Some gremlin seems to have gone through this edition at a late stage and removed all instances of the word ‘from’. I think I have restored them all but, at the risk of making it seem like a quiz game, you may have to re-insert them occasionally to make sense.

BIS at 40

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 – there’s always at least one. This time I need not add anything to discourage you if you’re quick: go to http://www.eclassical.com/pages/bis-records-40-years.html and there’'s bound to be something to interest you. With the festive season approaching, for example, why not go for Emma Kirkby’s 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.

Resonus Classics

With so many fine recordings coming to me from all quarters, I’ve let my coverage of the innovative Resonus Classics slip recently, so this is by way of a catching-up exercise.

•  RES10120: Johann Sebastian BACH Clavierübung III. This is the most recent album that I reviewed in these pages. I repeat the listing here because I thoroughly enjoyed it – Recording of the Month: here – and so did Geoffrey Molyneux – here.

•  RES10121: Composing without the Picture – Concert Works by Film Composers. Richard Harwood (solo cello) plays music by the likes of Miklósz Rózsa, Ennio Morricone and John Williams, together with previously unrecorded music by Christopher Gunning (Variations on a Slavic Theme) [80:20]: mp3, aac and 16-bit flac, with pdf booklet, from resonusclassics.com (mp3, aac, 16– and 24-bit lossless) or from classicsonline.com (mp3), eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library. The music is enjoyable rather than exciting but I enjoyed hearing it.

•  RES10122: Sonnerie and other Portraits – the group Fantasticus play Marin MARAIS Sonnerie de Ste Geneviève du Mont de Paris (1723) and other music by Marais (Tombeau pour M de Lully), Jean-Philippe Rameau (cinquième concert), François Francœur, Jean-Marie Leclair, Jacques Duphly and Louis-Antoine Dornel. [71:06] – with pdf booklet from resonusclassics.com (mp3, aac 16– and 24-bit lossless) or classicsonline.com (mp3).

This is a very enjoyable follow-up to the earlier Fantasticus recording of baroque chamber music on RES10112.

o RES10123: Jean-François GALLAY (1795-1864)
Grands Trios, Op.24/1-3; Grand Quartet, Op.26: Chamber music for natural horn ensemble. Anneke Scott in a follow-up to her earlier recording of solo horn music by Gallay, this time with les Chevaliers de Saint Hubert [54:43]. With pdf booklet from resonusclassics.com, mp3, aac and 16-bit lossless, or eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless) or classicsonline.com (mp3) all with booklet, or stream from Naxos Music Library.

I have to admit to finding this paradoxically less interesting than the earlier album for solo horn (RES101142012/20 DL News); though I thought that likely to be of interest mainly to an academic audience, I did very much enjoy the variety of the music and of Anneke Scott’s performances. Both albums are best sampled in small doses – try first from Naxos Music Library, perhaps.

Hyperion Records
Some catching up is necessary here, too. Click on the catalogue number for the relevant web page:

o CDA67727: Guillaume de MACHAUT (c.1300-1377) Songs from le Voir Dit – the Orlando Consort, rec. July 2012 (mp3, 16– or 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet of texts and translations). One of the great composers of the late Middle Ages, le Voir Dit (the true story) is often regarded as his masterpiece. There’s a Naxos recording of some of the songs, coupled with the Messe de nostre Dame, well worth considering if you don’t have a recording of that work, and the budget price is attractive (8.553833 Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly) but the Hyperion is a more complete collection and I’d recommend this new recording and the Hyperion recording of the Mass (below) as first choices.

I listened to all three download formats – the mp3 is good, the 16-bit flac, at the same price, better, the 24-bit worth paying a little extra.

I’d go for the Messe de nostre Dame first – and you could do worse than the Hyperion recording of that, too, from the Hilliard Ensemble on CDA66358. Also Gothic Voices in The Mirror of Narcissus on CDA66087.

•  CDH55423: one of Machaut’s greatest successors was Guillaume DUFAY (1397-1474). His Mass puisque je vis with music by Loyset COMPÈRE and that prolific composer Anon is sung by The Binchois Consort/Andrew Kirkman. (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet containing texts and translations). Formerly available as CDA67368, in which form I recommended it in January 2010; it’s even more attractive now.

o
CDH55429: William BYRD Consort Songs sung by Robin Blaze with Concordia (mp3 and lossless) is a budget-price reissue of CDA67397, recorded in 2003 – review. The pdf booklet, with texts, is a straight reprint of that from the full-price original.

I can’t think of a better interpreter than Robin Blaze – try track 5, Come to me grief if you need to be convinced – and he is very well supported by Concordia. The lossless version is 16-bit only but that’s no hindrance to enjoyment of this inexpensive reissue.

There’s an enjoyable collection of Byrd’s consort music on Naxos (8.550604 – Tessa Bonner, Red Byrd and the Rose Consort) which, fortunately, can be regarded as for further exploration rather than as a rival to the Hyperion, as there’s little overlap. There’s also a fine recording of Byrd’s complete music for instrumental consort (Linn CKD372 – see May 2011/2 DL Roundup).

•  CDA67911/2: Franz SCHUBERT Complete music for violin and piano (Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien, mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless) was Stephen Greenbank’s Recording of the Month review. Mp3 and 16-bit come at slightly less than the normal 2-CD price and even the first-rate 24-bit costs only £21.75. A very enjoyable set, but those who insist on period instruments may prefer the two Naxos CDs recorded by Jacqueline Ross and Maggie Cole (fortepiano), available slightly less expensively from classicsonline.com but in mp3 only (9.70164 review – and 9.70182, with pdf booklet).

o CDA68046: César FRANCK Symphonic Organ Works played by Simon Johnson on the organ of St Paul’s Cathedral. The highlight is a performance of the Symphony in d minor, M48, in an arrangement by Simon Johnson. It’s often said that Franck orchestrated as if he were writing for the organ so the arrangement works very well indeed. (mp3, 16– or 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet.)

I shall not be ditching my CD recordings of the orchestral original, for which my best download recommendation is Chandos CHAN9875: the Symphony with Les Éolides and Symphonic Variations. (BBC Phil/Yan Pascal Tortelier, with Louis Lortie (piano) in Variations, mp3 and lossless, pdf booklet available.) See review.

o CDH55176: Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Parade (1917) [15:28]
Trois Gymnopédies (orch. Debussy and Corp) (1896) [8:53]
Mercure (1924) [12:16]
Trois Gnossiennes (orch. Corp) (1890) [7:33]
Relâche (1924) [21:31]
New London Orchestra/Ronald Corp – rec. April 1989. DDD
A budget-price reissue which Stephen Francis Vasta rightly described as ‘an essential acquisition’ – see review. With their strong track record in British, American and European Light Music, Ronald Corp and his team are just the right people to bring this off.

o
CDH55448: Francis POULENC Mass in G and Motets, including Quatre motets pour Noël and Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence – Westminster Cathedral Choir/James O’Donnell, rec. 1993, is a budget reissue of CDA66664. (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet).

Two excellent reissues from Westminster Cathedral Choir under successive musical directors. Poulenc’s sharper, leaner a cappella style offers an illuminating contrast with Langlais (below), especially in the latter’s Missa Salve Regina with its resplendent organ part. The very fine performance is brightly recorded.

o
CDH55444: Jean LANGLAIS Missa Salve Regina and Messe solennelle with three short organ works – Westminster Cathedral Choir/David Hill, rec.1987 (budget price, mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet). Highly desirable at full price and even more so now. There’s no competition if you want both the masses together. The Missa Salve Regina is the high point of the recording for me – with a gloriously ceremonial organ part and harmonies which are at once of the 20th-century yet harking back to Machaut and before, this music deserves to be much better known and this is the very recording to do it.

o CDH55466: Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD String Sextet, Op.10 and Arnold SCHOENBERG Verklärte Nacht, Op.4 – The Raphael Ensemble. A budget reissue of CDA66425 in mp3 and lossless sound, with pdf booklet. If, like me, you prefer the original sextet version of Verklärte Nacht, this was as good a choice as any, even when it was at full price. The Korngold makes an interesting coupling – I compared it with the Chandos recording of the Sextet and Piano Quintet in April 2012 – here. As with the Resonus recording above of instrumental music by film composers, it’s best to forget the silver-screen connection, well in the future when this work was composed in 1917. Forget, too, the over-worked ‘more corn than gold’ jibe and enjoy.


o
CDA67909: Judith BINGHAM (b.1952) Choral Music sung by Wells Cathedral Choir/Matthew Owens with Jonathan Vaughn (organ). ‘This new recording is a notable and welcome addition to what I hope is a continuing series.’ See review by John Quinn. Though recognisably modern and sometimes demanding, the music has the same timeless quality as the Samuel Palmer painting on the cover of the pdf booklet which comes with the download (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless).

In all cases I’ve sampled the best lossless version, 24-bit where available, and mp3.

I must content myself for the moment to pointing out the availability from Hyperion of music from other sources, including the Gimell catalogue of recordings by The Tallis Scholars, on which I’ve expatiated at length in past editions. I haven’t had time to investigate the tempting Hyperion downloads of the APR reissue of Moura Lympany’s HMV recordings, APR6011, 2 CDs for the price of 1.

•  Highlights from most of these recordings are available on the free August sampler, HYP201308, the September sampler HYP201309 and their October equivalent, HYP201310.

Coro: The Sixteen


There’s slightly less catching-up to do here:

o
COR16114: Giovanni Pierluigi de PALESTRINA Volume 4 – Missa O magnum mysterium, Iubilate Deo, Magnificat quinti toni and other music with Christmas associations – The Sixteen/Harry Christophers – rec. January 2013 [71:53] – from thesixteendigital.com (mp3, aac and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet). There’s no need to wait for Christmas to enjoy this latest recording in a series which I’ve welcomed at every stage.

•  COR16115: Johann Sebastian BACH Lutheran Masses I – BWV235 in g minor; B7WV233 in F; Cantata No.102, BWV102. The Sixteen/Harry Christophers – rec. May 2013. [74:04] – from thesixteendigital.com (mp3, aac and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet). Actually The Sixteen are The Eight for this recording of two of Bach’s short Lutheran Masses (also known as Missæ breves, only the Kyrie and Gloria were set, in Latin, for principal festivals). The music is mostly borrowed from his cantatas and these short masses are often overshadowed by their great b-minor sibling, but that doesn’t make them any the less worth hearing. This is surprisingly hotly contested territory, with recommendable period-instrument recordings from Chandos (CHAN0642, BWV233 and 236, and CHAN0653, BWV234 and 235), Alpha (170, BWV233 and 236 and 130, BWV234 and 235)* and Challenge Classics (CC72188, 2 CDs). All these recordings add fillers but Coro’s Cantata 102, which Bach raided for some of the music, is the most substantial and that may be the clincher for many potential purchasers. Otherwise I’d have to plump for Ton Koopman on Challenge, but I look forward to The Sixteen completing the set. The recording is good in both mp3 and lossless formats.

* Download for £4.99 each from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

o
COR16113: Joseph HAYDN Symphonies Nos. 6 (le Matin) and 82 (l’Ours); Violin Concerto in G, HobVIIa/4 – Aisslin Nosky (violin); Handel and Haydn Society/Harry Christophers [69:19] – from thesixteendigital.com (mp3, aac and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet). Unless you must have the three related times of the day symphonies, (Nos.6-8) together or a complete set of the Paris symphonies from which No.82 comes, this is an enjoyable anthology of Haydn’s orchestral music. Stylish performances from one of the oldest period-instrument orchestras and a warm welcome to Aisslinn Nosky, whom I haven’t encountered before; well recorded and sounding good in both mp3 and lossless formats.

All the Coro albums above can be streamed (with pdf booklet) from the Naxos Library.


Beulah Reissues


September 2013 releases are here; October 2013 here.

•  Among the October 2013 releases and those for September which I didn’t cover last time, 9-11BX7: Léo DELIBES Sylvia, almost complete – the LSO conducted by Anatole Fistoulari (1958), stands out as my personal choice. This Mercury recording has deservedly been reissued in many guises over the years on Philips and Fontana in the UK and was available until recently coupled with Antal Doráti’s slightly less recommendable Coppélia on a 3-CD Mercury set. There are more recent alternatives, some of them attractively priced (Mogrelia on Naxos, Bonynge on Decca) but I see no reason not to stay with this Fistoulari reissue as my prime recommendation. The recording has come up astonishingly well and the price is attractive – £5.25 for the whole ballet. Highly enjoyable.

•  1BX263: Tomás Luis de VICTORIA was one of the greatest composers of the Sixteenth century – perhaps even greater than Palestrina and certainly worthy to be mentioned in the same breath. The Capilla de Musica de Montserrat kept the flame of the church music of this period alight when others were neglecting it, so a performance by them of O Domine Jesu, under the direction of Dom David Pujol ought to be enlightening. On the other hand, I approached this recording with caution, having heard the Montserrat Choir on a later recording for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi murder Victoria’s music. (I heard the choir of Toledo Cathedral commit the same crime in the flesh in the 1960s – I’m sure they’ve got it right now.) I’m afraid that, though my worst fears were not realised, I can’t really recommend the insecure and wavery performance when there’s so much of Victoria’s music available now in excellent performances. The Beulah reissues from the Oxford/HMV History of Music in Sound (HMS) from the early 1950s listed below contain some gems, but also some turkeys. I’m afraid that this leans towards the latter category.

•  1BX262: Orlande de LASSUS’ Scio enim from the London (Brompton) Oratory Choir and Henry Washington can’t have been at all well known when it was recorded (earlier than 1954, as stated; it was reviewed in January of that year) for the History of Music in Sound project and I can’t even find a recording in the current catalogue. The singing is of a different age when such music was treated with a degree of respect that we would now find over-cautious and the recording is thin, but this is a recording of historical significance. Not a turkey, then, but not a shining gem, either.

o 2BX262: Jakob Handl
liked to latinise his name to Jacobus GALLUS, under which soubriquet the Oratory Choir recorded his motet O admirabile mysterium. The work lends itself rather more readily then the Lassus to Henry Washington’s reverential treatment. The presence of Ralph Downes at the organ may have helped and the recording, though thin, has come up sounding a little better than the Lassus – at least a semi-precious gem this time.

•  St Paul’s Cathedral Choir conducted by John Dykes Bower sing Tudor English Church MusicThomas TALLIS, Adesto nunc propitius, William BYRD Hæc dies and Thomas MORLEY Agnus Dei on 2BX274. Like several other HMS recordings this month the sound is rather dated and the performances have been superseded by later, generally more springy, versions, but all these reissues from the History of Music in Sound are historically valuable.

•  I’ve already recommended another St Paul’s collection of English Church Music of a later period, Pelham HUMFREY’s Hear, O Heavens and Maurice GREENE’s O clap your hands which provides a valuable opportunity to hear Alfred Deller’s distinctive tones from a time when he was just about the only counter-tenor in the business (1BX274 – see DL News 2013/12).

These works by Humfrey and Greene are also included on Music of England 3 (3PD76), as are the madrigals on 1BX273, which I also reviewed in 2012/12. The other items on 3PD76 are:

• SS WESLEY Magnificat in E [7:23]
• Sir Hubert PARRY I was glad [6:20] Festival of English Church Music (1933)/Sir Sidney Nicholson: some surface noise, some harshness of tone and some occasional noises-off apart, these recordings are remarkably good for their age. iTunes reveals the usual ignorance of classical music by attributing all the ‘tunes’ on the album to Sir Sidney Nicholson.
•  Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Song of Thanksgiving [14:50] Betty Dolemore (soprano); Luton Choral Society and Girls’ Choir; LPO/Sir Adrian Boult – rec. c.1951. The words spoken by the narrator, Robert Speaight (from Shakespeare and the Bible) no doubt sounded less jingoistic in 1945 when the work was composed and even in the early 1950s when it was recorded. By the time of its re-release on the second side of an LP in 1953, the occasion seemed to have passed and it’s mainly of historical interest now. Betty Dolemore has a rather small but clear voice and the narrator uses the BBC Received Pronunciation of the time. The recording, first released on two Parlophone 78s, was deemed exemplary in its time but it demands some tolerance now.
•  Benjamin BRITTEN Missa brevis in D, Op. 63 [10:11] Westminster Cathedral Boys’ Choir/George Malcolm (organ). Britten composed this short mass for these very forces. Recorded live in Westminster Cathedral and first released on a 7" EP in 1960, coincidentally at the same time as the King’s LP of Byrd’s 5-part Mass – their recording of the Missa brevis is available on Classics for Pleasure at budget price, with other Britten choral music – the performance is obviously authoritative and the recording has come up reasonably well, if a trifle shrill and with some extraneous noises. This one item makes the whole album well worth having – the tracks can be purchased separately.
•  Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Serenade to Music [12:15] Elsie Morison (soprano), Marjorie Thomas (contralto), Duncan Robertson (tenor), Trevor Anthony (bass); LSO/Malcolm Sargent. I’m a great lover of VW’s music and I once, long ago, played Lorenzo in Merchant of Venice, who utters the beautiful words set here, but I fear the Serenade to Music is not for me – a minority view – nor did this performance do anything to endear me. The recording has come up well.

The album is available from amazon.co.uk and iTunes (mp3)

•  2BX264: Orlando GIBBONS Anthem Behold thou hast made my days is performed by the choir of Hampstead Parish Church conducted by Sir Jack Westrup, with Ralph Downes (organ). The soloist’s declamatory style and diction and the thin recording place this in the historically-important rather than the essential category.

•  We now have any number of recordings of the music of Heinrich SCHÜTZ but that wasn’t the case when Arnold Goldsbrough recorded the short cantata Saul, Saul, was verfolgest du mich? with his own Goldsbrough Choir and Orchestra, soloists and Ralph Downes (organ), reissued on 1BX265. The HMS recording is dated but tolerable and the performance still sounds surprisingly stylish.

•  Schütz visited Venice where he learned much of his trade from Giovanni GABRIELI, whose In ecclesiis is also performed by soloists and the Goldsbrough Ensemble on 2BX265. Performance – rather too blatant – and recording here have worn rather less well.

•  More Gabrieli, this time Andrea GABRIELI, on 2BX266 where Susi Jeans plays the organ of the Marienkirche, Lemgo, Germany in Ricercar arioso No.1. On 1BX266 she performs Jan SWEELINCK’s Chorale Variations. The playing is stylish and the recordings are unbelievably good for their vintage, especially when contrasted with most of these other HMS reissues, no doubt ably assisted by some of Beulah’s magic. Two little gems here.

•  I enjoyed Thurston Dart playing Girolamo FRESCOBALDI’s Capriccio sopra un soggetto (24BX69) from the same HMS series – playing which still sounds stylish in a thin-ish recording but perfectly tolerable in this transcription. This was singled out from a set of releases in 1954 and it’s one of my highlights, too.

•  By contrast I found Anthony Bernard’s recording of Michael PRÆTORIUSWie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern with the London Chamber Singers and Orchestra, from the same series, on 1BX161 rather heavy going – I’d like my morning star to shine a little more brightly in sound quality, too.

•  1BX255: Jacques Champion de CHAMBONNIÈRES (1601-1672) Three keyboard pieces and 2BX255: Domenico SCARLATTI Sonata in B-flat, L498, played by Aimée van de Wiele (harpsichord) are taken from HMS60. (The Chambonnières works are misattributed to Dorothy Swainson, clavichord, on the cover). The chosen instrument is less clangourous than was often the case in the early 1950s and I greatly enjoyed the stylish performances of the Chambonnières pieces.

There’s plenty of recorded Scarlatti nowadays and we usually hear the sonatas in the Kirkpatrick pairings. I especially like the Nimbus series on which Richard Lester plays harpsichord and fortepiano but this Beulah reissue makes an attractive pendant to that collection.

•  The music of Diet(e)rich BUXTEHUDE features on 1BX267 – Prelude and fugue in g minor (Johannes Brenneke, organ) and 2BX267 (Laudate pueri, Psalm 113), both recorded in 1962 and released on a special-order Columbia LP of Music in old Towns and Residences. The town in question was Lübeck and the focus of the LP was on Buxtehude’s concerts there, known as Abendmusiken. With soloists of the quality of Edith Mathis and Maria Friesenhausen, a consort of gambas, violone, theorbo and organ (Walter Kraft) the performances are still well worth hearing and the recording has mostly come up well, apart from a tendency for the pedal notes to thump somewhat in the Prelude and fugue. There’s a lot more from this LP that I hope will see the light of day soon and not just in the recent 10-CD EMI Electrola set of recordings from this series (now re-badged as Warner Parlophone), in which that 1962 LP forms CD4. Subscribers to Naxos Music Library can sample the Lübeck volume there.

•  Johann Christoph (not, I think Christian, as stated on the cover) BACH’s Motet Ich lasse dich nicht, sung by the choir of St George the Martyr, Southwark, and directed by Sir Jack Westrup comes with the advantage of having Ralph Downes at the organ (1BX264). The recording of this double chorus by JSB’s uncle has come up very well indeed considering that it first appeared on a batch of HMS recordings in October 1954; it’s much better than most of the reissues here from that series and the performance still sounds stylish. Well-balanced and very clear still describes this as well as it did in 1954.

•  Last month I praised André Cluytens’ recordings with the Berlin Phil of Beethoven’s First and Third Symphonies and Prometheus Overture and mentioned the other Beulah reissues of his BEETHOVEN Symphonies, a set now happily completed with No.7 (33-36BX82), No.8 (37-40BX82) and the Fidelio Overture (41BX82) in sound which has hardly dated. The Seventh is perhaps a little too cautious and there’s one recording from this period which I’d place even higher on the list; Beulah have reissued that, too: the young Colin Davis with the RPO from 1961 – 15-16BX129, see February 2012/1 Roundup.

•  In SCHUMANN’s Third Symphony (Rhenish) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Paul Paray on 7-11BX279 (rec.1955, stereo), completing the Beulah reissues of this series. If, like me, you fell in love with this music from George Szell’s recording (Columbia) you’ll find Paray’s opening tempo much too slow and the whole first movement lumbering. Only in the finale does the performance come to life for me – paradoxically, I see that some have thought that movement too fast and others too heavy. The recording has come up well.

•  Birthday boy Richard WAGNER’s orchestral titbits were recorded by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Paul Paray and reissued now on:

•  12BX279: Der fliegende Holländer Overture – rec. 1960
•  13BX279: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Suite – rec. 1960
•  14BX279: Die Walküre – Wotan’s Farewell and Magic Fire Music – rec. 1960
•  15BX279: Götterdämmerung – Dawn and Siegfried’s Journey to the Rhine – rec. 1956
•  16BX279: Siegfried Idyll – rec. 1956
•  17BX279: Tristan und Isolde – Act III Prelude – rec. 1956

We’ve already had Paray’s Rienzi Overture (6BX279) which I liked enough in 2013/11 to ask for the other overtures and orchestral music from the same LP – now here they are, still sounding very well indeed. The performances of the Holländer Overture, Meistersinger Suite and a snappy Siegfried Idyll are the best, with the Magic Fire Music and Rhine Journey rather less idiomatic. The Mercury CD of these works is not now generally available in the UK – even ArkivMusic don’t have it and sellers on Amazon are asking over £40 for it so the Beulah reissues are especially welcome.

Fritz Reiner conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in waltzes by the STRAUSS Family:

•  4BX276: Josef’s Village Swallows, Op.164
•  5BX276: Johann II’s Vienna Blood, Op.354
•  6BX276: Roses from the South, Op.388
•  7BX276: Treasure Waltz, Op.418
•  8BX276: Thunder and Lighting Polka, Op.324

Reiner is much better known as one of the greatest interpreters of the other Strauss, Richard, but he was capable of letting his hair down with the Royal family of the waltz to very good effect, as in these 1960 recordings. The recordings have come up well. As I’ve already said of 1-3BX276, you might think Willi Boskovsky was at the helm: 2013/11 DL News.

•  9BX137: Richard Lewis sings LISZTWie singt die Lerche schön – and Peter CORNELIUSAuftrag, Op.5/6 – accompanied by Gerald Moore, from another, later, HMS release, this time dating from 1959. Amazingly these releases were still available on 78s a year after the introduction of the stereo LP. You’d be hard pressed to find more sensitive performances and the recording still sounds more than tolerable.

•  I’ll briefly note three other song recordings which I hope to deal with next time: 1BX256 – Franz Mertens sings songs by DUPARC, CHAUSSON and FAURÉ. 1BX260 – settings of Mörike’s Er ists’s by Robert SCHUMANN, Robert FRANZ and Hugo WOLF (Ilse Wolf and Ernest Lush) and Alfred Orda sings Russian Songs on 1BX257, all from that 1959 batch of HMS recordings.

•  I have to admit that ELGAR’s Dream of Gerontius is not one of my favourite choral works – I tend to feel like Gerontius when he cries out to the angel ‘Take me away’; the Boult recording lies untouched in the EMI box of Elgar’s choral works and I haven’t heard the recent Mark Elder recording on Hallé’s own label. I can, therefore, only note the reissue of Sir Malcolm Sargent’s highly-regarded 1945 recording with the Huddersfield Choral Society and RLPO on 34-34BX13. This is also scheduled for release on iTunes and amazon.co.uk (9PD13) but Beulah’s own transfers come at a higher bit-rate and, at £5.00, less expensive than from either of those sources – or, indeed, than the Testament reissue of this recording, coupled with the Cello Concerto on two CDs. The recording has come up reasonably well for its age.

Sir Charles Mackerras was an authority on Czech music in general and JANÁČEK in particular. Beulah have reissued his 1959 recordings with the Pro Arte Orchestra of the opera preludes:

•  2BX278: The Makropoulos Affair
•  3BX278: Kátya Kabanova
•  4BX278: From the House of the Dead
•  5BX278: Jealousy

•  plus 6BX278: SMETANA The Bartered Bride Overture.

He was not yet the eminence grise of Czech music that he later became when Pye issued these recordings as fillers to his performance of the Sinfonietta, but that doesn’t make these reissues any less valuable. When I reviewed that recording of Sinfonietta (1BX278) a couple of months ago – DL News 2013/11 – I asked to have these preludes, too. No sooner wished for than granted.

Russian Masters 3:
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No.2 in d minor, Op.40 [32:38]
Moscow RSO/Gennady Rozhdestvensky
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-2893) Eugene Onegin – Tatiana’s Letter Scene [12:31]
Joan Hammond (soprano); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent
Swan Lake Suite [21:10]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910) Islamey (orch. Casella)[9:33]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Eugene Goossens
BEULAH 4PD11 [75:54] – from amazon.co.uk or iTunes

After the First Symphony, with its imitation – not wholly successful, I always think – of the classical style, Prokofiev’s second was avowedly a work of iron and steel. I’ve never heard a performance that brought out the brutalism – albeit a colourful brutalism – more than this transfer of a Melodiya recording. The sound has come up amazingly well, with the residual brashness suiting the music. For all my admiration of the Neeme Järvi series of the Prokofiev symphonies on Chandos, this is the version.

After that the two Tchaikovsky items are welcome but something of an anti-climax. The Letter Scene was a Joan Hammond special and it’s good to have a reminder, though her manner sounds somewhat dated. Karajan re-made the three ballet suites with the VPO for Decca but this early stereo Philharmonia recording has become something of a classic and the recording has come up very well in this transfer; if you turned down the volume for the Prokofiev, you’ll need to turn it up again.

Eugene Goossens didn’t always get the same quality of performance from the Philharmonia as Karajan or Klemperer and I can think of more colourful accounts of the orchestrated Islamey, but this final track rounds off in style a recommendable album – highly recommendable for the Prokofiev and almost as much for the Swan Lake Suite.

MusicWeb Classical Editor Rob Barnett has also been listening to this recording:

For me the main draw is the stomping and strutting Rozhdestvensky Prokofiev 2 which is impressively steely ... harsh even. If anything the recording quality is a step back from the exalted work Beulah did for the previous Melodiya Rachmaninov tranfers. Just a suggestion of distortion, especially on those trumpets and surging massed violins, but restricted to the Prokofiev. The Sargent-conducted Tatiana's letter scene is clean as a whistle. Old- fashioned so far as being sung in English is concerned, but very affecting. The Karajan Swan Lake suite is tenderly done, grand, lush even and delicate. Plenty of depth to the sound picture to complement the music making. The Goossens Islamey also sounds splendid in its glowingly multi-facetted Casella finery. Very much out of the Rimsky Capriccio Espagnol box. I hope that Beulah will do more all-Melodiya trasfers. They have shown a real gift for these. Let them have a look at the EMI Melodiya LP of the Arensky and Scriabin piano concertos ... a real showstopper.

Rob Barnett

***

Discovery of the Month
Philip van WILDER (c.1500-1554)
Complete Sacred Music and Chansons
Philip van WILDER Ite missa est … Deo gratias [1:03]
JOSQUIN des Prés Homo quidam [2:48]
Philip van WILDER Homo quidam [3:30]
Pater noster [3:29]
Thomas TALLIS Sancte Deus [4:19]
Philip van WILDER Sancte Deus [6:14]
Nicolas GOMBERT Amy, souffrez [2:32]
Philip van WILDER Amy, souffrez [2:47]
O doux regard [2:48]
Je file quand dieu me donne de quoy [1:18]
Pour vous aymer [2:06]
Amour me poingt, et si je me veulx plaindre [2:42]
Thomas CAUSTON Turn thou us [3:10]
Philip van WILDER Shall I despair thus suddenly? [2:01]
Thomas TALLIS O sacrum convivium [2:48]
Blessed are those that be undefiled [3:24]
Philip van WILDER Blessed art thou that fearest God [2:22]
William BYRD If in thine heart [2:35]
Philip van WILDER Vidi civitatem [6:21]
Non est qui/Non nobis, Domine [1:35]
Aspice Domine [6:00]
William BYRD Aspice Domine [4:19]
Ne irascaris / Civitas sancti tui [6:21]
Cantores/David Allinson – rec. 2006 and 2007. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
First recordings of most of the van Wilder and some other works
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0198 [76:50] – from toccataclassics.com (mp3 and lossless)

Toccata Classics continue to do us proud at both ends of the musical time scale – from Philip van Wilder to Matthew Taylor, with Giacomo Facco in-between – with a number of recordings, any one of which could well have been my Discovery of the Month. I’m indebted to the booklet for details of a composer whom I had never even heard of – there is one recording of two of the chansons (An Emerald in a Work of Gold: Music from the Down Partbooks, Delphian DCD34115) and one of Blessed Art Thou (Alto ALC4001review).

Philip van Wilder was a Dutch lutenist and composer who became Henry VIII’s favourite musician. Although a major figure in his own day (and also comfortably off), he has passed almost unnoticed from musical history. This recording sets him in historical context: downstream from Josquin and Gombert, collaborating with Tallis and a formative influence on Byrd. I’m delighted to be introduced to his music and the decision to place it in context was particularly apt, though I have to be a sour-puss and express some reservations.

Cantores is a choir formed from graduates of Exeter University by Dr David Allison which meets several times a year for specific projects, specialising in the music of the Renaissance. Their singing is attractive and stylish, but the programme invites the inevitable comparisons with others in Josquin, Tallis and Byrd and I think they suffer somewhat in that comparison.

In most of the familiar music I felt that David Allinson was pressing the pace a little too hard and comparative timings with recordings by the Tallis Scholars, New College, Oxford, Chappelle du Roi and Alamire reveal that Cantores are significantly and consistently faster, sometimes by almost 30%. As a result the words sometimes become less than ideally clear – a particular problem with the English texts where Cranmer insisted on clarity – and the polyphony sometimes becomes a wall of sound in which it’s hard to distinguish the parts. That’s not, I think, the fault of the diction or the recording, which is clear though a mite close. That reservation about tempo applies to van Wilder’s setting of Blessed art thou: a somewhat rushed 2:22 against a grander-sounding 3:02 on the Magdalen College recording on Alto ALC4001. The Magdalen boys’ voices also add a more ethereal touch to the music.

I would suggest that you try tracks 2 (Josquin), 5, 15-16 (Tallis), 22 and 23 (Byrd) yourself when the album appears on Naxos Music Library and compare them with other recordings there, except that I don’t want my reservations to spoil the fun. It’s not a serious problem when I think the new recording still very much worth having for the sake of its premiere versions of all the van Wilder music and the Causton Turn thou us.

Recording of the Month
Monteverdi: Heaven and Earth
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)

Toccata (Orfeo) [0:39]
Ritornello and Dal mio Permesso (Orfeo) [6:36]
Zefiro torna (Scherzi musicali, 1632) [5:18]
Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben (Seventh Book of Madrigals) [5:52]
Chiome d’oro (Seventh Book of Madrigals) [3:05]
A Dio, Roma (L’Incoronazione di Poppea) [4:06]
A Dio, Florida bella (Sixth Book of Madrigals) [4:14]
Interotte speranze (Seventh Book of Madrigals) [3:23]
Lamento d’Arianna ‘Lasciatemi morire’ (Sixth Book of Madrigals) [2:18]
Possente spirto (Orfeo) [9:29]
O come sei gentile (Seventh Book of Madrigals) [5:00]
Lamento della Ninfa (Eighth Book of Madrigals) [6:24]
Cruda Amarilli (Fifth Book of Madrigals) [2:58]
Hor che’l ciel, e la terra (Eighth Book of Madrigals) [8:49]
Carolyn Sampson, Rebecca Outram, Julie Cooper (soprano)
Sarah Connolly, Diana Moore (mezzo)
Charles Daniels, John Bowen, James Gilchrist (tenor)
Robert Evans, Michael George (bass)
The King’s Consort/Robert King – rec. February 2002. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts and translations included
VIVAT 104 [68:10] – from vivatmusic.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

A warm welcome back to the King’s Consort with their return on release No.4 to their home territory, though I’ve enjoyed the earlier releases on their new label. In fact, it appears that this programme was recorded some time ago, perhaps with the intention of forming a supplement of Monteverdi’s secular music to the Consort’s complete sacred works on Hyperion (four volumes, plus Vespers of 1610). That recording of the Vespers is my favourite, alongside the earlier Andrew Parrott (Virgin Classics, now re-badged as Erato, a first-rate bargain) so I had high expectations of the new release, which features two of the sopranos from that recording.

I was not disappointed, except insofar as the two excerpts from Orfeo and the lament from Poppea made me wish that Robert King would record those works complete. Meanwhile enjoy this selection of ‘heaven and earth’ – the title from the final track – ecstasy and lament, largely taken from the later books of madrigals. Even those who have invested in the Naïve recordings of these works, especially the 3-CD set of Book 8, are not likely to regret the investment.

If I have to say something critical, the cover is a bit unimaginative. The booklet behind that cover is scholarly and informative and the recording, good in mp3, is excellent in 24-bit format. Prices range from £8 to £15.

Mention of complete recordings of Orfeo and Poppea reminds me that there are two very good recordings, one of each, sitting in my ‘to do’ tray. So much download material has come my way recently that they have been unjustly neglected. There will be a more detailed review:

•  l’Orfeo: Charles Daniels, Faye Newton, Taverner Consort and Players/Andrew Parrott – AVIE AV2278 [2 CDs]. Download, with pdf booklet, from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library
•  l’Incoronazione di Poppea: Sonya Yoncheva, Max Emanuel Cencic; le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm VIRGIN 9289919 [2 DVDs]

Giacomo FACCO (1676-1753)
Pensieri Adriarmonici, Concerti à cinque: Volume One – Concertos Nos. 1-6
Concerto à 5 in E minor, Op. 1/1
Concerto à 5 in B flat major, Op.1/2
Concerto à 5 in E major, Op. 1/3
Concerto à 5 in C minor, Op.1/4
Concerto à 5 in A major, Op. 1/5
Concerto à 5 in F major, Op. 1/6
Manuel Zogbi (violin)
Mexican Baroque Orchestra/Miguel Lawrence
Pdf booklet included
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0202 [51:45] – from toccataclassics.com (mp3 and lossless)

What an enterprising label Toccata Classics is; this was going to be my Discovery of the Month but they have beaten themselves to that title with the van Wilder recording (above). We already had some samples of Facco’s concertos from the same performers on a recording made by another enterprising company, Divine Art (Op.1/1 and Op.1/5 on DDA25091 – review) but Toccata have gone further – and the ‘Volume 1’ heading suggests that there’s more to come. That earlier album coupled Facco’s music with that of Vivaldi and lovers of the latter will find much to admire in Facco’s music, too.

The performances are lively – a shade too hard driven at times and not cognisant of period performance practice, but I found that a less serious problem than Johan van Veen writing about the earlier release – review – it’s partly Facco’s fault that there’s less repose than in Vivaldi. You may wish to try it for yourself, however, from Naxos Music Library when it appears there, to see if you are as put off as JvV was by the earlier release. His dislike of the earlier release can to some extent be explained by the not unreasonable use of continuo instruments which would have been more accessible in Mexico at the time when the music was performed there.

Recording, in both mp3 and lossless flac, is good – I tried both – and the notes in the booklet are helpful. This is well worth making a voyage of discovery to hear; if you don’t want to download, MusicWeb International have Toccata Classics CDs on sale for £10.50 post free.

There’s a recording of the second set of these concerti, Op.1/7-12 on the Pavane label (ADW7434) and the performances there, though again not particularly heedful of period practice, are somewhat more stylish and restful than those on Toccata – classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream Naxos Music Library.

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)

Catone in Utica: Dramma per musica RV705 (1737) [2:40:40]
Topi Lehtipuu (tenor) – Catone
Roberta Mameli (soprano) – Cesare
Ann Hallenberg (mezzo) – Emilia
Sonia Prina (alto) – Marzia
Romina Basso (mezzo) – Fulvio
Emoke Baráth (soprano) – Arbace
Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis – rec. Longino, Italy, September 2012. DDD.
pdf booklet with texts and translations included.
NAÏVE OP30545 [3 CDs: 69:25 + 60:11 + 31:23] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream Naxos Music Library

For details see my joint review with Geoffrey Molyneux of the CD set. (But NB: you may find the CDs at a lower price than COL’s £23.97 – target in the UK £19.42.)

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1724)
Marie-Nicole Lemieux (alto) - Giulio Cesare
Karina Gauvin (soprano) - Cleopatra
Romina Basso (mezzo) - Cornelia
Emoke Barath (soprano) - Sesto
Filippo Mineccia (counter-tenor) - Tolomeo
Johannes Weisser (baritone) - Achilla
Milena Storti (mezzo) - Nireno
Gianluca Buratto (bass) - Curio
Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
NAÏVE OP30536 [3 CDs: 3:40:31] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, no booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library (with booklet containing texts and translations).

( Recording of the Month – see review.)

I’ve been admiring Alan Curtis’s recordings of three baroque operas recently, two of which were rarities: Handel’s Giove in Argo (Virgin) – look out for a review on the main MusicWeb International pages or, if you can’t wait, be assured that it’s first-rate – and Vivaldi’s Catone in Utica (Naïve, above). Giulio Cesare is no rarity and the market, on CD and DVD is highly competitive, but this new recording is up there with the very best, for all the reasons given in Simon Thompson’s review to which I’ve given a link.

There’s a surprise right at the beginning, with the opening of the Sinfonia taken much faster than usual – as Alan Curtis writes in the booklet, there’s no firm evidence to regard such pieces as in the French style, but it certainly makes the listener sit up and take notice if you’re used to, say, the René Jacobs recording (see below). I don’t wish to suggest, however, that you are likely to be shaking your head in disagreement; far from it – whatever you may think of the argument, and I’m no Handel scholar to say yea or nay, the performance will take you along with it all the way that Sinfonia to the finale.

The singing is first-rate, but look elsewhere for a counter-tenor Cesare, perhaps to Andreas Scholl on the Harmonia Mundi DVD (below). One reservation: the eclassical.com price of $39.20 is barely, if at all, competitive with the price of the CD set in the UK – target price at the time of writing, ignoring short-term offers, £20.21.

If you don’t already have the René Jacobs recording you may wish to consider adding the highlights from that set: Harmonia Mundi HMA1951458, just £5.99 from classicsonline.com or stream from Naxos Music Library.

Göran Forsling thought Natalie Dessay’s recording of eight of Cleopatra’s arias, with le Concert d’Astrée and Emmanuelle Haïm (Virgin , now Erato) a highly attractive addition to a complete recording – review. It’s yours for £3.99 from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk or stream from Naxos Music Library.

Fans of opera in English and of the incomparable Dame Janet Baker will need no urging to obtain her recording with Valerie Masterson, John Tomlinson, Sarah Walker, Sir Charles Mackerras and the ENO (Chandos CHAN3019 – from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless; highlights CHAN3072 – from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless). The complete set is very good value at £10.00 (mp3) or £15.99 (lossless); both versions come with the pdf booklet. See February 2010 DL Roundup.

If you want a DVD version, either instead of or to supplement an audio-only recording, two that I know are well worth hearing:

•  William Christie, with Sarah Connolly and a show-stealing Danielle de Niese (Glyndebourne, Opus Arte, also on blu-ray) – review
•  Lars Ulrik Mortensen, with Andreas Scholl and Inger Dam-Jensen (Harmonia Mundi, Recording of the Month) – review

George Frideric HANDEL Aci, Galatea e Polifemo
Roberta Invernizzi (soprano) – Aci
Blandine Staskiewicz (mezzo) – Galatea
Lisandro Abadie (bass) – Polifemo
La Risonanza/Fabio Bonizzoni (harpsichord) – rec. 25-30 June 2012. DDD
Pdf booklet with text and translation included
GLOSSA GCD921515 [2 CDS: 89:57] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, not to be confused with the later English-texted Acis and Galatea, is a serenata which he composed in Rome at the age of 23. The plot, derived from Ovid, is the same as in the later work but the music and (Italian) text are completely different. In brief, the nymph Galatea is loved by the shepherd Acis and reciprocates his love, but not that of the giant Polyphemus, who grows increasingly insistent in pressing his suit. In a jealous rage, Polyphemus destroys Acis by hurling a huge rock at him. The gods take pity on Galatea and allow her to merge in the sea with Acis, now transformed into a river.

We already had a CD recording from Emmanuelle Haïm (Virgin, now Erato – download from classicsonline.com, mp3) which I liked and a DVD (Dynamic) which I hated because of the ‘balletic’ antics and the fact that each of the soloists has a double. The new recording is very good indeed – I thought Ms. Staskiewicz’s Galatea marginally less good than the other two soloists – and the fact that it’s available in lossless sound at no extra price and comes with a pdf booklet is an added attraction. The recording, though rounded off with a short extract from one of Handel’s Roman cantatas, is rather short, but that’s reflected in the eclassical.com price – allowing for £/$ conversion that’s slightly less than you could pay for the Haïm.

Subscribers to Naxos Music Library can compare the Haïm and Bonizzoni recordings there.

Handel later recycled Polifemo’s familiar Ruddier than the cherry from the English Acis back into Italian as Avampo … ferito son d’amore and this features in a fine recital of music associated with one of Handel’s most famous singers:

o HARMONIA MUNDI HMU90716
: Arias for Montagnana: (bass arias from Ezio, Sosarme, Esther, Tolomeo, Orlando, Deborah and Athaliah). David Thomas (bass) with Philharmonia Baroque/Nicholas McGegan. from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless). There’s no booklet of texts, but it’s Hobson’s choice, with the CD (and its booklet) not currently available. The cover depicts the Covent Garden riot of 1726 – opera could be as rowdy as football back then.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Music for clarinet

Clarinet Concerto in A, K622* [27:05]
Clarinet Trio in E flat, K498 Kegelstatt-Trio** [18:55]
Allegro in B flat for clarinet, 2 violins, viola and cello, KAnh.91^ (516c) [7:40]
Martin Fröst (basset clarinet and clarinet)
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen*
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)**, Janine Jansen (violin)^, Antoine Tamestit (viola)**, Boris Brovtsyn (violin)^, Maxim Rysanov (viola)^ and Torleif Thedéen (cello)^
– rec. July 2012 and February 2013. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-1893 [53:40] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless).
Also available as hybrid SACD.

Martin Fröst already had a well-liked recording of the Clarinet Concerto and Quintet under his belt for BIS, with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta (BIS-SACD-1623), also available from eclassical.com, but I’m glad that he’s given the concerto a second go.

Only an inseparable attachment to one of the classic recordings of the concerto, such as the two which introduced me to its delights – Gervase de Peyer (Decca, with Anthony Collins, Eloquence 4803608, also Beulah 1BX45, or with Peter Maag, Eloquence 4767404)* or Jack Brymer (EMI, with Sir Thomas Beecham, apparently no longer available on CD!)** would militate against this very fine new recording. Add the use of the basset instrument for which the concerto was conceived, the equally delightful Clarinet Trio, with a starry line-up of helpers, and the attractive Allegro and this release merits a strong endorsement. Further add a very good recording, especially in 24-bit sound – the mp3 sound is pretty good, too – and a price that takes account of the fairly short playing time.

If you want Fröst’s version of the Quintet without the earlier recording of the Concerto, it’s possible to purchase those tracks separately. Otherwise there’s always the classic Alfred Boskovsky/Vienna Octet recording of the Quintet in a good transfer from Beulah (11-14BX168).

Thea King, with Jeffrey Tate, also employs the basset clarinet with its deeper range in very fine accounts of the Concerto and Quintet on Hyperion CDA66199 or CDA30010Hyperion at 30 Download Roundup.

* Also with Horn Concertos 1 and 3, from Discover Classical, see September 2012/1 Roundup.
** Download from classicsonline.com with Bassoon Concerto and Symphony No.41 – here – or with Bassoon Concerto and Violin Concerto No.3 – here – both at £4.99. Stream the coupling with the Symphony from Naxos Music Library.

I’d barely written the above when along came another recording of the Clarinet Quintet:

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART

Clarinet Quintet in A, K581 [31:42]
String Quartet No.15 in d minor, K421 [26:56]
Jörg Widmann (clarinet); Arcanto Quartett (Antje Weithaas (violin); Daniel Sepec (violin); Tabea Zimmermann (viola)
Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello))
Pdf booklet included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902168 [58:38] – from eclassical.com (mp3, a6– and 24-bit lossless)

I’ve sung the praises of the Arcanto Quartett in Schubert’s String Quintet below, but I understand that this is their first venture into Mozart. It’s certainly an auspicious start, with one of the best versions of the Quintet coupled with a good performance of the Quartet K421.

With so many fine recordings of the Quintet and fewer but equally fine accounts of the Quartet, it’s impossible to have this as a Best Buy. These straightforward performances don’t offer any new insights into the music – that’s probably impossible at this stage – but they certainly aren’t routine. With good recording, especially in 24-bit format, only a strong preference for period instruments would make me ask you to look elsewhere – to the Quatuor Mosaïques on Naïve E8843, for example, in K421:

•  String Quartet No.14 in G, K387 [34:03]
String Quartet No.15 in d minor, K421 [33:20]
Quatuor Mosaïques
NAÏVE E8843 [67:23] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

•  String Quartet No.17 in B-flat, K458 (Hunt) [35:06]
String Quartet No.16 in E-flat, K428 [37:02]
Quatuor Mosaïques
NAÏVE E8844 [72:08] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

•  The Mosaïques performances of the remaining String Quartets from Mozart’s maturity are available from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library: Nos. 18 and 19 (E8845), 20 and 22 (E8834), 21 and 23 (E8888). All represent excellent alternatives to the Italian Quartet, whose complete set has recently been reissued on Decca Collectors Edition (8 CDs) – from 7digital.com (mp3). Nos. 14-19 and 20-23 remain available from the same source in 3– and 2-CD volumes respectively, but these two volumes together are more expensive than the 8-disc box set.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Divertimento in E flat, K563 (1788) [47:40]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) String Trio in B flat major, D471 (1816) [10:56]
Trio Zimmermann (Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin); Antoine Tamestit (viola); Christian Poltéra (cello)) – rec. July 2009 (Mozart) and July 2010 (Schubert). DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included
BIS BIS-SACD-1817 [59:25] – from eclassical.com (mp3 16– and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

( ‘Beautifully presented and recorded this impressive disc will prove a most worthwhile addition to any chamber music collection.’ See review of hybrid SACD by Michael Cookson.)

Alternative recordings:

•  Divertimento in E-flat, K563 [47:00]; String Trio in G, KAnh. 66 (K. 562e) [3:56]
Henning Kraggerud (violin); Lars Anders Tomter (viola); Christoph Richter (cello)
NAXOS 8.572258 [50:56] – from classicsonline.com (mp3 and lossless) – see December 2010 Roundup.
This recording has developed a proper cover, a CD equivalent, a pdf booklet and availability in lossless flac since I reviewed it.

•  Divertimento in E-flat, K563 [45:34]; Duo for violin and viola in B-flat, K424 [21:25]
Leopold String Trio – rec. November 2000. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67246 [66:59] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless) (see review by Christopher Howell.)

There’s an embarrassment of choices here: the purse-proud should probably go for the Naxos and those who must have 24-bit sound need the BIS recording, while the Hyperion represents the most music for your money and an all-Mozart programme. All three performances are so good that otherwise I find it hard to plump. This is some of Mozart’s greatest chamber music – you would hardly imagine that it was written for a friend to cover a loan to the perennially-hard-up composer and its length belies the title Divertimento.

The Lyrichord Years - Volume 1

Music for musical clock by BEETHOVEN, HAYDN and MOZART arranged for winds by W SKOWRONEK.
Soni Ventorum Wind Quintet – rec. 1964. ADD
pdf booklet included
LYRICHORD LYRCD6018 [65:50] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream Naxos Music Library

This is at once much more enjoyable and less exotic than the words ‘musical clock’ in the title, also known as the mechanical organ, may suggest. If you enjoy Mozart’s Wind Serenades, you should enjoy this collection; the arrangements are skilful, the performances attractive and the recordings newly spruced up and sounding fresh in these new transfers, originally released in the UK on two Oryx LPs. Failing the reconstruction of the Esterházy clocks, this will do nicely, but try first from Naxos Music Library if you’re not sure – it hadn’t yet appeared there when I checked but it surely will soon.

The Lyrichord Years - Volume 2
Anton REICHA (1770-1836)
Wind Quintet in e minor, Op.100/4 [28:51]
Franz DANZI Wind Quintet in D, Op.56/3 [19:22]
Soni Ventorum Wind Quintet – rec. 1969. ADD
pdf booklet included
LYRICHORD LYRCD6020 [48:13] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

As with Volume 1, this is territory that hasn’t been visited too often by the recording companies – the Reicha is available, as far as I can see, only on a Naxos recording and a CPO 10-CD set. There’s a New Classical Adventure omnium gatherum of all the Danzi Wind Quintets, this time on three discs.

Not essential repertoire, then, but it’s fun to step off the beaten track.

Soni Ventorum also had a US recording of music by Cambini (b.1746) – not available in the UK, I think – perhaps Lyrichord could brush that up for us, too.

Recording of the Month
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

String Quartet No.14, D810 (Death and the Maiden) [37:50]
String Quintet in C, D956 (Op.163) [53:51]
Pavel Haas Quartet, with Danjulo Ishizaka (cello)
SUPRAPHON SU41102 [37:50 + 53:51] – from emusic.com (mp3)

Can players so young perfectly capture the valedictory mood of the dying Schubert? On the basis of this recording, emphatically yes – especially when we remember that it was the young dying Schubert who wrote the wonderful String Quintet. Though the work is suffused with a melancholy that can easily be over-emphasised, these performances have reminded me, if I needed reminding, of Schubert’s debt in his late chamber works and piano sonatas to Beethoven’s late quartets and sonatas with their abrupt changes of tempo and mood, as in the transition in the adagio slow movement of the String Quintet from E major to f minor.

In particular, I don’t think I had realised how that slow movement and andante trio of the third movement of the Quintet, far from being mournful or even resigned, are Schubert’s equivalent of Beethoven’s Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, his song of praise for deliverance from illness, in his Quartet No.15, Op.132. We know that Schubert had been studying its predecessor, Op.131.

I’d forgotten that Arthur Hutchings, in his Faber Master Musicians book on Schubert mentions the Heiliger Dankgesang in connection with the Death and the Maiden Quartet, another reason why the coupling of the two works by Supraphon seems appropriate even though it means resorting to the awkward 2-CD format for music that only slightly spills over the bounds of a single disc.

I hesitated slightly about the Recording of the Month accolade because I can imagine that some listeners with a slightly different perspective will find the dramatic performances of the fast movements too forceful or think there’s too little pathos in the slow movements. For that reason I suggest that you try it out for yourself if you can. There are plenty of very fine alternatives, though none coupled as here, and none that I think preferable.

Just of those that I’ve reviewed for MusicWeb International in one form or another, all except the Hyperion at budget price, you might like to consider:

•  Regis RRC1278: Aeolian Quartet (String Quintet with MOZART Divertimento, K136) – review. Download from classicsonline.com (mp3) for £4.99 or stream from Naxos Music Library
•  Classics for Pleasure 2282822: Chilingirian Quartet (String Quintet with Lieder: Janet Baker) – review. Not all dealers seem to stock this, so you may have to search. Classicsonline.com offer an mp3 download for £3.99 and it’s available for streaming from Naxos Music Library.
•  Hyperion CDA67864: Takács Quartet with Ralph Kirshbaum (cello) (String Quintet and Quartettsatz) – 2012/23 DL News. from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)
•  Hyperion CDA67585 or CDA30019: Takács Quartet (String Quartets 13 and 14) – review and December 2009 Download Roundup. from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)
•  Warner Apex 2564674298: Borodin Quartet (Quartet No.14 with SCHUMANN Piano Quintet, Sviatoslav Richter) – August 2011/1 Download Roundup
•  Beulah 17-20BX152: Busch Quartet (Quartets 8, 14 and 15 with Piano Trio No.2) – historic performances from the 1930s given a new lease of life: see October 2011/1 DL Roundup. Available from iTunes as 2-3PD52. (The single release of Quartet No.14 seems to be no longer available).

The recording is rather close but not unduly so – it serves to emphasise the dramatic sections, especially those arresting opening chords of the Quartet. All in all, this is looking like a strong candidate for one of my Recordings of the Year.

At the risk of muddying the waters, I should add that those in search of a recording of the String Quintet which stresses Schubert’s debt to his classical predecessors rather than the supposedly personal and romantic side of the music will find a recent Harmonia Mundi recording (recorded December 2010 and released in 2012) more to their liking:

o HMC902106
: Arcanto Quartett with Olivier Marron (cello) [52:37] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

In emphasising the more classical leanings of this version I emphatically don’t wish to suggest that it’s in any way lacking in power or emotional content. The playing is first-rate and the recording excellent, especially in 24-bit lossless; I also, as usual, tried the mp3 and that, too, is very good of its kind.

Basic repertoire
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Messa da Requiem

If the Britten War Requiem which I surveyed last time is a modern classic, the Verdi and the Mozart Requiems are even more fully established in the repertoire. I started with two versions of the Verdi that I regard as good – satisfying but not outstanding:

•  Lyrichord LYRCD6008 (2 CDs) – available from classicsonline.com (mp3) or for streaming from Naxos Music Library, both with pdf booklet. Accomplished performance and decent singing, such as you might enjoy in a concert but might not wish to hear regularly. A little lacking in the operatic oomph that has given the Verdi Requiem a bad name in some quarters but is an essential part of it appeal for me. Short value, too, in spreading a 78-minute performance across two discs.

•  Naxos 8.550944/45 (2 CDs with Quattro Pezzi Sacri) directed by Pier Giorgio Mirandi – available from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library. Anyone looking for a very decent budget recording might well consider this recording, which also offers a decent coupling of the Pezzi Sacri. More music than the Lyrichord for two thirds of the price.

Using these as my benchmarks for good run-of-the-mill versions – rather better than that in the case of the Naxos – leaves me in no doubt that the recordings listed below pack more punch and would, for various reasons, be the top of my desert island selection:

•  Warner (EMI) Masters 0852192: Carlo Maria Giulini’s classic EMI performance with the Philharmonia and a superb group of soloists in its latest guise. For a review of the earlier 1997 re-mastering see October 2009: Download of the Month. The lossless version from passionato.com is no longer available but there’s a good mp3 release on classicsonline.com, now re-labelled as Warner Parlophone. The recording problems apparent on LP have almost been eliminated now, apart from some very occasional congestion and, with Quattro Pezzi Sacri as coupling, this is well worth seeking out, especially as, at £6.99, it’s even less expensive than the Naxos, though there’s no booklet. All in all, this is still my top choice, though not all my MusicWeb International colleagues would agree.

•  BBC Legends 4029-2 (2 CDs, with Vespri Siciliani Overture and SCHUBERT Mass No.6 in E flat, D950). Giulini recorded this version a short time before the EMI and it, too, is very well worth considering, especially as it’s available in good lossless flac for the same price as mp3 and with pdf booklet from eclassical.com. One small mark deducted for referring to this as by Giuliani, a composer in no way involved here.

•  Warner (EMI) 6989362: my reservations about the very wide dynamic range of the recording didn’t prevent me from making Antonio Pappano’s version Recording of the Month in June 2010 and this remains the modern recording to have. Classicsonline.com were offering it in mp3 at an absurdly inexpensive £2.99 when I checked – if they still are, snap it up, even if you already have one of the Giulini recordings. No booklet with this, though the text of the Latin Requiem is not hard to come by, and there’s no coupling.

•  CHANDOS CHAN9490: Richard Hickox’s 1995 recording with the LSO and Chorus fits on a single CD or download, comes with pdf booklet and is available in lossless sound as well as mp3, thus offering strong competition to the Pappano among modern recordings. From theclassicalshop.net.

•  Naxos 8.110159: at almost the opposite end of the time scale, Tullio Serafin’s 1939 recording with Gigli has been reissued on a single disc – download in mp3 and lossless from eclassical.com ($13.11) or in mp3, with pdf booklet, from classicsonline.com (£4.99) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Aïda

I ought to attempt a ‘basic repertoire’ listing for Aïda but I fear I might set too many cats among the pigeons in the process, so I’ll content myself with a few very selective pointers.

•  Herbert von Karajan’s 1979 recording for EMI with Mirella Freni, José Carreras, Agnes Baltsa, Piero Cappuccilli and the VPO, has been around the block a few times, most recently at budget price (3818772), though apparently currently unavailable on CD: the least expensive download is from amazon.co.uk at £7.49, a good transfer though not at the highest bit-rate. Checking tracks at random, they ranged from 221 to 239kb/s; it really is time that Amazon caught up with the opposition and put everything out at 320kb/s. A safe recommendation at an attractive price. If you want 320kb/s that’s available for just a little more (£9.99) from classicsonline.com; don’t go for their download of the earlier CD release for £19.99. I’d supplement this recording with Celeste Aïda from the greatest Italian tenor who wasn’t Italian, inexpensively available on The Very Best of Jussi Björling: a 2-CD set, £5.99 from classicsonline.com. Robert J Farr highlights the problems attendant on Karajan’s use of lighter voices for the main roles in his review – Carreras is certainly no match for Björling – but I enjoyed listening to this recording again.

•  Jussi Björling fans – I’m definitely one – will need his RCA recording from the 1950s, with Zinka Milanov, Fedora Barbieri, Leonard Warren, Boris Christoff, the Rome Opera and Jonel Perlea, a splendid bargain from Discover Classical Music, £1.68 for members from emusic.com or £2.99 from amazon.co.uk – Bargain of the Month in February 2012/1 Roundup.

•  I’m no fan of Maria Callas, but her mono recording with Fedora Barbieri, Tito Gobbi, Richard Tucker, la Scala and Tullio Serafin is an exception that I’m happily prepared to make. See July 2010 Roundup for my reaction. Ignore the link to Passionato – no longer in the download business – and download from classicsonline.com. The CD set still seems to be unavailable in the UK but Naxos Historical have a transfer from LPs, 8.111240/41; download with booklet from classicsonline.com - but not available in the US, Australia and several other countries.

•  Sir Georg Solti’s recording with Leontyne Price, Robert Merrill, Rita Gorr, Jon Vickers and the Rome Opera is a very attractive bargain proposition on a Decca twofer at £7.49 from 7music.com or in later Decca Opera guise for the same price, again from 7music.com. I was going to suggest obtaining the highlights from this set if you have another complete recording, but, thanks to crazy pricing, that comes at the same price.

•  A very definite NO, I fear, for the only DVD/blu-ray that I’ve seen: a watery production from the Bregenz Festival, more gimmick than I can take – I said it all in my review.

Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)

Symphony No.9 in d minor (1891-1896, ed. Nowak, with completed fourth movement)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Simon Rattle – rec. live. February 2012. DDD
WARNER 9529692 (9529695 in USA) [82:10] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library
( Download of the Month – see June 2012/2 DL Roundup)

There has been so much written already as to the reasons why the ninth symphony was left incomplete, and indeed much speculation as to whether the composer might have preferred to have left the work without a fourth movement, that I will confine myself to a few words about my own personal reactions to this music and its performance.

The first movement is given a magisterial performance by Rattle and his forces. The recording copes well with the huge dynamic range involved and is very impressive indeed. However the opening tremolando in the strings, marked to be played pianissimo is barely audible, and this happens again further on when it is marked ppp. Bruckner asks for this music to be played misterioso and maybe Klemperer achieves that more successfully. His tremolandi bring a mysterious but also a menacing quality to the opening, and every note can be clearly heard, a bit like the opening of his recording of Beethoven’s ninth. The recording of Klemperer’s great and craggy performance sounds a bit dated now and his orchestra of the time did not have the finesse of Rattle’s Berlin Philharmonic. Rattle pulls back the big sustained melodic lines to allow them space to breath, yet his performance never feels slow and he always maintains tension and momentum. In fact Rattle takes 24 minutes but Giulini takes 28 minutes, and Giulini’s sustained melodies are even more expansive. Rattle brings the first movement’s huge final climax to an expansive and breath-taking conclusion. This must be one of the grandest climaxes in all music and on rehearing Giulini at this point, I feel that he manages this even better. Giulini saves the last ounce of crescendo for the final couple of bars making the final lonesome crotchet seem more effectively part of the final culmination.

I also have a preference for Giulini in the appearances of the terrifying fortissimo main motif of the Scherzo. Giulini’s ensemble is so tight and focused whereas Rattle’s strings down bows are just a tad too long and lumbering. But it is all a matter of taste! Rattle’s is also a towering performance.

Rattle gives a fine and deeply moving account of the third movement Adagio, Langsam, feierlich. His performance is a few minutes quicker than Klemperer’s, and Rattle is a full 5 minutes faster than Giulini. I think this more flowing tempo helps us to feel that this movement is no longer to be regarded as the finale to Bruckner’s ninth. Norrington, of course, is even quicker, but I think that this conductor does not really have a feel for music of this period, and I felt the same about his performance of Mahler’s ninth at the Proms last year.

The opening of the fourth movement seems very Wagnerian before reaching more authentic Brucknerian sounds and moods. But it is very convincing, in true Bruckner style and using the composer’s own material. I feel a bit uncomfortable with the short reference to music from the first movement towards the end, and wonder whether it was intended by Bruckner that this should be recapitulated here. The conclusion is truly magnificent and overwhelming, a great achievement by Simon Rattle, and of course by the orchestra which has been steeped in this period of music since the days of Herbert Von Karajan.

The problem for me is that I grew up to know and love this symphony from my student days as a three movement work. All the great conductors maintained that the Adagio made for a fitting and totally convincing conclusion to the work both emotionally and intellectually. I have heard many performances live and recorded and certainly came to believe this to be true. A few weeks ago I heard the Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Rome under Antonio Pappano give a truly splendid account of the first three movements. Unfortunately he followed it with Verdi’s Four Sacred Pieces, wonderful music, but surely better to finish the concert with the Bruckner, either the traditional ending or with the completed fourth movement. However the fourth movement here recorded still seems to me like an additional but glorious appendage to a masterpiece which is already complete. Maybe on repeated hearings over a period of time I will change my mind! I have similar feelings about the completion by Anthony Payne of Elgar’s third symphony. It was a great experience to hear this realisation for the first time and I now have several excellent recorded performances of that piece. But as time goes on and as much as I enjoy it, I cannot get my head round the idea that this is part of the Elgar canon.

So next time I play my favourite recording of the Bruckner ninth by Carlo Maria Giulini and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, I will be interested to discover whether I feel like following it with the fourth movement or am happy just to finish with the Adagio. For a newcomer to this symphony, Rattle’s recording must surely be the recommended, benchmark version. The four movement work may well sound quite natural to someone who does not know the symphony in its three movement form.

Rattle’s fine performance stands up there with the best of them, and it is superbly recorded too.

Geoffrey Molyneux

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concertos
Cello Concerto in b minor Op.104 [39:25]
Lasst mich allein Op 82/1 (arranged for orchestra by B LEOPOLD) [4:22]
Cello Concerto in b minor (original ending) Op.104 [1:32]
Cello Concerto in A, B10, revised and orchestrated by Günter RAPHAEL (1903-1960) [33:54]
Steven Isserlis (cello)
Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Daniel Harding – rec. October 2012. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67917 [79:13] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

I have to confess that I didn’t listen to this with an innocent ear – it had already been made Recording of the Week on BBC Radio 3, but I tried to put that out of mind as I listened. What were less easy to put out of mind were the unconscious echoes of classic performances lurking in my unconscious, especially as it’s not long ago that I last listened to the budget reissue of the classic Mstislav Rostropovich/Vaclav Talich recording of the b minor, decently cleaned up, though by no means modern-sounding (Regis RRC1368review and review) as well as the mid-price Raphael Wallfisch; LSO/Charles Mackerras recording which I nominated as my personal choice (Chandos CHAN10715, with DohnányiAugust 2012/1 Roundup).

This new recording sweeps the Rostropovich/Talich aside sound-wise, recorded by Supraphon in mono in the dim dark early 1950s – even then the sound was not ideal – and the availability of very fine 24-bit sound makes it preferable in that one respect even to the Wallfisch, which comes in mp3 and 16-bit lossless only, though, at £4.99 the mp3 is less expensive than the Hyperion. (At £7.99 each the 16-bit versions are equally priced, with the 24-bit Hyperion at £13.99).

In performance terms the choice is less clear, with Steven Isserlis and Raphael Wallfisch both so good that I find it hard to choose. Coupling could be your deciding factor: Hyperion have the youthful First Cello Concerto, no great shakes but more palatable in this revised and shortened edition than the recording (also with Cello Concerto No.2) on Naxos. The inclusion of the original ending of the b minor concerto and the tune which crops up in the second and third movements is a bonus, but the Dohnányi coupling on Chandos also possesses a strong appeal.

There’s another version with a unique appeal that I have yet to mention: on Virgin (now Erato) Gautier Capuçon and Paavo Järvi couple the mature Dvořák concerto with the Victor Herbert Cello Concerto which was in many ways its inspiration (5190352review and 2012/24 DL News). Any one of the three recent recordings could be my choice when I wish to hear the Dvořák concerto again, with coupling the deciding factor. I wouldn’t wish to jettison the Rostropovich/Talich either.

As usual, I tried the new Hyperion recording in mp3 as well as 24-bit lossless and it sounds very well in that format, too.

Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)

Symphony No.2 in E flat, Op.63 [50:49]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tannhäuser Overture and Venusberg Music* [23:34]
*BBC Chorus
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult – rec. Royal Albert Hall, London, 24 July 1977 (Elgar); Studio 1, BBC Maida Vale, 8 December 1968 (Wagner) ADD/Stereo
Pdf booklet included
ICA CLASSICS ICAC5106 [74:23] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

There already were plenty of recordings of Sir Adrian Boult conducting Elgar’s second symphony, but this, made at the Proms during his Indian Summer, adds the frisson of a live performance and the BBC recording is little if at all inferior to the EMI studio recordings, even in the 320kb/s mp3 transfer. If you must have lossless sound, you’ll need to wait for eclassical.com to add it to their roster of ICA Classics recordings, but that usually means having to forgo the booklet.

ICA now have three very worthwhile Boult recordings of Elgar; this joins ICAC5019 (BRAHMS First Symphony; ELGAR Enigma) and ICAC5063 (BRAHMS Third Symphony; ELGAR First Symphony).

Classicsonline.com also have Boult’s EMI recordings of the two symphonies, In the South, Introduction and Allegro and Serenade in e minor, now re-badged as Warner Parlophone (2 CDs for £6.99 – here).

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)

Symphony No.7 in e minor
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/Markus Stenz – rec. June 2012. DDD
Pdf booklet included
• OEHMS CLASSICS OC652 [73:30] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

I’d let earlier releases in Markus Stenz’s Mahler symphony cycle pass by me, despite their having been reviewed mostly favourably by my MusicWeb International colleagues – see, for example, John Quinn’s round-up of Nos. 2, 4, 5 and des Knaben Wunderhornhere. The award of Recording of the Month to the Seventh – not on MusicWeb International – made me listen to this latest release in the hope that Stenz and his team might convince me that this is a less episodic work than I had thought: full of very good things but not really hanging together.

Alas, in the final analysis I still found this something of a bumpy ride with lots of gear changes, but that’s Mahler’s fault rather than Stenz’s. Where Mahler is good – very good in the beautiful second movement,the first Nachtmusik – Stenz makes him sound especially good and he’s very well supported by the orchestra and recording engineers.

Gergiev with the LSO (LSO Live LSO0665) is even faster than Stenz, though the latter gets plenty of power where it’s needed. I rather liked Gergiev when I reviewed his Sixth and Seventh – here – and I’m not sure that he doesn’t offer a better choice, though the mp3 sound from emusic.com is no match for the eclassical.com download of the Oehms recording, either in mp3 or in lossless flac.

You may also wish to consider Leonard Bernstein’s first recording (CBS, now Sony), available for £3.99 from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk – dated sound but a very fine performance – and Klaus Tennstedt with the LPO (BBC Legends BBCL4224-2); a good performance but running to two CDs, oddly coupled with Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. Subscribers to Naxos Music Library can sample Stenz, Gergiev, Tennstedt and Jonathan Nott (Tudor 7176).

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op.30 (1895-1896) [34:59]
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 (1894-1895) [15:54]
Don Juan, Op. 20 (1888-1889) [18:39]
Berliner Philharmoniker/Gustavo Dudamel
rec. Philharmonie, Berlin, April 2012 (Zarathustra), January & February 2013 (Till & Don Juan)
Pdf booklet included
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4791041 [69:32] – from Qobuz.com (16-bit lossless & 24/96 Studio Master)

I cut my teeth on Karajan’s first DG Zarathustra, a recording that I revisited on CD recently. As so often in such cases I was dismayed by the bright, aggressive sound, which had seemed so intoxicating on LP. Admittedly it’s the Strauss tone poem that I listen to least of all – probably a reaction to overexposure all those years ago – although some of that early excitement was rekindled by the excellent high-res re-mastering of Steinberg’s classic DG/Boston account (review). Given that DG trailed the Dudamel version on Twitter for weeks – if not months – and that Qobuz was offering a high-res pre-order for a pittance, I decided to give it a whirl.

The nay-sayers – and there are many – insist that Gustavo Dudamel is just a product of DG’s hyperactive marketing department, along with the likes of Lang Lang, and dismiss his recordings without further ado. I might have been tempted to do the same but for those unforgettable Bolivar Proms in 2007 and 2011, not to mention a pretty good Rite of Spring (review) and a superb Mahler 8 (review). That said, even I won’t try and defend his dismal Mahler 5 and 9; indeed, Dudamel’s account of the latter is one of the most dispiriting I’ve ever encountered.

As I suggested in another context – my review of Jonathan Nott’s Mahler 6 and 8 – anyone who can produce such a memorable ‘Resurrection’ deserves a second chance. Or even a third. I’d say this Strauss collection is as good a time as any to decide whether the Dude really is destined for the top job in Berlin come 2018. Given the hard sell on social media it’s pretty clear that both the BP and DG are grooming him for the role. The orchestra certainly needs a boost of some kind, for I’ve always felt Rattle’s tenure has done them no favours. Which is why when it comes to Strauss I’d probably choose other bands before the Berlin Phil.

I really had no idea which way this Zarathustra would go, but that spectacular sunrise is usually a good indicator of what’s to come. Oh dear; the organ is nowhere near as powerful as it should be and those great climaxes are unforgivably constricted. This is a 24/96 download, but the original resolution doesn’t appear anywhere in the booklet. Actually it hardly matters, for whatever the numbers this is an unexpectedly rough and unfocused introduction. As for the Berliners they seem to be on autopilot, but Dudamel’s limp direction, over-sweetened strings in ‘Von der großen Sehnsucht’ and all those clumsy joins certainly don’t help.

For all his failings Karajan knew how to knit and shape this strange piece; Steinberg is persuasive too, and he has the added advantages of a warm, natural recording and refined playing from the Bostonians. There are no redeeming features in Dudamel’s Zarathustra, I’m afraid; if anything it just gets worse. ‘Von der Wissenschaft’ sounds glutinous at these sluggish speeds – Karajan, although driven, is clear and thrustful here – while ‘Der Genesende’ comes across as impossibly bumptious. True, Dudamel does screw up the tension at this point and that big climax – underpinned by the organ – does have plenty of heft. That said, if this were Eine Alpensinfonie Dudamel would still be thrashing about in the undergrowth, with no idea of how to reach that elusive summit.

The echt-Viennese rhythms of ‘Das Tanzlied’ are forced and foursquare; even more damaging is Dudamel’s plodding pace throughout. Strauss may have been a first-rate composer of second-rate music, but listening to this Zarathustra one would think that a wildly optimistic assessment. Yes, the Philharmonie isn’t the most grateful acoustic, although DG have managed far more spacious and appealing recordings there than this; the treble is edgy, bass is fuzzy and it all sounds so terribly uncouth.

Ironically DG/Universal’s marketing muscle will ensure this Zarathustra rockets into all the so-called charts, despite its serious shortcomings. Regrettably Dudamel is a cog in that relentless machine, and his detractors will surely point to this debacle in savage triumph. Trying to salvage some dignity and/or credibility I prayed the fillers would be more successful. The warmly expansive and nicely pointed opening to Till raised my spirits somewhat. Happily the recorded balance is vastly improved and the Berliners seem much more alert and characterful too. As for Dudamel, he finds welcome wit and sparkle in this mischievous music.

No, really, this Till isn’t bad at all; it has all the amplitude and detail one could wish, and while it doesn’t displace old favourites it’s a performance I’d be happy to revisit. The biggest surprise is the deep, sonorous recording, which couldn’t be more different from the strained-through-the-sheets sound of that Zarathustra. You see, with a little bit of care the Philharmonie can sound fabulous. Not before time Dudamel salvages his reputation with Till and this now strutting, now seductive Don Juan. Energy, depth and thrust – all so lacking in Zarathustra – are in abundance here, as is that Straussian fecundity and line.

What a pity I didn’t start with the fillers, for they are most persuasively done. If the Berliners can play this well for Dudamel in the future – and he develops as I think he will – we could be in for some great music-making. So, I suggest we draw a veil over that Zarathustra and focus on this fine Till and Don Juan; thankfully, with downloads that’s easily done.

A seriously flawed Zarathustra; Dudamel redeems himself in the fillers though.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

A few recommendations for Zarathustra, all at low prices:

•  Dresden Staatskapelle/Rudolf Kempe, Warner Parlophone (formerly EMI), £2.99 with Till, Tod und Verklärung and Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils from classicsonline.com or £7.99 with the same plus Don Juan, Ein Heldenleben and Rosenkavalier Waltzes, again from classicsonline.com. Classic Strauss performances still sounding well.

•  Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner, RCA/Sony, with Four Last Songs and Act II of Die Frau ohne Schatten (Leontyne Price/Erich Leinsdorf) £2.99 from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk. A classic from 1954 in early but good stereo, now recoupled slightly less logically than on its earlier reincarnation with Heldenleben but excellent value for money, the latter still available for £7.99.

•  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan, DG Originals, with Till, Don Juan and Dance of the Seven Veils, £4.99 from 7digital.com. Generally preferable to the digital remake.

•  Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi, Chandos, available in a confusing selection of 1– and 2-CD couplings, mp3 and lossless. The least expensive 2-CD set is CHAN7011/2, Zarathustra with Don Quixote, Macbeth, Symphonia Domestica and Till Eulenspiegel (£9.00, mp3, or £11.99, lossless). On a single disc, CHAN8538, with Don Juan, £4.99 (mp3) or £7.99 (lossless) [BW]

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Symphony No.9 in e minor (with introductory tribute by Sir Adrian Boult)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
BMG EVEREST [34:52] – availability: see below.

This recording was very special in many ways. Decca, having recorded the eight symphonies in mono (No.8 in stereo) with Boult and the LPO chickened out and refused to record the Ninth, leaving Everest, a small US label, then not widely available in the UK, to complete the task. When World Record Club began to release Everest recordings, this was one of the first that I bought, thus becoming more familiar with this orphan than with the rest of the canon. Sadly, VW died hours before the recording was made, which is why the recording, then and again now, opens with a tribute from Sir Adrian.

Everest recordings seem to pop in and out of the UK catalogue like yo-yos, but I’ve recently received a press release indicating that they will be available again on CD from Amazon, as downloads from iTunes and in lossless form from HD-tracks. At the time of writing only iTunes seem to have this in the UK, for a reasonable £5.99, though at 35 minutes it’s short value; when it last appeared on CD (EVC9001 – review) it was coupled with Malcolm Arnold’s Third Symphony.

I should add, however, that amazon.co.uk are still offering the complete series from Classical Masters for just £4.49 – Decca’s Nos.1-8 and the Everest No.9 – at a very competitive price. The bit-rates are not great – around 230kb/s – but the iTunes re-mastering is not likely to be much higher. Though the streamed version which reached me for review will have been at an even lower rate, the recording still sounds well enough to enjoy the performance.

Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

The Isle of the Dead, Op.29 [21:21]
Symphony No. 1 in d minor, Op.13 [44:57]
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
Pdf booklet included
NAXOS 8.573234 [66:18] – from classicsonline.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

This completes the set of Leonard Slatkin’s Rachmaninov symphony recordings. The other two received rather mixed reviews from my colleagues: No.2 – review and review; No.3 – review.

On the basis of the new recording I’m much more inclined towards the yeas than the nays. It’s true that the Detroit Orchestra don’t sound Russian, but that’s true of Eugene Ormandy’s CBS (Sony) recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra which introduced the First Symphony to me long ago – his earlier mono recording from 1954 is still available from Naxos Classical Archives for £1.99 – and even Russian orchestras don’t sound Russian any more.

If you want these two works together and at budget price the only competitors are elderly: Musical Concepts Alto ALC1032 (Moscow State SO/Pavel Kogan – review) and Regis RRC1247 (USSRSO/Yevgeny Svetlanov). Gianandrea Noseda with the BBC Philharmonic (CHAN10475review) is a little more expensive but he throws in the 10-minute Youth Symphony. All these are well worth considering, but so is the new Naxos recording; it comes in sound as fresh as the Chandos and more modern than the Alto and Regis. It’s available in mp3 or lossless flac from classicsonline.com, but you may not be too happy with their practice of presenting flac as one long file – you have to divide it yourself if you prefer separate files for each work or each movement. Eclassical.com also offer mp3 or flac – separate files for each movement, but, at $11.94, more expensive than the classicsonline.com or even the CD.

Try Slatkin, Kogan and Noseda for yourself in Naxos Music Library if you can. All three bring the house down in the finale, with plenty of fire at the con fuoco opening that used to introduce Panorama on BBC TV; if you press me for a choice it would be Noseda by a very small margin but I also enjoyed the new Slatkin recording and it’s slightly less expensive.

For the First Symphony, coupled with the First Piano Concerto (BIS-SACD-2012), see Dan Morgan and myself in DL News 2013/8. That, too, can be test-driven from Naxos Music Library.

(See also review of CD by Dan Morgan).

Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945) Violin Concerto No. 2 (1938) [38:57]
Peter EÖTVÖS (b. 1944) Seven (2006) [22:58]
György LIGETI (1923-2006) Violin Concerto (1990, rev. 1992) [27:47]
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Peter Eötvös (Bartók, Eötvös)
Ensemble Modern/Peter Eötvös (Ligeti) – rec. October 2011 (Ligeti), July 2012 (Bartók, Eötvös)
NAÏVE V5285 [2 CDs: 62:06 + 27:47] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

I’d missed this when Leslie Wright reviewed it – review – and spotted it only when it won an award. If you like your Bartók in fiery and impassioned mode, this could be more your cup of tea or glass of Tokay than the more refined Isabelle Faust/Daniel Harding Harmonia Mundi version which I reviewed recently, though that’s also strongly recommendable of its kind, especially for those for whom Ligeti and Eötvös are too avant-garde; it couples both Bartók concertos. (Recording of the Monthreview and DL News 2013/13.)

The recording is excellent, even in mp3, and better still in lossless. Though the two discs are selling for the price of one, the eclassical.com download represents a price saving. There’s no booklet, but subscribers to Naxos Music Library can grab it from there.

Karol Maciej SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Concert Overture, Op.12 [12:27]
Violin Concerto No.1, Op.35 [25:53]
Violin Concerto No.2, Op.61 [20:50]
Lydia Mordkovich (violin)
BBC Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky – rec. April 1996. DDD
Pdf booklet available
CHANDOS CHAN9496 [59:10] – theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

Karol SZYMANOWSKI
Violin Concerto No. 1 Op.35 (1916) [26:12]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841 – 1904)
Romance in f minor Op.11 (1873-79) [11:44]
Violin Concerto in a minor, Op.53 (1884) [33:37]
Arabella Steinbacher (violin)
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Marek Janowski – rec. May 2009, DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included
PENTATONE CLASSICS PTC5186353 [71:44] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)
(See review by Dominy Clements: ‘There is so much more in this music than this release offers.’)

Karol SZYMANOWSKI String Quartet No.1 in C, Op.37 [19:13]
Ludomir RÓZYCKI (1884-1953) String Quartet in d minor, Op.49 [32:34]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI String Quartet No.2, Op.56 [18:13]
Royal Quartet – rec. March 2008. DDD
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67684 [70:00] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)
(see reviews by Rob Barnett – here – and Jonathan Woolf – ‘ this is now a strong front-runner in the current Szymanowski quartet discography’ – here.)

If you are looking to start a Szymanowski collection, the Violin Concertos and the String Quartets would be good places to start. You’ll see from the links that I’ve given that the Hyperion recording of the quartets comes with a stronger endorsement than the tempting coupling of Szymanowski and Janáček complete quartets on Chandos, which I haven’t heard but which, I see, received some mixed reviews.

For the concertos the choice is between the Chandos, as listed, NAXOS 8.557981 (Ilya Kaler; Warsaw PO/Antoni Wit) and an EMI budget-price twofer (2068702details and review). All three can be sampled from Naxos Music Library and the Naxos and EMI (now Warner) recordings are available less expensively than the Chandos from classicsonline.com (mp3) – here and here. The availability of the Chandos in lossless flac (at a slightly higher price) just tilts the balance for me, while the existence of other recordings of the Dvořák – notably Suk and Ančerl on Supraphon – is enough in itself for me to agree with Dominy Clements’ advice to look elsewhere than the PentaTone.

Roy HARRIS (1898-1979) Symphony No.3 [16:08]
Howard HANSON (1896-1981) Symphony No.4 (Requiem) [21:08]
Eastman Rochester Symphony Orchestra/Howard Hanson – rec. 1953. ADD/mono
NAXOS HISTORICAL ARCHIVES 9.81162 [37:10] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless), classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library (not in the USA or several other countries)

Roy Harris’s Third Symphony has had several distinguished outings on record but this was the first LP recording (for Mercury) and it’s still a valuable part of the archive, with Howard Hanson giving idiomatic performances of that and his own Fourth Symphony.

The sound is thin in the emusic.com transfer which I tried; surely the Mercury original sounded better, but that’s probably due to the appallingly low bit-rate (around 150kb/s – I thought such dismal rates were a thing of the past), so I wouldn't favour saving a few pence by downloading from that source. It’s only £1.99 from classicsonline.com – if you live in a country where it’s available. Better still, there's a lossless download from eclassical.com that still doesn't cost the earth, at $6.60; I tried that, too, and the sound is still dry but more tolerable.

For a more recent and highly recommendable recording of the Harris, look no further than another Naxos release, conducted by Marin Alsop and coupled with No.4, the Folksong Symphony (8.559227 – review and April 2010 DL Roundup). Alternatively my Bargain of the Month for October 2011/1 – Leon Botstein with the American SO, a single track from emusic.com for £0.42.

Howard Hanson’s Fourth has received less attention than the Harris Third or his own Second Symphony but there’s a fine recording on another Naxos album, with the Fifth Symphony, Elegy and Dies Natalis I (Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz, 8.559703 Recording of the Month: reviewreview and January 2012/1 DL Roundup).

The MusicWeb Classical Editor Rob Barnett has also been listening to this recording:

Readers would do well to leaf through the download pages of the Naxos Classical Archives. The 1950s mono ERSO Hanson recordings can be found there, including American works he never got around to doing in stereo. The treble can be a little unrelenting but in the case of Hanson's own Symphony No.4 and the Roy Harris's Third what we have here is much better than merely tolerable. While the heart-felt Hanson 4 may lack the popular drama and the gritty Nordic quality of the first, its sincerity and ecclesiastical atmosphere have their own attraction. He recorded the first three of his symphonies in stereo for Mercury but not No.4, let alone the other three. Shame. His Harris Third may have a lower boiling point than the classic Koussevitsky and less flamboyant grandeur than Bernstein's stereo for CBS, but it's well worth hearing. Likewise the indomitable and far too obscure download-only from Leon Botstein and the Americsn SO. (See above) The latter is a live recording. Botstein's many rare revivals can be experienced on emusic.com. I hope to return to this treasury of Botstein revivals for a later roundup.

Rob Barnett

Joaquin RODRIGO (1901-1999) Concierto de Aranjuez [21:25]
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989) Guitar Concerto [21:54]
Julian Bream (guitar)
Monteverdi Orchestra/John Eliot Gardiner – rec. c.1974. ADD.
SONY/RCA [43:19] – from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk (mp3)

By reverting to the original LP coupling (ARL1 1181), a feature of their recent Bream reissues*, Sony/RCA have produced a very short recording by modern standards when they already had a more generous coupling with Rodrigo’s Fantasia para un Gentilhombre in the catalogue, but the download price of £3.99 compensates** and it’s good to have the contrast between Rodrigo’s Spanishry and Berkeley’s cooler avoidance of the Iberian idiom, especially when the latter receives few outings. Both are splendidly encompassed by Julian Bream and John Eliot Gardiner in his pre-period-instrument phase.

* Available to celebrate Bream’s 80th birthday as a 40 CD+ 3 DVD set at budget price. Bream’s earlier recording of the Rodrigo, coupled with Vivaldi, also forms part of the set and is available separately from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk.
** Consider that the LP cost £2.99 in 1975, at least £35 in today’s values.

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
War Requiem Op.66 (1962)
Evelina Dobracheva (soprano)
Anthony Dean Griffey (tenor)
Mark Stone (baritone)
Netherlands Radio Choir; Netherlands Children’s Choir
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden – rec. live, May 2010. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts included
CHANNEL CLASSICS CC72388 [2 CDs: 46:58 + 35:42] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Susan Gritton (soprano)
John Mark Ainsley (tenor)
Christopher Maltman (baritone)
Wrocław Philharmonic Choir, Gabrieli Young Singers Scheme, Trebles of the Choir of New College Oxford
Gabrieli Consort and Players/Paul McCreesh
Pdf booklet included
WINGED LION/SIGNUM SIGCD340 [2 CDs: 37:20 + 46:45] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Two more strong contenders – and there are further releases directed by Antonio Pappano on Warner and Mariss Jansons on BR Klassik, which I haven’t yet heard but which John Quinn liked – review – to add to those listed in my last DL News. I’ll have to update that list in a future edition with a more detailed look at these four new versions. This really has become almost basic repertoire in a way unimaginable despite all the fuss that it caused fifty years ago. It’s become associated with the re-consecration of Coventry Cathedral even more than architecture and art work of the building, iconic as that was seen to be at the time.

If you’re prepared to tolerate a lower bit-rate of around 230kb/s – it doesn’t sound at all bad, and that’s almost as good as you’ll get on Amazon or iTunes – emusic.com offer the van Zweden for just £2.52 as against COL’s £15.99. Emusic.com have no booklet but subscribers to Naxos Music Library can obtain it there.

Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Homage to the Queen – ballet, Op.42 (1953)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Robert Irving – rec. 1953 or 1954. ADD/mono
NAXOS HISTORICAL ARCHIVES 9.80911 [41:51] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library. Not available in the USA, Australia, and several other countries.

Classico and Chandos have given us Arnold’s own 20-minute suite from this ballet (CHAN10550November 2009 DL Roundup) and, frankly, it’s hardly one of his essential works, but the original complete ballet is worth an outing or two. The performance is authoritative and the HMV sound, over-bright now but excellent in its day, is more than acceptable, especially in the eclassical.com lossless transfer, even though, at $7.53, that’s more expensive than classicsonline.com’s £1.99, in countries where it’s available.

Some of these Naxos Archive recordings come with simple but attractive and sometimes appropriate covers; I’m not sure what the dollop of jelly (?) on this cover is meant to signify.

I have two more brief recommendations of recordings of music by Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (b.1928) to add to my recent mentions of his music, both from BIS, that champion of Scandinavian music:

•  Angel of Dusk, Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra (1980) [26:15]
Symphony No. 2 (1957/84) [18:21]
Suomalainen myytti (A Finnish Myth) for string orchestra (1977) [6:16]
Pelimannit (Fiddlers) for string orchestra, Op. (1952) [6:32]
Tapiola Sinfonietta/Jean-Jacques Kantorow – rec. 1997. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
BIS-CD-910 [58:37] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

•  Playgrounds for Angels: Nordic music for Brass
Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA A Requiem in our Time (1953) [9:55]
Playgrounds for Angels (1981) [11:59]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) Overture in f minor (1889) [8:18]
Allegro (1889) [4:26]
Andantino (1890/91) [3:08]
Menuett (1890/91) [1:37]
Förspel (Preludium) (1891) [3:55]
Tiera for Brass Septet and Percussion [4:19]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907) Sörgemarsj over Rikard Nordraak (Funeral March for Rikard Nordråk) (1866) [7:00]
Knut NYSTEDT (b.1915) Pia memoria – Requiem for nine brass instruments (1971) [14:01]
Brass Partout/Hermann Bäumer – rec. 1999. DDD.
BIS-CD-1054 [68:38] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

( ‘The varied and eclectic programme may not be to all tastes but BIS’ enterprising customers will surely think otherwise.’ See 4/5 star review by Gerald Fenech)

Matthew TAYLOR (b.1964)
Viola Concerto, Humoreskes, Op. 41 [22:20]
Symphony No. 2, Op.10 [36:40]
Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Garry Walker – rec. January 2013 and January 2009. DDD
Pdf booklet included
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0175 [59:00] – from toccataclassics.com (mp3 and lossless)

String Quartet No.5 Op.35 (2007-08) [14:41] ¹
String Quartet No.6, Op.36 (2006-08) [18:38] ²
String Quartet No.7, Op.37 (2008-09) [20:45] ³
Dante String Quartet ¹
Allegri String Quartet ²
Salieri String Quartet ³
rec. May 2012, All Saints’ Church, Durham Road, East Finchley, London
Pdf booklet included
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0144 [54:22] – from toccataclassics.com (mp3 and lossless)

Several admissions from me this month about not keeping up with what my colleagues have been writing about; in this case it’s several months since Jonathan Woolf wrote enthusiastically about the recording of the string quartets – review – and other colleagues have reviewed other Toccata recordings of the music of this talented composer, who manages to speak the same language as the mainstream of the past but with his own individual accent.

I don’t want to give the impression that the music is ‘easy’ or ‘comfortable’; it asks questions of the listener which are in some respects as demanding as those asked by the late Beethoven Quartets, but it does so in a way that isn’t simply avant-garde for the sake of being so. The performances, by three different quartets, are very good and the recording is very good. I listened to this as a download from toccataclassics.com in CD-quality lossless flac as well as mp3; both formats are good and come with the full booklet in pdf form if you choose not to buy the physical disc – but see below for MusicWeb International’s special price for all Toccata Classics CDs.

The recording of the concerto and symphony is, if anything, even more recommendable – it was, in fact, seeing this very favourably reviewed in a magazine that piqued my interest in Matthew Taylor. If anything the music asks even more demanding questions of the listener than the quartets and I wouldn’t choose to listen to it in all moods, but I do suggest that you give it a try. If you’re unsure and have access to the very valuable Naxos Music Library you can listen to both these recordings there – and also to other Toccata albums of Taylor’s music.

If you’re not into downloading – I know that several readers go on to buy hard copies of the recordings that I review – MusicWeb International will sell you both of these and other Toccata Classics recordings for £10.50 each post free – order form here.

Tōnu KŌRVITS (b. 1969)
Kreegi vihik ‘Kreek’s Notebook’ (2007) [31:04]
The night is darkening round me (2005) [6:21]
Arturs MASKATS (b. 1957)
Lacrimosa (1995) [7:44]
Pēteris PLAKIDIS (b. 1947)
In memoriam ‘All that is good flies heavenwards’ (1990) [5:53]
Fatamorgāna (1980) [7:15]
Arturs MASKATS
Lugums naktij ‘Prayer to the night’ [2:59]
Gillian Franklin, Kate Telfer, Sanda Audere (sopranos)
Jonathan Kilhams (bass)
William Mason (organ)
The Choir of Royal Holloway
Britten Sinfonia/Rupert Gough
rec. 21-23 June 2012, All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, UK
Pdf and ePub booklets include sung texts and translations
HYPERION CDA67968 [61:15] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16-bit lossless & 24-bit Studio Master)

The almost Dickensian title of this release refers to one Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962), an Estonian collector of so-called ‘folk hymns’ whose work spurred his compatriot Tōnu Kōrvits to produce this eponymous eight-movement piece. The other composers represented here – Arturs Maskats and Pēteris Plakidis – are Latvian, so I was keen to hear how their choral work compares with that of Pēteris Vasks, whose Plainscapes impressed me so (review). As for the Holloway Choir and Rupert Gough, they are new to me, but I see they have already recorded a number of contemporary pieces by Rihards Dubra, Bo Hansson and Vytautas Miškinis. Gough provides the scholarly but eminently readable liner-notes.

In ‘May Jesu now be praised’, the first piece from Kreek’s Notebook, the buoyant pizzicati and fresh voices are utterly captivating in their blend of simplicity and gentle folk rhythms. This music certainly strikes a good balance between the religious and the secular, and this fine choir mirrors that with their animated yet refined singing. The same wonderfully discreet rhythms inform ‘Now the day is over’, and the fast fall of eventide is superbly evoked in both the low-key writing and the spacious acoustic of All Hallows, Gospel Oak.

The Britten Sinfonia’s short ‘I alone praise those wounds that bleed’ is austere, even skeletal – those plucked strings again – but the choir returns in ‘Oh receive from me dear Jesus’. After an immemorial, plainchant-like introduction the piece builds to some bright climaxes, all the while underpinned by those oh-so-discreet ur-rhythms. Soprano Gillian Franklin adds an ethereal, incense-drifting loveliness to ‘I shall give myself up to your care’, and once again the Britten Sinfonia bring welcome solemnity and warmth to this votive space.

The now familiar mix of a gentle beat and open-hearted singing resurfaces in ‘Fly up from your sorrows’, and although it’s not the most inspired piece it has just enough variety and vigour to engage one’s ear and hold one’s interest. Some may feel Kōrvits is a little short on imagination or lacks a well-defined musical character – horror, he even writes for the cinema – but then artlessness is what this repertoire is all about. The liturgical element is more overt in the radiant rise and fall of the choir – hushed, spare – in ‘My soul oh be joyful’. Indeed, the Calvary-contemplating finale ‘I gaze up at the hill’ is suffused with some of the most eloquent and resonant instrumental writing here, and the crowning chorus – heard as if from afar – is just thrilling; the quiet, sorrowful postlude is deeply moving too.

Just before Maskats’ Lacrimosa – a response to the sinking of the MV Estonia in 1994 – we have Kōrvits’s setting of Emily Brontë’s poem ‘The night is darkening round me’ which, although subdued – the men of Holloway are firm and sonorous throughout – is illuminated from within by the gorgeous, filigreed singing of soprano Kate Telfer. This is another of those calm, understated works that can so easily sound bland, but which really comes alive when performed with such poise and passion. If we weren’t in chiesa as it were I’d be tempted to let fly with a heartfelt ‘Bravo’ or three.

The sinking of the Estonia was also commemorated by the Finnish composer Jaakko Mäntyjärvi in Canticum Calamitatis Maritimae, superbly performed and recorded in Eternal Rest (Chandos). Maskats’ haunting little requiem makes splendid use of this sacred setting, the distant voices counterbalanced by the closer instrumental forces and glorious, full-bodied organ. What a powerful piece this is, economically scored yet also arresting without striving too hard for effect. How ethereal these shore-side singers sound, their out-of-reach lament so well caught by Hyperion’s engineers. The organ part is judiciously done, and the whole performance has a symmetry and scale that’s most satisfying.

Pēteris Plakidis’ In memoriam is a setting of a poem by the Latvian poet and patriot Broņislava Martuževa. The work – sung here in English – starts in near stillness and evolves slowly to a series of radiant peaks. The bright, high-lying parts for the women are anchored by the long-breathed phrases of the men. Simple, luminous, affecting, this is another gem in a chest of unexpected treasures. With its striking desert imagery and an emphasis on the fecundity of nature Fatamorgāna isn’t as piercingly beautiful as its predecessor, but mezzo Sanda Audere does pluck some magical sounds from the ether; as for the choral forces, they are as secure and shapely as before.

The collection ends with Maskats’ setting of ‘Prayer to the night’, by Juris Helds. Not as instantly communicative as Lacrimosa, perhaps, but it’s still worth hearing. Any caveats? Just one; the restrained dynamics and delicate equilibrium of these pieces requires that one listen carefully to uncover the subtleties and nuances buried therein, so I’d suggest auditioning this collection in several, concentrated sittings. Such committed music-making and a top-flight recording deserve nothing less.

Unusual rep that rewards the dedicated listener; a rare treat.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

Béla FLECK (b.1958) The Impostor
The Impostor* [36:05]
Night Flight over Water** [25:44]
Béla Fleck (banjo)
Nashville Symphony Orchestra/Giancarlo Guerrero*
Brooklyn Rider**
MERCURY [61:49] Availability – see below.

A fascinating combination of banjo and orchestra in the first work and banjo and string quartet in the second. I received this album for review from Mercury soon after the Brooklyn Rider album containing Bartók’s Second String Quartet, reviewed last time, and I actually enjoyed it even more. Any doubts about whether the different instrumental traditions could blend were swept aside with the very first notes.

The recording seems to be available in the UK on disc only as an import – try amazon.co.uk or arkivmusic.com. I haven’t found any download outlets. The review download which I was sent came in wav format, so should be comparable with the CD; it sounds excellent. This is a potential hot-cakes best-seller if you can get your hands on it.

Japanese Koto
Yatsuhashi KENGYO (1614-1685)
Midare (Disarray)
Michio MIYAGI (1894-1956) Rondon no yoru no ame (Evening Rain in London)
Yoshizawa KENGYO Chidori no Kyoku (The Song of the Plover)
Michio MIYAGI Sarashi-fu tegoto
Kikuoka KENGYO Keshi no Hana (Puppy Flowers)
Michio MIYAGI Furin (Windchime)
Rentaro TAKI (1879-1903) Kojo No Tsuki (Moon of the Deserted Castle) (arr. M. Kikujyo)
Michio MIYAGI Maritsuki (Bouncing a Ball)
Mitsuzaki KENGYO Akikaze No Kyoku (Melody of the Autumn Wind)
Ayako Hotta-Lister (koto and voice), Aiko Hasegawa (koto)
rec. 1990, Blue Moon Studios, London.
Pdf booklet included
ARC MUSIC EUCD2468 [72:30] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

From time to time I like to slip in a recording of ethnic music – unfortunately, not from any authoritative position of knowledge but simply because it has appealed to me. This recording of Japanese koto music is a case in point – not only have I enjoyed what I take to be idiomatic performances, I have also learned a good deal from the notes in the accompanying booklet, though it doesn’t, unfortunately, contain the words of the vocal accompaniments to some of the pieces.

If you’re not sure, try first if you can from Naxos Music Library – an older release (EUCD1843) containing fewer pieces, whose booklet sports a different cover and features more languages. You’ll find other albums of Japanese music and that from other traditions from ARC Music via eclassical.com and Naxos Music Library.

The Nutcracker Suites
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Nutcracker Suite Op.71a (1892) [22:19]
TCHAIKOVSKY, arr. Duke ELLINGTON (1899-1974) and Billy STRAYHORN (1915-1967)
Nutcracker Suite (1960) [31:52]
Overture [3:19]
Toot Toot Tootie Toot (Dance of the Reed-Pipes) [2:29]
Peanut Brittle Brigade (March) [4:48]
Sugar Rum Cherry (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy) [3:03]
Entr’acte [1:56]
The Volga Vouty (Russian Dance) [2:53]
Chinoiserie (Chinese Dance) [2:55]
Danse of the Floreadores (Waltz of the Flowers) [4:07]
Arabesque Cookie (Arabian Dance) [5:53]
Harmonie Ensemble, New York/Steven Richman
featuring Lew Tabackin (tenor sax) Lew Soloff (trumpet), Bill Easley (clarinet), Victor Lewis (drums), George Cables (piano) – rec. 2010 and 2011. DDD.
pdf booklet included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU907493 [54:07] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

A new slant on a traditional Christmas seasonal favourite – the original ‘straight’ version followed by the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn version of 1960. Didn’t that use to be known as The Nutrocker when it was played by Johnny Dankworth’s band? No matter – there doesn’t seem to be any other version in the UK catalogue and I found this very enjoyable. I’m not so sure about coupling the jazz with the original, though; I’d have preferred some more Duke Ellington – The River, perhaps, though there’s a very fine recording of that on Chandos.

A short CD, but the eclassical.com per-second charging policy takes care of that at $9.74.

Romantic Favorites
Matthew CAMERON
Starry Night [3:43]
Franz LISZT La Campanella [4:56]
Fréderic CHOPIN Fantasie – Impromptu, Op. 66 [5:10]
Polonaise in c-sharp minor, Op. 26/1 [6:33]
Polonaise in A-flat, Op. 53 [7:54]
Aram KHACHATURIAN arr. Matthew CAMERON Adagio from Spartacus [9:00]
Matthew CAMERON Song to the Wind [2:36]
Elegy [5:07]
Matthew CAMERON Scherzino [1:16]
Ave Maria [5:03]
Fréderic CHOPIN Etude in E [1:49]
Franz LISZT Hungarian Rhapsody No. 17 [3:01]
Franz SCHUBERT trans. Franz LISZT Gretchen am Spinnrade [4:08]
Franz SCHUBERT trans. Franz LISZT Erlkönig [4:57]
Franz LISZT Feux Follets [4:08]
Gnomenreigen [2:55]
Memento [0:33]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART arr. Matthew CAMERON Rondo from eine kleine Nachtmusik [3:07]
Matthew Cameron (piano)
ARABESQUE RECORDINGS [75:56] – download only, in mp3, from amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and iTunes.

After one run-through I thought this good enough to ask Geoffrey Molyneux for a second, more informed and professional opinion. My only reservation that first time round was to wonder if in La Campanella the delicacy of the playing hadn’t been achieved at the expense of the power of the music, a thought which you’ll see from GM’s detailed analysis below didn’t trouble him. In fact, having allowed other recordings to distract me from this album, I’m put to shame by having received such a detailed and thorough analysis that there’s nothing I really need to add, except to say that, having listened and enjoyed again, I still wonder if you can’t have both the delicacy of touch and the power in La Campanella; not by any means a serious reservation.

Like GM, I particularly enjoyed the Liszt – those small reservations about La Campanella apart – so it’s appropriate to note Matthew Cameron’s two other Liszt recordings, for Cala (CACD88045) and, with Anthony Newman, for 903 records (903R:1850 – from classicsonline.com or stream from Naxos Music Library): details on his website – here.

The review tracks are at a low bit-rate – lower than the finished product from Amazon or iTunes – but perfectly acceptable.

*

The recital begins effectively enough with one of Matthew Cameron’s own compositions Starry Night, an attractive and evocative piece with an unexpected and explosive middle section. There are several pieces composed by the pianist on this recording as well as some arrangements of well-known classics. I particularly liked the Adagio from Spartacus which is very virtuosically performed and Cameron’s arrangement of the Rondo from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik makes for a very attractive addition to the pianist’s light repertoire or encore pieces. Cameron’s own Song to the Wind is very stormy in places, and the Elegy is very effective with its developing moods. His little Scherzino is an attractive, lightweight piece and the charming Ave Maria is imaginatively written.

The music of Liszt seems to be Matthew Cameron’s great strength. La Campanella needs real lightness of touch and clarity of articulation as well as a virtuosic technique to cope with the demands set by the composer. Matthew Cameron is well up for this and the constant staccato playing required is really exciting and glittering. Feux Follets is delivered with real sparkle and utmost clarity of articulation. Very fine and virtuosic playing here full of musical insights, and Gnomenreigen is brilliantly played too, a performance that could not be bettered.

Matthew Cameron includes two Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs. First is Gretchen am Spinnrade, full of melancholy, and the pianist achieves a magnificent climax. This is followed by Erlkönig in which Cameron sets the moods perfectly in this forbidding work. Cameron has written some engaging programme notes including thought provoking descriptions of the tales behind these pieces.

Chopin’s Fantasie-impromptu is immaculately played and the opening octaves are suitably commanding. The first main idea is executed with very even and clear semiquavers but I would like to hear the first big melody sing through the texture a bit more characterfully. Also I felt that the first section could lead to a more exciting climax. The middle section is very repetitive and needs all the imagination the player can muster and then this passage will really glow and maintain the listener’s interest. I did feel that there was much more scope for dynamic contrast and variety in the rubato in the repetitions in this performance. I felt that a softer, not so ‘notey’ and more flowing feel to the left hand accompaniment would help. Similarly in the Polonaise in C sharp minor the middle section could have a little more romance with less feeling of every first beat being a strong beat. I would like more poetry here. Also I think the Romantic side of Chopin suffers from the rather dry acoustic. Cameron brings a sense of drama to the outer sections of the A flat Polonaise, Opus 53. The famous left hand semiquaver passage with its constant and tiring repetitions is very clear and exciting, and the way he gradually slows down into the nocturne-like passage, very effective. However I would have preferred the rather faster tempo adopted by many performers, and I think this would have added to the excitement especially, in the fiery conclusion to this work which seems here to be too slow and rather wooden. It just doesn’t take off.

The technical demands of Liszt seem to hold no problems for Matthew Cameron and the performances are always insightful and musical. I really like his Liszt playing and if you are also a fan of Cameron’s own compositions then this recording is for you. Of course there are many recordings of the standard repertoire presented here and so Cameron has stiff competition. I admit I am not so bowled over by his Chopin playing although it is very fine, and there are so many great performances already out there. Mathew Cameron is not helped by the rather close and boxy sound and a little bit dry recording which sometimes sounds as though it was recorded in a small room. I have been comparing this with a new recording I am currently reviewing of Chopin Etudes on Dux (DUX0834) which has a touch more resonance and where the listener feels a bit more distant from the piano, very necessary in some of the big-sounding works recorded by Cameron.

The programme notes which came with the review tracks are excellent and give a good insight into the music and its background [it’s a shame that Amazon and iTunes don’t include them. BW]. This is a recording well worth hearing.

Geoffrey Molyneux



Experience Classicsonline