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DOWNLOAD NEWS 2014/15
by Brian Wilson, Jonathan Rohr and Geoffrey Molyneux

Reviews are by Brian Wilson except where otherwise stated.

This will be the last Download News in the current format. In future I shall be submitting the majority of my reviews, whether from download, CD, SACD, DVD or blu-ray, for the main MusicWeb International pages. DL News will become a shorter affair with links to downloads of music reviewed by my colleagues and myself. There will also be occasional short articles on material available only for download, such as Beulah releases, or on offer at a bargain price.

2014/15 Index:

AHO Concertos for Horn and Theremin_BIS
Symphony No.11; Symphonic Dances_BIS
ALBENIZ Iberia ; FALLA_Music of Spain Volume 3_Beulah
BACH Orchestral Suites_Academy of Ancient Music_Harmonia Mundi_BIS
Magnificat ; HANDEL Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate_Beulah
BAX Tintagel, etc._Lyrita
Symphonies 2 and 5_Lyrita
BEAMISH The Seafarer Trio + DEBUSSY La Mer _Orchid
BENNETT W.S. Symphony in g minor, Op.43, etc._Lyrita
BLISS Music for Strings, Meditation on a Theme by John Blow, etc._Lyrita
British Piano Concertos _Lyrita
British String Concertos _Lyrita
BRITTEN A Boy was born + HOWELLS, LEIGHTON, etc._Signum
BRUCKNER Symphony No. 9_LSO Live

Christmas
Bis willekommen _Ensemble Nobiles_Genuin
Christmas Carols from 17th century Hungarian Transylvania _Hungaroton
Incarnation – see BRITTEN
Sing Thee Nowell New York Polyphony_BIS

COATES The Three Men Suite, etc._Lyrita
Summer Days, From Meadow to Mayfair, The Three Elizabeths, Dambusters, etc._Lyrita
Courts of Heaven : Music from the Eton Choirbook, Vol. 3_Avie
DEBUSSY La Mer – see BEAMISH
ELGAR Enigma Variations; Falstaff_Beulah
FALLA – see ALBENIZ
FOULDS Hellas , Three Mantras, etc._Lyrita
HANDEL Fireworks Suite – see MENDELSSOHN
Music for Queen Caroline_Les Arts Florissants_Hyperion
Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate – see BACH
HARTY John Field Suite, etc_Chandos
HODDINOTT Four Welsh Dances, etc. + JONES, MATHIAS_Lyrita
HURLSTONE Piano Concerto, Piano Trio and Piano Quartet_Lyrita
IRELAND Legend, Satyricon Overture, Piano Concerto, These Things Shall Be, etc._Lyrita
JONES Dance Fantasy_Lyrita – see HODDINOTT
MATHIAS Celtic Dances_Lyrita – see HODDINOTT
MELANI Marienvesper _CPO
MENDELSSOHN Symphony No.3_Hebrides; MOZART Eine kleine Nachtmusik; HANDEL Fireworks Suite_Beulah
MESSIAEN La Nativité _Winpenny_Naxos
MOZART Eine kleine Nachtmusik – see MENDELSSOHN
RAUTAVAARA Angel of Light; Cantus Arcticus_BIS
SCHUBERT Die Winterreise _Harmonia Mundi
SCHUMANN Noveletten; Nachtstücke _Hyperion
SCOTT Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2_Lyrita
SIBELIUS Tone Poems_BIS
Something’s Gotta Give _Chandos

My Recordings of the Year

Byrd’s Masses and Tallis’s Missa puer natus est (both Hyperion) yield to an Obsidian recording with the intriguing title The Spy’s Notebook.  Spying for Henry VIII on a rival claimant to the throne didn’t prevent Pierre de la Rue from gathering a first-class collection of early Renaissance music, excellently presented by Alamire and David Skinner.  (OBSID-CD712, 2014/13).

Of many splendid reissues I select a Zig-Zag Territoires budget set of music by Corelli and Vivaldi, half of it of very recent provenance (Gli Incogniti, ZZT349, 2014/13), even above much appreciated re-releases of the music of John Tavener by The Sixteen (Coro) and The Tallis Scholars (Gimell).

Two bargains stand out: a 50-CD set of Baroque music (Decca) and, just beating it to the post, all Richard Strauss’s operas in mostly authoritative performances on a 33-CD set from DG (4792274article), divided into two for download purposes (2014/11).

2013 ended with a splendid Bach Christmas Oratorio (Hyperion) but the recent Mass in b minor (Hyperion CDA68051/2, 2014/14) just edges it out, if only because it’s performed by a very promising and versatile young group, Arcangelo, who have also recorded Monteverdi for Hyperion.

Among Beethoven recordings Piano Concertos Nos. 3 and 4 from Pires and Harding (Onyx 4125, 2014/13) just beat the Piano Trios Nos. 6 and 7 (Harmonia Mundi).  I’m not alone in the hope that this will be the start of a complete series.

Last choice goes to The fire that breaks from thee (EMRCD023, 2014/12) primarily for bringing to light a wonderful violin concerto by Robin Milford which should never have been hidden.

You’ll find the choices of the other MusicWeb International reviewers here.

Lyrita from Classicsonline and Naxos Music Library

I’m delighted to see that we now have a new download source for Lyrita recordings from classicsonline.com (COL), at the full bit-rate of 320kb/s and with the booklets in pdf format.  They are also available for streaming from Naxos Music Library, again with the booklets.  Now all we need is for them to be offered in lossless form.

I’ve picked out almost at random from the complete offering a few that I haven’t covered and some that I have reviewed in inferior downloads.  Click on the catalogue number for the link to COL:

•Arnold BAX – Northern Ballad No.1, Mediterranean, The Garden of Fand, Tintagel, November Woods: SRCD.231reviewreview.  Even if you have the very fine Naxos recording of Symphony No.2 and November Woods, this Lyrita recording is almost mandatory.

• Arnold BAX – Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5: SRCD.233Recording of the Monthreview.  Another well-nigh mandatory recording for Baxians.

• William Sterndale BENNETT – Symphony in g minor, Op.43, etc.: SRCD.206review,review and DL Roundup June 2009.  Once again the COL download comes in better sound than the emusic.com which I reviewed before.

• William Sterndale BENNETT – Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3: SRCD.204review. COL also have Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 5:SRCD.205  – review.  Both come in better transfers than those from emusic.com which I reviewed in August 2009 and the pdf booklets with valuable notes are part of the deal – I specifically mentioned their absence from the emusic.com versions.

• Sir Arthur BLISS – Music for Strings, Meditation on a Theme by John Blow, A Prayer to the Infant Jesus: SRCD.254review and review.   The performances by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Hugo Rignold and the Ambrosian Singers/Philip Ledger are about as good as it gets and this remains the only recording of the Prayer to the Infant Jesus in the UK catalogue.

• Eric COATES – The Three Men Suite, etc. SRCD.213 review and review

• Eric COATES – Summer Days, From Meadow to Mayfair, The Three Elizabeths, Dambusters March, etc.: SRCD.246review.

Coates was the all-time great purveyor of light-classical music.  These two very fine albums – the second is especially valuable, though I wish it might have been an all-Coates programme – need to be supplemented, for example by the 2-CD Classics for Pleasure set of his music where you’ll find the essential Coates works London Suite and London Again (3523562, Sir Charles Groves, Sir Charles Mackerras and Reginald Kilbey).  There’s also a surprisingly idiomatic Marco Polo recording with the Slovak Radio Orchestra containing the two London Suites (8.223445 – download only: available in mp3 and lossless from eclassical.com. See December 2010 DL Roundup.

• John FOULDSHellas, Three Mantras, etc. SRCD.212review and review.  Dutton have recently been doing very well by Foulds, especially his lighter music (review), but Lyrita were ahead of them with this valuable recording of his more serious music, first released in 1993.  This is still the only recording of these works, apart from Three Mantras and April-England on a Warner Apex budget reissue of music by Foulds (2564645113).

• William HURLSTONE – Piano Concerto, Piano Trio and Piano Quartet: SRCD.2286 (2 CDs) – review.  I recommended this 2-CD set last year when reviewing a new recording of the Piano Trio on the Divine Art label – DL News 2013/17.  The classicsonline.com download is in better quality than that from emusic.com.

• John IRELAND – Legend, Satyricon Overture, Piano Concerto, These Things Shall Be, etc.: SRCD.241review.  This is the single most important recording of Ireland’s music and though I have greatly enjoyed hearing or re-hearing all these albums, it’s my pick of these downloads if only because I haven’t been listening to Ireland nearly enough recently.  Eric Parkin in the Piano Concerto and Legend is rivalled only by Piers Lane whose recording is available in lossless sound as well as mp3 (Hyperion CDA67296, with Delius Piano Concerto – reviewreviewHyperion Top 30).

• Alun HODDINOTT Four Welsh Dances, Overture Jack Straw, Concerto Grosso, Op.46/2; Investiture Dances, Op. Op.66, Welsh Dances Set 2, Op.64; William MATHIAS Celtic Dances, Op.60; Daniel JONES Dance Fantasy: SRCD.334review.  The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves, The National Youth Orchestra of Wales/Arthur Davison and the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/Bryden Thomson contribute to this enjoyable set of recordings collectively entitled Welsh Dances.

• Cyril SCOTT – Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 from John Ogdon, the LPO and Bernard Herrmann:SRCD.251review and July 2009 DL Roundup. The COL download comes in better sound than that from emusic.com which I reviewed; it’s worth paying a little extra for.  This performance of the filler, Early One Morning, is also available at budget price on British Piano Concertos (see below).

Beulah Releases

3PD88: Music of Spain Volume 3 contains two works: Isaac ALBÉNIZ Iberia Suite in the orchestral arrangement of Enrique Fernández Arbós (Minneapolis Orchestra/Antal Doráti, rec. 1957, stereo) and Manuel de FALLA El sombrero de tres picos (Three-cornered hat) in the classic recording by Teresa Berganza (soprano), the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Ernest Ansermet (1961, stereo).  It’s due soon from Amazon UK and iTunes.

On Mercury 4343892 which, in any case, is now available in the UK only as part of a 6-CD download, the Albéniz was somewhat incongruously coupled with Mussorgsky; here the Falla coupling for Doráti’s high-energy performance is much more logical.  The recording is good if a trifle brash – reflecting, I believe, the original.

If you have the very fine Montréal/Dutoit version of the Falla on Decca’s budget twofer (4661282) the Ansermet is well worth having as an adjunct, especially as the recording has come up very well in this transfer.  It’s also available on two differently coupled mid-price Decca recordings but the alternative release on a budget Double Decca set (4339082) is no longer available in the UK even as a download.  The only surprise is that Ansermet’s recording of Iberia (released like the Doráti in 1960, on SXL2243) was not chosen as the Beulah coupling.

The Eloquence reissue employs Ansermet’s earlier (1952, mono) recording with Suzanne Danco – review – which is also available inexpensively on Naxos Classical Archives for £1.99 in the UK – DL Roundup September 2011/2 – but not in the USA and many other countries.

1PDR2: Classical Classics [79:57] consists of a series of performances recorded by Mercury with the London Symphony Orchestra and Antal Doráti in early stereo (1956-8).  MENDELSSOHN’s Hebrides Overture is followed by the Hamilton Harty suite from HANDEL’s Fireworks Music, MOZART’s Serenade No.13, K525 (Eine kleine Nachtmusik) and the programme is rounded off with a performance of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.3 (‘Scottish’).  Download from Amazon UK, Amazon US or iTunes.

The Harty Fireworks Music suite is something of a dinosaur nowadays, with unbelievably heavy overture and bourrée.  Dinosaurs are fascinating, too – ask any primary-age child – but I’m afraid that I’ve moved on as far as Handel is concerned and the recording has worn less well than most Mercuries.  Not surprisingly, there’s only one other recording of the Harty Fireworks, on an LPO historical 4-CD set.

If you want Harty’s Handel I’d recommend a budget-price 1983 recording of the Water Music from the Ulster Orchestra and Bryden Thomson, also containing the John Field Suite, Londonderry Air and In Ireland (Chandos Collect CHAN6583 [50:17] – download from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 £4.80, lossless £4.99).

Eine kleine Nachtmusik receives a stylish performance and the recording, though released at much the same time as the Handel, sounds a great deal better.

The two Mendelssohn items were first released in the UK on mono MMA11048 and, though the Scottish symphony already had a string of distinguished competitors, William Mann thought it only a little short of the best.  I enjoyed hearing this performance.  My touchstone is always the transition from the main body of the finale to the coda: the gear change here is a little abrupt but not unduly so.  The recording has held up well in this transfer –by comparison with recent offerings such as Gardner on Chandos CHSA5139review – extreme treble and bass are somewhat prominent at the expense of middle frequencies.  In 1959 listeners had to turn over for the finale, the new transfer makes this unnecessary.

The codec on my review copy of this and some of these other Beulah releases insisted that I was listening to the Bruch Violin Concerto, but that probably won’t apply to the commercial version.

1PDR3: Geraint Jones conducts HANDEL and BACH.

The DG Archiv recording of Handel’s Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate (1713), released in 1959, is here coupled with Bach’s Magnificat (HMV, 1957).  Geraint Jones, his Singers and Orchestra offer performances of Handel and Bach much more sympathetic to our period-instrument-attuned ears than Doráti’s take on Harty’s Handel.  The Handel performances are stylish and vigorous enough almost to persuade me that the music is better than I recall from other performances – it’s not usually reckoned among Handel’s finest – and the recording, DG Archiv’s first made in England, holds up well.

Some very fine performers are listed for the Bach: Ilse Wolf, Helen Watts, Wilfred Brown, Richard Lewis, Edgar Fleet, Thomas Hemsley and (Professor) Thurston Dart on harpsichord continuo.  This is vintage Bach but Lionel Salter thought the performance not quite in the same league as the music.  He was mainly worried by the fast tempi but nowadays we are used to Bach in less stately guise: Jones’ time of 28:53 overall is actually slightly slower than Richard Hickox’s on Chandos CHAN0518, a highly regarded version with Vivaldi Gloria, which takes 27:14.  Indeed, most modern recordings come in at under or around 28 minutes, with some, such as Peter Dijkstra with Concerto Köln (BR Klassik 900504) and Pierre Pierlot with the Ricercar Consort (Mirare MIR102), taking only a shade over 26.  I’m glad that Beulah have resurrected this performance – it’s more in accord with modern attitudes to Bach and I enjoyed it.  As with the Handel, the recording has come up sounding well in this transfer.  A small plus: the words magnificat and magna are pronounced with a hard g, as it would have been in North Germany in Bach’s time.

7PD12: ELGAR’s Musical Portraits .  The portraits in question are those encapsulated in the Enigma Variations, Op.36, and Falstaff, Op.68, Elgar’s only but very successful foray into the world of the Straussian symphonic poem.  The performances are from the LPO and Sir Adrian Boult, recorded in stereo in 1961 or 1962 and 1956 respectively.  From Amazon UK and iTunes.

The 1956 Falstaff is also available from First Hand Records (FHR06, 3 CDs: Bargain of the Month review and DL Roundup January 2012) but, though there are Boult Enigmas of earlier and later vintage, I don’t think this 1962 version is available anywhere.  It first appeared on World Record Club and later on Classics for Pleasure and it has always taken a back seat to Boult’s other performances, with slow tempi characterised by reviewers as sounding tired.  I owned the WRC LP and liked it, but when I bought the LSO/Monteux recording, now on Eloquence 4805019, with Dvorák Symphony No.7, or very inexpensively on its own on Beulah Extra 1BX181: Recording of the Year 2012, I preferred that and still do.  Listening again to the Boult, however, I’d now characterise it as sensitive rather than slow.

The Falstaff is excellent and the transfer is very good but there is one small problem: it’s not a capital offence and Beulah can neither be blamed for it nor rectify it – the Pye LP used for the transfer was missing the last very quiet note.

***

Courts of Heaven: Music from the Eton Choirbook, Vol. 3
John HAMPTON Salve Regina a5 [15:37]
Edmund TURGES Gaude flore virginali a4 [13:43]
John FAWKYNER Gaude virgo salutata a5 [18:49]
John BROWNE O mater venerabilis a5 [14:18]
Robert WYLKYNSON Salve Regina a5 [13:19]
Walter LAMBE Nesciens Mater (bonus track, download only) [5:26]
The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford/Stephen Darlington
rec. Merton College Chapel, Oxford, April 2014. DDD
AVIE AV2314 [81:12] – from emusic.com (mp3, no booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library (without bonus track but with pdf booklet containing texts and translations).

This series of recordings from the wonderful late 15th-/early 16th-century Eton Choirbook has now reached its third volume, encouraging the hope that it will eventually be at least as comprehensive as Coro’s 5-CD series of recordings from the collection by The Sixteen (COR16050, also available separately) for those who prefer the music to be sung – and very well sung – by the kind of all-male choir for whom the music was intended but also for those who, like me, also enjoy good performances from mixed professional choirs such as The Sixteen or The Tallis Scholars, who have also recorded some of this repertoire (John Browne: Music from the Eton Choirbook, Gimell CDGIM036 or better value on a 2-for-1 set, The Tallis Scholars sing Tudor Music I, CDGIM209).

With only one other work in common with other recordings, Wylkynson’s 5-part Salve Regina (not to be confused with his longer 9-part setting of the same text on Volume 2, Avie AV2184) we’re already into previously unrecorded territory with volume 3.

The emusic.com download is not at the ideal 320kb/s but it sounds more than adequate and, at around 240kb/s, it’s about as good as you are likely to get by paying three times the price from Amazon and iTunes.  Classicsonline.com offer 320kb/s, with booklet, but don’t include the bonus track.  7 digital include the bonus and offer the album in 320kb/s sound for £5.94 but don’t provide the booklet.  Subscribers to Naxos Music Library can get the booklet there.

You should enjoy Christmas Carols from 17th century Hungarian Transylvania if you know and like similar collections from the nearby Czech Republic such as Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass (Supraphon SU36582December 2011/2) – the church letting its hair down in the vernacular language and musical style.  (Hungaroton HCD32019 [71:48])

The problem is that the download from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) comes devoid of any booklet of notes or text and Naxos Music Library, which does have some Hungaroton booklets, has none to offer in this case.  Neither offers anything more than the title and translation of it.  I can’t therefore give a recording date; though I think it’s not recent – a sticker on the cover says ‘from the archives’ – the recording is decent enough.  I’d recommend buying the CD for the notes, but it’s not available in the UK.

Bis Willekommen (Be welcome) contains music for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany sung by Ensemble Nobiles on Genuin GEN14314 [62:32] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet containing texts).  The composers range from Benedict DUCIS (1492-1544) via Michael PRÆTORIUS (1571-1621) to Peter Karl Wolfgang BERG (b.1990).  All the composers are German-speaking, with the exception of Conditor alme siderum by Tomás Luis de VICTORIA (1548-1611).  There’s much here that was new to me but there’s nothing to raise a traditionalist’s hackles: even the contemporary works are as smooth as the performances, which some may find a trifle bland.   Comparing the performance of the Victoria with that of Plus Ultra (DG Archiv 4779747) you might almost be listening to a different work.  The recording is beautifully clear.

Alessandro MELANI (1639-1703)
Marienvesper (Vespers of the Virgin Mary) (first modern performance) [65:53]
Soloists of the Rheinische Kantorei: Veronika Winter (soprano), Maria Skiba (soprano), Franz Vitzthum (counter-tenor), Elisa Rabanus (soprano), Matthias Vieweg (baritone), Magdalene Harer (soprano), Immo Schroder (tenor), Markus Flaig (baritone), Hans Jörg Mammel (tenor)
Das Kleine Konzert/Hermann Max
pdf booklet with texts and translations included
rec. August 2012, Rheingau Musik Festival, Kloster Eberbach, Basilika. DDD
CPO 7779362 [65:53] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t even heard of Melani, let alone these Vespers settings which are receiving their first complete performance in modern times.  There’s precious little of his music on record but CPO now have two albums – there’s an earlier release of L’Europa and sacred works, again from Das Kleine Konzert and Hermann Max on 7774082.  Jonathan Woolf thought the music there anything but competent and dull – review – and that may be the place to start because I thought the Vespers music mostly attractive but hardly special.

The performances are mostly up to the high standards that we have come to expect from Max and his team, though I thought some of the soprano singing occasionally slightly less than ideal.  In any case, as the notes point out, the top lines were intended not for female voices but for boys or castrati.  Try this one first if you can, from NML.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

It is possible to obtain the Four Overtures or Orchestral Suites on a single CD, so it may seem extravagant for the new recording from the Academy of Ancient Music directed by Richard Egarr (harpsichord) on their in-house label to run to two full-price CDs, with no fillers but if you obtain the download from eclassical.com, the per-second charging policy takes care of that, with mp3 and 16-bit at $16.82 and 24-bit at $25.24.  (AAM003 [93:28] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless) or classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library, all with pdf booklet).

The performances are given on one instrument per part, tuned to A=392Hz, but they specifically eschew the now common practice of taking the music at a fast pace on the reasonable basis that very fast performances belie the dance nature of the music.  Even by comparison with the modern-instrument performances by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Neville Marriner (Decca 4303782) many of the tempi are fairly sedate.  I recommend trying these new recordings before purchase if possible.

I’m finding the tempi a little too sedate in the main and, for the moment at least, I’m staying with that Decca recording or one of the period-instrument versions, such as the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra on Harmonia Mundi, also running to two discs, with alternatives for some of the movements.  ( HMC902113/14 [93:25] – from eclassical.com, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless or stream from Naxos Music Library, both with pdf booklet).  Brian Reinhart made this one of his top choices in 2013/18, alongside a budget-price 6-disc compendium of Bach’s music from Café Zimmermann on Alpha ALPHA811 – reviewed April 2012/1 – from classicsonline.com or stream from Naxos Music Library.  The Suites are from Café Zimmermann are also available on separate albums but more expensively:

Suite No.1 on Volume 2: ALPHA048 [58:02] with Brandenburg Concerto No.3, the 2-Violin Concerto, BWV1043, and the Concerto for Violin and Oboe, BWV1050 – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)
Suite No.2 on Volume 3: ALPHA071 [70:25] with Brandenburg Concerto No.4, Oboe d’amore concerto, BWV1053 and 3-Keyboard Concerto BWV1064 – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)
Suite No.3 on Volume 5: ALPHA168 [58:23] with Keyboard Concerto BWV1056, Brandenburg Concerto No.6 and 3-Keyboard Concerto BWV1063 – fromeclassical.com (mp3 and lossless).  See August 2011/1 DL Roundup
Suite No.4 on Volume 6: ALPHA181 [59:08] with Keyboard Concerto BWV1055, Brandenburg Concerto No.1 and 4-Keyboard Concerto, BWV1065 – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

Another very distinguished set on period instruments comes from Masaaki Suzuki and his Bach Collegium of Japan on BIS (BIS-SACD-1431, 2 CDs [97:56] – download from eclassical.com, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless or, with Brandenburg Concertos, BIS-SACD1211/22 – from eclassical.com, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless).  Of these the 3-CD set offers the better value, with 24-bit currently at the same price as mp3 and 16-bit.  The set of the Suites alone comes as 2-for-1 on CD, around £12.  As I write the download is on offer at a 50% Christmas discount but afterwards it appears likely to cost more than the CDs – check it against local prices for the discs.

George Friderick HANDEL (1685-1759) Music for Queen Caroline
The King shall rejoice (Coronation Anthem), HWV260 (1727) [10:43]
Te Deum in D, ‘Queen Caroline’, HWV280 (1714) [15:22]
The ways of Zion do mourn (Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline), HWV 264 (1737) [46:03]
Tim Mead (counter-tenor); Sean Clayton (tenor); Lisandro Abadie (baritone)
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
rec. 20-21 November 2013, Notre Dame du Liban Church, Paris. DDD
Booklet includes texts and a specially commissioned short story.
LES ARTS FLORISSANTS AF004 [72:08] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

Te Deum comparative version: Hyperion CDA66315 – Gillian Fisher (soprano), James Bowman (counter-tenor), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Michael George (bass); Choir of New College Oxford; The King’s Consort/Robert King (with Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne and Sing unto God).  Archive service or download from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless).

I don’t recall ever having heard the ‘Queen Caroline’ Te Deum – actually it seems to have been intended for the arrival of her father-in-law, George I and her husband, the future George II, and to have been repeated when Caroline joined them in London – but it’s at least the equal of the better-known Dettingen and Utrecht settings of the canticle.  It beggars belief that the excellent Hyperion recording is Archive Service or download only – or that I had missed it myself.

The new recording from Les Arts Florissants is also very good indeed, so the choice of coupling can safely determine your choice.  Perhaps the music goes with slightly more of a swing on the new recording.

The Coronation Anthem which opens the new recording is also well performed, but you may well have one or more fine recordings of the complete Anthems – perhaps the King’s/ Willcocks (Double Decca or Eloquence) to represent the ‘old school’ and The Sixteen/Christophers (Coro) in more ‘authentic’ guise.

You probably don’t have the music for Queen Caroline’s funeral, The ways of Zion do mourn, unless you own one of the recordings of Israel in Egypt in the version of that oratorio to which Handel prefixed an arrangement of the music as the Israelites mourning the death of Joseph.  (The 6-CD budget set of Handel works on Warner 2564698385 includes John Eliot Gardiner’s performances of both works.)  The trick is to keep the music moving without making it sound either lugubrious or unfeeling and Christie achieves that very well.

The Hyperion recording opens with the wonderful anthem for Queen Anne’s Birthday, Eternal source of Light divine, the most substantial work on that CD.  It’s splendidly performed and there’s no music quite so marvellous on the new album.  Otherwise honours are about equal, with very fine performances of the Te Deum on both.

Both Hyperion and Les Arts Florissants recordings are very good.  The new album has the edge in offering a 24-bit alternative but the Hyperion costs a mere £5.99.  Both come with excellent pdf booklets.

The Freebie of the Month for subscribers to theclassicalshop.net newsletter is a serviceable Naxos recording of choruses from Handel's Messiah conducted by Jaroslav Kr(e)cek with the Bratislava City Choir and Capella Istropolitana (8.550317). 

I wouldn’t recommend this set as anything like top choice, however: if you are in the business of buying I’d go for one of the many complete recordings from MWI Recommends, to which I’d add one that I don’t think I’ve mentioned before, directed by Richard Hickox from theclassicalshop.net’s own parent label Chandos (CHAN0522 – from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).  The young Bryn Terfel is among the fine soloists and Collegium Musicum 90 provide the usual excellent support.

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Die Winterreise , D911

Matthias Goerne (baritone) ends his distinguished series of nine Schubert Lieder recordings for Harmonia Mundi, with Christoph Eschenbach (piano), on HMC902107 [74:38] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet including texts and translations).  This by no means the first time that he has tackled this greatest of all Lieder cycles, with recordings to his credit for Hyperion (CDA30021, with Graham Johnson – see October 2010) and Decca (4670922, live from the Wigmore Hall, with Alfred Brendel).  I judged that Hyperion recording suitable as a Desert Island companion, not least for the rapport between Goerne and Johnson, who hand-picked the singer, but the new recording offers the very strongest competition and also comes – at a premium – in excellent 24-bit sound.

The sadly downsized remnant of the Penguin Guide mostly restricts itself to a single recommendation for each major work – in this case the 3-CD DG set with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore (see above: Schwanengesang).  That’s an excellent recommendation, but one size doesn’t fit all.  Dieskau and Moore don’t have the sole and final word on Winterreise: my colleagues have variously recommended eight different recordings, including three of them by Fischer-Dieskau, with Gerald Moore (EMI), Alfred Brendel (Philips, now Decca) and Jörg Demus (DG – see October 2010), to which I’ll add one more, with Daniel Barenboim (DG Virtuoso 4785186, an excellent budget-price account: don’t pay more for a download than the £6.50 or so which the CD sells for).  Of the other recordings which are listed, only the Ian and Jennifer Partridge (CFP) seems to me to be a non-runner.

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

A new Hyperion release of Schumann’s Noveletten [47:35] Nachtstücke [19:08] and Romance No.2 [3:51] is very welcome ( CDA67983 [70:34] – from hyperion-records.co.uk, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet). Danny Driver has a real feeling for Schumann’s music and style. His performances of the eight pieces comprising Novelletten, Op.20 are so well contrasted, with an infinite variety of touch, expression and mood. This cycle is surely one of Schumann’s most technically and emotionally demanding and Danny Driver is well able to deal with the challenges involved.

The first section of Novelletten Op.21/1 is played, as requested by Schumann, marcato con forza; to Driver this is no dry or rigid-tempo march, but a strongly rhythmical and exciting tour de force with expressive possibilities. In spite of considerable and convincing rubato, the performance retains its march-like qualities and is full of character. The ensuing Trio is beautifully played with touching melody and superb tone, thanks to top quality playing and excellent recording from Hyperion.

No.3 is similarly characterful and is suitably light and humorous while No.6 provides another example of lively, buoyant and agile playing. The sections of each piece are based around stories or characters and No.6 is dominated by the character of Florestan, lively and extrovert as the piece appears to be building to a climax. The music soon dies away to a gentle conclusion, characterised by Schumann’s alter ego Eusebius, and all this is admirably portrayed by Driver, who is just as successful in the longer pieces containing many sections, such as No.8, the final work in the collection.

What strikes me most about this set is the way Danny Driver constantly maintains his listeners’ interest and attention with carefully controlled and infinite variety within the nine pieces. I cannot imagine the Novelletten better played.

The four pieces of Nachtstücke are very different in mood. They were originally imagined by the composer as funereal-style pieces but Clara Wieck suggested that it would better not to include the titles he had in mind. The first piece is the longest and Driver builds to a superb climax before the music dies to a gentle ending. These big contrasts are captured well by the Hyperion recording. The second piece is quite virtuosic but Driver plays with crystal-clear clarity and he makes excellent mood contrasts in the ensuing sections. No 3 again gives Driver ample opportunity to display his infallible technique and I was really impressed with his interpretation of the melancholic central section. The balancing was superbly done and the return to faster music well controlled.

The three Op.28 Romances were written around the same time as the other works on this recording and Driver concludes his recital with No.2, the most often played of the set. It is given an attractive and characterful performance and provides a contrast with the Novelletten and Nachtstücke, which we regretfully hear performed less frequently. So full marks for programme building. All in all I wholeheartedly enjoyed these performances. They are impeccably played and the recording is well up to Hyperion’s usual superb quality.

Geoffrey Molyneux

Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 9 in d minor (1887-96, ed. Nowak 1951)
London Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
rec. live, 17 and 21 February 2013, Barbican, London
Pdf booklet included
LSO LIVE LSO0746  [67:10] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

Just when I was beginning to get used to the idea of Bruckner’s Ninth as a four-movement work in the completion recorded by the Berlin Philharmonic and Simon Rattle, along come two most convincing recordings of the three-movement work, from Claudio Abbado (DG 4793441) and now from Bernard Haitink.  This recording has been reviewed by Dan Morgan, who rated it as one of the best, as a 24/96 download – here – and by John Quinn – here – who thought it gripping and magisterial.  I’m not about to disagree, but I’d urge you not to overlook the Abbado, especially valuable as it was his last recording: Recording of the Monthreview and DL News 2014/10.

As Dan Morgan reviewed the 24-bit version – which costs a tad more than the SACD – I tried the 16-bit lossless version which, at £6.50, costs less than the disc and still sounds very well.

Bargain of the Month
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) Tone Poems – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet)

BIS will be releasing download volumes from their complete Sibelius recordings at regular intervals during his 150th anniversary year, 2015, commencing with a 5-CD set of the Tone Poems for the attractive price of $29.15.  That’s less than $6 per disc or $4.50 per hour and it supersedes the Amazon download of the symphonies, violin concerto and tone poems, mostly taken from the BIS series, which I have hitherto recommended as the best Sibelius bargain: the eclassical.com download comes at the full mp3 bit-rate, as opposed to Amazon’s 256kb/s or less, or in lossless sound for the same low price.  The CD set will typically cost you around £40.

The authoritative accounts are those recorded by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä apart from Cassazione, Op.6 and Scènes Historiques (CD5), which come from the Gothenburg SO and Neeme Järvi.  The album booklet comes as part of the deal – again, Amazon don’t include a booklet – which includes an account of the transformations undergone by the Lemminkäinen Suite, of which all versions and variants (1896, 1897 and 1939) are included here together with the original and final versions of The Oceanides, Cassazione and In memoriam.

Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992) La Nativité du Seigneur (1935)

To the very fine recordings by Tim Byram-Wingfield (Delphian DCD34078, 2 CDs – review), Hans-Ola Ericsson (BIS-CD-410: September 2011/1 – download from eclassical.com, mp3 and lossless), Gillian Weir (Priory – download only, from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless) and, perhaps still best of all, Jennifer Bate (Treasure Island UKCD600, 6 budget-price CDs or Regis RRC1087) we must now add a new recording by Tom Winpenny on the organ of St. Alban’s Abbey (Naxos 8.573332).  Among the many virtues of the new recording are its availability in 24/96 sound from eclassical.com and the inclusion of a full organ specification in the booklet.  That 24-bit version comes at a premium over the CD, at $16.51, but the other plus – apart from the quality of Winpenny’s performance and the recording – is that the CD can be yours at budget price and the mp3 download from classicsonline.com costs only £4.99.  Stream all the versions of La Nativité that I have mentioned from Naxos Music Library for your own comparison.

Update: Benjamin BRITTEN (1914-1976)
A Boy was born , Op.3 [29:10] with Christmas music by Matthew MARTIN (b.1976), Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983), Francis POTT (b.1957), Jonathan DOVE (b.1959), Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988) and anon. ( Incarnation).
Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir trebles, Gabrieli Consort/Paul McCreesh
rec. 17-19 December 2012, Douai Abbey, Berkshire, UK. DDD
Pdf booklet with texts included.
SIGNUM SIGCD346 [77:25] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

I welcomed this recording in 2013/17 in the form of an mp3 download from classicsonline.com.  It’s now available for the same price (£7.99) from Hyperion (link above).  Both sources include the pdf booklet.

I’m surprised to see Hyperion and Naxos Music Library offering ‘Download on iTunes’ as an option.  Why choose iTunes in mp3 only* and at an inferior bit-rate – usually around 256kb/s – when Hyperion and NML’s sister site, classicsonline.com, both offer the full 320kb/s bit-rate and Hyperion also have lossless versions for the same price?

* actually in the related format m4a, which needs to be converted for most players other than Apple.

Update: Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (b.1928)

In my review of Kalevi Aho’s Theremin Concerto (see below) I referred to a recording of Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcticus for birds and orchestra on BIS-CD-1038.  I reviewed that album in August 2010 but the Passionato link which I gave then no longer applies – they dropped out of the download business some time ago.  That doesn’t reduce my appreciation of the music or of the benchmark performance by the Lahti SO/Osmo Vänskä, now obtainable in mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet, from eclassical.com.  The coupled works are the equally impressive Symphony No.7 (Angel of Light) and Dances with the Winds.

Kalevi AHO (b. 1949)
Concerto for Horn and Chamber Orchestra (2011) [26:39]
Acht Jahreszeiten (Eight Seasons): Concerto for Theremin and Chamber Orchestra (2011) [31:43]
Annu Salminen (horn), Carolina Eyck (theremin)
Lapland Chamber Orchestra/John Storgårds
rec. January 2013, Korundi House of Culture, Rovaniemi, Finland. DDD/DSD
pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-2036 [58:22]

Even the comparatively unadventurous may well enjoy the unlikely combination of the Theremin – familiar from spooky film music – and orchestra.

Please see reviews by Dominy Clements and myself on the main MusicWeb International pages and review by Dan Morgan.  Download from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless).

You may also wish to try Aho’s Symphony No.11 and Symphonic Dances (BIS-CD-1336) – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet).  In fact, that’s the best place to begin exploring Aho’s music – review.

Sally BEAMISH (b.1956)

There are three works by Sally Beamish with the title The Seafarer, based on the Old English poem of that name.  Christopher Thomas praised the BIS recording of her Viola Concerto No.2 with that sub-title – review.  That’s on BIS-CD-1241, performed by Tabea Zimmerman (viola), Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Ola Rudner, with Whitescape and Sangsters and available for download from eclassical.com in mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet. 

Now Orchid Classics have recorded the Seafarer Trio – Sir Willard White (narrator) and Trio Apaches (Matthew Trusler (violin), Thomas Carroll (cello), Ashley Wass (piano)): ORC100043, with DEBUSSY La Mer. [52:49].  Download from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).  Of course, you may well have a recording of the Debussy, but not one performed by a trio (transcribed by Sally Beamish).

The Seafarer , a poem contained in the Exeter Book of Old English poetry, is a powerful work describing the ordeals of a man who has lost his liege lord and is condemned to sail the seas in all manner of harsh conditions.  If I had to choose just one OE poem for my Desert Island, it would have to be this, the very similarly themed The Wanderer or The Dream of the Rood, even in preference to Beowulf.  The work has clearly made a great impression on Ms Beamish, though I’m surprised to see the suggestion on her website that it was inspired by the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh – a poem lost in antiquity until discovered in cuneiform in the 20th century and vanishingly unlikely to have been known to the anonymous Old English poet.  What The Seafarer has in common with Gilgamesh – and The Odyssey for that matter – is its archetypal theme, the human lot, as summed up at the end as Wyrd biþ swiþre,/Meotod meahtigra þonne ænges monnes gehygd: Fate is greater, the Lord mightier than anyone can imagine.

It’s a poem almost impossible to translate but the version employed, by Charles Harrison Wallace is as good as any that I know – it even manages to convey the alliterative nature of the original.  I rather think that ‘hail scoured my skin’ even outdoes the original hægl scurum fleag (hail flew in showers) but ‘middle isthmus’ won’t do for middangeard (middle earth).  There’s a strangely effective version by Ezra Pound – here – in which he substituted as far as possible the modern equivalent for every word of the Old English (Bitter breast-cares have I abided), sometimes retaining the original (hail-scur flew).

Beamish’s music doesn’t make too many concessions to the listener, but neither does the poem; the harshness of the music actually suits the words well.  Sir Willard White is an ideal narrator for this unusual work and Les Apaches are clearly committed to the music.  If I was ultimately less enthralled than Roy Westbrook – review – I shall certainly be returning to it.

I was, to say the least, sceptical about hearing La Mer in an arrangement for piano trio and you wouldn’t buy the album for it, but Beamish kept Ravel’s mature Piano Trio in mind and it works very well as, effectively, a new Debussy discovery.

Bargains of the Month

On disc, the 4-CD Lyrita sets British Piano Concertos (SRCD.2345review andreview with detailed contents listing) and British String Concertos (SRCD.2346review) are excellent value, even if you have some of the performances on the separate CDs where they first appeared, though not originally coupled as on the sets.  MusicWeb International offer them each for £16 post free world-wide – here and here.

I need hardly add that the repertoire is adventurous and the performances first-rate – in many cases these are still the only or the best recordings.  Only Chandos, Hyperion and, latterly, Naxos, have come close to Lyrita’s dedication to twentieth-century British music.

Beware: some download providers are asking a good deal more than £16 for mp3, with both classicsonline.com and amazon.co.uk charging £31.96 each.  To be fair, whenever I have remarked on a similar disparity of prices I have been told that the manufacturers set the cost of the download.  There is one bargain source for downloading these albums, however, from 7digital.com: the piano concertos here and the string concertos here, for £8.49 each.  At least that was the price when I purchased – snap them up if they are still at that price in case it’s a mistake.  Qobuz have the sets in CD-quality sound but again more expensively than the CDs at £19.99 each.

There’s no booklet from 7digital so you are likely to be left in the dark as to which concerto is which but subscribers to Naxos Music Library will find the booklets available for download there.  Both albums can be streamed from Naxos Music Library – I’m pleased to see that they have recently added Lyrita to their list of labels, as have their sister site for downloads, classicsonline.com.  The 4-CD sets are too expensive from COL, making no allowance for the fact that these are budget releases, but their price for the single CDs from which the selections are taken, in 320kb/s mp3 at £7.99, is competitive with other providers who offer less than the full bit-rate.

Something’s Gotta Give
Frederick LOWE and Alan J LERNER On the Street Where You Live [3:21]
Cole PORTER So in Love [2:36]
Night and Day [4:04]
Richard RODGERS and Oscar HAMMERSTEIN II People Will Say We’re in Love [4:16]
Jerry BOCK and Sheldon HARDWICK When Did I Fall in Love? [4:05]
Lionel BART Reviewing the Situation [6:06]
Jerome KERN and Oscar HAMMERSTEIN II All the Things You Are [3:37]
Richard RODGERS and Oscar HAMMERSTEIN II Soliloquy [8:08]
Johnny MERCER Something’s Gotta Give [7:10]
George FORREST and Robert WRIGHT Stranger in Paradise [4:24]
Richard RODGERS and Oscar HAMMERSTEIN II It Might as Well Be Spring [4:01]
Hugh MARTIN and Ralph BLANE The Girl Next Door [3:41]
Jule STYNE and Sammy CAHN It’s Magic [2:56]
Richard RODGERS and Oscar HAMMERSTEIN II Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ [2:49]
Jerry BOCK and Sheldon HARDWICK If I Were a Rich Man [5:41]
Richard RODGERS and Oscar HAMMERSTEIN II If I Loved You (Bench Scene) [4:49]
Simon Keenlyside (baritone)
Scarlett Strallen, soprano
BBC Concert Orchestra/David Charles
rec. 3-5 March 2014. DDD
pdf booklet available
CHANDOS CHAN10838 [75:38] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 16- and 24-bit lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

When it comes to opera singers crossing over into musical theatre or jazz, I’m generally skeptical.  Most of the time, the artist compromises musical style and vocalism, and the result is something that sounds like the musical demonstration of fitting a square peg in a round hole.  However, Simon Keenlyside’s recent release, Something’s Gotta Give, proves that an international opera star can deliver beautiful, natural-sounding performances of musical theatre classics. Throughout, Simon Keenlyside manages to maintain the Broadway feel of these songs without compromising his hallmark lyricism and robust tone.

The opening selection “On the Street Where You Live” is one of my new favorite recordings of the song.  Keenlyside shapes the sweeping melody organically and the brilliance in his upper register is a perfect fit for Freddy.  The BBC Concert Orchestra plays ebulliently on this track, and much credit for this goes to the wind and brass sections.

Keenlyside’s two renditions of Cole Porter classics “So in Love” and “Night and Day” are also worth specific mention. Porter’s charm comes through easily thanks to Keenlyside’s clear and natural diction, but earnest delivery and robust vocalism are what make these tracks exciting.  These songs have been recorded many times, but Keenlyside’s sincerity gives them a special quality.  Oftentimes, singers of Cole Porter can’t help but deliver the songs with an awareness of the lyric’s wit, but not Keenlyside.  There is no tongue in cheek here, and that allows him to interpret these songs in a straightforward and refreshing way.

A few of the selections on this collection capitalize on Keenlyside’s talents with dialects – Reviewing the Situation and If I Were a Rich Man.  In both, he calls upon the skills developed throughout a career of singing in foreign languages to deliver several minutes of hilarious, but convincing, dialect singing.

Soprano Scarlett Strallen joins in several duets and also appears in two outstanding solo selections.  Her crystalline tone is a perfect match for When Did I Fall in Love?  She seems particularly comfortable finding different colors with her voice, and as a result, the alternating statements and questions in this selection come to life.  This track is also a standout on account the BBC Concert Orchestra’s sensitive playing and knack for carrying singers all the way through musical high points.  The passage from 2:14 to 2:28 is a great example of musicianship and collaboration between singer and orchestra. Credit to the harpist for this magical moment.

The BBC Concert Orchestra, under David Charles Abell, plays superlatively throughout. Rhythmic vigour (even in slow songs) and super-accurate timing give a high-definition effect.  Their sensitivity and ability to deliver high-energy with softer dynamics give the singers a lot of expressive freedom, so there is a heightened sense of ensemble throughout.

It’s not difficult to find excellent recordings by Simon Keenlyside, so in some respects, it’s not that surprising that Something’s Gotta Give is such a success.  But when I put it next to other operatic attempts at musical theatre, I realize that it is singular in a lot of ways.  Here is an opera singer who sounds great singing Cole Porter.  Are any Broadway casting directors reading?

Jonathan Rohr

Sing Thee Nowell
New York Polyphony (Geoffrey Williams (counter-tenor); Steven Caldicott Wilson (tenor); Christopher Dylan Herbert (baritone); Craig Phillips (bass))
rec. March 2014, Chapel at the American Boychoir School, Princeton, New Jersey, USA
pdf booklet with texts and English translations included
BIS BIS2099 [71:17] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

Please see John Quinn’s review with full track listing.

If you find the singing of Ensemble Nobiles on Bis Willekommen (above) a little too perfect, you will almost certainly agree with John Quinn that a more robust, less calculated approach would not have come amiss.  This is, nevertheless, a most accomplished and enjoyable album, with many settings by North American composers which I hadn’t heard before alongside more familiar works.  The now familiar 15th-century There is no rose, for example, is followed by a setting of the same words first to S.S. Wesley’s hymn tune Hereford, arranged by Geoffrey Williams, and by a new (to me) version by John Scott.  Later it features as the first of Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s Five Carols.

JQ reviewed the SACD and I have been listening to the 24/96 download.  It sounds very well and at present it’s offered at the same very competitive price as 16-bit and mp3 ($10.66) but when the offer ends you may well find the SACD for slightly less than the download.  By one of those oddities of economics one dealer who offers both the SACD and downloads is asking £11.75 for the former and £13.98 for the latter.