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Outhere Group Labels: Some New and Recent Recordings
by Brian Wilson

The labels of the Outhere Group are responsible for some of the most innovative recordings being produced today, sometimes by new artists but mostly with established performers. Last year I featured a number of their recordings for Holy Week and Easter.

Among their recent offerings (March/April 2015) I’ve selected a few which have caught my eye.  In most cases I have had to rely on the low-bit-rate mp3 that Outhere think sufficient for their press previews, but in some cases I can give links to 16- and sometimes 24-bit lossless downloads from Qobuz and eclassical.com.  Where the CDs are already available or due shortly I have given purchase links.

Cipriano de RORE (1515/16-1565) Ancor che co’l partire receives star billing on the cover of a Ricercar recording to celebrate the label’s 35th birthday and the composer’s 500th (RIC355 [67:13]) but there is also music by Antonio de CABEZÓN, Giovanni Battista BOVICELLI, Andrea GABRIELI, Bernard SCHMIDT, Pierre PHALÈSE, Giovanni BASSANO and Girolamo Della CASA, a veritable Who’s Who of Flemish, Italian, Spanish and French 16th-century composers.

There’s a mixture of secular and sacred vocal and instrumental works, including several settings and arrangements of the title work interspersed throughout the programme.  There’s a variety of distinguished performers, including Cappella Mediterranea, Ensemble Clematis/Stephanie de Failly, Bernard Foccroulle (organ), L’Achéron/François Joubert-Cailly, Jean Tubéry (cornet and recorder), Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier, Doulce Mémoire/Denis Raisin Dadre and Chœur de Chambre de Namur/Leonardo García Alarcón, recorded at various dates in 2011 (Doulce Mémoire) and 2014.  It’s all very enjoyable.

Happily both eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless download) and Qobuz (sample/stream) include the booklet with its detailed notes, texts and translations.  The 24-bit download is especially fine, albeit that it comes at a price premium ($18.15) over mp3 and 16-bit ($12.10).  CD from Amazon UK.

Another recording featuring Doulce Mémore and Denis Raisin Dadre comes as a luxury 2-CD set in a lavishly illustrated hardback book which nevertheless sells for around the price that you might expect to pay for two ordinary CDs (Zig-Zag Territoires ZZT357 – CD from Amazon UK).  This time I had the physical product for review.  Labelled François Ier: Musiques d’un Règne, it features the music composed in the reign of French King Francis the First (r.1515-1547) and concentrates on that monarch’s famous meeting with the English Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold (1520).  The music for the Mass celebrated on that occasion: compositions by the English Nicholas LUDFORD and French composers Claudin de SERMISY, Jean MOUTON and Antoine DIVITIS features on CD1 [69:58], while CD2 [73:05] features secular works by Pierre CERTON, Pierre ATTAIGNANT and other contemporaries.

Performances and recording are excellent and the book is a sumptuous read.  All in all this has served to correct the view that I expressed many years ago in an MA dissertation that none of the French 16th-century music rivalled the literature of the period – Rabelais, Ronsard and du Bellay – but we didn’t have such a wealth of recordings then.  CD2, music for François’s court, is especially enlightening in that regard because, as Dadre states in his detailed notes, the better-known lighter music of the period which has been recorded by the labels of the Outhere group and by Harmonia Mundi has been avoided in favour of more profound material.

On CD1, too, repertoire otherwise recorded has largely been avoided.  Claudin de Sermisy’s Kyrie and Nicholas Ludford’s Gloria, Sanctus and Benedictus, for example, don’t seem to be available on any other current recording.

It’s not known what music was performed at that Mass on the Field of the Cloth of Gold but we do know which items were by English composers and which by French and that the French custom of singing O Salutaris Hostia at the Elevation of the Host was observed.  Oddly, O Salutaris is here interpolated between the Sanctus and Benedictus, so well before the moment of the elevation.  That apart and the slightly annoying spoken commentary at various points – “this is what happened next” – I enjoyed both CDs and the book is a real eye- and brain-fest. 

Ramée RAM1406 is entitled Polonica: Lute music with Polish connections around 1600Michal Gondko plays a 7-course renaissance lute.  Some of the music is identified in the sources, which Gondko has edited for this recording, as AD, A[lbertus] D[lugoraj] (1557/8-after 1619), but much of it is anonymous.  Most of it is quiet and contemplative, even those items listed as Polnischer Tantz (Polish dance), which means that my one reservation is that the whole album is rather same-y.

The CD is due for release by Amazon UK on 18 May 2015.  Stream/sample, with booklet from Qobuz.

Of several earlier recordings on Outhere on which Gondko has featured with distinction as editor and performer, you should try the Ricercar 2-CD set of the music of Ciconia (RIC316: Recording of the Monthreview).

Somewhat confusingly, there are a number of albums entitled Les Grandes Eaux Musicales de Versailles – I reviewed one directed by Christophe Rousset for Naïve some time ago.  There even are several on the Alpha label: one from 2013, reissued in 2014 with a new sticker (Alpha 956 [75:07] – sample/stream/download from Qobuz, download from eclassical.com, both with pdf booklet) and a new one for April 2015 (Alpha 959 [66:36] – CD from Amazon UK.  Sample/stream from Qobuz).  I expect the 2015 version to be available from eclassical.com shortly.

Disappointingly, both are samplers carved from earlier Alpha recordings: the 2014 edition ranges from MOULINIÉ (from Alpha 005) via LULLY (Alpha 016 and 074) and RAMEAU (Alpha 142 and 951) to CORRETTE (Alpha 152).

The 2015 recording contains music by CHARPENTIER (from Alpha 952), LULLY (Alpha 074 and Alpha 016), ROYER (Alpha 953), LECLAIR (Alpha 960), CAMPRA (Alpha 958) and RAMEAU (Alpha 951).  The performances, from the likes of Le Poème Harmonique, Café Zimmermann and Capriccio Stravagante, are all first-rate and both albums would make good introductions to French baroque music, but these are not inexpensive samplers, as you might expect, and the original complete recordings are even more attractive. 

There are almost as many ways to perform Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Musikalisches Opfer (Musical Offering, BWV1079) as there are recordings of it, some sparse, some more filled out, so I was interested to see how Enrico Gatti and Ensemble Aurora would handle it (Arcana A384) [62:20] – sample/stream/download from Qobuz; CD from Amazon UK).  They opt for the sparse treatment, with just four instruments, violin, flute, cello and harpsichord.  Many will prefer this, and it’s very good of its kind, but I find it a little cerebral compared with my first encounter with this great work on a Supraphon recording where it was given a much fuller treatment by Milan Munclinger and Ars Rediviva (SUA10072). This was once available on CD (SU0087-2) and it makes a reasonable compromise between the sparsity of Ensemble Aurora and the over-heavy Bach interpretations of Karl Münchinger and his Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra.  Try the latter on Naxos Classical Archives from Qobuz: it’s actually much better than I recall and the 1955 recording still sounds good.

I listened to the Munclinger again from Qobuz and I find myself, against the odds, still liking his performance after all these years despite all the changes which have taken place in the approach to Bach.  I also still like another older recording with a slightly fuller line-up, from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Neville Marriner, still sounding well on a budget-price twofer (Decca Duo 4425562, with Art of Fugue).  Another middle-way recording, which I know several of my colleagues like, comes from an ensemble led by Michael Behringer on Hänssler 92.133 – see 5-star review: download from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, NO booklet).

For Nicholas Jackson’s attractive recording with his Concertante of London (Somm SOMMCD077) please see my review.  The recording by Ensemble Sonnerie which I recommended then (Virgin, now Erato) is download only – from 7digital.com, mp3 and lossless, or stream from Qobuz.

Though the Offering used to be thought enough for one LP, it’s rather short value on CD, so the Arcana recording adds the Sonata in G for violin and continuo, BWV1021, and the Trio Sonata in G, BWV1038.

I’ve never quite grown to love, as opposed to admiring, BACH’s unaccompanied Cello Suites, BWV1007-1012.  The latest recording – actually made in 2001-2002 and first released by Arcana, briefly, in 2004 – comes from Wieland Kuijken (cello, violoncello piccolo in BWV1012, and bass viol in BWV1027-1029) and he is also accompanied by his son, Piet Kuijken (harpsichord), in the three sonatas for harpsichord and viola da gamba, BWV1027-9 (Arcana A383 [74:00 + 61:00 + 79:00] - from Amazon UK).  Generosity with repeats means that the performances spill over the usual 2-disc format but the three CDs are on sale for not much more than the normal price of one.

These are fine performances, well recorded, but they still leave me admiring the music intellectually rather than loving it.  The situation remains as I summed it up at the end of my review of the Cello Suites performed by Angela East on Red Priest RP006review: Steven Isserlis on Hyperion (CDA67541/2) makes the safest recommendation at full price, with Paul Tortelier 1961 (EMI, due for reissue on Warner 2435628782), Pierre Fournier (DG Archiv 4497112 or 4776724) and Mstislav Rostropovich (EMI 5181582) vying for the mid-price honours or Paul Tortelier 1983 on budget-price CFP (download only: £5.99 from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk ).

I enjoyed the performances of the accompanied sonatas more.  These have been recorded more often than I thought, notably but less authentically by Daniel Müller-Schott (cello) and Angela Hewitt (piano) (Orfeo C693071A).  Other performers employ the baroque cello, the viola bastarda and the viola da gamba.  Dominy Clements liked a Zig-Zag Territoires recording using the gamba (ZZT340review) and Johan van Veen praised another with that instrument on another Outhere label (Alpha 161review ).  Now there are three Outhere recordings to choose from, with the added advantage that the well-performed and well-recorded Arcana comes as part of the very well-filled third CD in an inexpensive set.

I had to resist the download from eclassical.com; though it comes in better quality than the 192kb/s press preview from Outhere, it would be unethical to download something which I can’t recommend because it costs a good deal more than the equivalent CDs.  For once their per-second charging policy lets them down.  They do, however, have Alpha 161 in mp3 and 16-bit sound, complete with pdf booklet – here – and that I can endorse.

If you just want Wieland Kuijken in the three accompanied sonatas, his 1978 recording for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, with Gustav Leonhardt, still my go-to version in its incarnation on an EMI CD, remains available to stream/download from Qobuz.

Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805) is best known for works containing the cello and the guitar.  On Zig-Zag Territoires ZZT360 [63:53] the two instruments are combined in performances of the Cello Concerto No.7 in G, G480, the Quintets, No.7, G451, and No.6, G436, and the Sextet (Divertimento), G463, performed by Marco Ceccato (cello) with Manuel Granatiero (flute), Francesco Romano (guitar) and Accademia Ottoboni.

There are several rival recordings of G480, including a budget-price Warner/Telefunken Das Alte Werk recording with three other Boccherini cello concertos (2564698530: Jaap Schröder; Concert Amsterdam) and another recording from the Outhere stable of Cello Concertos Nos. 2 and 7 and three cello sonatas (Alpha 084)* but the new Zig-Zag performances are attractive and no other recording is identically coupled.  Even in the 192kb/s press preview the sound is good.

This inconsequential but enjoyable album is due for release on 18 May 2015 – from Amazon UK.

* On another Outhere label, Alpha 084, Bruno Cocset offers excellent performances of the two concertos with a similarly slimmed-down ensemble, Les Basses Reunies – download from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, NO booklet).  CD from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Don’t overlook the very enjoyable recording of three Boccherini cello sonatas, coupled with rarities from Giovanni Battista Cirri which I reviewed recently (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88875013182: Alison McGilvray, etc. – review).

On a set entitled The Parisian Symphony, Les Agrémens conducted by Guy van Waas perform music by Andre-Modeste GRETRY (1741-1813), François-Joseph GOSSEC (1734-1829), Johann STAMITZ (1717-1757), Joseph Martin KRAUS (1756-1792), Dieudonné-Pascal PIELTAIN (1754-1833), Antoine-Frédéric GRESNICK (1755-1799), Ludwig August LEBRUN (1752-1790), Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) – Symphony No.45, ‘Farewell’ and Nos. 82, 85, ‘La Reine’ and 86, from his Paris set, plus the Trumpet Concerto, Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) – Symphony No.2, Antonio SALIERI (1750-1825), Rodolphe KREUTZER (1766-1831), Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787), Jean-Baptiste LEMOYNE (1751-1796), Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782), Étienne-Nicolas MÉHUL (1763-1817), Louis-Ferdinand HÉROLD (1791-1833) and Gaspare SPONTINI (1774-1851) (Ricercar RIC357, 7 CDs).  The recordings were made between 2002 and 2014 and they come with a very detailed set of notes.

A word of warning: most, if not all of these very enjoyable recordings have been available separately: the Haydn symphonies 45 and 85, for example, with Kraus Symphony in D, as Haydn à Paris (RIC277 – DL News February 2012/2), while Nos. 82 and 86 appeared with Lebrun Oboe Concerto No.5 on RIC309.  If, however, you didn’t obtain any of them separately, the price, a little over the cost of two CDs for the set, is attractive – due for release in the UK in May 2015 by Amazon UK.

Most of the music on the earlier CDs in this set doesn’t conform to what we understand as a symphony, though some of it is called sinfonia.  Some items are primarily vocal, but all have been selected to demonstrate the development of orchestral music, alone or as accompaniment, in the pre-classical and early classical period.  As you might expect, Haydn’s four symphonies are the highlight of the set: three were actually composed for Paris and there is some evidence that No.45, the ‘Farewell’, though composed for a dateable event at Esterháza in 1772, was also performed in Paris.  There even seems to be an echo of No.45 in the first movement of No.85.

Giovanni Antonini and Il Giardino Armonico, better known for performances of Italian baroque music, have recently turned their attention to Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) for a project named Haydn 2032.  I really do hope that it’s complete long before Haydn’s tercentenary in that year, as I certainly won’t be around then.  The second instalment, on Alpha 671, is entitled Il Filosofo because it contains the symphony No.22, nicknamed Der Philosoph, along with Nos. 46 and 47 and a Sinfonia in F by Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710-1784), included here simply because he and Haydn sought to be original, though in different ways.  No matter: it’s an enjoyable work.

No.46 and No.47 date from the period of the Sturm und Drang symphonies but they don’t share the dramatic outpourings of some of the symphonies of that time, including No.49, la Passione, included on Volume 1 (Alpha 670).  Indeed, I did just wonder if the performances were not a little too civilised, in contrast to Antonini’s reputation for fiery performances, though I liked these performances overall almost as much as those on Volume 1 – DL News 2014/13.  The CDs are due for release on 18 May 2015 from Amazon UK.

Bargain lovers should note that Symphonies 45-47 are available on the Hyperion Helios label in performances from Roy Goodman and the Hanover Band, also first-rate period specialists.  The CD (CDH55118) is available only from the Archive Service but the download, in mp3 or lossless, costs just £5.99 from hyperion-records.co.uk, with pdf booklet.  Nos. 22-25 are on CDH55116 – from hyperion-records.co.uk, with pdf booklet.  It’s a great shame that this fine series was never completed and even more of a shame that these CDs have been in so little demand, even at budget price, that they have drifted into the Archive Service.

Chamber-orchestra-scale recordings of the symphonies of Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) are not new: I remember hearing a most impressive broadcast of the Seventh more than 50 years ago which cast new light on a work which I had known until then from Bruno Walter’s mono LP with the New York Philharmonic – still worth hearing if you can track it down.

Now as part of the Re-sound Project Alpha have recorded Martin Haselböck with the Wiener Akademie in Symphony No.1 in C, Op.21 [25:28] and Symphony No.2 in D, Op.36 [31:16], two early works which lend themselves well to the scaled-down treatment.  (Alpha 470 [56:44] – from Amazon UK). The recordings, the first of a planned series, were made with period instruments in venues which have changed little since Beethoven’s day – in this case, Landhaussaal Palace, Lower Austria, 7-9 December 2014.

I enjoyed these light and airy performances, which nevertheless are not lacking in power, and they sound fine, as streamed from Qobuz, also available for 16- and 24-bit download, with informat ive pdf booklet.

The performances may not be as special as the publicity material might lead you to expect but well worth having if you want these two symphonies together – not as common a coupling as you might imagine: the chief competition comes from Neville Marriner with the ASMF on PentaTone, a Philips Quad recording re-mastered for SACD (PTC5186118).  I haven’t been able to compare that recording but, though it has been well reviewed and I like Marriner’s work, I can’t imagine that it outshines the new recording except for those who must have surround SACD.

Otherwise if you are prepared to go the whole hog in period style, Emmanuel Krivine’s set of all nine symphonies on Naïve V5258Download News July 2011/2 – remains available for about the price of two CDs or downloads – try or download them from Qobuz.

There is a middle way between the use of period instruments and modern performance practice and that’s what Zig-Zag Territoires claim for their recording of the BEETHOVEN Violin Concerto and two Romances for violin and orchestra, namely the use of period-inspired practice with modern instruments.  Certainly the performances have the same clean-edged sound as we have come to expect from the likes of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique without any of the issues that occasionally arise from playing original instruments – less a problem now than when the HIP movement began.

The opening performance of the overture to The Creatures of Prometheus by Orchestre de Chambre Pelléas/Benjamin Lévy gets the recording off to a good start and Lorenzo Gatto proves an able, clear-voiced soloist.  His tone is perhaps a little thinner than that of the great interpreters of this concerto – 12 listed by MWI Recommends – but some may find that more to their liking.  On the whole, however, nothing about this likeable new recording is special enough to warrant a place at the top table.  (ZZT354 [63:09] – from eclassical.co.uk or theclassicalshop.net, both mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet).  CD from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Philippe Herreweghe has recorded Antonín DVOŘÁK(1841-1904) Requiem, Op.89, with Ilse Eerens (soprano), Bernarda Fink (alto), Maximilian Schmitt (tenor), Nathan Berg (bass), Collegium Vocale Gent and the Royal Flemish Philharmonic (PHI LPH016, 2 CDs for a little more than the price of one [50:49 + 42:33]).  It’s not a work that I know well: it doesn’t match the heights of the Mozart or Verdi or the tranquillity of the Fauré or Duruflé, but I enjoyed hearing this recent recording. CDs from Amazon UK and Amazon US; sample/stream/download from Qobuz.

By comparison Karel Ančerl with a top line-up of soloists and the Czech Philharmonic sounds more dramatic where it matters – comparing the confutatis maledictis, for example – but though the recording has worn well, it cannot match the new PHI sonically.  (DG 4530732, 2 budget-price CDs with six of the Biblical Songsreview and review of alternative release).  The recent Naxos recording, directed by Antoni Wit, is available in 24-bit download form from eclassical.com: it’s rather pricey at $26.44, but it sounds very well ( 8.572874/5review).  16-bit and mp3 are available for $17.63, which works out less than Naxos’s own COL.HD:LL (£15.99).  Both come with pdf booklet but the CDs are less expensive than either – typically around £11.  CDs from Amazon UK Amazon USArkivmusic.  Whichever way you obtain it, the Wit recording seems to me the best compromise in terms of performance and recording.


 

 




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