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DOWNLOAD NEWS 2015/11
By Brian Wilson and Dan Morgan

DL News 2015/10 is here and the index of earlier editions is here.  

Index 2015/11
BACH Mass in b minor – Gardiner_SDG
BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra – Kubelík (+ Twentieth Century Classics)_Beulah
BEETHOVEN Symphonies Nos. 5 and 7 – Honeck_Reference Recordings
- Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8 – Jansons (+ WIDMANN Con brio)_BR Klassik
- Symphony No.7; Triple Concerto – Haitink_LSO Live
- Triple Concerto; ‘Tenth Symphony’ – Gibson_Chandos
BRIAN Symphonies Nos. 5, 19 and 27 – Brabbins_Dutton
CHARPENTIER Messe de Minuit _Guest (+ POULENC)_Chandos (compared with versions by Christie_Erato and Mallon_Naxos)
COLERIDGE-TAYLOR Violin Concerto – Little/Davis (+ DELIUS, WOOD)_Chandos
CORP Cello Concerto – Neary/Corp (+ HOWELLS)_Dutton
DAQUIN Noëls – Boucher_Atma
DELIUS – Suite for violin and orchestra (see Coleridge-Taylor)
- Orchestral Works – Beecham_Beulah
DURUFLÉ Requiem – Malmberg (+ FAURÉ)_BIS
FAUGUES Masses – Sound and Fury_Fra Bernardo
FAURÉ Requiem – Malmberg + DURUFLÉ)_BIS
HANDEL Fireworks Music – Mackerras (+ Music for Wind Ensemble – Fennell)_Beulah
HOWELLS Cello Concerto, etc. – Neary/Corp (+ CORP)_Dutton
HUMPERDINCK Hänsel und Gretel – Suitner_Berlin Classics
- Hansel and Gretel – Mackerras (in English)_Chandos
JANÁČEK String Quartets – Takács Quartet (+ SMETANA)_Hyperion
OFFENBACH Overtures – Järvi_Chandos
de ORTO Masses – Sound and Fury_Fra Bernardo
POULENCMotets de Noël_Guest (+ CHARPENTIER)_Chandos
PRÆTORIUS Advent and Christmas Music – Bremer Barock_CPO
RAVEL Alborada del Gracioso – Wolff (+ SAINT-SAËNS Carnival)_Beulah
RESPIGHI Aretusa; Lauda; Il Tramonte – Baker_Collins
RUTTER The Gift of Life, etc – Rutter_Collegium
SAINT-SAËNS Carnival of the Animals – Coward/Kostelanetz (+ RAVEL)_Beulah
SCRIABIN Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 – Gergiev_LSO Live
- Symphonies 2-4, etc. – Järvi_Chandos
SMETANA String Quartet No.1 – Takács Quartet (+ JANÁČEK)
VIVALDI Gloria; Magnificat – Niquet_Alpha
- Sacred Music IV – Mallon_Naxos (compared with recordings from the Hyperion series)
WALTON Chandos Recordings on USB, Volumes 1 and 2
WIDMANN Con brio – with BEETHOVEN Symphonies 7 and 8 – Järvi_BR Klassik
WOOD, Haydn Violin Concerto (see COLERIDGE-TAYLOR)

Collections:
Bohemian Christmas – Güttler_Berlin Classics
Christmas Caroll from Westminster Abbey – O’Donnell_Hyperion
Christmas Carols from St Johns (Cambridge)_Chandos
Christmas Celebration – Huddersfield Choral Society_Chandos
Christmas with the Bach family – Schneider_Capriccio
Christmas Music – Emma Kirkby_BIS
Festival of Christmas – RLPO/Walters_Chandos
Monuments – Seggelke_Naxos
Organ Works of the North German Baroque: Vol. XI – Friedhelm Flamme_CPO
Romantic Choral Music for Christmas – Rademann_Carus
Wunderbare Weihnacht – Various_Classicsonlinehd.com

Listening to Downloads

I don’t usually write about ways of listening to downloaded music but I’ve recently made two purchases which I ought to mention.

My main listening room is the cramped and cluttered space which passes for my study and there I take the music from my desk-top computer via a Dragonfly DAC to my amplifier.  The Dragonfly, which cost just over £200 when I bought it, now comes at around half that price and does a very good job: it plugs into a USB3 socket with a 3.5mm connection to which you can attach a pair of headphones or take the sound to your amplifier via a lead with a 3.5mm plug on one end and a pair of RCA connectors on the other.

For some time I was able to listen to music from the computer on the second audio system in the lounge using a Squeezebox – a wi-fi receiver which plugs into the amplifier – but that ceased working some time ago and I’ve since had to rely on transferring music in mp3 on a USB drive plugged into the SACD player.  That’s not a satisfactory solution – surely if Pioneer make an SACD player they expect you to use it for high quality recordings, but 320kbs mp3 is the highest they cater for.

A recent purchase of the latest version of the Sony Walkman provided half the answer.  It comes with 16GB of internal memory but you can add up to 128GB on a micro-SD card.  Even with 24/192 files, which it will accept, that’s a lot of music storage on a small player.  At around £160 it’s less than half the price of its nearest rival, the Astell and Kern mini.  Adding music from the computer is a simple matter of drag and drop.

With Bluetooth technology it can be paired with any suitable device and for a while I used it with the Sony sound-base of the TV – again an acceptable but not ideal solution.  Then I remembered the Arcam mini-blink – an award-winning Bluetooth receiver costing £100 and looking like a large black pebble which, like the Dragonfly, connects via a 3.5mm socket and lead to your amplifier.  Don’t rely on the flimsy lead supplied – you can get a much better one for not too much – and you have the answer.

One small problem: in the case of some 2-CD or 3-CD sets the Walkman insists on playing CD1 track 1 followed by CD2 track 1.  There doesn’t seem to be any way around this, though it doesn’t happen with Chandos multi-CD downloads.

Recordings of the Year

By the time that you read this the cumulative list of MWI reviewers’ Recordings of the Year will have gone online.  In case you haven’t yet spotted it, my own selection is:

- This has been a very good year for Bach.  I’m loth to set aside Alina Ibragimova in the Violin Concertos (Hyperion), but that and a very good performance of the B-minor Mass from Jonathan Cohen (also Hyperion) must yield to John Eliot Gardiner’s remake of the Mass, thirty years after his DG Archiv recording, for his own SDG label (SDG722).  Further details of this recording below.

- I must also include John Butt’s recording with his Dunedin Consort of the Magnificat and Christmas Cantata, No.63, on SACD or as a 24-bit download (Linn CKD469).

- From an earlier period I’m tempted to include Anne Boleyn’s Songbook (Obsidian, one of a very fine series of recordings by Alamire) but The Tallis Scholars’ recording of Taverner’s Missa Corona Spinea must take pride of place.  (Gimell CDGIM046).

- Two very fine recordings of Vaughan Williams Symphonies have come from Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé this year on their own label, of which I choose the triumphant new version of the Sea Symphony (CDHLL7542), challenging even the classic Boult, by a slight margin over the earlier release of the Pastoral Symphony.

- There have been many fine reissues this year.  Though I’m tempted to include the BIS release of the complete Sibelius symphonies as a download for the first time at even less than the CD set, and much as I’d like to include the reissue of Pierre Monteux’s recording of Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony (Beulah), the clear favourite is the release on a single blu-ray audio disc of Sir Georg Solti’s complete Wagner Ring Cycle, offered in a hard-back book with the librettos and translations for not much more than half the price of the CDs.  (Decca 4786748).

- Just one choice to go and I’m going to have to make a difficult decision, setting aside Bliss’s Morning Heroes (Chandos), the first instalment of Beethoven’s String Quartets (Elias Quartet, Wigmore Hall), Smetana Quartets (Supraphon) and many others in favour of Arvo Pärt’s Tintinnabuli (The Tallis Scholars, Gimell CDGIM049).

***

Guillaume FAUGUES (fl. c.1460-1475)
Missa L’homme armé [39:52]
Missa Vinus Vina Meum [42:04]
The Sound and the Fury
FRA BERNARDO [81:56] – from emusic.com (mp3, NO booklet)

Unless it’s been corrected – I’ve informed emusic – the unbelievably muddled information on the individual tracks will lead you to believe that this is a completely different album, of harpsichord music performed by Francesco Cera.  It is, in fact, what the title says – the only recording that I have been able to track down of the music of Guillaume Faugues, about whom so very little is known.  The fault lies not with emusic: the version which Qobuz offers for streaming or downloading contains exactly the same misinformation.

I’m not aware of having encountered The Sound and the Fury before but their performances are attractive enough, if a little heavy and lacking in the joy of the music when judged against the likes of The Tallis Scholars.  Perhaps that’s partly as a result of the very close recording but a sharper tone would not come amiss.  The emusic.com download comes at around 230kb/s – not ideal, but only a little short of what Amazon and iTunes still believe to be adequate and £4.20 is a very attractive price for 82 minutes of music: iTunes charge £7.99 for it, but at least they get the tracks right.  As always with emusic, there is no booklet but the texts of the sections of the Mass are easy enough to come by.

Marbrianus de ORTO (c.1460-1529)
Missa Mi mi [37:08]
Missa L’homme armé [38:04]
The Sound and the Fury [David Erler (countertenor), John Potter, Klaus Wenk (tenor), Colin Mason, Richard Wistreich (bass)]
FRA BERNARDO FB6001222 [75:13] – from emusic.com (mp3, NO booklet)
 
At least emusic have got their track information sorted out correctly this time for another unique recording of fifteenth-century music well worth hearing.  The Missa l’Homme armé is included in a 2-CD recording of music for the Sistine Chapel, c.1490 (Musique en Wallonie MEW126566) and there are one or two recordings of some of his other music – his setting of Dulces exuviæ crops up quite often – but the Missa Mi mi is not otherwise available and the performances are, once again, attractive.  Here again I could have wished for a little more sense of joy in the music-making and a sharper tone.

As with the Faugues album, the bit-rate is acceptable but no more, at around 230kbs.

Michael PRÆTORIUS (1571-1621) Advent and Christmas Music
Veni redemptor gentium /Nun komm der Heiden Heiland [9:41]
In dulci jubilo [5:32]
Vom Himmel hoch [4:38]
Puer natus in Bethlehem [7:23]
Conditor alme siderum [7:25]
Gelobet seist du Jesu Christ [9:23]
Resonet in laudibus /Joseph, lieber Joseph mein [10:13]
A solis ortu cardine [13:12]
Bremer Barock Consort/Manfred Cordes
rec. Stiftskirche Bassum, Bremen, 23-26 January 2007 
CPO 7773272 [67:27] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, NO booklet)

My only reservation concerns the lack of a booklet and, hence, of texts.  It’s no excuse that most of them are easily accessed online: a download should offer the full deal.  Qobuz and classicsonlinehd.com don’t offer it either, so equally black marks to them.

Otherwise I greatly enjoyed this recording and I thoroughly agree with Simon Thompson, who dubbed it ‘in season or out … a gem’.

Organ Works of the North German Baroque – Vol. XI
Friedhelm Flamme (organ)
rec. 26-28 April 2013, St. Abdon und Sennen, Salzgitter-Ringelheim (CD1); 26-28 March 2010, Dreifaltigkeitskirche, Gräfenhain (CD2)
CPO 777597-2 SACD [61:06 + 68:41] – from eClassical (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

I was alerted to this set by my colleague Johan van Veen’s glowing review which, incidentally, includes a detailed track listing. The main composers featured here are Delphin Strunck (1601-1694), his son Nicolaus Adam (1640-1700) andChristian Flor (1626-1697); there’s also one piece each from Johann Decker (1598-1668), Dietrich Meyer (?-1653) and Marcus Olter (1625-1684). As the album title implies this is a multi-volume project that I’ve managed to overlook until now. The music is played by the German organist and pedagogue Friedhelm Flamme (b. 1963). Alas, if you’d like to know more about the music the ‘booklet’ – a glorified inlay card – won’t help.

That irritation aside – CPO have form in this regard* – this is a lovely set. When it comes to obscure composers one might be tempted to conclude that their obscurity is well deserved. That’s emphatically not the case here; Strunck Vater is a real craftsman, and it’s only in one or two pieces – the Verbum caro factum est, for instance – that his inspiration falters somewhat. Strunck Sohn is represented by a number of Capriccios and Ricercare, played on the piquant-sounding Dreifaltigkeitskirche organ. Not so memorable, perhaps, but these are energetic little pieces. Yes, Christian Flor can seem a little foursquare at times, but his tiny Ich danck dir schon is delightful.

Flamme is a scrupulous musician who knows and respects the shape and style of these pieces. These organs have appropriate character and scale, but I much prefer the warmth and weight of the Salzgitter-Ringelheim instrument. As for the CPO engineers they’ve come up with a clean, very revealing sound that’s easy on the ear. Even if this repertoire isn’t your usual fare – it’s not really mine – both the music and the music-making are well worth your time and money.

Engaging repertoire, beautifully performed; beguiling sonics.

Dan Morgan

* it’s not eclassical’s fault: the booklet from other download sources is equally minimalist.  (BW)

CHRISTMAS MUSIC  
Carl BÖDDECKER (1607-1683)  Natus est Jesus.
  Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)  Non sò qual più m'ingombraa. O di Betlemme, altera povera venturosa. 
Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706)  Canon and Gigue. 
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)  Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV61 - Öffne dich mein ganzes Herz 
Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D, BWV1068 - Air. 
Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben,  BWV147 - Bereite dir, Jesu, noch itzo die Bahn. 
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)  Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6 No. 8, Fatto per la notte di natale
Emma Kirkby (soprano); London Baroque/Charles Medlam (cello). 
BIS CD-1135  [66:49] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet) or stream from classicsonlinehd.com. 

I seem to have omitted this in error from the 2015/10 Index.  The good thing is that the omission gives me an excuse to remind you what a wonderful collection it is.

Böhmische Weihnacht (Bohemian Christmas)
Pavel Josef VEJVANOVSKI (1633 or 1639-1693)
Sonata Natalis in C [4:04]
Missa Salvatoris: Kyrie [2:22]; Gloria [5:33]; Sanctus [2:58]
Romanus WEICHLEIN (c.1652-c.1706)
Sonata No.5 for 2 trumpets, strings and continuo [7:40]
Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (c.1620/1623-1680)
Transeamus usque ad Bethlehem [9:45]
Gottfried FINGER (1660-1730) Trumpet Sonata No.3 in C [8:51]
Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER Sonata Natalis in D [6:35]
Johann Baptist Georg NERUDA (1708-1780) Horn Concerto in E-flat: Allegro [9:35]
August KERZINGER (fl. 17th century)
Sonata for 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, strings and continuo [2:35]
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von BIBER (1644-1704) Missa Alleluja: Kyrie [2:55]; Gloria [6:21]
Barbara Christina Steude (soprano), Annette Markert (mezzo-soprano), Uwe Stickert (tenor), Andreas Scheibner (bass), Sven Barnkoth (trumpet), Kurt Sandau (trumpet), Roland Straumer (trumpet), Benjamin Glaubitz (tenor)
Leipzig Bach Collegium; Sächsisches Vokalensemble; Virtuosi Saxoniae/Ludwig Güttler
rec. live Frauenkirche, Dresden, 15 December 2012. DDD
BERLIN CLASSICS 0300598BC [69:14] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, NO booklet)

Those who dislike brass music should steer clear – there’s plenty of it here and it’s not always played quite as sweetly as you might wish, baroque brass being notorious difficult to manage in a live concert, with no opportunity for retakes.  I would have preferred the whole of the two Masses rather than the snippets, especially as the Vejvanovsky in its entirety is available in only one other version, a download of a Cantate recording from Presto.  The complete Biber Missa Alleluja is available on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, with Schmelzer’s Vesperæ solemnes (Gradus ad Parnassum/Konrad Junghänel, 88697568652. Budget price).

All that said, together with the usual grumble about the lack of a booklet, I shall enjoy hearing this recording at least once over Christmas.  For subscribers who stream from classicsonlinehd.com, there’s no booklet there, either.

Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (c.1645-1704) Messe de minuit pour Noël, H9 [29:53]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963) Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël [10:16]
Salve Regina [3:34]
Quatre motets pour un temps de penitence [14:14]
Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge
City of London Sinfonia/George Guest
rec. St John’s College Chapel, Cambridge, 28-29 July 1988 (NOT ‘originally recorded in 2007’ as stated by theclassicalshop.net: that’s when it was reissued.)
Texts and translations included
CHANDOS CLASSICS CHAN10448 [58:37] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet)

I had thought that it would be easy to recommend, if not a ‘best’ recording of Charpentier’s wonderful Christmas Midnight Mass, at least a very good one.  I had thought, too, that George Guest might have been the person to do it with his choir of St John’s, Cambridge, now that the classic English recording of the work is download only.  That came from King’s, Cambridge, directed by the late Sir David Willcocks in 1967: perhaps Warner will reissue it as part of a Willcocks tribute set.  It remains available for streaming by subscribers from Qobuz but they are asking rather a lot at £11.82 for the download of what was reissued several times at mid- and budget-price.  In any case, as I write, Qobuz seems to be destined for receivership.

The Willcocks recording was far from authentic, with flutes rather than recorders, for example, but that was more excusable in 1967 when it was made than in 1988 when George Guest’s version was set down.  Nevertheless, Willcocks does make some concessions to period practice with double-dotted rhythms.  Most importantly his recording is fun to listen to.

Guest starts well with a sprightly, dancing rendition of the Kyrie, slightly faster than Willcocks and not far short of matching the lightness of the Erato recording directed by William Christie.  That Erato CD is also deleted; it’s not even included in any of the many multi-CD sets which contain his recordings, but it can be downloaded from 7digital.com for £2.99 (mp3) or £4.49 (16-bit lossless), albeit without booklet.  That remains my benchmark, even without booklet, and it’s coupled with a fine recording of another Christmas work, In nativitatem Domini canticum.

Even Christie’s precentor sounds more involved as he intones the opening Gloria in excelsis Deo and Credo in unum Deum.  Guest’s precentor sounds uninvolved; while that may be more ‘authentic’ in the sense that the celebrant rarely has a fine solo singing voice, he doesn’t need to sound distant and uninvolved.  It’s good to have boys’ voices on the top line but they don’t always hit the spot – try the tu solus sanctus section of the Gloria.

I would gladly swap the authenticity of boy trebles for Christie’s use of a solo voice much closer to the French haute-contre that Charpentier would have expected than Guest’s tenor.  If you feel averse to downloading the Erato recording, the other version that I would recommend comes from the Aradia Ensemble and Kevin Mallon on Naxos.  Though he intersperses a number of the Noëls or Christmas tunes on which Charpentier based his Mass – something which he does more fully than the other recordings that I know, though it won’t be to all tastes – Mallon’s lively tempi bring his recording in overall a minute faster than Guest’s, yet he does so without sounding hurried.  Best of all, it’s a budget-price recording, coupled, like the Willcocks, with the Te Deum and also with a setting of Dixit Dominus (8.557229 – reviewreviewDL Roundup: Stream/download from classicsonlinehd.com (with booklet) or download from eclassical.com (NO booklet).

Nor is the Chandos coupling the most logical: between the music of Charpentier and that of Poulenc something of a gulf exists.  Though the performances of the Poulenc are more idiomatic than those of the Charpentier, it seems illogical to follow the Christmas music with that for a penitential season, as if Christmas and Advent had somehow got reversed.

Poulenc’s Christmas motets seem more at home in a Hyperion recording of seasonal fare from Westminster Abbey, conducted by James O’Donnell and containing mostly music from the   twentieth century, including some of the compositions commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge.  John Quinn gave this a warm welcome, which I very happily endorse (A Christmas Caroll, CDA67716details and review – download from hyperion-records.co.uk, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet or CD).

Chandos offer two timings – 57:42 on the webpage and 58:37 in the booklet but Winamp says that it plays for a total of 59:19.  The CD sells for around £7 and the mp3 download for £4.99, both very good value, so why does the 16-bit download cost more than the CD, at £7.99, and the 24-bit more still, at £11.99?

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Gloria in D, RV589 [25:59]
Lætatus sum (Psalm 121), RV607 [3:07]
Magnificat, RV610a (version for double choir) [14:00]
Lauda, Jerusalem, RV609 [7:17]
Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet
rec. Église Notre Dame du Liban, Paris, 8-9 June 2015. DDD
Texts and translations included.
ALPHA 222 [50:31] Sample only (even for subscribers, until 30 October 2015) from Qobuz; purchase for download (16- and 24-bit).  Trailer from outhere-music.com

I’m far from clear what the cover shot of an article of clothing has to do with the works on this recording.  That said, I have plenty of praise for this account of the more famous of Vivaldi’s Gloria settings, here arranged as it would presumably have been in performance by the girls of the Ospedale, with the lower parts transposed up from SATB to SSAA.  The shorter works and the Magnificat also come over very well.

So far I have been able to hear only the low-bit press preview from Outhere, though that bodes well for the more finished version. 

Antonio VIVALDI (1678–1741) Sacred Music • 4
In turbato mare irato, RV627 [16:23]
In exitu Israel, RV604 [3:29]
Vestro Principi divino, RV633 [14:14]
Laudate Dominum, RV606 [1:40]
Invicti bellate, RV628 [9:50]
Laetatus sum, RV607 [3:27]
O qui coeli terraeque serenitas, RV6311 [10:44]
Claire de Sévigné (soprano); Maria Soulis (mezzo)
Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon
rec. St Anne’s Anglican Church, Toronto, Canada, 28–30 April 2014. DDD
Texts and translations included
NAXOS 8.573324 [59:48] – from classicsonlinehd.com (16-bit lossless and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).  Available for streaming, also from Naxos Music Library (for subscribers in both cases).

Though I have enjoyed Kevin Mallon’s earlier Naxos recordings of baroque repertoire, I must admit to having approached this latest release with some trepidation: could any performances even come near those in the Hyperion complete series, with the King’s Consort and Choir (CDS44171-81)?  Or with another recording of the opening In turbato mare irato from Simone Kermes and the Venice Baroque Orchestra directed by Andrea Marcon on DG Archiv 4775980, which was generally praised, though Johan van Veen was not impressed – review.

In turbato mare, with Susan Gritton as the soprano soloist, features on Volume 5 of the complete Hyperion recordings: it remains available separately as a download on CDA66799. As the Naxos notes indicate, it’s effectively an operatic aria transferred to the sacred domain, and much depends not only on the quality of the singing in the virtuoso melismata, but also on the degree of dramatic involvement of the soloist.  Susan Gritton shines in both respects.

Mallon and Naxos have waited six years between volumes 3 and 4 of this series and the soloists on this recording appear to be new to the recording scene.  Both are good: Claire de Sévigné is a soprano of whom I hope to hear more in future, with plenty of power to hit the top notes.  She by no means neglects the dramatic import, but Susan Gritton just places more meaning behind the words.  If you can’t afford to go for the whole Hyperion set, Volume 5 would be a good place to start, not least for Robin Blaze’s performance of the Stabat Mater.

The Naxos comes at an attractive price – £4.99 (16-bit) or £9.99 (24-bit) – and is well worth the modest outlay.  There’s no 24-bit equivalent for the Hyperion but at £8.99 it contains more music, 77 minutes as against 60 on Naxos, and I’d recommend forgoing 24-bit for the very good Hyperion 16-bit recording, dating from 1998.  Both come with the booklet but the Hyperion outshines the very good Naxos offering.

Nathalie Stutzmann sings a shorter version of Vestro Principi divino on CDA66819: Naxos include the alternative aria Prata virete, making their recording technically more complete.  That apart, the Hyperion recording is the one to go for, with equally superb accounts of Laudate pueri, RV601 and the Gloria, RV588, a work just as well worth hearing as the better-known Gloria, RV589.  Only those who prefer Soulis’s mezzo to Stutzmann’s contralto – these two recordings, heard one after the other, make the distinction very clear – should go for the Naxos rather than the Hyperion.

I haven’t done detailed comparisons of the other works but the same applies generally: good/very good performances on Naxos just yield to the superb Hyperion achievement.

Recording of the Month/Recording of the Year
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Mass in b minor, BWV232 [105:45]
Hannah Morrison (soprano), Esther Brazil (mezzo), Meg Bragle (alto), Kate Symonds-Joy (alto), Peter Davoren (tenor), Nick Pritchard (tenor), Alex Ashworth (bass), David Shipley (bass)
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists/Sir John Eliot Gardiner
rec. LSO St Luke’s, London, 28-31 March 2015. DDD
Texts and translations included, with notes excerpted from Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s book Music in the Castle of Heaven.
SOLI DEO GLORIA SDG722 [51:11 + 54:34] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).  Please see full review.

The substance of my full review is summed up in one short paragraph: This could easily have been the shortest review that I have ever written: this is as perfect as it gets this side of what Sir John Eliot Gardiner calls Music in the Castle of Heaven, the title of his 2013 book on the music of Bach, excerpts from which are included in the booklet with the new recording. 

If you have hesitated to go for one of the existing recordings of this wonderful work, fear not to launch away.

Weihnachten der Bach-Familie (Christmas with the Bach Family)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
Weihnachts- Oratorium (Christmas Oratorio), BWV248:  Jauchzet, frohlocket! [7:27]
Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH (1732-1795)
Die Kindheit Jesu (The Infancy of Jesus, 1773): Hirtenlied (Shepherd’s song): Holde, hohe Wundernacht [2:05]
Johann Ludwig BACH (1677–1731)
Uns ist ein Kind geboren (motet for 8 voices and continuo) [7:39]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714 – 1788)
Auf, schicke dich recht feierlich, Wq 249: Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt [1:38]; Groß ist der Herr – Ihr Völker, hört’s [2:12]
Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710-1784)
Lasset uns ablegen die Werke der Finsternis (Let us cast off the Works of darkness): Höre, Vater, mit Erbarmen [9:27]; Final chorus: Lasset uns ablegen die Werke der Finsternis [4:38]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Weihnachts-OratoriumHirtenmusik (Pastoral Symphony) [5:34]
Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782)
Magnificat in C: Magnificat anima mea – Et misericordia [4:27]
Johann Ernst BACH (1722–1777)
Meine Seele erhebt den Herrn (Motet: German Magnificat):  Und seine Barmherzigkeit [2:16]; Lob und Preis sei Gott [2:37]
Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Motet: Sleepers wake): Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme [6:31]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Weihnachts-Oratorium: Schlafe, mein Liebster, genieße der Ruh [9:26]; Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen [3:16]
Monica Groop (alto);
Vokalensemble Frankfurt, Concerto Köln/Ralf Otto;
Barbara Schlick, Martina Lins (soprano); Hilke Helling, Silke Weisheit (contralto); Wilfried Jochens (tenor);
Rheinische Kantorei, Das Kleine Konzert/Hermann Max;
Elisabeth Scholl (soprano);
Dresdner Kammerchor, La Stagione Frankfurt/Michael Schneider
rec. various dates.  Compilation released 2011.
CAPRICCIO C5105 [69:16] – from classicsonlinehd.com (stream for subscribers or download in 16-bit lossless for £4.99, with pdf booklet but NO texts)

Who better than several of the members of the hyper-musical Bach family to take you through Christmas?  The performances are every bit as good as the distinguished names above imply, as are the recordings, though made at different (unspecified) times.

My only reservation is that I would have liked to have had the complete works from which these excerpts are taken, which appear to be no longer available on CD*: this anthology is just a trifle bitty and the transition from one ensemble to another, with different sizes of forces and different acoustic, is something of a cultural shock.  The very reasonable price compensates for all that and for the lack of texts: even if you go for the CD, they seem not to be contained in the booklet.

* Classicsonlinehd.com have JCF Bach’s Die Kindheit Jesu and Wachet auf! with pdf booklet, this time with texts, also for £4.99.

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Music for the Royal Fireworks [21:25]
Pro Arte Wind Ensemble/Sir Charles Mackerras – rec. 1959 ADD/stereo
With music by Coates (Knightsbridge March) Alford (Colonel Bogey), Prokofiev (March, Op.99), Wagner (Good Friday Music), etc., performed by Eastman Wind Ensemble/Fredrick Fennell – rec. 1958 ADD/stereo
BEULAH 8PD82 [63:36] – from iTunes or Amazon UK (both mp3)

This classic recording of the Fireworks Music in many ways marked the beginning of Handel’s music being performed with period awareness in that Mackerras assembled a host of London musicians in the original proportions: 62 wind and nine percussion.  In order to get them all together, the recording had to be made at night.  Though Mackerras later repeated the exercise and others have come even closer to period practice – The King’s Consort on Hyperion CDH55375, for example, good value with the Water Music as coupling* – the 1958 recording remains of great value.  

The Testament reissue of the Fireworks comes with more Handel as coupling but many will prefer the Beulah coupling of more music for wind ensemble, this time from the renowned Eastman players and Frederick Fennell, a selection from a Mercury recording (AMS16048) which was released in the UK in 1960.  The only other way to obtain these recordings is in a monster 55-CD box set or as a licensed CD from Presto.

The Handel performance was well worth reviving, the ex-Mercury items even more so.  The transfers have been done with Beulah’s customary skill: I doubt if even the master tapes could yield better results, though with the usual caveat that the wav files which I receive are of better quality than iTunes’ mp3.

* or with Coronation Anthems (CDA66350).

Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772)
Nouveau Livre de Noëls, Op.2 [69:54 ]
Vincent Boucher (organ of the Basilica Gallery, Oratoire Saint-Joseph, Montréal, Canada)
rec. July 2014.
ATMA CLASSIQUE ACD22703 [69:54] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet)

Daquin was one of the many Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century French composers who set the traditional French carols for organ or instrumental ensemble and it’s for these that he is mainly remembered today.  Several of them, mostly Nos. 10-12, feature in anthologies but this is, I think, the only complete recording.  He seems to have had a knack for writing popular music yet always, as even his arch-rival Rameau acknowledged, with good taste, and the performances on this recording – download only in the UK – match those qualities.  The instrument, venue and recording are all well suited to the music.

Atma also have a shorter selection, together with Christmas music by Corrette, Balbastre and Dandrieu, performed by Les Boréades de Montréal, on ACD22118 – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, NO booklet).

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN  (1770-1827)
Symphony No.5  in c minor, Op.67 (1807) [31:21]
Symphony No.7  in A, Op.92 (1812) [39:55]
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck
rec. live, 5-7 December 2014, Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
REFERENCE RECORDINGS FR-718 [71:27] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).

Both Brian Reinhart and Michael Cookson made this a Recording of the Monthreviewreview – prompting me to wonder if this could possibly rival the honours-laden Carlos Kleiber recording (DG Originals 4474002, same coupling).

Manfred Honeck’s Fifth is decidedly old-school in many respects and the impression is that he chooses some very weighty tempi, yet, mirabile dictu, in every single movement he is consistently faster than Carlos Kleiber – almost by a whole minute in each of the second and final movements.  Kleiber’s father Erich reverses the usual perception that the older generation of conductors took Beethoven very slowly: his Concertgebouw recording of the Fifth (with the Fourth, on Urania) is consistently slightly faster than his son’s or Honeck’s.  Timings are not everything, however: even on his 1955 mono recording with the Philharmonia (with No.7, Naxos Historical 8.111248) Klemperer takes a whole 35 minutes for the Fifth, yet without sounding ponderous.  Indeed that mono Klemperer, before the slow tempi set in, is still something of a benchmark in many ways.  Now I find myself admiring the new Honeck recording as another benchmark, despite all the reasons why I shouldn’t.

Tempi for the Seventh are less contentious, just a little slower than Carlos Kleiber’s, except the finale which is a fraction faster.  Both adopt a sensible timing of around 8:30, which can seem a little cautious if, like me, your first encounter with this symphony was from Bruno Walter and the NYPO, where he dashed the movement off in 6:21.  With the New York orchestra that just works but when he re-recorded the Seventh in stereo with the Columbia SO the players were not quite up to it and it almost – not quite – comes off the rails.  It’s still good to see, however, that the Columbia SO recordings of all the symphonies and the Violin Concerto, with rehearsal sessions, have recently been reissued at budget price (88875123912, 7CDs for around £20 or less – review).  I shall return to Walter sometimes when I want to live dangerously, but Kleiber and Honeck are much easier to live with and they both capture the con brio of the movement even at a slower tempo.

The sound of the Kleiber has not dated, but what clinches my preference for the new Honeck recording is that Sound Mirror’s work on behalf of Reference Recordings is superb.  The 24-bit comes in 24/192 format, so it takes a good while to download, weighing in at a whacking 2.3 GB, but it sounds as if you were there in the concert hall.  Add the excellent notes which come with the eclassical.com download* and it’s a real winner.

* also for subscribers who stream from Qobuz but not from classicsonlinehd.com.

As it happens, another recording of the Seventh Symphony [39:40] has recently appeared, from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Mariss Jansons, coupled with the Eighth [25:41] and Jörg Widmann’s (b.1973) Con brio [11:50] (BR-Klassik 900137 [77:11] – from eclassical.com, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).  If you have too many versions of the Fifth already and can’t stand the thought of acquiring another, the coupling with the Eighth may be more to your liking, especially as it also comes with a piece which Jansons commissioned specifically to stand between the two symphonies.  The only surprise is that these live recordings have taken so long to materialise: the Widmann was recorded in 2008, the Beethoven in 2012, live recordings though mercifully free of noises off apar5t from applause.  Please see review by Dominy Clements.

Bernard Haitink’s otherwise recommendable LSO Live recording of the Seventh is awkwardly coupled with the Triple Concerto, which you may already have – perhaps the classic DG Originals version with Schneiderhahn, Anda, Fournier, the RIAS Orchestra and Ferenc Fricsay, or the star-studded Karajan recording with Oistrakh, Rostropovich and Richter (Warner/EMI), both at mid-price and both logically coupled with the Brahms Double Concerto.

If you don’t have a recording of the Triple Concerto and are seeking a budget-price version with an unusual coupling, a Chandos Collect album  is well worth considering: Joseph Kalichstein, Jaime Laredo, Sharon Robinson, the English Chamber Orchestra and Sir Alexander Gibson, recorded in 1984 [37:06] and coupled with Barry Wordsworth’s reconstruction of the first movement of Beethoven’s planned Tenth Symphony from the CBSO/Walter Weller [15:49].  It’s short on playing time but the price compensates: it’s yours for £4.80 (mp3) or £4.99 (lossless), with pdf booklet (CHAN6501 [52:47] – from theclassicalshop.net).

O heilige Nacht: Romantische Chormusik zur Weihnachtszeit
Franz WÜLLNER (1832–1902) Nachtgruß (Weil jetzo alles stille ist) [3:14]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833–1897) Es flog ein Täublein weiße [3:24]
August von OTHEGRAVEN (1864–1946) Vom Himmel hoch, ihr Engel, kommt [3:42]
Gustav SCHRECK (1849–1918) Wie soll ich dich empfangen [4:54]
Carl Gottlob REIßIGER (1798–1859) Es ist ein Reis entsprungen [5:24]
Gustav SCHRECK Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern [4:23]
Carl LOEWE (1796–1869) Puer natus in Bethlehem [3:11]
Franz WÜLLNER Still, ihr Winde [3:17]
Robert FUCHS (1847–1927) Schlaf, mein Kindelein [3:29]
Carl LOEWE Quem pastores laudavere [3:48]
Robert FUCHS O freudenreicher Tag [2:08]
Max BRUCH (1838–1920) Wiegenlied der Hirten [2:34]
Max REGER (1873–1916) Lass mich dein sein und bleiben [6:01]
Franz WÜLLNER Kindelein zart von guter Art [2:30]
Carl LOEWE In dulci jubilo [3:09]
Max REGER Jesu, großer Wunderstern [4:41]
Carl REINTHALER (1822–1896) Weihnachtslied (after Robert Schumann, Op.79/16)
Heil’ge Nacht [3:30]
Gustav SCHRECK Stille Nacht (after Franz GRUBER) [3:28]
Max REGER Das alte Jahr vergangen ist (Neujahrslied) [3:20]
Dresdner Kammerchor/Hans-Christoph Rademann
rec.  Evangelische Stadtkirche Radeberg, 6–9 November 2014.
Texts and translations include
CARUS 83.392 [72:22] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet)

Apart from a few examples, such as Mendelssohn’s Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, itself much less lively than earlier settings, such as Samuel Arnold’s and Edward Miller’s adaptation of Handel’s See, the conquering hero comes, both included on Hyperion CDH55325reviewChristmas Downloads 2009 – German Romantic choral music for Christmas is much less well known than the Baroque repertoire for the season.  Not everything here is unfamiliar: Othegraven’s Vom Himnmel hoch (track 3) re-popularised a seventeenth-century hymn with the refrain Susani, Susani, and Schreck’s Wie soll ich dich empfangen? (track 4) is a reworking of O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, itself already venerable when Bach used it in the Matthew Passion and Christmas Oratorio.  Other pieces, too, are reworkings of older, familiar tunes.

The danger with this music lies in making it sound too ponderous but the sensitive performances by the Dresden Chamber Choir mostly avoid that trap and I enjoyed their introduction to some seasonal music which was largely new to me – several items are, in fact, receiving their first outings on record.

The recording, in 24-bit sound, is faithful.  The booklet contains helpful notes on the little-known composers like Wüllner and the cover image, unmistakably the work of arch-romantic Caspar David Friedrich, sets off the album very well.

Jacques OFFENBACH (1819–1880)
Overture to Orphée aux enfers (1858, Orpheus in the Underworld) [10:24]
Overture to La Belle Hélène (1864, Beautiful Helen) [8:35]
Overture and Ballet from Le Voyage dans la lune (1875, The Journey to the Moon) [17:25]
Overture to La Fille du tambour-major (1879, The Drum-Major’s Daughter) [5:54]
Intermède and Barcarolle from Les Contes d’Hoffmann (1881, The Tales of Hoffmann) [5:12]
Overture to Barbe-bleue (1866, Bluebeard) [3:08]
Overture to Le Mariage aux lanternes (1857, Marriage by Lantern-light) [5:25]
Overture to La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (1867, The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein) [6:04]
Overture to Vert-Vert (1869) [8:59]
Overture to La Vie parisienne (1866, Parisian Life) [5:33]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Neeme Järvi
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland; 23-24 June 2015. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN5160 [77:45] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16-and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).  Also available on SACD as CHSA5160.

The idea that Offenbach’s music is all crude knockabout stuff seems to have inhibited orchestras and recording companies in recent times.  The best recordings of his music go back to classic albums such as those by Jean Martinon conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra ( Le mariage aux lanterns, La Belle Helene, Barbe-bleue, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein and Orphée aux Enfers Overtures, with music by Adam, Boieldieu and Hérold, Australian Decca 4762757) or The World of Offenbach (performances directed by Ernest Ansermet, Richard Bonynge, Decca4529422).  Even the latter is now available only as a download or on specially licensed CD from Presto.

Otherwise there’s the Rosenthal/Offenbach confection Gâïté Parisienne but Solti’s Decca Eloquence recording – review – of that also seems to have disappeared from the UK catalogue, except as a download – stream (subscribers) from Qobuz, though I can’t recommend the download when it costs more than what was a budget-price CD and it comes without booklet.  The Naxos recording, with Manuel Rosenthal, at 92, conducting the Monte Carlo Orchestra in his own concoction offers a good modern (1996) recording at a modest price – subscribers to classicsonlinehd.com can stream and purchase for £4.99 there, with booklet.  The coupling is another Rosenthal concoction, Offenbachiana (8.554005).

The Martinon recording contains five of the overtures contained on the new Chandos and the performances are as idiomatic and enjoyable as you would expect with Martinon at the helm, even without a French orchestra, but I listened again to the streamed version from Qobuz immediately after listening to the new Järvi recording and the sound, though much better than the vintage Scherchen recordings on Archipel when I compared them in DL News 2014/10, now sounds very shrill by comparison, almost as if the Decca engineers had slipped back into the bad old ways when they reissued some of their 1950s mono and early stereo recordings on Ace of Clubs and Ace of Diamonds with over-emphasised top frequencies.

Of course it’s unfair to compare 1960s tapings with 2015 24-bit recordings but the much improved sound of Chandos’s 24/96 download – and, I’m confident, from past comparisons, of their SACD too – makes it well worth paying the extra.  The SACD is on offer as I write from Presto at £10.50; the download from theclassicalshop.net costs £7.99, £9.99, £13.99 or £19.99 (mp3, 16-bit lossless, 24/96 and 24-bit surround sound respectively).  I’m still not sure why 24-bit, especially the surround versions, have to cost more than the physical product, but the economics of downloading are far from logical: its chief appeal for me is the ability to review without waiting for the disc in the post and without adding even more to a very cluttered collection.

As for the performances I found them very enjoyable, with the livelier and more sensitive aspects of Offenbach’s music both very well presented.  The virtues of Neeme Järvi’s earlier recording of Suppé with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra are repeated here, without the reservations that were felt in some quarters on that occasion – reviewreviewreviewDL News 2013/2.  I was one of those who felt a little disappointed with the Suppé but not this time.  Perhaps the fact that he’s at the helm of the Suisse Romande Orchestra this time helps – geographically and temperamentally they are closer to Paris than the RSNO, having made many recordings of French repertoire with Ansermet in an earlier incarnation.

Don’t expect Offenbach as performed by Järvi and his team to sound as if his only mode is the music of the can-can.  The opening Orphée aux Enfers takes 10:24 as against 9:34 from Martinon and the LPO but that’s largely because the beautiful themes are given time to develop before launching into the raunchier music.  If you recall that in the operetta this beautiful music, from Orpheus himself and the King of Bœotoians, comes in for mockery you may think it wrong-headed of Järvi to stress its beauty but this is a purely orchestral selection, not highlights from the operetta.  If you want to enjoy the whole work – still very well worth reviving – try to find the old Sadler’s Wells highlights album with June Bronhill and others.  Subscribers to emusic.com will find it there for just £0.84.  I’m not the greatest fan of operetta but I remember greatly enjoying a later version of that production at the Coliseum, with the underworld transferred to the London Underground.

If you think that even Martinon is too circumspect in the Orphée overture, Alexander Faris dashes through it in a mere 7:39, destroying some of the beautiful parts of the music and in a recording which sounds its age, especially in  a transfer at just 156kbs, but it’s great fun.

It isn’t the case that Järvi is consistently slower than Martinon: in La belle Helène (track 2) there are only seconds of difference between the two.  Incidentally, I listened to this overture from another Decca source featuring Martinon’s complete Decca recordings, 1951 to 1960, and the sound is marginally less strident than on  Eloquence but still rather raw. It dates, after all, from 1952 and was considered rather strident in its day.  Apparently a top-frequency cut is not the answer: the reissue on Decca Eclipse in 1970 sounded rather veiled – though that may have been the fault of the bogus ‘stereo’.  Though Järvi is only seconds slower he does allow the music to breathe more, which you may or may not prefer.  It worked for me, as did the rest of the programme.  In fact Järvi is actually a degree niftier than Martinon in La grande Duchesse de Gérolstein and only seconds slower in Barbe-bleue.

Heard immediately after the top-heavy Martinon the Chandos recording may seem lacking in the upper frequencies.  Heard on its own, however, the sound is attractively rounded, though it benefits from a volume boost.

We needed a new set of Offenbach recordings.  Järvi won’t have provided them for all tastes: I imagine that many of those who disliked his Suppé will not be persuaded, but as one who had doubts about that earlier release I enjoyed the new album much more just as, I see, did Dan Morgan – review.  Try it if you can – there are short samples on chandos.net and theclassicalshop.net and subscribers to Naxos Music Library and classicsonlinehd.com should be able to stream it there soon.

Bedrich SMETANA (1824–1884)
String Quartet No.1 in e minor, From my life [27:01]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
String Quartet No.1 JW VII/8, The Kreutzer Sonata [18:38 ]
String Quartet No.2 JW VII/13, Intimate letters [25:48]
Takács Quartet [Edward Dusinberre (violin I); Károly Schranz (violin II); Geraldine Walther (viola); András Fejér (cello)]
rec. 16-20 August 2014, Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, UK
HYPERION CDA67997  [71:29] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

Stephen Greenbank made this a Recording of the Monthreview.  The Takács Quartet’s time with Decca was immensely productive and distinguished but their transition to Hyperion has, if anything, been even more so: this is their second release this year.

If the coupling appeals, this is a very enticing prospect.  My only reason for hesitating to give an all-out recommendation stems from the existence of a superb recording by the Pavel Haas Quartet of both the Smetana Quartets on Supraphon – one of my very serious considerations for Recording of the Year: (SU4172-2review).  That’s rather short on playing time by comparison with the Hyperion but subscribers can obtain it in best-quality mp3 from emusic.com for an attractive price. 

There’s an award-winning Pavel Haas Quartet recording of Janáček’s String Quartet No.1, but that’s coupled with two quartets by Pavel Haas (Supraphon SU3922-2).  The Pavel Haas Quartet also offer strong competition in Janáček’s Second Quartet, but again coupled with a work by Pavel Haas ( SU3877-2review). 

Hyperion are competing with themselves: there’s a fine performance by the Dante Quartet of the two Smetana Quartets, with Sibelius’s d minor Quartet on CDA67845reviewDL Roundup August 2011/1.  If you are looking for exactly the same programme as on the new Hyperion, however, that comes from the Jerusalem Quartet on Harmonia Mundi HMC902178, which is therefore the obvious version for comparison.  It makes a good option, with very fine playing and very good recording, especially as heard in the 24/96 download from eclassical.com, the only way to obtain it in better-than-CD sound, as there is no SACD equivalent.  In the final analysis, however, neither the high-pitched note in the Smetana nor the similar passages in Janáček’s Second Quartet – about which more below – seem quite searing enough.

In the two Janáček Quartets the Takács offer powerful performances which I think have rarely been excelled.  They match even the Talich Quartet (La Dolce Volta LDV256, with Schulhoff Quartet No.1 – from eclassical.com, mp3 and lossless download, NO booklet) and they will be very hard to beat in future.  They score over the Supraphon CDs by including both works on the same album: not everyone will want the couplings by the Pavel Haas Quartet’s eponymous composer and the new Hyperion recording offers a more generous playing time than any of the Supraphons mentioned, none of which plays for more than an hour.

Capturing the right degree of intensity in the Janáček Quartets is hard to judge: these are works which call for powerful playing but Leslie Wright and especially Jonathan Woolf both felt that the Doric Quartet overstep the mark (Chandos CHAN10848).  I downloaded that recording in 24-bit sound from theclassicalshop.net, where it’s also available in mp3 and 16-bit, all with the pdf booklet and, impressive as the performances are, by comparison with the Takács and Talich recordings I agree that there is too much striving to make a point.  I should add, however, that at least two other reviewers were much more impressed.

The Takács Quartet take both the third and fourth movements of Intimate Letters, especially the latter, faster than the Talich Quartet but both quartets stress the drama in the second half of the third movement and in the fourth; the difference in tempo is more apparent on paper than in actuality.

The Takács recording of the Smetana Quartet is less impressive than their Janáček.  It’s almost as if they are deliberately holding back in a work which they assume needs a less intense approach.  Thus, while the opening of the first movement is played with a strong attack, the high-pitched note which indicates the onset of Smetana’s tinnitus and deafness – far from the ‘small joke’ which Smetana called it – is less powerful and therefore less effective than the similar outbursts which punctuate the third and fourth movements of Janácek’s Second Quartet.  Nor do they quite convey the way that Smetana can be seen with hindsight to prepare us for that moment, with the almost desperate happiness of the music which precedes it, akin to some passages in Beethoven’s late quartets.

The Jerusalem Quartet convey more effectively that manic happiness of the first half of the finale of the Smetana but, even more than the Takacs Quartet, they are not quite strident enough to convey the full horror of the composer’s ‘small joke’.  For the Smetana my choice remains with the Talich, Dante and Pavel Haas Quartets, all of which I could happily live with, especially the Pavel Haas, all of which offer both Smetana Quartets and all but the Pavel Haas include an extra work.

Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
The Carnival of the Animals [26:43]
Sir Noël Coward (speaker); André Kostelanetz and his Orchestra – rec. 1950. ADD/mono
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Alborada del gracioso [7:55]
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra/Albert Wolff – rec. 1959. ADD/stereo
With music by DEBUSSY, GOUNOD and VIDAL (RPO/Beecham, rec. 1960, stereo) and MASSENET, CHABRIER and BERLIOZ (Hallé/Barbirolli, rec. 1957, stereo).
BEULAH 5PD87 [66:08] – from iTunes and Amazon UK (both mp3)

This (American) Columbia recording of Carnival of the Animals, with a new commentary by Ogden Nash, was first released on its own on a 10” Philips LP in the UK (NBR6001) and later with Walton’s Façade on Philips Classical Favourites and CBS Classics.  The Beulah release stands or falls by whether you like to hear the music on its own – as I definitely prefer – or to have it interrupted with an all-too-clever commentary.  If you prefer the latter, then you could hardly hope for better than Noël Coward’s equally clever delivery.  The orchestral performance is good and the mono recording has been well transferred for its age but for me it’s a shame that some desirable Beecham and Barbirolli recordings and the final Alborada del gracioso, all in stereo, appear in company with this version of Carnival of the Animals.  Still, it’s inexpensive enough if you purchase it for its second two thirds.

Dan Morgan praised the Decca Eloquence recording which contains Wolff’s Alboradareview – and I’m equally pleased with the Beulah transfer.  I haven’t heard the Eloquence, but I doubt if, though transferred from the master tapes, it sounds much better than what Beulah have conjured out of the grooves of SXL2105, itself always something of a demonstration LP.

Recording of the Month
Frederick DELIUS (1852-1934)
Hassan: Intermezzo and Serenade [1:54 + 2:13]
Dance Rhapsody No.1 [12:02] – rec. 1952 ADD/mono
Dance Rhapsody No.2 [7:41]
Sleigh Ride [5:28]
A Song before Sunrise [6:05]
Irmelin: Prelude [5:02]
Marche Caprice [3:54]
Florida Suite [35:05] – rec. 1956 ADD/stereo
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
BEULAH 3PDR4 [79:28] – from iTunes or Amazon UK (both mp3).  Subscribers stream from Qobuz

This is superb: there have been many fine interpreters of Delius but none finer than Beecham.  With his EMI recordings tied up in box sets and only the 1952 Hassan excerpts available separately on Naxos Historical, this very well-filled Beulah reissue is especially welcome, especially for the Florida Suite.

The 1952 mono items have come up sounding infinitely better than I remember from the Philips Concert Classics LP on which I first heard them – only a little thinness betrays their age.  The other items have come up sounding as well as on the 6-CD set Beecham conducts English Music (9099152reviewreview). 

Beecham’s stereo recordings of Over the Hills and Far Away and Summer Night on the River will be included in another Beulah release of music by Grainger and Delius, due for release shortly (9PD82).   Don’t overlook the single Beulah release of Beecham’sOn hearing the first Cuckoo in Spring on 1BX43 – see DL Roundup May 2011/1.

Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Hänsel und Gretel
Theo Adam, Renate Hoff, Renate Krahmer, Peter Schreier, Gisela Schroter, Ingeborg Springer
Dresden Kreuzchor
Dresden Staatskapelle/Otmar Suitner – rec. 1970.
BERLIN CLASSICS 0184182BC [94:56] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, NO booklet)

I’m never quite sure why Hänsel und Gretel, based on one of the Brothers Grimm’s most scary stories*, is regarded as Christmas fare, but the same applies to the plots of many pantomimes.  The classic EMI/Warner mono recording, with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Herbert von Karajan (also from Naxos Historical), would still be my first choice but I know that it’s not to all tastes.

For those looking for a more recent recording of a traditional performance with a strong cast and sympathetic direction the Berlin Classics recording may well fit the bill.  The eclassical download sounds well, especially in lossless format, but the absence of a booklet is something of a handicap.  On the other hand, you can find the full score at IMSLP.

Those in search of a version with an English libretto should do well with the 2006 Chandos recording with Sir Charles Mackerras’s sure hand on the tiller.  This rather more spacious and well-recorded account comes with the booklet and text, too.  (CHAN3143 [100:52] – from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless).

* As in the Disney film of Snow White, the plot is toned down from the original: in both cases the parent(s) are murderous – in Schneewitchen it’s the mother, not the stepmother, who is the villain; in Hänsel und Gretel the parents deliberately lose the children in the forest.

Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Symphony No. 3 in c minor, Le Divin Poème, Op. 43 (1902-1904) [44:22]
Poème de l’extase, Op. 54 (Symphony No.4) (1905-1908) [20:35]
London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
rec. live, March and April 2014, Barbican, London, UK
LSO LIVE LSO0771 [64:58] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet) (Also available on SACD).

You could hardly have better proof that we reviewers don’t live in each other’s pockets than the two responses to this recording, from Dan Morgan, who was critical in the extreme of the performance and recording – review – and Michael Cookson, who made it a premier recommendation and a Recording of the Month, while Mark Berry, who reviewed the live concert containing the Fourth Symphony for Seen and Heard, thought it an excellent performance which he looked forward to welcoming on CD before long – review.  Colin Clarke, the following month, thought the performance of the no-holds-barred Third Symphony showed Gergiev at his best: he, too, was looking forward to the appearance on record – review.

I note that MC listened to the CD layer only while DM, like me, downloaded the equivalent of the stereo high-definition layer on the SACD.  I liked what I heard, yet felt that something was being held back, almost like the results in those far-distant days when one suddenly realised that the VU meters on an old tape recorder were dangerously near to over-peaking and gradually slid the record level back.  Perhaps in this case the engineers trying too hard to tame the notorious Barbican acoustic.  Without making too much of it, it did slightly get in my way of listening to the music.  Maybe the 16-bit version partially masks the effect by delivering slightly less of what was on the original DSD recording?  I tried converting the 24-bit files to 16-bit and even to 320kbs mp3 and it did seem that the lower bit-rates seemed slightly less veiled, especially as played on a smaller player – very good of its kind but not something that I would normally use for judging recording quality.  On this occasion, less seems to be more.

Scriabin, like Balakirev, needs imaginative conducting such as can be found on Beecham’s recording of the Balakirev Symphony.  Both composers demand a colourful response from the orchestra and recording engineers.  I use the term advisedly because Scriabin maintained that he could see colours in music and it seems from the live reviews – not just our own Seen and Heard colleagues but others that I have consulted – that Gergiev and the LSO delivered that on the nights, though it doesn’t seem quite apparent on record.

Gergiev is no stranger to Scriabin, having recorded the Fourth with the Kirov (download only or licensed CD from Presto).  Jonathan Swain in Gramophone in welcoming that recording, especially for the Rite of Spring coupling, had reservations about his ‘delaying tactics’, which is in line with DM’s ‘disjunctive’ verdict.  Though I can see the point, it just happens that I was less concerned about this.  If possible, do try out the new LSO recording and judge for yourself: you may well find yourself agreeing with MC’s award of Recording of the Month.

This is one to try out first, then, if you can, which is why I find Qobuz, classicsonlinehd.com and Naxos Music Library so very useful.  The EMI recordings with Muti, once available on Brilliant Classics, now seem to be deleted, with £49 being asked for the Brilliant set on Amazon.  Qobuz have it to stream for subscribers and to purchase for £20.40.

Otherwise the budget-price version to go for comes from Chandos, a 2-for-1 recording with Neeme Järvi and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra performing Symphonies Nos. 2 to 4, with Rêverie (CHAN241-5 [110:10]).  The set can be found for around £12 and it can be downloaded from theclassicalshop.net for £8.40 (mp3) or £9.99 (16-bit lossless), both with pdf booklet.  Järvi’s performance of No.4 is slightly faster and more straightforward than Gergiev’s and the sound, though 16-bit only, is clearer.

Symphony No.2 outstays its welcome somewhat but is still well worth an occasional listen and No.3 also fares well.  I shall probably find myself listening to Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 from Järvi more often than to the new Gergiev recording, with an occasional foray into No.2.  As a fan of anything that Pierre Monteux put his hand to, I also recommend that you listen to his 1952 RCA recording of Poème de l’Extase with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, coupled with Liszt Les Préludes and still sounding at least tolerable in a transfer by Naxos Classical Archives (9.80616, download only, £0.84 for subscribers from emusic.com or $6.31 in lossless sound from eclassical.com).

Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875–1912)
Concerto in g minor for violin and orchestra, Op.80 (1912) [31:52]
Frederick DELIUS (1862–1934)
Suite for violin and orchestra (c.1888–91) [18:35]
Haydn WOOD (1882–1959)
Concerto in a minor for violin and orchestra (1928) [26:56]
Tasmin Little (violin)
BBC Philharmonic/Sir Andrew Davis
rec. MediaCityUK, Salford; 1–3 May 2015. DDD.  Unless
CHANDOS CHAN10879 [77:50] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

Not so long ago it seemed unlikely that there would be even one recording of the Coleridge-Taylor Violin Concerto: Lyrita recorded it but apparently thought it uncommercial and didn’t release it until 2007.  That recording, with Lorraine McAslan and Nicholas Braithwaite, originally SRCD.317, remains the benchmark, recently reissued on a 4-CD budget-price set of British String Concertos (SRCD.2346review review review: Bargain of the MonthDL News 2014/15).  There are other very fine recordings, from Philippe Graffin and Michael Hankison, with the Dvořák Violin Concerto (Avie AV0044review) and Anthony Marwood and Martyn Barbbins, with the Somervell Violin Concerto (Hyperion CDA67420Recording of the Month - review) and now we have a fourth competitor.

The Lyrita still tops the tree, especially in the 4-CD set which sells for not much more than a single disc, but Tasmin Little and Sir Andrew Davis also make a very good case for the concerto and are extremely well recorded, especially in 24-bit form.  I can quite see why one reviewer has rated it at the head of a hotly contested field.  They do their best for the other works but they didn’t persuade me that I want to play the rest of the album very often.  Unless you must have 24-bit sound, the 16-bit Lyrita will still do very well.  Listening to and carried away by its original release has made the work, especially the outer movements, seem almost standard repertoire for me.

Havergal BRIAN (1876-1972)
Festal Dance (1908) [5:58]
Wine of Summer  (Symphony No.5) (1937) [19:39]
Symphony No.19 in e minor (1961) [17:53]
Symphony No.27 in c minor (1966-67) [19:46] 
Roderick Williams (baritone)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins 
rec. 25 and 28 July 2014, RSNO Centre, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow
No texts with download 
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7314  [65:22] – from emusic.com (mp3, no booklet)

John Quinn was warm in his praise of this recording – review.  Though I’m a Havergal Brian enthusiast and very pleased to see no fewer than three recording premieres here, expertly delivered by Brian-champion Martyn Brabbins, this is not the place to begin to explore the music of this neglected composer.  It may just have been my mood on the day when I first heard it, or the cover shot may have led me to expect something cheerier, but there’s a little too much in a serious minor key for my liking.

Idiomatic performances, well recorded, even in the mp3 download, which comes at the full 320 kbs rate, but you would do better to come to this only after exploring some of the Naxos reissues of Marco Polo albums and the new recordings of Brian’s music on that label first.

Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Aretusa, Op.95 [12:01]; Lauda per la Natività del Signore, P166 [25:07]; Il Tramonto, P101 [14:52]; Trittico Boticelliano, P151 [20:12]
Dame Janet Baker (mezzo); Richard Hickox Singers; City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox – first released in 1993.  DDD.
COLLINS CLASSICS CC1349 [72:13] – from emusic.com (mp3, NO texts)

The demise of the short-lived Collins Classics label left us bereft of many fine recordings.  Some of them have been reissued by other labels but though this was one of jewels of the series, it’s available as a download only.  The emusic version has the advantage of being offered at an attractive price, £1.26, and though the bit-rate is not ideal, at around 225kbs, the sound is more than acceptable.  Classicsonlinehd.com offer this recording for streaming (by subscribers) and for purchase at £7.99.   Neither has the booklet, so there are no texts.

Two items qualify for the Christmas symbol: the beautiful Lauda per la Natività, setting words by Jacopone da Todi: as in his more famous poem Stabat Mater, he imagines events through the eyes of the Virgin Mary, in this case the Nativity.  If anything the Adoration of the Magi, one of the three Boticelli paintings which inspired the Trittico, is even more beautiful.

I need hardly add that Janet Baker’s contribution is one of the principal factors in my enjoyment of this album, sounding by no means as faded as the soft-focus cover shot might imply, but all concerned give of their best.

There’s another version of Lauda per la Natività on Hungaroton, well performed by the Debrecen Kodály Chorus with a small ensemble conducted by Peter Erdei and Istvan Ella and well recorded, but the coupling is music by Laszlo Lajtha, sung in Hungarian and there are no texts or translations.  (HCD32335 [62:12] – from eclassical.com). Classicsonlinehd.com and Naxos Music Library offer that, too, but again without texts.

Reissue of the Month
Twentieth Century Classics
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945) Concerto for Orchestra, Sz116 (1943) [36:51]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Rafael Kubelík – rec.1958 ADD/stereo
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959) Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 [11:56]
Marni Nixon (soprano); Concert Arts Cello Ensemble/Felix Slatkin – rec.1959 ADD/stereo
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra [17:44]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy – rec. 1957 ADD/stereo
Constant LAMBERT (1905-1951) The Rio Grande (1929) [14:04]
Kyla Greenbaum (piano); Gladys Ripley (contralto); Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus/Constant Lambert – rec. 1949 ADD/mono
BEULAH 1PDR20 [80:07] – from iTunes

I’m convinced that the Thought Police have been reading my mind.  Last month Beulah revived Pierre Monteux’s recording of Dvorák’s Seventh Symphony, which remains for me one of the best ever (2PD45, with Violin Concerto – Reissue of the Month).  Now it’s the turn of Rafael Kubelík’s Concerto for Orchestra with the RPO.  His later Boston Symphony version has been reissued by Australian Decca but this fine RPO recording seems to be otherwise available only in a massive Warner box set.

Even when first released in mono in 1959, the HMV recording outshone its competitors.  The Beulah transfer of the stereo version is very good indeed – it hardly sounds its age – and the performance is first-rate, especially if you find the two Solti recordings (LSO and Chicago) a little too up-front.  I shall still turn to the Solti versions but in other moods I’m glad to have the Kubelík, which I once owned on a World Record Club reissue (ST836), to hand again.

If the other works on this Beulah reissue are not quite such classics, they certainly don’t detract from its value.  The Britten is a reminder that Eugene Ormandy’s performances of British music are well worth hearing – I’m thinking of his Delius, too – and it’s good to have Constant Lambert’s own recording of The Rio Grande in a clean transfer which sounds more like early LP than 78s.

It was a nice touch to use a photo of the Rio Grande for the cover.  Unfortunately, it’s a bit off-beam: the Rio Grande depicted is the actual river in the USA, but the imaginary Rio Grande of the Sitwell poem is supposed to be in Brazil.

Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
Requiem, Op. 9 (1947) [39:01]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Requiem, Op. 48 (1887-1891) [33:59]
Miah Persson (soprano), Malena Ernman (mezzo), Olle Persson (baritone), Ola Håkansson (cello), Mattias Wager (organ)
Swedish Radio Choir/Fredrik Malmberg
rec. April 2004, Hedvig Eleonora Church, Stockholm, Sweden
Pdf booklet includes sung texts (Latin & English)
BIS BIS-1206 SACD [73:54] – from eClassical (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

These two works, logically paired, became firm favourites when I heard Andrew Davis’s marvellous CBS-Sony recording from 1977. (Budget-price 88697720392 [BW]).  The Philharmonia and New Philharmonia orchestras are in very good form, as are the Ambrosian Singers. His team of soloists – Sigmund Nimsgern, Lucia Popp and Kiri Te Kanawa – is even more distinguished. True, Davis isn’t strictly comparable with Malmberg – he uses the orchestrated, large ensemble versions of both works – but revisiting Davis’s CD reminded me how glorious these performances are.

The dark swirl of Duruflé’s Introit and Kyrie, the choir suitably ethereal, has tremendous presence in the Malmberg recording; the organ – which has plenty of heft – certainly adds to the votive atmosphere. This 44.1kHz original has come up very well, with lots of ambient clues hidden in the mix. The Swedish Radio Choir are now inward, now ardent, and Mattias Wager scales the organ part with skill and sensitivity; just listen to the pulsing Domine Jesu Christe, for instance. The baritone Olle Persson sings with requisite feeling both here and in the Libera me; as for Malmberg he brings a sure sense of shape and style to the choral contributions.

Mezzo Malena Ernman and cellist Ola Håkansson are splendid in the lovely Pie Jesu and Wager imbues the Agnus Dei with unaccustomed light and loveliness. Not only that, he makes the start of the In paradisum hang suspended, like a twist of incense in the vaulted gloom. It’s a compelling effect rather than a contrived one, but then that’s a pretty good description of this performance as a whole. The recording is well balanced and very spacious; in short, it’s ideal for this repertoire.

Wedded as I am to Davis’s orchestral version of the Fauré it took me a while to warm to Wager’s arrangement. I also had misgivings about the organ; at first I thought it too dominant, but then I realised Wager’s registrations – somewhat dark – just make it seem that way. However, in the presence of such honest musicianship I was more than happy to let that one go. Wager and the choir are wonderfully poised in the Offertoire, and while Olle Persson doesn’t efface memories of Sigmund Nimsgern here or in the Libera me he sings well enough. Perhaps what I miss most in this otherwise fine arrangement is the sustained intensity of the orchestral version, particularly as presented under Davis’s inspired direction.

Make no mistake, there are things in the BIS performance that catch the ear and caress the soul. For instance the organ part in the Sanctus is beautifully coloured and soprano Miah Persson is at her limpid best in the Pie Jesu. Not in the Popp class, perhaps, but pretty close. Wager is deft in the Agnus Dei, but I feel momentum flags a little at this point. And despite my reservations about the organ’s textures Wager’s In paradisum sounds as radiant as ever.

A splendid performance of the Duruflé and an interesting arrangement of the Fauré; the sound in both is detailed and suitably spacious.

Dan Morgan

Sir William WALTON (1902-1983): Chandos Recordings on USB

Warner have toyed with offering the complete works of Bach and the Ring cycle on USB and Nimbus have given us mp3 recordings on disc but Chandos are ahead of the game with a significant catalogue of such offerings, among which their two sets of the music of William Walton are outstanding.  Volume 1 (CHUSB2010) costs £80, Volume 2 (CHUSB011) £75 or both can be combined on CHUSB019 for £150.  The recordings come in lossless 16-bit flac or wma (you need to specify) with mp3 thrown in for good measure.  You can, of course, download the albums separately but the USB option represents a significant saving in each case and an even greater saving in downloading time.

Some of these recordings are the best or the only ones available and all are at least close to the top flight, though Chandos themselves occasionally have better, later versions on offer.  CHAN5034, CHAN8824, CHAN8760, CHAN8862, CHAN8869, CHAN8870, CHAN8871, CHAN8944, CHAN8959, CHAN8968, CHAN8998, CHAN9245, CHAN9370 and CHAN9963 are especially valuable as containing the only or best versions available of some or all of the contents or close challengers to the best.

Volume 1 contains:

- CHAN5034Christopher Columbus: the only recording, conducted by Richard Hickox
- CHAN8760Belshazzar’s Feast; Coronation Te Deum; Gloria: conducted by David Willcocks – an exciting account of Belshazzar.
- CHAN8772 – Symphony No.2; Troilus and Cressida Suite: LPO/Bryden Thomson – not first choice for the symphony but well worth having for the unique recording of the Troilus Suite
- CHAN8824The Lord Mayor’s Banquet; Christopher Columbus Suite
- CHAN8841Richard III; Music for Macbeth: ASMF/Marriner – but NB: this, the Hamlet and Henry V recordings are also available separately at lower mid-price.  (CHAN10435, 10436 and 10437 respectively and in 24-bit format).
- CHAN8842Hamlet: ASMF/Marriner – but see Richard III above.  This is the only complete recording of the Christopher Palmer ‘scenario’ with Sir John Gielgud.
- CHAN8862 – Symphony No.1; Varii capricci: LPO/Bryden Thomson – not top-runner for the symphony – see the Violin Concerto, below, for Chandos’s own newer recording – but still well worth having.
- CHAN8869Façade 1 and 2.  The historic Edith Sitwell/Peter Pears recording is available on Decca Eloquence and Alto, at lower-mid- and budget-price respectively and there’s a splendid version of the 20-minute Suite on Hyperion CDH55099, with Bliss and Lambert, but the Chandos offers a modern recording of the complete music.
- CHAN8871The Quest; The Wise Virgins (Suite): LPO/Bryden Thomson.  Almost worth having just for The Wise Virgins – the kind of Bach arrangement that’s less popular now.
- CHAN8870Battle of Britain Suite; Spitfire Prelude and Fugue, etc – ASMF/Neville Marriner.  A serious rival to the EMI recording, now immured in a 12-CD box, and your best chance to hear much of the music which was scrapped when the film’s producers turned to Ron Goodwin instead.
- CHAN8892Henry V Scenario: ASMF/Marriner – but see Richard III above.
- CHAN9963 – Five Bagatelles for guitar and chamber orchestra (with music by Malcolm Arnold and Lennox Berkeley)

Volume 2:

- CHAN8944 – String Quartets: Gabrieli String Quartet.  Includes the ‘first string quartet’.
- CHAN8959 – Cello Concerto, Britten Variations, Partita for string orchestra, etc.: Raphael Wallfisch; LPO/Bryden Thomson.
- CHAN8968Portsmouth Point; Music for Children and other orchestral music: LPO/Bryden Thomson
- CHAN8998 – Crown Imperial; Orb and Sceptre; In Honour of the City of London; Jubilate Deo, etc: The Bach Choir; Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir David Willcocks.  Particularly fine performances of some stirring music.
- CHAN8999 - Violin Sonata; Piano Quartet – Kenneth Sillito, etc.
- CHAN9073 - Violin Concerto: Lydia Mordkovich; LPO/Jan Latham-Koenig.  This performance, now download only, may have been superseded by Chandos’s own more recent recording with Tasmin Little and Edward Gardner, whose coupling of Symphony No.1 is also excellent (CHSA5136Recording of the Month Recording of the Monthreview), but the orchestral transcription of the Violin Sonata on the older recording means that it is still competitive, even if you have the later Chandos or the Heifetz, with Walton, brushed up and sounding very well on a highly recommendable super-budget RCA twofer (74321925752 with Symphony No.1 [Previn], the Cello [Piatigorksy and Munch] and Viola [Bashmet and Previn] Concertos and Sinfonia Concertante [Stott and Handley] review).
- CHAN9106 – Viola Concerto; Sonata for string orchestra; Hindemith Variations: Nobuko Imai; LPO/Jan Latham-Koenig.  There’s plenty of competition for the concerto – surprisingly there are 19 current versions – and this is not a top runner, but the album as a whole is far from being an also-ran.
- CHAN9222: Coronation Te Deum; Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis; Missa Brevis, etc.: The Finzi Singers/Paul Latham
- CHAN9245The Bear: Soloists; Northern Sinfonia/Richard Hickox.  The only other recording is immured in a 12-CD EMI set.
- CHAN9370Troilus and Cressida: Opera North/Richard Hickox.  The CD set has been reissued at mid-price as CHAN241-50.  Supplement with the excerpts which Walton himself conducted on Heritage HTGCD223 or Naxos Classical Archives 9.80131 (download only).

Pow Wow
Robert Farnon and his Orchestra – rec. 1950-1957. ADD/mono
BEULAH 4PD62 [70:47] – track details and download from iTunes (mp3)

Robert Farnon, a Canadian composer, conductor and arranger who came to the UK in WWII and settled, was widely known in the music business as ‘The Guv’nor’.  He could always be relied on to turn in professional and attractive performances of his own light-classical music and that of others and I’m pleased to see that Beulah have released the current selection of 21 numbers, all very well transferred.

I held this review over from 2015/10 because one track was originally abruptly terminated.  I notified Beulah and received a replacement which will have been substituted at iTunes and Qobuz by the time that you read this.  If you purchased a download of the problematic track 2 (Main Street), your supplier should be able to substitute the replacement.

Herbert HOWELLS (1933-2014)
Cello Concerto (mid-1930s: performing edition realised by Jonathan Clinch) [36:10]
Two Pieces for small orchestra (1917): Puck’s Minuet [3:46]; Merry-Eye [8:56]
Ronald CORP (b.1951)
Cello Concerto (2014) [23:32]
Alice Neary (cello)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Ronald Corp
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7317 [72:28] – from emusic.com (mp3, NO booklet)

Though his Cello Concerto was sketched in reasonably complete form by Howells, a work inspired by the death of his son, it has been left to Jonathan Clinch to present it in a performing version.  The first two movements are wistful and regretful but the finale and the Two Pieces lighten the mood, which is lightened still more by the final work, conceived as a foil to the Howells, though that doesn’t mean that it’s at all shallow.  Ronald Corp is a master of the light classical mood, as composer and conductor, but he also strikes the right note throughout the Howells concerto, with the able assistance of Alice Neary and the RNSO.

The emusic download is in mp3 only, albeit that, like all their recent releases, it’s at the full 320kbs – a better bit-rate than Amazon and iTunes downloads.  It’s also the least expensive way to obtain this recording, at £3.36, but it comes without notes.  Qobuz have it in lossless sound for £7.99 but, again, without notes.

Making allowance for a degree of publisher’s hype, you’ll find some brief notes on the Dutton Vocalion website.

John RUTTER (b.1945) The Gift of Life and Seven Sacred Pieces
The Gift of Life: O all ye works of the Lord [8:43]; The tree of life [6:15]; Hymn to the Creator of Light [7:27]; O Lord, how manifold are thy works [8:09]; The gift of each day [3:18]; Believe in life [5:51]
Give the king thy judgements, O God [7:08]
A flower remembered [3:33]
The Quest [6:40]
Psalm 150 [5:37]
Christ is the morning star [4:35]
All bells in Paradise [5:25]
Rejoice and sing [3:58]
The Cambridge Singers; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/John Rutter
rec. 15 and 16 July 2015, Fairfield Hall, Croydon. DDD
Texts included
COLLEGIUM COLCD138 [77:27] – from classicsonlinehd.com (16-bit lossless)

John Rutter’s Christmas contribution for 2015 may not at first seem very seasonal but the second section of the main work is a setting of the Apple Tree Carol and the last two items on the programme are an Advent and Christmas carol respectively.  The music, in Rutter’s familiar style, loved by many but disliked by some traditionalists, could not be better performed unless it be on the King’s recording of All bells in Paradise (KGS0001reviewDL News 2013/7).

The Gift of Life is a cycle of six pieces, composed for a church in Dallas who wished to honour their departing Minister of Music.

Monuments
Roy David MAGNUSON (b. 1983)
House Plants in Terracotta Pots (2014) [3:12]
Sydney HODKINSON (b. 1934)
Duae Cantatae Breves (1995) [22:49]
Jayce John OGREN (b. 1979)
Evening Music (2000) [9:53]
Francisco José MARTINEZ GALLEGO (b. 1969)
Sinfonia No. 1, ‘Kaprekar’ (2011) [27:28]
Allyss Haecker (soprano)
Illinois State University Wind Symphony/Martin H. Seggelke
rec. 21-23 November 2014, Center for the Performing Arts, Illinois
State University, USA
Pdf booklet included
NAXOS WIND BAND CLASSICS 8.573453 [63:22] – from eClassical (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

Just days after I reviewed the University of Texas Wind Ensemble’s Shadow of Sirius Naxos issued Illinois State’s Monuments. Regular readers will know I have a soft spot for these student bands, which continue to impress with their virtuosity and discipline. I’ve encountered these Illinoisans before, in a splendid album called Point Blank. As so often in this important series that collection features works by a number of contemporary American composers in performances – and sound – of real distinction. No surprise, then, that I made Point Blank a Recording of the Month.

The title of this new recording may seem a tad misleading. At least Landscapes, with the University of Kansas Wind Ensemble, lives up to its appellation by focusing on events and places that loom large in the American psyche. That said, Roy David Magnuson’s homage to the humble house plant is a kind of monument, albeit to simple ubiquity. As for Sydney Hodkinson’s anthem-inspired Duae Cantatae Breves they too have an imposing presence at times. The writing is fiercely imaginative, with timbres to tickle one’s fancy. The playing is very accomplished.

For me the stand-out piece here is Jayce John Ogren’s Evening Music, which includes a soprano part; it’s founded on an English translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Abend (Evening), from The Book of Pictures (1902). That time of day, so rich in its poetic associations, has a valedictory air, an evanescence, that’s simply breath-taking. Those Straussian horn calls and their close echoes certainly add to the sense of an ending. Indeed, Allyss Haecker’s seamless, soaring line and the music’s sometimes cushioned harmonies bring to mind the gentle acquiescence of Strauss’s Im Abendrot (At sunset). What a gorgeous, deeply affecting piece this is, and how well played and sung.

How does one follow that? Not easily, that’s for sure. Francisco José Martinez Gallego’s Sinfonia No.1 takes as its inspiration a fascinating piece of number theory by the Indian mathematician Dattatreya Ramachandra Kaprekar (1905-1986). In his liner-note the composer explains its compositional relevance. It’s all very interesting, but the average listener need not be intimidated by all this detail. Indeed, it’s very easy to revel in the work’s bold, filmic gestures and quiet, sometimes jazzy interludes. At more than 27 minutes the Sinfonia isn’t short, but it displays a rhythmic and metrical ingenuity here, not to mention a medley of striking colours, that keeps one riveted to the very end. I bet the band had fun with this one. The booklet notes, with entries by each of the composers featured here, are rather brief; still, they do give some useful context to the pieces played.

A fine addition to this indispensable series; first-rate musicianship and sound.

Dan Morgan

A Festival of Christmas
Jocelyn Bell (girl soprano)
St Ambrose RC Junior School Choir, Speke
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra/Edmund Walters
rec. 19-20 July, 1981, Philharmonic hall, Liverpool. DDD
Texts included
CHANDOS CHAN6672 [55:45] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet)

It must have been rather odd to have recorded this traditional Liverpool Phil Christmas concert in July, but all concerned join in the fun as if it were the real thing. The programme combines the traditional with the less well-known – details here – and the recording delivers the goods. The booklet contains some short notes plus all the texts and the download can be yours for a mere £4.80 (mp3) or £4.99 (lossless). Very enjoyable, but it’s more than a trifle naughty of Chandos to advertise this as ‘originally recorded in 2003’ – that’s the date of the inexpensive reissue.

Wunderbare Weihnacht: Die schönsten Lieder, Chor- und Orgelwerke zum Fest.

If you are looking for music to stream for hours at Christmas without having to exert yourself with the remote control, this is an attractive 3-hour collection performed by a distinguished team: Arleen Auger, Christoph Krummacher, Dietrich W. Prost, Eberhard Buchner, Gisela Pohl, Hannes Kastner, Hans Heintze, Hans Otto, Hans-Jurgen Wachsmuth, Heidi Riess, Inge Uibel, Johannes Schafer, Michael-Christfried Winkler, Peter Schreier, Regina Werner, Siegfried Lorenz, Thomas Neumann, the Leipzig Thomanerchor and Dresdner Kreuzchor. As it says on the cover, this is a collection for a Wonderful Christmas: an assemblage of beautiful songs, choral and organ works for the festival. The music will be most familiar to German speakers but there’s plenty for Anglophones to enjoy, too.

I’m not sure about the provenance: classicsonlinehd.com seems to be the only way to obtain it – for streaming by subscribers or download at £23.99. The performances are good but there’s no booklet, so no texts. (0182562ART)

You will need to be extra sprachfähig for Weihnachten in den Alpen (Christmas in the Alps, Capriccio C10799 [58:26]). Some of the words are in Austrian-Swiss dialect and there is no booklet to help sort them out: only the first words from eclassical.com where the album is available in mp3 and 16-bit lossless. I can help with the penultimate item, Es wird scho glei dumpa, es wird scho glei Nocht. The last time I came across it an Austrian friend could still recite the whole thing from childhood memory and the words and Neuhochdeutsch translation are online. It’s a Christmas Eve lullaby for the infant Jesus, sung as it grows dark (dumpa = dunkel).

The performances, mostly small-scale, with guitar, harmonium, harp or zither accompaniment, are attractive. Don’t be scared off by the fact that two of the pieces end in the dreaded word – jodler: these are not the most extreme examples of yodelling if you are averse to it. The performers are the Brunner Sisters, Kaiser-Stoandl Family Music Group, Murauer Christmas Brass Quartet, Ranten Male Quartet, Ranten Mixed Quartet, Ranten Mixed Choir and Ingrid Brunner (harp), directed by Erwin Spreitzer.

Christmas Carols from St. John’s
Unto Us a Boy is born! [1:49]
Ding Dong! Merrily on High [2:01]
Balulalow [2:13]
The Holly and the Ivy [2:38]
In the Bleak Mid-Winter [4:20]
On Christmas Night, ‘Sussex Carol’ [1:44]
I Sing of a Maiden [2:42]
Shepherd’s Pipe Carol [3:26]
Silent Night [3:40]
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing [3:11]
O Little Town of Bethlehem [4:05]
God Rest you merry, Gentlemen [3:07]
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree [3:26]
Good King Wenceslas [2:55]
There is no Rose [4:36]
Two Welsh Carols:
Greawdwr nef a daear lawr [2:14]
Pan fo’r stormydd garwa’n curo [1:46]
Away in a Manger [2:31]
O Come, all ye Faithful [4:05]
St John’s College Choir, Cambridge/George Guest
rec. 8 January, 31 July and 1 August 1986. DDD.
Texts and translations included
CHANDOS CHAN8485 [56:29] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet.

A fairly traditional collection sung by a choir who, though less famous than their neighbours at King’s, were hardly less inferior to them here under George Guest’s guiding hand. (That’s certainly not to decry their current form under Andrew Nethsingha – On Christmas Night Chandos CHSA5096: Recording of the Month review – or, indeed, as directed by David Hill on Hyperion CDA67576: Christmas at St John’sRecording of the MonthDL Roundup December 2011/1). Like the Huddersfield recording below it’s very inexpensive: £2.40 (mp3) or £2.49 (lossless), which makes it odd that it’s also available slightly more expensively on Chandos Collect CHAN6670. Make sure you choose the right one.

Bargain of the Month
A Christmas Celebration
Huddersfield Choral Society/Brian Kay
Sellers Engineering Band/Philip McCann
Simon Lindley (organ)
rec. Huddersfield Town Hall, June 1993.
CHANDOS CHAN4530 [70:40] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet)

There are plenty of old favourites here, some performed by the Choral Society alone, some by the Sellers Engineering Band, some with both and with the organ joining in. There are one or two unusual items, too, such as William James’ An Australian Christmas and the ‘traditional’ Santa Claus-trophobia, and the whole is rounded off with Gordon Langford’s A Christmas Fantasy, the only other recordings of which are on another Huddersfield/Chandos album (CHAN4541, with the Black Dyke Mills Band) and CBC (download only).

Steer well clear if you are allergic to brass bands, otherwise there’s much to enjoy, especially as the mp3 is offered for £2.40 and lossless for £2.49.

In brief

A listing does not preclude a full review later.

Best of French Baroque: Music by Lully, Marais, Mondonville and Rameau - Tafelmuisk/Jeanne Lamon, Ivars Taurins rec. 2001-12
TAFELMUSIK TMK1029CD [73:26] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet, NO texts)

A good introduction to the French music of the period which more seasoned lovers of the Baroque will enjoy too. Please see my full review.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Weichnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio), BWV248
BR KLASSIK 900512 [75:10 + 69:10] - subscribers stream from Qobuz or Naxos Music Library or classicsonlinehd.com

Please see review and review of earlier release.

Jean Marie LECLAIR (1697-1674) Scylla et Glaucus (1746)
Anders Dahlin, Emöke Barath
Les Nouveaux Caractères/Sébastien d’Hérin
ALPHA960 [50:48 + 49:55 + 59:05] – from Qobuz (16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).

I intend to offer a full review next month of this recent release which I have enjoyed hearing. It’s the sole recording of an opera lost until rediscovered by John Eliot Gardiner in the 1980s. Even the Suite is available only in a fun version by Red Priest (RP002). Both 16- and 24- bit downloads are available for £9.59.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Mitridate, Re di Ponto - Barry Banks (tenor) Miah Persson (soprano) Lawrence Zazzo (counter-tenor) O Classical Opera/Ian Page rec. 2013
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD400 [4 CDs: 224:18] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet). See review by ST.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Il re pastore - John Mark Ainsley (tenor) Sarah Fox, Ailish Tynan, Anna Devin (sopranos) Benjamin Hulett (tenor) The O Classical Opera/Ian Page rec. 2014
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD433 [62:38 + 54:34] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet). See review by DC.

Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Piano Concertos, Aubade - Louis Lortie, Hélène Mercier (pianos) BBC Philharmonic/Edward Gardner, rec. 2015 CHANDOS CHAN10875 – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

Reviews by David Barker (Recording of the Month) and Leslie Wright and review by Dominy Clements.




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