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DOWNLOAD NEWS 2015/5
by Brian Wilson and Dan Morgan

Reviews are by Brian Wilson unless otherwise stated.

DL News 2015/4 is here and the archive is here.

2015/5 Index:

ADDISON, ALWYN, ARNOLD, AURIC, BAX, BENNETT, BERNERS, BLACK, CHAGRIN, GOODWIN, KORNGOLD, LAMBERT, RAWSTHORNE, SHOSTAKOVICH, VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Film Music_Chandos USB
ALFEVEV Stabat Mater; De profundis, etc._Alfeyev_Pentatone
BACH JS Cantata 63; Magnificat_Herreweghe_Harmonia Mundi D’Abord
-          Cello Suites_Watkin_Resonus
-          Keyboard Concertos arr. Mandolin_Avital_DG
-          Motets_St Thomas Choir NY_Resonus
BALADA Symphony 6, etc_López-Cobos
BARTÓK Viola Concerto_Wallfsich + SEIBER, DORATI_Nimbus
BERKELEY Lennox _Chamber Music_Berkeley Ensemble_Resonus
BERLIOZ Harold in Italy, etc._A.Davis_Chandos
BLISS Beatitudes, etc_Bliss_Lyrita
BRAHMS Clarinet Quintet, etc_Ottensamer_DG
BRUCKNER Symphony No.7_Young_Oehms
BUSH Concerto for light orchestra; Sinfonia Concertante, etc_Ward_Lyrita
-          Symphonies 1 and 2, etc._Lyrita
CHEN Butterfly Lovers Concerto_Lu Siqing_BIS
ERÖD Violin Concerto, etc_Irnberger_Gramola
GALLAY Songs of Love, War and Melancholy_Scott, etc._ Resonus
GOLOVIN Bambi _Melodiya
-          Symphonies 1 and 4, etc._Golovin, etc._Toccata
HOUGH Missa Mirabilis _Litton + VAUGHAN WILLIAMS_Hyperion
IBERT Le Chevalier Errant; Les Amours _Mercier_Timpani
-          Les Amours_Ibert (1954)_Naxos Historical
JACQUET of Mantua Missa Surge Petre, etc._Brabant Ensemble_Hyperion
JANÁČEK Taras Bulba, etc._Järvi_Chandos
KORNGOLD Lieder des Abschieds; Symphony_Downes_Chandos
-          Robin Hood_Stromberg_Naxos
MARTINŮ Concert for 2 pianos_Bizjak Duo + STRAVINSKY, POULENC, SHOSTAKOVICH_Onyx
MASSENET Le Cid, etc_Järvi_Chandos
OSTRČIL Calvary _Neumann_Supraphon
POULENC Concerto for 2 pianos – see Martinu
RAVEL Daphnis et Chloë; Pavane_Nézet-Séguin_BIS
RICHAFORT Requiem _King’s Singers_Signum
SEIBER Tre Pezzi – see Bartók
SHOSTAKOVICH Concertino for 2 pianos – see Martinu
STRAVINSKY Sonata for 2 pianos – see Martinu
TANEYEV Quintets_Taneyev Quartet_Norther Flowers
-          Martinu Quartet_Supraphon
TELEMANN Wind Band_Syrinx_Resonus
TOWER Violin Concerto, etc._Lin_Naxos
VAŇHAL (WANHAL) String Quartets_Lotus Quartet_CPO
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Dona Nobis Pacem _Litton + HOUGH_Hyperion
VIVALDI Concertos arr. Mandolin_Avital_DG

Collections:
Argentum et Aurum
_Ensemble Leones_Naxos
B.B. King – The Memorial Album_King_Sandrwe Metronome
France-Espagne (CHABRIER, etc) Les Siècles_Actes Sud
Horizon 2 – a tribute to Olivier Messiaen_Benjamin, Metzmacher_RCO
Per M. Pisendel Sonatas by VIVALDI etc._La Serenissima_Avie

***

Resonus Classics

I’ve fallen somewhat behind in the coverage of Resonus Classics.  They began a comparatively short while ago but have already built up an impressive catalogue of over 50 titles.  Having begun as download-only, they have now started to offer some of their recent releases on CD but still qualify for the Download News.

The Saxon Alternative: Telemann Music for Wind Band is exactly what it says on the label: performances by Syrinx of the Overture-Suites in F, TWV44/7, in c minor, TWV55c3, in B-flat, TWVB3 and in F, TWV44/14 and the Concerto a5 in D, TWV44/2 (RES10154 [61:48]).  Download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless) or resonusclassics.com (additionally in aac).

I wouldn’t wish to be without the originals of these works but the wind band arrangements are very enjoyable when they are as well performed and recorded as this.

Two recent releases feature the music of Johann Sebastian BACH (1658-1750).  Coincidentally both feature music about which I have always been somewhat lukewarm from a composer whose other music would have to feature largely on my Desert Island.

The Cello Suites, BWV1007-1012 have never been my favourite JSB works: as I wrote with regard to a recent Arcana reissue of performances by Wieland Kuijken, I find them alone among his often intellectually-demanding music a little too cerebral to love them.  In fact I enjoyed the sonatas for gamba and keyboard on that 3-CD set more than the cello suites (Arcana A383review).  Could David Watkin’s new recording do the trick for me?  (RES10147, 2 CDs [145:01] – from resonusclassics.com or eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet, from both; additionally in aac from Resonus).

There’s certainly some very fine playing here from a very versatile cellist whose output in the works of other composers I have found consistently excellent: he featured on Resonus’s very first and very impressive album, for example, the original version of Mendelssohn’s Octet (RES10101DL Roundup March 2011/2).  I still find these suites rather too cerebral but I see no reason not to place Watkin somewhere near the top of the pile, especially as the 24-bit recording is so very good and all the other top recommendations are now becoming somewhat long in the tooth, with the exception of Stephen Isserlis, also available in better-than-CD sound, 20/44.1, and also somewhere near the top of the pile (Hyperion CDA67541/2: Recording of the Monthreview or CDA30001/2DL Roundup October 2010).

The other release features the Motets, BWV225-230 and BWV Anh.159, sung by the St. Thomas Choir of men and boys, Fifth Avenue, New York, on RES10152 [68:34] – from resonusclassics.com (aac, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).  As it happens, the Motets are my one serious blind spot in Bach’s sacred music.  I love his cantatas and often turn to them to de-stress but I’ve never managed to do more than admire the motets, though I’ve listened to several highly regarded recordings, most recently to the budget-price reissue of a Conifer recording by the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge and Richard Marlow (Alto ALC1271review).  I liked that recording more than other versions from Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi and PHI) and Christophers (budget-price Hyperion) which I compared, but still found myself still somewhat lukewarm about the music.   Dominy Clements seems to have had a similar reaction to the recent recording by Capella Cracoviensis (Alpha 199 – review).

The new Resonus recording comes as near as anything that I have heard to converting me to the cause of the motets: singing, recording and documentation are all good.  The notes by Bach scholar John Butt even-handedly consider the vexed question of whether the music should be sung with colla parte instrumentation.  The instrumentalists on the recording are never obtrusive and that’s probably as it should be.

I hadn’t even heard of Jacques-François GALLAY (1795-1864) until Resonus released two earlier recordings of his music on RES10114 – DL News 2012/20 – and RES10123 – DL News 2013/14.  Now they bring us an album entitled Songs of Love, War and Melancholy, a series of fantasias on operatic music by Donizetti, Bellini and Mercadente, performed by Anneke Scott (natural horn – Gallay’s own instrument), Steven Devine (piano) and Lucy Crowe (soprano) (RES10153 [66:41] – from resonusclassics.com or eclassical.com, both mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).  In keeping with the use of the natural horn, the piano used is a rather dry-sounding Érard from about 1851.

I very much enjoyed RES10114, its successor slightly less so.  Anneke Scott’s performance on the natural horn is little short of miraculous and I enjoyed the virtuosity of her display on such a difficult instrument but ultimately I left with the feeling that this was an interesting rather than a vital recommendation and that’s how the new third release leaves me: go for RES10114 first, if you haven’t yet done so, then sample the new album from Qobuz.

RES10149 [59:37] offers a programme of Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989) Chamber Works, including the Sextet, Op.47 [14:39], the String Trio, Op.19 [15:49] and the Sonatine for clarinet and piano [12:11], performed by the eponymous Berkeley Ensemble, whose earlier recording, entitled Clarion Call (RES10127), I reviewed last year.  Given Resonus’s aptitude for bringing us neglected works, it’s not surprising that there is only one other recording of the Sextet, from another enterprising label (Lyrita SRCD.256reviewreview).  Similarly the String Trio features on only one other recording (budget-price Regis RRC1380, with other Berkeley chamber music – review) and there is no other current recording of the Sonatine.  All of the music is attractive – none of it deserves to be so little known – and the Berkeley Ensemble give fine performances of the composer whose name they bear.  The recording is good and the lavishly illustrated booklet would not shame even Hyperion.  From resonusclassics.com (aac, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless) or eclassical.com (as from Resonus except aac).  Pdf booklet from both.

***

Chandos Film Music on USB

Quite some time ago I mentioned Chandos’s experiment in making bundles of music available at an attractive price on USB memory sticks, usually around a dozen CDs in both lossless sound – choose wma or flac – and mp3.  Other providers have briefly experimented with the idea, which is like downloading without the time and effort, notably Warner with their complete Teldec Bach and Daniel Barenboim’s complete Wagner Ring cycle, but never on the scale of Chandos.  Nimbus and fellow Wyastone Estate label Hallé have followed another path with mp3 CDs of Beethoven, Haydn and Wagner, the contents of which have to be copied to your hard drive to avoid gaps between tracks.  The lossless files on the Chandos USBs can be played direct from an amplifier or blu-ray player which supports them; oth erwise they, too, need to be copied to your hard drive – a simple drag-and-drop procedure.

Two of these bundles offer 11 CDs-worth each of Film Music, one of the big strengths of the Chandos catalogue, at £99.99 each, slightly less than if you purchased lossless downloads of each of the constituent albums at £9.99 each.  The single albums remain available separately on CD and download.

Volume 1 (CHUSB0003) – from chandos.net contains music by:
Arnold BAX from CHAN10126reviews.  Of all the composers represented here, Bax was the most diffident about writing film music and there’s little here to match his tone poems and symphonies, but don’t be too put off by the slightly negative response of our two reviewers.  As both agree, the performances are about as good as it gets.
• Dmitry SHOSTAKOVICH (Volume 2) from CHAN10183review and DL News 2013/13
• Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (Volume 2) from CHAN10244.  This contains the pick of VW’s film music – review and DL Roundup November 2011/2.  Volumes 1-3 of VW’s Film Music are also available on a 3-for-2 set CHAN10529.
• Malcolm ARNOLD (Volume 1) from CHAN9100review
• Volume 2) CHAN9851review.  These two volumes mainly present the more easy-going side of Arnold, especially the St. Trinian’s music on volume 2.  The symphonies present a different picture of a man for whom life was seldom easy and Chandos have just reissued the complete set, conducted by Richard Hickox (1-6) and Rumon Gamba (7-9), as a box set at an attractive price.  (CHAN10853X, 4 CDs).
For a more complete suite of music from The Roots of Heaven and David Copperfield, restored by John Morgan and reissued by Naxos from a Marco Polo original (8.573366), see DL News 2015/3.
• William ALWYN (Volume 1) from CHAN9243review of Alwyn’s music.  I’m a great admirer of Alwyn’s symphonies on Naxos, Chandos and especially those conducted by the composer on Lyrita but some of the film music on this volume and its successor are almost in the same league.
(Volume 2) from CHAN9959review
• Alan RAWSHTORNE from CHAN9749review
• Georges AURIC from CHAN9774review
• Sir Richard Rodney BENNETT from CHAN9867review.  I had only one reservation when reviewing this album in DL Roundup January 2012/2 in that three of the tracks are also available on a 2-for-1 album British Film Classics CHAN241-12.  If you don’t want to go the whole hog with these 11-CD USB sets, that’s a very worthwhile alternative.
• Sir Arthur BLISS from CHAN9896reviewreview

Volume 2 (CHUSB0004)from chandos.net:
• Ron GOODWIN from CHAN10262review and DL Roundup
• Clifton PARKER from CHAN10279 review  This was a real discovery for me: I don’t think I’ve heard Parker’s music since I saw the Treasure Island film aged about 7, and I didn’t even know who the composer was.  Though his chef d’œuvre was sea music, he also gets us in a Tudor mood with his music for The Sword and the Rose and Blue Pullman takes us from London to Manchester on the train of that name in the 1960s before Dr. Beeching ripped up half of the track between Manchester and Derby and closed the Manchester terminal, Central Station, thus condemning the train companies to just one route on that busy service.
• Stanley BLACK from CHAN10306review.  With a reputation as a middle-of-the-road musician Stanley Black would seem to have been the ideal composer of film music.  How you rate the music here may depend on how you react to his borrowings from the likes of Offenbach, Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, which I found a little tedious.
• Francis CHAGRIN from CHAN10323reviewreview.  As with the Addison recording below, I could more easily have named the films for which the music was written, such as Colditz Story and Greyfriars Bobby than named the composer.
• Erich KORNGOLD (volume 1) from CHAN10336review and review  See below for a complete recording of the Robin Hood music, here represented by a short suite.
• (volume 2) from CHAN10438review and DL Roundup July 2012/2.  Not quite the complete music forThe Sea Hawk: it’s enough for me but for the whole thing see Dan Morgan’s review of the Naxos reissue of a Marco Polo recording in the same DL Roundup.
• William ALWYN (volume 3) from CHAN10349 review  Just occasionally buying the whole bundle means including music that isn’t quite out of the top drawer, as volumes 1 and 2 of Alwyn’s music on CHUSB003 are.
• Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (volume 3) from CHAN10361review and DL News 2013/13
• Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (Volume 3) from CHAN10368review – review – review and DL Roundup November 2011/2.
• John ADDISON from CHAN10418reviewreview.  Several of these albums were a surprise in that I knew many of the films without being able to put a name to the composers of the associated music.  For none was this more so than John Addison: I’d be surprised if you hadn’t seen at least half a dozen of the films represented here: A Bridge Too Far; The Charge of the Light Brigade; Murder, She Wrote; Sleuth; Strange Invaders; Carlton-Browne of the F.O.; Swashbuckler; Reach for the Sky; Torn Curtain; Touch and Go; The Man Between (‘Berlin Story’); Tom Jones; Brandy for the Parson; I was Monty’s Double; Song of the Maggie and Centennial.  Not only was it a pleasure to put a name to the music, I also found this one of the most enjoyable recordings in the series.
• Constant LAMBERT and Lord BERNERS from CHAN10459 reviewreview

The performances are all in safe hands: mostly the BBC Philharmonic or BBC Concert Orchestra and Rumon Gamba – Vassily Sinaisky in the Shostakovich, Barry Wordsworth in Stanley Black – and recordings are excellent.  Some of the more recent albums come as 24-bit downloads but I’ve stayed with the 16-bit as these are what is provided on USB.  You can choose between the original booklets and those included with the bundles.

I had access to some of the original Chandos USB releases but on this occasion, having already downloaded and mentioned several of the film music recordings on both bundles, I downloaded the remainder, effectively creating my own USB.  You will need at least a 4GB stick for the lossless files and 8GB if you intend to add the 320kb/s mp3s: you should be able to find these for less than £10.

Your computer should play the wma or flac files from each bundle without trouble but you may need to drag and drop the mp3s onto your hard drive to avoid gaps between tracks.  Some of the older albums still number the first tracks Tk1 to Tk9, which means that you may well find your player inserting tracks 10-19 after track 1.  In such cases you need very carefully to renumber Tk1 as Tk01, etc.  I presume – and hope – that this has been done for purchasers of the USBs.

In some cases you may need to supplement what is included on these recordings: the Korngold, for example, appends only a short 4-movement suite from Robin Hood to The Sea Wolf on CHAN10336. For the complete reconstructed score, you will need the new Naxos reissue of a Marco Polo recording reviewed below.  Also, for all the fine music by Vaughan Williams on volumes 2 and 3, the music from Scott of the Antarctic on volume 1 provides a fascinating comparison with the Seventh Symphony, Antartica, which grew out of it (CHAN10007: also included in a 3-for-2 set of all three volumes of the Chandos VW Film Music CHAN10529).

There are some whole-composer gaps here, too, not least Richard Addinsell, whose Warsaw Concerto and other film music is available on another Rumon Gamba album, CHAN10046.

***

Argentum et Aurum: Musical Treasures from the Early Habsburg Renaissance
Ensemble Leones (Els Janssens-Vanmunster (voice), Raitis Grigalis (voice), Baptiste Romain (renaissance violin), Uri Smilansky (viola d’arco), Elizabeth Rumsey (renaissance gamba), Miriam Andersén (Swedish cowhorn), Tobie Miller (symphonie), Liane Ehlich (flute))/Marc Lewon (viola d’arco, cetra and plectrum lute)
rec. Schlosskirche Beuggen, Germany, 9-12 April 2013. DDD
Texts and translations available online.
NAXOS 8.573346 [78:37]

For full details please see my review of the CD: ‘As [with the ensemble’s earlier recording of Neidhart], the present release combines detailed scholarship – all the source MSS are listed in the notes – with very enjoyable performances and the recording is very good.’

Sample/stream/download from Qobuz or stream from Naxos Music Library.

Of the three available recordings of the Requiem by Jean RICHAFORT (c.1480-after 1547) I have reviewed those on Hyperion – August 2012/1 – and Harmonia Mundi budget-price Musique d’Abord – review – but seem to have missed the King’s Singers on Signum (SIGCD326 [58:22]) until I investigated their recording in connection with a review of the Hyperion album of music by Jacquet or Jachet of Mantua (below) one of whose works features in the Signum programme.

All the music here, including the Richafort Requiem, was composed in honour of Josquin Desprez, two of whose own works also feature in the programme. Dominy Clements compared the Signum with the Hyperion, preferring the latter only by a very small margin – review. I agree, but by an even smaller margin; the inclusion of Jacquet’s Dum vastos Adriae fluctus and Josquin’s Salve regina, not on the Hyperion, though that has the longer playing time, makes the Signum especially valuable.

The 24-bit download from hyperion-records.co.uk is excellent and, at £10.50, slightly less than you would expect to pay for the CD and not much more than the mp3 and 16-bit (£6.99). All formats come complete with the booklet containing the texts and translations. Whatever you choose, don’t go for the iTunes download button: you’ll end up paying more than £6.99 for a lower bit-rate and I doubt if you will get the booklet.

Discovery of the Month

JACQUET of Mantua (c.1483–1559) Missa Surge Petre and Motets
The Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice
rec. Church of St Michael and All Angels, Summertown, Oxford, 2014. DDD
Booklet includes texts and translations
HYPERION CDA68088 [76:33] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet)

For full details please see my review. This is such a wonderful discovery that I expressed the hope in my full review that The Brabant Ensemble and Hyperion will bring us more.

Some time ago Avi Avital recorded arrangements for mandolin and orchestra (with the Kammerakademie Potsdam/Shalev Ad-El) or mandolin and continuo of various concertos by Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750). Keyboard concertos Nos. 1 and 5 work especially well, as most musicologists are now convinced that these were Bach’s own transcriptions of earlier, now lost, concertos for other instruments, but the whole programme is enjoyable. (DG 4790092 – stream from Qobuz; download from 7digital.com, mp3, or prestoclassical.co.uk, mp3 and lossless).

Now Avital has done the same for Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741), directing the Venice Baroque Orchestra with even greater success: only one of the concertos on this album was composed for the mandolin but you’d hardly know it (DG 4794017). Stream from Qobuz; download from 7digital, mp3 and lossless, or prestoclassical.co.uk, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless. Please see my review for details.

Per Monsieur Pisendel 2
Sonatas by Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741), Johann Georg PISENDEL (1687-1755), Antonio MONTANARI (1676-1737) and Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751)
La Serenissima/Adrian Chandler – rec. 2014.
AVIE AV2308 [74:30] – sample/stream/download in lossless sound from Qobuz

Scholarship and musicianship combine to make this an attractive successor to Volume 1. Please see my review for full details.

The Harmonia Mundi recordings of Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Christmas Cantata, Christen ätzet diesen Tag, BWV63, and the Christmas arrangement of his Magnificat in E-flat, BWV243a, performed by Collegium Musicum Gent conducted by Philippe Herreweghe, have been released in various formats since their first issue. They now appear on the super-budget Musique D’Abord label in which form they have been welcomed by Simon Thompson as Recording of the Month (HMA1951782 [61:25] – review). It’s not the only contender in the Magnificat(1) but I certainly wouldn’t mind having this album on my Desert Island and not just at Christmas.

The least expensive download comes at £4.29(2), in lossless sound, from Qobuz, where subscribers can also stream the music. There is no booklet but I understand that there’s no libretto even with the CD – Harmonia Mundi are rather stingy in that respect when other budget-price labels are more generous – though the texts are easily available online. No recording details are given but these two works were first released as part of a 2-CD set, with two other Christmas cantatas, in late 2003. (HMC1781/82, download only).

(1) If you took my advice and bought the Decca Baroque Era set or Volume 2 of that set as a download, you will find Emma Kirkby and others in a fine performance of the Christmas version of the Magnificat as part of that collection. It’s still available for £11.56 from Qobuz, where it can also be streamed/sampled: good value for the equivalent of 25 CDs.

(2) Eclassical’s per-second charging policy, usually a guarantee of a competitive price, rules them out for this and most other budget-price releases, in this case at $13.82. Though that’s not much more than you might pay from some dealers for the CD, shop around and you should be able to find the disc for around £6.50 or less.

Jan Krtitel VAŇHAL (Johann Baptist WANHAL) (1739-1813) was a member of a Viennese quartet that I would have dearly loved to hear: the other players were Haydn, Mozart and Dittersdorf. I don’t know if they performed any of his own string quartets but CPO have just released an enjoyable recording of four of them, well performed by The Lotus Quartet (7774752).

Jonathan Woolf liked these performances and recording – review – and the download from eclassical.com, which comes in mp3 and lossless, also contains the pdf booklet which JW singled out for praise. With no rivals in the catalogue, this well-filled album [78:11] is well worth investigating – sample from Qobuz.


Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Intrata di Rob-Roy MacGregor (1831) [13:16]
Rêverie et Caprice, Op.8 (1841) [8:07]
Harold in Italy, Op.16 (1834) [42:16]
James Ehnes (violin/viola)
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis
rec. 2014, Hamer Hall, Arts Centre, Melbourne, Australia. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN5155 [64:00] - from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet). Also available as SACD CHSA5155.

Ralph Moore thought this Harold in Italy correct and unobjectionable but unidiomatic – review. I was equally disappointed by the recent LSO Live recording conducted by Valery Gergiev – review.

There are some uncanny pre-echoes of Harold in Italy in the Rob Roy music, mingled with shades of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasia, but the charm soon wears off and the material was better used three years later in its more familiar place. I liked this recording of Harold better than the Gergiev but didn’t engage with it as I had hoped, so my faith in older recordings is unshaken – the vintage Beecham, if you can find it, and Colin Davis (EMI – sample/steam/download for £5.97 from Qobuz – or LSO Live).

The recording is good, especially in 24/96. I also sampled the 16/44.1 – slightly inferior to the 24-bit, as compared, but still doing justice to the music. Both benefit from a volume boost.

Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Symphony No. 7  in E, WAB107 (1881-1883)

Of the many recordings of this symphony listed in our Masterwork Index I was impressed by David Runnicles with the BBCSSO (Hyperion CDA67916 review) and so was John Quinn – review.  I also like Herbert von Karajan (DG Karajan Gold, with VPO) and Marek Janowski (PentaTone) and there’s a highly regarded earlier Oehms recording with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski at the helm.

The latest recording in the series of live recordings of the Bruckner symphonies from Simone Young and the Hamburg Philharmonic impressed both Dave Billinge and John Quinn (Oehms OC688reviews).  When one of my colleagues is impressed I like to follow up, but when two offer praise, doubly so.  Those who think Runnicles a mite too fast – I didn’t – should find Young’s timings ideal – 66:29 overall – very close to Karajan and Janowski.  Now I have at least four versions to choose from and I haven’t even mentioned Eugen Jochum (DG, no longer available on CD), whose very different Bruckner I also like.

It’s available for download from eclassical.com in mp3 and lossless sound, with pdf booklet.  There’s no 24-bit – for that you need the SACD – but the 16-bit sounds very good.  This album had not yet reached Qobuz when I checked but the other volumes are there for sampling only, and it should be, too, in due course.

The Hungarian Connection  
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)  
Clarinet Quintet in b minor, Op.115 [39:50] and other music
Andreas Ottensamer (clarinet) and friends – rec. 2014
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4811409  [61:30] – sample/stream/download from Qobuz (16- and 24-bit lossless) or download from 7digital.com (mp3 for £8.49 - NB their 16- and 24-bit offerings are more expensive than Qobuz).

For details please see my review Recording of the Month – and review by Stephen Barber.

France - Espagne
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)

España, rhapsodie pour orchestre 91883) [6:18]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Le Cid – suite de ballet [17:14]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Miroirs: Alborada del gracioso (1904-1905) [7:57]              
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Images pour orchestre: Ibéria (1905-1906) [20:14]  
Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth
rec. live, 24 August 2012, venue unknown
No booklet
MUSICALES ACTES SUD ASM17 [53:03] – from eClassical.com (mp3, 16-bit lossless)

Roth and his period musicians offer refreshing takes on well-established repertoire; here the focus is on Spain, filtered through a French lens. I reviewed their Rite of Spring and Petrushka on the main site and found much to enjoy there. It’s music that’s inextricably linked to Ernest Ansermet, as indeed is Chabrier’s; the latter’s fabled Decca/OSR recording of España takes some beating, but Roth and his band give a superbly articulated and highly spirited account of the piece. Not Ansermet, but very satisfying nonetheless.

That rhythmic verve is carried over into the suite from Massenet’s opera Le Cid. The bright, clean recording is lively without being fatiguing, but the bass is rather diffuse at times. Performance-wise the suite is enjoyable enough – the Madrilène is meltingly done – but otherwise this is a decent performance rather than an outstanding one.

The Ravel is nicely inflected, if a little short on atmosphere; not only that, Roth’s dynamic contrasts are a little too emphatic for my tastes. As for Roth’s Ibéria, it’s nimble but rather cool. Indeed, these strike me as crisp, clear-eyed performances rather than soft-grained, sense-stroking ones. There is applause, too.

Intermittently enjoyable; clearly this label didn’t get the memo about supplying booklets with their downloads.

Dan Morgan

(Though I have enjoyed the releases in this series so far, I was less excited about this new album: España could have gone with more of a swing and there are more evocative performances of Images to be had, but if the programme appeals this is an attractive enough album, well recorded.  Those daunted by applause should note that it features at the end of each work.  Eclassical’s per-second charging policy compensates for the short playing time but the lack of a booklet, from there or Qobuz or any supplier that I could find is a serious nuisance.  BW)

I missed Chandos’s recent recording of Jules MASSENET’s (1842-1912) music conducted by Neeme Järvi (CHSA5137: Recording of the Month review), which means that I don’t think that I’ve listened to Le Cid since I had the Martinon recording on LP (now Eloquence 4762742).  I reacquainted myself with that version from Qobuz and it still sounds fresh but the Chandos has the edge in that it comes as an SACD or in 24-bit format.  The 24-bit is very good; even in 16-bit format it sounds very well and the performances are every bit as good as that Recording of the Month accolade suggests.  Even if The Last Sleep of the Virgin cannot quite match Beecham’s classic account, Truls Mørk (cello) and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande come as close as could be imagined.

Theclassicalshop.net offer the Chandos recording in mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, and eclassical.com also have it in mp3 and 16-bit lossless.  Both include the pdf booklet.   Theclassicalshop.net’s price for mp3 is the more attractive but eclassical.com work out slightly less expensive for 16-bit lossless at current $/£ exchange rates.

Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Jealousy, JW VI/10 (1895) [5:30]
Violin Concerto ‘The Wandering of a Little Soul’, JWIX/10 (c. 1926, completed by Leoš Faltus and Miloš Štedron, 1988) [12:05]
The Ballad of Blaník, JW VI/16 (1919) [7:43]
The Fiddler's Child, JW VI/14 (1913) [12:48]
The Danube, JW IX/7 (Unfinished symphony 1923-1925, completed by Leoš Faltus and Miloš Štedron, 1985) [16:10]
Taras Bulba, JW/VI/15 (1915-1918) [22:51]
James Ehnes (violin, Concerto)
Melina Mandozzi (violin, The Fiddler's Child)
Susanna Andersson (soprano, The Danube)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Edward Gardner
rec. 2014, Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway
Pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHAN5156 [77:48] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16-bit & 24/96 Studio Master stereo/surround)  Also availabnle on SACD as CHSA5156

Anyone with even a passing interest in Janáček’s music will know that the late Sir Charles Mackerras had a special affinity for this composer; indeed, he’s usually the one others have to usurp. That said, the first volume in Edward Gardner’s ongoing Janáček series was warmly received by John Quinn. Besides, the Bergen Philharmonic are in terrific form at the moment, as I discovered when I reviewed  Andrew Litton’s Prokofiev Fifth Symphony and Scythian Suite.

I started with Taras Bulba, a surging, red-blooded piece that Mackerras and the Wiener Philharmoniker did so well for Decca in the early days of digital. Within seconds it’s clear that Gardner lacks the sheer drama that make Sir Charles’s account so exhilarating. In fact there’s very little sense of a strong narrative here, and Gardner’s rather deliberate tread robs the music of its cumulative energy and excitement. And although the Grieg Hall’s electronic organ has plenty of heft in the work’s closing bars the recording – like the performance – could do with a bit more spike. Frankly it all sounds rather anaemic alongside the Mackerras/Decca version.

The shorter pieces are a tad disappointing as well. Jealousy, originally intended as the overture to Janáček’s opera Jenufa, gets a decent outing. The recording is much more immediate this tome round and that helps to intensify colours and sharpen contrasts. James Ehnes gives a lithe performance of the short Violin Concerto, whose dark, burbling accompaniment is well caught by the Chandos team. I just wish Gardner sounded moreinteresting; alas, I’m beginning to think his Janáček is efficient rather than idiomatic. That doesn’t bode well for his upcoming Glagolitic Mass.

Gardner does let off the brakes a bit in The Ballad of Blanik, which has a strong pulse and a welcome sense of air; in spite of that I simply cannot not engage with this performance. Still, the sound has plenty of detail, especially in The Fiddler's Child. Violinist Melina Mandozzi has a pleasing tone and fine articulation, while and soprano Susanna Andersson sings a decent vocalise in Janáček’s unfinished symphony, The Danube. As with the Violin Concerto – also a completion – I’m less than convinced that the piece has that instantly recognisable Janáček ‘sound’.

Some interesting rarities, but otherwise pretty ordinary; Mackerras’s crown is safe.

Dan Morgan

(I’ve had chance for only a brief run through of this recording so far, though I find myself agreeing with Dan that Taras Bulba needs more power: this is a work that needs energy, which is also lacking in a disappointing Naxos performance coupled with an equally under-powered Sinfonietta which inexplicably maintained 3-star status for years in the Penguin GuideBW)

We now have two complete 2-CD recordings of Sergey TANEYEV (1856-1915) Complete Quintets – from the eponymous Taneyev Quartet and others on Northern Flowers NFPMA9944/45 review – and a more recent competitor from the Martinu Quartet et al on Supraphon SU41762 [124:36].  Both offer a fine introduction to the attractive chamber music of a composer who is not exactly over-represented in the catalogue.  The Northern Flowers is ADD, the Supraphon a more recent DDD, but both sound very well.

The Northern Flowers recording can be obtained from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) and Qobuz but, while I would recommend sampling from the latter, neither comes with the booklet which is obtainable with the CDs from MusicWeb-International for £19.75, post-paid worldwide.

The Supraphon can be downloaded from emusic.com in 320 kb/s mp3 for £4.62.  If you must have lossless sound, that’s available for streaming or purchase from Qobuz.  There’s no booklet with the Supraphon, but I understand that it isn’t very informative anyway.

If you prefer just to dip a toe into the water, there’s a recording of the Piano Quintet, with Arensky’s Piano Quintet on Hyperion which Stephen Greenbank thought a winner (CDA67695 Piers Lane and the Goldner Quartet – review).  Download from hyperion-records.co.uk, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet.  John Quinn made a recording of the Piano Trio, Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet Recording of the Month (CPO 777793-2).  £4.62 from emusic.com (mp3): sample/stream/download from Qobuz (no booklet from either).

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872–1958) Dona nobis pacem (1936)* [34:29]
Stephen HOUGH (b.1961) Missa Mirabilis (2006/2012) [20:13]
Sarah Fox (soprano)*; Christopher Maltman (baritone)*
Colorado Symphony Chorus; Colorado Symphony/Andrew Litton
rec. Boettcher Concert Hall, Denver, Colorado, USA, 26-30 March 2014. DDD
pdf with texts and translations included
HYPERION CDA68096 [54:42] - from hyperion-records.co.uk (CD, mp3 16- and 24-bit lossless.)

Please see review by John Quinn and look out for my own forthcoming full review on the main MusicWeb-International pages.

JQ mentions an earlier Hyperion recording of Dona Nobis Pacem and he has urged me to try this, too: Sir Thomas Allen (baritone) and Judith Howarth (soprano) with the Corydon Singers and Orchestra/ Matthew Best, coupled with Toward the Unknown Region, Four Hymns and other shorter works on CDA66655 [76:22].  That recording is also available as part of an attractively priced 4-CD set of VW’s Choral Works on CDS44321/4 – reviewreview – which also includes other recordings that I have reviewed and enjoyed separately.  Even if you already have one CD from this set, the price of around £20.50 (£20 for download) makes it well worth obtaining.  The two works associated with Pilgrim’s Progress, the incidental music and The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains, and the Mystical Songs are worth the price alone.

There is no 24-bit version, but the 16-bit is not far behind the new recording in sound quality and the performance of Dona Nobis really is all that JQ claims, not least for the contribution of Thomas Allen, whose contribution to the Mystical Songs is another strong reason for obtaining the 4-CD set or at least the single-CD version on mid-price CDA30025DL Roundup October 2010.

My benchmark for Toward the Unknown Region remains the Boult recording, also coupled with Dona Nobis Pacem and other works, now immured in a 13-CD set – review – but the EMI British Composers 2-CD set – Bargain of the Month – is still available to sample/stream/download from Qobuz.  I’ve always felt that Boult didn’t come to life until about half way through this work and for that reason it’s not music that I have often listened to but the Hyperion recording engaged my attention much more.

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Daphnis et Chloé (complete ballet) (1909–12) [56:52]
Pavane pour une Infante défunte (1899, orch. 1910) [6:30]
Netherlands Radio Choir
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
rec. De Doelen Hall, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, June 2012 (Daphnis et Chloé) and March 2014 (Pavane). DDD
BIS BIS-SACD-1850 [63:27] - from eclassical.com (mp3 16- and 24-bit lossless, all with pdf booklet)

Please see review by Brian Reinhart and myself.

I liked this, perhaps for the very reason that gave Brian Reinhart reservations – Nézet-Séguin’s somewhat non-interventionist direction, which brings it for me close to challenging the classic LSO/Monteux (Decca, still my benchmark).  My own reservations, which BR seems not to share, concern the volume level – turn it up to avoid the ppp passages sounding de-natured and the climaxes are far too loud, and there are plenty of very soft and loud passages in this work.

In terms of value for money Otakar OSTRČIL (1879-1935) Calvary: Variations for large Orchestra, Op.24 should be Bargain of the Month – the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Václav Neumann.  It comes complete on one track [31:25] from Supraphon, £0.42 from emusic.com.  I’m pleased to see that it’s one of their recent releases at the full 320kb/s bit-rate, though that cannot disguise the thinness of the sound, which is disappointing for a recording first released in the UK as recently as 1981. 

In theory this is lush late-romantic music that I should have enjoyed – think of early Schoenberg, such as Pelleas and Melisande – but it didn’t quite gel for me.  You may wish to sample first from Qobuz: they also have the same recording coupled with Suk’s Symphony No.1.

Hungarian Cello Concertos  
Mátyás SEIBER (1905-1960)  
Tre Pezzi  for cello and orchestra (1956) (premiere recording) [19:57] 
Antal DORATI (1906-1988)  
Concerto for cello and orchestra (1977) [33:42] 
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)  
Viola Concerto, BB128, Sz.120 (1945) (adapted for cello by Tibor Serly, ed. Peter Bartók and Nelson Dellamaggiore, 1993/2003) [23:49] 
Raphael Wallfisch (cello) 
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Gábor Tákacs-Nagy 
rec. Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, 2014. DDD 
NIMBUS NI5919  [77:28] – sample/stream/download from Qobuz (no booklet) or purchase CD from MusicWeb-International.

This recording continued the process of coming to terms with Mátyás Seiber’s music which I had previously side-lined.  The recent Lyrita recording of his two Joyce settings, Ulysses  and the  Three Fragments from The Portrait of the Artist, with the Elegy for viola and small orchestra started the process of rehabilitation: SRCD.348: Recording of the Month –  review

I enjoyed the Nimbus recording especially for the Seiber; the other works come as a welcome bonus and I see that Jonathan Woolf also reacted positively – his review and mine were published together, though not a collaborative effort.

Discovery of the Month

Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, H.292 (1943) [24:27]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Sonata for two pianos (1942/44) [10:29]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Concertino in A minor for two pianos, Op. 94 (1953) [9:10]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Concerto in D minor for two pianos and orchestra, FF61 (1932) [19:36]
Bizjak Piano Duo (Sanja Bizjak, Lidija Bizjak)
Stuttgarter Philharmoniker/Radoslaw Szulc
rec. 2014, Gustav-Siegle-Haus, Stuttgart, Germany
No booklet
ONYX 4148 [63:49] – from eClassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

This is one of my Innocent Ear reviews; all the works here, with the exception of the Shostakovich, are new to me, as are the performers. Michael Cookson welcomed the CD release, concluding that the Bizjak sisters are on ‘blistering form’ (review). The Martinů is certainly virtuosic, but these players are very much in control of their material. The quieter moments – and there are more of them than you might expect – are crystal clear and the climaxes are impressive rather than overbearing. The piano sound is well caught, although the orchestra seems a tad diffuse at times.

That same crystalline quality comes through in the Stravinsky sonata, which has terrific point and sparkle. Phrasing, rhythms and dynamics are beautifully managed, and the middle movement has an unaffected air that I like very much indeed. That’s carried through to the short final movement. This is the kind of piece that can seem a little dry, but there’s absolutely no sense of desiccation  here, impending or otherwise. As for the single-movement Shostakovich Concertino the Bizjaks invest it with plenty of wit and warmth. Delightful music, winningly played.

The quirky Poulenc concerto is a treat, too. Conductor Radoslaw Szulc and his Stuttgarters are the perfect accompanists, for they mirror the pianists when it comes to buoyancy and, in the central movement, an element of grace. Balances are just fine and there’s no hardness in the treble. But it’s the playing of these sisters that deserves the most praise; sensitive, stylish and always interesting they’re definitely a duo to watch.

A terrific programme, well played and recorded; no booklet, though.

Dan Morgan

Jacques IBERT’s (1890-1962) Divertissement is one of the craziest and most enjoyable pieces of music ever written, not least because it mocks the avant-garde, making the listener think some neo-Stockhausen is afoot before launching into Knees up Mother Brown territory.  A piece of music on the subject of Cervantes knight-errant, not actually named in the title, Le Chevalier Errant, but none other than Don Quixote, should also be fun, especially when the recording is rounded off with his Les Amours de Jupiter, outlining that naughty deity’s philandering with Europa, Leda, Danaë and Ganymede.  The performances are by the Orchestre National de Lorraine conducted by Jacques Mercier (Timpani 1C1230 [57:24], download only, from eclassical.com, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless or sample/stream from Qobuz, both with pdf booklet).

These two ballets are not as much fun as Divertissement, but they are enjoyable.  There’s just one other recording of Le Chevalier, also download only, and the only other version of Les Amours that I could find is a 1954 or 1956 French EMI recording made with Ibert himself at the helm of the Paris Opéra Orchestra on a Naxos Classical Archives download, available for just £1.68 from emusic.com.  (9.80405, with Escales).  For its age, and considering that it’s transferred at a low bit-rate not much higher than a measly 150kb/s, it doesn’t sound too bad and it’s nice to have the composer’s own recording, even if the ensemble is not always ideal.

Sir Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
Madame Noy - A Witchery Song for soprano and instrumental ensemble (1918) [3:44]
Rout, for soprano and chamber ensemble (1920) [6:52]
Jennifer Vyvyan (soprano)/Wigmore Ensemble
rec. 11 March 1958
The Enchantress - scena for contralto and orchestra (1951) [16:59]
Pamela Bowden (contralto); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Rudolf Schwarz
rec. 21 April 1957
The Beatitudes (1961) [48:18]
Heather Harper (soprano); Gerald English (tenor); Goldsmiths Choral Union; Royal Choral Society; Wembley Philharmonic Society; BBC Chorus; BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Arthur Bliss
rec. 31 August 1964, Royal Albert Hall, London
LYRITA ITTER BROADCAST COLLECTION REAM1115 [75:53]

See reviews by John Quinn and Nick Barnard.

My two colleagues have already used up all the superlatives, so I can only endorse them.  The settings of George Herbert within The Beatitudes make a fascinating comparison with the same poems in Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs.

Unfortunately the only worthwhile(1) download that I have been able to locate – sample/stream/download in lossless sound from Qobuz – is devoid of the texts.  The streamed version even manages to get the provenance mixed up, mis-ascribing The Enchantress to ‘Wigmore Ensemble’.  By the time that you read this, Naxos Music Library may have added this album to their collection and included the booklet.

(1) I discount the Amazon and iTunes versions – mp3 at a less than ideal bit-rate for the same price that Qobuz charge for lossless, with 320kb/s mp3 thrown in by the latter if you wish.

Rediscovery of the Month

Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897–1957)
Lieder des Abschieds, Op. 14 (1920 -1921) [16:16]
Symphony in F sharp, Op. 40 (1947-1952) [51:33]
Linda Finnie (contralto)
BBC Philharmonic/Sir Edward Downes
rec. 14-15 December 1992, Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, UK
Pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHAN10431 X [68:02] – from eClassical.com (mp3, 16- & 24-bit lossless)

During the recent Record Store Day I heard many collectors lament the demise of favourite outlets where they could browse through all the music on offer. I share that sense of loss, but I’ve found that trawling download sites can be just as rewarding. It was on one of those midnight missions that I discovered these 24/96 flacs of a truly memorable disc I bought when it first appeared more than 20 years ago. Rather curiously The Download Shop only has the mp3 and 16-bit files, but both eClassical and Qobuz have the higher-res ones (24/44.1).

It didn’t take long before I was utterly seduced by Linda Finnie’s warmly expressive rendition of the Lieder des Abschieds. She’s steady, glowing, gorgeous – and that applies to the playing of the BBC Phil as well. Even more impressive is the quality of this recording; it’s vintage Chandos, combining as it does refulgence with loving attention to detail. I really do prefer the acoustics of the now-lost Studio 7, New Broadcasting House – where these and so many other fine recordings were made – to the less immediate and immersive sound I associate with MediaCity. I often wonder if the musicians feel the same way.

Downes’s crisp, well-argued take on the symphony is every bit as impressive. He digs deep and delivers what he finds with uncommon authority. What a fine conductor he was, and how much he is missed. The work’s 51 minutes pass swiftly, such is the level of variety and interest in this reading. The orchestra, my favourite of the BBC’s many fine bands, play with great feeling throughout; as for the recording, it’s both vivid and weighty. Indeed, I’d be tempted to say this was Chandos at their very best, which makes this coupling as fitting a tribute as any to the company’s founder, Brian Couzens, who died last month (April 2015).

Radiantly sung and authoritatively played; a Korngold classic.

Dan Morgan

Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Score restorations by John Morgan
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/William Stromberg
rec. February 2003, Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, Russia
Pdf booklet included
NAXOS 8.573369 [78:27] – from eClassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

Having much enjoyed the Stromberg/Moscow Symphony recording of Korngold’s Sea Hawk I was keen to hear this one. Rob Barnett and Ian Lace’s enthusiastic double review of the original Marco Polo CD whetted my appetite even more. So, imagine my disappointment when this 24/48 download turned out to be the sonic equivalent of a turkey. It’s all the more galling as the playing is very good indeed.

This has been released on DVD-A, and I’m reliably informed the multichannel mix on that is excellent, if a little dry. Minutes into this new download and it’s clear there’s something amiss. The sound has a curious ‘tunnelled’ quality, as if one were listening to ersatz stereo. There’s almost no ambient information, and that results in a flat, desiccated sound. I’m tempted to think this download is derived from the surround mix of that DVD-A, sans the rear channels. Whatever the story this is not a pleasant listen.

A flawed release; caveat emptor.

Dan Morgan

(I listened to the 16-bit lossless download from Qobuzreview – and was equally enthusiastic about the music and performances but I also found the recording much more amenable than seems to be the case with the 24-bit.  The moral appears to be to go for the 16-bit Qobuz or the CD, either of which is much less expensive than the 24-bit.  BW)

Horizon 2 – A Tribute to Oliver Messiaen
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
La plainte, au loin, du faune… (1920; orch. Geert van Keulen, 2007) [5:05]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Les offrandes oubliées (1930) [11:23]
Marc-André DALBAVIE (b. 1961)
La source d’un regard (2007) [16:17]
Olivier MESSIAEN
Chronochromie (1959-1960) [22:45]
Rob ZUIDAM (b. 1964)
Adam-Interludes (2007-2008)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/George Benjamin, Ingo Metzmacher (Zuidam)
rec. live, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, 2007/2008
Pdf booklet enclosed
RCO LIVE RCO 09003 [71:55] – from eClassical.com (mp3, 16- & 24-bit lossless)

On the main site I recently reviewed a marvellous album entitled Brass Too, which showcases the Concertgebouw’s brass and percussion sections. It’s proof – if it were needed – that this is one of the world’s most versatile orchestras. Horizon 2, one of an ongoing series of live concerts devoted to contemporary repertoire, celebrates the music of Olivier Messiaen. It contains very good performances of Les offrandes oubliées and Chronochromie, conducted by George Benjamin and presented in sound of great sophistication. Geert van Keulen’s Dukas orchestration is highly atmospheric, the Dalbavie piece has thrilling weight and impact and Zuidam’s Adam-Interludes alternates between fierce declamation and fragments of diaphanous beauty.

The Messiaen performances are certainly worth hearing, even if these aren’t stand-out versions of either work. I regret that Ingo Metzmacher’s contribution is restricted to the Zuidam piece, for he’s proved himself a very fine Messiaen conductor (review).The real attraction, though, is hearing the Concertgebouw in all its glory.

Invigorating repertoire, superbly played; another top-notch recording from the Polyhymnia team.

Dan Morgan  

Geoffrey BUSH (1920-1998)
Concerto for Light Orchestra (1958) [16:56]
Natus est Immanuel  – A Christmas Piece for String Orchestra (1939) [6:08]
Matthew Locke Suite Psyche  – in collaboration with Francis Harvey (c.1958) [6:18]
Sinfonietta Concertante for Cello and Small Orchestra (1943) [17:10]
Two Miniatures for String Orchestra (1948) [6:56]
Finale for a Concert (1964) [4:46]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
The Holy Boy  (1915) (arr. cello and strings by Christopher Palmer) [2:56]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Northern Chamber Orchestra/Nicholas Ward
rec. St. Philip’s Church, Salford, Greater Manchester, UK, 2013
LYRITA SRCD.341  [61:10] – sample/stream/download in lossless sound from Qobuz

Please see reviews by Nick Barnard – ‘Another exemplary new Lyrita release featuring all the label’s old virtues; fascinating and worthwhile repertoire performed superbly, backed up by excellent technical and production values’ – and Jonathan Woolf – ‘With some vivid playing and recording, and well researched notes, this fills a welcome gap in Bush’s representation on disc’.

All I need to add is that I enjoyed hearing this from Qobuz as much as my colleagues enjoyed the CD.  Emusic.com subscribers will find it there but, at £7.14, it’s not much less, in variable-rate mp3, than the lossless Qobuz (£7.99).  Neither comes with the booklet but Naxos Music Library subscribers will find it there.

An earlier Lyrita recording features Bush’s Overture Yorick, Music for Orchestra and Symphonies 1 and 2.  Download in mp3 from emusic.com for £2.52.  (SRCD.252 [79:02] – review and review.)  The variable bit-rate never rises much above 192 kb/s, which is no longer regarded as sufficient, though BBC Radio 3 think otherwise, but it’s good enough to enjoy these attractive performances.  No booklet, but Naxos Music Library has it and you can stream it there.  Don’t forget that both of these recordings are available on CD at an attractive price from MusicWeb International.

Not having come across the music of Leonardo BALADA (b.1933), I decided to try his Symphony No.6, Concerto for three cellos and orchestra and Steel Symphony, performed by the Galícia and Barcelona Symphony Orchestras conducted by Jesús López-Cobos (Naxos 8.573289 [59:54]).  I wish that I had read Paul Corfield Godfrey’s review first: if anything I got even less from these works than he did.  The parts that I enjoyed seemed the most derivative.  To vary Eysenck’s mistaken judgment of Jung, what was new was not worth hearing and what was worthwhile was not new.   Performance and recording are good, even in the variable bit-rate mp3 version to which I listened, downloaded from emusic.com, but to little avail, I fear.  At least it only cost me £1.26.  There’s no booklet, but you can find that chez Qobuz and from Naxos Music Library.

Gang CHEN’s (b.1935) Butterfly Lovers Concerto, written in 1959 with fellow-student He ZHANHAO (b.1933) has a number of recordings to its credit, mostly on Marco Polo and associated labels Naxos and Yellow River.  I’ve owned and enjoyed the Naxos recording with Takako Nishizaki (violin) and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Judd for some time (8.557348 with Breiner Songs and Dances from the Silk Road – reviewreview).  That’s a hard act to follow let alone to beat.

Another performance with Nishizaki as soloist and the Shanghai Conservatory SO/Fan Chengwu is available differently coupled on 8.554334, on Yellow River 82031 and on Marco Polo DVD 8.225980.

Now BIS offer a new recording with Lu Siqing (violin) and the Taipei Chinese Orchestra/Chung Yiu-Kwong (BIS-SACD-2104 [63:13] – from eclassical.com, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).  The couplings are short works in an Eastern idiom by Kreisler, Wieniawski, Sarasate and Tchaikovsky plus two Western-style arrangements of traditional Chinese and Mongolian music.

The new recording is a little more lyrical than the Naxos and a touch less dramatic, but there’s very little to choose between them.  Both are well recorded, the BIS especially so in 24-bit format, though not outstanding.  My choice, however, still lies with the more interesting coupling on Naxos but you can compare them from Qobuz – Naxos – Bis to appear shortly – samples only except for subscribers.

Discovery of the Month
Jonathan Woolf’s review of the Dvořák Violin Concerto, Romance and other works by Thomas Albertus Irnberger, which he appreciated as ‘sensible and sensitive’, led me to explore other recordings by this violinist on the Gramola label from Qobuz.  Among these I found a recording of the music of Iván ERÖD (b.1936): the Violin Concerto, Op.15, the two Sonatas for violin and piano, Op.14 and Op.74, and Three Pieces for violin solo, Op.27.  He’s accompanied in the concerto by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Martin Sieghart and in the sonatas by Michael Korstick (piano).  (Gramola 99020 [57:52] – download from eclassical.com, mp3 and lossless or sample/stream/download from Qobuz, both with pdf booklet).

There are moments when the then-fashionable avant-garde of the late 1960s and early 1970s seems about to intrude but they are few and far between: the overall tone of the concerto and sonatas is lyrical.  I enjoyed the Qobuz streamed version so much that I downloaded the lossless version from eclassical.com because I’m sure that I shall want to return to this music.

I could equally well have chosen as my Discovery of the Month Russian composer Andrei GOLOVIN (b.1950).  A Melodiya recording features his charming Little Musical Pictures, fifteen in all, entitled Bambi, based not on the Disney film but on Salten’s book.   Not inappropriately for the subject, the pieces are heavily influenced by Debussy’s Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune and Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye and Daphnis et Chloë, but none the less enjoyable for that.  (MELCD1000960 – sample/stream/download from Qobuz).

The most recent Golovin release comes from Toccata Classics: first recordings of Light Unapproachable – Symphony No.4; Canzone for Cello and String Orchestra and Concerto-Symphony for Viola and Cello with Orchestra – Symphony No.1.  Various Russian orchestras are conducted by Golovin himself, Anatoly Levin and Alexander Rudin, with Mikhail Bereznitsky (viola) and Alexander Rudin (cello), recorded at different times between 2009 and 2014 (TOCC0264 [64:53] – from eclassical.com, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).

The music, in a late-Romantic idiom, is less immediate in appeal than Bambi but impressive, the performances are clearly authoritative and the recording good except that the texture becomes somewhat denser than is ideal at climaxes.

Metropolitan Hilarion ALFEYEV (b. 1966)
Stabat Mater (2008-2011) [22:25]
Concerto grosso (2012) [11:31]
Fugue on the B-A-C-H Motif (2012) [6:17]
Canciones de la muerte (Songs of death) [9:02]
De profundis (2008) [24:04]
Svetlana Kasyan (soprano), Artyom Dervoed (guitar), Tatiana Porshneva, Maxim Khokholkov (violins), Sergei Dubov (viola), Alexander Gotgelf (cello), Norbert Gembaczka (organ)
Moscow Synodal Choir
Russian National Orchestra/Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev
rec. April 2014, DZZ Studio 5, Moscow; organ recorded separately
Pdf booklet includes sung texts and translations
PENTATONE PTC5186468 [73:19] – from eClassical.com (mp3, 16- & 24-bit lossless)

According to Pentatone’s website Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev is ‘one of the most widely performed of all living Russian composers’. Which probably explains why I hadn’t heard of him until this recording was announced. It’s a high-profile release, certainly looks intriguing, and while I wasn’t sure what to expect I hadn’t bargained for this.

Apart from being a metropolitan (bishop) in the Russian Orthodox Church Alfeyev is also a noted theologian and, yes, a composer. His fondness for Bach may be gleaned from the track-list, and the fact that two of his best-known works are a St Matthew Passion and a Christmas Oratorio underlines that. Here he directs the prestigious Russian National Orchestra – which I’ve just reviewed in a marvellous Leningrad – as well as various soloists and the Moscow Synodal Choir. I’m surprised that this recording was consigned to a studio rather than, say, a more appropriate acoustic.

The Stabat Mater sets the tone for what’s to come; indeed, if you’re expecting a traditional, darkly resonant piece the pale, skipping minimalism of this opener will come as a rude shock. There’s little of substance here and the choir sing without character or any real sense of involvement. The ensuing Bach-inspired pieces – the  Concerto grosso and the Fugue on the B-A-C-H Motif – are even less memorable. The  recording is adequate, but it’s a far cry from Polyhymnia’s immersive best. I suspect the venue has something to do with the rather dry, closely focused sound here.

Alas, it doesn’t get any better; the four-movement Canciones de la muerte, which includes an unsubtle soprano and a too-closely-miked guitar, is devoid of invention, inflexion or intensity. Even worse, the piece relies far too much on rudimentary rhythms. The orchestral writing is monochromatic and it’s all delivered in such an unlovely and unconvincing way.

At least the De profundis has pretensions to grandeur at the outset, but then it’s back to the winding Bach-like figures that haunt this music like a ghastly idée fixe. No, this is faux seriousness, a soupy brand of churchiness that flies in the face of a long and venerable musical tradition. At the very least this seems to be a vanity project, and such things rarely turn out well. I’m sure some listeners will warm to Alfeyev’s oeuvre, but on the evidence presented here I doubt his music will make much of an impression outside Russia.

No splendour or substance; grim.

Dan Morgan

Discovery of the Month  
I hadn’t previously encountered the music of Joan TOWER (b.1938) and the title of the first piece on a new Naxos recording, Stroke (2011) [19:45], seemed pretty unpromising: it really is an emotional reaction to her brother’s stroke and it receives a powerful performance from the Nashville Symphony and Giancarlo Guerrero.  It’s a first recording, as is that of Chamber Dance (2006) [16:19] which rounds off the CD, with theViolin Concerto (1991) [21:26] at the centre of the programme, with Cho-Liang Lin as soloist. (8.559775 [57:30] – from emusic.com in 320kb/s mp3, no booklet, or sample/stream/download in lossless sound with pdf booklet from Qobuz).

Regular readers will know that I approach most contemporary music with trepidation but I enjoyed this enough to seek out more of Joan Tower’s music: I could easily get to like it.  The artwork on the cover is a good guide: it’s modern but comprehensible.  If you can relate to the Berg Violin Concerto, for example, you should be able to cope with Joan Tower’s.


Jazz Bargain of the Month


Somewhat predictably, the recent death of B.B. King, whose name proclaims exactly what he was, the King of the Blues, has brought forth at least one tribute album: B.B. King – The Memorial Album from Sandrew Metronome, 107 minutes for just £4.79 in lossless sound from Qobuz, where it can be sampled by all and streamed by subscribers.  It’s just one of 542 albums which you can find there – some of them duplicates, but it’s still an impressive total – by searching for ‘BB King’.

If you buy only one jazz recording this month, it should be by BB.


 

 




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