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DOWNLOAD NEWS 2015/8
by Brian Wilson and Dan Morgan
 

Reviews are by Brian Wilson unless otherwise stated.

Download News 2015/7 is here and the archive of earlier editions is here.

Index 2015/8:

BACH Keyboard Concertos – Staier/Müllejans_Harmonia Mundi; Woolley_Chandos
-          Organ Works – Suzuki_BIS
-          Cantatas 93, 119 and 163 – Lenz_Bach-Stiftung
-          Cantatas 29, 119 and 120 – Herreweghe_Harmonia Mundi
-          Cantatas for Ascension, Whitsun and Trinity – Richter_DG Archiv
BEETHOVEN String Quartets, Op.18 – Jerusalem Quartet_Harmonia Mundi
BÖHM, KERLL, KUHNAU, MUFFAT, PACHELBEL – see Weichlein
CAPORALE and GALLIARD Homage to Handel – von der Golz/Küppers_Raumklang
COMPÈRE Magnificat, Motets and Chansons – Orlando Consort_Hyperion
GALLIARD Homage to Handel – see Caporale
GLAZUNOV The Seasons – Wolff (+ PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto 2)_Beulah
HAHN Le Bal de Béatrice – Corp (+ POULENC)_Hyperion
-          Le Bal de Béatrice; Divertissement; Concerto Provençal – Chavin_Timpani
HANDEL in Italy 1 (Gloria, etc) – London Early Opera_Signum
HAYDN Symphonies 31, 70 and 101 – Ticciati_Linn
MOZART Piano Concertos 10, 18, 20, 22, 25 and 26 (arr. Hummel) – Sigawa_BIS
-          Piano Concertos 18 and 20 (arr. Hummel) – Miucci (fortepiano)_Dynamic
-          Piano Concertos 20 and 21 – Schoonderwoerd (fortepiano)_Accent
-          Piano Concertos 20 and 21 (arr. Lachner) – Goldstein_Naxos
-          Die Zauberflöte – Klemperer_EMI/Warner; Karajan_EMI/Warner
-          Opera Arias – Watts_Linn
PARRY Symphonies – Bamert_Chandos
-          I was glad, etc. – Westminster Abbey/O’Donnell_Hyperion; Bamert, Hickox_Chandos
PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto 2 – Frager (+ GLAZUNOV Seasons)_Beulah
-          Symphonies 4 and 5 – Karabits_Onyx
SCHUMANN Piano Concerto; Piano Trio 2 – Melnikov_Harmonia Mundi
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony 10; Passacaglia – Nelsons_DG
SIBELIUS The Tempest, Tapiola, etc. – Kamu_BIS
STRAUSS Richard Four Last Songs, etc. – Schwarzkopf_Warner
TALLIS Ave, Dei patris filia, etc – Cardinall’s Musick_Hyperion
TCHAIKOVSKY Tchaikovsky’s Art 1-4 – Various_Beulah
TIPPETT A Child of our Time – Hickox_Chandos
VENABLES Song of the Severn – Williams_Signum
WEICHLEIN Encænia Musices – Capella Vitalis Berlin_Raumklang
-          excerpts – Ensemble Masques (+ BÖHM, etc.)_Alpha
WHITLOCK, Luke Flowing Waters – Honyebourne, etc._Divine Art
American Intersections – TwoPianists_ TwoPianists Records
Morgen! Romantic Lieder – Schuster_Oehms

***

Beulah Extra Pricing

Last month I mentioned that the price of single tracks from Beulah Extra seemed to have risen sharply.  I’m told that they haven’t but that some of the links from their website eavb.co.uk appear to have been redirected and that the correct links will be restored.

***

Loyset COMPÈRE (c.1445–1518) 
Magnificat, Motets and Chansons
HYPERION CDA68069  [68:20] from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, all with pdf booklet, or on CD.)  Texts and translations included

For full details of and my thoughts on this recording by the Orlando Consort, please see my review on the main MWI pages:
‘Not, perhaps, the ideal introduction for those wishing to become interested in the music of this period … for that you might be better to turn to one of the many recordings which Gothic Voices made for Hyperion, now reissued on their budget Helios label – but well worthwhile for lovers of Josquin who want to know what went immediately before’. 


Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585)

The latest volume in the series of Tallis recordings from The Cardinall’s Musick and Andrew Carwood again combines some of his Latin masterpieces with his more restrained compositions for the reformed Church.  On HYPERION CDA68095 [71:51] we have performances of the Marian Ave, Dei patris filia, Honor virtus et potestas, Homo quidam fecit cœnam and other shorter Latin works together with the English Venite, Te Deum and Benedictus for Mattins, the English Litany, the Easter sentences, Christ rising again from the dead, and two pieces from Archbishop Parker’s Psalm Tunes.  Download in mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet containing texts and translations, from hyperion-records.co.uk.

This is the fifth release in what must now be seen as a complete set of recordings to rival the Signum set with Chapelle du Roi and Alistair Dixon, available singly, including Volumes 1-8 as mp3 and lossless downloads from Hyperion, with booklets, or in a budget-price box from Brilliant Classics.  Both the Signum and the Hyperion booklets are excellent and are provided with the Hyperion downloads of both, whereas the Qobuz offerings of the Brilliant Classics set and of the individual Signum volumes come without booklet, leaving listeners in the dark unless thoroughly conversant with the Sarum Missal and Breviary and the 1549 and 1559 English Prayer Books.

Don’t pass this latest release by because it contains so many of the English settings.  They may not be as impressive as their Latin counterparts – it was Tallis’s younger colleague, Byrd, who showed how the new liturgy could be set – but when performed by teams as good as Carwood’s and Dixon’s they’re by no means to be sniffed at.  They even make the Litany, Tallis’s setting of which became the Anglican norm for centuries, sound interesting.  If the Hyperion recordings have the edge it’s because they are available – and not for too much extra – in 24-bit sound.  Very good it is, too, even if it’s surprising that it’s 24/44.1 rather than 24/96.  If, however, you prefer music from roughly the same period in Tallis’s career together, for example, with all Archbishop Parker’s tunes on one CD rather than interspersed, the Signum recordings are the better bet.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

A new (rec. 2013) recording of the concertos for solo keyboard and orchestra, BWV1052-1058, comes from Andreas Staier (harpsichord) with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/Petra Müllejans (Harmonia Mundi HMC902181.82, 2 CDs, from eclassical.com, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).  The discs are due to sell at mid-price – at 111:53 they are hardly over-filled – but the eclassical.com per-second pricing policy means that the download is still competitive.  It doesn’t appear that the physical discs will be offered as SACDs, so downloading is your only way to obtain 24-bit sound.

The performances are very fine.  If I say that they are not over-assertive, that is not meant as a criticism, nor is my observation that the recording, too, is good without drawing attention to itself.  The 24-bit is good but even the mp3 is not far behind.

Richard Egarr’s earlier Harmonia Mundi recording, which also offered the Triple Concerto, BWV1044 (with AAM/Andrew Manze, HMC90283.84), is now download only.  At $30.55 the eclassical.com version is rather expensive; prestoclassical.co.uk have it at £11.99 (mp3) or £14.99 (lossless).  Neither offers the booklet.

In many respects my benchmark for these keyboard concertos remains the Chandos set with Richard Woolley as soloist, with the augmented Purcell Quartet, complete with wonderful Brueghel covers, but that spreads the music across four albums, with other concertos, and comes in download form only:

-          CHAN0595: BWV1054, BWV1056, BWV1062 (for two harpsichords) and the alternative version of Brandenburg Concerto No.5, BWV1050 – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet)
-          CHAN0611: BWV1053, BWV1058, with BWV1064 (for three harpsichords) and BWV1065 (for four harpsichords) – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 only, with pdf booklet)
-          CHAN0636: BWV1055, BWV1057 (for harpsichord and two recorders), BWV1060 (for two harpsichords) and BWV1063 (for three harpsichords) – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet)
-          CHAN0641: BWV1044 (for flute, violin and harpsichord), BWV1052 and BWV1061 (for two harpsichords) – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet)

The problem with these concertos is how to make the harpsichord audible in tandem with the accompaniment and the solo strings on Chandos solve that problem; though the engineers unfortunately recessed the soloist on the first volume, that’s better than having an over-prominent solo clanging away and the balance is much better on the other volumes.

The Freiburgers mostly field slightly larger forces – 3 each of first and second violins, two each of violas and cellos – but with single strings plus double bass in BWV1053.

Those for whom the harpsichord recalls Beecham’s comments about skeletons copulating are well served by Angela Hewitt (piano) and Richard Tognetti on Hyperion.  Even though I prefer the period instrument for Bach, I gladly make an exception for Ms Hewitt (CDA67607/8).

If you thought that there was no more for Masaaki Suzuki to do by way of promoting Bach, think again: hard on the heels of volume 1 of the Short or Lutheran Masses – reviewreview – his latest recording for BIS contains a selection of the organ music: inevitably opening with THE Toccata and Fugue, BWV565, but also containing some less standard repertoire, all superbly played and very well recorded, especially as heard in 24/96 format from eclassical.com.  (BIS-SACD-2111, also available on SACD and in mp3 and 16-bit downloads, all with booklet).  I was going to write a fuller review for the main pages but Dan Morgan beat me to it – review – thus saving me the necessity to give the detailed listing, which he gives. 

Many scholars doubt the attribution of BWV565 to Bach but no-one has, to the best of my knowledge, identified the true composer.  Albert Clements in the excellent notes believes that “there are no decisive reasons for ascribing it to anyone but Bach. It seems to be a juvenile work, full of energy and expression. Its form points to the North German tradition, recalling … the style of Dieterich Buxtehude [and] Georg Böhm”.  I suppose that won’t be the last word on the subject, but it convinces me, especially as Suzuki’s performance is something very special.  Whether you are looking for an entrée to Bach’s organ music or an old Bach hand, this is about as good as it gets.

I have only just caught up with a new series of live recordings of the Bach Cantatas as late as Volume 14, containing Nos. 119: Preise Jerusalem den Herrn, 163: Nur jedem das Seine and 93: Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten.  As a small bonus, No.119 concludes with a repeat of the alto aria Zuletzt! da du uns, Herr, and an extra version of the final chorale with wind accompaniment, composed by Thomas Leininger.  Soloists are Miriam Feuersinger (soprano), Jan Börner (alto), Julius Pfeifer (tenor) and Markus Volpert (bass) with the Choir and Orchestra of the J.S.Bach-Stiftung directed from the harpsichord by Rudolf Lenz.  (J.S.Bach-Stiftung BSSG-B347 [58:34] – from eclassical.com, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet containing texts but no translations).  The Swiss group aim to perform all Bach’s choral works over a period of 25 years.  Download only in the UK but CDs can be ordered from http://www.bachstiftung.ch/shop/dvd-cd-mp3/cds/

Can performances like these compete with established series from Teldec/Warner (Harnoncourt and Leonhardt, also still available as part of the USB Complete Bach), Gardiner (SDG), Hänssler (Rilling) and BIS (the recently completed Suzuki recordings) or with the super-bargain Brilliant Classics (94365, 50CDs* or as downloads, around 15 hours each for around £8.00 each in mp3 or £10 in lossless – sample/stream/download from Qobuz; download from prestoclassics.co.uk: no booklet from either)? 

I compared No.119 with one of the recordings from the incomplete series which Philippe Herreweghe made with Collegium Vocale: Nos. 29, 199 and 120 on Harmonia Mundi HMC901690 – from eclassical.com or classicsonlinehd.com, mp3 or 16-bit lossless, NO booklet from either.  It can also be streamed by subscribers from classicsonlinehd or Qobuz – again, no booklet from the latter.  Herreweghe’s soloists are Deborah Yorke, Ingeborg Danz, Mark Padmore and Peter Kooy.  Surprisingly, there’s not much in it: in some respects the Bach-Stiftung capture the celebratory tone of this cantata, composed for a municipal occasion, slightly better than Herreweghe and his team, though the solo singing is more secure on Harmonia Mundi.  In very crude terms, Lenz paints in broad brush-strokes, occasionally missing the details thereby, whereas Herreweghe gives us the details sometimes at the expense of the bigger picture.  Overall I enjoyed both.  Though the Harmonia Mundi comes without booklet and the Bach-Stiftung without translation, for once that isn’t a major problem: the texts and translations of the Bach cantatas are readily available online.

I’ve only dipped into the Brilliant series, having been cautious of the hype that it has received, but I enjoyed their recording of No.93 so much that I carried on listening to No.94. 

I also dug out the DG Archiv set of Ascensiontide, Whitsuntide and Trinity Cantatas directed by Karl Richter.  Deliberate tempi apart, by comparison with modern recordings, there’s a great deal to enjoy here: in fact, this is still my benchmark, not least for the solo singing, especially that of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (4393802)**.  Once again I couldn’t stop after No.93: Richter’s account of No.147, with the famous central chorale Jesus bleibet meine Freude (Jesu, joy of man’s desiring), which follows is superb.  Though Richter is consistently slower than Lenz (7:48 against 6:00 in the first chorus, for example) there is never any feeling that the music is dragging.

In fact even Lenz is comparatively slow in this chorus – 5:27 from Harnoncourt on Teldec and 5:18 from Rilling (Hänssler).  Indeed Lenz rather falls between two stools here: if I prefer both the way that Harnoncourt moves the music along without hurrying it and Richter’s way of caressing it without dragging, however, that didn’t prevent me from liking Lenz’s performance overall.

All the recordings that I have considered have their merits, then, not least the new recording and if the coupling appeals there should be no reason not to choose it except that the linguistically challenged will find that the notes are in German only, as are the texts.  

It will be apparent that I had something of a field day with the Bach keyboard concertos and cantatas and enjoyed every minute of it.  I could have gone on and added Sigiswald Kuijken’s No.93, with Nos. 135 and 177 in another series that I like (Accent ACC25302) but, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, ‘to every thing there is a season … and much study is a weariness of the flesh’, so I shall leave that until another time, lest I become as tedious as Ecclesiastes and start to enlighten you with gems such as ‘a living dog is better than a dead lion’ (9.4).

* £66.50 from Amazon UK

** I bought all the boxes in the DG Richter series when they were available inexpensively: now they are download only and likely to be more expensive in that format, without booklet, than they were in box sets.  Prestoclassical.co.uk offer mp3 and lossless and the set can be streamed from Qobuz.    Amazon UK have a few sets left on CD at the time of writing.  Snap them up: Richter’s Bach is still well worth preserving.  Sample his No.93 on YouTube.  Some dealers still have the DG Galleria release of Nos. 51, 93 and 129 (4271152).

George Friderick HANDEL (1685-1759)

Handel in Italy: Volume 1 is the first of a planned series of six releases, including a second Italian volume and two each of Handel in Vauxhall and Handel in Ireland.  On the evidence of this first release, it should be a series well worth following.  Sophie Bevan, Mary Bevan (soprano), Benjamin Bevan (baritone) with London Early Opera/Bridget Cunningham (Signum SIGCD423 [43:00] – from hyperion-records.co.uk mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).

Though Signum’s publicity material suggests otherwise, the main item and the principal interest here lies in the Gloria which Handel composed in Italy and then, most uncharacteristically for someone who preserved all his own music, lost.  It was not until 2000 that the work was rediscovered – 2009 edition of score available free here – and, soon afterwards, received its first recording from Emma Kirkby with the Royal Academy Baroque Orchestra and Laurence Cummings (BIS-CD-1235).  On that CD the Gloria was somewhat mismatched with an earlier recording with different forces of Handel’s Dixit Dominus: it remains a half-success – reviewDL News 2013/8.

Emma Kirkby re-recorded the Gloria, again for BIS, this time coupled with Neun Deutsche Arien – a less logical coupling in terms of content but preferable in offering an all-Kirby programme (BIS-CD-1615DL News September 2011/2).  That second recording remains my benchmark for the Gloria, one which, for all the virtues of the new recording, remains unassailed.

I should also mention another Emma Kirkby recording which I reviewed at the same time as her second take of the Gloria: though it’s entitled Handel in Italy, there is no overlap with the new Signum CD of the same title.  Ms Kirkby’s enticing earlier recording of cantatas which Handel composed in Italy – again, no overlaps – remains available at lower-mid-price on Australian Decca Eloquence 4767468review.  Subscribers to Qobuz can stream all these recordings and others can sample – but don’t pay £11.56 to download the Eloquence recording there when the CD sells for around £7.50.

There’s yet another highly recommendable recording with the Handel in Italy title, this time featuring Roberta Invernizzi (soprano) with la Risonanza directed by Fabio Bonizzoni (Glossa GCDP10002, 2 CDs, mid-price, a 2011 reissue of earlier recordings from 2005 and 2006 –DL Roundup March 2009 and DL News 2013/13).  There are some overlaps with the Kirkby recordings, but none with the new Signum.

The new Signum recording is an all-Bevan-family affair, with Sophie Bevan bearing the heat of the day in the Gloria.  She gives a very fine account of herself and is very well supported.   If the Signum programme – and price: see below – appeals, I see no reason not to go for it.  Confirmed Kirkby-ites, however, of whom I am one – see my recent Seen and Heard review – will certainly prefer her brighter, purer sound. 

If you wish to do the comparison for yourself, both versions are available on Qobuz – here and here – ignore the information given there that the Gloria is from Missa Sapientiæ, HWV245, a work ‘formerly attributed to Handel’, a piece of misinformation which I see perpetuated on some other websites.  HWV245 actually refers to a Kyrie and a different Gloria once attributed to Handel but actually by Lotti.

Those in search of a budget alternative may be tempted by a Naxos CD which duplicates the repertoire of the second Emma Kirkby recording: Dorothea Craxton with a small ensemble (8.572587 review).  There’s much to enjoy there but I cannot recommend economising when the BIS/Kirkby recording is so good.  The same is true of a recording of theGloria on the Lyrichord label with Julianne Baird and The Queen’s Chamber Band (LEMS8055, with Mi palpita il cor,Pastorella vaga bella and Keyboard Suite No.3) which, in any case, seems not to be generally available in the UK except streamed from Naxos Music Library, with booklet.  (Amazon UK have one used copy).

Mary Bevan features in only two short pieces.  Though attractively sung, they hardly affect the issue and there are alternative recordings of the keyboard sonata on all-Handel or mainly-Handel recordings.  It was apparently intended to be played by two harpsichords or on a two-manual instrument, though these were rare in Italy at the time.

The Hyperion download takes account of the rather short playing time: mp3 and 16-bit cost just £4.99 and even the 24-bit is only £7.50.  Ignore the iTunes purchase button: why pay more there for mp3 than you would for 24-bit lossless from Hyperion?  Similarly, though subscribers to Qobuz can stream and others can sample from there, I don’t recommend paying £7.99 for their download, which appears to come without booklet.

My Discovery of the Month is a new album from Raumklang (RK3302) entitled Homage to G F Handel: it contains not his own music but that of two contemporaries who were associated with him in London, the Italian Francis Caporale and the Saxon Johann Galliard.  The stylish performers are Kristin von der Golz (cello) and Andreas Küppers (harpsichord and organ).  The music may not have the last degree of genius of Handel – Dr Burney rather unfairly called Caporale ‘no deep musician’ – but it’s certainly in similar style.  Caporale even followed Handel’s example in changing his first name from Francesco to its English equivalent and some of his sonatas were interpolated in the latter’s Parnasso in Festa.  With good recording, especially in 24-bit, the only thing missing from the eclassical.com download or the streamed version from Qobuz is a booklet.

Another recent Raumklang release earned Recording of the Month status from David Barker: Romanus (Andreas) WEICHLEIN Encænia Musices (1695).  The performers, Capella Vitalis Berlin, demonstrate that this music is a light unfairly hidden under a bushel.  (RK3401review).  From eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless) whence, in this case, we have the all-important booklet, also available with the streamed version from Qobuz.

The word encænia means ‘celebration’ – it’s a pseudo-Graeco-Latin name given at Oxford to the award of honorary doctorates and to the ensuing slap-up High Tea, but Weichlein seems to intend it to mean ‘dedication’ or ‘offering’.  If Emperor Leopold I’s musicians played as well as capella vitalis – their preferred lower-case spelling – he would have been well served at his celebrations and banquets.

By one of those coincidences, like London buses there’s another new recording of four of the sonatas from Encænia Musices, together with music by Kuhnau, Böhm, Pachelbel, Kerll and Muffat, from Ensemble Masques/Olivier Fortin, with assistance from Skip Sempé, on Alpha.  At the time of writing only Qobuz were offering this – it’s due for release on CD in September 2015 – doubtless eclassical.com will have it in due course (ALPHA212).

With two very fine recordings to his name, now it’s time that some of Weichlein’s sacred choral music was recorded.

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

We may no longer think of Haydn as the Father of the Symphony but he was the first great exponent of the form and there’s nary a dud in all his output of 104+ symphonies.  Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra bring us three selected works in D from this vast output, all of them well worth hearing and, since they mark several stages in his development, forming a first-class introduction to his symphonic output.  (CKD500 [77:04] due in late September 2015 – from hyperion-records.co.uk in mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless and from linnrecords.com in these formats plus SACD and vinyl.  Pdf booklet included).

No.31, nicknamed Hornsignal for good reasons, belongs to his middle Sturm und Drang period, though it’s not the fieriest example of the style.  No.70 was composed for the rebuilding of the burned-down Esterháza Opera House and No.101, the Clock, belongs to the second set of the symphonies composed for Salomon, usually known as the London symphonies.  The performances are very good and the recording, made as recently as February 2015, is of Linn’s usual high standard, as is the booklet, included with the download: I didn’t know, for example, that Eisenstadt, the home of Haydn’s employers, also had a Hungarian name, Kismarton.

The SCO play as well as they did for Sir Charles Mackerras, whose performances of the late Mozart symphonies have become modern classics of the recorded repertoire, and for Elizabeth Watts and Christian Baldini on their recent album of Mozart arias*, while Robin Ticciati has a sure sense of the music.

Only those insisting on period instruments need look elsewhere and even they should not be too disappointed. 

The next stop for those discovering Haydn symphonies from this selection should be a complete set of the London symphonies, Nos. 93-104 – of those listed in MWI Recommends my own favourites are Beecham (EMI/Warner, two 2-CD sets: first half in mono, but still sounding well), Colin Davis (Philips, two 2-CD sets) and Jochum (DG, download only, with Nos.88 and 91 and two versions of No.98).

* Recording of the Month : CKD460review.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Mozart himself made scaled-down versions of some of his piano concertos, for domestic performance.  No.20 (K466) and No.21 (K467) were not among them, but Ignaz Lachner did the honours for these two works and Alon Goldstein has recorded these arrangements with the Fine Arts Quartet.

These would not be my prime recommendations but I very much enjoyed hearing them and recommended the CD as an adjunct to the originals – review.  (NAXOS 8.573398 – stream or download from classicsonlinehd.com or Qobuz: both offer 16- and 24-bit and come with pdf booklet.  Non-subscribers can sample from each of these sources.

If you wish to explore further chamber-scale arrangements of Mozart’s Piano Concertos, BIS offer Hummel’s arrangements of Nos. 10 (for two pianos), 18, 20, 22, 25 and 26 and Symphony No.40 for piano, flute, violin and cello, with Fumiko Sigawa as soloist.  These are available separately or the four-disc set is on offer as a bundle for $18.69 (BIS-CD-9043 from eclassical.com – mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).  Sample or stream from Qobuz

More recently Dynamic have released performances of Hummel’s arrangements of Nos. 18 and 20 with the title Mozart after Mozart.  Leonardo Miucci plays the solo parts on a fortepiano.  (CDS7723 [64:22] – from eclassical.com, mp3 and 16-bit lossless).  Sample/stream/download from Qobuz.  No booklet from either.

The use of a fortepiano means that there is no danger of the keyboard instrument being over-prominent in these stylish performances.

There is another recommendable pair of performances of Nos. 20 and 21 with fortepiano, performed by Arthur Schoonderwoerd with Cristoferi: Byzantion made this Recording of the Monthreview (Accent ACC24265 – from eclassical.com, mp3 and 16-bit lossless, NO booklet, or classicsonlinehd.com, with pdf booklet).  Cristoferi are a small group – one each of first and second violins, cello and bass, two violas, etc., so not much larger than the Hummel and Lachner arrangements.

Reviewing the recent Opus Arte blu-ray release of the 2013 Salzburg Festival production of Così fan Tutte – review pending – started me thinking which of the mature Mozart operas would be my Desert Island choice.

Having decided that it would have to be die Zauberflöte, the choice of recording was easy, though I’m surprised that none of my colleagues chose it for MWI Recommends – Otto Klemperer with a cast so starry that it even extended to the minor roles of the Three Ladies.  (Warner/EMI 9667932)  This remains my benchmark whatever other versions I like: the direction is sure, the singing ideal, the recording still sounds well and the excision of dialogue ideal for an audio production.  It’s available to stream or download from Qobuz and it even comes with the 50-page booklet, albeit without the libretto: even on the CD set that comes not in print but on a bonus disc.  Non-subscribers can sample from Qobuz.  If you’re happy with 320kbs mp3, 7digital.com have this for £8.99, also with pdf booklet and sainsburysentertainment.co.uk for £7.49 without booklet.

Many years ago I owned Herbert von Karajan’s 1950 mono recording.  If anything that’s even better cast than the Klemperer and it also comes complete on two CDs without dialogue.  The sound is dated – the suggestion in the last complete edition of the Penguin Guide that it has worn well is egging the pudding, though the voices come over well – but I enjoyed rehearing this from Qobuz.  At £15.20, however, their download price is not competitive when the CDs can be obtained in plain packaging for around £8 – less than £7 from one dealer as I write (Warner/EMI Historical 3367692).

Incidentally, that Salzburg Così might not be your benchmark choice, but it’s well worth considering: don’t be put off by reports of under-rehearsal or of the first night audience booing Christoph Eschenbach because they had originally expected Franz Welser-Möst to conduct.  The whirligig of time has made Welser-Möst as justifiably loved in Austria as he was unjustly disliked in London a few years ago.

For those in search of a more modern recording – not that the Klemperer is too dated – Claudio Abbado on DG has generally received more praise than it did from Robert J Farr – review.  As I wrote in DL Roundup August 2010, this is an excellent modern alternative to the Klemperer.  Ignore the passionato.com link – they are no longer in the download business: 7digital.com have it in 320kbs mp3 for £11.99 from and amazon.co.uk for £10.39 at, I presume, 256kbs.

A recording of Mozart Opera Arias and Overtures sung by Elizabeth Watts (soprano) with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Christian Baldini was my Recording of the Month on the main MWI pages: Linn CKD460review.  My only reservation is that there is nothing here from Zauberflöte – perhaps Ms Watts will give us that later.

The download from hyperion-records.co.uk comes in mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless formats, complete with pdf booklet, and from linnrecords.com in the same formats plus SACD and 24/192.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

The six String Quartets, Op.18 (1801), were among the earliest indications that here was a composer speaking in his own voice.  He was only just beginning to grow away from Haydn and Mozart but there were already aspects of these quartets that puzzled his contemporaries.  Later puzzlement would turn to perplexity with the middle-period quartets and sheer bafflement with the late masterpieces and it’s easy for modern listeners who have heard and absorbed these later works to miss the novelties of Op.18.

A new recording from the Jerusalem Quartet (Harmonia Mundi HMC902207/08 [153:07] – from eclassical.com, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet) comes up against strong competition: Quartetto Italiano (Quartets 1-16, Philips 4540622, 10 CDs or Op.18 only E4758252, download only), Takács Quartet (Decca 4708482, 2 CDs), Endellion Quartet (Quartets 1-16, Warner 2564694713, 10 CDs) and an earlier Harmonia Mundi release from the Tokyo Quartet (HMU907436/37, 2-for-1).  There are more details about the competition in my review of the Wihan Quartet on Nimbus Alliance, a set which I liked but didn’t think quite got the point that Beethoven was seeking to out-Haydn his erstwhile mentor.

The Jerusalem Quartet have won prizes for their Haydn and Mozart and the similarities to those composers are apparent in their playing, but they also deliver the extra that Beethoven put into these works to differentiate himself from his predecessors.  What gives them the edge over the other recordings mentioned is the availability of (very good) 24-bit sound, but only as a download – sadly, it appears that Harmonia Mundi and Chandos are beginning to back away from offering all their new releases on hybrid SACD.  With that 24/96 advantage, the new recording is likely to become my benchmark for these quartets.

At the time of writing 24-bit is available at no extra cost from eclassical.com – one of their short-term offers which are well worth checking out. 

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Most of the recommended recordings of the Schumann Piano Concerto in a minor, Op.54, couple it with the Grieg or Tchaikovsky, so it’s refreshing when one is released with more music by Schumann, like that of Angela Hewitt and Hannu Lintu (Hyperion CDA67885 review reviewDL Roundup August 2012/1: Recording of the Month).

Harmonia Mundi have been teaming violinist Isabelle Faust, pianist Alexander Melnikov and cellist Pablo Heras-Cassado for a series of three recordings of Schumann’s concertos and piano trios: each disc contains a different soloist with all three in a trio.  On the second in the series it’s the turn of Alexander Melnikov to star in the Piano Concerto with the Piano Trio No.2 in F, Op.80, as the coupling.  Melnikov plays the fortepiano and his partners also perform on period instruments, while the support is provided by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (Harmonia Mundi HMC902198 – from eclassical.com, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).  Sample or stream from Qobuz.

I’ve never been quite persuaded by the virtuoso performances of this concerto, which is one reason why I enjoyed Hewitt’s more thoughtful approach so much.  Like her, Melnikov adopts a slow tempo for the finale (12:14, even slower than Hewitt’s 11:38 and much slower than Leif Ove Andsnes’ 10:13*) but both make their slightly understated accounts seem very effective.  If I hadn’t had other recordings to compare, I might well have thought this joyful account the only way to play it.  If you want power, there’s that, too, in the right places – try the end of the first movement.  Fortepiano haters need not worry – this 1837 Erard makes a mellifluous sound but blends with the orchestra most satisfyingly.

With a fine account of the Piano Trio No.2 and very good recording to match, this is a most welcome follow-up to the Violin Concerto in Volume 1 (HMC902196review: also available from eclassical.com in mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless).

* EMI/Warner.  Qobuz offer this at £12.73 and £7.14.  The CD can be had for under £7.  Logic?

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Four recent releases from Beulah, entitled Tchaikovsky’s Art, restore some vintage recordings to the catalogue:

-          1PDR16: Capriccio Italien (RCA SO/Kondrashin, stereo 1958), Marche Slave (Chicago SO/Reiner, stereo 1959) and Symphony No.4 (Paris Conservatoire O/Wolff, 1959 stereo) – from Amazon UK or iTunes
-          2PDR15: Piano Concerto No.1 (Katchen; LSO/Gamba, mono 1955), Manfred Symphony (LSO/Goossens, stereo 1959) – from Amazon UK or iTunes
-          3PDR16: Serenade for strings (BBCSO/Boult, 78s, 1937), Sérénade mélancolique (Kogan; Philharmonia/Kondrashin, stereo 1960), Violin Concerto (Oistrakh; Dresden Staatskapelle/Konwitschny, mono 1954) – from Amazon UK or iTunes
-          4PDR16: 1812 Overture (Morton Gould and Orchestra, stereo 1960), Romeo and Juliet (NBCSO/Toscanini, 78s, 1946),Nutcracker and Swan Lake Suites (RPO/Weldon, stereo 1960) – from Amazon UK or iTunes

Some of these are available elsewhere, but less conveniently coupled: for example, the David Oistrakh Violin Concerto forms part of a DG Originals 2-CD set with Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.  Here that classic recording receives the usual excellent Beulah transfer.  There’s no hiding its dated source: it doesn’t open out as recordings of only a few years later did, but that didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of this old friend.  I compared the DG transfer from Qobuz – where, incidentally, the asking price of £16.50 is about £5 more than you would pay for the CDs – and though the sound is slightly lighter there, overall there’s little to choose between the two. 

If the Beulah coupling appeals, go for it. I was particularly interested to hear Sir Adrian Boult’s lively account of the String Serenade because I’ve just been listening to Antal Doráti’s 1958 version with Philharmonia Hungarica (The Doráti Edition ADE048, with Dvorák Symphony No.9 – review).  Both are lighter-toned than I recall Barbirolli’s rather more impassioned but not over-done account (with Arensky, sadly no longer available in any format) and both are enjoyable in their own terms.  Sometimes I think Boult is a little too fast – I see that the anonymous reviewer in Gramophone in 1940 thought so, too – but that’s better than a wallowing over-emotional approach to Tchaikovsky; this is a serenade after all, not a symphony and the Elegy receives plenty of emotional weight.  The 1937 78 sound has transferred very well – thinner than the Violin Concerto but perfectly tolerable: can it really be that old?  Together they make Volume 3 well worthwhile.

Less worth reviving was Albert Wolff’s recording of Symphony No.4.  The sound is not especially good considering its later provenance than the Violin Concerto and Serenade, with very wavery brass at the opening getting us off to a hesitant start – perhaps that’s the fault of the players rather than the recording.  I was surprised to see Wolff even being chosen to record Tchaikovsky – he was much more at home in Glazunov, below – and I fear that the gamble didn’t pay off, so it’s a shame that this was coupled with Kondrashin’s fine Capriccio Italien – much better value here than when paired with just the Rimsky Capriccio Espagnol on an RCA LP – or Reiner’s idiomatic Marche Slave which, fortunately, remains available on RCA/Sony Living Stereo 88697700732.  The Capriccio was till recently available on RCA Living Stereo, with Khachaturian and Kabalevsky, now download only – from Qobuz but somewhat pricey at £10.29.  If you are happy with 320kb/s mp3, sainsburysentertainment.co.uk have the Kondrashin for £6.99 – here – and the Reiner for the same price – here.

Decca chose the Clifford Curzon recording of Piano Concerto No.1 rather than Julius Katchen and Pierino Gamba for their Decca Sound box set of The Analogue Years 1954-1968 but I enjoyed 2PDR15 particularly for the sheer exuberance of the solo playing.  The recording, though over-shrill when the orchestra are at full blast, still sounds well enough not to spoil the enjoyment.

The performance of the Manfred Symphony by Sir Eugene Goossens, recorded by Everest, has been in and out of the UK catalogue over the years, mostly out, so the Beulah reissue is very welcome.  It stems from the bad old days when less popular works like this – and I’ve never understood why even the composer under-rated this symphony – were treated to wholesale cuts* but, that apart, it receives a fine performance. 

The alternative, which Toscanini followed, was to touch up the orchestration; Goossens’ cuts are preferable to that and the performance makes a very good case for the work in a recording that still sounds well.

* 41:19 as against 57:46 from Petrenko with the RLPO (Naxos) and 59:02 from Jurowski (LPO).  Surprisingly there are 39 CD available recordings of the Manfred Symphony now.

Morton Gould’s RCA 1812 Overture was not the first to be recorded with bells and cannon – Mercury and Antal Doráti got there first, in mono and later in stereo – but it was hailed at the time as possibly the noisiest LP ever made, the aural equivalent of those Sunday evening performances in the Albert Hall complete with soot and smoke.  On Mercury the cannon were synchronised with the music and did not override the reprise of the Marseillaise which marks the French response – it may have been futile but it deserves to be heard.  On the other hand, Gould’s bells sound more ‘Russian’.

The Deems Taylor commentary on the Doráti recording is tedious after the first hearing and should have been excised from the Mercury CD, as it was from the ClassicFM budget transfer of the recording, with Dutoit’s Capriccio Italien and Francesca da Rimini – sample/stream/purchase from Qobuz.   Both Gould and Doráti are exciting and both still sound well, with the Beulah transfer satisfying, as usual.

I’m pleased to have the Toscanini Romeo and Juliet, vigorous but also yearningly beautiful and in surprisingly good sound for its age, though what I take to be the last 78 side sounds harsher than the rest. 

The bulk of this reissue, almost 44 minutes, is taken up with George Weldon’s stylishly directed Suites from Nutcracker and Swan Lake, which filled a whole LP when first released and costing 22/6 on HMV Concert Classics (£1.23 – a budget label, but around £30 in modern terms)*, so it’s well worth having the Beulah reissue for these alone., especially as the Swan Lake selection offers a little more than the standard Suite.  The recording is a little bright but has come up well.

* when the stereo was released a year later, the price had risen to 28/3 (£1.42).  Though the Gramophone reviewer deemed that ‘excellent value for money’, as an undergraduate even buying a ‘cheap’ LP represented a significant outlay.

Another Beulah release deserves the Reissue of the Month accolade – 7PD11: Russian Masters 6 – features Malcolm Frager (piano) with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra and René Leibowitz (stereo 1960) in Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.2 and Albert Wolff, again with the Paris Conservatoire, in Glazunov The Seasons (stereo 1956).

Frager had a reputation for his Prokofiev, but this recording of Piano Concerto No.2 seems not to have been released in the UK, though recorded by Decca engineers for RCA and nominated for a Grammy.  Cyprès released a 12-CD set of winners of the Queen Elisabeth Competition which included this same concerto, differently accompanied.

I understand that the transfer was made from a mint copy of a US LP; it certainly sounds good and does justice to one of the best performances ever of this concerto.

The Seasons is delectable music and Wolff and the PCO are much more at home here than in Tchaikovsky.  There’s a Decca Eloquence reissue but that’s tied up in a 2-CD set and the Beulah transfer of the John Culshaw recording has been well made.  Hitherto my favourite version, also Decca, has been the Ansermet which I was pleased to re-encounter on Decca Eloquence (4800038review) but I rather think that Wolff has a slight edge, especially as you may not want everything on that 2-CD Eloquence set.  Only those seeking an all-Glazunov coupling or a more energetic performance, slightly at the expense of the charm, need turn to Neeme Järvi on Chandos CHAN8596, with the SNO and Oscar Shumsky in the Violin Concerto – from  theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless).

Recording of the Month

Sir (Charles) Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)

A new recording from Westminster Abbey Choir and Onyx Brass directed by James O’Donnell contains I was glad (arr. Grayston Ives), the CoronationTe Deum (arr. Ives), the Evensong canticles from the Great Service in D, Jerusalem (arr. Wicks), Dear Lord and Father of mankind,Blest pair of sirens and the Fantasia and Fugue in G, performed by Daniel Cook (organ).  (HYPERION CDA68089 [78:52] – from hyperion-records.co.uk, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet containing texts.)

With Parry’s music at the heart of the Anglican musical tradition and the Westminster Abbey Choir one of its major exponents, this latest co-operation between the Abbey, James O’Donnell and Hyperion is virtually self-recommending for those to whom the repertoire appeals.  I could almost have recommended this unheard and the result is just as good as I expected.  Of many fine recordings this month I’ve selected this as my first choice.  The 24-bit recording does splendid justice to these uplifting performances – who said that Parry was boring?

Don’t overlook two other valuable Parry recordings from Hyperion and one from Chandos, unfortunately involving some duplication, which I reviewed in September 2012/2.

Another Chandos recording of Parry well worth considering, a 2-for-1 offer contains: Invocation to Music; The Soul’s Ransom; The Lotos-Eaters; Blest pair of Sirens and I was glad.  The performers are: Anne Dawson, Arthur Davies, Brian Rayner Cook, Della Jones, David Wilson-Johnson, London Philharmonic Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Matthias Bamert and London Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox (CHAN241-31 [79:55 + 74:19] – from the classicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet). 

This is the only recording of The Soul’s Ransom and The Lotos-Eaters; the performances – mostly from Bamert – are idiomatic and the DDD recordings from 1988, 1991 and 1992 are excellent.  Just one reservation: the two Hickox items, Blest pair of Sirens and I was glad, also appear on the recent 2-for-1 reissue of Elgar’s Gerontius (CHAN241-46review).

Matthias Bamert’s 3-CD Chandos set of the Parry Symphonies is another essential purchase for lovers of a composer whose music has begun to come into its own (CHAN9120 – from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet – DL Roundup July 2011/2).

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
The Tempest (1925, arr. 1927) [46:02]
Overture, Op. 109 No. 1 [7:12]
Suite No. 1, Op. 109 No. 2 [22:18]
Suite No. 2, Op. 109 No. 3 [16:10]
The Bard, Op. 64 (1913) [7:01]
Tapiola, Op. 112 (1926) [17:36]
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Okko Kamu
rec. January 2011, Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland
Pdf booklet included
BIS BIS-1945 SACD [71:41] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- & 24-bit lossless)

With Okko Kamu waiting in the wings with his second recording of the Sibelius symphonies what better curtain raiser than his fairly recent accounts of The Tempest, The Bard and the late masterpiece Tapiola? The first was written for a new production of Shakespeare’s play in Copenhagen. Here we have the abridged version, in the form of an overture and two suites that Sibelius put together in 1927. All the incidental music, with the Lahti orchestra under Osmo Vänskä, is available on BIS 581.

This score, one of the composer’s last substantial works, is also considered to be among his best. And listening to this characterful performance it’s not hard to see why. Kamu is not one to overplay his hand, and that’s just what this delightful, often airy, music needs. The overture and storm are judiciously done, but that doesn’t mean they want for drama. The Lahti band is in fine form, and while the recording is more than adequate it sounds warmer and more soft-edged than I’d expected from this venue.

Despite its title The Bard, composed in 1913, has nothing to do with our esteemed playwright; as Andrew Barnett points out in his succinct liner-notes some believe the piece is based on a poem by Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804-1877). Whatever its inspiration Sibelius’s tone poem has some lovely, diaphanous things in it; chief among these is Leena Saarenpää’s gorgeous harp playing. However, I’m less enthusiastic about Kamu’s Tapiola. Those big, distinctive tunes are boldly drawn and there’s real sinew here, but taken in toto Kamu’s reading feels somewhat fitful. This isn’t a bad performance; it’s just not a memorable one.

The first two pieces fare best; Tapiola is a tad disappointing.

Dan Morgan

(Even the slight disapppointments in Kamu’s Sibelius are well worth hearing - and I didn't find Tapiola too much below par. One extra plus point: the eclassical download is inexpensive, even in 24-bit format. Please see also January 2012/2 and review by Rob Barnett. [BW])

Reynaldo HAHN (1875-1947)

We already had a fine recording of Le Bal de Béatrice d’Este from the New London Orchestra and Ronald Corp (Hyperion Helios CDH55167 DL Roundup September 2011/1) but that’s coupled with music by Poulenc – Aubade and Sinfonietta.  There are only a few copies of the CD left and the download from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, alac or flac with pdf booklet) has gone up, like the whole series, to £7.99.  That’s still decent value if you want the excellent Poulenc coupling, though I’m sorry that Hyperion have had to abandon their budget-price Helios series, with the last reissues on that label appearing in Spring 2015.  If you hurry, some dealers still have Helios releases for around £6.50.

Now Timpani, who have been bringing us a good deal of fine recordings of French repertoire of the twentieth century, have recorded Le Bal de Béatrice in an all-Hahn album, with Divertissement pour une fête de nuit, Sérénade and Concerto provençal.  The performers are Julien Vern (flute), François Lemoine (clarinet), Frank Sibold (bassoon), Julien Desplanque (horn), Ensemble Initium and the Orchestre des Pays de Savoie/Nicolas Chavin.  (1C1231 [69:42] – from eclassical.com, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless: NO booklet).  The lack of a booklet presents a problem: it’s not available with the 16- and 24-bit versions from classicsonlinehd.com, either, but subscribers to Qobuz will find it there.  Normally the problem stems from the record label but in this case one web site offers the booklet, so why not all?

I’d be hard pressed to choose between the performances and recording.  As the Hahn couplings, so redolent of warm nights in the Midi some time in an idealised past – think of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances – are just as enticing as the Poulenc works on Helios I’m going to be unhelpful and suggest that you need both.

Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

The third volume of Kirill Karabits’ recordings of Prokofiev brings the contrasting Symphonies Nos. 4 in C, Op.47, and 5 in B-flat, Op.100, together with the short Dreams, Op.6.  (ONYX4147 [77:22] – from eclassical.com, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, NO booklet).  Earlier instalments offered Nos. 1 and 2 (Onyx4139 review) and 3 and 7 (Onyx4137reviewreview).

Like John Quinn I enjoyed this latest release – review – which makes me inclined to investigate the rest of the series.

I had already out together my thoughts about this recording when Dan Morgan sent me his quite different take on it:

Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No. 5 in B flat, Op.100 (1944) [43:59]
Symphony No. 4 in C, Op.47 (1930) [23:17]
Dreams, Op.6 (1910) [9:50]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits
rec. 2014, The Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, UK
No booklet
ONYX 4147 [77:28] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- & 24-bit lossless)

BIS supremo Robert von Bahr is one of the very few record bosses who contribute to online forums and respond to listeners’ queries and criticisms. One of the latter concerned this new Prokofiev release, which first appeared on eclassical in mp3 and 16-bit form only. Sure enough the 24-bit files soon appeared. That’s the good news; the bad is that there’s no booklet, which is unforgivable. I’ve been banging away about such omissions for ages, so it’s dispiriting that most labels still couldn’t be bothered to include notes with their downloads. Onyx are just plain arbitrary about this, as they offer a booklet with Symphonies 3 and 7 but not with Nos. 1 and 2.

Now that’s out of the way let’s concentrate on the music. John Quinn, who has been following the Karabits series on the main site, was pretty positive about this latest instalment (review). Most recently I had the pleasure of hearing Andrew Litton’s BIS recording of the Fifth, which I compared with Sakari Oramo’s for Ondine (review). Karabits starts with the Fifth, but I want to kick off with the Fourth; he opts for the original version, although he may well add the 1947 revision at a later date.

Seconds into this symphony, which Prokofiev composed concurrently with his Diaghilev ballet The Prodigal Son, and it’s clear Karabits is in no hurry; that’s particularly true of the first movement. The music has just enough impetus, but I yearned for more definition and colour. Indeed, the recording seems rather diffuse – the bass drum in particular – and the soundstage is quite narrow. The third movement has welcome lift, but both here and in the finale there’s a hint of routine – of blandness, even – that I really didn’t expect from this much-lauded maestro.

This is not an auspicious start, which is why I approached the Fifth with some trepidation. As I was constantly reminded in that Litton/Oramo review there are many ways to skin this particular cat. Karabits certainly gets the necessary heft from his players, but otherwise there’s a curious anonymity to this performance that’s most frustrating. Listeners may prefer Litton’s Fifth to Oramo’s, for example, but there’s no denying that both conductors take a very personal view of this symphony; Karabits is comparatively reticent in this regard.

As I suggested earlier the sound isn’t ideal either; it’s certainly not in the same class as that provided for Litton. Still, the big climaxes of the first movement are impressive, and the Allegro marcato is reasonably well caught. Karabits brings an appropriately seditious glint to this movement, but then blots his copybook with a fitful, rather unwieldy Adagio. Where is the clarity, the subcutaneous tic that others find in this score? Previn, Järvi and Kitaienko all dig so much deeper; also, their respective orchestras leave the scrappy BSO in the shade.

True, Karabits is intermittently exciting, but such isolated flares simply won’t do. Also, I miss the melting lyricism that both Litton and Oramo find at the start of the symphony’s last movement. Even this extended clickety-clack of a finale isn’t as crisp or as propulsive as it should be. Indeed, it all passes with little or no impact or sense of purpose. As for the playing in Dreams it strikes me as pretty approximate, with poor detail and hard, overbearing tuttis.

Frankly I’m perplexed, for this series has garnered so much praise elsewhere. Then again the same is true of Vasily Petrenko’s Shostakovich cycle; I wasn’t part of that love-in, either.

Routine performances and variable sound; look elsewhere.

Dan Morgan

Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)

The Chandos reissue of A Child of our Time, directed by Richard Hickox (CHAN10869X), coincides with the impending reissue of Colin Davis’s recording (Decca 4788351), whose LSO Live recording also competes at around the same price (LSO0670).

On the whole I’m inclined to agree with Dominy Clements – review – in making this my overall choice, especially at the new price. Download from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet). A word of caution – that old problem of illogical pricing: the CD can be found for around £6.50 but the lossless download from theclassicalshop.net costs £7.99. Only mp3 at £4.99 is competitive. Can anyone please explain the logic? Even less logically Amazon UK, who offer the CD for £6.99, are asking £7.49 for the mp3 download which, presumably, comes at a considerably lower bit-rate than theclassicalshop.net’s 320kbs: costing half as much again for lower quality? Even less logically, if you buy the CD from Amazon the mp3 comes free!

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

If you heard the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons perform Symphony No.10 in e minor, Op.93, at the Proms, you may well wish to obtain his recent recording, also recorded live, coupled with the Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (DG 4795059 [64:50]). Stream or download from Qobuz (16- and 24-bit, with booklet) but you may be able to find the CD for less than the 16-bit (£11.56) and certainly for less than the 24-bit (£15.56). Those happy with 320kb/s mp3 will find it with booklet for £8.49 from 7digital.com but their 16- and 24-bit versions are more expensive than from Qobuz.

Dan Morgan liked the performances though he thought the sound too close – review – but I felt that added to the attractions of this recording: this is music that needs to be heard up close. Indeed, it seems to have been the fact that Stalin was sitting too close to the brass section at a performance of Lady Macbeth that resulted in the withdrawal of that opera until it was revived in a different form many years later, For fear of further disapproval, the Fourth Symphony, then nearing completion, had to be sat on also for a long time.

The Tenth Symphony marks the other end of the arc which connected Shostakovich with Stalin. By the time that he completed it in 1953 the monster was dead and though at first the outside world was fearful that somebody even worse might take over – I recall the anxiety in the Western media, who still to some extent swallowed the idea of ‘Uncle Joe’ our wartime ally – a degree of thaw set in and it became possible even to denounce Stalin. Shostakovich at least lived to experience that whereas poor old Prokofiev, another victim of the regime’s control of music, died the same day as Stalin.

Yet the symphony is not full of new-found optimism: the shadow was still there, especially in the second movement, often seen as a portrait of the dictator himself. There is, however, an up-side, especially noticeable in the repeated, almost desperate references to the composer’s own name in musical notation: D-S-C-H. As Harlow Robinson puts it in the rather sparse notes, it’s as if Shostakovich is saying to Stalin that he is still alive despite all that was thrown at him, but the theme often sounds awkwardly hesitant to join in, sounding like Shostakovich mouthing defiant as he is beaten by the playground bully. The best recordings of the symphony give us both the shadow and the tentative emergence from it and the new DG is no exception. If anything, having heard the CD first, I was slightly disappointed by the Proms broadcast but that may be because the BBC sound (on FM) seemed less immediate.

Dan mentions the three Karajan recordings and the historic Svetlanov, recorded at the Proms on the very day that Soviet tanks rolled in to end the Prague Spring, a one-off to own alongside other versions – DL News March 2012/2. As well as the Karajans, Neeme Järvi, with Ballet Suite No.4 (Chandos CHAN8630) and Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca 4758748, complete symphonies, etc. – review) are well worth considering alongside the new recording – an embarrassment of riches, indeed.

American Intersections
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Souvenirs, Op. 28 (arr. for two pianos by Arthur Gold & Robert Fizdale)
William BOLCOM (b. 1938)
Recuerdos [21:58]
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
El Salón México (arr. for two pianos by Leonard Bernstein) [8:44]
Frederic RZEWSKI (b. 1938)
Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues (version for two pianos) [9:24]
John ADAMS (b. 1947)
Hallelujah Junction [14:36]
TwoPianists – Nina Schumann, Luis Magalhães (pianos)
rec. 2009/14, Endler Hall, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
Pdf booklet included
TWOPIANISTS RECORDS TP1039220 [62:49] – from eClassical.com (mp3, 16- & 24-bit lossless)

I’m partial to this kind of repertoire; recently I reviewed a download of two-piano pieces by Martinu, Poulenc, Shostakovich and Stravinsky, played with great virtuosity and character by sisters Lidija and Sanja Bizjak. Michael Cookson and Rob Barnett were most taken with husband-and-wife team Luis Magalhães and Nina Schumann’s previous album, Two Pianists (review); this new one looks just as enticing, not least for Bolcom’s homage to Gottschalk – the second part of Recuerdos – and Bernstein’s two-piano arrangement of Copland’s louche and loose-limbed El Salón México. (Incidentally, the latter was also included in the duo’s previous collection.)

The liner-notes make much of cultural confluences in 20th-century America, its music swelled by diverse styles and idioms. The neo-Romantic Samuel Barber’s Souvenirs for piano four hands is recorded here in the two-piano version by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale. The piece certainly represents a number of contrasting dance traditions; the waltz is delectably sprung, the Schottische has plenty of energy and the Pas de deux is wistfully done. The Two-Step and Hesitation Tango aren’t quite so evocative, but the concluding Galop has spontaneity and style.

As its title suggests William Bolcom’s three-movement Recuerdos is about memories of people and places. Alas, these pieces are despatched with more efficiency than affection, and the Paseo sounds rather superficial. Gottschalk really isn’t the vacuous virtuoso on show here; not surprisingly the piece emerges with little charm or sense of conviction. As for the rather brash Venetian waltz it’s eminently forgettable. The duo’s previous album has far more substance than this one; also, I just don’t feel nearly as engaged by the duo’s playing as my colleagues were last time around.

The Copland is even more of a let-down. As good as these players are they simply don’t capture the rhythmic vitality of the piece; the outlines are there, but the riotous detail is harder to discern. In short, the performance is just too literal. As for Rzewski’s highly virtuosic Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues this two-piano version looks too much like overkill, especially when it sounds this rough and relentless. For a superbly articulated account of the one-player version do seek out Marc-André Hamelin (Hyperion). And finally, putting Adams’s note-spinning Hallelujah Junction right after the Rzewski is just bad planning.

Spirited but uneven performances; bright, rather shallow sound.

Dan Morgan

Ian VENABLES (b. 1955)
The Song of the Severn
Roderick Williams (baritone); Carducci String Quartet; Graham J. Lloyd (piano)
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD424 [70:08] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet).

Please see the joint review of this recording by John QuinnI would urge all those who appreciate English songs to investigate this excellent CD’ – and myself.

The Naxos recording of Venables’ On the Wings of Song, to which I refer there (8.572514) can be streamed or downloaded from classicsonlinehd.com or Qobuz, both with booklet. Non-subscribers can sample from both.

Luke WHITLOCK (b.1978)

Asked to name a composer called Whitlock, most of us would go for Percy Whitlock, composer of organ works and light music. The name of Luke Whitlock caught my eye probably for that reason, but I almost didn’t investigate further when I saw ‘b.1978’.

I need not have worried: this is attractive music which even a crusty old conservative (with small c) like myself can enjoy – and I did so to the extent that I’d like to hear more. Entitled Flowing Waters, the Divine Art release offers piano music performed by Duncan Honeybourne and two very enjoyable chamber works performed by Anna Stokes (flute), James Meldrum (clarinet), Vicky Crowell (bassoon) and Wai-Yin Lee (piano). (DDA25121 [72:10] – from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet). Please see also reviews by John France and Paul Corfield Godfrey.

Don’t be put off by the less than flattering photo of Michaela Schuster (mezzo) on the cover of Morgen! I imagine that we are meant to believe that she has been ‘sent’ by the music. She’s accompanied by Markus Schlemmer (piano) in a varied programme of Romantic lieder by BRAHMS, REGER, SCHUMANN and Richard STRAUSS, ending with Strauss’s Morgen. She gets off to a hesitant start in Brahms’ Da unten im Tale, but everything goes well thereafter. Just a touch of mezzo plumminess – Brahms’ Wiegenlied sounds twee, but could it ever be otherwise? – and a preference for the orchestral version of the title song make me less enthusiastic than the review – not MusicWeb-International – which gave this a Recording of the Month accolade. (OEHMS OC1833 [70:27] – from eclassical.com, mp3 and 16-bit lossless, with pdf booklet). The texts of the songs are included but no translations. Qobuz – sample or stream – also have the booklet but minus the odd-numbered pages.

Incidentally, I see that Warner have just re-re-reissued the wonderful Elizabeth Schwarzkopf-George Szell recording of Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder and other lieder, including Morgen! And with the original cover, too. (2564607591, the CD costs £6.99 from Amazon UK). Even Soile Isokoski (Ondine ODE9822review) is not quite in that league.

NB: without booklet and at £9.09, how did Qobuz expect their download to be competitive with the CD? Even worse, they are asking £11.82 for the older plain-jacket Schwarzkopf-Ackermann recording which you may still find available on disc at budget price. The same applies to 7digital.com where you can save nothing at all by buying the mp3 and pay £8.99 for lossless, again without booklet.


 

 




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