Some items
to consider

/


Leticia Gómez-Tagle (piano)


Scherber Symphony 2
SPECIAL OFFER £10


Respighi Piano Music
SPECIAL OFFER £10


CPE Bach Cantatas
a revelation


Biber: Sacred Choral Works
Don't miss it


Jonathan Dove


Tommie Haglund
Unique and Powerful music


Organ Fireworks


Highly Entertaining


A triumphant performance


Bruckner Symphony 4
One of the finest I have heard


A most joy-inducing recording


A winning partnership


A Lohengrin to treasure.

 

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DOWNLOAD NEWS 2016/5
By Brian Wilson and Dan Morgan

DL News 2016/4 is here and the Index of earlier editions is here.

Reviews are by Brian Wilson unless otherwise stated.

As last month, I apologise for having included several reviews that were intended for the main review pages but never got completed on time.

Index:

BORTKIEWICZ Piano Works_Hyperion
CAMPRA Cantates françaises _Harmonia Mundi
-       Tancrède_Alpha
CHARPENTIER Actéon _Harmonia Mundi
-       Les Arts Florissants: idyle en musique_Harmonia Mundi
CORIGLIANO Circus Maximus; Gazebo_Naxos
DVOŘÁK Symphonies 7 and 8_Pentatone
-       Piano Concerto (+ SCHUMANN)_Hyperion
ELGAR Cello Concerto (+ WALTON, HOLST)_Hyperion
FARKAS Orchestral Music Volume 4_Toccata
HANDEL Giulio Cesare; Rinaldo; Tamerlano; Rodelinda; Alessandro; Lotario; Partenope; Serse_Sony box set
HAYDN Symphonies 76-78_Hyperion; 78-81_Decca
HELLSTENIUS In Memoriam, etc_BIS
HOWELLS Collegium Regale settings, etc_Hyperion
KHACHATURIAN Piano Concerto (+ TCHAIKOVSKY)_Chandos
MAHLER Symphony No.3 _DSO Live
MONTÉCLAIR Cantates à une et trois voix avec symphonie _Harmonia Mundi
MONTEVERDI Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria _Linn
-       1650 Collection Volume 1_Coro
MOZART String Quartets 14 and 17_Myrios
PACHELBEL Un orage d’avril _Harmonia Mundi
PALOMO Nocturnos de Andalucia (+ RODRIGO Aranjuez)_Signum
RAMEAU Actes de Ballet: Pygmalion, Nélée et Myrthis_Harmonia Mundi
RODRIGO Concierto de Aranjuez (+ PALOMO Nocturnos de Andalucia)_Signum
ROSSI Oratorios_Harmonia Mundi
SCHUBERT Symphonies 1, 3 and 4_PHI
SIBELIUS Symphonies 5 and 7_Hallé
SCHUMANN Piano Concerto (+ DVOŘÁK)_Hyperion
STRAVINSKY L’Histoire du Soldat _Naxos
TAVERNER Western Wind Mass_Avie
TCHAIKOVSKY Serenade for Strings; Souvenir de Florence_Orchid
-         Piano Concerto No.2 (+ KHACHATURIAN)_Chandos
-       Swan Lake – suite (+ Russian Dances)_Pentatone
TELEMANN Overtures and Concertos for Darmstadt_Alpha_Naxos
VIVALDI Various Concertos_Atma
WALTON Cello Concerto (+ ELGAR)_Hyperion

Court Music for Henry VIII_Avie
Twentieth Century Classics: GERSHWIN, RAVEL, HONEGGER, DELIUS _Beulah
Pierre Monteux on Eloquence: TCHAIKOVSKY, STRAVINSKY, HAYDN, BRAHMS, SCHUBERT, RAVEL, DEBUSSY

***

Western Wind: Music by John TAVERNER (c.1490-1545) and Court Music for Henry VIII
Anonymous: The Western Wynde *
Chant: Kyrie (Rex Sempiterne)
John TAVERNER Gloria: Mass The Western Wynde (a4)
Anonymous: My Lady Careys Dompe
John TAVERNER Credo: Mass The Western Wynde (a4)
HENRY VIII (1491-1547) If Love Now Reynyd (second version) (a3)
Chant: Preface (Sursum Corda / Vere Dignum)
John TAVERNER Sanctus: Mass The Western Wynde (a4)
Anonymous: My Lady Wynkfylds Rownde **
John TAVERNER Agnus Dei: Mass The Western Wynde (a4)
Anonymous: O Blessed Lord, how may this be? (a2)
William CORNYSH the younger (1465-1523) Yow and I and Amyas (a3)
Hugh ASTON (1485-1558) A Hornepype ***
Anonymous: Wher Be Ye My Love? (a3)
William CORNYSH the younger Fa La Sol (a3)
HENRY VIII Taunder Naken (a3)
John TAVERNER Audivi Vocem de Cælo (a4)
In Nomine ***
Dum Transisset Sabbatum (I) (a4)
Anonymous: Westron Wynde
Western Winds (a2)
Emily Van Evera (soprano), Charles Daniels (tenor)
* Uri Smilansky (recorder); ** Kirsty Whatley (harp); *** Steven Devine (harpsichord)
Taverner Choir and Players/Andrew Parrott
rec. 13–15 July 2015, Church of St Michael and All Angels, Summertown, Oxford. DDD
texts and translations included
AVIE AV2352 [79:08] – from Presto (CD, mp3 and lossless downloads).  Stream from Qobuz (no booklet)

In principle I prefer not to break up the sections of a mass in this way, especially, as here, with secular music, unless it be to intersperse the propers of a particular day, though I welcome the idea of prefacing the proceedings with the Western Wind song on the recorder, so that we have it in mind from the start, and a plainchant Kyrie from the Sarum Missal – English composers usually did not set this section.  Even better, the Sanctus and Benedictus are prefaced, as in any celebration, with the Sursum corda.

All that said, the performances seriously rival the hegemony of The Tallis Scholars in this music: Dum transisset Sabbatum I with Dum transisset Sabbatum II and Missa Corona Spinea on an unmissable recent release (CDGIM046: Recording of the Monthjoint review); Western Wynde Mass in The Tallis Scholars sing Tudor Music I (CDGIM209 – 2CDs-for-1: Bargain of the Monthreview).

The English texts are sung in an attempted version of the original pronunciation: a hazardous thing to do, as it’s very uncertain how the Vowel Shift affected English at different periods in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.  I’m pleased to report that what is done here sounds far less like Mummerset than usual and doesn’t detract from the wistful beauty of You and I and Amyas.

The only download to include the booklet is from theclassicalshop.net.  It includes the texts but, oddly, gives those of the Mass in truncated form.

Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567–1643)
Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria (The Return Home of Ulysses, 1640)
Performing edition by Martin Pearlman
Ulisse – Fernando Guimarães (bass)
Penelope – Jennifer Rivera (mezzo)
Telemaco – Aaron Sheehan (tenor)
Minerva – Leah Wool (mezzo)
Ericlea – Krista River (mezzo)
La Fortuna, Giunone, Coro in Cielo – Sonja Dutoit Tengblad (soprano)
Il Tempo, Nettuno – João Fernandes (bass)
Giove, Pisandro – Owen McIntosh (tenor) 
Melanto – Abigail Nims (mezzo)
Eurimaco, Coro in Cielo – Daniel Shirley (tenor)
Eumete, Coro Marittimo – Daniel Auchincloss (tenor)
Iro, Coro in Cielo – Marc Molomot (tenor)
Anfinomo, Coro Marittimo – Jonas Budris (tenor)
Antinoo, Coro Marittimo – Ulysses Thomas (bass-baritone)
L’Umana Fragilità, Coro Marittimo – Christopher Lowrey (tenor)
Amore, Coro in Cielo – Sara Heaton (soprano)
Boston Baroque/Martin Pearlman
rec. Mechanics Hall, Worcester, MA, 27-30 April 2014. DDD
Text and translation included.
LINN CKD453 SACD [71:18 + 66:57 + 38:16] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 16- and 24-bit lossless and from linnrecords.com in these formats and additionally as 24/192 Studio Master and on SACD, with pdf booklet from both).  Also from dealers on SACD.

See also review from Simon Thompson: ‘Sits pretty close to the top of the available recordings that I’ve heard.’

This may be the least well-known of Monteverdi’s operas and it’s even doubtful how much of it was the work of the master himself, but ever since I bought the Harnoncourt 4-LP set on impulse I’ve been entranced by Il Ritorno d’Ulisse and tend to regard it at least as highly as L’Orfeo.  I’d even defend the position that it’s the greatest opera before Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, excelling that work in length with its sheer near-Wagnerian size.  Perhaps part of the reason is that I’ve always responded much more to Homer’s Odyssey, on which the opera is based, than to his Iliad.  I can well accept the modern scholarly position that there were two different originators of these works.

The Harnoncourt recording remains available only as part of a 9-CD set, with L’Orfeo and L’Incoronazione di Poppea (2564631482) but we now have a wide range of versions to choose from on CD and DVD.

I’ve reviewed two of these recordings on DVD:

- Les Arts Florissants/William Christie: Dynamic DVD33641review.  An earlier Virgin DVD set conducted by William Christie seems currently to be unavailable in the UK, but is well worth seeking out (4906129).

- Zurich Opera/Nikolaus Harnoncourt: Arthaus 101660review

I also like the Brilliant Classics CD recording, scholarly edited and conducted by Sergio Vartolo and with a booklet to put some full-price offerings to shame; it offers a notable bargain version but it seems to have disappeared except as a download: Qobuz offer the box set of all three Monteverdi operas for £19.99 but without booklet.

Alongside these I still have a single-CD set of excerpts from the older Harnoncourt recording, which I hang on to not only for the sake of old times.

All these earlier recordings have a great deal to offer in every department and there are recordings on Glossa and Harmonia Mundi that I haven’t heard which have been very well received, but I’m inclined to the view that you are unlikely to find a better version than the new Linn.  Right from the opening of the Prologue I knew that this was going to be very special and I was not disappointed: all concerned make this three hours of delight.

Not the least of its virtues is the singing of Fernando Guimarães in the title role.  His performance as Euriloco in Zamponi’s Ulisse all’Isola di Circe (Ricercar RIC342 – review) and as Teseo in Cavalli’s Elena (Ricercar RIC346) had already marked him out as someone destined for a major role and he fits this one excellently.  Ulysses had been battered by the gods and ill fortune on his return from Troy but without submitting.  He also had a reputation in the classical world as a man of great resilience and was regarded by some renaissance writers as a mere trickster.  The English moralist Roger Ascham stresses both his rashness and his saving willingness to be guided by Pallas (Minerva): he would have ‘run headlong into over-many jeopardies … many times Pallas had not always governed him’.  Guimarães manages to convey both the noble and the worldly-wise aspects of the role.

Jennifer Rivera as the patient Penelope is no less successful in suggesting both her weariness at the pesterings of her motley band of suitors and her resilience in resisting them.  Hers is the first voice to be heard of the major characters, immediately after the Prologue, and it augurs well for the rest of the performance.

These two major characters are very well supported by the other singers, accompaniment and direction.

The score of Ulisse is incomplete and all recordings contain additional material and beefed-up instrumentation.  In preparing his performing edition Martin Pearlman has steered a middle course which works very well.  He has, for example, supplied a short sinfonia for the sailors bringing Ulysses on shore – the score only indicates a C-major chord – and he has omitted Ulysses’s prayer before drawing his bow which, as he points out, is added only at the foot of the page, seems to be a later addition, and interrupts the action.  In eking out the instrumentation he has steered an admirable course between the Scylla and Charybdis of puritanical plainness and inauthentic full orchestration.  These and other points are convincingly argued in the notes and on the Linn web-page.  Though you may wonder about the use of recorders and cornets, I didn’t find these obtrusive.

The 24/96 download sounds excellent – past experience of comparing Linn SACDs with 24-bit downloads suggests that they are on a par unless you must have the surround-sound tracks on the physical disc. 

NB: some dealers are selling the SACD set for around £22, much less than the £30 which Hyperion and Linn are asking for the 24-bit downloads.  Whatever you do, avoid the link to iTunes where mp3 costs more than 16-bit from Hyperion or Linn and, as far as I can see, without booklet.

Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643) Messa a Quattro voci et salmi of 1650: Volume I
Dixit [Dominus] Primo, SV191 [7:32]
Confitebor tibi Domine [secondo] a due voci, SV194 [8:06]
Lauda Jerusalem a 3, SV202 [8:49]
Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676) Magnificat [9:40]
Claudio MONTEVERDI
Lætatus sum a 5, SV199 [6:48]
Nisi Dominus I à 3 voci e duoi violini, SV200 [7:02]
Laudate pueri Primo à 5 concertato, SV196 [5:06]
Lætaniæ della Beata Vergine a 6 voci, SV204 [9:36]
Beatus vir a 7, SV195 [8:48]
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CORO COR16142 [71:27] – from thesixteeendigital.com (mp3, aac, flac and alac)

This new release is slightly misleading in several respects: what it contains is not the 4-part Mass of 1650 but the first volume of a series of recordings of the posthumous collection of Monteverdi’s works in which the Mass was published.  Additionally, The Sixteen have already recorded SV191 on another own-label album (COR16101) and you may also have their earlier Hyperion recording of SV194 (CDH55345).

On the other hand, there is music here which has not often been recorded: these  seem to be the only generally available versions of SV202 and SV195, while some of the other works are available only as part of the King’s Consort complete Monteverdi Sacred Music and the Cavalli Magnificat is available on only two other albums (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi and Hungaroton, the latter download only).  Performance and recording are all that we have come to expect from this source: worthy rivals to those King’s Consort recordings on Hyperion.

BARGAIN OF THE MONTH
Luigi ROSSI (1597-1653)
Oratorios

Un peccator pentito (“Mi son fatto nemico”) [22:38]
O cecità del misero mortale [25:45]
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
rec. January 1982. DDD
Texts and translations included
HARMONIA MUNDI HAF8901091 [49:01] – from emusic.com (mp3, NO booklet)

With the sole caveat that the texts of these oratorios are not exactly fun – they deal with the penitence of a sinner and the blindness and misery of mortal existence respectively – this is dramatic and often beautiful music, ideally sung and well recorded.  It’s all available for a mere £0.84 for emusic.com subscribers and the pdf booklet can be downloaded free from eclassical.com, who charge an unlikely $11.03 for the download when the CD can be found for around £6.50 (£5.50 on special offer as I write).

The pricing odds are more even in the case of another recording of music attributed to Rossi:

Oratorio per la Settimana Santa (Oratorio for Holy Week) [40:25]
Un peccator pentito: Spargete sospiri [7:51]
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
rec. February 1984 and July 1986. DDD
Texts and translations included
HARMONIA MUNDI HAF8901297 [48:16] – $10.86 from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet) or £75.56 from emusic.com (mp3, NO booklet).

Apart from the fact that Harmonia Mundi have shown wonderfully inept timing in releasing an album of music for Holy Week just after Easter, this is just as easy to recommend, though with a reminder that the CD is less expensive while the special offer lasts and around the same price as the eclassical.com download afterwards.

Two other Arts Florissants releases have been reissued at least once before.  There’s no harm in that except that both were released in the super-budget white-label Musique d’Abord series: for once I was able to lay hands on both – even in my chaotic filing system the ‘C’ composers are pretty well in order:

Marc Antoine CHARPENTIER (1645-1704) Les Arts Florissants: idyle en musique – rec. 1982
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
HARMONIA MUNDI HAF8901083 [40:38] – from 7digital.com (£4.49 mp3 and £4.99 lossless, NO booklet)

This is, of course, the very work from which the group takes its name, so who better to perform it.  It is, in any case, the only recording.  In one important respect the new release is preferable to the Musique d’Abord: this contains texts and translations, the earlier release the French texts only.

The Musique D’Abord white-label reissue of Charpentier’s Actéon, again from Les Arts Florissants, remains available on CD but not, apparently, as a download (HMA1951095).  It looks as if stocks may be running low – some dealers are asking considerably more than the usual price of around £5.  There’s no libretto at all with this one, only a multi-lingual synopsis.

For the CPO recording of Charpentier’s La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers see DL News 2014/10.  The Erato recording referred to there, with Les Arts Florissants and William Christie, is also available to download in better sound than from Amazon: £2.99 (mp3) from 7digital.com; £4.19 lossless from Qobuz (NO booklet from any download source).

André CAMPRA (1660-1744) Cantates françaises: Arion; La Dispute de l’Amour et de l’Hymen; Les Femmes; Énée et Didon – rec. 1986.
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
HARMONIA MUNDI HAF8901238 [55:08] – £1.58 from emusic.com (mp3, NO booklet) or £4.49 (mp3) from 7digital.com (NO booklet).

Once again performances are about as good as it gets, but take care not to spend more on the download than for the CD.

Other recommendable recordings of Campra’s music include the Requiem (Harmonia Mundi Gold HMG50121reviewDL News 2014/8 ) and Tancrède (Alpha 958) performed by Benoît Arnould (Tancrède), Isabelle Druet (Clorinde), Chantal Santon (Herminie), Alain Buet (Argant) and Éric Martin-Bonnet (Isménor); Les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles; Orchestre Les Temps Présents/Olivier Schneebeli – stream or download from Qobuz, with booklet.  Two scenes from this recording feature on Les Grands Eaux: Music for Versailles (Alpha 959review).  So far I’ve only been able to hear an mp3 press preview of the complete recording but it sounds well enough to recommend the lossless version and the performance is very good.

Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706) Un orage d’avril (April Storm)
Musikalische Ergötzung: Partie (Suite) V in C, P374 [6:19]
Wie nichtig? Ach! Wie flüchtig, P500 [8:07]
Musikalische Ergötzung: Partie II in c minor, P371 [7:28]
Das Gewitter im Aprilen, P75 [3:21]
Musikalische Ergötzung: Partie VI in B flat, P375 [8:33]
Partie a 4 in G [9:22]
Mein Leben, dessen Creutz für mich, P360 [5:19]
Musikalische Ergötzung: Partie III in E flat, P372 [7:12]
Partie IV in e minor, P373 [8:10]
Guther Walther unser Raths, P180 [1:39]
Musikalische Ergötzung: Partie I in F, P370a [7:23]
O großes Musenliecht, P391 [1:40]
Canon and Gigue, P37 [4:55]
Hans-Jörg Mammel (tenor)
Gli Incogniti/Amandine Beyer
rec. July 2015, Arsenal, Metz. DDD
texts and translations included.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902238 [79:28] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet)

If you are looking for Pachelbel’s ‘Greatest Hit’ – there actually are two RCA CDs with that title – here it is at the end of the programme, but there’s much more too from this one-horse composer.  This is one of only three current recordings to contain suites from the Musikalische Ergötzung (musical delight) and one of those, on Eloquentia, is currently out of stock, leaving an older budget-price Harmonia Mundi recording with London Baroque as the sole other contender.  The new recording offers five of the six Parties plus another in G, together with four vocal items.  The Harmonia Mundi contains all six Parties of the Ergötzung collection, together with three other suites. Both conclude with the famous Canon and Gigue.  The London Baroque collection can be streamed from Qobuz or Naxos Music Library, both without booklet, but no download that I can find is significantly less expensive than the budget-price CD (around £6).  Though eclassical.com offer the new recording – even the 24-bit which is  initially available at no extra cost – for much less than the older, at $16.93, it’s still almost twice the price of the CD.

If you want the vocal items, none of them otherwise available, or if you must have the very good 24-bit download, the new album is your only choice.  With very good performances of the instrumental works on both collections, my marginal preference would be the older budget-price recording.

Michel Pignolet de MONTÉCLAIR (1667-1737)
Cantates à une et trois voix avec symphonie
La Mort de Didon pour soprano, violon, flûte et basse continue (6e cantate, Livre I) [14:31]
Il Dispetto in Amore pour contre-ténor et basse continue (7e cantate, Livre II) [11:11]
Le Triomphe de l’Amour pour ténor et basse continue (3e cantate, Livre II) [11:56]
Morte di Lucretia pour soprano, deux violons et basse continue (9e cantate, Livre III) [14:39]
Pyrame et Thisbé pour soprano, ténor, basse, violon, flûte et basse continue (6e cantate, Livre II) [23:32]
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
rec Église Réformée de l’Annonciation, Paris, March 1988. DDD
HARMONIA MUNDI HAF8901280 [75:34] – from emusic.com (mp3, NO booklet)

This is another Harmonia Mundi Les Arts Florissants reissue (see also above).  It’s available on CD for around £6.50 and on special offer as I write for £5.50 so the eclassical.com download is far too expensive at $17.00. * The emusic.com costs just £2.10 for 320kb/s mp3; there’s no booklet but that’s free to all-comers from eclassical.com.  This release is well worth having, especially at the modest emusic.com price, but it’s not quite one of Les Arts Florissants’ best releases and there’s another recording with Emma Kirkby and London Baroque which includes Didon and Lucretia as well as the beautiful Le Retour de la Paix, not included in the Harmonia Mundi collection.  It’s more expensive than the emusic.com Arts Florissants but less expensive from eclassical.com, even in 24-bit, than their download of the Harmonia Mundi recording, so that’s the one to go for first. (BIS-CD-1865reviewDL Roundup January 2012/1).

* Classicsonlinehd.com have, bizarrely, decided to charge £12.24: more than their usual full-price download price (£7.99) for this budget-price series: thus their 16-bit downloads are almost twice the price of the CDs.  That they come with the booklet is little consolation.

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto for multiple instruments in F, RV569 [12:02]
Concerto, Op.3/10 con quattro violini e violoncello obligato, RV580 [8:44]
Concerto per l’orchestra di Dresda, RV577 [9:07]
Concerto, Op.3/4 con quattro violini obligati, RV550 [6:31]
Concerto for multiple instruments in g minor RV574 [11:17]
La verità in cimento RV739: Sinfonia [4:42]
Concerto for 2 trumpets, strings and continuo in C, RV537 [6:29]
Les Violons du Roy/Mathieu Lussier
rec. Raoul-Jobin Hall, Palais Montcalm, Quebec City, Canada, June 2015. DDD
ATMA ACD22602 [58:49] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet)

Whereas once we thought ourselves really ‘with it’ if we had the Karl Münchinger Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra recording of The Four Seasons – the stereo remake if you were really up to date or the Ace of Clubs reissue of the mono if you couldn’t afford it – there is now such a bewildering array of recordings of different combinations of Vivaldi concertos that it’s hard to keep up.  For those who have just obtained their first Seasons* and are looking where to turn next it’s very easy to find yourself duplicating and tripling some of the more popular works.  Buy the current CD or download, for example, and you may well find yourself so attracted to the two Op.3 concertos that you will be looking for the other ten.  Known collectively as L’Estro armonico, the whole set is aptly described in the Atma booklet as a musical bomb and a model.  Of several recommendable versions the least expensive, from L’Arte dell’Arco and Federico Guglielmo is one of the best.  (See below for details **)

Subscribers to Qobuz and Naxos Music Library can check out the Guglielmo recording of Op.3/10 for comparison but instead of the tracks which should be Op.3/4 both had some vocal music when I checked.  Tempi on Brilliant Classics and Atma are very similar but Guglielmo and his team deliver a brighter-sounding, more urgent performance which I slightly prefer.  There’s an earlier recording of Op.3 on which Guglielmo played one of the solo violin parts, again with L’Arte dell’Arco but with Christopher Hogwood directing (Chandos CHAN0689 – from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless).  In Op.3/10 that recording is slightly less exuberant even than Les Violons du Roy.  Comparison can be odious but in this case it leaves me finding what had previously been a strong recommendation slightly plodding and preferring the Brilliant Classics, with the new Atma as a good middle-of-the-road recommendation.

With that reservation about preferring a complete set of the Op.3 concertos, I very much enjoyed the rest of the new Atma album.  Subscribers to Naxos Music Library can check it out there and it can also be streamed by subscribers to classicsonlinehd.com.  The eclassical.com price is more attractive ($10.59), but classicsonlinehd.com also have a 24-bit version (£15.99).  Eclassical.com and NML have the booklet but not, apparently, NML’s partners at classicsonlinehd.com.  The 16-bit download is good, so I’m not sure if I’d be prepared to pay twice as much for 24-bit.

* My most recent recommendation is for the budget-price Brilliant Classics 2-CD set containing not just The Seasons but the other eight concertos from Op.8, currently on offer for just £7, normally around £8.50.  (95045: Recording of the Month review.) 

** The Op.3 concertos are available on Brilliant 94629, 2 CDs (again currently on offer for £7) and there’s also a box of all Vivaldi’s works with opus numbers, again with the same performers and even better value on 20 CDs (Brilliant 95200, on offer for £49, normal price around £59).  Lovers of large box sets will also find the same performances of Op.1 to Op.12 in a Brilliant Classics 66-disc box for not much more than £1 per disc (94840).  Please be aware that downloads may share the problem in Op.3/4 which I found in the streamed versions.

I’ve been listening to the new recordings from that box, comparing them with the original 40-CD set and generally preferring them to what they replaced there.  Of the discs that remain from the 40-CD set – review – all but a very few vocal recordings offer at least very decent performances.  Look out for my forthcoming thoughts on the new Brilliant box.

Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Overtures and Concertos for Darmstadt
 
Overture (Suite) in F, TWV 55:F3 [24:06] 
Violin Concerto in a minor, TWV 51:a1 [7:16] 
Flute Concerto in D, TWV 51:D1 [16:15] 
Concerto for Flute and Violin in e Minor, TWV 52:e3 [9:24] 
Flute Concerto in D, TWV 51:D2 [12:49] 
Les Ambassadeurs/Alexis Kossenko 
rec. 2014. DDD
ALPHA 200  [70:23] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet)

I reviewed this in mp3 in 2015/3.  The classicsonline.com link no longer applies; it’s now available sounding even better in 16- and 24-bit lossless formats, with pdf booklet, from eclassical.com.

Meanwhile Dave Billinge has added his appreciation: ‘I cannot praise this lovely disc highly enough both to those who know Telemann and those still in doubt’ – review.

I couldn’t find this recording at the new classicsonlinehd.com – their search engine is not the most reliable – but they offer a Naxos recording of a different set of Darmstadt Overtures (Suites) performed by the Cologne Chamber Orchestra and Helmut Müller-Brühl (8.554244). Stream or download for £4.99 (16-bit with booklet).  These are stylish performances which you should enjoy even if, like me, you normally prefer period instruments.  The eclassical.com download, at $11.06, is slightly more expensive for UK£ purchasers but may offer better value for US$ purchasers, albeit that it comes without the booklet.

Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Actes de Ballet

Pygmalion, RCT52 (1748) [45:11]
Nélée et Myrthis, RCT50 [32:51]
Françoise Semellaz (Corinne); Caroline Pelon (Une Argienne); Jérome Corréas (Nélée); Donatienne Michel-Dansac (La Statue/Une Argienne); Agnès Mellon (Céphise/Myrtis); Howard Crook (Pygmalion); Sandrine Piau (L’Amour)
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
rec. May 1991. DDD
texts and translations included
HARMONIA MUNDI HAF8901381 [78:04] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet)

Like some of the other releases in this Harmonia Mundi Les Arts Florissants series this has already appeared on a super-budget white-label Musique d’Abord CD.  Apart from the fact that the volume needs to be boosted, performance and recording are excellent.

The length of this recording makes the download from eclassical.com, who charge per second, exorbitantly expensive at $17.52 when the CD can be found for the regular price of £5.75 and even for £5.50 on special offer at present.  The least expensive download is of the white-label edition from Presto (£4.30 for mp3, but there’s no booklet and even their lossless download, at £5.60, costs £0.10 more than their current special price for the CD).  7digital.com have the mp3 for £4.49 and lossless for £4.99 (no booklet).

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) A Choice of Operas

I’ve mentioned several times in reviews a Sony 22-CD budget collection of Handel opera recordings which I inherited from a former colleague some time ago, recorded by RCA, CBS and Deutsche Harmonia Mundi.  Amazon have a few remaining copies for £56.33, with some second-hand copies on offer when I checked, and the constituent operas mostly remain available at attractive prices: 3-CD sets for around £13-£15. 

Inevitably with such a collection one takes the rough with the smooth, as is the case with Julius Rudel’s recording of Giulio Cesare, understandably no longer available separately.  There’s some fine singing, notably from Beverly Sills (Cleopatra), but the opera is cut to two-thirds its proper length, sometimes rearranged in the process, and the part of Caesar is sung by a bass-baritone. Thankfully it takes only two of the 22 CDs.  If you want a truncated Giulio Cesare, the Harmonia Mundi 78 minutes of highlights from René Jacobs’ very fine recording will serve better.  (HMA1951458, from complete set on HMC901385/7).  At $17.88 the eclassical.com download of the highlights recording is ridiculously over-priced; try Presto – £4.30 (mp3) or £5.60 (lossless).  Stream from Qobuz.  NO booklet from either.

Eclassical.com’s offer of Alan Curtis’s recording with Il Complesso Barocco is a more attractive proposition per se, but it comes without a booklet and, at $39.20, is again seriously over-priced when the CDs are available for around £24 and on special offer at present for £19.40.  One to buy on disc, then (Naïve OP30536: Recording of the Monthreview) – DL News 2013/14).

Fans of opera in English and of the incomparable Dame Janet Baker – I’m emphatically the latter – will need no urging to obtain her recording with Valerie Masterson, John Tomlinson, Sarah Walker, Sir Charles Mackerras and the ENO (Chandos CHAN3019 – from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless; highlights CHAN3072  – from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless). The complete set has even come down in price since I recommended it and it’s now very good value indeed: £4.99 (mp3) or £7.99 (lossless), the same price as the highlights.

If you want a DVD version, either instead of or to supplement an audio-only recording, two that I know are well worth hearing:

- William Christie, with Sarah Connolly and a show-stealing Danielle de Niese (Glyndebourne, Opus Arte, also on blu-ray) –  review

- Lars Ulrik Mortensen, with Andreas Scholl and Inger Dam-Jensen (Harmonia Mundi, Recording of the Month) –  review.

Jean-Claude Malgoire conducts Rinaldo (rec. 1977), still available separately on Sony Opera House 88697856552.  It’s reasonably good value at around £13 or as a download for around £8, but even the CD set comes without libretto – just a 3-language synopsis which, incidentally, is the case with all the operas in the box set.  There’s a fine cast for the time, all of them in good voice, and the recording has held up well.  Tempi, however, are often on the slow side, with a rather deliberate account of the Overture setting the tone.

My benchmark for Rinaldo is the Decca recording with Cecilia Bartoli and David Daniels, with the Academy of Ancient Music conducted by Christopher Hogwood (4670872DL Roundup November 2009).  The passionato.com link no longer applies: download from Presto.  If you can take the idiosyncratic Glyndebourne production, there’s some fine singing on an Opus Arte DVD or blu-ray – review.

Malgoire also conducts Tamerlano, no longer available separately.  It features René Jacobs as Andronico, not always in the best voice, but overall a decent performance of one of Handel’s operas with a perplexing story-line.  My benchmark here is the Naïve recording with Xavier Sabata, Max Emanuel Cencic, Il Pomo d’Oro conducted by Riccardo Minasi (V5373reviewDL News 2014/8).

René Jacobs also features, before his conducting career began, as a singer on Alessandro, with La Petite Bande conducted by Sigiswald Kuijken, still available separately on Sony Opera House 88697856552.  It’s a very fair bargain at around £15 but the singing is outshone by Armonia Atenea and George Petrou, with Max Cencic (Decca 4784699 – stream from Qobuz; download from Presto, both with pdf booklet).  We don’t seem to have reviewed the Decca so I hope to return to it in more detail.

Jacobs also sings in the 1979 Partenope, another recording with La Petite Bande and Sigiswald Kuijken still available for around £13 (88697529972).  Here again, however, there are better more recent alternatives: for Riccardo Minasi (Erato) and Christian Curnyn (Chandos) see my review.  Both are very good: the Erato almost earned Recording of the Month status.

Michael Schneider’s 1991 recording of Rodelinda with La Stagione is no longer available separately but features in an inexpensive 10-CD DHM Handel collection containing very worthwhile performances of the Op.3 and Op.6 Concerti Grossi and the Water Music conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (88883744292, 10 CDs around £21).  Reviewing a DVD of a Metropolitan Opera production (Decca, preferable to a rival Farao DVD, good as that is – review), I thought the Schneider recording still stood up very well and I still think so.

I thought I had seen the extremes of over-pricing but Qobuz’s price of £46.66 for the Nicholas Kraemer Warner/EMI recording of Rodelinda, without booklet, takes the biscuit.  Even 7digital.com’s £30.99 is too expensive for the mp3, again without booklet.

Alan Curtis’s DG Archiv recording is a much better proposition at half that price (£15.99) from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk, though again minus booklet.  Though highly regarded, it’s now download only.

Lotario comes from Il Complesso Barocco and Alan Curtis (2004), slightly cut to fit on two CDs.  It’s the only available recording – still available on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88697959592 – target price £9.46 from Amazon UK.  It makes a strong case for one of the most unjustly neglected Handel operas – review.  (NB: please note new catalogue number.  Don’t follow the link to Amazon from the review or you will pay a good deal more than from my link.)

Jean-Claude Malgoire and La Grande Écurie do the honours in Serse. I’m not surprised to see that this is no longer available separately: if you are looking for a recording of this work you need to turn to Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company (Chandos CHAN0797review).

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No.78 in c minor [25:15]
Symphony No.79 in F * [23:53]
Symphony No.80 in d minor [26:14]
Symphony No.81 in G * [28:21]
* first ever recording on period instruments
Accademia Bizantina/Ottavio Dantone
rec. Teatro Goldoni, Bagnacavallo, Italy, 30 June-3 July, 6-9 September 2015. DDD
DECCA 4788837 [103:36] – subscribers stream from Qobuz (with pdf booklet) orNaxos Music Library (NO booklet). CD or download from Presto (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless; booklet included with download).

There have been several partial sets of period instrument recordings of the Haydn symphonies but none has been carried to completion.  Hyperion got about half way with Roy Goodman and the Hanover Band, as did Decca Oiseau Lyre with Christopher Hogwood and the AAM on ten 3-CD sets, but two symphonies have never before been recorded with period instruments, even on single albums.  The new Decca recording of Nos. 79 and 81 puts that right and the four symphonies here, Nos. 78-81, will form part of a 36-CD Decca box set of the complete run of Nos. 1-104, due for release in April 2016, alongside those Hogwood recordings and others from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Frans Brüggen.  The chamber versions of Nos. 94, 100 and 104 will additionally be included in performances by the Salomon Quartet and the AAM Chamber Ensemble and Nos. ‘107’ and ‘108’ will feature in AAM/Hogwood performances.

The four Dantone performances, made with comparatively small forces, are lively but not over-fast.  Among modern-instrument performances of the Haydn symphonies I like those recorded by the Northern Chamber Orchestra and Nicholas Ward for Naxos, whose versions of Nos. 77-79 are on 8.553363.  Although I wouldn’t class Dantone as a speed-merchant in these works, there’s a great deal to be said for the extra breathing space which Ward allows the music, especially in No.78/ii. 

Roy Goodman’s tempo falls almost exactly between the two in this movement: overall if you are looking for a period performance of this symphony you might find a more balanced account of what you are looking for on Hyperion Helios CDH55122 – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet) – where it’s coupled with fine accounts of Nos. 76 and 77.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
String Quartets dedicated to Joseph Haydn
String Quartet No.14 in G, K387 (‘Spring’) [30:22]
String Quartet No.17 in B flat, K458 (‘The Hunt’) [28:32]
Hagen Quartett [Lukas Hagen, Rainer Schmidt (violins); Veronika Hagen (viola); Clemens Hagen (cello)
rec. Sendesaal Bremen, December 2014. DDD.
MYRIOS MYR017 [58:54] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet).  Also available from dealers on Hybrid SACD.

The members of the Hagen Quartett look a trifle stern on the cover of the album but these performances are certainly far from unsmiling.  It’s some time since they recorded the complete Mozart Quartets in a highly regarded series for DG (4776253, 7 CDs at budget price).  The ‘Haydn’ Quartets from that series remain available separately on E4710242, 3 CDs – download only. 

I enjoyed this album and hope they are planning to record the other ‘Haydn’ quartets again.  Only the period-instrument performances by Quatuor Mosaïques come close to outshining them (Nos. 14 and 15 on Naïve E8843, download only – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless); 16 and 17 on E8844, also download only – from eclassical.com, NO booklets).

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No.1 in D, D82 [26:20]
Symphony No.3 in D, D200 [23:28]
Symphony No.4 in c minor, D417 (‘Tragic’) [32:13]
Royal Flemish Philharmonic/Philippe Herreweghe
rec. deSingel, Antwerp, 26-29 June, 2014. DDD
PHI LPH019 [50:04 + 32:13] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet)

I liked this from the mp3 press download from Outhere, even though it comes at a low bit-rate, around 250kb/s.  It sounds even better in 24-bit format, albeit at a price: 16-bit is $14.79, 24-bit is $22.19, but that’s not too bad when the CDs cost around £19.  This time it’s the CD price rather than that of the download that I’m complaining about – pretty pricey for a total playing time only very slightly over the limits for a single CD.  (Indeed, several recent CDs have breached the 85-minute barrier).

Don’t forget that Beecham’s magic performances of Nos. 3, 5 and 6 remain available on Warner 5669842 (download only – from Presto) or as part of Sir Thomas Beecham: The Later Tradition (9186112, download only – from Presto) and his mono recordings of Nos. 1 and 2 (1953-54) are worth considering as super-budget downloads from Naxos Classical Archives 980277 – from Presto.

Claudio Abbado’s Schubert is also special – so much so that I recommend going for the complete budget-price box (4778687: Bargain of the Monthreview), rather than obtaining it one album at a time.  Download from Presto, with pdf booklet, for a significant saving over their price for the CDs.

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Serenade for Strings, Op.48, TH48 (1880) [30:13]
Souvenir de Florence, Op.70, TH118 (1892, arrangement for string orchestra) [35:11]
The Russian Virtuosi of Europe/Yuri Zhislin
rec. All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London, 8 and 10 January 2015. DDD.
ORCHID CLASSICS ORC100052 [65:23] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet)

See review by Steven Francis Vasta: ‘Well worth it for the Souvenir’.

This Orchid Classics album is the debut recording of The Russian Virtuosi of Europe.  The logical coupling reproduces that of a classic LP from the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields and Neville Marriner (Argo ZRG584, released in 1969), still available as a download from Presto, or streamed from Qobuz, with Grieg’s Holberg Suite added.  The performance of the Serenade, however, is much more reminiscent of the intense performance which Sir John Barbirolli recorded with the LSO (ASD646, with Arensky and ASD378, with Francesca da Rimini).  If you want the intensity, the new Orchid recording makes a very good replacement for Barbirolli.  If you prefer something a little gentler, the download of the Marriner could be your preference.  There’s also a more subdued account that’s well worth considering from Antal Doráti and the Philharmonia Hungarica, generously coupled with a good performance of Dvořák’s New World Symphony on The Doráti Edition ADE048review.

Tchaikovsky specifically ruled out performances of the Souvenir other than in its sextet version, but the arrangement works well for Marriner and it works well here.  If, however, you must have the original chamber-music version, it’s coupled with an equally fine and appropriate performance of Tchaikovsky’s pupil Arensky’s Quartet, Op.35, from the Raphael Ensemble on Hyperion Helios CDH55426DL News 2013/8.

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No.2 in G, Op.44 (original version, 1879-1880) [42:03]
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Piano Concerto in D flat, Op.38 (1936) [33:35]
Xiayin Wang (piano)
Maya Iwabuchi (violin)
Aleksei Kiseliov (cello)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Peter Oundjian
rec. 8-9 November 2015, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, UK
Pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHAN5167 [75:19] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless)

Also available as CHSA5167 SACD.

Dan Morgan has beaten me to this one and, though he reviewed it on the main MWI pages, he has done so from the 24-bit download.

We don’t always agree – see Mahler Symphony No.3 below – but we do on this album.  That includes how much better the Tchaikovsky sounds with the Siloti cuts restored and the fact that the Hyperion 2-CD set with Stephen Hough and Osmo Vänskä is the one to beat – DL Roundup September 2010.  If you don’t want the first Piano Concerto on that set, the new Chandos is the one to go for, succeeding by giving the concerto its due weight and energy but not trying to turn the work into a warhorse to rival its better-known predecessor.

Russian Dances
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Swan Lake – suite, Op. 20a (1875-1876) [31:10]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Concert Waltz No. 1in D major, Op. 47 (1893) [9:13]
Concert Waltz No. 2 in F major, Op. 51 (1894) [8:46]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
The Golden Age – suite, Op. 22a (1929-1930) [17:18]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1889-1971)
Circus Polka [3:50]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Kazuki Yamada
rec. July 2015, Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland
Pdf booklet included
PENTATONE PTC5186557 [70:54] – from eClassical (mp3 & 16-bit lossless)

I first came across the Japanese conductor Kazuki Yamada when I reviewed his OSR disc of lollipops by Bizet, Fauré and Gounod. I was much impressed by the Polyhymnia recording, but I found the performances somewhat variable. I had hoped that was just a blip, as this partnership has potential, not least because the orchestra’s recent outings with Neeme Järvi (Chandos) confirm they’re in great shape. Incidentally, I was disappointed to see that Pentatone have only supplied eClassical with mp3s and 16-bit files, as their 24/96 offerings are generally excellent. Listeners who want this album in high-res can download it from Qobuz.

Minutes into the Swan Lake and it’s clear this is a lovely recording, even in its 16-bit form. The sound is rich, refined, weighty and very nicely balanced. The Tchaikovsky seems rather good, too; alas, my enthusiasm soon began to wane, not least because poise takes priority over pace. It’s a perennial problem with ballet suites, which are concert pieces; all too often – as here – tempi are much too slow, so that when the tuttis arrive they sound comparatively over-driven. If only Yamada weren’t so indulgent, the music so gilded, this would be a first-rate Swan Lake.

Yamada’s French album has its moments, and so does this one, but tempi aren’t the only issue here. For instance, the Glazunov waltzes are attractive but curiously lacking in charm or suppleness. As for the Shostakovich, rhythms aren’t always as sharp as they should be, or flavours as piquant. Stravinsky’s Circus Polka is also despatched with tremendous polish but not much personality. Now, if only the performances were on a par with the recording – what a fabulous bass drum – this would be a cracker.

Gorgeous playing and fine sound; alas, the performances lack character.

Dan Morgan

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No.7 in d minor, Op.70 [38:15]
Symphony No.8 in G, Op.88 [38:18]
Houston Symphony/Andrés Orozco-Estrada
rec. live Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, Houston, Texas, April 2014 (Symphony No.7) and March 2015 (Symphony No.8). DDD/DSD
PENTATONE PTC5186578 [76:34] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet)

Benchmark recordings:

- Nos 1-9 – BPO/Rafael Kubelík: DG 4631582 (6CDs) (Nos. 8 and 9: DG Originals 4474122).  Stream complete set from Qobuz but download costs more than the CDs (target price £24).  Download older 2-CD DG Duo of Nos. 6-9  (4779764) from 7digital.com for £8.49 (mp3, NO booklet)
- RSNO/Järvi: Chandos CHAN9991 (6 CDs) – September 2012/1

- No.7 – LSO/Pierre Monteux (1959): Decca Eloquence 4805019 (with Elgar Enigma) or Beulah 2PD45 (with Violin Concerto)  Reissue of the Month 2015/10

- Nos. 7 and 8 – Philharmonia/Mackerras: Signum SIGCD183 review.  From hyperion-records.co.uk – see DL News 2014/14.

- No.8 – Prague SO/Mackerras (Life with Czech Music): Supraphon SU40412, 6CDs)
- LPO/Mackerras (with Symphonic Variations): LPO LPO0055August 2011/2

I could have made the list even longer but you get the picture: there is very strong competition indeed in these two wonderful symphonies yet for all that I very much enjoyed the new recording.  Last time I stuck my neck out and gave Recording of the Month status to an album of Dvořák Overtures which subsequently failed to go down well with other reviewers.  I’m not going quite that far this time except to say that if you are looking for this coupling you would be well served by either the Signum or this new recording. Both are about as good as it gets.  If you also need No.6 and No.9, the New World symphony – perhaps a second recording of the latter – the 7digital.com download of Kubelík’s Nos. 6-9 looks very tempting at the price.  I can’t vouch for that download but Kubelík’s New World remains my favourite recording on an earlier DG release.

When I downloaded the new Houston recording only 16-bit was available: even so, the sound is full and rounded to the extent that the DG Kubelík, played immediately afterwards, sounded over-bright.

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
Piano Concerto in g minor Op.33 (original version) [40:49]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810–1856)
Piano Concerto in a minor Op 54 [32:21]
Stephen Hough (piano)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons
rec. Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 26-29 November 2015 and 17-19 March 2015. DDD.
HYPERION CDA68099 [73:10] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf or epub booklet).

With almost 300 recordings of the Schumann in the catalogue, you might have thought that I would have found my perfect version long ago, yet somehow I never have.  Even the Stephen Kovacevich recording with Colin Davis and the BBCSO, a combination which still does the trick for me in Mozart and Beethoven, doesn’t quite work for me in Schumann, perhaps because the almost inevitable Grieg coupling still leaves me with Clifford Curzon as my top choice.  The Curzon Grieg remains available as a download but the Friedrich Gulda Schumann with which it was coupled on its most recent appearance is not quite in the same league (Decca Headline 4336282 – download only*, available from Presto ).  Even the recent LSO Live recording with Maria João Pires and Sir John Eliot Gardiner left David Barker slightly disappointed, though he made the albumRecording of the Month for the sake of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony (LSO0765review).  I see that I sat on the fence in DL News 2015/1, suggesting that I hadn’t really been impressed.

I tried the Schumann first on the new Hyperion recording, though it’s actually placed second.  As the notes remind us, the first movement was originally conceived as a separate work, entitled Phantasie, a title which aptly describes the new performance, as does Schumann’s marking affettuoso.  But the notes also refer to the white heat with which it was composed and there’s a second part to that marking: allegro affettuoso.  I hear more of the phantasy than the white heat and more of the affettuoso than the allegro.  Frances Piemontesi and Jiří Bělohlávek on another coupling of these two concertos (Naïve – reviewDL News 2013/10) dally even slightly longer in this movement but Alexander Melnikov and Pablo Heras-Casado (Harmonia Mundi) are, I think, more on the money in a performance which takes exactly a minute less.  It’s really a matter of paying your money and taking your pick between the extreme affection which Stephen Hough and Andris Nelsons lavish on this movement and the slight lack of tenderness which David Barker noted in the Harmonia Mundi – review

I’m in danger of painting myself into a corner because I’ve previously said that barnstorming performances of the Schumann don’t convince me, which is one reason why I made Angela Hewitt and Hanna Lintu on another Hyperion album, with two Introduction and Allegros, a Recording of the Month in August 2012/1.  I did, however, come away from the new recording with a feeling that it’s a tad over-affectionate at the expense of the power and slightly less free-wheeling than Hewitt or Leif-Ove Ansdnes (Warner). Perhaps it’s impossible to get the balance right in any one performance: after all, Schumann characterised himself as both Eusebius and Florestan.

You probably wouldn’t buy the new recording just for the Schumann and I believe that many will like it much better than I did: I must emphasise that I certainly didn’t dislike it.  Alongside the Naïve recording, I also reviewed a Chandos coupling of the Dvořák Piano Concerto and Violin Concerto (CHAN10309 – from theclassicalshop.net, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet).  That’s an attractive performance but not strictly comparable because it havers between the original and the ‘easier’ concert arrangement which used to hold sway.  My main comparison for the original version comes from Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Nikolaus Harnoncourt with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, coupled with The Golden Spinning Wheel on a very inexpensive Warner Teldec download – from Presto (mp3 and lossless).

Here, too, Hough and Nelsons linger a little longer in the outer movements but this concerto lends itself to the treatment rather better than the Schumann.  Steven Isserlis notes in the booklet that Dvořák never intended his concerto to be a tour de force, though he made it difficult enough for the soloist – no problem for Stephen Hough.  A slightly more rhapsodic performance than on Teldec, then, but equally treasurable.  Good as the Teldec recording still is, the 24-bit Hyperion is even better.

* or as part of 23-CD set 4784389.

RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857–1934)

Cello Concerto in e minor, Op.85 (1918/19) [28:05]
Gustav HOLST (1874–1934)
Invocation, H75, Op.19/2 (1911) [8:22]
Sir William WALTON (1902–1983)
Cello Concerto (1956) [27:33]
Imogen HOLST (1907–1984)
The fall of the leaf for solo cello (1963) [9:00]
Steven Isserlis (cello)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 14 November 2014 and 10 April 2015. DDD
HYPERION CDA68077 [73:00] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet)

Sir Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto is taboo in our house – not, I hasten to add, because it’s inferior music but because it’s too intense for my better half to bear, reducing her to depression and tears.  That’s particularly true in the case of the classic Du Pré/Barbirolli recording but it happens, too, with less intense performances from such as Lynn Harrell and Lorin Maazel (Decca Eloquence).  Whenever I want or need to listen, then, it has to be on headphones, thereby, paradoxically making the music even more intense, especially in the case of this rather close Hyperion recording.

Let me begin with the works which I was able to play normally, by William Walton, Gustav Holst and his daughter Imogen.  My benchmark recording of Invocation comes from Alexander Baillie with the LSO and David Atherton on a 1993 all-Holst recording (Lyrita SRCD.209) or as part of a wonderful super-budget-price 4-CD set of British String Concertos (SRCD.2346: Bargain of the Month DL News 2014/15)*.  Steven Isserlis and Parvo Järvi adopt a significantly faster tempo but don’t miss any of the shimmering mystical quality of the work to which Isserlis refers in the notes.

The 1957 RCA recording of Walton’s Cello Concerto with Gregor Piatigorsky and Charles Munch remains my benchmark for that work, on a super-budget-price 2-CD set with classic recordings of Symphony No.1, the Violin Concerto, Viola Concerto and Sinfonia Concertante (74321925752 – a wonderful bargain – review review) or on a Beulah download of Great Cello Concertos (1PDR21DL News 2016/1).  Here, too, the Hyperion team are slightly faster than their illustrious predecessors without any suggestion of undue haste.  The RCA recording has come up sounding much better than I remember on LP but clearly cannot compete with Hyperion’s 24-bit sound.  Even so I expect to find myself grovelling on hands and knees to find the CD in the recesses of the cupboard where it’s tucked away, or playing the Beulah transfer with the wonderful Rostropovich/Talich Dvořák as the main coupling, at least as often as Isserlis and Järvi.

This is the only current recording of Imogen Holst’s Fall of the Leaf, which makes an attractive close to the album.  The performance may be taken as exemplary: Isserlis is shown in the booklet consulting with the composer before performing the work for her 70th birthday concert at Snape.

There’s little doubt that Elgar in 1918 was lamenting the land of lost content that the Great War had taken away, not just materially but in terms of the loss of his deeply-held religious beliefs.  For him, even more than for Sir Edward Grey who originated the phrase, the lamps had gone out never to be relit in his lifetime.  Jacqueline du Pré and Sir John Barbirolli emphasise the deep sense of unbearable loss; Isserlis and Järvi bring out more of a sense of anger at the loss, with tempi for the first, third and fourth movements slightly faster and with a slightly slower second movement.  Isserlis is also a shade faster than his earlier self in the same three movements and a shade slower in the second movement. **

I see that Stephen Barber, who is not convinced about either of the concertos, was at least won over by Steven Isserlis’ playing – review.  Overall I was impressed enough to award a Recording of the Month status.

There’s another major Elgar release this month: Daniel Barenboim revisiting the First Symphony with the Staatskapelle Berlin (Decca 4789353 – stream from Qobuz; CD, mp3, 16- and 24-bit downloads from Presto).  First impressions are favourable but I’d like to let this one grow on me, especially as his recording of the Second Symphony two years ago divided opinion so much.

* The link to 7digital.com seems to have disappeared from the review: I can’t tell you if it’s still a bargain: since I have already purchased it, the price is not showing for me.

** Virgin Classics recording with LSO and Richard Hickox, still available to stream or download variously coupled.

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No.3 in d minor [96:24]
Kelley O’Connor (mezzo)
Women of the Dallas Symphony Chorus; Children’s Chorus of Greater Dallas
Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden
rec. live Eugene McDermott Concert Hall Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas, Texas 21-23 May 2015. DDD.
Texts and translations included
DSO DSOLIVE 007 [33:36 + 62:49] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet)

Comparative recordings:

- Unicorn UKCD2006 – Jascha Horenstein – download for just £4.74 from Amazon UK (mp3, NO booklet).

- Decca Eloquence 4801133 – Zubin Mehta (with Symphony No.1) – review.  No longer generally available in the UK; order in $AUS or $US from Buywell (Australia).  Download from 7digital.com (mp3 for £9.60: NB lossless version far too expensive at £24.69.  NO booklet.)

- Tudor 7170 – Jonathan Nott – reviewDL Roundup October 2011/1

- ICA ICAC5033 – Klaus Tennstedt – review review – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, NO booklet).  Booklet available for subscribers to Naxos Music Library.  Also available at £2.94 for subscribers from emusic.com (variable-rate mp3, NO booklet)

The new recording is up against fierce competition: I could be very happy with any one of the versions listed above, though I must point out that if you follow the link to Dan Morgan’s review of the Tudor recording you will find an entirely different view of that.  The oldest recording listed is the Horenstein with the LSO, dating from July 1970.  In many ways it remains my benchmark and it’s also the least expensive to obtain.  The Amazon download comes at their usual less-than-ideal bit-rate, in this case around 242kb/s, and without booklet.  There’s also something very odd about the information which displays when playing this recording: Horenstein’s tempo for the fourth movement is suitably sehr langsam and misterioso, but it’s certainly not 64 minutes long.

Close inspection of the small print reveals that it’s a transfer from Treasure Island Music but I presume that they licensed the music from the master tape rather than LP, since the recording is still copyright.  In fact what was always an impressive recording on LP sounds pretty well and it’s much less expensive than the download from theclassicalshop.net, which does bear the Unicorn logo.  That costs £14.98 in mp3 and £16.95 in lossless format, not much less than the CDs.  It comes with a pdf booklet containing the sung text and translation but that’s free to all comers.

I’ve listed the Eloquence which I liked when I reviewed it on CD; the 7digital download is of the earlier Double Decca release but only the mp3 is worth considering – the lossless is priced far too high when the Eloquence set is at budget price.

The live Tennstedt recording with the LPO is a secure recommendation, perhaps even in preference to his EMI recording, now available only in an 11-CD Warner box set at budget price (2564627828).  The 2-CD EMI set with Nos. 3 and 4 remains available for subscribers to stream from Qobuz, where it can also be downloaded for a not unreasonable £11.82, but without booklet.

While not ecstatic about Jaap van Zweden’s recording of Mahler’s Symphony No.5 with the LPO on their own label, Jens F Laurson thought it easy to live with and to recommend – review.  With all due respect, however, one doesn’t expect the Dallas Symphony to be the equal of the LPO on a good day, especially as Jaap van Zweden is renowned more for his Bruckner than in Mahler, though he was a student of a noted Mahlerian: Bernstein. 

Bearing that in mind and having read Dan Morgan’s review, I expected the worst of this Third Symphony.  In fact I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of playing and the overall interpretation.  Mahler seemingly asks the impossible in the second movement by marking it as Tempo di menuetto, sehr mässig.  How can a minuet be paced moderately?  If at 9:11 Horenstein seems to strike the right note, it’s arguable than van Zweden is too mässig at 9:53 but Tennstedt makes an even slower overall timing of 10:15 (10:41 on his EMI version) seem natural.  In fact I’ve found only one performance of this movement faster than Horenstein’s or van Zweden’s and that’s the pioneering recording with Adler and the Vienna Concert Orchestra (originally Delta DEL12002-3, now available from BnF as a download).

Much of Dan Morgan’s criticism is of Kelly O’Connor’s singing.  It’s certainly the case that I greatly preferred Norma Proctor with Horenstein, but that may be a matter of long familiarity.  The appreciation of voices is a very individual matter and even seems to change with time: I’ve recently returned to look again at the new 66-CD Brilliant Classics box of Vivaldi. I now find quite awful some of the vocal recordings which I judged more than acceptable when I reviewed their earlier 40-CD box, from which they are carried over.  The most sensible recommendation would be for you to try this one yourself, if only from the short samples available on the web.

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No.5 in E-flat, Op.82 [31:20]
Symphony No.7 in C, Op.105 [23:12]
En Saga, Symphonic Poem, Op.9 [17:42]
Hallé Orchestra/Sir Mark Elder
rec. live and in rehearsal, 6 November 2010 (7); 18 March 2014 (5); studio conditions 7 November 2014 (En Saga), Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, UK. DDD
HALLÉCDHLL7543 [72:14] – from emusic.com (mp3, NO booklet).  See review by Michael Cookson.

I’ve been looking forward to this new release since it was announced some time ago.  It follows Symphony No.2, The Oceanides and Pohjola’s Daughter (CDHLL7516reviewreview) and Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 (CDHLL7514review) and shares their qualities.  As with No.2, it’s possible to prefer a more impassioned approach but Sir Mark Elder’s slightly cool approach to the opening movement of No.5 means that the guns blaze all the more impressively at the end of the movement and in the climax of the finale.  I’m not going to make detailed comparisons: you probably know by now if this Sibelius series is the one for you.  It offers a No.5 well worth having and certainly one of the best recordings that I’ve heard of No.7, a symphony which doesn’t always ‘work’ for me.

It may be the fault of the mp3 download but I found myself turning the volume up a notch or two to obtain a realistic sound.  That apart, the recording is fine: it’s at the full 320kb/s bit-rate, but the lack of a booklet may lead you for preference to the MusicWeb-International page to buy the CD.

Sergei BORTKIEWICZ (1877-1952)
Prelude No. 1 in F sharp major and No. 3 in E flat minor from Six Preludes, Op. 66 (1946) [5:01]
Fantasiestücke, Op. 61 (1942) [16:02]
Lyrica nova, Op. 59 (1940) [10:32]
Three Mazurkas, Op. 64 (1943) [6.26]
España, Op. 63 No. 4 (1947) [2:49]
Jugoslavische Suite, Op. 58 (1940) [12:13]
Piano Sonata No. 2 in C sharp minor, Op. 60 (1942) [23:02]
Nadejda Vlaeva (piano)
rec. 23-24 November, 2014, Dekelboum Concert Hall, College Park, University of Maryland, USA
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA68118 [76:06] – from Hyperion Records (mp3, 16- & 24-bit lossless)

Both composer and pianist are new to me, but given Philip Buttall’s enthusiastic review of the CD – it’s a Recording of the Month – and Hyperion’s reputation for superb solo piano recordings I decided to give the album a try. Indeed, I’m always keen to explore obscure repertoire, and the company’s long-running Romantic Piano Concerto series has certainly resulted in some interesting finds. However, it would be idle to pretend that it’s all worth resurrecting.

Anyone hearing this recording might be forgiven for thinking Bortkiewicz’s music belongs in that category. This seems to be derivative note-spinning of the most numbing kind, devoid of invention or redeeming character. Nadejda Vlaeva’s charmless playing doesn’t help, but then neither does the piano she plays. It’s a ghastly instrument, with a harsh, jangling tone and a teeth-gritting treble. In the past Hyperion haven’t compromised on these things, so I’m at a loss to explain why they’ve done so here. The hard, unforgiving acoustic of this American venue is a turn-off, too. Really, this couldn’t be further from the congenial Suffolk and London halls – and fine instruments – that they normally use.

Coarse, uncomfortable playing and sound; not at all what one expects from this source.

Dan Morgan

Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale: English version by Michael Flanders and Kitty Black)
Tianwa Yang (violin), Fred Child (narrator), Jared McGuire (the soldier), Jeff Biehl (the devil)
Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players/JoAnn Falletta
NAXOS  8.573537 [58:01] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless) orstream or download from classicsonlinehd.com (16- and 24-bit lossless) both with pdf booklet

Whereas most recording companies are happy to offer just the orchestral suite from L’Histoire du Soldat, Naxos now have two recordings of the complete work in English as well as one of the Suite.  I liked the jaunty earlier recording, with the Northern Chamber Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Ward (8.553662, with Dumbarton Oaks), the Chandos recording, also in English, directed by Neeme Järvi (CHAN9189) and a French version with Gérard Depardieu as the Devil (Naïve V5371)– see DL News 2014/9.  The new version doesn’t have quite the jauntiness or the down-to-earth qualities of that earlier Naxos and it comes without coupling, so I’d stay with the earlier Naxos, with the added bonus of a fine Dumbarton Oaks, one of my favourite Stravinsky works.

The eclassical.com download is too expensive in mp3 and 16-bit formats but about the same price as the classicsonlinehd.com 24-bit.  ($15.66 and £9.99 respectively).  The eclassical.com comes complete with pdf booklet but the classicsonlinehd.com didn’t when I checked – an odd omission for one of their own Naxos albums.

Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Collegium Regale

Jubilate Collegium Regale [3:29]
Magnificat Collegium Regale [5:16]
Nunc dimittis Collegium Regale [4:12]
Psalm 122 [2:38]
I love all beauteous things [6:15]
Kyrie Collegium Regale [1:23]
Credo Collegium Regale [6:17]
Sanctus Collegium Regale [2:26]
Benedictus Collegium Regale [1:45]
Agnus Collegium Regale [2:04]
Gloria Collegium Regale [4:37]
Psalm 121 [2:34]
Behold, O God our defender [3:29]
Rhapsody in D flat Op.17/1 [6:12]
Te Deum Collegium Regale [8:37]
Trinity College Choir Cambridge/Stephen Layton
rec. Coventry Cathedral, July 2014. DDD.
Texts included
HYPERION CDA68105 [61:14] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf and epub booklet).

Don’t be confused by the Howells memorial window in Gloucester Cathedral on the front cover of this album into thinking that you already have it: Hyperion used the same image on their earlier (2012) recording of Howells’ Requiem and other choral works, also with Trinity College Choir and Stephen Layton.  (CDA67914 – from hyperion-records.co.uk, mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet).  That earlier album was a Recording of the Monthreview.  See also April 2012/2.  Its successor is no less desirable: as an inveterate lover of Howells’ music, vocal, orchestral and instrumental, I’ve been listening with great pleasure.  The evening canticles get fairly frequent airings from college and cathedral choirs but the virtual abandonment of choral Mattins means that the morning canticles, Jubilate andTe Deum are not heard nearly often enough.  The performances are excellent, taking me back to the Argo LP from which I first heard the Collegium Regale settings performed by King’s College Choir for whom they were composed, directed by David Willcocks.  (Still available from Decca Eloquence 4807409 or as a download from Presto).  The 24-bit download sounds excellent.

Hyperion also offer several other fine Howells choral recordings on their own and other labels:

CDA66260: St Paul’s Service; Te Deum and Jubilate Collegium Regale – St Paul’s Cathedral Choir/John Scott.

CDA66488: Hymnus Paradisi and An English Mass – RLPO and Choir/Vernon Handley – Hyperion Top 30.

CDH55220: Requiem; Take Him, Earth (+ VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Mass; Te Deum) – Corydon Singers/Matthew Best

CDH55456: Choral Music, including Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis from Collegium Regale from Wells Cathedral Choir/Malcom Archer – from CDA67494: Recording of the Month – reviewDL Roundup June 2011/2.  I’ve used this recording as a benchmark for the same works on the new album.

Signum SIGCD151: I Love All Beauteous Things, including Missa Ædis Christi – Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Dublin/Judy Martin – review.

Signum SIGCD190: Choral Music including Te Deum Collegium Regale – Rodolphus Choir/Raphh Allwood – reviewJune 2011/2.  I’ve used this as my benchmark, plus the Willcocks (above), the Te Deum Collegium Regale from The Bach Choir and David Hill (Naxos 8.573716) and from St John’s Cambridge/Andrew Nethsingha (Chandos CHAN10587: Recording of the MonthreviewDL Roundup May 2010).

CDA67853: Winchester Service, etc. from Winchester Cathedral Choir/Andrew Lumsden – DL Roundup June 2011/2.

Signum SIGCD281: A Song of FarewellRequiem (+ music by PARRY and other English composers).  Recording of the Monthreview.

Lorenzo PALOMO (b.1938) Nocturnos de Andalucía [40:06]
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901-1999) Concierto de Aranjuez [23:09]
Joaquín MALATS (1872-1912) Serenata Española (arr. Christoph Denoth, world premiere recording) [4:22]
Christoph Denoth (guitar)
London Symphony Orchestra/Jesús López Cobos
rec. Abbey Road Studios, London, 26-27 June and 11-12 July 2015. DDD
SIGNUM SIGCD444 [67:40] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet)

If someone had played me Lorenzo Palomo’s 1995 Nocturnos de Andalucía and told me that it was a late composition by Rodrigo I might well have believed it.  That’s not meant to imply that it’s derivative – in a sense any guitar concerto post Rodrigo is bound to have been influenced to a greater or lesser extent – but it’s evocative in the same kind of way, in this case of the South of Spain.  Only one movement, Nocturno de Córdova, refers to a place – Palomo’s childhood home – and one other to a dance form especially associated with Andalucía, El Tablao (the flamenco stage) but the whole work is suffused with the rich and often wistful musical traditions of the region.  It’s not only almost twice the length of Concierto de Aranjuez, it’s also a bigger statement, with a much larger orchestra and often more ‘serious’ in tone.  Above all it’s tuneful in a way that much contemporary music is not, without being at all superficial. 

There’s an earlier recording with Pepe Romero, the Seville Royal Symphony Orchestra and Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos.  Romero was the work’s dedicatee and he and Frühbeck de Burgos gave the first performance, with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (Naxos 8.557135, with Spanish Songs).  Evan Dickerson recommended that CD – review – but Göran Forsling, though liking the Spanish Songs, was more lukewarm about Nocturnosreview.  With persuasive performance and recording on Signum, choice can easily be left to the coupling.

On Signum Concierto de Aranjuez receives an atmospheric performance but you may already have umpteen recordings, variously coupled, so not in the market for yet another.  Bearing in mind, too, that the Naxos recording can be obtained for rather less – £4.79 from Qobuz or £4.99 from classicsonlinhd.com, both with booklet – and that both our reviewers liked the Spanish Songs, beautifully sung by María Bayo, that may be your better option.

DISCOVERY OF THE MONTH
Ferenc FARKAS (1905-2000) Orchestral Music, Vol. 4

Romanian Folk Dances from Bihar County (1988) [6:05]
Cantiones Optimæ (1969) [7:57]
Old Hungarian Dances from the seventeenth century (1990) [14:01]
Harpsichord Concertino (1949) [19:24]
Musica Giocosa (1982) [7:54]
Serenata Concertante (1967) [12:44]
András Adorján (flute)
Viktória Herencsár (cimbalom)
Ingrid Kertesi (soprano)
Miklós Spányi (harpsichord)
Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra/János Rolla
rec. 15–21 January 2015, Istituto italiano di cultura, Budapest. DDD.
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0230 [68:21] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, NO booklet).  Subscribers stream from Qobuz.

How did I manage to miss the earlier volumes of this delightful music from a twentieth-century composer whose work, with its respect for folk music and the music of the baroque and classical past, is immensely approachable?  If you like Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances you can hardly fail to enjoy the Old Hungarian Dances – vintage wine in a new bottle and quite intoxicating.  Regular readers, if there are any, will know that I really enjoy this kind of re-imagining of the music of the past.  There’s more substantial fare here, too: in fact, there’s plenty of variety.  It’s all approachable but not insubstantial; the closing Serenata is quite spikey.  Apart from the Dances, these are all the only versions in the catalogue.  Performances and recording are very good – hardly surprising when the flute soloist is the dedicatee of much of the music – and the lack of a booklet is easily remedied by visiting the Toccata website.  Once obtained, it contains the texts and translations of the Cantiones and the kind of highly informative notes that we have come to expect from Toccata.  Did I mention that the inclusion of a cimbalom was an added attraction?  I’ve been a devotee of the sound since The Third Man theme: it’s still possible to obtain the Anton Karas recording, made soon after he played on the film soundtrack.  (Decca Cinema Gala 4212642, only from Presto).

The earlier volumes are on TOCC0176review, TOCC0184review and TOCC0217.

John CORIGLIANO (b. 1938)
Circus Maximus: Symphony No. 3 for large wind ensemble (2004) [35:43]
Gazebo Dances for band (1972) [17:06]
The University of Texas Wind Ensemble/Jerry Junkin
rec. 25-27 November 2006, Bass Concert Hall, Austin, Texas, USA
Pdf booklet included
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559601 [52:54] – from eClassical (mp3, 16- & 24-bit lossless)

This is not a new recording – Dave Billinge reviewed it five years ago – but having recently reviewed Junkin and the UTWE in Shadow of Sirius and Wine Dark Sea I wanted to hear them in something a little more atavistic. Besides, Corigliano is usually worth a listen, as I discovered with Conjurer and Vocalise; that CD was one of my Recordings of the Year in 2014 (review).

The symphony, subtitled Circus Maximus, certainly lives up to its Technicolor title; it’s gaudy, thrilling and, at times, downright antisocial in terms of dynamic range. Dave Billinge listened to the surround mix on the BD-A, but even in vanilla stereo some of the work’s spatial effects are well realised. The playing is full-blooded and timbres are tinglesome. True, this isn’t the kind of music you’d want to hear too often, but it will certainly impress your friends and annoy the neighbours. The four Gazebo Dances, rather more elegant, make a pleasing filler. The real stars are these young players, whose standards in 2006 were every bit as high as they are now.

Stirring music, well played and recorded; great fun.

Dan Morgan

[UK readers will find the 16-bit download from classicsonlinehd.com less expensive at £4.99 than eclassical.com’s $9.48.  For the 24-bit the prices are more evenly matched at £9.99 and $17.37.  (BW)]

Henrik HELLSTENIUS (b.1963)
Like Objects in a Dark Room, for orchestra (2007, rev. 2014) [9:38]
In Memoriam (Violin Concerto No.2) for violin solo, string orchestra and percussion (2012, rev. 2013) [21:58]
Ørjan MATRE (b.1979)
Violin Concerto - version for solo violin and orchestra (2014) [24:15]
preSage for orchestra (2013, rev. 2015) [13:01]
Peter Herresthal (violin)
Stavanger Symphony Orchestra/Rolf Gupta
rec. August 2014 and April 2015, Stavanger Concert Hall, Norway. DDD/DSD
BIS BIS-SACD-2152 [70:08] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet).

Also available as hybrid SACD.  Hellstenius works previously available as BIS-8004.

Given my tendency to like only a small fraction of contemporary classical and jazz compositions, this was something of a shot in the dark for me.  Several such shots, notably with recordings from the Boston Music Project on their own BMOP label, have paid off handsomely, as did my foray into the music of Ferenc Farkas, courtesy of Toccata (above).  This one, however, evokes the last line of D H Lawrence’s poem Bat: ‘[In China the bat is symbol for happiness.]  Not for me!’

Violin concertos tend to buck the trend even from composers whose music is otherwise angular – Berg is a case in point – but I’m afraid that Henrik Hellstenius’ Like Objects … and Violin Concerto No.2 fall for me into the category of music of which I can appreciate the craftsmanship but am unlikely to want to return to.  Like the Berg, this is a concerto in memoriam of someone close to the composer, but even in the hands of its dedicatee it failed to engage me emotionally.

I did warm a little more to Ørje Matre’s Violin Concerto and even more to preSage with its echoes of Rite of Spring, but still not enough to make me plan to return any time soon.  Once again the concerto – as yet unpublished and recorded here from manuscript – is performed by its dedicatee.  By all means sample to gauge your own reactions.

REISSUE OF THE MONTH
Twentieth Century Classics: Volume 2
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937) Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture (arr. Robert Russell BENNETT) [18:31]
RCA Symphony Orchestra/Robert Russell Bennett – rec.1959 ADD/stereo
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Rapsodie Espagnole [15:19]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch – rec.1958 ADD/stereo
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955) Symphony No.2 for trumpet and strings [24:12]
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet – rec.1961 ADD/stereo
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934) North Country Sketches [24:40]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham – rec.1949 ADD/mono 78
BEULAH 2PD20 [82:43] – due shortly from iTunes

If you had asked me to nominate classic recordings of the Ravel and Honegger, these would have been among the front-runners alongside Pierre Monteux (Ravel, various Decca couplings) and Herbert von Karajan (Honegger, DG Originals).  Add an enjoyable account of the Porgy and Bess Symphonic Picture by its arranger and some authoritative Delius from Sir Thomas Beecham in a collection running over the putative 80-minute limit and this must receive a clear recommendation, especially as the Ansermet Honegger is otherwise available only in a 3-CD set and RCA’s own transfers of the Ravel seem to come and go, more often the latter.

The 78 recording of the Delius requires only a very small degree of tolerance, far less than I expected: it sounds more like an early LP transfer – indeed, it’s greatly superior to the Fontana and Philips LPs on which it was released (with Hassan, in both cases). I’m surprised to see that Trevor Harvey praised the sound on the Philips transfer because I recall quite the opposite: I’m sure that I would have warmed to the North Country Sketches immediately if they had sounded as good as this, instead of having to wait for Sir Charles Mackerras (Decca) and Richard Hickox (Chandos) to persuade me. I listened to the Naxos transfer of the same recording (8.110984, with Brigg Fair, Over the Hills, The First Cuckoo, etc.) as streamed in lossless sound from their own classicsonlinehd.com and marginally preferred the Beulah transfer as having more body.

Beecham transposed the order of the two central Sketches, Winter Landscape and Dance, presumably to suit the exigencies of 78 sides: both Naxos and Beulah have reset them in the correct order.  There’s no connecting theme other than very fine performances of twentieth-century music – and the fact that two of the composers died in 1937, by pure coincidence – but I’m certainly not complaining.

Pierre Monteux on Eloquence

Australian Decca have recently added to their already tempting reissues of recordings which Pierre Monteux made for Decca and Philips.  The new albums are:

4808907: TCHAIKOVSKY Swan Lake, Op.20 (extended excerpts) [58:40] recorded with Hugh Maguire (violin) and the London Symphony Orchestra and first released by Philips in 1963 – from Presto (CD and download) or download from 7digital.com (mp3 and lossless).  An enjoyable hour’s listening if you don’t want the whole ballet.  Stream from Qobuz.

None of the downloads of this reissue are worth considering other than in mp3: all lossless downloads cost more than the CD, even from Presto (CD £7.75; lossless download £7.93).  The 7digital mp3 (£5.99) is marginally less expensive than the Presto but the lossless is over-priced: choose the Presto lossless.  There seems no rhyme or reason for the pricing of the downloads of these reissues: at £8.18 Qobuz are only marginally more expensive than Presto in the Tchaikovsky but for some of the others, at £11.56 they are well over the top.

4808903: STRAVINSKY Petrushka (1911) [34:55] and Le Sacre du Printemps [32:57] with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra and Julius Katchen (piano) in Petrushka, both works of which Monteux conducted the premieres.  (Formerly Decca 440064-2).  [67:52] This recording of Petrushka was made in 1956, the Rite of Spring around the same time, the last of five recordings which Monteux made and the only one in stereo.  He re-recorded Petrushka in Boston for RCA three years later.  The Rite may lack the sheer power and precision of Doráti in Minneapolis (Mercury, with 1947 Petrushka – download or Presto CD) or Stravinsky himself with the Columbia Orchestra (Sony: 3-CD set or download) but it’s still well worth hearing. 

The recording is rather brightly lit, especially in Petrushka.  No download that I can find, even in mp3, costs less than the £7.75 or so that you should expect to pay for the CD.

4804726: HAYDN Symphonies Nos. 94 (Surprise) [20:59] and 101 (Clock) [26:01] rec.1959 with Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
BRAHMS St Anthony Variations rec.1958 with London Symphony Orchestra [17:03].  [Total: 64:03]  Review of earlier reissue.

The Brahms was originally coupled with Monteux’s classic recording of Elgar’s Enigma Variations* – still my benchmark for that work, with the Brahms not far behind, while the Haydn recordings are both well worth hearing.  The CD is available for £7.75 from Presto but their download price, even for mp3, is more expensive.  The 7digital.com mp3 at £7.49 costs marginally less, but their lossless is an unfeasible £11.99.

* now coupled with the equally classic Monteux Dvořák Symphony No.7 on 4805019.  The reissue on Beulah 1BX181February 2012/2 – seems not currently to be available; I hope it will return soon as part of an album.  The earlier Decca coupling of Enigma with Herbert von Karajan’s Holst Planets is available to stream from Qobuz and to download for £5.19.

4808905: SCHUBERT Symphony No.8 (Unfinished, with Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra); Rosamunde (excerpts, with Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra).  CD only, from Presto: no download in UK.

4808890: RAVEL Boléro; la Valse; Ma Mère l’Oye; Pavane pour une infant défunte and Rapsodie Espagnole with London Symphony Orchestra.  CD from Presto – no UK download.  If anything, Monteux’s Ravel is even more enticing than his Debussy.

Some earlier Monteux releases from Eloquence include:

4768472: DEBUSSY Prélude à l’après-midi d’un Faune; Nocturnes (Nuages and Fêtes only); Images (Gigues, Ibéria and Rondes de Printemps) with the LSO [57:26]. 

This is the inexpensive download version, available for £3.97 (mp3) or £4.96 (lossless) from Presto.  On CD it’s superseded by a more generous coupling, with a different cover, on 4806757, adding Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien – not available to download.  Whichever coupling you choose, these are beautifully idiomatic performances in recording which still sound very well.

The fragments from Saint Sébastien were originally included on another Eloquence release which included Berceuse Héroïque, Marche Écossaise, Première Rapsodie, Jeux and Danse sacrée et Danse profane, the other performances coming from Eduard van Beinum and Bernard Haitink [68:51].  Mp3 £5.49 from 7digital.com; lossless £7.27 from Qobuz.  Haitink’s Jeux is especially desirable but it’s an even better bargain on a 2-for-1 Decca Duo with other music by Debussy conducted by him (4387422).  NB: I presume and trust that the fault which I noted in DL News 2014/12 has been repaired.

Late News in Brief

While preparing these reviews for html I’ve been listening to two forthcoming releases which have earned my attention:

The penultimate release in The Cardinall’s Musick recordings of the music of Thomas Tallis includes the two sets of Lamentations, the ‘Dorian’ setting of Holy Communion and the Te Deum for means.  The singing, Andrew Carwood’s direction and the recording all challenge existing recommendations from The Tallis Scholars, The Sixteen and Chapelle du Roi to the extent that this will be a Recording of the Month in 2016/6.  (Hyperion CDA68121).

Almost as good – perhaps another ROM: I haven’t quite decided – is a recording of Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, Apollon Musagète and Concerto in D for string orchestra performed surprisingly by the Tapiola Sinfonietta and Masaaki Suzuki, here bringing his sure touch in Bach to bear with great effect on music from Stravinsky’s neo-classical period.  (BIS BIS-SACD-2211).



 



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