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DOWNLOAD NEWS 2016/4
By Brian Wilson

DL News 2016/3 is here and the Index of earlier editions is here.

I apologise for the inclusion of several longer than usual reviews. Mostly they were originally intended for the main MusicWeb pages but somehow never got completed and I’ve only now caught up with them, too late to go where they were intended.

Index 2016/4:

ARNE Symphonies – Chandos
Concertos – Hyperion
Dr Arne at Vauxhall – Hyperion
BACH Concerto for two violins (+ VIVALDI) – Alto
BALAKIREV Russia: see RACHMANINOV
BERTALI La Maddalena – Ricercar
Missa Resurrectionis – Rezound
BRUCH Works for Violin and Orchestra – BIS_Chandos
CARESANA Neapolitan Tenebræ (+ VENEZIANI) – Glossa
DEBUSSY Chamber Music – Arcana
DVOŘÁK Violin Concerto; Romance (+ SUK) – Ondine
ELGAR Introduction and Allegro; Serenade, etc (+ VAUGHAN WILLIAMS) – Decca
FERRANDINI Al Santo Sepolcro – Fra Bernardo
FINZI Introit; Eclogue, etc. – Decca
HANDEL Fireworks Music; Concerti a due cori – Arcana
Handel at Vauxhall Volume 1 – Signum
HOMILIUS Der Messias – CPO
HEBDEN Concertos – Chandos
IBERT Escales, Divertissement, etc – Chandos
LUPUS Cantus coagulatus – Musiques Suisses
MESSIAEN L’Ascension, etc. – Naxos
NOTKER Sacred Music – Christophorus
RACHMANINOV Symphony (+ BALAKIREV Russia) – LSO Live
RUBBRA Symphony No.5 (+ SIBELIUS) – Beulah
SANCES Stabat Mater, etc. – Mirare
SCHUBERT Die schöne Müllerin – DG, Warner, etc.
SELLE Easter Music – CPO
SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concertos_Chandos
SIBELIUS Edition – Volume 8: Orchestral Works – BIS
Pelléas et Mélisande etc. – Naxos
Symphony No.5 – Beulah
SUK Fantasy (see DVOŘÁK)
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
The Lark Ascending; Tallis Fantasia (+ ELGAR) – Decca
VENEZIANI see CARESANA
VIVALDI Violin Concertos (+ BACH) – Alto
WORTHINGTON Dream Vapors – Navona

BAX, BLISS, DYSON, VEALE: British Violin Concertos – Chandos
Hæc Dies: Music for Easter – Harmonia Mundi
Poème – The Artistry of Lydia Mordkovich – Chandos
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV, RACHMANINOV, GLAZUNOV: Russian Masters Volume 8 – Beulah

***

Manfred Barbarini LUPUS (fl.c.1560)
Cantus coagulatus – four-part compositions for Mass and Office of St Gall (c.1562-64)
In festo Sancti Galli – Ad vesperas (for Vespers): Deus in adiutorium; Hymn: Vita sanctorum; Antiphon and Magnificat [12:95]
Ad missam (Mass) [42:84]
In festo Sancti Othmari: Fidelis servus [7:31]
In festo Beati Notkeri: Hymn: Rector eterni; Sequentia Sancti Spiritus (Sequence of the Holy Spirit) [11:07]
Ensemble Ordo Virtutum [Jan Börner (cantus), David Feldman (alto), David Munderloh (tenor), Sebastián León (bass); Hubert Mayer, Johannes Mayer, Stefan Morent, Jörg Rieger (choir); Roland Götz (organ), Irene Götz, Samuel Schick, Stefan Morent (bellows)]/Stefan Johannes Morent
rec. 2015
MUSIQUES SUISSES MGB CD6286 [77:06] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, NO booklet).

The download from eclassical.com and the streamed version from Naxos Music Library come without the booklet, though the latter provides the back cover of the CD. Between them and the Musiques Suisses website I’ve been able to patch together the information above. You can also find a short sample by following the Musiques Suisses link and there are more samples on Ordo Virtutum’s website (in German).

If you know and like the music of the Franco-Flemish school of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, such as that of Josquin des Prés and Orlandus Lassus, you should feel at home with the music which Lupus was composing in a seemingly old-fashioned style at a rather later date for the abbey of St Gall or Gallen in Switzerland. As the Musiques Suisses website puts it, ‘[T]he style of the [music] was not a result of ignorance, but a conscious decision [made] in the context of the tensions between the monastery’s own long traditions, the compositional innovations of the 16th century, and the endeavours of the humanists and the Counter-Reformation in the context of the Council of Trent’.

The music is preserved in two handsome manuscripts: Cod. Sang. 542 and 543. The selection here, made in association with a concert in the Cathedral of Sankt Gallen, comes from Vespers of the abbey’s founder, the Irish hermit St Gall, with extra pieces for the feast of St Othmar (first abbot of St Gall) and the Blessed Notker – usually identified with the composer and writer Notker Balbulus (below). The Vespers Magnificat is sung alternatim, a well-established tradition in which one verse is sung in chant and the next in a very simple polyphony.

The combination of chant and polyphony in the preceding hymn Vita sanctorum is also not unusual for the time: Robert White, for example, did the same with his setting of the evening hymn Christe qui lux es. (New recording from Jesus College, Cambridge, included in The Evening Hour, choral music from the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, Signum SIGCD446).

Less usual but not unprecedented is the fact that some of the clauses in the Gloria and Credo are not sung but played instrumentally, with the words ‘imagined’ – as in other ‘organ masses’ – hence, presumably the title Cantus coagulatus. If you look up coagulatus in a Latin dictionary you’ll find that the primary meaning is ‘curdled’ but presumably here it covers the combination of chant, polyphony and organ verses. The music is well worth investigating and it receives splendid performances: scholarly and beautiful, and very well recorded. Only the lack of documentation is annoying, especially if your Latin is rusty – eclassical.com just give the incipit of each piece. Only Amazon seem to stock the CD in the UK.

Several centuries before Lupus a composer by the name of Notker Balbulus (‘Notker the stammerer’) or Notker of St Gall (c.840-912) composed music for St Gallen and Ordo Virtutum have also recorded a selection of his sequences, tropes and chant for the Christophorus label (CHR77431). Stream (for subscribers) or download, with pdf booklet, from classicsonlinehd.com.

Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669)
La Maddalena (Vienna, 1663) prefaced by
Claudio MONTEVERDI, Alessandro GUIVIZZANI, Muzio EFFREM and Salomone ROSSI Musiche Composte per La Maddalena (Mantova, 1617) and Antonio BERTALI Sonata 3 à 3
and concluded with Domenico MAZZOCCHI Lagrime amare
Deborah Cachet, Alice Foccroulle (sopranos); Luciana Mancini (mezzo); Reinoud van Mechelen, Dávid Szigedvári (tenors); Nicolas Achten (baritone); Sönke Tams Freier (bass);
Scherzi Musicali/Nicolas Achten
rec. Provinciaal Museum Begijnhofkerk Sint-Truiden, 26-28 February 2015. DDD
Texts and translations included
RICERCAR RIC367 [67:42] – from Qobuz: stream (subscribers) or download (16– and 24-bit) all with pdf booklet.

Antonio BERTALI Missa Resurrectionis (ed. Brian Clark): Easter Sunday in Imperial Vienna, 1666, with music by Johann Jakob FROBERGER (1616-1667), Christian GEIST (c.1650? 1670?-1711) and Pavel Josef VEJVANOVSKY (c.1640-1693)
Spiritus Collective; Ilya Poletaev (organ)
Yale Collegium Players/Robert Mealy
Yale Schola Cantorum/Simon Carrington
rec. live St. Mary's Church, New Haven, Connecticut, 4-5 December, 2005, and St. Michael’s Church, New York City, 6 December, 2005. DDD
World premiere recording
Texts and translations included.
REZOUND RZCD5013 [54:03] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, NO booklet). Booklet available from Naxos Music Library for subscribers.

These two recordings of music principally by Bertali make a good pairing: La Maddalena was composed for performance during Holy Week and the Mass for Easter Sunday.

Eclassical.com also offer instrumental music by Bertali and Johann Schmelzer as adjuncts to Giovanni Felice Sances’ setting of Stabat Mater, an anonymous Salve Regina, Marco Antonio Ziani’s Alma Redemptoris Mater and Bertali’s entrada for Regina Cœli, performed by the Ricercar Consort and Philippe Pierlot (Mirare MIR050, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet). At $15.27, that’s slightly more expensive for UK purchasers than Qobuz’ £8.49, also with booklet – stream (for subscribers).

Tenebræ : Neapolitan music for the Holy Week
Cristofaro CARESANA (c.1640-1709)
Lectio III del Giovedi Santo (Third Reading for Maundy Thursday, 1686) [9:35]
Lectio III del Venerdi Santo (Third reading for Good Friday, 1686) [7:26]
Giuseppe Antonio AVITRANO (c.1670-1760)
Sonata VI a3 for violin and continuo ‘La Carafa’ (1713) [10:43]
Gaetano VENEZIANO (1665-1716)
Lectio I del Primo Notturno del Mercoledi Santo (First Reading of the First Nocturne for Wednesday in Holy Week, 1690s) [13:36]
Sinfonia a7 [3:14]
Lectio III del Primo Notturno (Third Reading of the First Nocturne, 1690s) [19:36]
Valentina Varriale (soprano)
I Turchini [Alessandro Ciccolini, Patrizio Focardi, Paolo Cantamessa (first violins); Marco Piantoni, Nunzia Sorrentino, Massimo Percivaldi (second violins); Rosario Di Meglio (viola); Rebecca Ferri (cello); Giorgio Sanvito (double bass); Patrizia Varone (organ)]/Antonio Florio
rec. Sala del Vasari, Chiesa di S Anna dei Lombardi, Naples, October 2010. DDD.
GLOSSA GCD922602 [64:19] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, NO booklet); subscribers stream from Naxos Music Library (with pdf booklet containing texts and translations)

Tenebræ are – or were – the lessons or readings from the Lamentations of Jeremiah prescribed in the Roman rite for Matins during the latter part of Holy Week.  The readings are divided into three sections or nocturnes, with accompanying psalms and canticles.  Until the reforms of the 1950s they were sung in anticipation on the preceding evening in a nearly-darkened church with a pyramid of candles extinguished one by one until only one was left signifying Christ the Light in the darkness (Latin tenebræ = darkness).  Thus what is described as for Wednesday was actually Matins of Maundy Thursday, etc.

Settings with female soloists were popular in France and Italy, with the public flocking to hear them.  These are less well known than and less dramatic than their almost operatic seventeenth-century French counterparts, but the settings here are all very beautiful.  They are beautifully sung, with excellent instrumental support and crystal clear recording.  The notes in the booklet are scholarly and readable.

The eclassical.com download is marginally less expensive than that from classicsonlinehd.com but comes without a booklet.  The Latin text of Lamentations is readily available online but subscribers to Naxos Music Library will find the booklet there and classicsonlinehd.com also offer the liner notes for streaming (by subscribers) or for purchase as a download.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for two violins in d minor, BWV1043 [16:52]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto for two violins in g minor RV517 [9:12]
Concerto for two violins and strings in D, RV512 [8:57]
Concerto in c minor for two violins RV509 [9:51]
Concerto in d minor for two violins RV514 [10:46]
Concerto in a minor, Op3/8 (Con violino principale con altro per eco in lontano), RV522 [12:12]
David Oistrakh (violin); Igor Oistrakh (violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Eugene Goossens (Bach), David Oistrakh (Vivaldi Op.3/8)
David Oistrakh (violin); Isaac Stern (violin)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy (remaining Vivaldi)
rec. 1961. ADD/stereo
MUSICAL CONCEPTS ALTO ALC1299 [68:11] – subscribers stream from Qobuz, NO booklet, but NB download more expensive than CD from Presto.

These are old friends indeed – both the Bach and Vivaldi date from 1961 – and, as usual, the question arises as to whether they can stand the test of time. In fact they can and do to a much greater extent than I had anticipated.

The Bach was recorded by DG and remains available on that label, with the two Bach solo violin concertos, Beethoven’s Romances 1 and 2 and the Brahms and Tchaikovsky violin concertos, with the RPO in Beethoven, as in the Bach Double Concerto, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the Staatskapelle Dresden, with Franz Konwitschny at the helm of the two last named. (Originals 4474272, 2 CDs, mid-price). The Bach Double Concerto is also available on mid-price DG Galleria E4198552, coupled with earlier recordings of the two solo concertos which David Oistrakh made with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, as on the Regis CD listed below.

There is another budget-price release in contention, from Regis, of the three Bach concertos with two versions of Vivaldi’s Op.3/8, one with Igor Oistrakh, as here, and the other with Isaac Stern. Rather oddly, the Regis publicity material describes Igor as David’s father: the boot is on the other foot, of course. (RRC1408). Despite the apparent overlap, only the Oistrakhs’ Vivaldi Op.3/8 is common to both recordings – full details and review.

The 1961 DG recordings reproduced on Alto are superior in sound to the older Dresden versions on Regis. Even the Berlin Classics reissue of these sounds muffled by comparison – as streamed from Qobuz, but don’t download there: the CD costs less – though, as it was presumably made from the master tapes, it should be preferable to the Regis transfer and the Alto to both. 

In both versions of the opening movement of BWV1043 there were times when I wanted to move the music along: at 4:11 (Alto) or 4:15 (Berlin Classics) the overall time is noticeably slower than most period-instrument recordings, but the chief problem lies in the fact that sometimes the playing seems to fall behind the beat. I’m sure it’s an illusion, but the impression does somewhat offset the beauty of the two soloists’ playing and the fact that it occurs on both recordings suggests that it can’t be laid at the door of Eugene Goossens or Franz Konwitschny.

The slow movement, too, takes longer than we now expect – 7:26 and 7:49 respectively, as against 5:59 from Rachel Podger with Brecon Baroque on Challenge Classics or 6:44 from Ryo Terakado and Masaaki Suzuki (BIS). There’s a big but here, however: though I enjoyed the two period recordings and another from Giuliano Carmignola and Mayumi Hirasaki with Concerto Köln (DG), I was so moved by the two Oistrakh versions that I wanted to sing or hum along. The soloists’ parts may not be marked cantabile, but there’s a marked resemblance to Handel’s Ombra mai fù, though it’s most improbable that Bach ever heard that aria. Heifetz pushes the music along in this movement, equalling Podger’s 5:59.  Known as a speed merchant, he presses the first movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto in such a way as to make this my benchmark version, but the Oistrakhs really persuade me with their slower tempo in Bach. If you do find their tempo too slow, I suggest sampling or streaming the classic Arthur Grumiaux recording of the two solo concertos, the Double Concerto with Herman Krebbers, and BWV1060 from Qobuz, though I don’t recommend downloading from there for more than the cost of the mid-price CD (Decca 4207002).

Similarly, while the Carmignola/Hirasaki account of the finale is exciting (4:32) I also enjoyed the Oistrakhs’ more leisurely 5:15 on Alto.

This same recording of the Bach Double Violin Concerto is available in a transfer by Beulah for a recent anthology entitled Violin Greats (2PDR12) – Download News 2015/7. There it’s coupled with David Oistrakh as soloist and conductor in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.3 and in Beethoven’s Romance No.1, recorded with the RPO and Eugene Goossens at the same time as the Bach, together with music by Saint-Saëns and Tchaikovsky. The Alto CD is a little less expensive at around £6 – the Beulah can be downloaded for £7.99 – but otherwise the choice can safely be left to the coupling: I enjoyed both. The Beulah transfer is a little fuller but there’s not much difference.

The Vivaldi recordings, apart from Op.3/8, were made by CBS/Columbia, and they remain available at lower-mid-price on Sony Classical Originals 88697689612, coupled with The Four Seasons from around the same period, hardly one of the great recordings of that work – significantly, it first appeared on LP on the budget Fontana label (Ansel Brusilow, violin).

Isaac Stern and Eugene Ormandy don’t look, on the face of it, like natural Vivaldians, but the two had already recorded Op.3/8 on an earlier occasion, in 1955, when they and Oistrakh happened to be in the recording studio with time to spare after CBS had recorded Oistrakh in Mendelssohn, Mozart and Bach, released in the UK on Philips ABL3138. That recording used the Franko concoction of Op.3/8, inserting a movement from Bach’s solo transcription of this work, which rightly annoyed Lucy Jeffery in reviewing the Regis reissue. It now seems as irrelevant as Grützmacher’s meddling with the best-known Boccherini Cello Concerto, despite Jacqueline du Pré’s inexplicable decision to use that corrupt text. (The Very Best of Jacqueline du Pré, Warner/EMI 5865972, 3 CDs at super-budget price).

Wisely, I think, it’s the Oistrakh père et fils recording of Op.3/8 which Alto have opted for to round off the new CD. It’s not necessary to turn to recent period-instrument performances to note that the tempi here are slow, especially the slow movement at 4:22 as against 3:11 from Neville Marriner and his Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields on what remains in many respects my favourite recording of Op.3, a two-for-one Decca Duo set exemplifying Marriner’s attractive compromise between period practice and modern instruments (E4434762).

The other four Vivaldi concertos were first released in 1961 on Fontana SCFL1070, when they cost over £2 – at least £50 in today’s values – for an LP playing for not much more than half the time of the new Alto CD which sells for around £6. The harpsichordist, William R Smith, received a special mention, as he did again on the 1975 mid-price LP reissue from which I first came across them.

The solo performances are as brilliant as you might expect from two such luminaries and there remains more to enjoy here than I had expected. The playing of the Philadelphia is somewhat too plush for modern tastes and the tempi rather relentless and unvaried but the recording quality is better than I recall from the CBS reissue though no mention is made of its having been licensed, so I presume that it’s taken from LP rather than tape masters. Inevitably, with US recordings of this period, the soloists are placed too far forward and there’s a hint of strain on the top notes, perhaps redolent of transfer from LP – I recall a Shure M97 cartridge having some problems with the rather glassy top of this record – but the surface noise which I recall from the CBS reissue has been tamed. The Sony transfer, as streamed from Qobuz, is slightly less bright and with a rather more secure top line but there’s very little in it.

The booklet gives us a great deal of biographical information about the soloists, rather less about the composers and very little about the music. It also leads the reader to believe that Eugene Goossens conducted all the RPO recordings whereas I believe that David Oistrakh directed them in the Vivaldi Op.3/8.

Small reservations apart, unless you prefer the coupling on the Beulah reissue of the Oistrakhs in the Bach Double Concerto there’s a great deal to enjoy here at the attractive budget price.

Handel at Vauxhall Volume 1
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Acis and Galatea, HWV49: Sinfonia [3:36]
Daniel MOULT (b.1973) Organ Improvisation in the style of John Worgan and Handel [0:59]
George Frideric HANDEL Organ Concerto Op.4/2 in B flat, HWV290 [9:40]
Acis and Galatea, HWV49: Ye verdant plains [0:42] – Hush, ye pretty warbling choir! [5:43]
Thomas ARNE (1710-1778) Colin and Phoebe: A Pastoral – Be still, O ye winds [3:34]
George Frideric HANDEL Saul, HWV 53: Dead March [3:06]
The Advice [2:10]
The Melancholy Nymph, HWV228/19 [3:35]
John HEBDEN (c.1712-1765) Concerto for Strings and Basso Continuo No.1 in A [9:00]
George Frideric HANDEL L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, HWV55: As steals the morn upon the night 6:12]
Eleanor Dennis (soprano), Kirsty Hopkins (soprano), Sophie Bevan (soprano), Greg Tassell (tenor), Charles MacDougall (tenor), Benjamin Bevan (baritone)
Daniel Moult (organ)
London Early Opera/Bridget Cunningham
rec. May 2012, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London. DDD
texts included
SIGNUM SIGCD428 [48:17] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet)

This is the second of a planned series of six recordings by London Early Opera; I reviewed the first, Handel in Italy I (SIGCD423) in 2015/8.  The chief raison d’être of the earlier release was an alternative recording of the long-lost Gloria which is worth mentioning in the same context as Emma Kirby’s for BIS.  There’s nothing of comparable special significance on the new album but it’s all very enjoyable – a reconstruction of the kind of concert which might have been heard at London’s Vauxhall Gardens in which Handel’s music is interspersed with works by Arne and Hebden – the only generally available recording of both – and a brief improvisation in period style by the organist Daniel Moult whose performance of the Handel Op.4/2 makes me hope to hear more from him.

The performances and recording are as good as on the earlier release and the booklet, containing a detailed essay on Vauxhall Gardens by David Coke and notes on the music by Bridget Cunningham, is not the least of the virtues of this second volume.

The Chandos recording of Hebden’s six Concertos for strings and continuo remains available only from their Archive service or as a download from theclassicsalshop.net.  (CHAN8339 – rec. 1982 [55:54] mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).  The performances of this lively music from Cantilena directed by Adrian Shepherd are good, though ensemble is less perfect than on the new Signum recording.

Cantilena on Chandos also offer the only available recording of Arne’s four Symphonies (CHAN8403 – rec. 1984 [43:46] – from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).  The performances could do with more of a spring in their step but it’s not a major problem and they are all that we have faute de mieux.

Best of all these recordings of Arne is Dr Arne at Vauxhall Gardens, a delightful recital of music which would have been performed there, sung by Emma Kirkby and Richard Morton with the Parley of Instruments and Roy Goodman (Hyperion CDA66237 – rec. [52:25] – from hyperion-records.co.uk, mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet containing texts).  It’s an ideal follow-up to the Signum recording and it can be downloaded for just £6.99.  I need hardly report that the singing and support are first-rate.

The Hyperion Helios recording of Six Favourite Concertos by Arne has risen in price since I recommended it alongside the Vauxhall recording in my review of the Hyperion recording of Artaxerxes: it’s now £7.99 rather than £5.99 but still a desirable purchase.  Paul Nicholson directs the Parley of Instruments from a variety of keyboard instruments – harpsichord, virginals, organ and fortepiano.  (CDH55251 – from hyperion-records.co.uk, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).

At 48 minutes Handel at Vauxhall I is a short-value release but Hyperion make up for that with a price of just £5.99 (mp3 and 16-bit) or £9.00 (24-bit).  That’s slightly less generous than for SIGCD423 (£4.99 and £7.50 respectively) but still excellent value.  Qobuz are charging £7.99 for 16-bit only and without the booklet which Hyperion provide, but subscribers can stream from there.

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
The Musick for the Royal Fireworks, HWV351 (1749) [21:20]
Concerto a due cori No.3 in F, HWV334 (1747/8) [16:54]
Concerto a due cori No.1 in B flat, HWV332 (1747/8) [13:58]
Concerto a due cori No.2 in F, HWV333 (1747/8) [15:38]
Zefiro Baroque Orchestra/Alfredo Bernardini
a = 415Hz
rec. cloister of the Jesuit College, Catania (Italy), 14-17 August 2006. DDD.
Reissue of Deutsche Harmonia Mundi recording released in 2008.
ARCANA A386 [68:57] – subscribers stream from Qobuz; download for £7.99, with pdf booklet

I was rather perfunctory in dealing with this in 2015/9, even allowing for the link to Ralph Moore’s review.  Now I’ve over-compensated and written too much.

Comparative versions – Royal Fireworks (all with Water Music):

DG Archiv Originals E4777562 (mid-price) or DG Archiv Duo 4779987 (2 budget-price CDs) or 4791932 (complete Handel Orchestral Music, 11 CDs): English Concert/Trevor Pinnock – review of earlier release).  The 2-disc set adds some valuable lesser-known Handel.

Decca E4557092 (budget-price 2-CD set) or 4786753 (50-CD budget-price set) Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood in Baroque Era (Bargain of the Month – and Part 1 as download from 7digital.com)1

Hyperion Helios CDH55375 (budget-price) King’s Consort/Robert King – review and DL News April 2012/1.

Naxos 8.557764 (budget price) Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon.  Something of a ‘rogue’ entry, combining period instruments, like the Hyperion, with some superfluous percussion.  Hugely enjoyable and my bargain recommendation along with the Hyperion.

CPO 7773122 L’Arte del’Arco/Federico Guglielmo.  This version even enticed Margarida Mota-Bull, a self-professed non-Handelian – review.  Though the physical product is a hybrid SACD, disappointingly there’s no 24-bit download: mp3 or 16-bit lossless with pdf booklet from eclassical.com.

Glossa GCDSA921616 Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet.  Well worth considering, though the SACD has reverted to full-price status.  The mid-price version (GCD921606DL Roundup April 2012/1) is now download only – £7.99 in lossless sound from classicsonlinehd.com, but no booklet.  Very lively performances but Niquet’s natural horns are not the easiest on the ear.

The first recording of the Royal Fireworks that I got to know was from Jean François Paillard and his Chamber Orchestra on World Record Club ST270 2, coupled as on the Arcana reissue with two of the Concerti a due cori, a decent version by which to get to know the music, but I also fell even more under the spell of Charles Mackerras’s classic 1959 Pye recording, also with one of the Concerti a due cori and still available on Testament SBT1253 and in part (finale only) on The Gift of Music CCLCDG1053.  This is not to be confused with his later EMI recording, until recently available as part of a budget twofer and still available for download – review – sample/stream from Qobuz.

Try the Overture from the Paillard and EMI/Mackerras recordings and then the Bernardini reissue, Hogwood, Pinnock and King and the difference in liveliness between the two former and four latter is immediately apparent.  It’s not just the faster tempi on the period-instrument performances.  In fact Paillard is actually slightly faster than Bernardini, who gets off to a rather deliberate start here but matters very soon improve and this is one of the liveliest versions without resorting to breakneck tempi.

Though it’s a reissue, the Arcana recording remains at full price, so the choice of bargain version rests between King and Mallon.  I regularly play both and I really can’t help you to decide between them except to note that Mallon’s superfluous instrumentation in places may annoy some listeners.

The difference between Bernardini and most of the other versions listed is his inclusion of the three Concerti a due cori as coupling – not only making it useful if you already have a favourite Water Music but offering the chance to hear music which, while largely cobbled together from Handel’s own works – some of the ‘borowings’ glaringly obvious – makes sense in its own right.  There are not too many recordings of these and I can recommend from experience  two complete versions, from Marriner and Hogwood, both well worth having:

ASMF/Neville Marriner on Australian Decca Eloquence 4801388 or Decca Collectors Edition 4583332, 11 CDs, download only, well worth having in either format, especially if you prefer modern instruments, albeit played with a sense of period style.

AAM/Christopher Hogwood (on the 2-CD set).

Bach Collegium Musicum Leipzig/Max Pommer offer a much heavier-sounding recording of the three Concerti a due cori with no coupling (Berlin Classics, download only).

Trevor Pinnock performs Nos. 2 and 3 only as part of the 11-CD set or with his recording of the Coronation Anthems (DG 4472802).

Otherwise your choice between Marriner and Bernardini can safely be made on the basis of the coupling.  Chosen tempi are very similar, with Marriner a little faster in places and often sounding livelier than the timings indicate, as in the second movement of HWV332, cribbed from ‘And the glory of the Lord’ (Messiah), where Bernardini’s dancing allegro non troppo, though mere seconds slower than Marriner’s, actually sounds noticeably more deliberate.  Marriner’s idea of divine glory is sparkling and dancing, Bernardini’s more grandiose and sedate, though not stodgy.  Hogwood, again at much the same timing on paper, achieves what you may consider the ideal balance. Though the sound of the Bach Collegium Musicum (Berlin Classics) is heavier and not recommendable overall, Max Pommer coaxes them to trip the light fantastic in this movement.

All the versions which I have listed are well recorded, not least the new Arcana.  The Outhere mp3 press preview and the streamed version from Qobuz sound well enough for me to be confident in recommending the CD.  The booklet is helpful and informative.

In summary: if you are looking for the standard coupling of Fireworks and Water Music, there are two outstanding bargains on Hyperion and Naxos and the 2-CD Pinnock or Hogwood sets.  Niquet and Guglielmo offer very lively performances at full price if you need SACD sound. 

Those with a favourite version of the Water Music who either don’t have the Fireworks or don’t mind duplicating that work should be happy with the Arcana reissue, where they will also obtain fine recordings of the derivative but very enjoyable Concerti a due cori.  If you choose the Arcana, Zefiro and Bernardini also perform the Water Music with Telemann’s ‘Water Music’ (Hamburger Ebb und Flut) on Naïve/Ambroisie.  (AM901327: not available on CD in UK, stream/download from classicsonlinehd.com).

1 Still a very worthwhile bargain despite price increase since my review.

2 Available inexpensively from BnF – sample/stream/download for £3.99 from Qobuz

Giovanni Battista FERRANDINI (1709-1791) Al Santo Sepolcro
Il pianto di Maria Vergine: Cantata sacra da cantarsi dinanzi al Santo Sepolcro (The lament of the Virgin Mary) [27:12]
O spettacolo pur troppo funesto: Cantata sacra [27:54]
Roberta Invernizzi (soprano)
L’Opera Stravagante, Gambe di Legno
rec. Chiesa di S. Croce Di Campese, 12-13 August 2008. DDD
FRA BERNARDO FB1401231 [55:06] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, NO booklet).  Booklet with texts and translations available from Naxos Music Library for subscribers.  Subscribers stream from Qobuz.

If you bought the Decca Baroque Era 50-CD set or the 25-CD Volume 2 from that set – the latter no longer available – you already have the recording of Il pianto with Bernarda Fink as soloist and Il Giardino Armonico.  Volume 2 is no longer available separately and the CD containing the Ferrandini is now download or for streaming only: at £11.56 the Qobuz download is rather expensive and there’s no booklet.

Like Bertali’s La Maddalena (above) the music was composed to be sung in Holy Week before the symbolic sepulchre of Jesus where the reserved sacrament would be ‘buried’ from Good Friday until the Easter vigil Mass.  It’s as beautiful and moving as Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, like which it contemplates the grief of Mary at her Son’s suffering.  The Decca recording is excellent but, if anything, Roberta Invernizzi outdoes even Fink and she is very well supported and recorded. 

Whereas the earlier recording adds music by other composers, Fra Bernardo couple the work with another cantata on the theme of Christ’s Passion.  All the download providers treat this as the conclusion of Il pianto, tracks 10-13, but it’s actually a separate work.

The eclassical.com download is the least expensive available ($9.92) but it comes without booklet.  The Qobuz and classicsonlinehd.com downloads are slightly more expensive (£7.99 each); the Qobuz comes with the booklet of texts and translations, which can also be obtained from Naxos Music Library.

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Die schöne Müllerin, D795

Reviewing a recent less than ideal recording of Die schöne Müllerin on Sheva led me to think about my favourite versions from the vast choice on offer.  Chief among these has to be Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s 1972 recording with Gerald Moore, available in an inexpensive 3-CD set with Winterreise and Schwanengesang (4777956) or separately (E4151862).  The 3-CD set can be obtained for around £16 or $22 and I haven’t been able to find a download, even in mp3, for less than £15.99* so I guess it has to be the box set.  That’s a purchase that no lover of Schubert is likely to regret – from Amazon UKPrestoArkivMusic**.

Fischer Dieskau’s 1951 and 1962 recordings, also with Gerald Moore, are available at budget price – again, you’re unlikely to find a download for less than the £5.50 or so that they cost. 

Regis RRC1383, super-budget price, rec. 1951 – review

Alto ALC1207, super-budget price, rec. 1962: with Wanderers Nachtlied, etc. – review

The 1962 also comes on Warner Masters 0852092, mid-price, rec. 1962 – review of earlier EMI GROC release.  Here, too, with the CD available for around £8 or less, it seems illogical that the least expensive download that I have found costs £7.49 (mp3) or £8.99 (CD quality), again without texts.

Subscribers to Qobuz will find their download prices uncompetitive but can stream and enjoy the 3-CD set here, the single DG here, the Alto here and the Warner here.  No texts with any.

There’s another very fine baritone recording: Christopher Maltman and Graham Johnson, recorded live at the Wigmore Hall in December 2010 (WHLIVE0044 ).  John Quinn liked this very much – review.  Here again, however, it has to be the CD: the Qobuz stream to which I listened is marred by some very intrusive bumps and bangs which makes me suspicious that all downloads may be equally afflicted.  The Naxos Music Library version seems free of these and comes with the booklet but their partners at classicsonlinehd.com don’t offer it as a download. 

Maltman moulds and tempers his voice to the music and he’s most sensitively accompanied, as one would expect with Johnson at the keyboard.  The presence of the latter is one reason for  the success of the Hyperion Schubert Edition, not least of their recording of Die Schöne Müllerin, with Ian Bostridge as soloist, available at mid-price on CDA30020, with Fischer-Dieskau reading those poems from the cycle which Schubert didn’t set – see Download News October 2010

There are several other very fine tenor recordings: Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch (Decca – stream from Qobuz with booklet, but their download is over-priced), James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook (Orchid – review review: stream from Qobuz, no booklet), Christoph Prégardien and Michael Gees (Challenge Classics – review: stream from Qobuz, no booklet).   Most of the downloads on offer are over-priced and/or come without the booklet: the Hyperion, with texts, would be my overall download recommendation except that it costs £8.99 when you can purchase the CD direct from Hyperion for £5.

* £14.99 from Amazon but at less than full bit-rate and without texts.

** The same recordings in a limited edition with a different catalogue number and cover.

Max BRUCH (1838-1920) Works for Violin and Orchestra
Violin Concerto No.2 in d minor, Op.44 (1877) [26:30]
In Memoriam, Op.65 (1893) [13:40]
Konzertstück, Op.84 (1910) [18:21]
Ulf Wallin (violin)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Okko Kamu
rec. Jesus-Christus Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem, May 2014. DSD.
BIS BIS-SACD -2069 [59:41] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet).  Reviewed from SACD – see also review by Michael Cookson.

Max Bruch never quite repeated the success of his well-known Violin Concerto No.1, though he came close with the Scottish Fantasy which I must admit to enjoying for a good wallow.  The works on this new recording don’t challenge either in terms of instant appeal but they have had their advocates, some of them persuasive.  The oldest of these, from Salvatore Accardo, with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Kurt Masur, offers Bruch’s three Violin Concertos, the Scottish Fantasy and the Serenade in a minor at budget-price (Decca Duo 4621672, 2 CDs).

A recent CPO release coupled Violin Concerto No.2 with the Scottish Fantasy: David Barker and I reviewed that separately in Download News 2015/7 and that’s a strong recommendation.  I also mentioned in the same DL News the recent Chandos reissue of Lydia Mordkovitch’s recordings of Nos. 2 and 3, with Richard Hickox (CHAN10865X).  I like that but David Barker had more reservations than me and you should also read his review.

Michael Cookson has already reviewed the new BIS recording in positive terms.  I’m in agreement with all that he writes about Ulf Wallin’s warmly romantic playing, the quality of the support he receives and the fact that lovers of Bruch’s music should be well contented with this release.  Violin Concerto No.2 is by no means to be sniffed at and though I don’t recall hearing the Konzertstück before, originally planned as a fourth Violin Concerto, that struck me as the most impressive work on the album, recapturing some of the intensity of the famous First Concerto.

I played the 2-channel SACD layer as well as the CD layer to which MC listened.  There is no perceptible difference between the 24-bit download and the stereo SACD layer.  The eclassical.com download comes with pdf booklet: at $14.31 ($8.95 for mp3 and 16-bit) that’s less than you would pay for the SACD – the per-second charging policy in this case compensates for the slightly short playing time.

As well as the Mordkovich recording of Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 on Chandos, there’s also a coupling of Concerto No.3 and the Scottish Fantasy by Jack Liebeck with the BBC Scottish SO and Martyn Brabbins (Hyperion CDA68050).  I had reservations about the tempo of the opening movement of the concerto and the over-rhapsodic approach to the FantasyDownload News 2014/12 – but David Barker had much more serious reservations – review.

Bargain lovers are well served by that Accardo-Masur twofer, especially those who don’t have Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1, usually paired with Mendelssohn, but those who insist on 24-bit sound will prefer the new BIS recording and others should be well pleased with it.

Josef SUK (1874–1935)
Fantasy in g minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op.24 [23:16]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
Violin Concerto in a minor, Op.53, B103 [30:20]
Romance in f minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op.11, B39 [12:27]
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds
rec. Helsinki Music Centre, Finland, 29 September–2 October 2015. DDD/DSD
ONDINE ODE12795 [66:03] – from emusic.com (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet)

The classic Josef Suk and Karel Ančerl Supraphon recording of the Dvořák Violin Concerto originally came with just the Romance as coupling but it’s now available (download only) with son-in-law Josef Suk’s Fantasy, as on the new recording (Supraphon Ančerl Gold SU36682Recording of the Month: review – from emusic.com or stream (subscribers) from Qobuz, no booklet from either).

This recording kept me contentedly entertained, along with a large cappuccino, for the first hour of a 2½-hour wait while my better half was shoe shopping in Bluewater shopping centre.  I don’t think it was just the assistance it gave in preventing boredom that made me warm very much to the performance.  It may appear that at 9:48 the new recording rushes the slow movement of the concerto – Suk and Ančerl took 11:33 and Suk and Neumann on the other Supraphon recording took 10:29 – but in practice there is no sense of undue haste in this beautiful performance.

Even as heard in flac from my Sony Walkman with a pair of noise-reducing Sennheiser ’phones the sound is very good too.  It sounds better still, of course, at home on the audio system.  There doesn’t appear to be a 24-bit download but the recording is also available from dealers as a hybrid SACD.

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) The Lark Ascending [14:20]
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis [16:03]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Serenade for String Orchestra, Op.20 [12:40]
Salut d’amour, Op.12 [3:19]
Chanson de Matin, Op.15/2 [3:23]
Chanson de Nuit, Op.15/1 [4:26]
In Moonlight (from In the South, Op.50, arr. Julian Milone) * [3:15]
Introduction and Allegro [14:25]
Pinchas Zukerman (violin and viola)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
rec. Cadogan Hall, London, 8-9 September 2015. DDD
* world premiere recording
DECCA 4789386 [71:49] – subscribers stream from Qobuz with pdf booklet.  Downloads for all sources uncompetitive in price.  CD from Amazon UKPresto

Pinchas Zukerman is revisiting The Lark Ascending (DG Eloquence 4428333).  He’s also a well-established Elgarian, having recorded the Violin Concerto with Zubin Mehta (Helicon HEL029655) and with Leonard Slatkin (Sony 88883737202, 4 CDs).

I’ve tended to be a little sniffy about the immense popularity of The Lark Ascending, wondering why it seems to be preferred to the beautiful Tallis Fantasia.  Here we have both and they are very well performed: if any recording were to persuade me to understand why the ClassicFM listeners regularly vote The Lark as their Number 1, this might be it.  Zukerman’s tone may be slightly less plush than 40 years ago but the music gains by being given slightly more air in which to ascend on the new recording. The Tallis Fantasia still outshines it, in a performance which rivals my old favourites.

One of those abiding favourites, from Sir John Barbirolli and the Sinfonia of London, is coupled as here with the Elgar Serenade andIntroduction and Allegro (Warner Masters 0851872: 5-star review of earlier GROC release).  Unthinkable as it may seem, I found myself enjoying all three works almost as much as on the classic Barbirolli album and though that has come up sounding very well for a 1960s recording* the new Decca inevitably sounds even better.  At a very slightly slower speed than Barbirolli and around the same as Elder (below) Zukerman caresses the music just as much as the former, apart from a short section a little after nine minutes into the work where the RPO sound a little plodding.  Overall they fail quite to achieve the same warmth of string tone and unanimity of purpose as the Sinfonia of London.  

Sir Mark Elder with the Hallé in The Lark Ascending is a rare disappointment (English Landscapes CDHLL7512review).  Otherwise his recordings of this repertoire offer fine modern alternatives to Barbirolli: Tallis Fantasia with Symphony No.3, etc (CDHLL7540: Recording of the Month review); Serenade for Strings andChanson de Matin with Cockaigne and Enigma (CDHLL7501); Introduction and Allegro with Symphony No.2 ( CDHLL7507: Recording of the Monthreview).  Even if you have all those very fine recordings you may well prefer the way that all these works are brought together on the new Decca album.

* The lossless (flac) download which I recommended from Passionato some time ago – October 2009 – is no longer available and the Qobuz alternative, though well worth streaming by subscribers, is over-priced at £9.09 and sans booklet: more than you would pay for the CD.  Presto offer the disc for £8.50 but charge £0.02 extra for mp3 and £11.08 for the lossless download, again without booklet.  As so often, I’m baffled by the ‘logic’ which has again turned much of this Download News into a warning against over-expensive download versions!

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Chamber Music
String Quartet in g minor, Op.10, L85 [24:13]
Syrinx for solo flute, L129 [2:49]
Sonata for cello and piano in d minor, L135 [13:03]
Sonata for flute, viola and harp in F, L137 [17:15]
Sonata for violin and piano in g minor, L140 [14:00]
Kuijken Ensemble [Sigiswald Kuijken (violin, viola); Veronica Kuijken (violin); Sara Kuijken (viola); Wieland Kuijken (cello); Barthold Kuijken (flute); Piet Kuijken (Érard piano); Sophie Hallynck (Érard harp)]
rec. Centre culturel, Lommel, Belgium, 12–17 September 1999.
ARCANA A392 [71:20] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet)

This recording was first released on Arcana A303 in 2000.  The cover image has changed but the reissue remains at full price, so the eclassical.com download represents a significant saving and comes with the booklet.  Though the Kuijken family are best known for their performances of baroque music, there’s no sense that they are attempting a historical reconstruction here: the instruments range from 1804 (Veronica Kuijken’s violin) to 1999 (a cello made by Filip Kuijken, yet another talented member of this family).  The 1894 Érard piano is a touch more dry-sounding than you may be used to in the cello and violin sonatas.

This might not be my first choice for the wonderful String Quartet, a work which I got to know from a Supraphon LP, a very fulsome performance from the Vlach Quartet coupled with the Ravel Quartet, which I almost wore out (SUAST50040, briefly available on CD – stream or download from Qobuz).  The Kuijkens’ performance is not quite so ripe, which some may prefer: they certainly play the work with affection and it’s very handy to have all Debussy’s chamber music coupled like this.

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
The Sibelius Edition - Volume 8: Orchestral Works
Violin Concerto (original and revised versions), concertante works, suites and lighter pieces
Leonidas Kavakos (violin); Dong-Suk Kang (violin); Jaakko Kuusisto (violin); Marko Ylönen (cello); Raimo Laukka (baritone); Soloists: Heikki Laitinen and Taito Hoffren (folk singers)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. 1982-2008, Lahti, Finland; Gothenburg, Sweden. DDD
BIS-CD-1921-23 [420:03] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet)
6 CDs for the price of 3: for details please see review by Rob Barnett.

This is more by way of a reminder than for the sake of saying anything much new.  Rob Barnett wrote a detailed analysis of this set when it appeared on disc in 2009 – review and track details – but it now represents even better value as one of the downloads which BIS made available from their eclassical.com website in Sibelius’s 150th anniversary year.  The discs are still available for around £38/$65 but the download set, in mp3 and 16-bit lossless sound, complete with pdf booklet, now costs just $37.78.  If this was a set that you had had your eyes on but baulked at the size and cost, even though the 6 CDs are offered for the price of three, this is your chance to snap it up even less expensively.  UK readers may find that the Qobuz price of £23.99 is very slightly less expensive still.  It’s not available for streaming from Qobuz but it is for subscribers from Naxos Music Library and in 16- and 24-bit from classicsonlinehd.com: their price for 16-bit is uncompetitive at £47.99 and their 24-bit an eye-watering £95.99.

I should say at once that there is a great deal of music here that is less than Sibelius’s best and some which he thought better of, though that second category also applies to what most listeners will find the most interesting part of the collection: the two versions of the Violin Concerto.  The familiar version on CD3, as published in 1905, runs to 34:44; the original from 1903-4 adds almost a further five minutes (39:15).  Both versions are performed by Leonidas Kavakos with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra who, under the direction of Osmo Vänskä, also provide most of the recordings in this set.

That original version is on CD6, a disc of preliminary and alternative versions, including the Paris version of Rakastava, another work which should be in any Sibelius collection.  When first released on BIS-CD-500 the two versions of the concerto came on the same album but you probably wouldn’t want to hear them one after the other, so the arrangement in this collected edition is preferable.  As with the original version of Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No.2, the ‘London’ Symphony, authorised as a one-off for recording by Richard Hickox on Chandos, there’s a strong case for hearing the original.

As the BIS notes make clear, the revision was made chiefly to remove the most difficult passages, the first, flawed, performance having been entrusted to a less experienced soloist, so you may well choose to make this your preferred listening.  If you don’t have that single-disc release, it will cost $11.25 even to download it, more than a third of the cost of the complete Volume 8.

The BIS recording of the original version of the Karelia Suite also remains available separately on BIS-CD-918, with the original scoring of the incidental music to King Christian II and Pelleas and Melisande,* so it’s surprising that we have only the regular version here, albeit with a reconstructed version of the complete Karelia music which includes the familiar items and more (from BIS-CD-915).  The Suite comes in a recording not available before, another reason to go for Volume 8.

There’s a good deal here that you may not wish to hear very often, but there’s also much that you probably will.  With first-rate performances, excellent recording and a booklet which comes as part of the deal there’s a great deal to like.

If, however, the multi-volume complete BIS Sibelius seems like too much of a good thing, you may think another BIS offering more to your taste: The Essential Sibelius comes in the form of 15 CDs for the price of four (BIS-CD-1697/1700).  Most of the performances are the same Lahti/Vänskä versions, though the Karelia Suite is directed by Neeme Järvi.  You get all the symphonies, all the familiar works and more besides, but only the regular version of the Violin Concerto. 

I should warn that, by another of those quirks which dog the pricing of downloads, eclassical.com charge $168.55 to download The Essential Sibelius, which can be yours for less than £50/$90 on disc.  On this occasion – but not always – Qobuz offer the best value: sample/stream or download in lossless quality for £15.99, but without booklet.

Even less expensive at just £6.99 is a 7½ hour collection of these BIS Lahti/Vänskä recordings of all the symphonies, Violin Concerto, Finlandia, Tapiola, En Saga, Snöfrid, complete Lemminkäinen and Karelia Suite.  If you don’t mind Amazon’s less-than-ideal mp3 bit-rate, around 220kb/s – some tracks are at the full 320kb/s – it doesn’t sound too bad at all: ignore the one-star review – the writer obviously hit the wrong button because the actual comment is very favourable.  From Amazon UK: even better value at $7.99 from Amazon US.  Please see June 2011/2 DL Roundup: Bargain of the Month.  It’s gone up £1 since then but it’s still an excellent bargain.

That’s the least expensive way to obtain Osmo Vänskä’s Lahti recordings of all seven symphonies, which I mostly prefer to his more recent remakes, but if you must have lossless sound, Volume 12 has been released as an eclassical download: 5 CDs containing both versions of No.5 plus fragmentary earlier versions of some of the symphonies –details and review – or you can choose BIS-CD-1286/88, 4 CDs for the price of two, containing all the symphonies, with Tapiola and the original and regular versions of No.5, around £30 on CD or $42.27 as a download from eclassical.com review.  Qobuz have Volume 12 for £15.99: sample/stream/download with 129pp. pdf booklet – review and Download News 2013/4.

Volume 12 may be the chief must-have for most Sibelians but Volume 8 is by no means to be sniffed at.

* both already available on Volume 5: Theatre Music (BIS-CD-1912/14) – review.

Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Pelléas et Mélisande – Complete incidental music, JS 147 (1905) [33:34]
Musik zu einer Szene (1904) [6:29]
Valse lyrique, Op. 96a (1921) [4:47]
Autrefois – Scène pastorale, Op. 96b (1919)* [5:36]
Valse chevaleresque, Op. 96c (1921) [4:47]
Morceau romantique sur un motif de Monsieur Jakob von Julin, JS 135/a (1925) [2:35]
Pia Pajala (Soprano); Sari Nordqvist (mezzo-soprano)*
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
rec. Turku Concert Hall, Turku, Finland, 20-24 January, and 8-12 September 2014. DDD.
Texts and translations included.
NAXOS 8.573301 [57:47] - from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, all with pdf booklet).  Also available on CD and as 16- and 24-bit downloads and for streaming from classicsonlinehd.com.

‘The playing is as stylish and sympathetic as you might expect from a Finnish orchestra and conductor’.  See review by Gwyn Parry-Jones.

This is not, perhaps, quite so urgent a recommendation as the Naxos Belshazzar’s Feast, also conducted by Leif Segerstam (8.573300DL News 2015/7) but it’s not far behind; I enjoyed hearing it.

Excerpts from Pelléas at Mélisande are not hard to find – the opening movement was a Beecham lollipop* and has become familiar to television viewers from many years of exposure – but the complete music is not so easy to come by: the chief rival to the new Naxos comes in a near-complete suite of nine items from Neeme Järvi on BIS, on a single CD with Symphony No.6, or as part of The Essential Sibelius, 15 CDs for around the price of four (BIS-CD-1697-1700).  That set represents excellent value – especially if you download it from Qobuz for £15.99 – but you may well have the Lahti/Vänskä symphony recordings which form the main ingredient.  The same nine-item suite has also been extremely well recorded by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Petri Sakari, with theSwanwhite Suite and King Christian incidental music (Chandos CHAN9158 – rec. 1992 [79:18] – from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet).

The original scoring of the complete score, recorded by Osmo Vänskä, also forms part of Volume 5 of the BIS Sibelius Edition (BIS-CD-1912-14, 6 CDs for the price of three – review).  Download, with pdf booklet, from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless).

On CD you should find this recording for around £6, so there’s little advantage in pricing terms in downloading the 16-bit, but if you want 24-bit eclassical.com ($15.61) and classicsonlinehd.com (£9.99) both offer very fair value.  The recording is good enough to be worth obtaining in the 24-bit version to which I listened.

* Beecham recorded eight items from Pelléas, still sounding fresh on an EMI Great Recordings CD with Oceanides and Symphony No.7 but, incredibly, apparently download only – from Presto.  Warner must surely reissue it.

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Symphony No.3 in a minor, Op.44 [43:26]
Mili BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Symphonic Poem ‘Russia’ [13:04]
London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
rec. live. Barbican, London, November 2014. DDD/DSD
LSO LIVE LSO0779 [56:30] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 16- and 24-bit lossless and from dealers on Hybrid SACD.)  Subscribers stream from classicsonlinehd.com (16- and 24-bit)

‘A dreary Third; the dry, rather close sound is a turn-off too’.  See review by Dan Morgan and review by Leslie Wright: ‘I was really disappointed, because I know that Gergiev can turn out stunning versions of the Russian standards’.

Comparative versions:

— Sony Essential Classics SB2K63257: Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy (Symphonies 1-3; Vocalise) – review.  Download only – see below.

— Beulah 1PD81: Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra/Yevgeny Svetlanov (with Symphonic Dances: Moscow PO/Kondrashin).  [65:51] Download from Qobuz or Amazon US.

— Chandos CHAN10234X: London Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi – rec. 1987/1991 (with Symphonic Dances: Philharmona/Järvi) [79:11] A reissue at an attractive price – download from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet) but NB: the CD can be found for significantly less than the lossless download.  

— EMI/Warner 5008852: St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons (Symphonies 1-3, Symphonic Dances, Isle of the Dead, etc., 3 CDs, or Warner 2564227827, with Piano Concertos, 5 CDs)

The Ormandy recording remains my benchmark, yet, incredibly, it seems no longer to be available in the UK on CD: the best option would seem to be to download Symphonies 1-3 and Vocalise in lossless sound for £12.89 from Qobuzsubscribers can also stream.  There is no booklet, but this is the version that I keep returning to, with the orchestra whose sound Rachmaninov envisaged when he composed the music, and the recording still sounds very well indeed.

Classicsonlinehd.com have the Naxos Classical Archives transfer of the older (1954) Ormandy recording of Symphony No.3 and Vocalise (9.80343) but whereas the old Classicsonline offered this for just £1.99, it now costs £4.99.  Subscribers to emusic.com will find it on sale there for £1.68.  As streamed in lossless sound from classicsonlinehd.com, it’s rather dry in timbre but more than tolerable.  There’s also a rather shrill BnF transfer of the 1954 recording which clumsily tacks Vocalise onto the finale without telling you: £1.99 from Qobuz.

For Järvi and Jansons, please see DL Roundup December 2011/1.  The classicsonline.com link for the Janssons set no longer applies: 7digital.com have the 3-disc set in mp3 for £7.49 but the target price for the CDs is £7.20.

Gergiev is no novice in recording the Rachmaninov symphonies.  There’s a Newton Classics release on which he conducts the Kirov Orchestra in the second symphony, which John Quinn liked – review – and he also recorded that symphony with the LSO for LSO Live.  I liked many aspects of that recording, too, not least the fact that the symphony is recorded without cuts, but there are more than a few idiosyncrasies, such as the addition of a timpani stroke at the end of the first movement – DL Roundup August 2010 – so that I think that we are better served by Rozhdestvensky with the LSO (now transferred from Regis to Alto ALC1260, but still at budget price) or Previn, also with the LSO but omitting the exposition repeat in the first movement (EMI 0852892, mid-price).

The Third Symphony is not quite as immediately attractive as its predecessor or, indeed, the second and third piano concertos, but it’s not far behind.  The secret of obtaining an ideal performance is first to have a world-class orchestra for a work designed to be premiered in Philadelphia.  The LSO at their best were and remain in that class and with Järvi (Chandos), they deliver the second ingredient: the power of the music.

The third ingredient is to deliver the dreamier side of the work without quite drifting into schmalz, a task in which Järvi doesn’t entirely succeed.  Gergiev, on the other hand, delivers this ingredient, often to the exclusion of the more exciting aspects.  Don’t misunderstand me; I’m as happy to wallow in the smoochy aspects of Rachmaninov as anyone, but it isn’t the whole picture and it needs to be integrated with the barnstorming bits.  In his recent recordings with both the LSO and Mariinsky Orchestra I have sensed that Gergiev has been unduly keen to play down any tendency to go over the top, as on his recent Harold in Italyreview – and that’s the case here, too.

Reissue of the Month
British Violin Concertos
Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953) Concerto for Violin and Orchestra [35:15]
Sir George DYSON (1883-1964) Violin Concerto [43:14]
Sir Arthur BLISS (1891-1975) Concerto for Violin and Orchestra [41:48]
John VEALE (1922-2006) Violin Concerto [35:38]
Lydia Mordkovitch (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra; City of London Sinfonia; BBC National Orchestra of Wales; BBC Symphony Orchestra/Bryden Thomson; Richard Hickox
CHAN 241-53 [78:39 + 77:36] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet)

‘There are many rewards to be had here’.  See review by Stephen Greenbank.

Following my brief recommendation in 2015/7 I started to write a long review for the main MusicWeb pages; I never completed it but I’ve raided my notes to add to what I wrote then.

This is one of a number of recordings which Chandos have reissued inexpensively as a tribute to Lydia Mordkovitch, who died in 2014, in this case in their 2-for-1 series.  I very much enjoyed it.  It’s emphatically not just for Mordkovitch’s many admirers, but purchasers are faced with a very difficult choice of having the concertos together on this twofer or in the company of other works by the same individual composer on the original couplings, themselves often twofers or otherwise inexpensive offerings.

This recording of the Bax Violin Concerto is also available at lower mid-price on CHAN10154X, with the Cello Concerto and Morning Song for piano and orchestra.  The only other current rival comes from a recent Lyrita 2-CD release of off-air recordings of British Violin Concertos: the Bax is performed by André Gertler and the BBCSO with Sir Malcolm Sargent, recorded in 1957 (REAM2114 - review).

The Dyson Violin Concert is coupled with his Children’s Suite and other music on another Chandos twofer, CHAN10377X.  The Bliss concerto is taken from CHAN10380, where it’s coupled with the Colour Symphony.

John Veale’s Violin Concerto is coupled with Benjamin Britten’s on CHAN9910.  This is the only work where I am not torn between recommending the new recording or the alternative couplings: good as Mordkovitch’s Britten is, there is a more recent Chandos alternative from Tasmin Little and Edward Gardner with the BBC Philharmonic, available in 24-bit sound as well as on CD and in mp3 and lossless downloads (CHAN10764:Recording of the Monthreviewreview).

The other reissues, all at lower mid-price, are:  

— CHAN10864X: SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concertos 1 and 2 – CD, or download from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).   This is a direct reissue of  CHAN8820, of which I wrote in June 2009: “Though my allegiance to David Oistrakh’s various recordings remains undiminished, this 1989 recording offers very fine performances in unquestionably better sound.  I’ve even seen it claimed that Lydia Mordkovich’s performance of the second concerto makes it sound almost the equal of the first.  I wouldn’t go that far, but she and Järvi, ably abetted by the RSNO before they earned the ‘Royal’ tag, certainly made me take much more notice of a work which can seem something of an anti-climax after the powerful first.”  This recording was among the top recommendations at full price; at the new price it’s even more worth considering, especially as the inexpensive Documents reissue of the Oistrakh recordings which I mentioned is no longer available and the Regis reissue of Violin and Cello Concertos No.1 (RRC1385) is now download only.        

— CHAN10865X: BRUCH Violin Concertos 2 and 3 – CD, or download from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).  From CHAN9738.  Nos. 1 and 3 on CHAN9784.  There’s no mistaking the fact that these concertos are less memorable than the more famous First and the Scottish Fantasy but I did enjoy hearing these performances, which make a strong case for them.  See, however, David Barker’s reservations, mentioned in my review of the Accardo recording of Bruch (BIS above).

— CHAN10866X: Poème – The Artistry of Lydia Mordkovitch.  CHAUSSON Poème and Chamber works by RAVEL (the posthumous Violin Sonata), ELGAR (Sospiri), SHOSTAKOVICH, etc. – CD, or download from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).  Partly drawn from CHAN8748.

A number of other Mordkovitch recordings remain at full price, presumably due to join the lower-price reissues in due course. 

Jacques IBERT (1890–1962)
Escales (Ports of Call) (1922) [15:03]
Sarabande pour Dulcinée for orchestra for the film Don Quichotte (1933) by Georg Wilhelm Pabst (1932) [3:33]
Ouverture de fête (1940) [13:28]
Féerique (1924) [6:46]
Divertissement for chamber orchestra (1930) (based on incidental music, 1929, for the play Un Chapeau de paille d’Italie (1851) by Eugène Marin Labiche [15:46]
Hommage à Mozart: Rondo for Orchestra (1956) 4:56
Suite symphonique ‘Paris’: Scènes parisiennes for chamber orchestra (1930) (based on incidental music, 1930, for the play Donogoo-Tonka by Jules Romains) (1930) [13:22]
Bacchanale: Scherzo for Orchestra (1956) [8:22]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Neeme Järvi
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland; 25–27 June 2015. DDD/DSD
CHANDOS CHAN5168 [82:15] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet)

Also available as hybrid SACD CHSA 5168

I had forgotten how different Escales, the three ports of call which Ibert depicts musically, are from his best-known work Divertissement.  I should have remembered that Sony/RCA thought it appropriate to pair Escales with Debussy’s Printemps, La Mer and Prélude à l’après-midi d’un Faune which programme survived until recently on CD and is still available to download.  (Living Stereo 88697689542 Boston SO/Charles Munch).  Though the music is far from imitative, the spirits of Debussy, Ravel and Chabrier are far from absent.  The other works in the first part of the programme, too, are more atmospheric rather than one would expect from Divertissement.

I came across Divertissement long ago on a Decca stereo LP of miscellaneous French music (SXL2252, Martinon again, with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra): it had been salvaged from a fire and the cover was slightly buckled from the water, so it was on offer for, I believe, five shillings (£0.25).  It was five shillings well spent, with a rip-roaring account of the Ibert, especially of the finale, together with Bizet’s Jeux d’Enfants and Saint-Saëns’ Danse macabre and le Rouet d’Omphale.  I played it so often that when it was reissued a few years later on Ace of Diamonds SDD144 I had to replace it.  It remains available as a download (4783188, the contents of the LP plus Borodin Symphony No.2) or in a 50-CD box set ( 4789262: The Decca Sound).

As with Milhaud’s le Bœuf sur le Toît an ideal performance needs to combine Gallic panache with equally Gallic vulgarity and the PCO managed that to perfection, Parisian police whistles and all.  I’m sure it’s only nostalgia that makes me think they achieved that effect a tad better than the OSR on the new Chandos; they and Neeme Järvi throw their all at it and the 24-bit download is as close to demonstration quality as the Decca was in its day.  The new performances are very slightly slower in all movements except one but that certainly doesn’t mean that they are lacking in energy.

There are only two other recordings of Paris: two are download only and the third is in a 10-CD box set.  It’s certainly much better than that comparative neglect implies and I enjoyed hearing it in this performance.  Bacchanale, also a comparatively neglected work, rounds off an entertaining album in fine form.  The 24-bit recording is excellent, which also augurs well for the (less expensive) SACD, due for release on 1 April 2016.  The download is available now.

Introit: The Music of Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Lo! the full, final sacrifice – Amen (arr. Paul MEALOR) [2:40]
Dies Natalis – V. The Salutation (arr. Mike SHEPPARD) [4:17]
Who is Silvia (arr Mike SHEPPARD) [1:43]
Love’s Labour’s Lost – Three Soliloquies
Clear and gentle stream (arr. Harvey BROUGH) [4:31]
Rollicum-Rorum (arr. Mike SHEPPARD) [1:43]
Introit [8:34]
Come away, come away, Death (arr. Paul MEALOR) [3:43]
Prelude, Op.25 [4:30]
Romance, Op.11 [7:35]
To Lizbie Brown (arr Mike SHEPPARD) [4:07]
Dies NatalisIntrada [5:26]
Fear no more the heat o’ the sun (arr. Patrick HAWES) [5:36]
A Severn Rhapsody [6:36]
Eclogue [11:05]
Five Bagatelles (arr. Ashmore DICKSON): Carol [2:05]; Forlana [3:00]
Amy Dickson (soprano and alto saxophone), Nicolas Fleury (horn), Thomas Gould (violin), Tom Poster (piano)
Aurora Orchestra/Nicholas Collon
rec. Fairfield Halls, Croydon, 14 July and 20-21 August 2015. DDD.
DECCA 4789357 [81:39] – subscribers stream from Qobuz with pdf booklet

I’m sorry to have to report that this tribute to Gerald Finzi on the 60th anniversary of his death is largely a disappointment in that all the vocal items are here ‘reimagined’ for solo instrument and orchestra.  Even worse, the beautiful Dies Natalis is presented only in the form of two excerpts, separated from each other.  Worse still, all the download sources that I have checked out are over-priced, with mp3 costing little less than the CD and lossless more than the disc.  Only if you must have 24-bit from Qobuz is the outlay worthwhile.

The ethereal beauty which permeates all Finzi’s music shines through especially in the title work, Introit, and the wonderful Eclogue, but these are available in other collections, notably on Lyrita SRCD.239: Recording of the Month reviewreview – in the company of other orchestral Finzi.  That recording of Introit is also available on an inexpensive Lyrita 4-CD set SRCD.2346 reviewreviewDL News: Bargain of the Month – with other British String Concertos.  The Lyrita recording of Eclogue is also on another 4-CD set, British Piano Concertos (SRCD.2345 reviewDL News).  Eclogue, Romance and Prelude also feature on a desirable Nimbus recording of Finzi’s orchestral music (NI5665review; Eclogue also on NI5430/3review).

For the complete Dies Natalis my favourite remains the recording by Wilfred Brown, the ECO and Christopher Finzi, now available only in a budget-price 5-CD set (Warner 0954332, around £17).  There are very fine single-disc alternatives from Mark Padmore (Harmonia Mundi, with Britten), John Mark Ainsley (Hyperion Helios, with Finzi’s Immortality Ode) and Susan Gritton (Chandos, with Britten and Delius) to name but three.

To put a more positive aspect on things, I was pleased to hear the four young soloists.  If I single out Tom Poster’s performance of Eclogue, his first appearance on record, I believe, that’s largely because it’s such a favourite work of mine. The performance here gives the music even more space to breathe than on Nimbus and Lyrita.

Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
L’Ascension (The Ascension) (version for organ, 1933-34) [25:04]
Diptyque (Diptych) (1928-1930?) [10:51]
Offrande au Saint-Sacrement (Offering to the Holy Sacrament) (1930s) [6:04]
Prélude (1928-1930?) [8:14]
Le Banquet céleste (The Celestial Banquet) (1928) [7:14]
Apparition de l’Église éternelle (Apparition of the Eternal Church] (1932) [9:06]
Tom Winpenny (organ)
rec. St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland, on 17th and 18th February, 2015
Booklet includes organ specification
NAXOS 8.573471 [66:33] – from classicsonlinehd.com (stream for subscribers or purchase download).

Dan Morgan praised Tom Winpenny’s earlier Naxos recording of Messiaen’s la Nativité for demonstrating ‘more head than heart, a fine performance very well recorded’ – review.  Roy Westbrook also liked that release, made on Winpenny’s home territory, at the organ of St Alban’s Abbey – review – as did I – DL News 2014/15.  That earlier download could be obtained in 24-bit sound but the new recording comes in plain 16-bit CD quality and was recorded at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh; otherwise it’s equally recommendable. 

As before, this is a fine performance which emphasises the spirituality of Messiaen’s theology.  It won’t replace Gillian Weir (Decca Eloquence, 2 CDs), Jennifer Bate (budget-price Regis) or Timothy Byram-Wingfield (Delphian, 2 CDs – review) but I shall be listening to it along with them.  The other serious challenger in these early works which contributed so much to the making of Messiaen’s reputation comes from Hans-Ola Ericsson who performs L’Ascension, Le Banquet céleste, Apparition de l’Eglise éternelle and Diptyque on the organ of Luleå Cathedral: BIS BIS-CD-409 – rec. 1988 [64:28] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet, including organ spec.)  As the programme is almost identical, choice can safely be left to which organ you prefer – try to sample both – and whether you prefer Ericsson’s slightly more measured approach in all four of the works common to both.  My own vote, marginally, is for Winpenny but that didn’t stop me enjoying the BIS recording.

Black marks to whoever it was that spelled the English word Sacrament as Sacrement on the back cover of the Naxos booklet.

Rain WORTHINGTON (b.1950) Dream Vapors: Selected Works for Orchestra
Shredding Glass (2001) [10:11]
Reversing Mirrors in the Quiet (2012) [6:08]
Tracing a Dream (2009) [8:15]
Fast through Dark Winds (2013) [6:33]
Within a Dance – A Tone Poem of Love (2012) [7:51]
Yet Still Night (2001) [6:04]
Of Time Remembered (2011) [7:56]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Ovidiu Marinescu, Petr Vronsky, Robert Ian Winstin
rec. various locations, Czech Republic and Russia, 2006 to 2015. DDD
NAVONA NV6025 [52:58] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless with pdf information sheet).  Subscribers stream from classicsonlinehd.com (lossless, with pdf sheet).

This is not ‘easy’ music to relate to for someone like myself, who tends to resist much contemporary classical music and jazz, but it’s worth the effort.  Some of it is quite spiky – as you would expect a piece entitled Shredding Glass and inspired by the events of 9/11 to be – but the spikiness is mixed with an ethereal quality that grew on me.

Shredding Glass and Yet Still Night have been available before as single downloads and were reviewed by Bob Briggs, whose comments are extensively quoted in the Navona notes.  His opening comment that ‘it’s always a real pleasure to discover a composer whose work is new to you, whose work speaks to the senses and is packed with real emotion’ sums up my response, too, as does Michael Wilkinson’s review of the new album.  I just wish there were a few more optimistic touches in the music.

The ‘booklet’ when downloaded turns out to be one side of information, with a link to the Navona website where the real thing may be located, together with scores and other materials.

Hæc Dies : Music for Easter
Hymn at Lauds – Orlande de LASSUS (1530/2-1594) Aurora lucis rutilat [3:19]
Respond at Matins – John TAVERNER (c.1490-1545) Dum transisset Sabbatum [7:49]
Introit at Mass – Resurrexi (plainchant) [1:33]
Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654) Surrexit Christus hodie [1:14]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Easter from Five Mystical Songs [5:10]
Gradual at Mass – Hæc dies (plainchant) [2:57]
William BYRD (1539/40-1623) Hæc dies [2:07]
Matthew MARTIN (b.1976) Hæc dies * [4:32]
Sequence at Mass – Victimæ paschali laudes (plainchant) [2:01]
Giovanni BASSANO (1561-1617) Dic nobis Maria [2:48]
Offertory at Mass – Terra tremuit (plainchant) [1:18]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (c.1525-1594) Terra tremuit [2:03]
Orlande de LASSUS Surrexit pastor bonus [2:26]
Michael HALLER (1840-1915) Surrexit pastor bonus [2:21]
Communion at Mass - William BYRDPascha nostrum [2:12]
Jean L’HÉRITIER (c.1480–c.1551) Surrexit pastor bonus [5:03]
Sergei RCHMANINOV (1873–1943) Dnes’ spaseniye (Today salvation has come) [1:43]
Anthems - Samuel Sebastian WESLEY (1810–76) Blessed be the God and Father [7:13]
Patrick HADLEY (1899–1973) My beloved spake [3:10]
Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852–1924) Ye choirs of new Jerusalem [4:49]
Magnificat at Vespers - Orlande de LASSUSMagnificat octavi toni super ‘Aurora lucis rutilat’ [6:09]
* world première recording
Matthew Jorysz (organ)
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge/Graham Ross
rec. 1 and 2 July 2015, All Hallows’ Church, Gospel Oak, London and 6 July 2015, Chapel of Tonbridge School, Kent, UK.
Texts and translations included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU907655 [72:41] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet)

This is the latest in a series of recordings from Clare and Harmonia Mundi of music for different periods of the church year:

— HMU907579: Veni Emmanuel – Music for Advent - review
HMU907615: Lux de cælo – Music for Christmas - review
HMU907616: Stabat Mater Dolorosa – Music for Passiontide - review
HMU907617: Requiem – Music for All Saints and All Souls - review
HMU907623: Ascendit Deus – Music for Ascensiontide and Pentecost - review

As before the music comes from a considerable chronological spread, in this case from plainsong via the early renaissance music of Taverner and Lassus through to a composition by Matthew Martin receiving its first recording.  Actually, taking account of the chant, that’s even more than the five centuries referred to in the notes and publicity material.  While it may be possible to prefer other recordings of individual items, the standard overall is very high so it’s no hardship to have to take the programme as a whole.  As such I can’t think of a better collection of music for Easter.

While I was waiting for the 24-bit to download I listened to the mp3 and that’s good enough to assure me that the quality of the 16-bit and the CD will be very good.  There’s no SACD, so the download is the only way to obtain 24-bit.  At $19.62 it comes at quite a premium over the CD, selling at around £11.75 – less on special offer at the moment – which means that even the 16-bit offers very little saving at $16.35.   Classicsonlinehd.com were asking an even less competitive £16.49 for CD-quality 16-bit and £16.99 for 24-bit when I checked and were not offering the booklet, which brings me back to the point that I keep making about the highly irrational pricing of downloads.  I don’t know anyone who would willingly pay more for less.

The CPO recording of Easter music by Thomas SELLE (1599-1663) which I recommended in March 2010 as an mp3 download from classicsonline.com is no longer available from them but can be obtained in mp3 and lossless from eclassical.com, albeit without booklet.  UK purchasers may find the classicsonlinehd.com download slightly less expensive at £7.99 as against eclassical.com’s $12.88 – again, there’s no booklet.

See also review by Johan van Veen: ‘This disc bears witness to the quality of Selle’s sacred music and gives some idea about the level of music-making in Hamburg in the 17th century. Let’s hope more of this repertoire is going to be explored.’

Gottfried August HOMILIUS (1714-1785) composed a considerable amount of music for Holy Week and Easter: several recordings of his music for this period are available from Carus, including his St John Passion, St Mark Passion and the Passion Cantata Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld. The most recent recording of his music is of another Passiontide cantata, Der Messias (The Messiah: CPO7779472 - details and review).

On two full-price CDs running for only 96:07 in total, this is rather short value but eclassical.com's per-second charging policy brings the price to a reasonable $17.30. It's available in mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet containing texts and translations. Also available to stream or download for £15.99, with pdf booklet, from classicsonlinehd.com.

REISSUE OF THE MONTH
Russian Masters Volume 8
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)

Symphony No.2 in f sharp minor, Op.9, Antar [30:48]
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet – rec. 1954 ADD/stereo
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Piano Concerto No.2 in c minor, Op.18 [32:45]
Julius Katchen (piano); London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti – rec. 1958 ADD/stereo
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936) arr. Robert Irving Birthday Offering – ballet music [22:49]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Robert Irving – rec. 1959 ADD/stereo
BEULAH 9PD11 [86:22] – from iTunes (mp3). Subscribers stream from Qobuz or download in lossless sound.

Rimsky’s Antar is made from the same kind of material as Scheherazade: lovely tunes but without the structure which keeps the Arabian Nights-inspired work more or less in order. It’s certainly no symphony, though the composer worked on it several times. Ansermet uses the 1897 revision for this version, generally regarded as the first European stereo recording in May 1954 – and very good stereo, indeed, for its time in this transfer. With several Decca CD transfers on the market, past and current, you might expect Beulah to have been at a disadvantage in working from the LP but this is one of the very best that they have produced: it’s amazingly good. Even played it at high volume the sound belies its age. Beulah score, too, by offering it on a single release – and a very generously-timed release, too. Otherwise, now that the coupling with Scheherazade is a rather pricey download, you need to buy at least the 2-CD Eloquence – good value with other Rimsky works in Ansermet classic recordings – or the 33-CD or the 54-CD box.

The Beulah release is worth having for this gorgeous performance alone. I do recommend choosing the Qobuz download in lossless sound to get the full benefit: it costs the same as the iTunes mp3. I recommend it even if you already have the very fine performance on Hyperion Helios from the Philharmonia and Yevgeny Svetlanov (CDH55137, mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet, download for £5.99 from hyperion-records.co.uk) with the Russian Easter Festival Overture or the 2-for-1 Chandos set of Symphonies 1-3, etc. (CHAN6613 – from theclassicalshop.net) – both reviewed in March 2010.

The Rachmaninov recording, though later, doesn’t stand up quite so well at top volume but it’s another fine transfer of another very fine, passionate performance otherwise immured in that 54-CD box.

The Glazunov first appeared on HMV CLP1140, with Lecocq’s Mam’zelle Angot. The music is compiled mainly from The Seasons, a very fine recording of which with Robert Irving conducting the Concert Arts Orchestra used to exist on EMI: unfortunately ousted by their later Svetlanov recording. I don’t believe Birthday Offering is otherwise available apart from a short 8-minute section on an inexpensive 100 Best Ballet collection. It’s well played, recorded and transferred but no substitute for the complete Seasons ballet.

Sir John Barbirolli Symphonies Volume 3
Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Symphony No.5 in B-flat, Op.63 (1948) [28:58]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1967) Symphony No.5 in E-flat, Op.82 [33:26]
Hallé Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli – rec.1953? ADD/mono; 1959? ADD/stereo
BEULAH 3PDR17 [62:25] – due soon from iTunes.

What a difference a year made – between this recording of the Rubbra symphony and that of Antar on 9PD11 (above). Actually I believe that the Rubbra was made in 1950 rather than 1953 as stated: it was released on four HMV 78s in 1952, coupled with Loth to Depart. Though the sound was deemed ‘good on the whole’ back then, I found it tiring to listen to and can’t regard it as much more than a valuable historical document. Beulah transfers are often little short of miraculous but the magic hasn’t worked on what was clearly a dry-sounding original, presumably the LP release from 1953 (BLP1021). The EMI British Composers transfer sounds a little more open but it involves a 5-CD set now available only as a download (stream from Qobuz). My thanks to John Quinn for reminding me that there's also a decently recorded single-CD release with an indifferently recorded Sixth Symphony, from the Barbirolli Society (SJB1081 - review). With a splendid account available in modern sound from Richard Hickox (Chandos CHAN9714, with Symphony No.8, or CHAN9944, complete symphonies, 5 CDs) it's somewhat superfluous, especially as Hickox also makes the music rather easier to absorb.

Barbirolli’s Sibelius is never superfluous: if we have forgotten what a fine interpreter of it he was, that’s our loss. His account of the very popular Fifth Symphony is spacious and though this is a transfer of the Pye recording (CCL30144: 1957, I think, not 1958) rather than the later HMV, the sound is much better than the Rubbra, just a little rough in places. I just wish it could have been coupled with more of Barbirolli’s Sibelius. Unfortunately his EMI recordings are immured in Warner multi-CD sets and remain copyright for almost another half century.

Barbirolli’s 1954 recording of Sibelius Symphony No.2 is available in a decent mono transfer from Naxos Classical Archives – well worth at least sampling by subscribers to Qobuz and classicsonlinehd.com. UK and EU readers should also be able to find that from Naxos Music Library but my access to NML comes via Naxos US and it's not available there for copyright reasons.

 

 




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