DOWNLOAD NEWS 2016/6
By Brian Wilson
DL News 2016/5 is here and the Index of earlier editions is here.
BACH (mis-attrib.) Non sa che sia dolore (+ HANDEL, HASSE)_Phoenix
BAX, BLISS, FINZI, MOERAN, STANFORD British Cello Concertos (Wallfisch)_Chandos
BEETHOVEN Piano Trios Volume 4 (inc. Archduke)_Somm
BRAHMS, orch. SCHOENBERG Piano Quartet No.1 (+ LUTOSŁAWSKI)_Harmonia Mundi
BUTTERWORTH A Shropshire Lad and other orchestral arrangements_BIS
- If there were Dreams to sell (+ FINZI, etc.)_Chandos
CHEN Er Huang; Enchantements oubliés; Un temps disparu_Naxos
ELGAR Symphony No.2 (Barbirolli) (+ VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony 8)_Beulah
GERSHWIN Major works_Sony (7-CD set)
HANDEL Silete Venti (+ HASSE La Gelosia)_Phoenix
HASSE Complete Solo Cantatas, Volume One_Toccata
- La Gelosia (+ HANDEL Silete Venti)_Phoenix
ISAAC Missa Virgo Prudentissima etc._Evidence_Christophorus
Krenek Complete Piano Concertos, Vol. 1_Toccata
LUTOSŁAWSKI Concerto for Orchestra; Little Suite; Symphony No.4_Alpha
- Concerto for orchestra (+ BRAHMS, orch. SCHOENBERG Piano Quartet No.1)_Harmonia Mundi
MARINO Concertos and sonatas for strings and continuo_Tactus
SCHUBERT Symphonies 1, 2 and 6 (Beecham)_Beulah
STRAVINSKY Pulcinella Suite; Apollon musagète_BIS
TALLIS Lamentations of Jeremiah etc._Hyperion
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony No.2; Symphony No.8_Onyx
- Symphony No.8 (Barbirolli) (+ ELGAR Symphony No.2)_Beulah
WORGAN Complete Organ Music _Toccata
YE Symphony No.3, etc._BIS
There’s recently been an addition to the download scene with the advent of primephonic.com. You can find my review of the Beethoven Archduke and other Piano Trios (Gould Piano Trio, Somm) below but I also wanted to sum up how they compare with other providers.
In terms of coverage, their catalogue is still much smaller than their competitors: the longer-established classicsonlinehd.com (COL), theclassicalshop.net (TCS) and eclassical.com (ECL) all spread their nets wider. Albeit that they are mostly limited to the independent labels, a large proportion of the most interesting releases come from these providers. Hyperion-records.co.uk offer their own recordings together with those of 1equalmusic, Collegium, Gimell – the label of The Tallis Scholars – Linn, LSO Live, Mariinsky and Signum. Gimell and Linn also have their own sites. Only Qobuz and Presto provide access to downloads from almost all the major labels, Warner, Decca, DG and Sony, though often at prices little less or even more than the equivalent CDs. When Primephonic have built up their catalogue I trust that they will offer much more: for example, at present their sum total of Carus recordings is eight; ECL have almost 50, though very few of recent provenance.
TCS are about to make a much-needed upgrade to their Download Manager – it’s been about the slowest and least reliable and I’ve sometimes had to settle for 16-bit because a 24-bit download has been repeatedly dropped. At the same time they will be reducing the range of labels on offer very considerably.
Primephonic offer downloads only, unlike Qobuz and COL, who also offer subscriptions for streaming in up to 24-bit quality, allowing detailed sampling before purchase.
All these sites vary in the ability to find the music you are looking for: Qobuz and ECL usually come up with what you want exactly. COL sometimes fail to locate something that they actually have on offer: usually it’s better to find what you want from their low-bit streaming sister site, Naxos Music Library (NML), and follow the link there to COL. At present Primephonic is not one of the easiest sites to search: my Beethoven download, for example, was one of a number of Somm recordings, a label not widely available from other sites, yet the drop list of labels didn’t include Somm when I checked.
I’ve commented on the poor quality of the TCS Download Manager. Other sites can be temperamental, too, but most work well most of the time. I downloaded the Beethoven from Primephonic a track at a time – I didn’t have time to download their DL Manager – and that worked well, at a decent speed.
Booklets range in quality from useful to essential – especially in the case of vocal works and operas. By no means all download sites have got this right yet: it should be normal to expect it. Most do so most of the time; Hyperion do so all the time, with other labels as well as their own. Only emusic.com completely fail to offer booklets: that’s a service which offers subscriptions at different prices in £ or $ per month, with albums priced per track (£0.42 or $0.49 per track). That can be very good value for albums with a few tracks and disastrously expensive for operas and oratorios. My only experience with Primephonic to date came with the booklet, albeit disguised as ‘artwork’.
iTunes and Amazon remain frozen in time in offering their downloads in mp3 only, and usually at around 256 kb/s, far less than the ideal 320kb/s bit-rate. Primephonic are ahead of the game, joining TCS, COL, Qobuz, Hyperion and ECL in offering 16-bit lossless as standard and 24-bit where available. Usually there’s a choice when both 16- and 24-bit are available but Primephonic seem to limit choice to the highest quality available for a particular album …
… which brings me to the issue of price: some purchasers would presumably prefer to pay less for 16-bit. Prices tend to be all over the place: some providers even charge more – sometimes much more – for a download than for the CD. In very general terms 16-bit prices range from £7.99 to £9.99, with Primephonic tending to be at the upper end of that range (£9.99), though many albums are offered at £9.49, like the Beethoven which I have reviewed. 24-bit prices start at £12.99, which is good value.
Most sites offer UK purchasers prices in £; ECL charge in $. Primephonic offer prices in £, $, € and Yen. You need to choose which at the outset.
Budget labels such as Naxos often fare badly as downloads: COL, a Naxos subsidiary, and Qobuz offer the best prices (£4.99 and £4.79 respectively, with 24-bit at £9.99 and £7.19). ECL, who charge per second, which works out as good value for most labels, are too expensive for 16-bit Naxos, though sometimes good value for 24-bit equivalents. Primephonic is not the place to go for Naxos: at £7.49 for 16-bit they charge more than the CDs, which can usually be found for around £6.25, with one 2-CD set wildly over-priced at £19.99 when I checked. Brilliant Classics also sell on CD at budget price, so the two examples so far available from Primephonic are heavily over-priced at £12.99 – each available for half that, at £6.50 on CD.
My overall verdict: Primephonic is a site with potential. It’s one to watch: if they can get their pricing right – they would be unique if they did – I’d be much more positive. To be fair, I know that illogical pricing is sometimes the fault of the label, which insists on setting the price. I’m pleased to note that one illogicality which I have noted in the past has recently been amended: the price of LSO Live downloads from Hyperion now compares much more favourably with the price of the CDs and SACDs. Hyperion’s downloads of Signum albums are also very good value but their own Helios series, formerly at super-budget price, has now risen to full price, though some dealers still offer the CDs for around £6.50.
Heinrich ISAAC (c.1450–1517)
Missa Virgo Prudentissima – 6-part Mass with propers for feasts of the Virgin Mary (MS.41 – Duomo, Florence)
Gaudeamus Omnes in Domino / Virgo Prudentissima – for 4 voices (Choralis Constantinus II) [5:34]
Salve Sancta Parens: Introit, plainchant [4:11]
Kyrie Eleison Missa Virgo Prudentissima [6:08]
Gloria Missa Virgo Prudentissima [6:20]
Benedicta et Venerabilis es: Gradual, plainchant [3:45]
Alleluia, Post Partum: plainchant [1:43]
Alleluia, Virga Jesse: plainchant [2:23]
Sequentia Sancti Evangelii Secundum Lucam: Gospel, plain-chant [0:55]
Credo: Missa Virgo Prudentissima [9:55]
Ave Maria: Offertory, plainchant [1:38]
Preface, plain-chant [2:15]
Sanctus: Missa Virgo Prudentissima [8:30]
Agnus Dei: Missa Virgo Prudentissima [4:05]
Beata Viscera: Communion, plainchant and 4-part polyphony (Choralis Constantinus II) [6:48]
Ensemble Gilles Binchois/Dominique Vellard
rec. Convent of St-Mark, Gueberschwihr, Alsace, 6-10 September 2015. DDD
EVIDENCE EVCD023 [64:30] – from emusic.com (mp3, NO booklet). Subscribers stream from Qobuz (with pdf booklet).
Comparative recording: Christophorus CHR77218: Münchner Dommusik/Karl-Ludwig Nies – subscribers stream or download from classicsonline.com or stream from Qobuz (16-bit lossless, NO booklet from either).
Whichever you choose, both these recordings contain fine performances of beautiful music from an under-rated composer. Both are performed by mixed ensembles, the Evidence recording is sung a cappella, the Christophorus with fairly discreet wind accompaniment. Only Qobuz have the booklet for the Evidence; neither offers it for the Christophorus.
In one respect the Christophorus recording is preferable in that it prefaces the Mass with the anonymous setting of Virgo prudentissima which serves as its cantus firmus. Instead of the propers included on Evidence the Mass alone is performed, allowing space for Isaac’s own more lengthy setting of Virgo prudentissima and his Optime pastor. The Christophorus recording was made in a more reverberant acoustic but both sound well.
RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Thomas TALLIS (c.1505-1585)
Lamentations of Jeremiah I: Incipit lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae [8:29]
Lamentations of Jeremiah II: De lamentatione Jeremiae prophetae [12:47]
In pace, in idipsum [6:44]
Short Service ‘Dorian’:
Communion setting 1: Commandment Responses - Lord, have mercy upon us [1:14]
Communion setting 2: Credo - I believe in one God [3:39]
Not every one that saith unto me [0:49]
Short Service ‘Dorian’:
Communion setting 3: Sanctus - Holy, holy, holy, Lord [0:41]
Communion setting 4: Gloria - Glory be to God on high [2:08]
Solemnis urgebat dies: Iam Christus astra ascenderat [4:56]
Sancte Deus [6:15]
Dum transisset Sabbatum [7:41]
Why brag’st in malice high (No 7 of 9 Psalm Tunes) [3:27]
Salvator mundi I [2:50]
Te Deum ‘for meanes’: We praise thee, O God [8:57]
Come, Holy Ghost (No 9, ‘Ordinal’ of 9 Psalm Tunes) [2:25]
The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood
rec. Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle, 11-13 November 2014
HYPERION CDA68121 [73:02] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (CD, mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet)
This is the penultimate volume in this distinguished series of recordings of Tallis’s music. Like its predecessors it challenges but does not displace The Tallis Scholars (Gimell), The Sixteen (Coro) and the complete Tallis recordings of Chapelle du Roi and Alistair Dixon (Signum and Brilliant Classics). In one important respect it offers a different approach from the other complete series by including music from all the periods in Tallis’s composing career, juxtaposing music which was written in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth, some in English, some in Latin, some in an older florid style and some in the plainer style demanded by the reformers. The Signum series attempts to apportion the music of the same period to each CD. If that is your preference, you can find Volumes 1-8 of the Signum set for inexpensive download, with booklet, from Hyperion.
Having enjoyed the whole series, not least this latest volume, I’ve awarded Recording of the Month for the complete enterprise. Look out for a more detailed review on the main MWI pages. I’ve noted there a couple of inaccuracies in the booklet but those are very small blemishes on a fine achievement.
Carlo Antonio MARINO (1670-1735)
Concerti e sonate per arche e continuo (Concertos and sonatas for strings and continuo)
Concerto a cinque [7:58]
Concerto a cinque con due violini obbligati [10:10]
Sonata Seconda a tre Op.VI/2 [6:36]
Sonata Quarta a tre Op.VI/4 [6:00]
Sonata Sesta a tre Op.VI/6 [5:32]
Sonata Ottava a quattro Op.VI/8 [7:48]
Sonata Decima a quattro Op.VI/10 [3:12]
Sonata Dodicesima a quattro Op.VI/12 [5:29]
Stefano Montanari (violin)
Ensemble ‘Carlo Antonio Marino’/Natale Arnold
rec. Auditorium Mario e Benvenuto Cuminetti, Albino, Italy, November 2014. DDD
World premiere recordings.
TACTUS TC671302 [52:42] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless); stream or download from classicsonlinehd.com. Stream or download from Qobuz. NO booklet from any of these.
You could be forgiven for not having even heard of Carlo Antonio Marino, though it’s remiss of me not to have noticed an earlier release on Tactus (TC671301). A violin virtuoso from Bergamo who enjoyed great international fame at the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century, his name has dropped out recognition. Several of his compositions earned the dubious distinction of being published in pirate editions by Estienne Roger from Amsterdam, who also published Vivaldi’s Op.1 to Op.12. His compositional style is highly competent and often fresh and imaginative.
The music is performed here by an ensemble dedicated to Marino’s name and directed by Natale Arnoldi, with the distinguished baroque violinist Stefano Montanari. See, for example, Dominy Clements’ review of his recording of Vivaldi’s Op.8 Concertos (Arts). I, too, very much liked the vigour of those performances – review – though I have come to prefer to all my earlier recommendations the most recent recording of Op.8 from L’Arte dell’Arco (Brilliant Classics – review).
The performances are stylish and as lively as we have come to expect from contemporary Italian baroque specialists, with Montanari’s solo just as vigorous as in the Vivaldi recording. The sound produced is a trifle over-bright for my taste in places, perhaps due to the rather close recording, but that did very little to modify my enjoyment of this collection. If you like Vivaldi and his North Italian contemporaries you should enjoy this too.
Johann Adolf HASSE (1699–1783)
Complete Solo Cantatas, Volume One
Credi, o caro, alla speranza (British Library Add. 14213) [10:14]
Parto, mia Filli, è vero (Royal College of Music, Library, MS 696) [13:38]
Ah, per pietade almeno (Royal Academy of Music, Library, MS 130) [9:53]
Oh Dio! partir conviene (Napoli, Biblioteca del Conservatorio di musica S. Pietro a Majella, 156/14) [12:09]
Lascia i fior, l’erbette, e’l rio (British Library, Add. 14214) [12:06]
Tanto dunque è si reo (British Library, Add. 14214) [10:22]
Hof-Musici [Jana Dvořáková (soprano); Veronika Mráčková Fučíková (mezzo);
Rozálie Kousalíková (baroque cello); Ondřej Macek (harpsichord)]
rec. Salla Terrena of the Villa Bertramka, Prague, 10–12 March 2015. DDD
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0228 [68:22] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, NO booklet). Booklet available free from Toccata website.
Once not much more than a footnote in the musical histories, Hasse’s music has been making something of a comeback in recent years. Nevertheless, with typical entrepreneurism, Toccata are expanding our knowledge with this recording, the first in a projected series of his solo cantatas on pastoral themes, presumed mostly to have been composed in Naples c.1525-30. That most of them were edited from manuscripts preserved in London is testimony to Hasse’s widespread fame
Though they are not claimed as first recordings, I can’t find any of these works in the current catalogue. All are very attractive and all are beautifully performed: both soloists have fine voices, well matched in style to the point that it’s not always easy to determine who sings what. I haven’t encountered Hof-Musici before but their half-German, half-Italian name is entirely appropriate for these fine performances of music in an Italian style by a German composer.
There’s another Hasse cantata for solo soprano on a Phoenix edition reissue of a Capriccio recording where La Gelosia (jealousy) receives a very fine performance from Sophie Boulin well supported by Capella Coloniensis and Hans-Martin Linde. The principal work is Handel’s Silete Venti, HWV242, superbly sung by Emma Kirkby and the programme concludes with Bach’s (probably spurious) Non sa che sia dolore, BWV209, sung by Isabelle Poulenard and directed by Ferdinand Leitner. The recordings were made well before the © 2008 on the back cover – Leitner died in 1996 – but they still sound well. Overall I can but agree with Robert Hugill that this is a delightful programme. (Phoenix 171 –review). Though it’s unlikely that the operatic Silete Venti was sung in an Anglican church service, works with Latin texts are and were regularly sung as the Anthem after Mattins and Evensong, especially the latter. Pope satirised the easy-going secular nature of the services at Cannons where Handel’s Chandos Te Deum and Chandos Anthems were performed.
John WORGAN (1724-1790)
The Complete Organ Music (all published c.1795)
Organ Piece No.8 in G [5:36]
Organ Piece No.4 in B flat [2:07]
Organ Piece No.5 in g minor [4:05]
Organ Piece No.10 in F [4:27]
Organ Piece No.11 in C [3:57]
Organ Piece No.13 in G [5:20]
Organ Piece No.1 in A [4:04]
Organ Piece No.6 in c minor [3:04]
Organ Piece No.9 in C [3:33]
Organ Piece No.7 in F [5:26]
Organ Piece No.12 in d minor [4:22]
Organ Piece No.3 in F [3:17]
Organ Piece No.14 in C [5:54]
Organ Piece No.15 in A [4:56]
Organ Piece No.2 in F [5:18]
Timothy Roberts (organ)
rec. St Botolph without Aldgate, 28 July, 8 October 2015. DDD.
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0332 [65:26] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless with pdf booklet)
See review by John France.
I reviewed a concert directed by Timothy Roberts at St Botolph’s without Aldgate last Summer – a concert with Emma Kirkby and a very talented semi-professional group which I greatly enjoyed. The organ is at the wrong pitch to perform with an orchestra but during the interval we were entertained by the current organist playing works by his predecessor, ‘Organ’ Worgan.
I wrote then that Roberts was editing Worgan’s music from MSS in the British Library and hoped that a recording would ensue, little knowing that an album of Worgan’s music on that self-same organ was very much in the offing. It certainly fills a considerable gap in the catalogue: previously we had just one work on a Fugue State Films recording, now download only, also performed on the Renatus Harris instrument of St Botolph’s where Worgan was the organist.
Worgan may have been no rival to his older contemporary Handel but his music was well deserving of being given an album of its own and the performances, recording and notes do it full justice. I join with John France in hoping that someone (Toccata?) will give us the rest of Worgan’s extant output.
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Piano Trios Volume 4
Trio in E-flat, Op.1/1 (1795) [30:23]
Trio in E-flat (Allegretto), Hess 48 [3:37]
Trio in B-flat, Op.97 (Archduke) [44:48]
Gould Piano Trio [Lucy Gould (violin); Alice Neary (cello); Benjamin Frith (piano)]
rec. live St. George’s Brandon Hill, Bristol, 23 May 2012. DDD.
SOMM SOMMCD0144 [79:00] – from primephonic.com (lossless wav, with pdf booklet)
See review by Ian Lace: ‘I enjoyed immensely this latest release in Somm’s Beethoven Piano Trio series.’
This final volume in a successful series brings us the alpha and omega of Beethoven’s piano trio output, from his Op.1 to the best-known Archduke Trio. I enjoyed it as much as its predecessor – review – and as much as Ian Lace (link above). I must seek to modify Ian’s reference to my earlier thoughts as ‘enthusiastic and erudite’; they are certainly the former but I can’t claim any erudition in the field of Beethoven chamber music. I’m merely an informed amateur: the nearest thing that I can claim to any qualification in musical matters is a London University MA in Renaissance Studies, including a dissertation on music in Book II canto xii of Spenser’s Faerie Queene.
It was the Op.1 set of trios which caused the breach between Beethoven and Haydn, who counselled against publication because he felt that Op.1/3 was in advance of public taste – as, indeed, much of Beethoven’s music was to be throughout his life. There would have been no such problems for Haydn with No.1: it’s fully in the sonata form tradition which he had established and the performers don’t try to make too much of it – a beautifully Haydnesque performance of which the master would have been proud.
I’m glad that the little unpublished allegretto has been included, a charming interlude before the Archduke which the audience at St George’s would have come mainly to hear. On LP that was all that you usually expected and though nowadays it comes with a variety of couplings, none is quite as long as this Somm CD. It’s not the most refined Archduke of the many that I’ve heard and it’s not quite in the top echelon of my recommendations but it is very enjoyable. If you have been collecting the series or if the coupling particularly appeals go for it.
The recording quality is good, as is the Primephonic transfer. It comes with the booklet, though they do themselves no favours by simply calling this ‘artwork’.
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No.1 in D, D82 * [26:59]
Symphony No.2 in B-flat, D125 * [31:56]
Symphony No.6 in C, D589 ** [28:47]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham
rec. 1952 *, 1955 **, ADD/mono.
BEULAH 4PDR4 [87:53] – from Amazon.co.uk (mp3)
There’s an alternative transfer of Nos. 1 and 2 on a very inexpensive Naxos Classical Archives download (9.80277). For a little more money Beulah add the Sixth, which extends the length considerably – well beyond the ‘statutory’ 80 minutes – and Beecham’s way with the ‘Little C Major’ symphony was, if anything, even more special than with the earlier symphonies. Beecham’s recordings of Nos. 3, 5 and 6 are now download only, which makes this Beulah reissue attractive. Indeed, even if you have the EMI/Warner Great Recordings single CD (5669842) or the Later Tradition box set (9186112) it’s worth the modest price of 4PDR4 to add the other symphonies. Whichever you go for, Beecham’s way with Schubert was as magic as anything that he did, even though – or because – he tinkered with the score in several places.
The 1953 sound is inevitably thin and not without a trace of distortion but I’m willing to compromise in this case for the sake of the wonderful performances, first released in the UK by Philips in 1955 (ABL3001). Though Sony reissued the performances from the master tape in 2003, the result reportedly made the orchestra sound over-large by comparison with these LP transfers.
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Symphony No.2 in E-flat, Op.63 * [51:03]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1956) Symphony No.8 in d minor (1955) ** [26:37]
Hallé Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli
rec. 1952 *, 1958 **. ADD/mono */stereo **.
BEULAH 4PDR17 [77:40] – from Amazon.co.uk (mp3)
This is Volume 4 of Beulah’s series of reissues of symphonies conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. He apparently learned the Elgar in three days and earned an encomium for it from the composer in December 1927 *. This recording was first released in 1956 (HMV ALP1242) at the same time as Nixa, for whom Barbirolli also recorded, released that other great Elgarian Sir Adrian Boult (NCL16018). Invidious as it is to choose, Barbirolli’s Elgar has always seemed to me to hit the spot slightly more consistently than Boult’s, even to the extent that I think the Lyrita reissue of Boult’s recordings of the two Elgar symphonies a rare mis-fire for him and the label, owing, I think, to his being disallowed his usual practice of dividing the violins. Barbirolli’s first movement, for example, may be a mere 20 seconds longer than Boult’s on Lyrita, but it sounds a shade more nobilmente. On his later EMI stereo recording Barbirolli stretched that movement even further – and Sir Colin Davis further still on LSO Live ** – but I think that Sir John gets it just right on this mono version.
I wouldn’t, however, wish to be without the wonderful 3-CD First Hand reissue of Nixa’s 1956 recordings of Boult with the LPO in Elgar – Falstaff, Symphony No.2 and Cockaigne – Britten and Walton (FHR06: Bargain of the Month – review – DL Roundup November 2010). Elgar’s own timings are notoriously fast: even Sir Georg Solti, who took them at face value, didn’t quite match his very fast tempo for the first movement. It can’t just be a matter of fitting the music on 78 sides, as is often said: that would have allowed 16 minutes for the movement at 4 minutes per side and Elgar takes just 14:36, often riding roughshod over his own markings in the score – and bringing it off. I’m not sure how the music was split but HMV released the recording on six 78s, D1230-5.
My preference in Vaughan Williams is with the Decca recording made with Boult in stereo a year later – still available as part of the definitive set of the VW symphonies *** – though not by much. When I owned the Barbirolli on LP the Eighth seemed lightweight after the dramatic Antartica but with hindsight Barbirolli highlights its kinship with the earlier symphonies.
The 1952 Elgar, though praised in 1956, inevitably sounds thin but more than tolerable. The VW, recorded by Nixa and released originally on a 10-inch Pye LP, is much better; preferable, indeed, to the Golden Guinea LP reissue on which I owned it (GSGC14061, with music by Bax and Butterworth).
* The Gramophone reviewer in 1956 was wrong to state that Barbirolli had come to the work ‘only in the present decade’.
** a disaster of a performance for William Hedley – review.
*** also available inexpensively on a single CD, with No.7, download only (mp3 and lossless) from Presto. Subscribers stream from Qobuz.
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No.2 in G (‘A London Symphony’) (1914, rev. 1920 and 1933) [46:44]
Symphony No.8 in D (1955) [28:47]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Manze
ONYX ONYX4155 [75:33] – from emusic.com (mp3, NO booklet). Sleeve notes by Lewis Foreman available from Onyx.
This VW recording comes from an unexpected source, a conductor better known as a baroque specialist, but it’s no less welcome for that: in fact it marks a very auspicious start to a planned series of the VW symphonies due to appear over the next three years.
I read somewhere that Andrew Manze had chosen to record the 1920 version, a half-way house between the original, as recorded by Richard Hickox (Chandos, an indispensable recording, with Butterworth) and the final revision, but there’s no mention of this in the notes and the timings of the individual movements suggest that he’s using the regular score which I first got to know from Sir John Barbirolli on a Pye LP. That leaves Martin Yates (Dutton, with 2-piano Concerto) the sole modern recording of 1920: you’ll find details in John Quinn’s review.
I’ve seen it suggested that Manze misses something in the slow movement by comparison with Vernon Handley who also recorded the work with the RLPO (Classics for Pleasure: box set or download only). Greatly though I like the Handley, originally also coupled with No.8, I didn’t feel any lack from Manze in this movement. Overall I was very impressed and look forward to the next instalment in 2017. I hope it comes with a cover as striking as this one. Though the emusic.com download is in mp3 only, it sounds very well. Follow the link for Lewis Foreman’s excellent sleeve notes.
See above for the Beulah reissue of Barbirolli’s recording of No.8.
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882–1971)
Pulcinella Suite (1924, rev.1949) [21:50]
Apollon musagète (1928, rev.1947) [29:50]
Concerto in D for string orchestra (1946) [12:28]
Tapiola Sinfonietta/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. Tapiola Concert Hall, Finland, April 2015. DDD/DSD
BIS BIS-2211 [64:55] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet). Also available on SACD.
Stravinsky recorded by one of today’s most distinguished Bach interpreters with an orchestra more usually associated with Sibelius may at first seem an oddity, but these are works from Stravinsky’s neo-classical period. Stravinsky wrote that Pulcinella was his discovery of the past, so to have Masaaki Suzuki at the helm is much less incongruous than might seem. Indeed, I could have wished that BIS had also given us the Brandenburg Concertos-inspired Dumbarton Oaks: clocking in usually at under ten minutes, there would have been room for it.
My preference in Pulcinella is for the complete ballet: Neville Marriner’s ASMF recording has an honoured place in my collection, but the inexpensive twofer, formerly EMI, on which it was released (Warner 9072512 – review) is now download only. The super-budget Monte Carlo/Yakov Kreizberg 3-CD set of Firebird, Petrushka, Rite of Spring and Pulcinella which I was far from alone in praising highly – review – seems to have vanished completely. Subscribers can stream from Qobuz, where it can also be downloaded, both with booklet.
The Suite contains about half of the ballet and dispenses with the vocal items. BIS already had a recording in their catalogue, a slightly disappointing, often ponderous account from Jukka-Pekka Saraste with the Avanti Chamber Orchestra, coupled with Danses Concertantes (BIS-CD-292). If this coupling appeals you will be much better served by the RSNO and Alexander Gibson, though it’s short value at 43 minutes and would have been more tempting if expanded and at a lower price, albeit that the recorded sound is still competitive (Chandos CHAN8325 – from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet).
I liked the lively Linn recording of the Pulcinella Suite (CKD330) but was left unmoved by Alexander Janiczek’s Apollon Musagète on that album – DL Roundup October 2009. Dominy Clements also thought Apollon too relaxed and even had more doubts about the Pulcinella Suite than I did – review. I’m surprised to find this recording recommended in the last edition of the Gramophone Guide (2012). All of which leaves the way open for a recommendable recording of these two almost contemporary works.
This is certainly a Pulcinella with much more life and lilt than from Saraste or Janiczek. The works which Stravinsky raided were attributed to Pergolesi – they no longer are but that matters very little when played as perkily as they are here. Now how about BIS recording Suzuki in Respighi’s similar re-imagining of the music of the past?
Fans of classic recordings should try the mono Ernest Ansermet with the OSR, refurbished by Naxos for their Classical Archive series (9.81193) in decent if slightly faded sound, not at all bad for the early 1950s *, and coupled with Chant du Rossignol. Subscribers can stream from Qobuz or classicsonline.com and it can be downloaded from Qobuz for £2.39. Before hearing the new BIS I would have regarded that as my benchmark performance. The honour now goes to Suzuki and his team but the modest price of the Ansermet is worth paying for Rossignol.
I have mentioned Marriner and the ASMF in Pulcinella. Their recording of Apollon Musagète is also one of my favourites, though it’s no longer available on a single CD. I don’t expect ever to be enthralled by Apollon but what a difference it makes to hear it performed with affection, as Marriner does and as Suzuki does even more. I really enjoyed hearing this account. By comparison the classic Karajan (DG Originals) sounds over-polished and cool and the coupling (Bartók Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta) is less appropriate.
The 24/96 download sounds very fine and it won’t break the bank at $15.54, though you may find the SACD for slightly less. The mp3 and 16-bit versions cost an affordable $9.71.
* released in the UK on LXT5233 in 1955. The Naxos transfer of Stravinsky’s own 1953 recording of the complete ballet is somewhat thinner and rougher but tolerable.
George BUTTERWORTH (1895-1916)
Idyll: ‘The Banks of Green Willow’ [5:54]
Six Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’: orchestrated by Kriss Russman (world première recording of the orchestrated version) [13:21]
Rhapsody ‘A Shropshire Lad’ [9:54]
Two English Idylls [8:48]
Suite for String Quartette: arranged for string orchestra by Kriss Russman (world première recording of the orchestrated version) [18:26]
Love Blows as the Wind Blows [8:50]
Orchestral Fantasia: completed by Kriss Russman (World première recording) [8:36]
James Rutherford (baritone)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Kriss Russman
rec. Hoddinott Hall, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, January and September 2015. DDD/DSD
BIS BIS-2195 [75:32] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet)
Also available on hybrid SACD.
There are several surprises here: BIS making their second recording of Butterworth and doing so with the BBC NOW in conjunction with Radio 3, an arrangement formerly the preserve of Chandos, unfamiliar orchestrations and completions and an unfamiliar conductor. Kriss Russman is not making his recording début as I originally thought, though his recording of the music of Pēteris Vasks is not widely available.
James Rutherford has recorded the Shropshire Lad songs before for BIS but with the conventional piano accompaniment (BIS-SACD-1610, with Bredon Hill, Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel and songs by Ivor Gurney). John Quinn spoke highly of that recording – review – so I had high hopes for the new release and I was not disappointed in terms of the performances. I usually prefer orchestrated versions of songs to the originals with piano accompaniment – VW’s Songs of Travel a case in point – and I liked these arrangements of the Shropshire Lad songs, though I thought the orchestration occasionally in danger of drawing too much attention to itself. Emphasised by the luxuriant recording, it leads Rutherford to be a little over-emphatic in compensation. It’s a small point and it didn’t interfere with my considerable enjoyment of all this beautiful music in very fine performances and recording.
There’s an earlier recording of a different orchestration of the Shropshire Lad songs in a very fine 1988 anthology entitled If there were Dreams to sell and performed by Stephen Varcoe with the City of London Sinfonia and Richard Hickox (Chandos CHAN8743, with Love blows as the wind blows and songs by Quilter, Elgar, Finzi, Vaughan Williams and Ireland – from theclassicalshop.net, with pdf booklet). Varcoe has a lighter voice than Rutherford; the orchestration of the Butterworth is less intrusive and the recording, though 16-bit only, is very good. I enjoyed both. Subscribers can stream the Chandos from classicsonlinehd.com, albeit without booklet.
Good value … but better still on CD
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
An American in Paris; Piano Concerto in F; Rhapsody in Blue; Second Rhapsody; Catfish Row; Broadway Overtures, etc.
Garick Ohlsson (piano); San Francisco Symphony Orchestra; Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, New World Symphony, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, etc./Michael Tilson Thomas (piano)
Also includes Rhapsody in Blue performed by George Gershwin (1925 piano roll) and Columbia Jazz Band
SONY CLASSICAL MASTERS 88875170082 [7 CDs] – stream or download from classicsonlinehd.com (16-bit lossless, NO booklet)
For individual works these may not be quite the top recommendations but all are well worth hearing. Terry Barfoot’s largely very positive review of the three major works has it about right for the whole collection. That CD is still available at mid-price but the new set is a super-budget offering, yours for about twice the price of the single disc. The download is very good value at £30.06 but the CDs are offered at an almost give-away price, around £22. The set is even on special offer as I write from Presto at £17.60 and £16.05 from Amazon UK. That’s less per disc than the £3.99 at which Naxos CDs used to sell in Woolworth’s. If your collection is a little short on Gershwin, here’s your chance to do something about it. It’s worth the price just to hear the often very fast pace of Gershwin’s own piano roll recording of Rhapsody in Blue; accompanying it really keeps the Columbia Jazz Band on their toes. The streamed version repeated the last few bars, a glitch which I hope will not occur on the download or discs. It doesn’t happen with the streamed version from Qobuz but that’s less competitive still as a download, at £32.29.
Ernst KRENEK (1900-1991) Complete Piano Concertos, Vol. 1
Piano Concerto No.1 in F sharp, Op.18* [30:37]
Piano Concerto No.2, Op.81* [25:05]
Piano Concerto No.3, Op.107 [13:00]
Mikhail Korzhev (piano);
English Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Woods
rec. 12-13 September 2015, Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK. DDD
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0323 [68:42] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, NO booklet)
See review by Dan Morgan.
This is definitely a prime month for Toccata – see Hasse and Worgan (above)
Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)
Concerto for Orchestra (1954) [27:55]
Little Suite (Mała Suita) [9:32]
Symphony No.4 [18:43]
NDR Symphony Orchestra/Krysztof Urbański
rec. Laeiszhalle Hamburg (Concerto)17-19 December 2014; Rolf-Liebermann-Studio NDR (Little Suite, Symphony No.4) 23-26 June 2015. DDD
ALPHA232 [56:15] – stream from Naxos Music Library (mp3 with booklet). Stream or download from Qobuz (16- and 24-bit lossless with booklet).
Reviewed from lossless (16-bit wav) press preview.
Concerto for orchestra (1954) [28:14]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) orchestrated Arnold SCHOENBERG
Piano Quartet No.1 in g minor Op.25 (1861/1937) [43:23]
Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra/Miguel Harth-Bedoya
rec. live Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth, Texas 2-4 October 2015 (Lutosławski) and 23-25 October 2015 (Brahms). DDD/DSD
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU807668 SACD [71:37]
Reviewed as 24-bit download from eclassical.com (with pdf booklet). Also available from dealers on SACD.
Comparative recording: Chandos CHSA5082 BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner (with Symphony No.3; Chain 3) Recording of the Month – review – Download Roundup October 2010.
The Chandos recording is a hard act to beat, especially as it’s available in 24/96 format – DL News 2013/6. There’s also an outstanding bargain on a 3-CD EMI/Warner set of the composer conducting the Concerto, Symphonies 1 and 2 and several other works. (2153182, download only, from Presto, mp3 and lossless or Sainsburys, mp3 only, slightly less expensive and with Nectar points for UK buyers).
I was, nevertheless, impressed by the Alpha performance and recording. I see that Robert R Reilly liked Urbański’s performance of the Concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington in 2013 – Seen and Heard review – and I’m in full agreement, except that the first minute or so of the third movement passacaglia is virtually inaudible at a comfortable volume setting for the rest of the work. Not that this is comfortable music, though it’s far from Lutosławski the enfant terrible – if you like Bartók you should like this work – I would just like recording companies to exercise discretion in the case of recording levels. Otherwise the recording is excellent: the press preview came in.wav format, making me hopeful that Outhere had decided to offer all their previews in decent sound. No such luck: the next preview came down the line in mp3 at a miserable 192kb/s.
The Harmonia Mundi comes on SACD and in 24-bit format though at the unusual setting of 24/88. It’s good but not so as to outshine the Alpha in 16-bit. Miguel Harth-Bedoya’s tempi are all marginally faster than Urbański’s and though I hadn’t expected the Fort Worth orchestra to match the NDR there’s very little in it in terms of conveying the power of the music. Like the Alpha, the first minute of the third movement is virtually inaudible.
Would you prefer the Little Suite and the one-movement Fourth Symphony or the Schoenberg arrangement of Brahms as coupling? If you already have the very fine Chandos recording of the symphony (CHSA5098, with Piano Concerto, etc. – review – review – DL News 2013/6), that may be the decisive factor. TheSuite is a pleasant little work, with echoes of Stravinsky, but would hardly tilt the balance for me. The Symphony is a little more avant-garde than the other works, though (just) within my tolerance zone, as his Second Symphony is not, and the performance is as persuasive as the Chandos, though Urbański takes the work overall faster than Gardner without missing any of its power. With the very detailed metronome markings in the score I’m surprised that they are almost 5% apart. (Roman Kofman on CPO is almost another 5% longer).
If the Schoenberg/Brahms appeals, there’s very little to choose between the two performances of the Concerto for Orchestra. Overall I marginally prefer Urbański, the spot-on precision of the NDR players and the all-Lutosławski programme. I have to admit that’s largely because I’m not greatly impressed by Schoenberg’s tinkering with Brahms but for those who are the choice could well go the other way.
Qigang CHEN (b. 1951)
Er Huang, for piano and orchestra (2009) [17:22]
Enchantements oubliés, for large string orchestra, harp, piano, celesta, timpani and percussion (2004) [26:31]
Un temps disparu, for erhu and orchestra (2002) [26:04]
World première recordings
Chun-Chieh Yen (piano); Jiemin Yan (erhu);
Taiwan Philharmonic/Shao-Chia Lü
Rec. National Concert Hall, Taipei, Taiwan, 3-4 January, 2014 and 2 June, 2014. DDD
NAXOS 8.570619 [69:57] – stream or download from classicsonlinehd.com (16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet). Least expensive download £1.26 from emusic.com (mp3, NO booklet)
Read the short summary on the back of the CD and you may well expect something a little more exotic than you get: ‘Er Huang, commissioned by Carnegie Hall, is based on a number of melodies from Peking operas, nostalgically recollected, while the unusual structure of Enchantements oubliés explores a journey into the essence of beauty. Un temps disparu features the erhu, a two-stringed Chinese fiddle, and makes use of an ancient Chinese melody called Three Variations on the Plum Blossom’.
The actuality turned out to be a little less exotic: though the music is very enjoyable, it’s in a predominantly Western mode rather than the East-meets-West that I had expected. Er Huang, for example, may be based on Chinese themes but it sounds more like Ravel in his quieter mood: think of Daphnis et Chloé. Enchantements oubliés is equally beautiful – often dreamily so – but the beauty is combined with a full-size orchestra sometimes in a more impassioned mood. Un temps disparu is the most oriental sounding, thanks partly to the use of the erhu, an instrument to which I must admit a great deal of partiality. Even if some of the parts were not quite what I expected, this is an album to which I shall return.
Xiaogang YE (b.1955)
Symphony No.3 ‘Chu’, Op.46 (2004/2007) ** [37:53]
(Lord in the Clouds; Song and Dance; Silk; Xiaoyao (Free and Unfettered); Bronze; Xiling Gorge; Soul)
The Last Paradise, for violin and orchestra, Op.24 * (1993) [15:23]
Cho-Liang Lin (violin) *
Hila Plitmann (soprano) **
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. Cadogan Hall, London, June 2015. DDD
BIS BIS-CD-2083 [54:13] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless, with pdf booklet)
The only music by Xiaogang Ye that I had come across before was the score for the film The Cairo Declaration, which he composed with Chad Cannon (MovieScore Media – stream from Qobuz). A great fan of East-meets-West music, I was keen to hear this recording. If you have been watching Michael Wood’s BBC series on Chinese history you may recall that Chu, the subtitle of the symphony, was one of the oldest Chinese civilisations. The work contains some elements of Chinese music, exotic to Western ears, but it is otherwise a symphony in the modern Western classical tradition. I enjoyed hearing it but its appeal is less immediate than, for example, the ubiquitous Butterfly Lovers concerto, and I shall have to return several times to do it justice. If you are sampling, the third section, Silk, with soprano solo and traditional Chinese instruments, is a good place to start.
I take the performances, of necessity, as authoritative. The recording, in 24-bit format, is very good and Xiaogang Ye’s own notes are extremely helpful.
British Cello Concertos
Chandos are about to release on their 2-for-1 label recordings by Raphael Wallfisch (cello) of cello concertos by Bax (with LPO/Bryden Thompson), Bliss (with Ulster O/Vernon Handley), Finzi (with RLPO/Vernon Handley), Moeran (with Bournemouth SO/Norman del Mar) and Stanford Irish Rhapsody No.3 (with Ulster O/Vernon Handley). (CHAN241-56).
These are all first-rate recordings and my only reservation is that you miss out on the original couplings, notably the Leighton Cello Concerto (with the Finzi on CHAN9949), Bax Violin Concerto (with the Cello Concerto on CHAN10154X), Bliss Colour Symphony (CHAN10221X), Finzi Violin Concerto (on the alternative coupling of the Finzi, CHAN10425X), the Moeran Violin Concerto (with the Moeran Cello Concerto, CHAN10168X) and Stanford Symphony No.7 (CHAN8861, download only).
There are compensating factors: the Leighton Cello Concerto is available in an alternative mid-price coupling (CHAN10307X, with Symphony No.3) and Lydia Mordkovitch’s recording of the Bax Violin Concerto is available on another recent Chandos twofer (CHAN241-53, with concertos by Bliss, Dyson and Veale – review – DL News 2015/6).
I haven’t heard the new compilation but these are all recordings which I have recommended in the past and many of them have also been commended by my colleagues. If the programme appeals, go for it.