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Decca and Deutsche Grammophon: Recent Releases Early 2021 and Some Back Catalogue
By Brian Wilson

In my survey of recent recordings from Chandos and Hyperion, I mentioned that the independent labels were generally more innovative than the majors. I partly had to retract that generalisation even in the survey: the new Decca Josquin recording from Stile Antico is a very worthy successor to the Gimell series of that composer’s Masses, completed in late 2020. I mentioned that I might even be considering it for one of my Recordings of the Year. It takes pride of place in this survey.

With the flow of new recordings somewhat diminished by the pandemic, I’ve included some back catalogue items from these labels, available to download or stream and, in some cases, as a special CDR from Presto, whose list of such special releases is well worth checking out. In fact, at MusicWeb International, we are aiming to concentrate in the near future, in addition to new releases, on earlier material that we may not have covered, much of it now available only to special order or as a download. You may already have noticed some names of new reviewers who have joined us principally with reviews of downloads, including back catalogue, in mind.

Index :

BRITTEN – The Young Person’s Guide; Four Sea Interludes; Matinéés and Soirées Musicales – LSO, Covent Garden O/Britten; National SO/Bonynge (see also ROSSINI arr. RESPIGHI below).
BRITTEN Prelude and Fugue; Simple Symphony (see English Music for Strings)
BRUCKNER Symphonies Nos. 2 and 8 – Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Andris Nelsons (with WAGNER Meistersinger Overture)
CHAUSSON Poème; PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No.1; RAUTAVAARA Serenades – Hilary Hahn
ELGAR Serenade for Strings (see TCHAIKOVSKY)
IVES Symphonies Nos. 1-4 – Gustavo Dudamel
LISZT Piano Sonata in b minor, etc. – Benjamin Grosvenor
MOZART Eine kleine Nachtmusik (see TCHAIKOVSKY)
MOZART Die Zauberflöte – Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg/Alain Lombard
Josquin Des PREZ Missa Pange Lingua and other works – Stile Antico
PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No.1 (see Chausson)
RACHMANINOV Symphony No.1; Symphonic Dances – Philadelphia O/Nézet-Séguin
RAUTAVAARA Serenades (see Chausson)
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Scheherazade – Concertgebouw/Riccardo Chailly (with STRAVINSKY Scherzo fantastique)
ROSSINI arr. RESPIGHI La Boutique fantasque – Nation SO/Bonynge (with BRITTEN Matinées, Soirées)
SAINT-SAËNS Le Carnaval des Animaux, etc. – The Kanneh-Masons
SCHMIDT Complete Symphonies – Paavo Järvi
SCHNITTKE Works for violin and piano – Daniel Hope, Alexey Botvinov
STRAVINSKY Scherzo fantastique (see RIMSKY-Korsakov)
TCHAIKOVSKY Serenade - Zürcher Kammerorchester/Daniel Hope (with ELGAR, MOZART Serenades)
WAGNER Meistersinger Overture (see BRUCKNER)

English Music for Strings: PURCELL, ELGAR, BRITTEN, DELIUS, BRIDGE – ECO/Benjamin Britten
I am Hera - Hera Hyesang Park
Queen of Baroque - Cecilia Bartoli

***


The Golden Renaissance
JOSQUIN Des PREZ (c.1450/55-1521)
Missa Pange Lingua and other works
Salve Regina a5 [7:34]
Pange, lingua, gloriosi [0:51]
Missa Pange Lingua : Kyrie [3:21]
Ave Maria, Virgo Serena [5:56]
Missa Pange Lingua : Gloria [5:10]
Inviolata, integra, et casta es [7:32]
Missa Pange Lingua : Credo [8:33]
Vivrai je tousjours [3:09]
El Grillo [1:41]
Missa Pange Lingua : SanctusBenedictus [9:45]
Virgo salutiferi [8:10]
Missa Pange Lingua : Agnus Dei [8:34]
Hieronymus VINDERS (fl.1525-26)
O mors inevitabilis [3:23]
Jacquet de MANTUA (1483-1559)
Dum vastos Adriæ fluctus [9:19]
Stile Antico
rec. 24 July 2020, All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London.
Texts and translations included with CD and press preview – but no booklet with download/streamed version.
Reviewed as streamed in 24/192 stereo and downloaded from press preview.
DECCA 4851340 [82:48] CD from Amazon UK or Presto

Stile Antico’s first of what I hope will be many recordings for Decca is hailed as the precursor of three CDs of Renaissance music. Having praised many of their earlier recordings on the Harmonia Mundi label, I’m even more delighted with their Josquin album. The only respect in which I would prefer the Tallis Scholars’ recording of the Pange Lingua Mass would be its availability on one of Gimell’s earliest releases in their series of the composer’s Masses on a 2-CD set for the price of one (The Tallis Scholars sing Josquin, with Missa la sol fa re mi, two L’homme armé Masses, and other works CDGIM206). That’s even more economical if downloaded in lossless sound, with pdf booklet, from hyperion-records.co.uk. Or, if you insist on boys’ voices on the top line, Westminster Cathedral Choir and James O’Donnell (Hyperion Helios CDH55374, with Planxit autem David and Vultum tuum – CD or download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk).

Otherwise, the only significant difference between the two mixed-voice recordings is that the Tallis Scholars, available on CD or in 16-bit download only, sing all the sections of the Mass consecutively, whereas Stile Antico, available in up to 24/192 sound, as well as on CD, intersperse other music and conclude their programme with two tributes to Josquin. I’m happy with either arrangement, but I’m not at all happy that there is no booklet with the Decca download – that’s a crucial shortcoming on a vocal recording: very few listeners below a certain age, alas, will make much of the Latin texts, without the help which Gimell and Hyperion provide.

There’s more that I want to say about this recording than I can include here, but I know that one of my colleagues is also working on this from CD.

Queen of Baroque
Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo)
rec. Various dates and locations – see below.
Reviewed as streamed in 24/48 sound
Texts and translations included
DECCA 4851275 [78:31] CD from Amazon UK or Presto

I’m simultaneously delighted and annoyed by this release: delighted, because I’m a great fan of Cecilia Bartoli and only too pleased to have another chance to hear some of her best recordings; annoyed because only two items here are new to the catalogue and, in order to obtain them, you may well be duplicating recordings which you already have. My heart wants to give the recital a Recommended accolade; my head forbids it.

Two new items, by Steffani and Vinci, open the programme, both world premiere recordings, though actually set down in 2012 and 2009 respectively. I’m surprised that these have not been included in earlier Bartoli albums: there’s nothing second-rate about the music, and the singing is all that you would expect. To obtain these two pieces – six minutes in all – means purchasing a whole full-price CD or download. Choose to download them separately in lossless sound, and you’re well on the way to paying as much as for the whole recital. Decca probably reckon that Bartoli’s many fans will fork out their hard-earned cash for a premium-price recording; they are probably right.

Though released in November 2020, I didn’t light on this recording until I had reviewed an Alpha Classics recording of Handel arias for mezzo (Royal Handel review). Despite a small reservation that a complete album of mezzo arias might be too much for one session, I thought that recording by Eva Zaïcik and Le Consort one of a select few Handel recitals worth mentioning in the same review as Hyperion’s Handel Rival Queens CD or the 3-CD collection which contains it. The good news is that if you chose that recording of music by Handel and his London rivals, nothing there duplicates anything on the new Bartoli recording.

Bartoli offers a wide variety of composers and styles – sacred and secular – whereas Zaïcik concentrates on theatre music. To that extent, my reservations about over an hour of mezzo arias is less applicable to the Decca recording. Zaïcik concentrates on less well-known music – three world premiere recordings of music by Ariosti and one by Bononcini – whereas Bartoli includes several well-known pieces, such as the opening of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater and Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga and Ombra mai fu.

To return to my reservations: having heard the opening of the Pergolesi, you will surely wish to listen to Bartoli, splendidly assisted by June Anderson, Sinfonietta de Montréal and Charles Dutoit, in the complete work (Decca E4362092, with Scarlatti Stabat Mater, download only). If that’s too ‘upholstered’ as one of my colleagues described it, reviewing a less recommendable Naxos alternative, there’s always the crystal-clear Emma Kirkby, James Bowman, AAM and Christopher Hogwood recording at mid-price on CD or budget price as a lossless download (Decca Virtuoso 4784029, with Salve Regina). Or there’s Rinaldo Alessandrini pulling the gear stick from ‘Drive’ to ‘Sport’ (Naïve OP30441, also with Scarlatti Stabat Mater). The Alessandrini has been reissued multiple times with various catalogue numbers, all now download only.

Bartoli is something of a specialist in the Stabat Mater: in addition to the Pergolesi, there’s the less well-known Steffani, from which we also have a 4-minute snippet here. Once again, the excerpt is likely to send you in search of the parent recording from 2013, with other distinguished soloists, I Barocchisti and Diego Fasolis (Decca 4785336, with cantatas). I thought that recording a little too theatrical at first, but soon warmed to it and made it Bargain of the Month – DL News 2013/13. That was on the basis that someone at Amazon UK had made a mistake and put the mp3 download out at a giveaway price. That no longer applies and, in any case, it meant accepting a transfer at less than the ideal 320kb/s and without booklet. Such, however, are the vagaries of pricing that Amazon currently offer the CD for a very reasonable £9.41, whereas the best price I can find for a lossless download is £11.11 – at least that’s with the booklet. Back in 1989, Bartoli also recorded the Rossini Stabat Mater with Semyon Bychkov (Philips 4784782, download only) and again in 1995 with Myung-Whun Chung (DG 4497182).

Once again, there are alternatives for the Steffani, but Bartoli is something of a Steffani specialist, so there are good reasons for regarding her recording as a version of choice for a work that rivals the more famous Pergolesi in intensity, though composed for Lutheran Hannover. There’s also a 3-CD Steffani Project set (Decca 4785827, CD only, no download), from which several other tracks on the new release are taken. Göran Forsling thought Mission, one of the CDs included in that set ‘as perfect as anything can be’ – review.

If you fancy a wallow in settings of the Stabat Mater, you can do so to your heart’s content with a 13¾-hour collection on Brilliant Classics 95370a. That’s download only, and comes without booklet, but can be found for as little as £9.75 in lossless sound, even better value than when I referred to the CDs as a bargain at £37. The performances are variable, but include the Steffani from The Sixteen and Harry Christophers, recorded in 2009 and still available on their own Coro label, with Handel Dixit Dominus (COR16076 CD, or download from thesixteenshop.com).

There’s a huge difference between the Coro and the Decca teams in the Steffani Stabat Mater. There’s an old story about several blind men examining different parts of an elephant and coming up with very different descriptions of the same animal. The same is true of these two recordings: the Decca – on which Bartoli actually doesn’t have a huge role – knocks the listener down with the enormous grief of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross, reminding us that, though composed for Hannover, this is a work of the Italian baroque.

Christophers and The Sixteen field an equally fine team of soloists: sopranos Elin Manahan Thomas and Grace Davidson, tenors Jeremy Budd and Mark Dobell and bass Rob Macdonald. Instead of slapping the listener in the face, this is a much more thoughtful interpretation, stressing the beauty of the music rather than the drama. It’s head and heart again; in a head moment, I would go for the Coro, which I downloaded in lossless flac (link above), in a heart moment I’d choose the Decca, not least for the other Steffani works. You may well have a recording of the Coro coupling, the Handel Dixit Dominus, good as it is, but I suspect that most would find that the more comfortable recording of the Steffani to live with.

In Steffani’s Serena, o mio bel sole… Mia fiamma… Mio ardore from Niobe, Bartoli is joined by Philippe Jaroussky. I missed the complete recording of that opera when it was released, with Jaroussky, Karin Gauvin, Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra, Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs (Erato 2564634354). It’s one of those many things that I must catch up with.

I started by half enjoying Queen of Baroque and half annoyed at being asked to pay out for a CD with only six minutes of new material. As it turns out, I have started to lean more towards the new release. It provides a reminder of Bartoli’s style in the music of this period, but it’s a rather over-the-top style which won’t be to all tastes, so you may be happy to have these short extracts from her other recordings and turn to performances of works such as the Pergolesi and Steffani settings of Stabat Mater that are easier to live with in the longer term.

And if you decide not to purchase it, I do recommend at least streaming it if you can. Naxos Music Library didn’t have it when I checked, but they have the earlier albums from which the material is taken, in mp3. The hi-res recording to which I listened as streamed from Qobuz is very good. I imagine that the earlier tracks have been (very successfully) upgraded from 16-bit originals. The CD is on sale at rather more than the usual full-price – I couldn’t find it for less than £16 – so the Qobuz asking price of £16.49 for 24-bit, with pdf booklet (£11.99 for 16-bit), doesn’t seem as steep as usual. I praised the recording quality of the Alpha Royal Handel album; if anything, the Decca sound is even better

Details:

Agostino STEFFANI (1654–1728)
E l’honor stella tiranna (I trionfi del fato, Hanover, 1695; Enea)* [2:01]
Leonardo VINCI (1690–1730)
Quanto invidio la sorte … Chi vive amante (Alessandro nell’Indie, Rome, 1730; Erissena)* [4:00]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
Lascia ch’io pianga mia cruda sorte (Rinaldo, London, 1711; Almirena) [4:50]
Riccardo BROSCHI (c.1698–1756)
Son qual nave ch’agitata (Artaserse, London, 1734; Arbace) [7:28]
Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710–1736)
Stabat Mater dolorosa : Stabat mater [3:53]
(with June Anderson soprano)
Antonio VIVALDI (1678–1741)
Agitata da due venti (Griselda, Venice, 1735, Costanza) [5:22]
Agostino STEFFANI
Serena, o mio bel sole… Mia fiamma… Mio ardore (Niobe, regina di Tebe, Munich, 1688; Anfione, Niobe) [2:18]
(with Philippe Jaroussky countertenor)
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660–1725)
Caldo sangue (Il Sedecia, re di Gerusalemme, Rome or Urbino, 1705; Ismaele) [5:29]
George Frideric HANDEL
Ombra mai fu (Serse London, 1738; Serse) [3:24]
Tomaso ALBINONI (1671–1750/51)
Aure, andate e baciate (Il nascimento dell’Aurora, Venice, c.1710; Zefiro) [3:21]
Carl Heinrich GRAUN (c.1703–1759)
Deh, tu bel Dio d’amore … Ov’è il mio bene? (Adriano in Siria, Berlin, 1746; Farnaspe) [3:41]
Agostino STEFFANI
Stabat mater : Eja Mater, fons amoris … Fac ut ardeatSancta MaterTui nati, vulnerati [4:19]
(with Franco Fagioli countertenor & Daniel Behle, Julian Prégardian tenors
Antonio CALDARA (c.1671–1736)
Vanne pentita a piangere (Il trionfo dell’Innocenza Santa Eugenia) [8:49]
George Frideric HANDEL
Disserratevi, o porte d’Averno (Oratorio per la Resurrezione di Nostro Signor Gesù Cristo, Rome, 1708; Angelo) [4:44]
Nicola PORPORA (1686–1768)
Parto, ti lascio, o cara (Germanico in Germania, Rome, 1732; Arminio) [10:45]
Agostino STEFFANI
Combatton quest’alma (I trionfi del fato: Enea, Lavinia) [2:06]
(with Philippe Jaroussky countertenor
George Frideric HANDEL
Bel piacere è godere fido amor (Rinaldo: Almirena) [2:05]
Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo)
World-Premiere Recording*
Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera; I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis; Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini; Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood; Sinfonietta de Montréal/Charles Dutoit; Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca; Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski; Cappella Gabetta/Andrés Gabetta
Locations: L’Église de Saint-Eustache, Montréal, October 1991; Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza, Italy, June 1998 (live); Henry Wood Hall, London, 19–27 November 1999; Salle Wagram, Paris, 27–29 August 2004; L’Église du Liban, Paris, 11–22 February 2005; Centro Cultural Miguel Delibes, Valladolid, Spain, 28 January–24 March 2009; Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano, Italy, November 2011–March 2012, January–June 2013; Evangelisch-reformierte Kirchgemeinde Oberstrass, Zurich, 8–14 March 2017

I am Hera
Hera Hyesang Park (soprano)
Johannes Maria Bogner (harpsichord)
Wiener Symphoniker/Bertrand de Billy
rec. 29 June - 4 July 2020, Mozart-Saal, Konzerthaus, Vienna. DDD.
Texts and translations included.
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview. No booklet with download.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4839456 [69:14] CD from Amazon UK or Presto

Here’s the perfect foil to the Cecilia Bartoli: an excellent young soprano making her debut recital recording for DG, with some familiar and some less obvious repertoire. I have reviewed this in detail for the main reviews page, so I’ll simply report here my appreciation of the singing, accompaniment and recording and my annoyance that the commercial download appears to come without booklet.

Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice, Wq30: Qual vita è questa mai [1:38]
Che fiero momento [3:15]
Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI
La Serva Padrona: Stizzoso, mio stizzoso [3:36]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Giulio Cesare in Egitto: Se pietà di me non senti [9:16]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le nozze di Figaro, K492: Giunse alfin il momento [1:09]
Deh vieni, non tardar [2:54]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Il barbiere di Siviglia: Una voce poco fa [6:09]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Idomeneo, K366: Quando avran fine omai [3:29]
Padre, germani, addio! [3:21]
Don Giovanni, K527: Vedrai, carino [3:19]
Die Zauberflöte, K620: Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden [3:25]
Gioachino ROSSINI
Il Turco in Italia: Non si dà follia maggiore [3:31]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
I Capuleti e I Montecchi: Eccomi in lieta vesta [4:55]
Oh! quante volte ti chiedo [3:44]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La bohème, SC67: Quando m’en vo soletta [2:29]
Gianni Schicchi, SC88: O mio babbino caro [2:14]
Joowon KIM (b.1984)
Like the Wind That Met with Lotus [5:27]
Un-Yung LA (1922-1993)
Psalm 23 (arr. Bernhard Eder) [5:13]

Serenades
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Serenade for strings in C, Op.48 [30:17]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Serenade for Strings in e minor, Op.20 [12:15]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Serenade No.13 in G, K525 ‚Eine kleine Nachtmusik‘ [20:31]
Zürcher Kammerorchester/Daniel Hope
rec. ZKO-Haus, Zurich, September 2020. DDD.
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview. Booklet included with download.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4839845 [63:09] CD from Amazon UK or Presto

If you thought that a serenade was just a piece of inconsequential late-night entertainment, you must have forgotten the Tchaikovsky. Lightness there is, most notably in the second movement waltz, but right from the opening movement, there are shadows cast by the light. As Tchaikovsky wrote to his benefactor, Madame von Meck, “it is a heartfelt piece”. No conductor has put his or her heart into music as deeply as Sir John Barbirolli, and it’s with his recording of this work, with the LSO, at the back of my mind that I approach any new recording. It’s no longer available, except for the Waltz on a Warner Red Line album entitled ‘Relaxation’, and that’s the least memorable part of his recording, which also offered the Arensky Tchaikovsky Variations (HMV ASD646).

It’s Barbirolli in Elgar, too, and this time his recording with the Sinfonia of London remains available, albeit as a download only (English Music for Strings, Warner Great Recordings 5672402, or better value, with more generous coupling, on Warner Masters 0851872). It’s not just long familiarity with the Barbirolli Elgar that makes it feel so right; the coupling is equally revelatory – the Elgar Introduction and Allegro, Elegy and Sospiri, and Vaughan Williams Tallis and Greensleeves Fantasias, plus a Delius Brigg Fair to rival Beecham on the longer album.

At this stage, then, I’m left undecided. Daniel Hope and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra capture the light and shade of the Tchaikovsky in a performance as good as any that I have heard recently. It comes, for example, with the ‘richer denser texture’ that Gwyn Parry-Jones found wanting in the LSO Live recording – review – and it matches the intensity which I found on the Orchid Classics recording from the Russian Virtuosi of Europe – review DL News 2016/5. The Elgar, too, captures the spirit of the music very well, and it comes in better sound than the Barbirolli, good as that is for its age (rec. 1962).

A light-footed Eine Kleine Nachtmusik rounds off a very enjoyable recording. If the coupling appeals, this is an attractive release. If you must have CD or hi-res sound, the Barbirolli Elgar lacks both of those, clearing the way for Daniel Hope, the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and the DG engineers to entertain you. Like most DG downloads, it comes with a pdf booklet, making it all the more surprising that their stable mate Decca’s don’t.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), K620 [2:31:54]
Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano, Pamina)
Peter Hofmann (tenor, Tamino)
Edita Gruberova (soprano - Königin der Nacht)
Kurt Moll (bass, Sarastro)
Kathleen Battle (soprano, Papagena)
Philippe Huttenlocher (Papageno)
Norbert Orth (tenor, Monostatos)
Helena Döse (soprano), Ann Murray (mezzo), Naoko Ihara (contralto) (Damen)
José van Dam (baritone, Speaker)
Zürcher Sängerknaben
Chœurs de l’Opera du Rhin
Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg/Alain Lombard
rec. 7 June 1978, Palais de la Musique et des Congres, Strasbourg. DDD.
Reviewed as downloaded from  press preview – no booklet
DECCA 4855200 [74:11 + 78:05] CD from Amazon UK

As with the Josquin (above), there’s more that I want to say about this recording than I have time for here, but one of my colleagues has submitted more detailed thoughts: look out for forthcoming review from Mike Parr – ‘A starry line-up of singers does not disappoint in a polished account of Mozart’s last opera in a long absent recording that receives its first digital release’.

Recorded in 1978, and first released on the independent Barclay label, it’s making its first CD appearance now. Don’t go for this if you don’t like the spoken dialogue. Klemperer’s recording (Warner) is still my top choice for recordings without it, but there’s an alternative (download only) version of this Decca recording: at 90 minutes, it’s not quite as complete as the Klemperer, but it has almost all the sung content (4877754).

Lombard strikes a good balance between the lighter and more serious aspects of the opera, and the cast contains some of the finest singers of the time. Anything with Kiri te Kanawa is OK by me; there are no real shortcomings in any of the parts, and the recording wears its years well. Overall, this is a non-controversial if slightly undramatic account. The lack of a booklet with either of the download versions is something of a no-no, however.


Franz (Ferenc) LISZT (1811–1886)

Piano Sonata in b minor, S178 [31:52]
Berceuse, S174ii [9:43]
Années de pèlerinage, Deuxième année: Italie, S161:
IV. Sonetto 47 del Petrarca (“Benedetto sia ’l giorno”) [6:07]
V. Sonetto 104 del Petrarca (“Pace non trovo”) [7:02]
VI. Sonetto 123 del Petrarca (“I’ vidi in terra angelici costumi”) [7:28]
Réminiscences de Norma: Grand fantaisie, after the opera by Vincenzo Bellini, S394 [16:33]
Lieder von Franz Schubert, S558: XII. Ave Maria, after Ellens dritter Gesang, D839 [5:35]
Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)
rec. 19–22 October 2020, Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, London. DDD.
Reviewed from press preview. No booklet with commercial download.
DECCA 4851450 [84:29] CD from Amazon UK or Presto

We may not have been in urgent need of another recording of the Liszt Piano Sonata, with classic recordings a-plenty, among which I have chosen Martha Argerich’s (1960) stunning debut recording (DG Originals 4474302, with Hungarian Rhapsody No.6, Chopin, Brahms, Prokofiev and Ravel – review of earlier reissue, differently coupled). The sonata was not included on the original release, SLPM138672, but was recorded later, in 1971, and released on 2530193; it’s added here as a marvellous encore. In the intervening years, one might have expected the fiery temperament to have cooled; it hadn’t, and still hasn’t.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that pianists are good either at Chopin or Liszt, not both, so the success of Benjamin Grosvenor’s Chopin Piano Concertos last year, hailed by Michael Greenhalgh as ‘consistently satisfying [and played with] authority’ – review – and his earlier Chopin recordings, should put him out of the running for Liszt. If so, nobody told him – or Martha Argerich, for that matter. On the contrary, the very qualities singled out by MG from his Chopin – ‘fluent, assured, charismatic, ebullient, fiery as appropriate’ – stand him in very good stead in Liszt.

You need only look at comparative timings for the opening movement – subdivided across four tracks for Argerich, totalling 10:46 – to see that Grosvenor’s (at 12:30) is an altogether more reflective proposition. That will probably be a little too reflective for some, and they should stick with Argerich, but there’s a definite place for both. Grosvenor proved early in his career that he has technique in abundance, and that’s a pre-requisite for the Liszt sonata, but Grosvenor reminds us, too, of Liszt the arch-romantic, showman and dreamer of beautiful dreams, hard-hitting yet meditative.

With the rest of the very generous programme equally attractive, this is a Liszt recital to cherish.

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg : Overture [10:28]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No.2 in c minor (2nd version 1877, ed. William Carragan) [58:10]
Symphony No.8 in c minor (version 1890, ed. Leopold Nowak) [81:57]
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Andris Nelsons
rec. live Gewandhaus zu Leipzig, 3–8 December 2019 (Meistersinger Prelude & Symphony No. 2) & 4–6 September 2019 (Symphony No. 8). DDD.
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4839834 [2:30:42] CD from Amazon UK or Presto or ArkivMusic

Deep joy, as Stanley Unwin used to say, that the overture comes first on CD1. At last, the record companies may be seeing sense; who wants to hear the filler after the major work? The words ‘overture’ and ‘prelude’ carry the clue. And what a good idea to preface a 2-CD set of Bruckner with music from the man that he idolised, Wagner. A truly awful person, just the opposite of Bruckner himself, yet I share his enthusiasm for the music. I just told a new reviewer whom we are welcoming on board that my enthusiasm for opera is limited to Mozart, Monteverdi and Wagner – a huge over-generalisation, but those are my main anchors. And what a delight that all that epic Wagner is leavened by Die Meistersinger, as Verdi’s serious operas were by Falstaff. It is possible to imagine a livelier account of the overture, but it makes a good start.

Bruckner’s early symphonies need all the help they can get from the conductor and orchestra, even to the extent of pulling the music about to make the point – something I normally dislike, but I make an exception for Eugen Jochum’s Bruckner (Symphonies Nos. 1-9: DG E4698102, or Warner 9029531746). Andris Nelsons leaves the music too much ‘as is’, and it failed to make an impression on me. Could the detractors who think Bruckner boring actually be right? Jochum suggests otherwise, as does Georg Tintner on Naxos – review.

Symphony No.8 is complete on CD2, taking a smidgin over the putative 80 minutes limit. That’s becoming more common; 81:57 is by no means the longest – no problem for the download or the streamed version, but it may place a few older CD players under strain. I believe the standard advice if that’s a problem is to start the final track separately. It certainly adds to the attraction of this new set, when No.8 sometimes runs to two CDs, as DG’s own Karajan recording used to, though the DG Originals reissue is now complete on one mid-price disc (4790528).

Nelsons’ Eighth is much more the real thing than his No.2. I won’t go into detail because Dan Morgan has said it so well in his forthcoming review. Go for Günter Wand instead: with the NDR Symphony (RCA G0100002805890) or the Berlin Philharmonic (RCA 88691922952, Nos. 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9), both download only, or the complete Jochum set listed above.

Carnival
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Le Carnaval des Animaux (with verses by Michael Morpurgo)
Michael MORPURGO (b.1943)
Grandpa Christmas (including music by Béla Bartók, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Edvard Grieg, Bob Marley, Nikolay Rimsky Korsakov, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Eric Whitacre)
Michael Morpurgo, Olivia Colman (narrators)
The Kanneh-Masons
rec. August 2020, Abbey Road Studio 2, London. DDD.
Reviewed as streamed in lossless sound – no booklet.
DECCA 4851156 [63:43] CD from Amazon UK or Presto

Children might well fall in love with this recording from the colourful cover alone, and, while grown-ups may prefer a recording without the narration, I can’t think of anyone better suited to making the music available to the very all ages than children’s author Michael Morpurgo. That the recording could be made, in the midst of a pandemic which Michael Morpurgo is on record as finding an ordeal, is something of a miracle. In the event, the reduced forces required by social distancing proved a blessing in disguise. The members of this incredibly talented family are augmented by a few friends, and the verses are not too twee for adult listening. In any case, if downloaded, these can be edited out – but save a copy of the original, too. Alternatively, there’s a very fine small-scale narration-free recording from Renaud Capuçon and friends on Erato 5456032, with more music by Saint-Saëns – September 2009. (Ignore the defunct passionato link.)

Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Scheherazade – symphonic suite, Op.35 [46:41]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Scherzo fantastique, Op.3 [12:02]
Jaap van Zweden (violin)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
rec. December 1993 & April 1994, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
Presto CD and download (no booklet with download)
Reviewed as lossless download
DECCA 4437032 [58:43] For purchase details see review by John Quinn.

Large amounts of back catalogue are now available only as part of a monster box set or as downloads. Many such recordings are still very worthwhile – this is a case in point – but not everyone wants another huge box of CDs, but not everyone is yet comfortable with streaming and downloading. Many are suspicious about the quality when, until recently, the only game in town was mp3, usually purveyed at less than the maximum possible bit-rate. Now, 16-bit lossless sound, equivalent to CD quality is rapidly becoming the norm, with better quality 24-bit, equivalent to SACD, increasingly available for recent recordings.

I very much enjoyed hearing this Scheherazade as streamed in lossless sound, but many listeners still want something physical, which is where Presto come in, offering special CDRs, made under licence, with all the original materials, including the booklet – the latter often not included with the download or streamed version, as in this case. Others, such as Hyperion and Chandos, offer deleted back catalogue as CDRs from their archives, but the advantage is less in that case because they include a pdf booklet with the download equivalent.

Like John Quinn (link above), I have several classic recordings in mind; in my case as well as the Beecham and Reiner recordings which he mentions, I still turn to Pierre Monteux in his heyday with the LSO (1957), most recently released by Eloquence (4808889, with Russian Easter Festival Overture, LPO/Boult) but, like the Beecham, the recording, very decent for its age, is no match for the Chailly. Of similar vintage to the Beecham and Monteux, I liked the Beulah (download only) reissue of Ansermet’s recording – DL News 2015/7. I gave an iTunes link, but that recording is now available in superior 16-bit lossless sound from Qobuz, for the same price, £7.99.


Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Poème for violin and orchestra, Op.25 (1896) [16:55]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No.1 in D, Op.19 (1923) [21:27]
Eonojuhani RAUTAVAARA (1928-2016)
Serenade No.1 ‘pour mon amour’ (2016) [7:50]
Serenade No.2 ‘pour la vie’ (2016) [6:37]
Hilary Hahn (violin)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Mikko Franck
rec. 17 February 2019 (Rautavaara), 19 June 2019, Grand Hall, Maison de la Radio, Paris. DDD.
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4839847 [53:05] Also on two vinyl LPs: 4839848 CD and LPs from Amazon UK or Presto

Like the recording of the complete Ives symphonies (below), this release is virtually self-recommending. My only reservation is that there would have been room for Prokofiev’s second violin concerto. I know that wouldn’t fit the ‘Paris’ theme – the first concerto was composed and premiered there in 1923 – but it would have made the recording more competitive with two other very fine recordings of both concertos, coincidentally also with a female soloist and from the Universal stable: Lisa Batiashvili with the COE and Yannick Nézet Séguin (DG 4798529 – review) and Kyung-Wha Chung with the LSO and André Previn – even better value with the two Prokofiev concertos and the Stravinsky (Decca 4767226, Presto special CDR, or 4250032, download only).

The new release, however, also includes unique added value in the form of the two Rautavaara pieces which close the programme, composed at the end of his life for these very performers, who gave the world premiere in the same month as the recording was made, February 2019. This is a very different Rautavaara from his best-known work, Cantus Arcticus; softer in mood, these two pieces are ideally suited to Hahn, Mikko Franck and the Radio France orchestra.

Though the booklet is, almost inevitably these days, focused on Hilary Hahn’s star appeal, it does manage to convey valuable information about the music. I do hope that it will be available with the commercial download.

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Destination
Rachmaninov - Arrival
The Silver Sleigh Bells Op.35, 1st movement (1913, transcribed Trifonov) [6:56]
Piano Concerto No.1 in f-sharp minor Op. 1 (1891/1917) [28:15]
Vocalise Op.34 No.15 (1915, transcribed Trifonov) [3:34]
Piano Concerto No.3 in d minor Op. 30 (1909) [43:01]
Daniil Trifonov (piano)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
rec. November 2016 (No.1) April 2018 (No.3, live) Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia. February 2019 Berlin Philharmonie (Op. 35, live) January 2018 Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall, Princeton University (Op. 34, live)
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview. Also available on vinyl LP.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4836617 [81:46] For availability see review.

We missed this second volume of ‘Destination Rachmaninov’, having lavished collective praise on its predecessor. I’m pleased that Universal were able to supply us with the digital files and that one of our very welcome new reviewers has reviewed this for us. In summary, David McDade thought that ‘The first concerto glows, but aspects of the third take this out of contention’ – full review. I enjoyed both concertos, and I’m less critical of Trifonov’s No.3, but it is the least special of the four concertos recorded over the two CDs.

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873–1943)
Symphony No.1 in d minor, Op.13 (1897) [45:15]
Symphonic Dances, Op.45 (1940) [35:37]
The Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
rec. Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, September 2018 (Symphonic Dances), June 2019 (Symphony No. 1).
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4839839 [80:49] For availability see review: this new DG release is the most auspicious augur for more Rachmaninov from an orchestra that can once again be referred to as “Those Fabulous Philadelphians”. (Ian Julier, another very welcome recruit to the team of download reviewers).

This new release takes us from the depths of despair after the failure of his First Symphony to one of Rachmaninov’s last works. The coupling is appropriate because of the quotation from the symphony in the Symphonic Dances and the passing reference to the Dies Iræ theme in both. The composer may not have had the motto ‘My end is my beginning’ in mind, but it certainly applies.

The Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin have already filled in some of the interim with two DG recordings with Daniil Trifonov covering the four piano concertos (Departure: Nos. 2 and 4, 4835335: Recording of the Month – review review 2018/2; Arrival: Nos. 1 and 3, 4836617 - see above). An earlier recording brought us the same team in the Paganini, Corelli and Chopin Variations (4794970 – review). Now they turn their attention to the symphonies – all of them in due course, I hope.

Symphony No.1 was an orphan for many years – if it caused the composer’s breakdown, could it be any good? As it turns out, the fault lay not in the music but in the disastrous decision to entrust the first performance to Glazunov, drunk and incapable in front of an ill-prepared orchestra. After treatment by an analyst, Rachmaninov took up his pen again and composed what turned out to be one of his greatest hits, the Second Piano Concerto, dedicated to the analyst. It was only after his death that the symphony was rediscovered.

For many years I accepted the line adopted in programme notes for the concerto, that the symphony was not worth reviving. What opened my ears was a CBS recording from the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy, still available with the other two symphonies and Vocalise on Sony RCA (G010002945243S, download-only, around £12.50 in lossless sound, no booklet – review of earlier 2-CD release). The association of the Philadelphia and Ormandy with Rachmaninov goes back even further: the composer’s own recordings were made with them (now on Naxos Historical). It’s almost written in the stars that their modern equivalents have the music in their blood. The Third Symphony and the Symphonic Dances were composed with this orchestra, in its Ormandy heyday, in mind, though the First was premiered in Moscow in 1945.

Since the Ormandy recording, the success of which was boosted by its use as the theme tune for a BBC TV current affairs programme, we have had numerous fine recordings; one of my favourites, from Andrew Litton and the RPO (1989), also survives as a download with the other two symphonies (Erato de Virgin 5620372, around £11). The Andrew Previn recording with the LSO is also still available, but, at over £38 for the three symphonies, Isle of the Dead, Vocalise, Aleko and Symphonic Dances, vastly over-priced (Warner 7645302). (Previn’s Nos. 2 and 3 remain available separately – shop around to download them for around £8.50 each.)

What looks on the face of it an attractive bargain, from Valery Gergiev with the LSO on their own label, left me disappointed – review. Its reissue in a pack of all three symphonies makes it no more attractive. Dan Morgan thought Vladimir Ashkenazy’s live recording on Signum ‘worth a shot’ – review – but Nick Barnard thought its release a mistake – review.

Because of its easy and inexpensive availability, it’s the Litton which I have chosen for comparison. Litton is a natural Rachmaninov interpreter – witness his recordings of the piano concertos with Stephen Hough in Dallas (Hyperion) – and his recording has consistently been regarded as one of the best, though it can’t disguise the rather episodic nature of the music, and it’s well recorded (16-bit and CD only; no SACD or 24-bit). The original single-CD release which I own starts off on a very good foot by placing the filler – a powerful performance of Isle of the Dead – first. There’s a stronger case than usual for DG to regard the symphony and the Symphonic Dances as co-equal, but I would still have preferred the Dances first.

There are no great disagreements between Litton and Nézet-Séguin over tempo: the former is a shade slower in three of the movements – seconds only in movements ii and iv – and a little faster in the larghetto third movement. Both bring due power to the music in the outer movements, but Nézet-Séguin holds the music together a little more coherently. He may make it sound a fraction less exciting at the climaxes, but gains by making the whole seem less episodic.

In the larghetto, where Litton takes 9:42, Nézet-Séguin lingers just a few seconds longer, but the effect is hardly noticeable in practice. Ashkenazy (Decca 4557982, 3 CDs, budget price) really takes this movement at a fast pace, shaving very nearly a minute off even Litton’s time, and Pletnev, on another DG recording is almost as fast. Having been nurtured on the Ormandy recording (8:45), I have never thought a fastish tempo inappropriate for the movement.

Certainly Litton, Previn (9:59) and Nézet-Séguin can’t be accused of skating over the surface, but are they squeezing the last drops of ‘Mother Russia’ out of the music here? If so, I like the result, though without rejecting the faster-paced Ormandy and Ashkenazy versions.

For the Symphonic Dances, another work to which I was introduced by Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, now with Smetana and Offenbach on a Sony download (G010001222653E), my benchmark is again Litton, this time with the Bergen Philharmonic (BIS-1751 SACD, with Isle of the Dead and The Rock), reviewed as a 24/44.1 download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com. John Quinn thought that superb – review – and I’m very happy to agree – 2012/23. That comes with another appropriate coupling – the Dies Iræ theme, touched on in the Dances, more prominently treated in Isle of the Dead. Among older recordings, the Beulah reissue of Kiril Kondrashin’s recording with the Moscow PO, coupled with Symphony No.3 (Moscow RSO/Svetlanov) would be well worth streaming or downloading from Qobuz in a good transfer (1PD81), except that, as currently presented, one of the tracks cuts out short. (I’ve reported it.)

Though the Litton Erato recording is CD or 16-bit only, it still sounds very well, but the new DG, though available for streaming only in 16-bit as I write, is better still, well up to the quality that their engineers established with their earlier Rachmaninov recordings in Philadelphia. Presto are offering a 24/96 download.

All in all, then, though I’m not about to throw out the Ormandy 2-CD set (if I can find it), the modern equivalent of his orchestra has given us some very fine Rachmaninov.


Charles IVES (1874-1954)
Complete Symphonies
Symphony No.1 (1895-1898) [36:24]
Symphony No.2 (1900-1902) [35:49]
Symphony No.3 ‘The Camp Meeting’ (1904) [21:21]
Symphony No.4 (1912-1925) [30:53]
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Gustavo Dudamel (with Marta Gardolińska in No 4)
rec. live, February 2020, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, USA
Reviewed as streamed in 24/96 sound. No booklet
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4839505 [2 CDs: 124:00] CD from Amazon UK or Presto or ArkivMusic

This recording is self-selecting: Dan Morgan gave it a Recommended tag - review - and it’s been chosen as one of the MusicWeb Recordings of the Month for February 2021, so it needs little extra comment from me, except to say that if you have the recordings of these works made by Michael Tilson Thomas, don’t throw them out. The Sony 4-CD set with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra offers top value at around £15, and also includes the ‘Holidays’ Symphony and other works, including some of the music which inspired Ives (19439788332). But why does the lossless download cost over £32 and come without booklet? The later Tilson Thomas recordings with the San Francisco SO, on their own label, are available on separate albums, including the ‘Holidays’ Symphony, coupled with the complete Copland Appalachian Spring (not just the suite) on SFS0034. (See my review of the performance and analysis: Keeping Score DVD on SFS0024; NB: change of catalogue number).

Franz SCHMIDT (1874-1939)
Complete Symphonies
Symphony No.1 in E (1896-1899) [44:20]
Symphony No.2 in E flat (1911-1912) [50:18]
Symphony No.3 in A (1927-1928) [40:26]
Symphony No.4 in C (1932-1933) [44:34]
Notre Dame : Intermezzo (1903) [4:40]
Frankfurt Radio Symphony/Paavo Järvi
rec. live, March 2013 (2), March 2017 (1), hr-Sedensaal, Frankfurt; February 2014 (3), April 2018 (4 & Intermezzo), Alte Oper, Frankfurt.
Reviewed as streamed in 24/48 sound. Pdf booklet included.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4838336 [3 CDs: 180:43] CD availability – see review.

In a game of family musical chairs, Paavo Järvi in Frankfurt on these new DG recordings is competing with Neeme Järvi in Detroit on Chandos, a 4-CD set of the complete Schmidt symphonies (CHAN9568, mid-price – review). Some dealers are asking £37.50 for the Chandos CDs and £38.35 for the lossless download, but the CDs can be bought direct from chandos.net for £31.50, and you should be able to find the lossless download for around £15. Even so, the new DG offers better value on disc, with the CDs around £22 and lossless download around £19.

I’ve known and enjoyed the Chandos recordings for a long time, and I have had only a brief chance to dip into the DG, but what I hear encourages me to agree with my colleagues who have (mostly, not all) given this set a warm welcome – review review review.

Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
Suite in the Old Style (1977) [15:06]
Polka after The Overcoat (Gogol Suite) [1:47]
Tango (from Agony) arr. Andriy Rakhmanin [3:01]
Sonata No.1 for violin and piano [17:54]
Madrigal in memoriam Oleg Kagan for violin solo [9:13]
Gratulationsrondo [7:24]
Stille Nacht for violin and piano [4:47]
Daniel Hope (violin), Alexey Botvinov (piano)
rec. October and November 2019, Beethovenhaus, Bonn. DDD.
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4839234 [59:03] CD from Amazon UK or Presto or ArkivMusic

I didn’t think that I liked Schnittke’s music, but the (atypical) opening Suite in the Old Style bowled me over. Though not specifically adapted from pieces by earlier composers like the Respighi Ancient Airs and Dances, it’s more in the manner of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. I may have become a little inured to the charms of the Prokofiev after hearing it so often, so this Schnittke piece makes an excellent, less familiar, substitute. It’s played here with clear affection for the music by Daniel Hope and Alexey Botvinov. Hope’s attachment to Schnittke is apparent throughout the album, even without the note explaining his ‘love affair’ with the composer’s music and his subsequent friendship with him.

The Polka and Congratulatory Rondo are also in a very approachable style, and, though most of the rest of the programme is more angular in manner, not least the Sonata, these performers make the strongest possible case for it, even appealing to a stick-in-the-mud like me. I’ve been impressed by Daniel Hope in the past, but his two very different recordings this month, the Serenades and the Schnittke, have done even more to confirm that impression. Go easy on the final assault on Stille Nacht; heard last thing, it might give you a far from silent night.

I could wish that the booklet – provided with the download, I’m pleased to note – had been more informative about the music, interesting as Hope’s account of his meetings with Schnittke is. This is one area where labels like Hyperion really score, with scholarly but readable, often very detailed, notes on the music.

English Music for Strings
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Ciacona in g minor, Z.730 (arr. Britten) [6:59]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Introduction and Allegro for strings, Op.47 (1905)1 [14:09]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Prelude & Fugue for 18 strings, Op.29 [9:12]
Simple Symphony, Op.4 [17:16]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934) (orch. Eric Fenby)
Two Aquarelles (1917.1932) [5:14]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)
Christmas Dance ‘Sir Roger de Coverley’ [4:27]
Cecil Aronowitz (viola), Emanuel Hurwitz (violin), José Luis Garcia (violin), Bernard Richards (cello)1
English Chamber Orchestra/Benjamin Britten
rec. May and December 1968, September 1971, Maltings, Snape. ADD
Reviewed as streamed in 16-bit lossless sound.
Presto CD or download
DECCA 4761641 [57:19]

This is another important back-catalogue recording now available only to download or stream, or as a special CDR from Presto. Not only does their special service give the listener something material to hold, with a booklet to read, at £9.75 it’s more than £2 less expensive than Presto’s own price for a lossless download, and much less than the £13.49 which another provider is asking (no booklet with either download). For value, only one other similar recording springs to mind: Julian Lloyd Webber and the ECO on Naxos (The Bridge is Love, 8.573250 – review DL News 2015/3).

Everything here, except the Prelude and Fugue, added from a 1971 recording, was released in 1969 on Decca SXL6405, which I snapped up, albeit that, as a young teacher, I could seldom afford full-price LPs, after reading a review by the ever-reliable Trevor Harvey. Incidentally, I see that the LP cost 43/9, at least £60 in today’s values, a reminder that the Presto CDR offers more music for comparatively much less. The sound, too, is a real improvement on the LP, even as played with the best Shure cartridge that I could afford then. In fact, this can stand comparison with a modern DDD recording.

The main work, the Elgar Introduction and Allegro, receives a very emotional performance. If there ever was a conductor who wore his heart on his sleeve, it was Sir John Barbirolli – see my review of the Tchaikovsky Serenade (above). His recording of English String Music, containing the Elgar Introduction and Allegro and Serenade for Strings, Elegy and Sospiri, with Vaughan Williams and Delius, is an essential purchase (Warner 0851872, download only), but Britten, not normally quite so emotionally up-front, comes very close indeed to generating the same heart-felt sensation. The Delius Aquarelles, too, show every sign of Britten’s love for the music, and his mentor Frank Bridge’s knees-up rounds off an attractive programme.

One small complaint: this lively recording of the youthful Simple Symphony has also been included in two other Decca reissues: with the Young Person’s Guide, Four Sea Interludes, and Frank Bridge Variations on a mid-price Virtuoso CD (4830392) and on a download-only release with the same programme minus the Four Sea Interludes (E4175092, no booklet).

There is, in fact, a bewildering variety of Britten’s recordings of his own music for Decca. Another Presto special CDR and download offers another permutation:

The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Op.341 [16:34]
Peter Grimes (1945): Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia, Op.33a2 [23:21]
Soirées musicales (after Rossini), Op.93 [9:34]
Matinées musicales (after Rossini), Op.243 [13:15]
London Symphony Orchestra/Benjamin Britten1
Royal Opera House Covent Garden/Benjamin Britten2
National Philharmonic Orchestra/Richard Bonynge3
rec. May 1963, Kingsway Hall, London, ADD1; December 1958, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, ADD2; March 1981, Kingsway Hall London, DDD3
Presto CD or download
DECCA 4256592 [62:44]

Of all the reissues of Britten’s own Young Person’s Guide – without narration – so, properly speaking, Variations on a Theme of Purcell – and the Four Sea Interludes, this best complements the English Music for Strings album; there is no overlap, and it’s another Presto special CDR, albeit slightly more expensive than its companion. Composers are not always renowned for the best performances of their works, but Britten by Britten is very special, not least in this powerful performance of the Guide.

The excerpts from Peter Grimes are also special, but be warned that that’s just what they are, with vocal parts included, taken from the complete recording of the opera which Britten conducted in 1958, with Peter Pears in the title role and a very strong supporting cast. That remains available complete on Decca Originals 4757713 (download only, no booklet) or Decca 4830401 (download only, with booklet) or Decca 20C 4787429 (download only, the least expensive version, but no booklet). The only way now to obtain the complete Peter Grimes on CD seems to be Britten: The Complete Operas (Decca 4785448, 20 CDs, currently on offer from Amazon UK for £37.07).

The Rossini-based Matinées and Soirées are taken from a Richard Bonynge recording from the early digital era, also available in their original coupling, as on LP (SXDL7539, released in 1982), with another Rossini pastiche, Respighi’s La Boutique fantasque. Even on the original LP the sound represented the best of Decca’s early digital recordings. It has come up sounding very well here, but so has the rest of this album on another Presto CD or download: 4101392. I shall not be disposing, however, of my Ansermet recording of La Boutique on an older Decca recording – that remains fine for its age, but the Bonynge comes in better sound quality.



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Recordings of the Month

March


piano music Vol 4


Charpentier


Songs of Love and Sorrow


Thomas Agerfeldt OLESEN
Cello Concerto


The female in Music

 

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Linda BUCKLEY
From Ocean’s Floor