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DOWNLOAD NEWS 2013/10
by Brian Wilson


Download News 2013/9, a special issue devoted to recent releases from Beulah, is available here and 2013/8 is here. The archive of earlier editions is here.

With contributions not only from Dan Morgan and Geoff Molyneux, which have become regular features, but also from David Barker and Brian Reinhart, this is something of a bumper edition, even though I had already moved the Beulah releases to a separate DL News. All very welcome – the more the merrier. David has also posted an article on the joys and woes of online music – here.

Choir of Angels: Music from the Eton Choirbook – Volume 2
John BROWNE (fl. c.1490)
O Maria salvatoris mater a 8 [15:50]
William CORNYSH the elder (d.1502) Ave Maria mater Dei a 4 [4:08]
Richard DAVY (c.1465-1507) Salve Jesu mater vera a 5 [16:50]
Walter LAMBE (c.1450/1-1499) O Maria plena gracia a 6 [20:53]
Robert WYLKYNSON (c.1450-1515 or later) Salve Regina a 9 [16:23]
The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford/Stephen Darlington
AVIE AV2184 [74:04] – from emusic.com (mp3)

In the days of LP we had the odd work from the Eton Choirbook, including Richard Davy’s Passion, which even now is not available in complete form on CD – excerpts on Naxos – but I don’t think anyone then would have dreamed that we would have had such a complete representation now, with five volumes from The Sixteen on Coro and one each from Gimell and Naxos. Now Avie and Christ Church have doubled their tally and very fine it sounds, too. Moreover, there’s such a rich variety of music in the collection that only two of the items here overlap with the contents of the 5-CD Coro series.

At £2.10 this is excellent value and emusic.com were first and, as I write, the only contenders in the field with the download; though the bit-rate of around 240kb/s is not ideal, it’s almost as good as you are likely to get from amazon.co.uk and iTunes. Classicsonline.com will be offering it at 320kb/s, but the emusic.com version sounds perfectly adequate. No doubt it will also be available for streaming from Naxos Music Library but there’s no need to hesitate to download, especially at the super-budget price from emusic.com. Only the lack of booklet, which will presumably be available with the classicsonline.com download, gives room for reservation.

[As I was transcribing this DL News for the web, yet another recording of music from the Eton Choirbook dropped on my mat for review: Sony/Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88765408852 contains performances by the Huelgas Ensemble directed by Paul van Nevel of five works from the collection, including three world premiere recordings by composers whom I hadn't even heard of before - John Sutton, William Horewud and Edmund Sturton alongside the more familiar John Browne's Stabat Mater a 6 and the Robert Wylkynson Salve Regina a 9 included on the Avie album above. Look out for my review in due course. For those who cannot wait, I see that 7digital.com have the download, currently reduced to £4.95.]

Benedetto PALLAVICINO (1551-1601) Madrigali su testi del Guarini
Io disleale? [2:34]
Era l’anima mia [3:52]
Cruda Amarilli; Ma grideran [6:23]
Una farfalla [2:56]
Giovanni Battista dalla GOSTENA (1540-1598) Fantasia XIII [2:00]
Benedetto PALLAVICINO Negatemi pur [1:49]
Cor mio, deh non languire [3:12]
Io mi sento morir [2:45]
Giovanni Antonio TERZI (d. post 1599) Preludio [2:36]
Benedetto PALLAVICINO Occhi un tempo mia vita [3:05]
Ch’io non t’ami [2:37]
Giovanni Antonio TERZI Balletto Alemanno [1:09]
Benedetto PALLAVICINO Ahi, come a un vago sol [3:16]
Giovanni Antonio TERZI Fantasia [4:30]
Benedetto PALLAVICINO Amor, i’ parto [3:56]
T’amo mia vita [2:45]
Giovanni Antonio TERZI Ballo II Alemano [1:10]
Deh, come invan chiedete [3:33]
Felice che vi mira [2:03]
Daltrocanto (Alena Dantcheva, Roberta Giua (soprano); Alessandro Carmignani (counter-tenor); Gian Paolo Fagotto, Gianluca Ferrarini (tenor); Walter Testolin (bass); Ugo Nastrucci (lute))/Dario Tabbia – rec. September 2005. DDD
PAN CLASSICS PC10280 [56:20] from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, no booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library (mp3 with booklet containing texts but no translations)

Beautiful and dignified singing characterised Daltroncanto’s recording of music from the Staffarda Codex, including Jean Richafort’s Requiem, though the work was then attributed to another composer, on Opus 111 (no longer available). Although the music here, Pallavicino’s madrigal settings of Guarini, from the latter part of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, are almost a century later and in a very different format, the same epithets will do very nicely for this recording, too.

Don’t get too excited at discovering the madrigals of a composer who may well be unfamiliar to you – nothing here is very different from the style of Monteverdi, and nothing is quite as intense as the madrigals of Gesualdo which I reviewed last month, but the music has its own beauty and dignity which brings me full circle back to the words which I used of Daltrocanto at the beginning. The inclusion of short instrumental items varies the programme nicely. Quite why we have had to wait from 2005 to 2013 for this recording is not clear.

From eclassical.com lossless sound comes at the same price as mp3, but there’s no booklet. Classicsonline.com (mp3 only) and Naxos Music Library give you the booklet, with the texts, but there are no translations.

Bargain of the Month
John DOWLAND (1563-1626) and others: Time Stands Still

Emma Kirkby (soprano); Anthony Rooley (lute)
Pdf booklet with texts included
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55462 [45:46] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless) [Full details and review in September 2012/1 DL Roundup. For release on CD in August 2013 but available to download in advance]

Sheer delight. This inexpensive Helios reissue (£4.99 for mp3 or lossless) replaces the full-price CDA66186 which I recommended among a batch of recordings of music by Dowland and his contemporaries not long ago. At the new price it’s even more self-recommending. As I had listened to the earlier release in lossless flac, I tried the mp3 this time round and it too sounds very well. One small point: theclassicalshop.net and eclassical.com both allow purchasers of lossless recordings to return at any time for the mp3 at no extra cost. Hyperion tell me that there is little demand for this, but, like me, you may disagree. It’s easy enough for reviewers like myself to come back again but ordinary purchasers would have to pay again. I understand that Hyperion are prepared to offer a second download at the same price as their purchase, or lower, if requested: 'All they have to do is email downloads@hyperion-records.co.uk and we give it to them FOC.'

Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704)
Judith sive Bethulia liberata (H 391) [41:53]
Cædes Sanctorum Innocentium (H 411) [17:26]
Dagmar Sasková (soprano), Erwin Aros (hautecontre), Jean-François Novelli (tenor), Arnaud Richard (baritone)
Les Pages, les Chantres and les Symphonistes du Centre de musique baroque de Versailles/Olivier Schneebeli – rec. live, 5-6 October 2012. DDD
K617 K617242 [59:19] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, no booklet, but see below)

[see review by Johan van Veen]

The lack of a booklet with the download, hence no texts, would be a serious problem, were it not that it’s available online here. That’s of limited help, however; even purchasers of the CD have access only to the original Latin, adapted from the Vulgate, and a French translation. You will find some help from Kevin R Brine, Elena Ciletti and Henrike Lähnemann, The Sword of Judith: Judith Studies across the Disciplines, the free open book edition of Chapter 21, Judith in Baroque Oratoriohere.

Writers, artists and composers have often been drawn to the story of Judith narrated in the biblical book of that name and found in the Apocrypha, from the Old English homilist Ælfric to Mozart. Like Esther, whose biblical story also became enhanced in the Greek Septuagint translation, she saved her people from enslavement by beheading the enemy general Holofernes. Charpentier had a flair for drama, but in general the music is less animated than you might expect. Olivier Schneebeli and his team do their best to make the music lively but I see from a photo of the forces assembled that the chorus – surely larger than Charpentier would have employed – outnumber the instrumentalists and the latter sometimes seem swamped in the balance.

The shorter work tells the more familiar story of the Holy Innocents, slaughtered by Herod in a vain attempt to thwart the rival who, he assumed, was about to take his throne. Another gruesome story and this time Charpentier seizes the dramatic possibilities.

The singing throughout is accomplished, the direction and accompaniment idiomatic, apart from my reservations about the choir vis-à-vis the orchestra, and the recording good; I enjoyed this release, but with a slight sense of an opportunity missed. The place to start with Charpentier would be with the inexpensive Virgin Veritas twofer of his Leçons de Ténèbres (5220212review) or one of the many recordings of his music directed by Hervé Niquet on Naxos and Glossa.

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Violin concerto in e minor, RV 281 [11:24]
Violin concerto in C, RV 187 [12:51]
Violin concerto in D, RV 232 [12:39]
Violin concerto in F, RV 283 [13:46]
Violin concerto in E flat, RV 254 [14:43]
Violin concerto in d minor, RV 243 [10:25]
Giuliano Carmignola (violin)
Accademia Bizantina/Ottavio Dantone – rec. June 2012, DDD.
DG ARCHIV PRODUKTION 479 1075 [75:48] – from 7digital.com (mp3)

As Brian Reinhart reports – Recording of the Month: review – this is a winner in every respect except for the cover shot of Giuliano Carmignola in designer shades astride a motor-bike (con moto – gedit?). It’s a far cry from those restrained covers that used to grace Archiv LPs, but the performances are also quite different from the sometimes leaden tempi that once prevailed – these are lively but not so lively that they become insensitive to the music.

The 7digital.com download comes at 320kb/s but without booklet; for the same price amazon.co.uk throw in the booklet but their transfer is at a lower bit-rate. You pays your money … my choice was for the higher bit-rate, which sounds very good.

Don’t forget Linn’s hi-fi transfer of Carmignola’s earlier Archiv recording, Concerto VenezianoDownload News 2012/23 – and another earlier recording from 2006 – DL Roundup June 2010.

Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1745) Te Deum, ZWV146 [28:04]
Johann David HEINICHEN (1683-1729) Missa No.9 in D [41:16]
Heiki Hallaschka, Martina Lins-Reuben (soprano), Patrick van Goethem (alto), Marcus Ullmann (tenor), Jochen Kupfer (bass), Dresden Chamber Choir
Dresden Baroque Orchestra/Hans-Christoph Rademann – rec. c.2000. DDD
CARUS 83.148 [73:10] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library (no booklet from either)

Zelenka may be the man who composed the mysteriously-named Hipocondrie but there’s not even a hint of hypochondria or any other ailment in his lively setting of the Te Deum. The performance is also lively and it’s well recorded in mp3 and lossless flac.

If Zelenka is often thought of as the Catholic Bach, Heinichen’s music frequently bears a considerable resemblance to that of Handel. I first discovered his music from a 2-CD DG Archiv set, conducted by Reinhard Goebel, from which a selection was recently reissued at budget price (479 1110). 7digital.com have the complete set for £7.49. His Mass No.9 is a ceremonial affair and receives a suitably grand performance here.

This recording seems to have eluded not only my MusicWeb colleagues but all other reviewers, so I’m glad to have spotted it and to recommend it. It’s well worth at least trying from Naxos Music Library. Only the lack of a booklet presents a problem but both the Te Deum and the Tridentine Mass texts are readily available online.

Bargain of the Month
Giovanni Antonio GUIDO (c.1675-after 1728)
Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons)
Caroline Balding (violin); The Band of Instruments/Roger Hamilton
DIVINE ART DDA25072 [66:04] – from emusic.com (mp3, no booklet) or classicsonline.com or stream from Naxos Music Library (with booklet)

An entertaining alternative set of concertos on the theme of the four seasons by a near-contemporary of Vivaldi. It’s never likely to rival the latter but it’s most enjoyable as presented here. On four tracks, one for each season, this comes at £1.68 or less from emusic.com. The bit-rate, around 225kb/s, is short of the ideal but the result is perfectly acceptable. There’s no booklet, however; to obtain that and full-cream 320kb/s mp3 you’ll need to pay £7.99 from classicsonline.com, unless you have access to Naxos Music Library, who also have the booklet. If you must have lossless sound, that currently means £10.00 from prestoclassical.co.uk, though it should be available also from theclassicalshop.net in due course.

Strongly recommended
François COUPERIN (1688-1733
) Trois Leçons de Ténèbres [18:40 + 12:18 + 12:45]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728) Tombeau pour Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe* [7:28]
Chaconne in A* [2:51]
François COUPERIN Motet pour le jour de Pâques (Easter Motet) [7:29]
M de Sainte-COLOMBE the younger (c.1660-1710) Prelude in e minor* [5:00]
François COUPERIN Magnificat [12:04]
Susanne Heinrich (viol)*
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo), Lynda Sayce (theorbo),
King’s Consort/Robert King (chamber organ) – rec. March 2011. DDD.
Pdf booklet available
VIVAT 102 [79:40] – from vivatmusic.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

[‘There is something about the atmosphere of Robert King’s Ténèbres which makes it more believable than many, and this is a recording which will take you on a very long journey indeed.’ See review by Dominy Clements.]

The King’s Consort’s second recording on their own in-house label brings us repertoire more predictably akin to their earlier glories than their first, with music by Stanford and Parry, but it’s equally welcome.

Couperin’s setting of the Tenebræ psalms for Wednesday in Holy Week is suitably dramatic – operatic, even – for an occasion which was celebrated with great drama in his time, the Matins for Maundy Thursday being sung by anticipation the previous evening in a dark church or chapel with the candles extinguished one by one as the psalms were sung until only one was left to signify the Light of the World. Hitherto my main recommendation has been for the recording by Les Arts Florissants and William Christie (Erato, with 4 versets d’un motetreview) and that recording is available as a very inexpensive download from classicsonline.com at just £2.99, though even at the price a length of 48 minutes is hardly generous, and there’s no booklet.

My other benchmark for the Ténèbres and Magnificat is a 1990 Hyperion recording with James Bowman and Michael Chance and directed by none other than Robert King in an earlier incarnation (CDA66474, with Lætentur cœli and Venite exultemus Domino: CD from Archive Service or download in mp3 or lossless, currently discounted at hyperion-records.co.uk). This Hyperion recording may not observe Couperin’s instructions concerning vocal ornamentation, but presents a dramatically convincing account of the music.

Our Seen and Heard reviewer Ken Carter thought the Wigmore Hall concert in which the King’s Consort performed these works in the same month that the recording was made ‘consisted of exquisite music immaculately performed’ – review – and that description will do equally well for the recording, where the performances are every bit as recommendable as those of Les Arts Florissants. The bonus is that the instrumental playing which he couldn’t hear at the back of the hall is better balanced on the very good recording – I tried both the mp3, good value for £8, and the 24-bit flac, worth the extra at £15, with 16-bit lossless also available at £10. It’s long past Holy Week and Easter but I recommend not waiting till next year to buy this recording.

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) Bad Guys
Tamerlano: Vo’ dar pace a un’ alma altiera [4:45]
Ariodante: Spero per voi, si, si [4:06]
Teseo: Voglio stragi, e voglio morte [2:53]
Amadigi di Gaula: Pena tiranna [5:27]
Ariodante: Dover, giustizia, amor [3:51]
Giulio Cesare in Egitto: Belle dèe di questo core [1:50]
Ottone, re di Germania: D’innalzar i flutti al ciel [4:07]; Bel labbro formato [5:01]
Giulio Cesare in Egitto: Domerò la tua fierezza [3:31]
Teseo: Serenatevi, o luci belle [4:18]
Ariodante: Se l’inganno sortisce felice [4:36]
Amadigi di Gaula: Agitato il cor mi sento [4:03]
Xavier Sabata (counter-tenor)
Il Pomo d’Oro/Riccardo Minasi – rec. August – September 2012.
No notes, texts or translations
APARTÉ AP048 [53:04] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

[‘I became totally engrossed in the repertoire, in admiration for Handel’s inexhaustible cornucopia of inspiration, and in the performances…. Handel arias are not under-represented in the CD catalogues but most of these twelve are rarely heard out of context. This disc should be an ideal addition to all Handelians’ collections.’ See review by Göran Forsling.]

In quoting so extensively from Göran Forsling’s review of the CD, I’ve given the game away, so let me just say that I enjoyed this considerably. The availability of 24-bit sound for a little extra cost gives the download an advantage over the CD, but the lack of a booklet, texts and translations is a serious handicap.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in a minor, BWV1041 [15:25]
Violin Concerto No. 2 in E, BWV1042 [19:39]
Violin Concerto in D, BWV1053 (arr. from harpsichord No. 2 in E) [12:17]
Concerto for Violin and Harpsichord in c minor, BWV1060* (arr. from Concerto for Violin and Oboe/Concerto for two harpsichords) [13:05]
Ottavio Dantone (harpsichord)*
Accademia Bizantina/Viktoria Mullova (violin)
ONYX4114 [60:26] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

It’s only a few weeks since I was recommending two outstandingly good recordings of the Bach Violin Concertos:

• Double and Triple Concertos, BWV1043, 1044, 1060R and 1064R: Brecon Baroque with Rachel Podger and others, Channel Classics CCSSA34113; Recording of the MonthDL News 2013/7
• Solo, Double and Triple Concertos, BWV1041, 1042, 1043 and 1064R, Harmonia Mundi HMC902145: Recording of the MonthDL News 2013/6

and reminding readers of the virtues of:

• BWV1041, 1042, 1056 and 1056 Rachel Podger, Channel Classics CCSSA27208 – November 2011/1 DL Roundup and DL News 2013/7
Concertos avec plusieurs instruments: ALPHA811 (6 CDs) – DL News 2013/6

to which I could and should have added:

• BWV1041, 1042, 1043 and 1060: BIS-CD-961 Soloists; Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki – mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet, from eclassical.com.

Now along come Viktoria Mullova and her team to complicate the issue by offering another highly recommendable recording but with yet a different and unusual combination of concertos, with BWV1060, extant only as a concerto for two keyboards, arranged not, as usual, for violin and oboe but for violin and harpsichord. I enjoyed all the listed recordings, including the new Onyx, as supplements to the Teldec/Warner Complete Bach on USB. You won’t go wrong with any of them– simply choose your preferred coupling.

Strongly recommended
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Clavierübung III
Stephen Farr (Metzler Organ, Trinity College, Cambridge) – rec. 3-4 April, 2013. DDD
Pdf booklet includes chorale texts and full organ specification
RESONUS RES10120 [105:08] – from resonusclassics.com (mp3, aac and lossless)

This recording earned my Recording of the Month accolade in 2013/8 and I’m pleased to see that Geoff Molyneux has also greatly enjoyed hearing it:

This great collection of music composed specifically for the organ is one of Bach’s finest achievements. The collection is framed by a magnificent Prelude and Fugue and Stephen Farr sets a magisterial tone at the outset in the huge opening Praeludium, which combines French overture and Italian concerto style.

In the ensuing group of chorale settings in contrapuntal style, Stephen Farr treats us to a wide variety of imaginative colouring which is both attractive in itself and which also enhances the structure of the music and at the same time allows us to hear the individual parts with great clarity. Some of these pieces are in lighter vein, giving the listener a little respite from the complexity of the first few pieces. Although Bach had been criticised for his use of old-fashioned compositional techniques, we can hear him dabbling with the newer and more tuneful style galant, albeit in a tentative way. Bach can rarely allow his intellect a moment’s rest.

The beauty of Farr’s playing can be readily discerned in BWV 678, a piece of seeming simplicity but with ever increasing counterpoint around the main theme, and this is followed by the bouncily played BWV 679, vividly contrasting in registration. BWV 686 is one of the most contrapuntally complex pieces in the collection. Stephen Farr gives a magnificent performance with great clarity in the part writing but he also builds this famous work to a glorious and emotionally exhausting climax.

The final group of four duets almost give a feeling of light-heartedness after so much complex counterpoint. But things are not so simple and there is always an undercurrent of mystery as well as unexpected twists of harmony and chromaticism. Farr as always gives first class performances.

Unlike Clavier-Übung IV and the Goldberg Variations, these pieces were probably not intended to be heard continuously in sequence. However you would not know this from Stephen Farr’s performance. Due to his in-depth understanding of this great music he presents us with a performance that is totally satisfying as a complete structure. He achieves this with well chosen tempi, and use of well-contrasted registrations and colouring. This is the most enjoyable performance of Bach’s Clavier-Übung I can ever remember hearing. It is magnificently recorded and Stephen Farr makes full use of the colours available from the Metzler Organ of Trinity College, Cambridge. All in all this is a must-buy recording and one I shall return to again and again.

Geoffrey Molyneux

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Piano Concerto No.17 in G, K453 [30:10]
Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat, K595 [29:09]
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Orchestra da Camera di Mantova/Hannu Lintu – rec. July 2011. DDD
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67919 [59:19] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless) [see also DL News 2013/8]

The first thing we notice on hearing the beginning of K453 is the lightness and gentle delicacy of the orchestral playing. This approach sets the tone for the performance as a whole and admirably suits those same qualities exemplified in Angela Hewitt’s playing. There is great subtlety of expression in the performance with every detail in Mozart’s score meticulously observed. The players also demonstrate real imagination in realising the expressive possibilities of Mozart’s sound-world. Every turn of phrase seems to have been carefully rehearsed and prepared. The performance can seem a little contrived; certainly it does not have any feeling of spontaneity, but every corner brings a new delight in articulation, balance and expression. There are one or two very minor niggles for me such as a couple of semibreves in the violins in K453 first movement with an unnecessary swelling in volume, overdone and a touch irritating.

The performance of K453 really comes into its own in the second movement Andante. There is some really touching and affecting playing here as the music moves in curious ways passing through unexpected keys. There are dramatic and dark brooding moments such as the piano entry in G minor, a passage well-realised by Hewitt. The Allegretto which follows is a set of 5 variations and a coda, designated Finale Presto. Mozart’s use here of variations for a finale anticipates two great works still to come, the Piano Concerto K491 and the Clarinet Quintet. Angela Hewitt demonstrates her virtuosity in the second variation of K453 where the fast triplet quavers are executed with great clarity. In the third variation, we hear beautiful toned and exquisite playing from the flute, oboe and bassoon players from Mantua. The ensuing Presto is played with appropriate wit and panache.

Brendel plays K453 with equal delicacy on an old Vox recording but his orchestra, especially the wind soloists are no match for the Mantuan players here. Hewitt and her band play the second movement at a true Andante tempo as requested by Mozart. Brendel seems to want to pull his orchestra back whenever he can. Rudolf Buchbinder gives a fine performance with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra on Profil but the Hyperion beats it in terms of performance and recording clarity.

Once again, the performance of K595 is characterised by lightness of touch and clarity of texture. I like the way melodies are given equal importance in the recording whether played by the wind soloists or strings of the orchestra, or by the piano soloist. The piano in a sense becomes just one part in the overall texture and structure of the music and this seems to be how these players view this work. I prefer this performance to the recording by Pierre-Laurent Aimard on Warner Classics. As well as charm, Hewitt seems rather more stylish with a firm sense of direction. Her orchestra has greater rhythmic bite and attack in the sforzandi accents, and they make more vivid and telling contrasts in the marked dynamics than does the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. In Angela Hewitt’s admirable programme notes she states that the second movement Larghetto should not be taken too slowly and her interpretation convinces me of this. She is nearly two minutes quicker than Aimard and she takes one and a half minutes off Clifford Curzon’s performance time with Rafael Kubelík.

Hewitt and her players find such a variety of emotions in these concertos, from simplicity and charm to sadness and melancholy, and there is always a true feeling of ensemble playing. This is a very fine release and the recording quality is up to Hyperion’s usual high standards.

Geoffrey Molyneux

[NB: most of the comparisons mentioned can be accessed from Naxos Music Library. BW]

Paul WRANITZKY (1756-1808) String Trios
Trio in E flat, Op.17/2 [19:48]
Trio in F, Op.3/1 [17:15]
Trio in G, Op.3/3 [18:58]
Ensemble Cordia (Stanley Ritchie (violin), Stefano Marcocchi (viola), Stefano Veggetti (cello)) – rec. 2 – 4 September 2010, Eroica-Saal, Palais Lobkowitz, Vienna, Austria. DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94339 [56:02] – from emusic.com (mp3)

[see review by Johan van Veen.]

The catalogue is not exactly over-burdened with music by Wranitzky, also known by his Czech name Pavel Vranický and this recording of three of his string trios is welcome and enjoyable. I share Johan van Veen’s reservations about the over-resonant recording venue – it may be an important hall with lots of history, but it’s surely too large for this repertoire – and the timing is not over-generous, but, with good performances, this recent Brilliant Classics release is more than a historical curiosity. The transfer is made at around 220kb/s – not ideal but adequate.

The CD comes at budget price, but the download from emusic.com is even slightly less expensive (£4.62 or less). There’s an even less expensive Supraphon/Panton recording of the String Quartets, Op.16/1-3, performed by the Stamic Quartet, from the same source – just three tracks, 57 minutes, for £1.26 or less: download here.

Classicsonline.com have another Brilliant Classics recording of Wranitzky from the Cordia Ensemble, containing a String Quintet and a String Sextet (94186), but, at £7.99, that’s more expensive than the CD, though you may wish to stream it from Naxos Music Library (with booklet).

Chandos have a recording of Wranitzky symphonies in their Contemporaries of Mozart series – available separately (CHAN9916) or as part of a 5-CD package (CHAN10628X – see September 2010 DL Roundup). The even more generous USB collections, CHUSB001 and CHUSB002 which I reviewed in May 2011 are no longer available but that doesn’t qualify my recommendation of the whole series, apart from the mis-labelling of some of the tracks of the Wranitzky which I mentioned.

Strongly recommended
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Quartets, Opus 18, volume 1

Quartet in D, Op.18/3 [24:24]
Quartet in c minor, Op.18/4 [25:59]
Quartet in A, Op.18/5 [28:06]
Allegri String Quartet – rec. April 2012. DDD.
Pdf booklet available
VIVAT 103 [78:29] – from vivatmusic.com (mp3, 16/44.1, 24/96 and 24/192 lossless)

This is the first recording on the new Vivat label not to feature the King’s Consort. While it’s easy to assume that anything that the Consort produce is going to be first-class, any new recording of the Beethoven Quartets, especially one which announces itself as heralding a series, needs to be very good indeed even to match the current incumbents, let alone excel them. That’s especially true for the late quartets, but even Beethoven’s first set, Op.18, were ground-breaking in their time and the challenge for any performers is to show how the hints of the later, tougher style are present without compromising the freshness of the music. Even a rather good set from the Wihan Quartet on Nimbus (NI6105, 2 CDs) didn’t quite make the grade for me – review.

Grace and intensity, then, are the qualities I was looking for and, oddly enough, the adjectives associated with those words are to be found in the first review of this Vivat release which I have seen, qualities which you’ll find in my benchmark recordings:

• Decca 470 8482 (2 CDs, Op.18/1-6) Takács Quartet – download from 7digital.com (mp3) or deutschegrammophon.com (mp3 and lossless)
• Philips Originals E475 8252 (3 CDs, Op./1-6) Quartetto Italiano – download only from 7digital.com (mp3) or deutschegrammophon.com (mp3 and lossless)

In the event, I didn’t have to make detailed comparisons; the new recordings are good enough to stand in their own right. I understand that a decision was taken at the outset to get up close and personal with the Allegris, relying on the quality of their playing, a decision which seems eminently logical given the distinguished half-century history of the quartet and is well borne out in the result. Of course, the personnel have changed over the years, but change has been gradual and organic and the quality has remained high, with some very distinguished high points indeed along the way. The oldest representation of the quartet in the current catalogue is on the EMI recording of Elgar with Barbirolli at the helm, on which they perform with great distinction in the Introduction and Allegro – one of my desert island discs (EMI Masters 0851872).

That decision about the recording set-up has paid dividends in terms of the immediacy of the sound, especially as heard in 24-bit format, with even the mp3 sounding very satisfactory. Those older rival recordings are less expensive, about the same price for a 2-CD set as for the single Vivat release, but neither of them comes in 24-bit sound and, on a sliding scale from £8 for mp3 to £15 for both 96kHz and 192kHz, the new version is not at all unreasonable in price. I had a problem with one track in 24/96 format but that track sounds fine in the other formats and the 24/96b problem has now been solved, too.

Antonín (Anton, Antoine) REICHA (1770-1836) Complete String Quartets, Volume One
String Quartet in C, Op. 48/1 [31:48]
String Quartet in G, Op. 48/2 [31:27]
Kreutzer Quartet – rec. February 2013. DDD.
First Recordings
Pdf booklet included
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0022 [64:46] – from toccataclassics.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Antonín Reicha was an exact contemporary and friend of Beethoven; though his music is hardly to be reckoned on a par with that of his more famous contemporary, it certainly doesn’t deserve the neglect from which it has suffered. As always, Toccata have done sterling service by making us aware of the injustice; though his chamber music for wind has been recorded, only one string quartet from his output was previously available. It says ‘Volume One’ on the cover and I look forward to the pleasure of hearing more music, performance and recording of this quality.

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No.6 in C ‘Little C major’ [30:30]
Rosamunde Incidental Music [32:12]
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard – rec. February 2012. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included
BIS BIS-SACD-1987 [62:42] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

Symphony No. 8 in b minor, D759 ‘Unfinished’ [20:17]
Symphony No. 9 in C, D944 ‘The Great’ [57:34]
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard – rec. October 2006. DDD/DSD
Pdf booklet included
BIS BIS-SACD-1656 [77:51] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

The ‘little’ C major symphony and the Rosamunde music respond well to the Opening Doors chamber orchestra treatment – this is the scale at which Schubert probably heard these works. I’d be welcoming the new recording with open arms, especially as 24-bit is on offer for the same price as mp3 and 16-bit at the time of writing, but the Beecham recording, now coupled on EMI with Nos. 3 and 5 (download only: £4.99 from classicsonline.com) or as part of an inexpensive 8-CD set (9186112), still takes a great deal of beating.

Of course the new BIS recording is preferable sound-wise, especially for fans of SACD or 24/96 sound, but the EMI doesn’t sound at all bad for its age and it remains my preferred choice; by comparison, paradoxically, despite the small-scale forces and some really delicate playing at times, Dausgaard makes the work sound bigger-boned. It’s not just a matter of tempi – Dausgaard is actually mostly faster than Beecham, though his timings seem longer on paper because he observes repeats.

It’s a shame that BIS didn’t include the Rosamunde Overture even though it was originally intended for another work, Die Zauberharfe and pressed into service for Rosamunde; there would have been room for it. That said, however, the performance captures the essence of the music and the recording throughout is very good. The competitive eclassical.com price – charged per second – takes care of the slightly short playing time.

If, for any reason, neither Beecham nor Dausgaard is your cup of tea, Claudio Abbado and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe pair symphonies 5 and 6 on a DG CD, performances on much the same scale as on BIS, or there’s the complete set of Schubert Symphonies plus the orchestrated Grand Duo by these performers in a 5-disc DG box, excellent value from 7digital.com for just £11.99: Bargain of the Monthreview.

The earlier BIS recording of Nos. 8 and 9 is on offer at a discount to celebrate the new version of No.6 – it probably won’t be by the time that you read this, but BIS have regular offers of this kind on eclassical.com, well worth looking out for. If you’re used to a really slow tempo for the opening movement of the Unfinished, be prepared for Dausgaard to open your eyes to something much faster. Most conductors take this movement too slowly – almost andante rather than allegro moderato – so that we end up with two slowish movements, the second of which becomes almost adagio rather than andante con moto in order to differentiate between them. In Dausgaard’s interpretation Schubert’s markings are adhered to – there’s a real sense of onward momentum, as per the con moto indication, in the second movement, too. For comparison, Abbado, whose Schubert I like, takes 14:58 and 11:30 for the two movements as against Dausgaard’s 11:02 and 9:15. I thoroughly approve, but try first from Naxos Music Library if you are in doubt. For the Abbado see September 2010 DL Roundup – ignore the defunct passionato.com link: purchase from deutschegrammophon.com (mp3 or lossless) or go for the 5-CD set from the same source – here – in mp3 or lossless (or from 7digital.com in mp3 – see above).

Tempi in the Great C major are also fast, but only marginally faster than, for example, Sir Charles Mackerras with the Philharmonia on Signum or his earlier version with the OAE on Virgin, two other recordings which I like, the latter coupled with No.5 and the Newbould completion of No.8 at budget price.

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Piano Concerto in a minor, Op.54* [31:34]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) Piano Concerto in g minor, Op.33 (1876, Original published version, 1883) [38:55]
Francesco Piemontesi (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Jiří Bělohlávek – rec. (live*), November and December 2012. DDD
Pdf booklet included.
NAÏVE V5327 [70:29] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Concerto in g minor, Op. 33 (B63) (1876) [39:20]
Violin Concerto in a minor, Op. 53 (B96) (1879, revised 1882-83) [31:04]
Rustem Hayroudinoff (piano)
James Ehnes (violin)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda – rec. 2004. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10309 [70:29] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

[‘These are well performed recordings from Chandos that do not disappoint even if they are not my preferred version of each work.’ See review by Michael Cookson.]

Naïve: The Dvořák Piano Concerto, once something of an orphan, has now been recorded several times, but this is, I believe, the only one to be coupled with the more popular Schumann; moreover, it’s a performance of the original (1883) version.

The prevailing mood in both performances is much lighter and more lyrical than usual. Though there’s plenty of power in the opening bars of the Schumann, that power soon yields to a more pensive mood and the two continue to be combined throughout the performance, with a lyrical slow movement and a free-wheeling finale. This is not one for those looking for the usual warhorse and it wouldn’t be my top recommendation if you just want one version in your library – that would probably be Leif-Ove Andsnes (EMI) or Stephen Bishop (Philips*), both coupled with the usual Grieg and at mid price – but all concerned make it work well.

* download only at present, from amazon.co.uk. Surely destined to return on CD?

The recording sounds very well in mp3 and even better in lossless flac – both at the same price and available for repeat downloads, so that you can have the flac for your home system and mp3 for your personal player. With the mp3 there’s the usual brief hiatus where the music is continuous between the second and third movements of the Schumann.

On Chandos we are offered a combination of the original score of the Piano Concerto and the ‘playing version’ which once held sole sway, so the two performances are not strictly comparable. If you don’t have a recording of the better-known Violin Concerto, perhaps from Suk on Supraphon, or don’t wish to have the Schumann coupling, this is an excellent alternative.

One other version of the Dvořák Piano Concerto to bear in mind: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano); Concertgebouw/Nicolaus Harnoncourt (Warner) – see March 2009 DL Roundup.

Bargain of the Month
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

100x Wagner, den man gehört haben muß
EMI 5099974197750 [7:53:05] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

I know there are lovers of good singing out there who restrict themselves to recital recordings and don’t even wish to dip a toe into single CDs of opera excerpts, let alone venture out and purchase the complete Decca Solti Ring or Warner’s complete Barenboim Wagner opera set. Perhaps some of them will be more tempted after hearing Barenboim’s complete Ring from the BBC Proms this year to go for his blu-ray set, on offer for around £40, but for the determined recital-only fans, this 6-CD set, with almost 8 hours of music for £4.99, has to be the bargain of the Wagner bi-centenary year. The list of mainly distinguished performers is too long to include here but you’ll find it on the classicsonline.com website. There are no duds anywhere.

If you don’t like the German cover, there’s an English language version from the same source for £6.99 – the same material, slightly more tidily arranged, opera by opera, whereas the German starts with the most famous orchestral bleeding chunks.

Much less recommendable: The Colón Ring: Wagner in Buenos Aires, a film by Hans Christoph von Bock (C Major DVD 712808 or blu-ray 712904) is not exactly what you may think. It’s not what I expected; it deals with all the vicissitudes of mounting a 7-hour reduction of the Ring cycle in Buenos Aires in November 2012, interesting enough for one viewing but hardly something that you’re likely to wish to return to. What snippets we do see of the final production are fair enough – the usual gimmicks that one expects nowadays, such as Alberich carrying off a doll to represent the ring, coupled with mostly very accomplished singers having trouble to remember where the cuts occur. Save your £18 (DVD) or £28 (blu-ray) towards the complete recording on 713008 (DVD) or 713104 (blu-ray), available for around £87, or, better still, towards the £40 asking price for the Barenboim blu-ray set.

Recommended recording
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Rigoletto
Renata Scotto, Fiorenza Cossotto, Carlo Bergonzi, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Ivo Vinco
Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala/Rafael Kubelík
DG Opera House 477 5608 [122:36] – from 7digital.com (mp3)

The Verdi bi-centenary year is half way through and I haven’t yet recommended a version of something as basic as Rigoletto. With no consensus as to the top choice*, I listened again to an earlier CD release of this recording, available again at budget price on CD or as a download and it’s still very competitive, not least for Fischer-Dieskau as a not-over-the-top Rigoletto. You may associate Kubelík more with the German repertoire and Dvořák, but he was an accomplished opera conductor. I can’t vouch for this download but it comes at the full 320kb/s so should be more than acceptable. The balance favours the voices, which is better than obscuring them. There’s no libretto – I presume that, at the price, there’s none with the latest CD reissue, as is the case with my own set – but that’s easily found online.

Fans of Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi will find the latest reissue of their recording with Tullio Serafin conducting (EMI) for £6.99 from classicsonline.com. Oddly, the single-CD highlights recording costs exactly the same.

* James Levine (DG) and Richard Bonynge (Decca), both with Luciano Pavarotti, have strong advocates; both are available as downloads from 7digital.com in mp3 for £11.99 and for a little more in lossless flac from deutschegrammophon.com.

Two other Verdi recommendations based on ownership of the CD sets in earlier incarnations:

Don Carlo (Italian version): Plácido Domingo, Monserrat Caballé, Ruggero Raimondi; Ambrosian Opera Chorus; Covent Garden Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini (EMI) – from classicsonline.com (mp3) (£7.99)
Macbeth: Plácido Domingo, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Shirley Verrett, Piero Cappucilli; la Scala Chorus and Orchestra/Claudio Abbado (DG Originals) – from 7digital.com (mp3) (£9.99)

Again, I can’t vouch for the downloads but they both come at 320kb/s from reliable sources. Amazon.co.uk have the 14-CD Collectors Edition of six Verdi operas from la Scala and conducted by Abbado for £29.99 – here. That’s also available in mp3 and lossless flac from deutschegrammophon.com.

Karl GOLDMARK (1830-1915)
‘Rustic Wedding’ Symphony, Op. 26 (1875) [43:46]
Symphony No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 35 (1887) [31:45]
Singapore Symphony Orchestra/Lan Shui
rec. Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore, August 2009 (Rustic Wedding), July/August 2011 (No. 2)
BIS-SACD-1842 [76:22] – from eclassical.com (mp3, lossless 16– & 24-bit flacs)

In my 2010 review of Lan Shui and the Singapore Symphony’s Seascapes I noted that BIS were on a roll. Three years on and this collaboration is even stronger; take their fine Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 1 and First Symphony (review) and the Third Symphony and Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, both of which are made even more desirable by the electric talents of pianist Yevgeny Sudbin. The BIS team certainly make the most of Singapore’s Esplanade Concert Hall, whose lovely, seductive acoustic would be most welcome in place of our less congenial RFH and Barbican.

The ‘Rustic Wedding’ Symphony is probably Goldmark’s best-known work alongside his Violin Concerto No. 1. Both can be heard on an EMI twofer from André Previn and the Pittsburgh Symphony, which includes Sarah Chang in that Violin Concerto and Janos Starker in the rarely heard Konzerstück for Cello and Orchestra. There are other recordings of ‘Rustic Wedding’ – Beecham’s and Bernstein’s among them – but there’s only one other version of the Symphony No. 2, on the Marco Polo label.

The Hochzeitsmarsch begins with a gentle, rocking theme on cellos and basses, and that’s followed by 13 charming and very danceable variations. Even at this early stage the Singapore band sound remarkably cultured – very European, as a friend and fellow critic remarked after hearing this new recording. Previn can usually be relied upon to spring rhythms most naturally – and so he does – but EMI’s upfront and somewhat coarse recording is a real turn-off after the warmth and naturalness of this new rival. Previn is a touch more colourful, but for sheer lilt and loveliness the Singaporeans are hard to beat.

The Pittsburghers deliver a sometimes too emphatic Brautlied, whereas Shui’s forces – the beautifully blended horns in particular – are pliant and tender. The two oboes at the start of the Serenade are characterful in both versions, and Previn points the music very well, but the latter is found wanting when it comes to warmth and ‘air’. A much-vaunted recording in the early digital age, EMI’s ‘Rustic Wedding’ – like so much of its catalogue – has been crudely transferred, and that alone puts it out of contention. Lan Shui’s Im Garten is radiantly done – the strings are just gorgeous – and the buoyant Tanz is a joy from start to finish.

Symphony No. 2 may have many of the gentle cadences of its predecessor but it’s an altogether more robust and rigorously argued work. Goldmark’s close attention to detail and colour are underscored by a fine recording, which goes some way towards alleviating the occasional longueurs. That said, tuttis are never overbearing and Shui makes the most of the symphony’s more dramatic turns.

The often sonorous Andante is a splendid affair – there’s some terrific brass playing here – and one has to marvel at the oaken glow of this orchestra; such a sophisticated sound isn’t acquired overnight, and it speaks volumes for Shui’s continuing tutelage. Despite the nimble Presto-Trio – the woodwind are gleefully precise – and a crisply despatched finale I must confess this vaguely Brahmsian effort isn’t very compelling. That said, your options are somewhat limited where this piece is concerned.

I suspect ‘Rustic Wedding’ is the draw here, so unless you have a burning desire to try the later work I’d suggest you stick with the earlier one; it really is a gem, and I doubt you’ll hear it more affectionately played – or better recorded – than it is here. Decent liner-notes complete the competitively priced package; indeed, when I reviewed this download it was being offered at a discount as part of eclassical’s regular weekly deals.

Dan Morgan

http://twitter.com/mahlerei

[I hardly expected this new recording of the utterly charming Rustic Wedding to rival the classic Thomas Beecham which I recommended in a very decent transfer from Beulah in August 2012/1 DL Roundup (13-17BX43). In the event, though I did play the Beecham again, I didn’t need to make detailed comparisons because the new version, though it may lack the very last degree of the Beecham touch, which no living mortal could be expected to equal, is very enjoyable indeed. The recording, too, is extremely good– for the benefit of those intending to listen to the flac on their main audio system and the mp3 on their personal player, I can confirm that the latter, too, is very good of its kind, even when played via the USB input on my audio. Remember that eclassical.com, like theclassicalshop.net, allow purchasers to return at any time to retrieve a version of any purchase at or below the original asking price. BW]

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No.9, Op.95 (from the New World) [43:43]
A Hero’s Song, Op.111, B119 [20:13]
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons – rec. 2010 and 2012. DDD
BR KLASSIK 900116 [64:17] – from emusic.com (mp3, no booklet) or classicsonline.com (mp3, with booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library

I may have more recordings of the New World Symphony than you can shake a stick at, with Rafael Kubelík and the BPO (DG Originals) and Iván Fischer with the Budapest Festival Orchestra (Channel Classics) still firm favourites, but I couldn’t resist listening to what another reviewer (not MusicWeb International) had made Recording of the Month (all categories), especially as I’ve appreciated the recordings which I’ve heard to date by Andris Nelsons. The inclusion of the little-known tone poem as coupling was an added incentive.

The new recording won’t replace Kubelík or Fischer but it will supplement them in my listening schedule, from which readers without allegiance to an earlier recording may infer that they may safely invest in Nelsons’ new version. Even to mention it in the same sentence as Kubelík is a guarantee of its quality.

A Hero’s Song may be a less substantial filler than Symphony No.8 for Kubelík and Fischer, but it’s well worth hearing and none too often performed or recorded

The emusic.com download is at around 230kb/s, sounds more than adequate, and can be yours for £2.10 or less. The classicsonline.com version is at the full 320kb/s and the price of £7.99 is still less than the cost of buying the CD. Wait a little longer and you may well find this recording offered at a competitive price by eclassical.com in mp3 and lossless.

If you’re already wedded to Kubelík’s or another version of the New World, there’s a recommendable alternative recording of the Hero’s Song coupled with a much rarer Dvorák Symphony, No.1, The Bells of Zlonice, from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Neeme Järvi, recorded in 1988, on Chandos CHAN8597 [73:52]. Download in good mp3 or better lossless sound from theclassicalshop.net; pdf booklet available.

The First Symphony is one of those juvenile works which the composer later excluded from the canon but it’s colourful and well worth hearing and I’ve enjoyed hearing it from time to time ever since I first purchased a Supraphon recording for 17/6 way back in the early 1960s.

Among other recommendable recordings from Chandos (all in mp3 and lossless and with pdf booklet):

• Complete Symphonies: RSNO/Neeme Järvi CHAN9008 or CHAN9991 [376:14] – from theclassicalshop.net. See September 2012/1 DL Roundup. NB: if you’re just looking for mp3, 7digital.com have the complete set in 320kb/s quality for just £7.99, a superb bargain.
• Symphony No.2; Slavonic Rhapsody: RSNO/Neeme Järvi CHAN8589 – from theclassicalshop.net
• Symphony No.3; Carnival Overture; Symphonic Variations: RSNO/Neeme Järvi CHAN8575 [63:01] – from theclassicalshop.net
• Symphony No.4; 10 Biblical Songs RSNO/Neeme Järvi CHAN8608 [66:54]– from theclassicalshop.net
• Symphony No.5; Vodnik (Water Goblin): RSNO/Neeme Järvi CHAN8552 [66:54] – from theclassicalshop.net
• Symphony No.5; The Noon Witch; Scherzo capriccioso: Czech PO/Jiří Bělohlávek CHAN9475 [68:58] – from theclassicalshop.net
• Symphony No.6: Noon Witch: RSNO/Neeme Järvi CHAN8530 [55:13] – from theclassicalshop.net
• Symphony No.6; The Wood Dove: Czech PO/Jiří Bělohlávek CHAN9170 [62:11] – from theclassicalshop.net
• Symphony No.7; Golden Spinning Wheel: RSNO/Neeme Järvi CHAN8501 [63:37] – from theclassicalshop.net
• Symphony No.7; Nocturne; Vodnik (Water Goblin): Czech PO/Jiří Bělohlávek CHAN9391 [60:43] – from theclassicalshop.net
• Symphony No.8; The Wood Dove: RSNO/Neeme Järvi CHAN8666 [56:16] – from theclassicalshop.net
• Symphony No.8; The Golden Spinning Wheel: Czech PO/Jiří Bělohlávek CHAN9048 [60:24]– from theclassicalshop.net
• Symphony No.9; My Home: RSNO/Neeme Järvi CHAN8510 [53:54] – from theclassicalshop.net

It fell to Supraphon to complete the Czech PO/Jiří Bělohlávek cycle of the mature symphonies with No.9, Symphonic Variations and Carnival Overture (SU36392 [74:15] – from emusic.com)

The Bargain of Bargains in this repertoire, however, has to be Life with Czech Music, a 6-CD Supraphon set with Sir Charles Mackerras conducting the Czech Philharmonic and Prague Symphony Orchestra (SU40412) in mp3 from 7digital.com for just £7.99:

Antonín DVOŘÁK: Slavonic Dances Nos. 1-8, Op. 46/1-8
Slavonic Dances Nos. 9-16, Op. 72 /1-8
Symphonic Variations, Op. 78
Symphony No. 6 in D major, Op. 60
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 ‘From the New World’
Legends, Op. 59
Scherzo capriccioso, Op. 66
In Nature’s Realm Overture, Op. 91
The Water Goblin, Op. 107 (B195)
The Noon Witch, Op. 108 (B196)
The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op. 109
The Wild Dove, Op. 110 (B198)
Bedřich SMETANA: Má Vlast

I’ve recommended some of these recordings individually before but the whole set is a real winner at such a give-away price – the CDs cost around £33. The only snag is that you may have to re-number all 51 tracks in Windows Explorer in order to get the first Slavonic Dance and the first movement of Symphony No.8 to play in the right order. If they appear to be out of order, back up the files first and add numbers from 01 to 51 to the beginnings of the file names, numbering the first Slavonic Dance as track 01 and the first movement of Symphony No.8 as track 43. Then sit back and enjoy seven hours of glorious music wonderfully performed.

Recording of the Month
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Pohjola’s Daughter, Op.49 [13:13]
The Oceanides, Op.73* [10:23]
Symphony No. 2 in D, Op.43** [46:44]
Hallé/Sir Mark Elder
rec. 4 February 2007, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester; *2 August 2006, BBC Studio 7, Manchester; ** live, 19-20 September 2012, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester.
HALLÉ CDHLL7526 [70:59] – from emusic.com (mp3)

[‘[T]here are three admirable Sibelius performances here… This is another excellent addition to the Elder/Hallé discography. I hope that the remaining Sibelius symphonies will follow.’ See review by John Quinn.]

To judge from John Quinn’s review, he must have been tempted to make this his Recording of the Month, an accolade which I see has been bestowed by BBC Music Magazine and one which I see no reason to withhold. The performances are powerful and the (mostly live) recording does them full justice. Only the lack of a booklet presents a problem.

Full marks to emusic.com for getting this online before their competitors – it still had not appeared from classicsonline.com or Naxos Music Library at the time of writing. At £2.52 it’s also the least expensive download that you are likely to find and the bit-rate, around 220kb/s, while not ideal, is little less than you would get from amazon.co.uk or iTunes and it more than adequately conveys the wide-ranging recording.

Even if you already have a recording of the Second Symphony, it’s well worth having the Hallé version too. Other recordings of the tone poems very well worth considering:

BIS-CD-1225: En Saga; The Dryad; Pohjola’s Daughter; Night Ride and Sunset; The Bard; The Oceanides. Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä [71:15] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless, no booklet, inlay card only) or stream from Naxos Music Library. [Recording of the Month – see review by Tony Haywood. NB: one short track, track 3 of the original CD, is omitted from the eclassical.com download, but can be obtained from emusic.com for £0.42.] Also included in BIS-CD-1900/02, 5 CDs for the price of 3 on disc and as a download from classicsonline.com, but no reduction in price from eclassical.com. See review by Rob Barnett.
CHANDOS CHAN6508: Finlandia; Pohjola’s Daughter; The Swan of Tuonela; The Oceanides; Tapiola: Scottish National Orchestra/Alexander Gibson [54:23] (from theclassicalshop.net, mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet) – a recommendable collection at budget price (£4.99 for lossless). Also available:
CHANDOS CHAN241-19: as above, plus Luonnotar, Spring Song; The Bard; The Dryad and Night Ride and Sunrise [109:32] 2 CDs for the price of one from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless, with pdf booklet) or stream from Naxos Music Library.

Jean SIBELIUS
The Unknown Sibelius: Rarities and first recordings

Finland Awakes (original version of Finlandia, 1899?) [8:36]
The Oceanides, Op. 73 (1914 – Yale version) [7:37]
Jag kysser dig [och ledsnar] ej (1889-91) [0:59]
Tule, tule kultani [Come, Come, My Sweetheart] [1:20]
Tanken [The Thought], JS 192 (1915) [1:36]
Italian Folk Song Arrangements, JS99 [4:56]
Fridolins dårskap [Fridolin’s Folly], JS84 [2:34]
Jone havsfärd [Jonah’s Voyage], JS100 [2:38]
Serenata, JS169 (1887) [7:01]
Ödlan (The Lizard), Op.8 (1909) [17:17]
Andantino in D for piano (1889) [3:04]
Impromptu in b minor for piano (c.1893) [7:23]
Adagio in E for piano, JS13 (1907) [1:58]
Adagio for piano four hands, JS 161(1931) [4:39]
Four Orchestral Fragments (for Symphony No.8?), HUL1325, 1326/9, 1326/10, 1327 (1930-57) [3:17]
Processional, Op.113/6 (1927, orch. 1938) [4:12]
Performers include:
Helena Juntunen (soprano)
Anne Sophie von Otter, Monica Groop (mezzo-soprano)
Bengt Forsberg, Peter Lonnqvist (piano)
Dominante Choir, Orphei Drängar
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä, Okko Kamu, Robert Sund
Pdf booklet with texts included
BIS-CD-2065 [79:07] from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

Some of these rarities have already appeared in the BIS Complete Sibelius Edition but others have been discovered since the completion of that magnum opus. Among the new recordings, the late orchestral fragments earned a certain celebrity in October 2011, as media across the world greeted the discovery of what was soon proclaimed to be sketches for the famed 8th Symphony. Dr. Timo Virtanen, the respected authority on Sibelius, has prepared the sketches for the present recording and also written a text – available on the BIS web site – discussing them and the context in which they may have been written. Don’t get too excited, however; all that we have amounts to little more than three minutes, directed by that underrated Sibelius conductor Okko Kamu, so there’s no prospect of a completion in the manner of Mahler’s Tenth or Elgar’s Third.

It’s chippings from the block, then, but a master mason’s block and indicative of what might have been a very interesting work. With the alternative versions of Finlandia – more passionate than the familiar version – and Oceanides and Ödlan, a work I’d never heard before, for solo violin and string ensemble, we’re dealing with something more substantial and very worthwhile. Otherwise the programme is somewhat bitty but well worth hearing. Try this when it becomes available for streaming from Naxos Music Library if you’re unsure.

All the music is in good hands. The recordings were made in 44.1 and 96kHz format, so even the best version is only 24/44.1, but it all sounds well up to the usual BIS standard. Some of the BIS Sibelius recordings have had striking covers; this rather nondescript affair is not one of them.

Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op.43 (1934) [23:07]
Symphony No.3 in a minor, Op.44 (1936) [44:36]
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
Singapore Symphony Orchestra/Lan Shui
rec. July/August 2011, Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore. DDD/DSD
pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-1988 [68:32] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16/44.1 & 24/96 lossless)

I recently welcomed the Sudbin/Shui coupling of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 1 and First Piano Concerto (review) and was sufficiently impressed to download their versions of the Third Symphony and Paganini Rhapsody. Still fresh from a bout of comparative listening that included newcomer Valentina Lisitsa and the LSO and veteran Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Concertgebouw in the concertos – the latter in the symphonies too – I was struck anew by the sheer lucidity and directness of these Singapore performances. That said, I’ve no qualms about Sudbin in this repertoire but at this point I’m still ambivalent about Shui’s take on the first two symphonies; perhaps his Third would clarify matters somewhat.

For many years André Previn’s classic LSO version of this symphony has held sway at chez Mahlerei, even though it has the characteristic fierceness that blights so many of EMI’s LP-to-CD transfers. As for the BIS recording, once the volume has been upped the sound is full, warm and detailed. As a reading this new Rachmaninov 3 is lithe and alert, the very antithesis of Ashkenazy’s bold but somewhat overpowering one. Shui and his well-blended band really do tap into the Lento’s essential yearning, and the whole enterprise is judiciously balanced between introspective murmurings and extrovert bellows.

Indeed, those used to vodka-drenched versions may find Shui a little tame at times, although what his reading may lack in heat it more than makes up for in glowing detail and delicacy. That’s certainly true of the Adagio, which has rarely sounded so poised. The velvety strings and gentle harp flourishes are simply magical, and the BIS team have done well to capture this band at its best. After all that incident – more than I hear in many rivals – Shui’s propulsive finale is fiery without being overcooked. All of which makes this the best of Shui’s Rachmaninov so far.

The symphony takes second place – on the download, if not in terms of musicality – to Sudbin’s splendid rendition of the Rhapsody; as before there’s a nervous energy to his playing that suits those cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof moments in the score; he also brings a lovely, expressive lilt to the more lyrical variations. Unlike some recordings – Ashkenazy/Haitink, Wild/Horenstein – the balance is very believable, with neither the soloist nor the orchestra allowed to dominate. So, two persuasive performances whose freshness and spontaneity rescue these old war horses from the knacker’s yard.

Well worth a flutter.

Dan Morgan

http://twitter.com/mahlerei

[There’s little to add to Dan’s review. The ‘big tune’ in the Paganini Rhapsody – the one that seems to me to shout ‘Rachma-an-in-ov’ – might have been a little more yearning. I still rate Vladimir Ashkenazy and André Previn (Double Decca), Stephen Hough and Andrew Litton (Hyperion) and Earl Wild and Jascha Horenstein (Chandos*) top of the very competitive concertante Rachmaninov tree, but this comes close and that’s my only pretty minor reservation. Like Dan I still rate André Previn highly in the symphony but the 24/96 sound on the new BIS is superior and the performance is enjoyable – with all the wallowy yearning that I found a little lacking in the Rhapsody. BW]

* Illogically, the mp3 set costs half as much again and the lossless twice as much as the CDs.

Bargain of the Month
Sergei RACHMANINOV Piano Trios

Trio élégiaque No.1 in g minor [12:44]
Two pieces for cello and piano, Op.2 [10:21]
Two pieces for violin and piano, Op.6 [10:11]
Trio élégiaque No.2 in d minor [41:54]
The Moscow Rachmaninov Trio – rec.2000. DDD
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55431 [75:10] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

At full price this recording merited a four-star recommendation in the Penguin Guide (out of three!) and our own Colin Clarke thought it preferable to the Chandos recording from the Bekova Sisters, not least because their recording offers only the two Trios (4-star review).

That recording from the Bekovas is now available only as a download but Chandos have a more recent offering from the Borodin Trio which I recommended in my June 2009 DL Roundup. As performances that and the new Hyperion are both top contenders but the inclusion of the shorter pieces and the price decrease (£5.99 in mp3 and lossless) makes the Hyperion reissue the better proposition – unless you want lossless for your main system and mp3 for your personal player, which Chandos allow you to obtain for no extra cost and Hyperion don’t. (See my remarks in the Dowland review above.) Both mp3 and lossless versions of the Hyperion sound fine, the latter especially so. The piano is dominant in the soundscape; if the recording has to be slightly less than perfectly balanced, that’s probably the right priority.

Also recommended at budget price on the same label from the same performers:

Alexandr GRECHANINOV (1864-1956)

Piano Trio No.1 in c minor, Op.38 (1906) [26:55]
Cello Sonata in e minor, Op.113 (1927) [18:54]
Piano Trio No.2 in G, Op.128 (1930) [18:04]
The Moscow Rachmaninov Trio – rec. 2000. DDD
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55399 [63:53] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless)

Staying with Grechaninov, his Vespers (more correctly All Night Vigil) and other music also comes from Hyperion on a budget reissue:

Holst Singers/Stephen Layton, with James Bowman (counter-tenor) – rec. November 1998, DDD.
Pdf booklet included, with transliterated Old Slavonic texts and translations.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55353 [63:16] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3 and lossless) [See review by Ralph Moore for details.]

Two inexpensive reissues which may be confidently recommended to all those interested in this repertoire. In both cases mp3 and lossless sound very well, with the usual slight preference for the latter.

The Corydon Singers’ 1990 recording of the Rachmaninov Vespers with Matthew Best at the helm [65:17] has done sterling service in my CD collection since it was first released. Like many early Hyperion CDs, it’s become slightly ‘bronzed’ but it’s still eminently playable. It’s available as a download – two catalogue numbers at the same price, £7.99 for mp3 or lossless: CDA66460 or CDA30016, the latter among the Hyperion at 30 special releases which are less expensive on CD (£9.99 as against £13.99). From hyperion-records.co.uk, with pdf booklet.

Finally, reverting to budget price recordings on Hyperion Helios, Rachmaninov’s setting of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (CDH55318, Corydon Singers/Matthew Best, with pdf booklet [77:17] – from hyperion-records.co.uk). Though reissued less expensively than the Vespers, the performance and recording are equally recommendable, the latter very good in mp3 and even better in lossless sound. Recorded in 1994, Ian Lace found its reissue in 2008 intensely moving – review. The King’s College version to which he refers is available from classicsonline.com for £6.99, or for streaming from Naxos Music Library, but there’s no booklet with that download.

The Romantic Piano Concerto Vol. 60
Théodore DUBOIS (1837-1924)

Concerto-Capriccioso in c minor (1876) [16:18]
Piano Concerto in f minor (1897) [27:59]
Suite for piano and string orchestra in f minor (1917) [21:05]
Cédric Tiberghien (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Manze
rec. 13-14 June 2012, City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, UK
HYPERION CDA67931 [65:24] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16-bit & Studio Master 24-bit flacs). Free download track available.

‘Théodore Dubois is an unloved figure,’ Alexandre Dratwicki avers in his articulate and admirably concise liner-notes for this release. A quick Google appears to confirm that, although Dubois’s organ music – some of which has a freshness and charm that I find irresistible – is reasonably well represented. Not surprising, perhaps, as he was organist at La Madeleine, Paris, for almost twenty years. Overshadowed by the prodigious musical talents of his compatriots he remained a career pedagogue rather than a self-seeking performer/composer, which might explain why much of his oeuvre has lain dormant ever since.

Enter Hyperion, whose long-running Romantic Piano Concerto series has reached yet another milestone. Given that the raison d’être of this project is to unearth all these concertos, including the justifiably neglected and obscure, there are bound to be some duds along the way. That said I’ve heard a fair few, and with the help of first-rate pianists, ensembles and sonics even the less interesting works have been very persuasively presented. Volume 59 is a case in point; Zarzycki and Żeleński are good if not great composers, yet the works recorded here still have the capacity to surprise and delight (review).

There’s no shortage of melodic interest in Dubois’s Concerto-Capriccioso, whose concise proportions conceal a work of some virtuosity. Romantically inclined yet surprisingly formal at times it’s an engaging piece that never oversteps its limits. The orchestral writing certainly isn’t distinguished, so it’s left to French pianist Cédric Tiberghien to engage and sustain the listener’s interest. That he does, with an easeful delivery that emphasises clarity and colour; articulation is good, dynamics are nicely shaded and the score’s more reflective moments stay clear of self-indulgent doodles – just.

Emphatically not great music – conductor Andrew Manze and the BBCSSO do their best with Dubois’s rhetorical flourishes – but the second concerto is much surer of foot and focus. Dubois is more spontaneous in the opening Allegro, which Tiberghien despatches with considerable elegance and point. I still don’t care for Dubois’s workmanlike accompaniment, but the piano writing is rather more accomplished. Despite its sober mien the Adagio has a Brahmsian largesse that appeals, and there’s even a hint of mischief in the brief dissonances of the rambling Allegro vivo.

Hyperion are well-known for their enviable recordings of solo piano pieces, and while there’s much to admire here in terms of the soloist’s fine clarity and pleasing timbres the orchestra sounds unusually diffuse at times. Indeed, I found this Studio Master underwhelming compared with some of Hyperion’s recent, class-leading downloads. That’s less of an issue in the endearing Suite – written when the composer was 80 – where Tiberghien captures the youthful passion, quick wit and will-o’-the-wisp qualities of this alert, effervescent piece. All this unaccustomed bubble and brio keeps Manze and his players on their toes too.

Avid collectors of this series will buy this new volume regardless, while others – perhaps familiar with Tiberghien’s fine pianism – will want it for that alone. Indeed, when the material is as variable as this – let’s be honest, it’s pretty threadbare at times – a decent soloist can make the difference between drudgery and delight. As for Manze and his band they’re dutiful rather than inspired, but then there isn’t always a great deal to work with.

Not the best in this series by a long chalk; mildly diverting though.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

[Since Dan has reviewed the Studio Master version, I tried the mp3 and found more delight than drudgery, though it’s true that the orchestral accompaniment sometimes sounds like Saint-Saëns at less than his best. The mp3 sounds lifelike enough even on an audio system if you want that format for your personal player – I think the rather diffuse orchestral sound is more down to Dubois than the Hyperion engineers. Enjoyable enough but, as Dan says, not first choice from this often very valuable series. BW.]

Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

L’Oiseau de Feu (Firebird) – Suite (1919) [21:49]
Le Sacre du Printemps (Rite of Spring) (1913) [33:10]
Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse/Tugan Sokhiev – rec. September 2011
Pdf booklet included
NAÏVE V5192 [54:59] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

For John Quinn, this recording gets the centenary celebrations of The Rite of Spring off to a good start – review.

On disc the audio recordings are accompanied by a DVD of The Rite of Spring, which makes up for the short playing time of the CD. The download comes without that, but the short playing time is taken care of by eclassical.com’s policy of charging per second, $9.91 for both the mp3 and lossless. Even so, it would have been nice to have had the complete Firebird, not just the Suite – the two ballets can fit on one CD, as on the mid-price Sony reissue of Stravinsky’s own performances, which remains my prime recommendation (SMK89875). There doesn’t seem to be a download of that, but there is of the very inexpensive EMI 2-CD Simon Rattle set of Firebird, Rite, Petrushka and Apollo, which will also do very nicely – review: download for £4.99 from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk. If you insist on Rattle’s latest Rite (2012, live), that can be yours from the same source for £6.99 – here.

My regret that only the Firebird Suite is included here is all the greater because I enjoyed Sokhiev’s colourful performance of that work much more than his Rite. Both works are very well recorded but the beauty of sound which makes this Firebird so attractive is less appropriate to the Rite which, after all, takes up the greater half of this recording. Though this version of the Rite is not without its moments of power and drama, my preferences must remain with the versions which I’ve mentioned. If you choose the newer Rattle recording and are, therefore, still in need of a version of Firebird, the classic LSO/Dorati version is still available as a download only in mp3 or lossless from deutschegrammophon.com. His slightly less recommendable later Detroit versions of Firebird, Rite, Apollo and Petrushka are now available on a recent 2-CD Decca reissue, from 7digital.com for £8.49.

Alternatively, there’s the very fine OPMC Classics recording of Firebird, Petrushka, Rite and Pulcinella from Yakov Kreizberg which I made Recording of the Monthreview. It runs extravagantly to three CDs and it’s not available to download, but it comes at budget price, around £19. For other recommendable recordings of Firebird, see my review of BIS-SACD-1874 in Download News 2012/22. For a comparison of the recordings of Rite of Spring by Andrew Litton (BIS-SACD-1474: Dominy Clements’ Recording of the Month) and Iván Fischer (Channel Classics CCSSA32112) with each other and other recordings, see my March 2012/2 DL Roundup.

If you really want to celebrate the centenary of Rite of Spring in style, there’s a 20-CD set of all the recordings of that work released by DG and Decca from 1946 to 2010: 478 3729 – download in mp3 or lossless from deutschegrammophon.com.

Igor STRAVINSKY Complete works for piano and orchestra
Song of the Volga Boatmen [1:19]
Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments [18:36]
Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra [17:06]
Movements for Piano and Orchestra [9:18]
Concerto in D (Basle Concerto) [12:53]
Canon on a Russian Popular Tune [1:04]
Steven Osborne (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Ilan Volkov – rec. May 2012. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
HYPERION CDA67870 [60:16] – from hyperion-records.co.uk (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless)

This coupling is so obvious that I’m surprised that no-one has recorded the works together before. Only the ‘Basle’ Concerto in D doesn’t feature piano and orchestra.

My benchmark for the Concerto for Piano and Wind must, I’m sorry to say, remain embedded in my mind, since the Stravinsky portion of the LP on which it figured has never been reissued on CD: Stephen Bishop, as he was then, with Colin Davis and the BBCSO on Philips SAL3779, with Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto. The Bartók has been reissued on a recommendable CD of all three concertos (Philips Eloquence 4611882 – download only from prestoclassical.co.uk) but not the Stravinsky and it’s much too recent a recording to hope that someone like Beulah will restore it for us. The new recording didn’t make the same impact on me as that Philips LP but nostalgia plays tricks with the memory and I was hearing the music for the first time when I bought that LP in around 1970.

Whatever very slight reservations I may have about the impact of the Concerto for Piano and Wind, there’s no current rival of which I know that I would prefer and the same goes for the Capriccio – again nostalgia harks back to Nikita Magaloff and Ernest Ansermet on a Decca Ace of Diamonds LP of that work with the Concerto for Piano and Wind which a colleague owned at about the same time and which is currently available on a multi-CD download from prestoclassical.co.uk. (467 8182, not available in the UK. Emusic.com have a Hallmark transfer of the two Stravinsky works for £2.52 but I can’t vouch for the quality.)

No problems with memories, true or false, with the quirky Movements and the Concerto in D; even if I still had access to those LPs or Michel Béroff’s highly regarded recording on a budget EMI twofer of Capriccio (9072512review), the new recording would still be extremely valuable. Many will, in any case, prefer the new recording of Capriccio to what some have found to be Béroff’s slightly relentless performance – I didn’t find it too hard-driven – and even if you bought or intend to buy that set of concertante works your return for a small financial layout will or would have been well worth it: download from sainsburysentertainment.co.uk.

The Concerto in D, composed for Paul Sacher and sometimes known as the Basle Concerto, though it’s the odd one out in terms of there being no piano concertante role, also receives a very good performance. It may not be as immediately attractive as its relative, Dumbarton Oaks, but Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish make as strong a case for it as any that I’ve heard, including Karajan (DG Originals 4474352, with Honegger Symphonies 2 and 3 – download from 7digital.com).

Arnold BAX (1883-1953)

Two additional pieces of information regarding existing recommendations:

The complete Bax Symphony cycle on CHAN10122 - review - is now available in 24/96 lossless sound, albeit at a rather expensive £49.90, in addition to mp3 (£23.97) and 16-bit lossless (£29.97) from theclassicalshop.net. There are highly recommendable individual recordings of the symphonies on Naxos but the Chandos complete set of the Vernon Handley performances, coupled with Rogue's Comedy Overture and Tintagel plus an interview with the conductor, is very special.

I've recommended the separate full-price release of the Cello Concerto (CHAN8494 - review) but failed to notice its better-value reissue at mid-price with the Violin Concerto and Morning Song - one concertante work each for cello, violin and piano on CHAN10154X. - from theclassicalshop.net. The blame must lie partly with Chandos - typing Bax Violin Concerto or Bax Cello Concerto in their search engine won't bring up this recording, which is indexed simply as Orchestral Works Volume 1.

Alfredo CASELLA (1883-1947)

Italia, Op. 11 (1909) [19:39]
Introduzione, Corale e Marcia, Op. 57 (1931-1935) [7:41]
Sinfonia, Op. 63 (Symphony No. 3) (1939-1940) [41:55]
BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. 28 June 2012 (Italia), 6-7 November 2012 (Introduzione, Sinfonia), MediaCity, Salford, UK
Pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHAN10768 [68:55] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16-bit lossless and Studio 24/96)

The Casella risorgimento continues with this third volume in Chandos’s superb BBC Philharmonic/Noseda series. I was particularly impressed with the first outing, which boasts a blazing performance of the Mahlerian Second Symphony (review) but the next instalment – headlined by the Concerto for Orchestra – isn’t too far behind (review). I can also recommend the rival Naxos CDs featuring Francesco La Vecchia and the Rome Philharmonic, several of which I’ve reviewed on the main site.

Noseda kicks off with Italia, an early ‘symphonic rhapsody’ in which Casella weaves together a variety of folkloric threads to create a patchy portrait of his homeland. In his meticulous liner-notes Gerald Larner details the sources of Casella’s inspiration, but even without these pointers Italia has a fairly obvious narrative. From its rather lugubrious start the work modulates into something much sunnier, before retreating and regrouping to end on a more jubilant – albeit sub-Respighian – note. It’s all very entertaining, but not even a spirited performance such as this can transform Italia into a first-rate piece.

No matter, for ‘complete’ traversals will always have their share of less accomplished works. The secco little Introduzione, Corale e Marcia isn’t one of them; economically scored for woodwind, brass, timpani, percussion, piano and double basses it slips past in under eight minutes. Textures are spare, colours are muted and there’s a new-found compositional rigour here that marks a stylistic departure for Casella. That said, the piece isn’t all dry; indeed, it catches one unawares with its delightfully jaunty finale. The recording is fine, if a tad airless, and that may have something to do with the hall at MediaCity. The Second Symphony and Scarlattiana – recorded in the grateful and expansive acoustic of Studio 7, New Broadcasting House – sound far more involving than this.

In spite of this the war-time Sinfonia (Symphony No. 3) sounds pretty impressive. Its emphatic rhythms and stark details are well caught by the Chandos team and Noseda keeps his players on a tight rein throughout. Those attuned to the softer Romantic outlines of the First and Second symphonies must recalibrate their expectations, for the Third is more sharply drawn. Even so, there are flashes of that old lyricism – moments of repose if you will – notably at the start of the moody Andante.

There is much to admire in the Sinfonia, not least Casella’s lean but alluring textures and his finely shaded dynamics. There’s little doubt the composer is very much in control of his material, and it’s hard to imagine much of it ending up on the metaphorical cutting-room floor. The orchestra plays with commendable feeling, and there’s a gentle but persistent momentum here that one doesn’t always sense in La Vecchia’s otherwise admirable account. Most pleasing, perhaps, is the scale and sensitivity of the writing, which abjures the impetuousness and gaudy splendour of Casella’s youthful oeuvre. Even the extrovert Rondo Finale is well proportioned, and it too is played with refreshing clarity and point.

This is a welcome release, even if it doesn’t have the instant, embraceable appeal of the earlier instalments. You won’t find many versions of Italia and the Introduzione, Corale e Marcia is recorded here for the first time, but when it comes to the Sinfonia I would probably choose La Vecchia’s warmly expressive and surprisingly colourful account over Noseda’s cooler, more cerebral one. Now I look forward to the Concerto Romano – scored for organ, brass, timpani and strings – which I encountered recently in two block-busting performances by Martin Schmeding and Martin Haselböck. Now that really is gaudy, but it’s great fun too.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

Freebie of the Month
Sir Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962
)
Four Sketches for Flute (or Violin), Violin and Piano, Op.5 (1913) [15:04]
Three Pictures for Flute and Piano, Op.55 (1935) [18:28]
Five Impressions of a Holiday (Cinq Impressions d’un séjour à la campagne) for Flute or Violin, Cello and Piano, Op.7 (1914) [15:56]
Suite for Flute (or Violin), Violin and Harp (or Piano) To Miss (Miriam) Timothy, Op.6 (1914) [10:32]
Pastorale et Arlequinade for Flute (or Violin), Oboe (or Violin) and Piano à Léon Goossens, Op.41 (1924) [7:48]
London Chamber Music Group (Susan Milan (flute); David Theodore (oboe); Jan Peter Schmolck (violin); John Heley (cello); Christina Rhys (harp); Ian Brown (piano) – rec. 2004. DDD.
Pdf booklet included
CHANDOS CHAN10259 [68:09] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)
[see review by Rob Barnett.]

This is the latest free gift in mp3 format to subscribers to the Chandos newsletter – it’s worth signing up now for the next time. If you are familiar at all with the name of Eugene Goossens, it’s probably as a conductor, but he was a composer too and Chandos deserve credit for reminding us. The music is unpretentious but charming – the French titles of two of the works give a clue to the debt to Debussy and Ravel – and the performances do it full justice, with Susan Milan in particular giving excellent account of herself. As the free download is in mp3 only, it’s in that form that I listened to it and found it perfectly acceptable.

Chandos have also given us two volumes of Goossens’ Orchestral Music with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra:

• Volume 1: CHSA5068 [64:14] – conducted by Richard Hickox: download from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, and lossless) – for details see review
• Volume 2: CHSA5119 [73:36] – conducted by Andrew Davis: download from theclassicalshop.net (mp3, 16– and 24-bit lossless and surround) – for details see review

Douglas COATES (1898-1974) Violin Concerto in D major (1934) [25:07]
E.J. MOERAN (1894-1950) Violin Concerto (1937-41) [32:58]
Colin Sauer (violin), BBC Northern Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves (Coates)
Alfredo Campoli (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Adrian Boult (Moeran)
rec. from live BBC broadcasts 15 March 1951 (Coates); 1954 (Moeran), mono, historical sound. ADD
DIVINE ART HISTORICAL DDH27806 [59:46] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

[‘A surprising discovery (the Coates) that survived against the odds and a hothouse performance of the Moeran.’ See review by Rob Barnett and review by John Quinn.]

I must apologise for having missed this recording of the Moeran Violin Concerto when I reviewed the Albert Sammons version on Symposium last time round. I can’t claim that the Coates concerto, which comes first, is a neglected masterpiece, but it certainly deserved better than the cold shoulder it apparently received from the avant-gardistes at the BBC who thought it too romantic and made the composer feel so dejected that he seems to have destroyed the score. I can’t imagine that its sole performance having been on the Light Programme did much for the credibility of composer and music.

The Moeran receives a more heartfelt performance from Alfredo Campoli than from dedicatee Albert Sammons on Symposium or Lydia Mordkovitch on Chandos. You may feel the approach more suited to Bruch than to Moeran but I enjoyed this different take on the music and you may well prefer it if you think that the work usually sounds too languorous. My own recommendation would to go for the Mordkovitch first and foremost – at mid price and coupled with the Cello Concerto on CHAN10168 – but to have one or both of the historical versions as a supplement.

Considering their provenance – acetate discs rescued from a dustbin and a tape from an AM broadcast, originally complete with the kind of whistles that I remember all too well afflicted AM after dark, the re-mastering, undertaken by Pristine Audio is a triumph.

Recommended Reissue
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Music for strings
Concerto for string orchestra (1938) [31:35]
Elegy for solo viola, string quartet, and string orchestra, Op.15 (1917)* [10:38]
Suite for string orchestra (1942) [20:40]
Serenade from Suite, Op. 16 for string orchestra (1917) [4:23]
Andrew Watkinson, Edward Roberts (violin); Matthew Souter (viola); Shuna Wilson (cello)*
City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox – rec.1992. DDD.
Pdf booklet available
CHANDOS CHAN10780X [67:45] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless).
[formerly CHAN9161]

I hardly did this recording sufficient justice when I recommended it in its former incarnation in my February 2009 DL Roundup. The music is ethereal, the performances ideal and the recording very good. At its new price (£4.99 for mp3, £7.99 for lossless) the reissue deserves a strong recommendation, apart from the anomaly that the lossless download comes at just one penny less than the CD – considering that some online retailers have discounted earlier Hickox reissues to £6.50 or even less and will, presumably do so with the latest batch, that seems highly illogical. Even less logically, amazon.co.uk are currently charging £7.49 for mp3 downloads of reissues in this Chandos Hickox reissue series; why would anyone choose to pay that for less than 320kb/s when theclassicalshop.net charge just £4.99 for the full-cream version? Classicsonline.com’s price of £7.99 for mp3 downloads of earlier reissues in the series is equally illogical, even if they do come at the full 320kb/s.

Bargain of the Month
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)

Appalachian Spring – Suite [25:26]
The Tender Land – Suite [20:48]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Aaron Copland – rec. c.1960. ADD
NAXOS CLASSICAL ARCHIVES 9.81024[46:14] – from classicsonline.com or emusic.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library (not available in the USA, Australia and several other countries)

Classic performances which still sound well -- worth having whatever other versions of Appalachian Spring you may have and couipled with the less well-known Tender Land. Even though the emusic.com bit-rate (around 240kb/s) is not ideal, the sound is bright and clear and the performances, of course, are idiomatic.

Eclassical.com offer another Naxos Classical Archives recording of Copland not only in 320kb/s mp3 but at the same price in lossless flac:

Music for Movies* [16:27]
Music for the Theater** [21:38]
Music for Radio: Prairie Journal* [11:13]
MGM Chamber Orchestra/Arthur Winograd*, Izler Solomon** – rec. 1953-1956. ADD.
NAXOS CLASSICAL ARCHIVES 9.80865 [49:18] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library (not available in the USA, Australia and several other countries)

I don’t think these recordings were ever released in the UK and, despite their availability in flac and the best efforts of the Naxos engineers, they sound pretty thin, even for their age, like other MGM recordings from this period which I’ve heard. Nevertheless, these are idiomatic performances – much better than I expected from Arthur Winograd, whose recording of the lighter classics didn’t always receive much critical acclaim. It may be that the inexpensive 320kb/s download from classicsonline.com is all that you need – the eclassical.com is a little dearer – if you live in a country where you are allowed to download this. Don’t consider downloading it from emusic.com, unless you wish to use up your monthly allocation, as it will cost you more than the classicsonline.com for a lower bit-rate, as will the amazon.co.uk download.

Reissue of the Month
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Op.34 [17:16]
Suite on English Folk Tunes ‘A time there was...’, Op.90 [15:35]
Suite from ‘Johnson over Jordan’ [17:01]
Four Sea Interludes from ‘Peter Grimes’, Op.33a [16:45]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox – rec. 1993. DDD.
Pdf booklet available.
CHANDOS CHAN10784X [67:04] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless)

This is Chandos’ own prime selection from the second batch of reissues of recordings by Richard Hickox. It makes an excellent memorial to the composer and conductor alike and it’s an ideal recording both for those just beginning to explore the music of Britten – the 2013 Birthday Boy – and for established lovers of his music and the price is right (£4.99 for mp3, £7.99 for lossless). Only those who prefer the version of YPG with narration need look elsewhere – strictly, this version should be called Variations on a Theme of Purcell. The original release on CHAN9221 received its due of praise but the CD seems to have got lost in a plethora of recordings of YPG and the Interludes since then, so this offers an excellent opportunity to sing its praises again. The recording is 16/44.1 only but sounds very well. All in all, very enjoyable and a strong challenge to Britten’s own recording of YPG and Interludes (mid-price Decca 425 6592, with Matinées or on a 4-CD set recently reissued). Other suppliers may still be offering CHAN9221 at a higher price, so stay with Chandos’ own theclassicalshop.net; nor will you save much by downloading Britten’s mid-price Decca version.

Those in search of a bargain of bargains will find Libor Pešek’s YPG and Sea Interludes (RLPO), together with the King’s/David Willcocks Ceremony of Carols and excerpts from other rated EMI or Virgin recordings on Essential Britten – 2 CDs for just £2.99 from classicsonline.com.

Benjamin BRITTEN
Spring Symphony, Op.44 [44:44]
Welcome Ode, Op.95 [8:16]
Psalm 150, Op.67 [5:31]
Alfreda Hodgson (contralto), Elizabeth Gale (soprano), Martyn Hill (tenor)
City of London School Choir (Boys), City of London School for Girls Choir, London Symphony Chorus, Southend Boys Choir,
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox
CHANDOS CHAN10782X [58:48] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless).
[formerly CHAN8855]

We’re almost spoiled for choice here. Britten’s own recording of the Spring Symphony is rather implausibly imprisoned in a 65-CD box set of his complete works due for reissue on 15 June. I can’t vouch for the quality of the Emkay transfer from 7digital.com but you may feel that at £4.99 it’s worth trying if you don’t want that huge box.

Classicsonline.com have the Previn recording on EMI, coupled with Four Sea Interludes, for £3.99 – here – and that I can recommend, though it means possibly duplicating the Hickox version of the Interludes (above). I described this as ‘just about the best Spring Symphony on the market’ in my September 2011/2 DL Roundup. Richard Hickox’s EMI recording comes in a 5-CD box set from EMI, with other music by Britten, Tippett and Walton, for around £20 on CD or £19.99 from classicsonline.com. Sheila Armstrong, Janet Baker and Robert Tear as soloists are the main attraction here – see review.

Gerald FINZI (1901-1956) Requiem da Camera (1923-25, premiere recording) [23:42]
Benjamin BRITTEN Deus in adjutorium meum (Psalm 70) (1945) [5:17]
Chorale after an Old French Carol (1944) [5:00]
Cantata Misericordium, Op.69 (1938) [19:38]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) Two Psalms (1912): Psalm 86 [8:23]; Psalm 148 [5:00]
Alison Barlow (soprano), David Hoult (baritone), John Alley (organ), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Stephen Varcoe (baritone)
Britten Singers, City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox – rec.1991. DDD.
Pdf booklet with texts included.
CHANDOS CHAN10783X [67:37] – from theclassicalshop.net (mp3 and lossless).
[formerly CHAN8997]

CHAN10783X brings yet another self-recommending Hickox reissue from Chandos.

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) Violin Concerto Op.15 (1939) [31:15]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Violin Concerto no.1in a minor Op.77 (1948) [35:51]
James Ehnes (violin)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits
Pdf booklet included
ONYX4113 [66:56] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Hard on the heels of the highly competitive Chandos release of the Britten Violin Concerto from Tasmin Little and Edward Gardner – CHAN10764, with the Piano Concerto: review and DL News 2013/6: Recording of the Month – comes this desirable version from James Ehnes and Kirill Karabits. Chandos offer a sensible coupling with the Piano Concerto; the Onyx comes in an equally logical coupling with the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No.1 – two works composed in troubled times and especially attractive for those who already have the very fine Hyperion version of the Piano Concerto (CDA67625, with complete works for piano and orchestra: Recording of the Month review and Hyperion Top 30 Roundup).

Ehnes and Karabitts might not be my top recommendation in Britten in competition with Little and Gardner, but they aren’t far behind. Likewise, I shall turn to David Oistrakh for the Shostakovich – budget price Regis RRC1385 with Cello Concerto – review – but that recording, though decent for its age, is no competition for the powerful new performance on Onyx, which sounds very fine in mp3 and even better in lossless flac. I tried both and so can you – eclassical.com allow you to purchase, download one and return for the other. At $12.03, too, the eclassical.com version, complete with booklet, is offered at an attractive price, commensurate with what most suppliers charge for mp3 only. You’ll find this on offer for £3.36 from emusic.com but the bit-rate is likely to be below eclassical.com’s 320kb/s.

Shostakovich completists who have not yet splashed out on the inexpensive EMI 3-CD set of concertos which I made Bargain of the MonthJanuary 2012/2 DL Roundup – should go for that set as well as the new Onyx and the inexpensive Regis.

On the subject of Britten recordings which, while not top choice, challenge that choice, let me mention that Britten’s own Decca recording of the War Requiem, though still my first recommendation for what I consider his undoubted masterpiece – Recording of the Month August 2009 DL Roundup – has several very serious challengers, not least from the 1969 live recording on BBC Legends conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini (BBCL4046-2). With Peter Pears in the tenor role and Benjamin Britten himself involved in the direction this has a strong claim to be considered a serious rival to the Decca. With brisk, dramatic pacing it just fits on one CD [79:00] and the download from eclassical.com does it full justice, with very good mp3 and even better lossless flac available at the same price. It also comes complete with a short pdf booklet but no texts.

Another very strong contender on DVD and Blu-ray comes from Andris Nelsons conducting the 50th-anniversary performance in Coventry Cathedral: Recording of the Monthreview and review.

Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (b.1928)

Symphony No. 7 ‘Angel of Light’ [34:19]
Dances with the Winds, Op.69 (Concerto for flutes and orchestra) [21:33]
Cantus Arcticus, Op.61 (Concerto for birds and orchestra) [16:55]
Petri Alanko (flute)
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
Pdf booklet included
BIS-CD-1038 [72:47] – from eclassical.com (mp3 and lossless)

I recommended this recording in the August 2010 DL Roundup when it was available from passionato.com, but they are no longer in the download business and I couldn’t resist plugging it again and directing you to the eclassical.com download – the home site of BIS recordings.

It’s almost impossible to describe the music of Rautavaara if you haven’t heard it – words such as ‘ethereal’ don’t do it justice, nor are comparisons with Sibelius, though he was undoubtedly an influence, or other contemporary Eastern European composers such as Górecki more than a hint in the right direction, but few first-time listeners are able to resist. Try Cantus Arcticus first if you can, either in snippets from the eclassical.com website or better as a whole from Naxos Music Library.

Ondine have developed a strong Rauatavaara catalogue over the years and you’ll find a number of excellent recordings from that label for download from classicsonline.com, but this BIS recording is equally highly to be recommended for the quality of the music, performances and recording – 16-bit only, but I doubt you’ll think it wanting. Rob Barnett awarded it ****(*) – review – and I’m not going to demur except to un-bracket that fifth star, not just for Cantus but for the other works, too.

Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA Cantus Arcticus [18:41]
Piano Concerto No.1 [20:56]
Symphony No.3 [33:24]
Laura Mikkola (piano); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Hannu Lintu – rec. 1997. DDD.
NAXOS 8.554147 [73:32] from classicsonline.com or stream from Naxos Music Library

If you are principally looking for Cantus Arcticus and don’t mind a different, equally evocative, coupling or mp3-only availability, albeit at the full 320kb/s bit-rate, you’ll find it less expensively (£4.99) on this generously-filled Naxos recording.

Performances and recording are very good and the pdf booklet, containing brief notes by the composer, comes as part of the deal.


Brian Reinhart’s Reviews

Yutong Sun: Piano Recital
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata No. 26, Op 81a, "Les adieux" [16:55]
Lowell LIEBERMANN (1961– ) Gargoyles, Op. 29 [10:10]
Juan de Díos GARCÍA AGUILERA (1972– ) Flores para Julia [8:46]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881) Pictures at an Exhibition [32:57]
Yutong Sun (piano) – rec. 16 June 2012, Conservatory of Music, Jaén, Spain
Pdf booklet included
NAXOS 8.573178 [68:48] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library [physical CD available only in Spain]

Yutong Sun, born in 1995, recorded this as part of his prize for winning the 2012 Jaén Piano Competition. The standout here is his performance of Lowell Liebermann’s Gargoyles, four short pieces of peculiar and sometimes grotesque characters, befitting the title. Especially noteworthy is #2, a haunting adagio; you might compare it to Debussy at his most harmonically complex. Yutong Sun gets this mood-piece evoked perfectly.

Elsewhere things are less interesting. The Beethoven "Les adieux" has a scintillating virtuoso finale, and that’s worth hearing if you get a kick out of technical mastery at the highest level, but the rest is merely average, expressively and dynamically middling. Juan de Díos García Aguilera composed a short work, Flores para Julia, for the competition, but I found it drab and unrewarding ("flores" means flowers, not dishwater). The Mussorgsky pictures are more inhibited than those of another young hotshot virtuoso pianist seeking to prove his mettle: Alfred Brendel on Vox in 1955.

The Liebermann is a discovery well worth your time, but the rest you can take or leave. I downloaded MP3 (320 kbps) from ClassicsOnline, which also provided album cover and PDF booklet. Recorded sound is close enough you can sometimes hear what might well be sleeves swishing against keys.

Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Symphony No. 1, "Classical" [15:08]
Giovanni BOTTESINI (1821-1889) Double Bass Concerto No. 2 [19:36]
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903) Italian Serenade [8:34]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Symphony No. 2 [29:52]
Joseph Conyers (double bass)
Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia/Michael Stern – rec. 27-28 January, 2013, Kimmel Center for Performing Arts, Philadelphia
CHAMBER ORCHESTRA OF PHILADELPHIA COP014 [73:10] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or prestoclassical.co.uk (mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia recently began posting recordings of its live concerts on ClassicsOnline (MP3 320 kbps) and Presto Classical (FLAC); this is one of the best releases so far. Michael Stern, the capable conductor of the Kansas City Symphony, joins the orchestra for a delightful program centering on Giovanni Bottesini’s second concerto for the double bass. It’s a lyrical work in the Paganini tradition, the first big melody of which sounds an awful lot like a tune from Mahler’s Third (played by the orchestra during "O Mensch"). Joseph Conyers, double bassist for the Philadelphia Orchestra, is a very fine soloist (and gets a long cadenza to prove it).

Surrounding this are charming performances of Prokofiev’s First Symphony (a bit slow in the first movement but perfect everywhere else), Wolf’s Italian Serenade, and Schubert’s Second Symphony. The ensemble plays very well under Stern’s direction, and the live recorded sound is good, not too dry and fairly cough-free though retaining more applause than you’ll want to hear.

I’ll be reporting on more Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia releases from ClassicsOnline, but this is a good place for you to start getting acquainted with a fine American ensemble.

[I’m grateful to Brian for pointing me in the direction of listening via Naxos Music Library to an enjoyable recording which I probably would not have considered otherwise. BW.]

My Polish Diary
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849
)
Variations brillantes (sur un thème de Hérold), Op.12 [8:58]
Juliusz ZARęBSKI(1854-1885) Les Roses et les Epines, Op.13 [20:25]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937) Masques, Op.34 [25:15]
Ignacy Jan PADEREWSKI (1860-1941) Humoresque de concert, Op 14 [2:48]
Nocturne in B flat, Op.16/4 [4:00]
Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913-1994) Two Etudes [4:46]
Kiryl Keduk (piano) – rec. dates and locations unknown
Pdf booklet included
DELOS PRODUCTIONS DE3432 [66:15] – from classicsonline.com (mp3) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Pianist Kiryl Keduk’s "Polish Diary" is an enjoyable tour of Polish musical history. The Chopin opener is a little-known set of early variations, which means that the most famous work here is actually Szymanowski’s Masques. The Masques, knotty and devilishly playful as they are, form a tough contrast to the salon pieces by Zarębski and Paderewski. (The latter’s nocturne is especially pretty; it’s a favourite encore of Stephen Hough’s.) Rounding out the disc are two virtuosic études by a young Lutoslawski.

All in all, it’s the kind of smart program that makes the whole more valuable than the sum of its parts; the charming Chopin does undercut the slightly prosaic Zarębski works, but overall Keduk’s selections make for an hour of contrasts, surprises, and rewards. That’s why, though I might favour Piotr Anderszewski on Virgin Classics for the Masques, I’ll be happy to return to this. Though the booklet doesn’t mention when or where the CD was recorded, it does come with excellent notes explaining the project, each work, and the backgrounds of the less familiar composers.

Keduk, born in 1987, is from Belarus and has trained in Poland and Italy; I hope we’ll be hearing more creative albums from him soon.

I downloaded MP3 (320 kbps) from ClassicsOnline, which also provided album cover and PDF booklet.

Brian Reinhart

David Barker’s Reviews


The five recordings I have chosen this time all come from recent purchases from The Classical Shop hourly or eclassical daily 50% discount. Therefore, they are not all recent releases, as these offers come randomly from their entire catalogue of each label.

Frederick MAY (1911-1985) String Quartet
Aloys FLEISCHMANN (1910-1992) Piano Quintet
Hugh Tinney (piano)
Vanbrugh String Quartet – rec. 1995
MARCO POLO 8.223888 (download from The Classical Shop mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

This is the first offering from the label’s Irish Composers Series that I’ve heard, and unfortunately I can’t give it a particularly high rating.

The May begins with two fast movements which are only memorable for their lack of anything memorable. The first movement totally outstays its welcome at almost thirteen minutes. The slow movement which completes the work is a marked improvement, with Vaughan Williams, one of May’s teachers, brought to mind, but unfortunately not enough to make up for the first two. Colin Scott-Sutherland was much more impressed by this work back in 1998 when it was first released.

The Fleischmann is better, the addition of the piano providing some variety in tonal colour that the May lacked. It has a more conventional structure in terms of the arrangement of the four movements, and there is much to like in the gentle lyrical moments. Unfortunately, there is a tendency across all four movements for the music to suddenly jump from quiet reflection to intense activity and then back again, which becomes a little wearing.

In principle, the track samples offered should prevent disappointment – I’m not sure what happened here.

Alfred HILL (1869-1960) String Quartets 10 & 11
"Life" Quintet for piano, string quartet and voices
The Dominion Quartet
Richard Mapp (piano) – rec. 2009-11
NAXOS 8.572844 (download from The Classical Shop, mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

Now this was a much better experience. The two quartets, both written in 1935, hark back to the previous century, and are really fine pieces of music, particularly No.11. Its slow movement brings to mind the famous Notturno from the second Borodin quartet, and indeed, it is in the slower movements and episodes where Hill really shines.

The quintet, a few decades earlier, is a lesser work, though the central section of the third funeral march second movement is quite glorious. The finale is a very odd concoction, probably unique in chamber music, in that it includes a vocal ensemble. If you hadn’t read the track list, it would be easy to assume that it was an entirely separate work, so little connection does it have to the first three movements.

My only criticism of the performances mirrors that of William Kreindler in his review: the slow tempos adopted by the players don’t really match the markings. The allegretto finale of Quartet 11 is closer to andante. Still, we are very unlikely to get a better recording any time soon, which in the case of Quartet 11, is a real shame.

A Celebration of Cellos
Works for cello ensemble by Rodrigo, Cervetto, Aeschbacher, Mainardi, Dare, Don, Hewitt-Jones and Norris
Cello Spice – rec. 1995
DIVINE ART DDA25002 (download from The Classical Shop, mp3 and lossless) or stream from Naxos Music Library

The potential for a lack of variety in almost seventy minutes of works solely for three or four cellos is considerable, particularly when only one – the Cervetto Trio – is from other than the twentieth century. Nevertheless, the members of Cello Spice, four eminent Scottish cellists (fitting since this is a very early recording from the Scottish label) have done a very good job in avoiding, in most part, this trap.

I admit to only having heard of Rodrigo beforehand, but that didn’t prevent me from greatly enjoying the works of the others. The Mainardi Notturno is breathtakingly beautiful, and I particularly enjoyed the Aeschbacher Suite, which dates from 1941, but harks back to an earlier time. If your preference is for challenging works, then look elsewhere. If, like me, you enjoy music that is tuneful, while maintaining harmonic and rhythmic interest, then you should find this a good choice. Of course, you do need to like the cello.

Carl STAMITZ (1745-1801) Symphonies
London Mozart Players/Matthias Bamert – rec. 1995
CHANDOS CHAN9358 (Download from The Classical Shop, mp3 and lossless)
[see also review of an inexpensive 5-CD set CHAN10628 which contains these symphonies plus music by Krommer, Pleyel, Kozeluch and Wranitzky – September 2010 DL Roundup]

The Classical Shop computer has been kind enough to alight a number of times on the Contemporaries of Mozart series with its choice of hourly discount. This is one of the earlier entries, but one that I had missed when purchasing the CDs. Regardless of composer, all the music in this series is enjoyable and well-performed, but none of it reaches the dizzying heights of Mozart – hardly a surprise – and might be thought of as fairly uniform and not distinctive. These four symphonies from the younger Stamitz, from the fifty-plus he wrote for the Mannheim court, strike me as being among the best I’ve heard in terms of their melodic and rhythmic inventiveness.

[Unfortunately, Chandos have deleted the desirable USB set of their complete Contemporaries of Mozart series which I recommended, but the 5-CD set mentioned at the head of this review remains available. BW]

Eduard TUBIN (1905-1982) Symphony 1 [32:01]
Balalaika concerto [19:59]
Music for strings [15:15]
Swedish RSO/Neeme Jarvi – rec. 1987
Pdf booklet included.
BIS BIS-CD-351 (Download from Eclassical, mp3 and lossless)
[Symphony No.1 also available on BIS-CD-1402/04, 5 CDs for price of 3 – review by Rob Barnett.]

I bought most of the Tubin/BIS series on CD, but not this one – I suspect the presence of a balalaika concerto put me off. However, at $5 on the daily discount at eclassical, I felt that I could hardly go wrong, regardless of the qualities or otherwise of the aforementioned work.

As it turned out, the Balalaika Concerto was certainly not dreadful, just a bit underwhelming: not one of the Estonian’s finest moments. However, the other works well and truly compensated. The First Symphony is a fine work, full of grand gestures and striking melodies. The Music for Strings is a later and consequently more austere work, but stands up well against the great English works for strings.

David Barker



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