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Late 2020 Retrospective
By Brian Wilson

I last did some catching up of recordings which my colleagues had reviewed back in the Summer of 2020, so there’s plenty of ground to make up. I’m concentrating especially on albums which have received the Recommended, Recording of the Month or Recording of the Year accolade.

Index

Bach Musical Offering – Ensemble Sonnerie: Erato; Suzuki: BIS
- Art of Fugue – Rasi: Challenge Classics
- St John Passion – Suzuki: BIS
Beethoven Piano Concertos – Hough: Hyperion; Goodyear: Orchid
- Piano Concerto 3, Triple Concerto – Helmchen: Alpha
Ben-Haim Symphony No.1, etc. – Wellber: Chandos
Blackford Blewbery Air – Wallfisch, Farmer: Nimbus
Britten Peter Grimes – Bedford; Signum
Copland Symphony No.3 – Tilson Thomas: SFS Media
Debussy Images, etc – Elder: Hallé
Delibes Ballet Suites – Järvi: Chandos
Devienne Trios – Le Petit Trianon: Ricercar
Dohnányi – Piano Quintets, String Quartet – Takács Quartet: Hyperion
Dowland A Fancy – Zuljan: Ricercar
Dunhill, D’Erlanger Piano Quintets – Lane, Goldner Quartet: Hyperion
Dvořák Cello Concerto, etc. – Soltani: DG
Handel Concerti Grossi, Op.3 – Kallweit: Pentatone; Goodman: Hyperion
- Samson – Butt: Linn; Alarcón: Ricercar
Hillier Piano Concertos – Shelley: Hyperion
Howells – see Stanford
Jančeviskis Choral Music – Cábulis: Hyperion
Josquin Masses – Tallis Scholars: Gimell
MacMillan Symphony No.4; Viola Concerto – Brabbins: Hyperion
Mahler Symphony No.7 – Gergiev: LSO Live
Mäntyjärvi Choral Music – Trinity College Cambridge: Hyperion
Fanny Mendelssohn Piano Trios (with Clara Schumann) – Nash Ensemble: Hyperion
Monteverdi Vespers – Bestion: Alpha
Mozart y Mambo – Willis: Alpha
Mozart Gran Partita - Ogrintchouk: BIS
Picchi Canzoni – Genini: Arcana
Prokofiev Symphonies 1-3 – Litton: BIS
Clara Schumann Piano Trio (with Fanny Mendelssohn)
Shostakovich Violin Concertos – Ibragimova: Hyperion
- Symphony No.13 ‘Babi Yar’ – Karabits: Pentatone
Sibelius Symphony No.2; King Christian II Suite – Rouvali: Alpha
Stanford and Howells Remembered – Rutter: Collegium
Strauss Family Memories of Vienna – Krips: Decca Eloquence
Tallis – Spem in alium, etc. – Ora Singers: Harmonia Mundi
Tavener The Protecting Veil - Barley: Signum
- No longer mourn for me and other works for cello - Isserlis: Hyperion
Tchaikovsky Symphony No.5, Francesca da Rimini – Paavo Järvi: Alpha
Vaughan Williams Symphony No.1 – Manze: Onyx
- Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 – Brabbins: Hyperion
- Symphony No.5; Pilgrim’s Progress Secene – Barbbins: Hyperion
- Job; Songs of Travel – Elder: Hallé

Anonimo Venexian – d’Avena/Ribeiro: Ramée
Banquet of Voices – Rutter: Collegium
British Violin Sonatas 3 – Little, Lane: Chandos
Carols from King’s 2020
Lament – Ensemble Allegria, etc.: BIS
Spohr Collection – Historical Flutes: Channel Classics

***

Recording of the Year
JOSQUIN Des Prés (c.1450-1521)
Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariæ (1503/4? ed. Timothy Symons) [27:29]
Missa d’ung aultre amer (ed. Thomas Noblitt), including Tu solus qui facis mirabilia and D’ung aultre amer (ed. Bonnie Backburn) [17:52]
Missa Faysant regretz (ed. Timothy Symons) [26:18]
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
rec. Merton College Chapel, Oxford. 2019?
Texts and translations included; scores of Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariæ and Missa Faysant regretz available from gimell.com.
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk. Also available in 16-bit, 24/176.4 and on CD.
GIMELL CDGIM051 [71:36]

Yes, I’ve reviewed this in detail and chosen it as the first of my Recordings of the Year, but I can’t praise it and the series of Josquin recordings which it crowns too highly. My excuse for saying so again in a Retrospective is that John Quinn has also reviewed it and praised the whole achievement.

Somewhere in the dark backward and abysm of time, where the snows of yesteryear may, perhaps, still be found, I reviewed the first of the Tallis Scholars’ recordings of the Masses of Josquin to have come my way. It wasn’t my first encounter with Peter Phillips and his team – that was from their first-ever recording, originally released on Classics for Pleasure and, most recently, as a hi-res download – and I had been an admirer ever since. I made it a Recording of the Month, and I’ve been adding accolades ever since, both for their CDs and for two of their concerts.

Now, with the release of the final album in their Josquin series, is a good time to renew my praise of CDGIM039 and those that preceded and followed. Also, to remind readers that, whereas Gimell used to host their own downloads, for some time now their downloads and CDs have been available from Hyperion, a very happy symbiosis of two labels with very high standards.

I chose the mp3 download of CDGIM039 originally, probably because I was still on dial-up broadband. The 24-bit from hyperion-records.co.uk is in every way superior, downloaded in minutes with a fibre connection, and, at £12, not exorbitantly expensive. (16-bit is £7.99, CDs are £11.75). Whichever you choose, this is even more desirable in superior sound.

Recording of the Year
Spem in alium
ORA Singers/Suzi Digby
rec. 2019, All Hallows’, Gospel Oak, London
Latin texts and English & French translations included
Includes DVD - ‘Spem in alium: 450 years’
Reviewed as 24/96 download from eclassical.com. Also available from eclassical.com in binaural ‘3D’ stereo (headphones only).
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902669.70 [CD: 70:24 + DVD: 35 mins]
For CD purchase details see review. Stream from Naxos Music Library

John Quinn reviewed the physical product on CD and DVD with enthusiasm; the download contains the music on the CD only, but is available in superior 24/96 sound, especially valuable when the programme opens and closes with dense 40-part textures. This is definitely not one to economise on by choosing mp3.

The programme opens with an astoundingly good performance of the Tallis 40-part motet, which we still don’t have a definite date or occasion for, perhaps Queen Mary’s fortieth birthday, or that of Queen Elizabeth. Ora hedge their bets, saying that it’s ‘around’ 450 years old. No excuse is needed for giving us such a fine recording of this breath-taking work, which many believe was inspired by Tallis’s commission to outdo a 40-part motet by Striggio – see Download of the Month in DL Roundup April 2011/2.

I can’t say that Ora are outright winners here, when there are so many fine performances, not least from I Fagiolini and Robert Hollingsworth on the Decca recording of the Striggio, The Sixteen (Coro CORSACD16016), The Taverner Choir (Veritas 5622302, super-budget twofer) and The Tallis Scholars (Gimell CDGIM006, or – better value – CDGIM203, 2-for-1). Ora take a little longer than most to make their point, but their performance ranks alongside the three that I have selected. The Veritas and Gimell albums both offer other music by Tallis, while the Coro, like the new Harmonia Mundi, sets Tallis in the company of other composers who wrote music for ‘Monarchs and Magnates’.

There may no longer be aristocrats with deep purses to commission music, but the Harmonia Mundi programme ends with the modern equivalent, and that makes the new recording very special. Sir James MacMillan’s setting of Vidi aquam, commissioned by ORA, who here give its premiere recording, neatly sets off the Tallis: both are in 40 parts, and the new work demonstrates a clear line of descent from the composers of the English and Scottish renaissance. MacMillan has a particular affinity with the Scottish Robert Carver, a composer comparatively neglected by comparison with his contemporaries South of the border. (Just one recording totally devoted to his music, from The Sixteen, Coro COR16051 – Spring 2020/2).

Without sounding in any way derivative, Vidi aquam comes as close as any modern composition is likely to come to mirroring the music of the renaissance. If I say that there’s less challenge here than usual for traditionalists – for whom MacMillan’s music can sometimes be demanding – that doesn’t mean that it sounds at all facile. I’ve been warming more and more to MacMillian’s music recently, including a Coro recording of Symphony No.5 and The Sun Danced review review – and Symphony No.4 and Viola Concerto – review review. Vidi aquam has certainly contributed to the process.

By coincidence, another recording has recently appeared on which a modern composer responds to the music of the past. There Michael Finnissy has worked with the choir of St John’s College, Cambridge to produce a series of vocal and organ works which relate to their extensive repertoire. On Signum SIGCD624, he responds to music from Taverner to Bach, including Tallis’s Videte miraculum. There, the thread connecting the music of the past and present is often very tenuous, and the result is something of a mixed blessing – review.

Listening to MacMillan’s response to Tallis’s 40-part motet, I think that part of his greater success lies in the fact that he isn’t setting the same words as his predecessor or trying to respond to a specific set of notes, but rather to produce an independent work which nevertheless relates to what has gone before. I take it to be deliberate that he chose the Eastertide text for the asperges, Vidi aquam, because no setting of it survives from Tallis, so that there is no temptation to echo a particular musical theme. There are, however, several settings of that text by Iberian composers.

John DOWLAND (1563-1626) ‘A Fancy’
A Fantasia (P71) [7:04]
A Dream [5:16]
A Fancy (P73) [3:16]
Can She Excuse: the Right Honourable Robert, Earl of Essex, His Galliard [2:55]
Preludium [1:13]
A Fancy (P5) [2:37]
Lachrimæ [5:16]
Forlorn Hope Fancy [3:48]
Galliard to Lachrimæ [2:18]
A Fancy (P6) [2:58]
Monsieur’s Almain [4:56]
A Fantasie (P1a) [3:57]
The Right Honourable the Lady Clifton’s Spirit [1:45]
Lady Hundson’s Puffe [1:01]
Sir John Smith, His Almain [2:29]
Fortune [2:51]
A Fancy (P7) [5:20]
Farewell [6:57]
Bor Zuljan (8-course lute)
Lute in F after Venere 1582 by Jiří Čepelák (Prague, 2012)
Gut strings by Corde Drago
rec. Saint-Germain Church, Geneva, Switzerland, February 2020
RICERCAR RIC425 [61:57]
For CD purchase details see Recording of the Month review. Stream from Naxos Music Library

Lutenists have progressed considerably in technique and understanding since Julian Bream was one of the first guitarists to turn to the older instrument, but I still frequently return to his ground-breaking The Lute Music of John Dowland (Sony G010002996339J, download only) and The Woods so Wild (Byrd, Cutting, Dowland, etc., Sony G010002996237V, download only). These and his other surviving lute recordings offer short playing times, but can be obtained for around £8.50 in lossless sound – see Retrospective Summer 2020 and DL News 2014/12. Then, of course, there are more recent recordings from the likes of Nigel North (three inexpensive but highly regarded Naxos recordings) and Paul O’Dette (Hyperion and Harmonia Mundi).

One clear advantage of the new Ricercar recording comes from the very good notes in the booklet, by Bor Zuljan himself – the Sony downloads are innocent of any such. By sheer coincidence, these performances, recorded on the very eve of the pandemic, capture the mood of 2020, with their emphasis on Dowland’s melancholia – real or fashionable, like his excuse that he could obtain no advancement in England because of his ‘conversion’ to Roman Catholicism. It’s not just a matter of tempo – Bream is sometimes slower – or the deeper tone of Zuljan’s lute; the appeal of this recording is inherent in his vision of the music.

Glyn Pursglove in his review gives several examples of the fashionable melancholy of the time. My own favourite is John Aubrey, who in the preface to his collection of biographies Brief Lives, reports that he was melancholy in the womb. Even Dowland couldn’t beat that.

Recording of the Year
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Vespro Della Beata Vergine, SV206 (1610 – arranged and edited Simon-Pierre Bestion 2018)
Claire Lefilliâtre (soprano); Fiona McGown (mezzo-soprano); Eugénie de Mey (alto); Francisco Mañalich, Sébastien Obrecht, Pierre-Antoine Chaumien (tenors); Renaud Bres, Arnaud Richard (basses)
La Tempête/Simon-Pierre Bestion
rec. 2018, Notre Dame du Liban, Paris. DDD.
Full texts and translations included
ALPHA 552 [2 CDs: 142:07] For CD purchase see review. Stream from Naxos Music Library.

This is where I have to part company to the greatest possible extent with my colleague Richard Hanlon – and with most other reviews that I have read. This is decidedly not my Recording of the Year, or any day of it, as I wrote in Autumn 2019/1. It’s as great a piece of vandalism as if someone had taken a crayon and drawn some extra bits on one of my favourite Venetian paintings, then added some glitter.

There’s a very fine line between looking afresh at the music of the past to make it more easily available – the Swingle Singles, for example – and destroying it. For me, this joins all too many recent recordings where it’s been thought clever to upset the apple cart. It used to be just opera productions, now it’s the music of Monteverdi and Vivaldi, the latter’s La Tempesta di Mare concerto destroyed by bolting on primeval howlings derived from Pirates of the Caribbean in Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s recent recording, also from Alpha, and also much praised, but not by me. (ALPHA624 – review). The really annoying thing is that both recordings enshrine some very fine performances.

Giovanni PICCHI (1572-1643)
Canzoni da sonar con ogni sorte d’istromenti (Venice 1625)
Concerto Scirocco/Giulia Genini
rec. 18-22 August 2018, Chiesa di Santa Marta, Carona, Switzerland; 5-6 December 2019, Sala della Carità, Padua, Italy. DDD.
Pitch: a’=466Hz, Meantone temperament 1/4-comma
Reviewed as lossless (wav) press preview.
ARCANA A476 [71:29]
For full details, including CD purchase links, please see review by Johan van Veen. Stream from Naxos Music Library.

Music for, as the title says, ‘all kinds of instruments’. Though best known as a keyboard player and composer – and even in that field not well represented on record – Picchi shows his skills in writing for varied ensembles, and Concerto Scirocco commend the music to us in fine performances. There’s plenty of scope for the wind instruments, so it’s quite appropriate that the performers are called Concerto Scirocco, though their playing is more pleasing than the effects of the sand-laden wind after which they are named. (Or perhaps they had the VW sports car in mind.) Not just one for the cognoscenti. There are just a few rival recordings of any of these canzoni, as, for example, the double-choir No.10 from Robert Woolley, the Purcell Quartet, and His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, with music by Frescobaldi, Marini and others on Chandos (Capriccio stravagante, Volume 1 – CHAN0651).
 
Recording of the Year
Anonimo Venexian
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) (attr.)

Sonata per Flauto in F [10:44]
Francesco GASPARINI (1661-1727) (attr.)
Suonata Per spinetta divetta Per S.I. in A [4:31]
Diogenio BIGAGLIA (c.1676-c.1745)
Sonata V in e minor, Op. 1/5 [10:07]
Anon
Suonata in D [6:35]
Sonata per Flauto in B flat [9:59]
Francesco GASPARINI
Toccata di spinetta Per Sig:ra Isabella del Sig:or F:co G:ni in D [5:42]
Diogenio BIGAGLIA
Sonata II in G, Op. 1/2 [11:06]
Anon
Sinfonia 2 in C [8:32]
Sonata à Flauto solo in C: adagio [4:41]
Inês d’Avena (recorder)
Claudio Ribeiro (harpsichord)
rec. 2018, Sala della Musica dell’Ospedaletto, Venice. DDD
Reviewed as streamed in 24/88.2
RAMÉE RAM1905 [72:02]
For CD purchase details see review.  Stream from Naxos Music Library.

I’d describe this as very enjoyable rather than an essential purchase, but musicologists and lovers of the recorder will be delighted at the wealth of unknown music from Venice’s golden age unearthed by these two performers during forty days in the Autumn of 2018. One to check out from Naxos Music Library first, perhaps.

The Spohr Collection: Historical Flutes
Jacques MOREL (1700-1749)
Chaconne en trio (flute, viola da gamba, theorbo) [6:25]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Organ Trio Sonata BWV525 in G (flute, harpsichord) [13:53]
Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764)
Sonata No.V in G, Op.1 (flute, viola da gamba, theorbo, harpsichord) [10:09]
Jacques HOTTETERRE le Romain (1674-1763)
Ornamented Airs and Brunettes (flûte d’amour, viola da gamba, theorbo) [6:56]
Jean-Baptiste BARRIERE (1707-1747)
Sonata a tre No.2 in d minor (flute, viola da gamba, theorbo, harpsichord) [8:18]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1680-1767)
Fantasia No.8 in e minor, twv40:9 (solo flute) [4:18]
Methodical Sonata No.3 in e minor, twv41:e2 (flute, viola da gamba theorbo, harpsichord) [10:52]
Pietro LOCATELLI (1695-1764)
Sonata in C Op.2, No.1 (flute, harpsichord) [8:41]
Ashley Solomon (flute), David Miller (theorbo), Reiko Ichise (viola da gamba), Julian Perkins (harpsichord)
rec. Remonstrantse Kerk, Renswoude, December 2019. DDD/DSD
Historical flutes by Chattillion (c.1680), J. Denner (c.1725), Naust workshop (c.1730), Paulhahn (c.1735), Fortier (c.1720), Hemsing (c.1725); flûte d’amour by J. Denner (c.1725); ivory flute with a silver key, Senior workshop (c.1725), ivory flute with a silver key by G.H. Scherer (c.1750)
Viola da gamba: Copy of 7-string Bass Viol, after Barbey, Paris 1720, by D. Rubio, 1986; Theorbo by Martin Haycock, 1995, after Italian models; Two-manual harpsichord after Mietke, Bruce Kennedy, 1989 (collection Menno van Delft, Amsterdam).
Reviewed as 24/96 press preview.
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCS43020 [69:45]

For details and SACD purchase links please see Recommended review by Johan van Veen, ‘This is a very fine disc, which … may especially appeal to lovers and players of the flute [but] is also a fascinating sounding documentation of some outstanding instruments and the art of their makers’.

Let’s get one thing clear from the start, to avoid any confusion: none of the music here was composed by the composer Louis Spohr. It’s named after a private collection of flutes in Frankfurt, including what flautist Ashley Solomon describes as ‘some of the finest examples of playable baroque flutes anywhere at the time of their manufacture’. I’ve listed the instruments in the details above, and there are photos of, and notes on, each of them in the booklet.

In fact, the instruments are the main point of this recording, with the music carefully chosen to match each of them. In the process, however, we have what amounts to an enticing programme of works from eighteenth-century composers. If it leads listeners to investigate further the music of these composers, some of them not well known, so much the better. The opening Morel Chaconne, for example, may lead you to explore a budget-price Brilliant Classics album of his Première livre de pièces de violle which concludes with the same piece (95962, Alejandro Marías (viola da gamba) and La Spagna – review).

The odd man out in this collection is JS Bach; though he wrote for the flute, including the sonatas BWV1030-5, which Ashley Solomon has already recorded for Channel Classics, the Trio Sonata on tracks 2-4 was composed for the organ. A purist view would be that music should always and only be performed on the instrument(s) for which it was composed, but composers themselves often made different arrangements of their own music, and I see no reason why three-part writing for the organ should not be redistributed to a solo flute and two hands at the harpsichord.

Heresy or not, it works well in this fine performance, though I wouldn’t imagine that less accomplished players could bring it off. I’m a purist when it comes to insisting that Bach’s music for the harpsichord should always be performed on that instrument, until I hear Angela Hewitt on the piano. The Trio Sonata has been transposed from E-flat to G, a more suitable key for the flute, but, again, I’m quite happy with that, and, indeed, with all the performances on this very fine recording.

There has been a recent series of fine recordings of flute music from the baroque and the eighteenth century – including the Devienne reviewed below. Don’t overlook this one because it looks academic; it’s much more than that. Anyone with an interest in the early history of the flute should check out this recording of the instruments from a splendid collection of wooden and ivory baroque instruments, some resplendent with silver keys, illustrated with fine performances of appropriate music.

Recording of the Year
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Concerti grossi, Op.3, HWV313-317 (1734)
No.1 in B-flat, HWV312 [7:44]
No.2 in B-flat, HWV313 [10:08]
No.3 in G, HWV314 [8:01]
No.4 in F, HWV315 [12:03]
No.5 in d minor, HWV316 [9:32]
No.6 in D, HWV317 [6:30]
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/Georg Kallweit
rec. Nikodemuskirche, Berlin, May 2019. DDD/DSD.
Reviewed as streamed in 24/96 stereo.
PENTATONE PTC5186776 SACD [54:11]
For CD purchase details see review. Stream from Naxos Music Library.

This is a very attractive follow-up to the Akademie’s two earlier SACDs of Handel’s Op.6, which I thought exceptionally bright and lively – review. If you enjoyed either or both of those, you will almost certainly relish their successor. Equally bright and lively, and just as well recorded, as heard in 24/96 sound, I was strongly tempted to make this a Recommended recording, so I'm glad that one of my coleagues did. I held back only because there are equally fine versions to be had, though not on SACD or in hi-res sound.

Originally published in a pirate edition by Walsh, perhaps from odds and ends of music by Handel, the Op.3 set is nevertheless very attractive. The practice of ‘borrowing’ music from other works was common at the time: Handel and Bach, and many others, re-fashioned their own music regularly. Though the later, larger, Op.6 set, a genuine publication, contains Handel’s more mature works, Op.3 probably has a more immediate appeal for most listeners.

Better value can be obtained from The Brandenburg Consort and Roy Goodman on Hyperion Helios:

Concerti Grossi, Op.3/1-6, HWV312-317
Concerto in F, Op.3/4b
Organ Concerto Movement in d minor, HWV317/ii
The Brandenburg Consort/Roy Goodman
rec. June 1992. DDD.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55075 [76:34]
See original review.

Does the new Pentatone SACD and 24-bit recording give the green light to throw out my copy of this on CD, bearing in kind that it’s available to download in lossless sound for £7.99 from hyperion-records.co.uk, with a pdf copy of the booklet? It’s also available there on CD for £8. Price considerations apart, it includes both versions of No.4, the one originally published by Walsh (4b) and the one which Handel replaced it with when he legitimised the publication (4a). It also includes a movement for organ and orchestra, bringing the playing time to a healthy 75:21, so it's a keeper along with the new Pentatone.

Though Handel rejected the original No.4 and scholars believe it to be a rag-bag from various sources, I rather like it; you can always leave it out if you don’t agree. That was my reason for preferring the Hyperion even to the very fine versions from the likes of Richard Egarr (Harmonia Mundi, download only). Available in lossless sound for around £10, however, Egarr’s recording also adds extra music: not No.4b, but a Sonata a5, HWV288.

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Samson (1743 version)
Samson - Joshua Ellicott (tenor)
Micah - Jess Dandy (alto)
Manoa - Matthew Brook (bass)
Harapha - Vitali Rozynko (bass)
Dalila - Sophie Bevan (soprano)
Israelite/Philistine/Messeger - Hugo Hymas (tenor)
Virgin/Israelite Woman/Philistine Woman - Mary Bevan (soprano)
Virgin/Philistine Woman - Fflur Wyn (soprano)
Tiffin Boys’ Choir
Dunedin Consort/John Butt (harpsichord)
rec. 2018, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London
Reviewed as lossless press preview.
LINN CKD599 [3 CDs: 204:14] For CD purchase details see Recommended review review.

I’ve included this excellent recording mainly for the sake of contrast with another recent recording, this time of the 1741 version.  There really is no comparison:

Matthew Newlin (tenor) - Samson
Klara Ek (soprano) - Dalila
Lawrence Zazzo (counter-tenor) - Micah
Luigi Di Donato (bass) - Manoah / Harapha
Julie Roset (soprano) - Philistine Woman / Israelite Woman
Maxime Melnik (tenor) - Messenger / Philistine
Chœur de Chambre de Namur
Millenium Orchestra/Leonardo García Alarcón
rec. live Festival Musical de Namur, Église Saint-Loup, 4 July 2018. DDD.
Texts included.
Reviewed as lossless (wav) press preview
RICERCAR RIC411 [73:35 + 75:09]

‘George Frideric Handel: Samson’, it says on the cover – but what you see is not exactly what you get; this is a heavily abridged recording, encompassing only about two thirds of the work, a fact admitted in the notes, though not prominently displayed: ‘The oratorio was performed in several versions even during Handel’s lifetime; Leonardo Garcia Alarcon has opted for the same choices as those made by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, believing them to be the best. The work of this legendary conductor has been our direct inspiration for this recording, which is also our homage to him’.

Be that as it may, completists will need to look elsewhere, which means running to three CDs, as from John Butt and the Dunedin Consort (above) or The Sixteen and Harry Christophers – reviewed as lossless (flac) download with pdf booklet from thesixteenshop.com. CORO COR16008 [3:24:49] – review. Those happy with Harnoncourt’s truncation – not ‘complete’, as claimed in the final edition of the Penguin Guide – will find his own recording for a fraction of the price of the new Ricercar (Warner Teldec 2564692602, around £8.50).

There are two versions of the Linn recording. CKD599, available on CD and as a download, employs a full chorus, with both sopranos and trebles, an unusual combination but one to which Handel would have been accustomed. For those who prefer a smaller chorus, the eight soloists only, plus an extra alto, there is also a digital-only version (CKD629). I refuse to be dogmatic on this subject – both arrangements work well in the right hands, in Bach and Handel, and John Butt’s are some of the best hands in the business, as demonstrated by his earlier recordings for Linn.

Butt’s notes offer evidence for Handel's use of the soloists alone in the chorus of Messiah, but both versions work well for me. He also adduces evidence for the soloists alone in Samson, but, at the risk of accusations of fence-sitting, I retain my agnosticism in the light of hearing and enjoying both versions of the new recording.

Another consequence of Butt’s decision to record the 1743 edition is potentially more serious in that there is no funeral march after the death of Samson. Handel composed one, but seems never to have used it, and later added the familiar Dead March from Saul. Harry Christophers includes the latter, so his must be your version of choice if you must have the march. Handel was, of course, much given to changing things around – the first version of Judas Maccabæus didn’t include the famous ‘See the conqu’ring hero comes’ – so it should come as no surprise that there is no march. It’s by no means a clincher for me, but I did wonder if we might have been a little less purist – or even had the march as an optional addition. That apart, I could be very happy with either Butt or Christophers – but not with the Ricercar: a rare misfire for this label.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Das musikalische Opfer (Musical Offering), BWV1079 [71:44]
Ensemble Sonnerie [Pavlo Beznosiuk (viola), Frances Eustace (woodwinds), Paul Goodwin (oboe), Monica Huggett (violin), Sarah Cunningham (viol), Gary Cooper (harpsichord), Wilbert Hazelzet (flute)]
rec. May 1994. DDD.
ERATO 545139-2 [71:44]

There’s a reminder and a warning lesson here. Though I haven’t reviewed this recording before, I did mention it in connection with a Somm CD of the Offering as the best version that I knew: the performance ‘raises all the music to a level of enjoyment that I’d derived only from the Trio Sonata before’ – review. Had you followed my advice then, you could have had this on CD; now it seems to be available only as a download, without a booklet, and costing almost £13 in lossless sound – more than you might have expected to be charged for the CD. It pays to go for what you want as you can afford; Warner are not alone in having made many fine recordings download only, but they slaughtered half the Virgin Classics catalogue on disc when they took it over and renamed it Erato.

Consolation, however, is at hand in the form of a recording by the Bach Collegium Japan and Masaaki Suzuki for BIS – available on SACD and as a 16- and 24-bit (stereo and surround) download from eclassical.com (BIS-2151). Michael Cookson found that ‘decidedly recommendable’ – review – and Dave Billinge wrote that it ‘should be added to your collection’ – review. I see that I thought the BIS ‘marginally … cerebral’ (Autumn 2017/2), but, on reflection, it makes a good replacement for the Erato. The sound – brighter-toned than the Erato – is well captured in 24/96 quality. Stream from Naxos Music Library.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Die Kunst der Fuga, BWV1080 (from MS Bach P200, 1742-1750)
Accademia Strumentale Italiana/Alberto Rasi (treble viol)
rec. Nazareth Church, Verona, Italy, 13 September 2019. DDD.
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72842 [68:22]
For CD purchase details see review

I’ve already had my say on this at length, but it was gratifying to read Dominy Clements’ review, demonstrating that we’re substantially in agreement that this is a recording to return to. It’s also a reminder that you often get two opinions, or more, on MusicWeb – sometimes in agreement, as here, and sometimes not, but supported by the evidence to make your own minds up.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685—1750)
Johannes-Passion, St John Passion, BWV245 (1739/49 version) [104:55]
James Gilchrist (tenor) – Evangelist
Hana Blažíková (soprano)
Damien Guillon (alto)
Zachary Wilder (tenor)
Christian Immler (bass) — Jesus
Aki Matsui – Maid
Yosuke Taniguchi – Attendant
Chiyuki Urano – Peter
Yusuke Watanabe – Pilate
Bach Collegium Japan Chorus and Orchestra/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. 14—17 March 2020, Kölner Philharmonie, Germany. DDD/DSD.
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com.
BIS BIS-2551 SACD [2 SACDs 31:53 + 73:15]
For SACD purchase details see Recommended review.  Stream from Naxos Music Library.

This is the St John Passion recording that almost didn’t happen. Cologne was the fourth stop on the Bach Collegium Japan’s thirtieth-anniversary tour with this performance of the St John, due on 10 March 2020, but the performance in the Barbican, London, had already proceeded with a much-reduced audience and by the time of the Cologne concert live streaming of the event without audience had to be substituted. After frantic phone calls to Robert von Bahr, head of BIS, who have supported Masaaki Suzuki and his team in Bach for many years, the event was recorded – and here it is, replacing, if not totally effacing their earlier (1998) CD of the work (BIS-CD-921/2, or BIS-1342/44, with St Matthew Passion review) partly on SACD and in hi-res download sound. It sits side-by-side with the BCJ/Suzuki St Matthew Passion, itself the recent winner of the 2020 Gramophone Choral award (BIS-2500 SACD: Recommended – review).

This review is almost superfluous. Anyone who has heard even one of Suzuki’s many Bach recordings for BIS – all the cantatas, sacred and secular, and more besides – will need no urging from me to beg, borrow or steal this recording in one format or another. And, if further evidence is needed, Colin Clarke’s Seen and Heard review of the Barbican performance says it for me, with words such as ‘remarkable’ and ‘unforgettable’. If that weren’t enough, John Quinn’s detailed review of the SACDs – link above – offers even greater confirmation that this is a wonderful achievement. I need only add that the 24-bit sound is first-rate, with no allowance needing to be made for the circumstances.

Mozart y Mambo
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Concerto Movement for Horn in E-flat, K.370b (1781) [5:02]
Dámaso PÉREZ PRADO (1916-1989)
Qué Rico el Mambo (1949-50) (arr. Joshua Davis) [2:35]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Rondo in E-flat for Horn and Orchestra, K.371 (1781) [6:25]
Edgar OLIVERO (b. 1985)
Sarahnade Mambo (based on Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik) [6:34]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Horn Concerto No.3 in E-flat, K.447 (c.1784-87) [14:21]
Joshua DAVIS, Yuniet LOMBIDA PRIETO
Rondo alla Mambo (based on the third movement of Mozart’s Horn Concerto, K.447) [6:03]
Isolina CARRILLO (1907-1996)
Dos Gardenias (1945) (arr. Jorge Aragón) [5:05]
Moisés SIMONS (1889-1945)
El Manisero (1930) (arr. Jorge Aragón) [8:33]
Sarah Willis (horn)
Harold Madrigal Frías (trumpet); Yuniet Lombida Prieto (saxophone); Jorge Aragón (piano)
Havana Lyceum Orchestra/José Antonio Méndez Padrón
Havana Horns
The Sarahbanda
rec. January 2020, Oratorio San Felipe Neri, Havana, Cuba. DDD.
ALPHA 578 [54:45]
For CD purchase details see review. Stream from Naxos Music Library.

There are two quite different ways of looking at this recording. On one level, it’s a whole lot of fun, a classical horn player letting her hair down in the company of Cuban performers. The cover shot of Sarah Willis, horn player with the Berlin Philharmonic, standing up in a perfectly preserved old American car and waving her horn, with more similar shots inside the booklet, supports that point of view. Some crossover recordings just don’t work for me; this one definitely does.

It’s fun, too, to hear the Mozart works performed with a bit of a swing – not too overdone, except in some of the cadenzas, which is quite legitimate. And it’s fun to hear Edgar Olivero’s Sarahnade Mambo, a jazzed-up version of Eine kleine Nachtmusik, a work which far too often receives an over-reverential performance.

The mambo arrangement by Joshua Davis and Yuniet Lombida Prieto of the Rondo from K447 is also very entertaining while showing love for the original, a kind of analogue of Flanders and Swann’s take on Flanders finding his horn ‘gorn’ to the tune of the rondo from Horn Concerto No.4, K495.

Perhaps best of all, some of the proceeds of the recording go to supporting young Cuban musicians and providing them with decent sets of instruments. I’m sure they will treasure them as much as they have treasured their vintage automobiles.

The other way of summing up the recording is to view it as a missed opportunity. Sarah Willis’s performance of the Mozart solos is good enough to make me want to hear a complete recording from her of all his extant works for horn. I know that there are many such collections, on modern instruments and period-aware, and that some of these have stood the test of time, such as Barry Tuckwell with the ECO in1983 (Decca E4586072, download only), or even earlier with the ECO and Peter Maag (Decca Originals 4782659). Inexplicably, the two most recent incarnations of the Denis Brain/Herbert von Karajan recording are download only and, at over £11 for lossless, with no booklet, more expensive than when they were on CD.

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756—91)
Serenade in B-flat, ‘Gran Partita’, K361/370a [47:51]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770—1827)
Eight Variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, WoO28 [9:24]
Members of the Concertgebouworkest/Alexei Ogrintchouk (oboe)
rec. March/April 2019, Kleine Zaal of the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. DDD/DSD
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com
BIS-2463-SACD [58:07] Stream from Naxos Music Library.

Like Ralph Moore – Recommended: review – this wouldn’t be my only choice for this wonderful music, but it certainly comes with a strong recommendation.

RM’s reservation about playing time is covered by eclassical.com’s per-second charging policy for their downloads; for a short time, too, their 24-bit versions, including surround sound, come at the same price as 16-bit.

A Divine Art recording of the Gran Partita adds Serenade No.11, featuring a correction to the score, to make a much longer recording – review. That, too, can be downloaded from eclassical.com in 16- and 24-bit sound, with pdf booklet. In December 2016, I wrote ‘Unless you must have a period-instrument performance, in which case the Decca Duo [Amadeus Winds, 4580962, download only] offers a very good bargain, this new Divine Art CD is a very good way to obtain two works which raised the serenade well above other examples of the genre’.

François DEVIENNE (1759-1803)
Trio for transverse flute, violin and cello in g minor, Op.66/2 [15:43]
Trio for bassoon, violin and cello in F, Op.17/4 [13:34]
Trio for transverse flute, violin and cello in C, Op.66/3 [18:35]
Trio for bassoon, violin and cello in E flat, Op.17/5 [8:35]
Trio for transverse flute, violin and cello in D, Op 66/1 [15:06]
Le Petit Trianon
rec. June 2019, Église Notre-Dame, Centeilles, France. DDD.
Reviewed as 16/44 press preview
RICERCAR RIC416 [71:31]
For CD purchase details please see review by Johan van Veen, ‘delightful music [in] engaging and differentiated performances [reflecting a] thoughtful approach to the repertoire and the wishes of the composer’. Stream from Naxos Music Library.

Devienne is your man for attractive flute music – there he is on the CD cover with the instrument. A good introduction to his music for the instrument would be via the recordings of his flute concertos made by Patrick Gallois and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra for Naxos, not quite as many as you might think from the label ‘Volume 13’ given by some dealers to Volume 4, which opens with his Concerto No.13 (8.573697). Reviewing that volume, I wrote that ‘this final volume of the series [is] an ideal introduction to Devienne’s flute concertos. Lovers of eighteenth-century music should aim to have at least one of the series’.  That applies equally to this Ricercar recording.

You might be forgiven for thinking that 72 minutes of music for flute, violin and cello in major keys would be too unvaried, but that’s not the case. Not only does the bassoon replace the flute in some of the trios, there’s variety within the music and the performances.

For another recording of attractive, if inconsequential, flute music from the eighteenth century, try the recent Somm Hoffmeister’s Magic Flute review.

Look out, too, for my review of Music for a Viennese Salon, music by Kraus, Dittersdorf and an arrangement for flute and strings of Haydn’s Symphony No.94 (AVIE AV2423).

Recording of the Year
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concertos Nos. 1-5
Stephen Hough (piano)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
rec. June 2019
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
HYPERION CDA68291/3 [172:13]
For CD purchase and other details – review review review.

Recording of the Year
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Concertos Nos. 1-5
Stewart Goodyear (piano)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Andrew Constantine
rec. 2018
ORCHID CLASSICS ORC100127 [3 CDs - 2:52:44]
For CD purchase details see review. Stream from Naxos Music Library.

Among the many fine Beethoven recordings which have been released in this anniversary year, these sets from Hyperion and Orchid Classics were each nominated by two MusicWeb reviewers as Recordings of the Year. It’s no surprise that the independent labels have led the way again this year, with Hyperion receiving more nominations than any other.  Among the major labels, DG offered vintage performances of these concertos, with various soloists, and a newly-recorded complete set with Jan Lisiecki as soloist – see Spring 2020/1A for these and other Beethoven releases and reissues. Alpha have also brought us some fine single-CD recordings from Martin Helmchen, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and Andrew Manze:

- 1 and 4 ALPHA575 review
- 2 and 5 ALPHA555 review Spring 2020/1A
- 3 and Triple Concerto ALPHA642 [with Marie-Elisabeth Hecker (cello) and Antje Weithaas (violin)] – review and see below.

but these two complete sets lead the field.

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.3, Op.37 [34:25]
Triple Concerto, Op.56 [35:25]
Martin Helmchen (piano)
Antje Weithaas (violin)
Marie-Elisabeth Hecker (cello)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Andrew Manze
rec. Berlin Philharmonie, Feb 2020 and Teldex Studio, Berlin, Sep 2019. DDD.
Reviewed as lossless (wav) download
ALPHA 642 [70:02]
For CD purchase details see review. Stream from Naxos Music Library.

If Beethoven 250 Year had not given us such very fine recordings of his complete piano concertos as the two listed above, I think we might have been hailing the Helmchen – Manze partnership, completed with this recording, as one of its highlights. For me, this final part of the series is in many ways its crowning glory, with a version of Concerto No.3 to rival the very best, including the classic from Annie Fischer and Ferenc Fricsay, which was my introduction to the work. (In the DG 250 set of Historical Recordings, 4837666, download only). Similarly, the Triple Concerto, while not ousting my benchmark from Schneiderhahn, Anda, Fournier and Fricsay (DG Originals 4775341, with Brahms), certainly challenges it, and in better sound.

The Romantic Piano Concerto 45 - Ferdinand HILLER (1811-1885)
Piano Concertos Nos. 1 in f minor, Op.5, 2 in f# minor, Op.69, and 3 in A-flat ‘Concerto espressivo’
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Howard Shelley (piano)
rec. May 2007. DDD.
Reviewed as lossless download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
HYPERION CDA67655 [76:17]

I originally reviewed this, many moons ago, in m4a, at 256 kb/s, which must have been derived from iTunes. Listening to it again reveals all the inherent imperfections of mp3 and m4a, especially when delivered at less than the maximum 320 kb/s; the piano tone in particular sounds rather tinny – I must have been listening originally with my cloth ears. As downloaded in lossless sound from Hyperion, the tinniness disappears. What remains, of course, is the strong case which the performances make for Hiller’s music – far superior to the Vox recordings of this repertoire that we used to make do with.

I’m surprised to see Hyperion, who have a well-deserved reputation for quality, still offering this and other recordings to ‘download on iTunes’. At £8, Hyperion’s own superior download costs £0.01 more than the iTunes version.

Recording of the Year
Clara SCHUMANN (1819-1896)
Piano Trio in g minor Op.17 (1846) [24:35]
Fanny MENDELSSOHN (1805-1847)
Piano Trio in d minor Op.11 (1847) [24:35]
String Quartet in E flat (1834) [18:51]
The Nash Ensemble
rec. 2019, S. Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk
HYPERION CDA68307 [71:49]
For CD purchase details see review

It’s excellent that Clara Schumann is finally receiving her due, whether with Fanny Mendelssohn, as here, or with Robert on a recent CD of music for violin and piano (Naxos 8.579067). She has only a walk-on part there, whereas here she shares the programme more evenly with Fanny Mendelssohn, who is also finally being properly recognised. Writing about the Naxos – review – I mentioned the parallel case of Elizabeth Browning, whose poetry has a claim to be considered the equal of her husband’s.

Hyperion have given us the two piano trios before, from the Dartington Quartet (CDH55078): fine performances, but the new Nash Ensemble recording has the edge, not least by giving us extra music.

Léo DELIBES (1836–1891)
Ballet Suites compiled by Neeme Järvi
Suite from Sylvia, ou La Nymphe de Diane (Sylvia, or the Nymph of Diana) Ballet in three acts (1876)1 [23:48]
Suite from La Source, ou Naïla (The Spring, or Naïla) Ballet in three acts and four tableaux (1866) [28:38]
Suite from Coppélia, ou La Fille aux yeux d’émail (Coppélia, or the Girl with Enamel Eyes) ballet in three acts (1870) 2 [30:28]
Sharon Roffman (violin)1
Josef Pacewicz (clarinet)2
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 4 and 5 November 2019. DDD/DSD
Reviewed as 24/96 press preview
CHANDOS CHSA5257 SACD [82:55]
For SACD purchase see review review.  Stream from Naxos Music Library.

Suites from the Delibes ballets take us back to the sort of offering more common on LP than in the CD era, except that you would never have got 83 minutes on one LP, even in the latter days of direct metal mastering. Nor would you have got this particular selection, made by Neeme Järvi, or this quality of recording – excellent in 24-bit sound, once I had turned the volume up. That’s something that has been not uncommon on recent Chandos releases, but, with the music in high-def sound on SACD or in the 24-bit which I received, there’s no risk of distortion in turning up the wick. No other recording of this music is available on SACD or in 24-bit sound.

Two of the suites follow the order of the music in the complete ballet, but the music from la Source, for which Delibes was only joint contributor, doesn’t. I’ve concentrated on Coppélia because it’s the best-known music here; get that right, as Järvi very largely does, and all else falls into place. Järvi’s affection for the music is very clear from the performances, and the RSNO give him all the support that the music needs.

Järvi’s Suite from Coppélia is twice as long as that recorded by Herbert von Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1961. That would be a good recording to choose for comparison, except that it’s more expensive as a download-only offering than when it was a budget CD (DG Resonance 4296312, with Les Sylphides Suite and Offenbach Gaité Parisienne, download only).

An even shorter selection is included on a recording from Sir Charles Mackerras (Warner Parlophone Encore 5752212, with Sylvia – excerpts and Messager Les deux pigeons – Suite). That used to be at budget price on CD, but, once again, its appeal is much reduced at more than the usual full price as a download only, but it’s well worth streaming from Naxos Music Library.

Ansermet with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (1961) offered a suite comparable with that chosen by Järvi, but the Decca Eloquence reissue (4800083, with Ravel Daphnis et Chloë Suite No.2) seems to have disappeared in all formats.

There’s no doubt, then, that the new Chandos recording fills an important gap for those who want something more than a few items from each of these ballets but less than the complete recordings from the likes of Richard Bonynge (2-for-1 Double Decca 4448362: Coppélia with Massenet Le Carillon) or even a substantial full-CD selection such as Mark Ermler’s with the Covent Garden Orchestra (Sony 88697574732, download only). In fact, there’s a lot to be said for the 74-minute Ermler recording, with all the important music from the ballet, but, at £11.99 or more, without booklet - an all-too-common problem - most of the download providers are asking too much. It contains everything that Järvi includes and more, but in every other respect the new recording is its equal – and in superb sound, and with first-rate notes. Altogether very enjoyable.

Pyot’r Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No.5 in e minor, Op.64 (1888) [47:02]
Francesca da Rimini, fantasy for orchestra, Op.32 (1876) [27:02]
Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich/Paavo Järvi
rec. October 2019 (Francesca da Rimini) & January 2020 (Symphony No.5), Maag Halle, Zurich
Reviewed as lossless (wav) press preview
ALPHA 659 [73:58]
For CD purchase details see review.  Stream from Naxos Music Library

It would take a superhuman effort to come near, let alone dislodge my benchmark recording for this symphony: Evgeny Mravinsky with the Leningrad Philharmonic on DG Originals has it all – Russian fire, the sound of a Russian orchestra before it became homogenised and budget price – all except for recording quality, and even that’s pretty good for 1960 stereo (Symphonies Nos. 4-6, 4775911 – April 2010). That’s less than £8 on two CDs, so why it costs almost £24 as a lossless download from the same supplier is one of those great unsolved mysteries. Ditto, why one dealer is asking £35.60 for the CDs.

Järvi doesn’t operate at anything like the white-hot intensity of Mravinsky or Maris Jansons (Chandos CHAN8351 or complete Symphonies, including Manfred, CHAN8672 or 10392, 6 CDs). His calmer, more measured approach means that the music never gets out of hand, but Mravinsky and Jansons don’t, either, taking it to the edge of hysteria but never beyond. So, however good the coupling, the recording stands or falls by the symphony, and the Järvi doesn’t do it for me, as it does for William Hedley, except at moments such as the climax of the second movement. I’ll save this for when I want to hear a cooler-headed Tchaikovsky, but I’m not sure how often that will be.

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto in b minor, Op.104 (B191) (1894/95)1 [41:04]
Four Songs, Op.82/1, ‘Leave Me Alone’ (arr. Kian Soltani)2 [4:25]
Symphony No.9 in e minor, Op.95 ‘From the New World’: IV. Largo. ‘Goin’ Home’ (arr. Stephan Koncz)2 [5:31]
Songs My Mother Taught Me, Op.55/4 (arr. Kian Soltani)2 [2:31]
Romantic piece, Op.75/1 (arr. Kian Soltani)2 [2:56]
Waldesruhe (Silent Woods) for cello and orchestra, Op.68/5 (arr. Lothar Neifind and Gunthar Riebke)2 [5:58]
Kian Soltani (cello)1,2
Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim1
rec. live, Berlin Philharmonie, 9 October 20181 DDD.
Staatskapelle Berlin Cellists2
rec. Siemens Villa, Berlin, 7 January 20202 DDD.
Reviewed from CD and as streamed in 24/96 sound.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4836090 [62:28]
CD from Amazon UK Presto. Stream from Naxos Music Library.

Can it really be more than half a lifetime ago – his and mine – since Daniel Barenboim recorded the Dvořák Cello Concerto with Jacqueline du Pré and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra? It can and it is. That recording can still be found on Warner Classics 9029577507 at mid-price, coupled with Waldesruhe, a short album by modern standards, but the price compensates, and the new DG recording is not vastly longer. There’s an alternative, download only, release of the Warner; the coupling is the Haydn Cello Concerto in C, with the English Chamber Orchestra, one of the first recordings of that then recently-discovered work.

Trevor Harvey, in January 1972 – yes, it was that long ago – didn’t think either du Pré or Barenboim really attuned to the Dvořák Cello Concerto; it didn’t become the instant classic that her recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto, with Sir John Barbirolli, had. Even on CD, the sound is not ideal, either, with the cello too far forward.

Two recordings stand out because of their couplings: Steven Isserlis with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Daniel Harding, with the composer’s youthful First Cello Concerto (Hyperion CDA67917 – DL News 2013/14), and Gautier Capuçon with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and Paavo Järvi, where the coupling is the Victor Herbert Cello Concerto which inspired Dvořák while he was in America (Virgin, now Erato 5190352 – DL News 2012/24).

There’s another recording that I took into account. In my Spring 2020/3 Short Reviews, I made a 1961 recording by Pierre Fournier, the Berlin Philharmonic and George Szell, a Recommended reissue. That’s coupled with the Schumann Cello Concerto from Mstislav Rostropvich, the Leningrad Philharmonic and Gennady Rozhdestvensky, also recorded in 1961, on Beulah 1PS66.

My main benchmark, however, had to be Rostropovich with the Berlin Philharmonic and Herbert von Karajan, coupled more substantially than the new DG with Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, and available at mid-price (DG Originals 4474132, around £8.50 on CD, £6.50 as lossless download). There’s even a vinyl edition, for twice the price: 4797726. Rostropovich, who had recorded the work many times before, notably in 1952 with Vaclav Talich and the Czech Philharmonic (Beulah 1PDR21, with Walton and Haydn Cello Concertos – DL News 2016/1), gives the all-important second movement adagio time to breathe, and that raises his performance above the competition. If you can tolerate the mono Supraphon sound, which Beulah have done much to mitigate, his recording with Talich gives this movement even slightly longer. Even Fournier sounds a trifle hurried by comparison.

Soltani is now the rising star that Du Pré was back then, but he doesn’t display the same youthful passion that she did, or it’s restrained by Barenboim, probably the latter: his live recording of the Dvořák Piano Trio No.3, with Renaud Capuçon and Lahav Shani seems to have been much more unbuttoned (Erato 9029552541, with Tchaikovsky). Despite my reservations, I enjoyed hearing this account of the Dvořák concerto and Silent Woods, though I could have done without the rather slurpy arrangement of the New World Symphony adagio.

The recording, as heard from the CD, is very good. I also sampled the 24/96 streamed version, which is noticeably more defined, but it comes at a considerable price – over £19.


Stanford and Howells Remembered
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Evening Service (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis) in G, Op.81 [7:35
When Mary thro’ the garden went [3:27]
I heard a voice from heaven [4:53]
Magnificat in B-flat for double choir, Op.164 [11:10]
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in B-flat, Op.10 [6:36]
Six Hymns, Op.113: No.6b, O for a Closer Walk with God [3:17]
Morning, Evening and Communion Services in C Op.115: No. 1, Te Deum [7:23]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983)
Requiem [17:25]
Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (Gloucester, 1946) [10:40]
The fear of the Lord [5:18]
Like as the Hart [5:27]
Long, Long Ago [4:42]
All my hope on God is founded [3:17]
Wayne Marshall (organ),
Caroline Ashton, Karen Kerslake, Donna Deam (soprano), Frances Jellard (alto), Andrew Gant (tenor), Simon Davies, Charles Pott (baritone)
Cambridge Singers/John Rutter
rec. Ely Cathedral and Ely Cathedral Lady Chapel, February 1992. DDD.
Texts and translations included.
Reviewed as lossless (flac) download from hyperion-records.co.uk.
COLLEGIUM CSCD524 [45:10 + 48:01] For CD details and purchase links, please see reviews by John Quinn and Gwyn Parry-Jones. Stream from Naxos Music Library

A shorter version of these recordings was first released on COLCD118 in 1992. It was warmly welcomed, so I’m not sure why it dropped out of the catalogue, but here it is again, and very welcome, with almost 20 minutes of extra music, set down at the same time by the BBC Transcription Unit, but never before issued. On two CDs, the new 93-minute collection sells for around £9, and the Hyperion download costs £7.99 – beware: others are charging more for the download, as much as £18.49 for mp3 and £19.17 for lossless!

The pairing of Stanford and Howells is almost self-selecting; the older composer referred to the younger, his student at the RCM, where he went on to tutor others, as his ‘son in music’, and bequeathed him a signet ring which he wore ever after.

Since 1992, we have had some very fine recordings of the music of both composers, but the reissue is no less welcome, especially at the attractive price. There isn’t much point in making detailed comparisons; this reissue is as self-recommending as the pairing of these composers is self-evident. The selection plays to the different qualities of both composers, and the performances serve both composers well.

One item, Howells’ The Fear of the Lord, was actually composed for John Rutter and his choir at Clare in 1976. It makes a fitting and rousing conclusion to CD2, but it also exists in a version with fanfare, subtitled ‘Michael’, as on the excellent recent David Hill recording of Missa Sabrinensis (Hyperion CDA68294 – review review – Recommended review).

The acoustic of Ely Cathedral – the main body for the organ, the Lady Chapel for the vocalists – comes over well in the recording. It’s CD or 16-bit only, but I didn’t miss having a high-def version.

If you thought that Stanford was stodgy, try I heard a voice from Heaven (CD1, track 4). With soaring high notes from soprano Karen Kerslake, it’s as ethereal as Howells’ setting in his Requiem, though we more usually ascribe that quality to the younger composer. It’s also as ethereal as anything from the renaissance composers whose music Stanford admired. There I was, having just listened to a new recording of the music of John Sheppard from New College Oxford (Linn CKD632: Media Vita) and thinking that choral music didn’t get any better than that, or Taverner, Tallis or Byrd – and being made to think again on hearing this Collegium reissue.

And, while, the next track, the (Latin) eight-part Magnificat, Op.164, for double choir, could never be mistaken for the work of a renaissance composer, it’s just as beautiful and as beautifully crafted. I’ve seen this work described as ‘Bachian’, but Monteverdi and the North German composers a few generations before Bach also spring to mind.

In 1992 there was one rival recording of the emotionally evocative Howells Requiem (1932), from the Finzi Singers and Paul Spicer, now part of an attractive 2-for-1 bargain on Chandos 241-34 (download only, but available for as little as £6.82 in lossless sound). It’s not a setting of the Latin Requiem, but a selection of texts from the Book of Common Prayer and the Psalms appointed for funeral services. As well as the Chandos, we have had other recordings. One of the most recent comes from Trinity College, Cambridge, and Paul Layton on Hyperion CDA67914. John Quinn made that a Recording of the Month – review – again recorded in the Lady Chapel at Ely. As I wrote in April 2012, choice of coupling might well lead you to that Hyperion recording – but you may be equally contented with this less expensive and more generously filled Collegium reissue.

The notes are rather skimpy, but the texts and translations are included. With more on offer than when it was first released, this reissue is well worth its modest price – especially in the inexpensive download from Hyperion.  Others charge more.   Stanford or Howells? You can have both here.

Another Collegium reissue restores A Banquet of Voices on CSCD525, an album of music for multiple choirs from 1993, of which John Rutter writes, ‘I realize I should never have withdrawn it from the Collegium catalogue—and all because of an obscure musicological question in my mind over a Gregorian chant, long since resolved’. That, too, can be downloaded from hyperion-records.co.uk.  Stream from Naxos Music Library
 
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)

Symphony No.7 in e minor ‘Song of the Night’ [71:55]
London Symphony Orchestra/Valéry Gergiev
Revisited as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
rec. March 2008, Barbican, London. DDD/DSD
LSO LIVE LSO0665 SACD [71:55]  Stream complete set from Naxos Music Library

This is another recording which I originally reviewed in mp3. I thought the sound more than acceptable, but was less happy with the mp3 No.6, which I reviewed at the same time. Nor did the download from emusic.com (no longer available) come with the booklet. The Hyperion download remedies both problems: much improved 24-bit sound and the booklet is included. No.6 didn’t supersede Szell (Sony), but I was impressed – and remain impressed – by Gergiev’s No.7. It’s inexpensive, too – £6.50 in 16-bit, £9.75 in 24-bit – but the SACD is less expensive still – around £5.


Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Images for orchestra, L122 (1905-1912) [37:29]
Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut (Images pour piano - Book 2/II, L120, orch. Colin MATTHEWS, world premiere recording) (1907) [6:14]
La plus que lente, L128 (1910) [5:57]
Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, L87* (1894) [10:40]
Katherine Baker (flute)*
Hallé Orchestra/Mark Elder
rec. 10-11 May 2019, BBC Studio HQ7, Salford and 1 August 2018, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. DDD.
Reviewed as 24/44.1 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
HALLÉ CDHLL7554 [60:42] For CD purchase details see review.

For any music lover of a certain age, Debussy’s music, especially the orchestral Images and Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, comes with a good deal of historical paraphernalia in the form of memories of recordings which shaped our appreciation of the music. Haitink, Ansermet, Munch, Monteux, Baudo, and, more recently, Rattle and Dutoit, all feature in my list.

Bernard Haitink’s 2-for-one album brings together Images and Faune with much other valuable Debussy on Decca Duo 4387422, well worth grabbing because these Universal twofers have been disappearing recently, sometimes completely, sometimes as downloads costing more than the CDs. The same applies to Charles Dutoit’s recordings on a Double Decca, another 2-for-1 album, offering a similarly fine introductory collection of Debussy’s music (E4602172).

With the new Hallé release, I’m back where I was in reviewing their recording of the Debussy Nocturnes and other music, again on the orchestra’s in-house label, a few months ago – Winter 2019/20 #3. In brief, both recordings add to my appreciation of Sir Mark Elder as a complete Debussy interpreter; both contain first recordings of Colin Matthews’ first-rate orchestrations of the piano music, and are available not only on CD but in better-than-CD 24-bit downloads from Hyperion for £9, less than the cost of the CD and less than others charge for CD-quality 16-bit. The latter comes at just £7.99 from Hyperion.

By chance, I listened to this recording on an afternoon when it was too hot to think much. Not only did that make the music ideal for the occasion, opening with the orchestral Images and closing with the faun’s lazy/erotic afternoon, it meant that it didn’t take a lot of brain power to like what I heard and to rate it, like that earlier release, up there with Haitink et al, but not necessarily replacing them.

I’d forgotten just how much of a problem child the orchestral Images were for Debussy; the booklet reminds us that he wrestled with the music for seven years, but the best recordings give no hint of the difficulties, and nor does the new Hallé account. Pierre Monteux recorded only the first two Nocturnes with the LSO (Decca Eloquence 4806567), though he included Sirènes on his San Francisco recording for RCA – but he never seems to have had any problem in recording the whole Images in 1963.

Christopher Howell, reviewing an earlier incarnation of the Monteux, thought the LSO’s playing for Monteux less than ideal, but their association with Monteux and Previn in the 1960s was a high point in their history, and I rather think that if they ‘hang fire’ at times, that’s the way that Monteux wanted it. CH gives us relative timings for Monteux and Munch (RCA), whereby it appears that the former was feeling all of his 88 years, but my thoughts are more in line with those of Jonathan Swain who, considering all the then available versions in Gramophone in 1996, placed Monteux, though available then only on a 7-CD set, ahead even of Haitink and Rattle.

Elder gives us even more expansive accounts than Monteux of all three Images. Expansive, but by no means dull or lacking in energy. At 8:19, Gigues looks on paper as if it might drag, but a slower speed than usual is quite appropriate; after all, Debussy originally intended to call it Gigues tristes. Its ‘now it’s there, now it isn’t’ semi-quotation of the Northumbrian song Weel may the keel row, not exactly the liveliest of tunes, acting as a pendant to a haunting tune on the oboe d’amore, is well brought out in Elder’s interpretation. You would hardly know from the assured performance that this section was the last of the Images to be completed, and that Debussy may well have had to call in assistance with the orchestration.

Nor does Elder unduly hurry the pace in the three sections of Ibéria, here given separate tracks, or in the finale Rondes de printemps. In the latter, once again, the dance is not one of the most exuberant and, here too, the ambiguity between the title and the music is fully brought out. This is not the outburst of Spring that we get from Schumann’s ‘Spring’ Symphony, or Mahler’s First Symphony, or Debussy's own Printemps.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about representations of the night in music, not least in respect of a fine Linn recording of Nights in the Gardens of Spain, from the youthful Orchestra of the Americas and Carlos Miguel Prieto (CKD625, with Falla Three Cornered Hat). I like their account of In the Gardens of the Generalife in particular; it’s a special favourite of mine, but I’m not sure that the central section of Ibéria, Les parfums de la nuit, as performed by the Hallé, doesn’t displace it as my Desert Island choice.

Those Colin Matthews orchestrations that I have heard to date have all been true to their pianistic originals, while casting them in an even more attractive light. After all, many of Debussy’s best-known works were orchestrated by others. This version of Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut is the first of Matthews’ reworkings of the complete Book II to be recorded; it’s a beautiful piece, beautifully performed. We’ve had the three Book I orchestrations from Gustavo Gimeno with the Luxembourg Orchestra (Pentatone PTC5186627). Now may we have the rest of Book II, please?

The big surprise in La plus que lente is, first, that it’s not the slowest piece you have ever heard, and, second the striking use of the cymbalom.

John Wilson, with the revived Sinfonia of London on an anthology of French music entitled Escales, recently gave us as hot and sultry a version of Faune as any that I have heard (Chandos CHSA5252: Recommended – review review review). Elder’s interpretation, a minute and a half longer, is more in line with Haitink’s slower burn. Both interpretations work well – and both suit their respective programmes, the new Hallé ending the album as languidly as it began; the Chandos on a recording beginning in livelier mode with Chabrier’s España. In truth, there’s less difference than the timings suggest; Elder is not too languid – he doesn’t neglect the almost tactile appeal of the work – and, equally, Wilson is certainly never rushed. Flautist Katherine Baker’s contribution to the Hallé recording is deservedly acknowledged.

Wilson’s Chandos recordings have included the return of an old name, the Sinfonia of London, and they have been giving him splendid support of a quality to match their finest hour when they recorded Elgar for Sir John Barbirolli. Barbirolli, of course, though he conducted other orchestras, was best known for his work with the Hallé. I think he would be well pleased with the support which they give to Sir Mark Elder on this and other recent recordings. Warner have recently reissued all Sir John’s recordings from the EMI and Pye catalogues – well worth considering, though you’ll need another garden shed to house the 109 CDs, and there’s no download equivalent, though some individual albums have been released in that form. I can well believe that someone will be reissuing an equally desirable Elder collection half a century from now.

The recording, especially as heard in 24-bit, is excellent, chiefly in that it doesn’t call attention to itself. You may find that a small volume boost brings even more presence. The booklet is very informative.

Individually, these pieces may not replace my old favourites, but the inclusion of the Matthews orchestration clinches my decision to make this a Recommended recording. A splendid continuation of the Debussy recordings which the Hallé and Elder have been giving us since their La Mer and the orchestrated Préludes caught John Quinn’s attention in 2007 (CDHLL7513: Recording of the Month).

Recording of the Year
STRAUSS Family
Memories of Vienna
Hilde Gueden (soprano)
London Symphony Orchestra, New Symphony Orchestra, Wiener Philharmoniker/Josef Krips
rec. 1948-57
DECCA ELOQUENCE 4840692 [76:01]
For CD purchase details see review.

I slipped in a recommendation to this recording in reviewing the 2020 New Year’s Concert from Vienna: ‘If you needed a reminder of Krips as a fine conductor, this could be it’. Willi Boskovsky’s Strauss would still top my vintage recommendations, but Krips would not be at all far behind.

Recording of the Year
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.43 (1901-02) [45:29]
King Christian II (Suite), Op. 27 [25:10]
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Santu-Matias Rouvali
 rec. 2019, Gothenburg Symphony Hall, Sweden
ALPHA CLASSICS 574 [70:43]
For CD purchase details see review. Stream from Naxos Music Library

I was one of the first to appreciate Santu-Matias Rouvali’s recording of the Sibelius Symphony No.1 – review. If I seemed a little less enthusiastic about No.2, that’s merely because there have been some outstanding recordings of this symphony, many of them now rightly regarded as classics, from Beecham (a super-budget download from Past Classics in acceptable sound), Collins (Eloquence 4429490, download only – review) and Sibelius’s friend Hannikainen (Magdalen METCD8024 – review), the latter marred only by an unintentional cut which he tried to pass off as the composer’s revision, and more recently by Vänskä, his Lahti version preferable to the Minnesota remake (both BIS, singly or as a set). All that said, the Rouvali Second is well worth having, especially if the coupling appeals.

Recording of the Year
Frédéric d’ERLANGER (1868-1943)
Piano Quintet (1901) [37:49]
Thomas DUNHILL (1877-1946)
Piano Quintet in c minor, Op.20 (1904) [35:25]
Goldner String Quartet
Piers Lane (piano)
rec. 2019, Potton Hall, Dunwich, UK
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk
HYPERION CDA68296 [73:14]
For CD purchase details see review

As so often, Hyperion place us in their debt with a recording of chamber music by two neglected composers. Neither is currently otherwise available, and I don’t recall any other recordings of either, though Hyperion have already brought us Erlanger’s Violin Concerto in d minor, Op.17, and Poeme in D (CDA67838, with Cliffe Violin Concerto in d minor – review DL Roundup March 2011/2).

Recording of the Year
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No.3 ‘Pastoral’ (1921)1 [37:29]
Symphony No.4 in f minor (1931/34) [34:16]
Saraband ‘Helen’ Was this the face that launched a thousand ships? (1913/14, unpublished)2 [9:06]
Elizabeth Watts (soprano)1
David Butt Philip (tenor), BBC Symphony Chorus2
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
rec. 26-27 November and 2 December 2018, Watford Colosseum. DDD.
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
HYPERION CDA68280 [80:51] For CD purchase details see review review review

Of the two recent series of the Vaughan Williams symphonies, that conducted by Andrew Manze (Onyx) has received more attention; it was first in the field and was completed first. I enjoyed it in the main, but with reservations which have sometimes been shared by others. What is not in doubt, however, is the value of the supplementary release of a recording of shorter pieces, which was so good that I hoped we might have more (ONYX4212 – review). Simon Thompson also enjoyed that recording – review; his one reservation, that the wordless version of the Serenade to Music had been chosen, was, for me, one of the strong points. Jim Westhead also had few reservations, though he would have preferred one of the VW rarities to the oft-performed Greensleeves Fantasia – review.

Now Hyperion continue their equally impressive series. This account of two contrasting symphonies, and the first performance of a work that was never published, brings their tally to Nos. 1-4, having previously given us No.1, the ‘Sea Symphony’ (CDA68245 – review review review Autumn 2018/2) and No.2, the ‘London Symphony’ and shorter works (CDA68190 – review Autumn 2017/1). Their account of the sublime Flos Campi and the Suite for viola and small orchestra, with Lawrence Power as soloist, is coupled with McEwen’s Viola Concerto on CDA67839 – review.

Paul Corfield Godfrey’s choice of this album as one of his Recordings of the Year reminds me that I never actually completed the review that I started with the words above – largely because PCG’s review said it all, as succinctly summarised with his RoTY choice: ‘The two symphonies are given superlative performances under Martyn Brabbins, as one might expect, but the real highlight on this disc is the world première of the Helen Saraband, a setting of Marlowe hitherto totally unknown and anticipating the composer’s later developments in quite startling ways’.

Since then, Hyperion have given us the next instalment in this series:

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No.5 in D (1938-1943) [40:04]
Scenes adapted from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1906)* [26:46]
Emily Portman (folk voice), Kitty Whately (mezzo), Marcus Farnsworth (baritone)*
BBC Symphony Chorus; BBC Singers Quartet*
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
rec. Watford Colosseum, 2 December 2018* and 4/5 November 2019. DDD.
Texts included
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
HYPERION CDA68325 [66:59] For CD purchase details see John Quinn’s review: ‘It’s a fine [recording]; indeed, I think it may be the highlight to date of Martyn Brabbins’ cycle’.

I’ve included my thoughts on this latest release in a very fine series in my article Hyperion at 40.

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
A Sea Symphony (1903-09) [62:54]
The Lark Ascending [14:33]
James Ehnes (violin)
Sarah Fox (soprano); Mark Stone (baritone)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra /Andrew Manze
rec. 2017, Blackheath Concert Halls, London. DDD
Texts included
ONYX 4185 [77:32] For CD purchase details see review by John Quinn: ‘[It] doesn’t challenge the best … Boult’s second (EMI) recording and Sir Mark Elder’s account with the Hallé’. Stream from Naxos Music Library

This review is so long overdue that it’s almost archaeology by now. My only excuse it that John Quinn’s review, as so often, says all that needs to be said. At the risk of repeating what I have just written above, it’s the collection of short pieces in this Manze series that really caught my attention (ONYX4212 – review).

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872–1958)
Songs of Travel (1901–1904)1
[Orchestrations: The Composer (Nos. I, Iii & Viii) (1905); Roy Douglas (Nos. Ii, Iv–Vii & Ix) (1962)] [24:07]
Job A Masque for dancing, founded on William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job (1927–1930)2 [45:41]
Neal Davies (bass-baritone)1
David Adams (violin)2
Darius Battiwalla (organ)2
Hallé/Sir Mark Elder
rec. 2–4 July 2019, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. DDD.
Texts included.
Reviewed as 24/44.1 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
HALLÉ CDHLL7556 [70:16] For CD purchase details see review by Jim Westhead.

This recording is treading upon hallowed ground. Sir Adrian Boult, the work’s dedicatee, recorded Job in 1938 on 78s, for Decca with the LPO in the early days of LP (Naxos Classical Archives 980375, Decca Eloquence 461222, with The Wasps Suite, both download only), again in stereo for Everest (EVERCD009, CD and download) and for EMI (Vaughan Williams: The Complete EMI Recordings 9035672, 13 CDs – review). I’m pleased to have obtained a lossless (flac) transfer of Boult’s EMI Job and 2-piano concerto before it was deleted.

There’s also a fine Beulah transfer of the mono Boult recording, very interestingly coupled with Rawsthorne’s Street Corner and the classic David Oistrakh, LSO/Hindemith recording of the Hindemith Violin Concerto (4PDR20). I recommend obtaining that from Qobuz in lossless sound, but, since it runs a few seconds over 80 minutes, they charge £11.99, rather than their usual £7.99. The alternative is to save £4 and choose the less than ideal mp3 from Amazon UK or iTunes.

Boult alumnus Vernon Handley also made a highly regarded recording of Job: Amazon UK still have a few copies of the Classics for Pleasure CD on which it’s paired with the Tallis Fantasia and Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus review – but it seems to be on its way out of the catalogue. That’s still my reference recording, so the apparent demise of this recording – a well-deserved key and 4-stars from the Penguin Guide – and the fact that the Boult is incarcerated in a large set are much to be regretted. (NB: what Amazon UK advertise as the download of the Handley actually seems to be the mono Boult in a transfer for which I cannot vouch on an anonymous label.)

The most recent Job, from Sir Andrew Davis and the Bergen Philharmonic, with Symphony No.9, earned Recording of the Month status in 2017; John Quinn thought it a mandatory purchase for all Vaughan Williams enthusiasts – review. Dave Billinge, listening to the surround sound tracks on that SACD, was also impressed, though not in preference to Boult, Handley and Lloyd-Jones (Naxos) – review. While remaining faithful to Boult and Handley, I thought the Chandos irresistible – Spring 2017/2.

The Chandos is available on SACD and as a 24-bit download. The new Hallé comes on CD only, but the 24-bit download from Hyperion is very impressive – 24/44.1 rather than the usual 24/96, but that doesn’t prevent it from sounding first-rate, especially at a slightly higher volume than usual. The Chandos, too, benefits from a volume boost to sound really excellent. There’s no hi-res version of the Handley or either of the Boult recordings, but the stereo Boult and the Handley still sound very well and the Beulah transfer of the mono Boult is certainly much more than tolerable.

There are no huge tempo differences among these recordings. Boult tended to be a little faster in his EMI recording and Handley tends to be closer to the older Boult timings, occasionally a little broader in tempo. Elder is more in line with the EMI Boult in most sections and, apart from the Introduction, a shade faster than Handley. I made a chart of the Boult, Decca and EMI, Handley and Elder, but I’ll refrain from bothering readers with it, because the small variations on paper don’t add up to the proverbial hill of beans in practice. It’s a work that I play often; I expect to be listening to the Elder as much as the older recordings.

The Songs of Travel are usually recorded in their original format with piano accompaniment, but the composer arranged three of them in orchestral guise and his alumnus Roy Douglas completed the set. There’s a recent Dutton recording featuring Roderick Williams with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Martin Yates, which we seem not to have reviewed and which I haven’t been able to access. I do, however, have an old cover CD from the BBC Music Magazine on which Christopher Maltman sings the cycle with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Thierry Fischer (BBC MM239); an attractive version which I have used as my benchmark. Maltman’s Hyperion recording of the piano version with Roger Vignoles, made around the same time (CDA67378), is not quite ideal, but he comes into his own in the company of the orchestra on one of the very few cover CDs that I have ever kept.

Other things being equal, I do prefer the orchestral versions of these songs, but the singer needs to be ideal, and that’s why I shall still hold on to my cover CD. On the new Hallé recording Neal Davies sings well enough, but falls just short of holding my attention. I’m not sure exactly why – everything seems to be in place – but Jim Westhead may have put his finger on the reason in commenting on the excessive use of vibrato in his review (link above).

One small observation. The Satan of the Book of Job is not a monster to frighten children in a bedtime story, but a divine being who reports to God and bandies words with him almost as an equal. The Hallé cover depiction of something out of Alien is, therefore, less than appropriate.

A very fine account of Job, then, to set alongside Boult and Handley, but I was a little disappointed by the Songs of Travel. The recording, in 24-bit, is very good; at £9, it’s very reasonably priced.

Recording of the Year
Ernő DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Piano Quintet No.1 in c minor Op.1 (1895) [30:43]
String Quartet No.2 in D flat Op.15 (1906) [24:32]
 Piano Quintet No.2 in e flat minor Op.26 (1914) [25:43]
Takács Quartet
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
rec. 2018, Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, UK
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk
HYPERION CDA68238 [80:58]

Hyperion already had a fine recording of the two quintets, performed by the Schubert Ensemble of London and available at mid-price on their Helios label (CDH55412, with Serenade in C for string trio). Like the new recording, it offers ample playing time (75 minutes) when other combinations of the quintets or one of the quintets and a quartet are much less generous. David Barker compared the Helios favourably with a rival, much shorter (54 minutes), recording on Naxos – review. Helios recordings are no longer at budget price, but the Dohnányi can be found on CD for around £8.50 or downloaded in lossless sound for £7.99 from Hyperion.

I enjoyed the Helios recording, but thought a download-only Hungaroton rival only very slightly preferable (HCD11624: Quintet No.2 and Sextet, Tátrai Quartet – DL News 2014/10).

If the only music by Dohnányi that you know is the familiar Nursery Variations, these chamber works are very different. That’s an enjoyable piece which deserves its popularity, and the 5-CD Chandos set which contains it and several other less-known orchestral works by the composer, such as the Ruralia Hungarica, is well worth exploring (CHAN10906(5)X – review review DL News 2016/8). I took the opportunity to dip into that box of orchestral delights again, and greatly enjoyed it. That said, the quintets, the quartet and the Serenade, recorded in various permutations on these albums, are equally attractive, depending on your preferred coupling.

Paul BEN-HAIM (1897–1984)
Pan, Op.17, A Symphonic Poem for soprano and orchestra (1931, Premiere recording)1 [15:16]
Pastorale Variée, Op.31b, for solo clarinet with string orchestra and harp (1945, revised 1948)2 [6:57]
Symphony No.1 (1939–40) (Edited by Maestro Lahav Shani) [28:32]
Claudia Barainsky (soprano)1
John Bradbury (clarinet)2
BBC Philharmonic/Omer Meir Wellber
rec. MediaCityUK, Salford, Manchester; 16 December 2019 (Symphony No. 1) and 4 March 2020 (other works). DDD.
Text and translation included
Reviewed as 24/96 press preview
CHANDOS CHAN20169 [60:45]
For CD purchase details see Recommended review. Stream from Naxos Music Library

Some time ago Chandos included a recording of chamber music by Paul Ben-Haim in their Musicians in Exile series, which Gary Higginson found ‘fascinating’ (CHAN10769 – review). Other labels have also taken up the cause of this unjustly neglected composer who fled from Nazism and found a new home in Israel. The main work on the new Chandos recording, the Symphony No.1, has also been recorded by Israel Yinon with the NDR Philharmonie, Hannover, on CPO (777417-2, withFanfare to Israel and Symphonic Metamorphosis on a Bach Chorale). We seem not to have reviewed that, though Jim Westfield ‘urgently recommended’ the same performers’ recording of Symphony No.2 (777677-2 – review).

I haven’t had a chance to check out the CPO recording, but there’s no reason to disagree with Stephen Barber’s assessment of the Chandos release as offering an impressive work in assured performances. Add equally fine performances of the rest of the programme, including a first recording of Pan, very good sound quality, as heard in 24-bit, and an excellent set of notes, and what’s not to like?

Recording of the Year
British Violin Sonatas - Volume 3
York BOWEN (1884-1961)

Violin Sonata in e minor, Op.112 (1945) [20:11]
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in a minor (1915-17) [25:07]
James Francis BROWN (b. 1969)
The Hart’s Grace (2016) [6:55]
William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Sonatina (1933) [11:16]
Eric COATES (1886-1957)
First Meeting (1941, rev. 1943) [6:35]
Tasmin Little (violin); Piers Lane (piano)
rec. 2019, Potton Hall, Suffolk. DDD.
Reviewed as 24/96 press preview.
CHANDOS CHAN20133 [70:07]
For CD purchase details see review review. Stream from Naxos Music Library

Having reviewed Chandos’ 2-CD parting tribute to Tasmin Little as she leaves the stage, and thought it a little mean that something chunkier could not have been on offer, better still a substantial new concert recording, I must mitigate the complaint, at least partially, in the light of this third volume in her series of recordings of British Violin Sonatas. I was going to say that we should be grateful for small mercies, but this is actually more than ‘small’.

There’s even some breaking of new ground here, in the form of John Francis Brown’s The Hart’s Grace. His music is as yet not well represented on record, with just one album completely devoted to it: Prospero’s Isle is a collection of his chamber music (Guild GMCD7354). William Hedley warmly recommended that ‘beautifully recorded’ disc ‘to any collector interested in the bewilderingly diverse world of contemporary music’ – review.

That sounds a little ominous to my stick-in-the-mud ears, but I’m pleased to report that Heart’s Grace is an attractive work, hardly any more ‘contemporary’ than the Alwyn. Indeed, had I heard this with an innocent ear, I might well have thought it the work of any British composer of the twentieth century, so it sits very well with the rest of the programme.

Alwyn’s music can sometimes be angular, but it’s never too much to cope with. His Sonatina opens almost like a piece of Palm Court music, but soon develops into something more demanding than the diminutive in the title suggests; this is no lightweight work.

The opening York Bowen sonata is not angular, but it is intense. Though dubbed a ‘violin sonata’ as shorthand, there’s as much, if not more, activity from the piano – Bowen’s own instrument, for which he wrote a wide range of music which has become better known only in recent years. Dating from 1945, the violin sonata might easily have been composed forty years earlier, though it’s no worse for that. If you find it attractive – and the well-established team of Tasmin Little and Piers Lane offers strong advocacy – the ideal follow-up would be Bowen’s complete music for violin and piano on Hyperion (CDA67991/2, 2 CDs – review).

As Michael Wilkinson wrote in his review of this new Chandos recording, Little and Lane have nothing to fear from comparison with that very fine set, or, I would add, from another very fine collection of British violin sonatas, by Bliss, Bowen and Walford Davies on EM Records EMRCD001: Recording of the Month – review review review. The link to classicsonline.com in DL Roundup July 2011/1 no longer applies, but my award of Promising New Label proved to be very apt; I’ve since praised several recordings on this label.

For Jonathan Woolf, who chose the new Chandos as one of his Recordings of the Year, the highlight of the set is the Ireland sonata: ‘I have waited 25 years for [Little] to record John Ireland’s A minor sonata and here it is at last, the greatest reading of the work since the 78 set of Albert Sammons and Ireland himself’. I can’t say more than that.

Recording of the Year
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891—1953)
Symphony No.1 in D, Op.25 (1916—17) (‘Classical’) [13:58]
Symphony No.2 in d minor, Op.40 (1924—25) [36:14]
Symphony No.3 in c minor, Op.44 (1928) [35:19]
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton
rec. May 2015 (No. 1) and August/September 2017 (Nos 2 & 3), Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway. DDD/DSD
Reviewed as 24/96 stereo download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com: also available in mp3, 16-bit and 24/96 surround and on SACD.
BIS BIS-2174 SACD [86:33] For SACD purchase details see review by Robert Cummings.  Stream from Naxos Music Library.

Can there be a greater contrast between a composer’s first symphony and its successors, even bearing Beethoven in mind? Between Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ First and the other two symphonies on this recording, there is a great gulf fixed. Indeed, if the ‘Classical’ is his most popular and most-recorded work, it’s not until we come to the Fifth that we find anything approaching it in popularity. Though Prokofiev apparently thought the Third, based on music from his opera The Fiery Angel, much rejigged and augmented, one of his best works, his opinion has not been widely shared.

BIS are certainly doing their bit for Nos. 2 and 3 by getting them onto one SACD with the First, when rival recordings don’t offer so much for your money: Jurowski with the Russian State Academy Symphony Orchestra on a fairly recent Pentatone SACD gives us just 2 and 3 (PTC5186624). Dave Billinge was not wholly impressed by that recording, which he thought a little too lacking in danger – review – but I decided to use it as a comparator. Like the BIS, I listened to it in 24/96 format – downloaded in the case of the BIS, streamed in the case of the Pentatone.

My other inevitable benchmarks, both complete sets of all seven symphonies, were Neeme Järvi with the RSNO (Chandos CHAN10500X, 4 CDs, around £18: Bargain of the Month – review; the download, paradoxically, is a little dearer) and Valery Gergiev with the LSO (Philips 4757655, 4 CDs, around £33: Recording of the Month – review).

My expectations of Litton’s new Prokofiev were not high: both Dan Morgan and I panned his earlier recording of No.6 and Lieutenant Kije DL News 2013/7. I did expect the ‘Classical’ Symphony, however, to respond well to Litton’s treatment. It’s a work whose attractions have paled a little since I was enthralled by it many years ago. Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations and works such as Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances for the Lute have retained a place in my affections much more, perhaps because they are based on real earlier music rather than a synthetic version of it.

Prokofiev’s symphony is palpably an imitation – no ‘classical’ symphony would ever have sounded like this – and Litton and the Bergen Phil make no attempt to make it sound other, with full twentieth-century sonority, though with a perkiness that an early music consort might well envy – try the larghetto second movement a little before the 2-minute mark. If anything, his tempo in this movement, slightly faster than Gergiev or Järvi, makes me inclined to prefer Litton here, and the rest of the symphony did nothing to change that opinion. Except that Nicolai Malko’s classic 1955 recording with the Philharmonia remains available as a Classics for Pleasure download at budget price, and that, with even sprightlier playing, remains my benchmark. (3822292, with Symphony No.7, Love for Three Oranges Suite and Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Suite). The sound, from the earliest days of stereo, wears its years more lightly than this reviewer.

For many years now my go-to CD of the Second Symphony has been from the French National Orchestra and Mstislav Rostropovich, more for the sake of the coupling with the Symphony-Concerto from Rostropovich with the LSO and Seiji Ozawa (Warner Elatus, now available only in a 4-CD set, 2564696755). That CD had a railway tunnel on the cover, with a burst of light at the end which might be a ray of sunshine or a train coming the other way. Rostropovich, assisted by the digital recording, first released by Erato, pulls no punches, so the idea of a train crash seems apt. He doesn’t make the music seem lovable, but he does make it seem properly powerful. With an account of the second movement theme and variations that makes the music both comforting and unsettling, this is one of the best recordings in this rather variable complete cycle, so it’s a shame that it’s no longer to be had singly, though I don’t miss the shabby presentation of the Elatus version.

Turn to Järvi, however, and the opening movement sounds even more urgent and brutal, the sound yet more immediate, as heard in lossless flac, yielding little even to the 24-bit BIS recording. Järvi shaves a whole minute off Rostropovich’s timing for the movement without ever seeming about to come off the tracks. Pretty it isn’t, but it is compelling, and the same is true of Gergiev, who manages even to undercut Järvi by half a minute. Ben articulato the direction says, and both the RSNO and the LSO manage to keep their articulation clean and crisp, even at these speeds.

The Bergen orchestra need fear no competition; their playing, too, is crisp and well-articulated, as captured in the 24/96 stereo which I was hearing. The tension from Litton may be at a slightly lower temperature than from Järvi or Gergiev, but some may prefer it that way. On the whole, however, the menace which the other conductors maintain is found more intermittently here, the surface overall slightly smoother, though Litton’s timing for the movement is only seconds longer than from Järvi – and, by the end of the movement I was beginning to be caught up more in the tension of the music.

I really do find Prokofiev’s No.3 – and No.4 – hard to come to terms with, but I can’t argue with Robert Cummings’ view that Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic are fully committed here. A mixed bag for me; I’m sorry not to be as enthusiastic as my colleague, for whom it was a Recording of the Year and a Winner on every count.

Recording of the Year
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Symphony No. 3 (1944-1946)
San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas
rec. live, 15-17 March 2018, Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, USA Reviewed in 24/192 stereo download from SFS Media Programme notes here
A digital-only release: 16/44.1; 24/96; and 24/192 stereo/multichannel. DDD/DSD
SFS MEDIA SFS 0078 [42:33]
For purchase links see review.

For Dan Morgan, this recording now tops the tree, and I find it hard to disagree, especially as heard in 24/96 sound, streamed from Qobuz. Definitely not one to economise on by choosing mp3.

Recording of the Year
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Violin Concerto No.1 in a minor, Op.77 (1947/48) [39:01]
Violin Concerto No.2 in c-sharp minor, Op.129 (1967) [32:25]
Alina Ibragimova (violin)
State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia ‘Evgeny Svetlanov’/Vladimir Jurowski
rec. 2019, Museum and Exhibition Complex ‘New Jerusalem’, Moscow (No.1), Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, Moscow (No.2)
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
HYPERION CDA68313 [71:29]
For CD purchase details see review.

I’m delighted to see that this was selected as a Recording of the Year – it was one of the runners-up that I mentioned in my choice and it’s included with the Hyperion at 40 selection which I reviewed recently.

Recording of the Year
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No.13 in b-flat minor, Op.113, ‘Babi Yar’ (1962)
Oleg Tsibulko (bass)
Popov Academy of Choral Arts Choir, Kozhevnikov Choir
Russian National Orchestra/Kirill Karabits
rec. 2017, DZZ Studio 5, Moscow, Russia
Reviewed as a stereo DSD128 download from NativeDSD
Pdf booklet includes sung texts in English and transliterated Russian
PENTATONE PTC5186618 SACD [58:13]
For SACD purchase details see review review. Stream from Naxos Music Library.

I’m sure it’s not just the fact that I edit and convert Dan Morgan’s reviews that finds me agreeing with him so often – and sometimes qualifying that agreement, as here. John Quinn, with whom I again usually find myself in agreement, liked this recording too, but preferred Haitink, and my money stays on the powerful Rostropovich recording, which is not very helpful – it’s unavailable unless you can find a copy of the Olympia CD, or Alto reissues it – Summer 2020. Hearing the Pentatone again in 24-bit sound – a noticeable improvement on the Naxos Music Library mp3 – I found myself rather more inclined to Karabits, but it’s still not quite my ideal Babi-Yar.

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Peter Grimes (1945) [137:44]
Alan Oke (tenor) - Peter Grimes
Giselle Allen (soprano) - Ellen Orford
David Kempster (baritone) - Captain Balstrode
Gaynor Keeble (mezzo) - Auntie
Alexandra Hutton (soprano) - First Niece
Charmian Bedford (soprano) - Second Niece
Robert Murray (tenor) - Bob Boles
Henry Waddington (bass) - Swallow
Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo) - Mrs Sedley
Christopher Gillett (tenor) - Rev. Horace Adams
Charles Rice (baritone) - Ned Keene
Stephen Richardson (bass) - Hobson
Chorus of Opera North, Chorus of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Britten-Pears Orchestra/Steuart Bedford
rec. live Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 7 and 9 June 2013. DDD.
Synopsis but no texts.
Reviewed as 24/48 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
SIGNUM SIGCD348 [73:32 + 63:47] Stream from Naxos Music Library.

This review arose from my failure to review the new Chandos recording of Peter Grimes, with Stuart Skelton as Grimes and Edward Gardner conducting the Bergen Symphony Orchestra, as chosen by two of my colleagues as a Recording of the Year. Just as I was beginning to enjoy hearing my press preview, I was reminded of the problems of opera recordings – and those of other music continuous across tracks – which don’t offer gap-less playing. That’s a problem with both Naxos Music Library and Qobuz, on both of which I happily listen to other music, in mp3 and up to 24-bit respectively, but I find opera is still a no-no. It’s not beyond the wit of mankind to have gapless playing – even the basic Windows Media Player, which used to insert gaps, is now free from the problem.

Though Chandos now send me press previews without the offending watermark, and though I’m assured that the commercial article comes without the problem, that put me off listening to their new Peter Grimes and sent me in search of possible alternatives to Britten’s own recording (Decca Originals 4757713) and Colin Davis (Decca Opera 4785273). I have the Britten in a 24/96 remastered format and the Davis on the original Philips CDs. The Linn download of the Britten – March 2012/2 – is no longer available, that short-lived arrangement with Universal having lapsed all too quickly, but Presto have a 24/96 download for a reasonable £25.89. I’m amazed that the CDs of the Britten recording are no longer generally available, though Alto have reissued it at budget price (ALC2008, around £9).

It’s to those two classic recordings, both now Decca, though the Davis started its life on Philips, that I shall return, but I was equally surprised how good this live Signum recording is, and that we seem not to have reviewed it. There’s the excitement of a live recording, in very good sound, including 24-bit.

Recording of the Year
Lament
Lars Petter HAGEN (b.1975)
Lament 1-3 (2015) [15:0]
Nils Henrik ASHEIM (b. 1960)
Muohta - Language of Snow (2017) [20:42]
Arne NORDHEIM (1931-2010)
Aurora (1984) [21:27]
Norwegian Soloists’ Choir/Grete Pedersen
Daniel Paulsen, Terje Viken, Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen (percussion)
Ensemble Allegria
rec. 2018/19, Østre Frederikstad kirke; Ris kirke, Oslo, Norway
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com
BIS BIS-2431 SACD [59:08]
For SACD purchase details see review.  Stream from Naxos Music Library.

Regular readers will know that I normally approach contemporary music with extreme caution, and I had allowed this to pass me by until I read Dominy Clements’ comments in choosing it as a Recording of the Year: ‘Lament is the kind of album that can get inside your head and haunt your imagination long after you’ve heard it. It has a superb balance between drama, beauty, time suspended and surreal imagery, all performed with utter conviction and recorded in immersive SACD sound.’ Read ‘24-bit sound’ instead of SACD, and that sums up my response. We live and learn – at least in part from colleagues’ reviews.

Richard BLACKFORD (b.1954)
Blewbury Air (2020) [12:06]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello), Adrian Farmer (piano)
rec. June 2020, Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, UK. DDD.
NIMBUS NI1570 [12:06] Stream from Naxos Music Library.

John Quinn’s review of this recording ends with an invitation to comment on its availability as a digital download, though that has been superseded by the fact that the CD release, originally scheduled for later, has been brought forward by popular demand. I listened to it in 16-bit sound from Qobuz – there doesn’t seem to be a 24-bit equivalent – and enjoyed it. It’s available there to download for £3.99, which seems a reasonable, if not over-generous, price for a 12-minute recording. So why is it on offer elsewhere for £8 in mp3 and £9.75 in lossless sound? Amazon UK have the mp3 for £2.97, but that’s likely not to be at the full 320kbs, so Qobuz seems the best option as I write, with direct purchase from Wyastone the best way to obtain the CD at £4.99. By the time that you read this, things may have changed; you should check.

What’s not in doubt is the attractiveness of this work by a composer whose music has made quite an impression, not just on me, recently. Pietà which Paul Corfield Godfrey reviewed in February 2020, has been awarded the Ivor Novello choral prize. (Nimbus Alliance NI6396, with Canticle of Winter).

The Protecting Veil
William Butler YEATS (1865-1939)
He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven 1 [0:38]
John TAVENER (1944-2013)
The Protecting Veil 2 [46:08]
William Butler YEATS
The Mother of God 1 [1:04]
John TAVENER
Mother and Child 2 [7:06]
Frithjof SCHUON (1907-1998)
World Wheel XXVII: ‘I heard the gypsy’s violin play’ 3 [1:00]
Pandit Sultan KHAN (1940-2011)
The Song of Separation and Waiting4 [11:28]
Olwyn Fouéré1; Julie Christie3 (readers)
Sinfonietta Riga/Matthew Barley (cello)2
Matthew Barley (cello), Sukhvinder ‘Pinky’ Singh (tabla)4
rec. Petruskyrkan, Stocksund, Sweden, 19 August 2017; Anglican Church, Riga, Latvia, 2-3 July 2018.
Texts included
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
SIGNUM SIGCD585 [67:29] For CD availability see Recommended review. Stream from Naxos Music Library.

No longer mourn for me and other works for cello
John TAVENER (1944-2013)
Preces and Responses (2013, arr. Steven Isserlis) 1 [12:19]
The Death of Ivan Ilyich (2012, words by Tolstoy) 2 [27:05]
Mahámátar (2000) 3 [15:48]
Popule Meus - a Meditation (2009) 4 [12:18]
Three Shakespeare Sonnets: Sonnet LXXI. No longer mourn for me (2010, arr. Steven Isserlis) 1 [4:27]
Steven Isserlis (cello) with
Caroline Dearnley (cello), Chiara Enderle (cello), Matthew Huber (cello), Vashti Hunter (cello), Bartholomew LaFollette (cello), Amy Norrington (cello), David Waterman (cello)1
Matthew Rose (bass)2
Philharmonia Orchestra/Omer Meir Wellber2, 4
Steven Isserlis (cello), Abi Sampa (Sufi singer), Trinity Boys Choir 3;
rec. Balliol College, Oxford, 8 September 2017; All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, 17-18 December 2019. DDD.
Texts included
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk.
HYPERION CDA68246 [71:59] For CD availability see review review.

It seemed that Steven Isserlis had The Protecting Veil all sewn up, except that his recording with the LSO and Gennady Rozhdestvensky appears to be download only, in all three formats in which it’s available – the least expensive is on the C20 Classics twofer 2376912, an all-Tavener coupling – review. That’s another example of something that I lament elsewhere – the massive axe which Warner took to their EMI and Virgin catalogues, with some CDs disappearing completely, others available only to download, often more expensively than when on disc. (That said, Amazon UK still seem to have a few copies of the twofer on CD.)

Now the Signum recording challenges Isserlis’ hegemony in The Protecting Veil, coupling it with poems which were among the composer’s favourites, and Isserlis’ new recording of other Tavener music places us further in his debt – and Hyperion’s for bringing us the first recordings of all this wonderful music. Who would have thought that a set of preces and responses, composed for use in the Anglican liturgy, would have sounded so compelling when transposed for eight cellos? Add the fact that extra music for cello was needed to fill the CD, so Isserlis set about transcribing this and the closing Shakespeare sonnet, and the effect is even more remarkable.

Equally remarkable is the blend of traditions in Tavener’s music, including a composition performed by a Sikh tabla player on Signum and on Hyperion the Sanskrit-inspired hymn to the Mahámáter, or Great Mother, adapted in praise of the Virgin Mary and chanted by a Sufi singer. If you already have a recording of The Protecting Veil, you should need no urging to go for the Hyperion. Otherwise, start with the Signum and you will soon be adding the other to your collection. In both cases, the Hyperion download in lossless sound is significantly less expensive than the CD and the superior hi-res 24-bit costs very little more. As always with Hyperion, the booklets are included – both are very valuable.

Recording of the Year
Sir James MacMILLAN (b.1959)
Symphony No. 4
Viola Concerto
Lawrence Power (viola), BBC Philharmonic/Martyn Brabbins
rec. May 2019. DDD.
HYPERION CDA68317 – from hyperion-records.co.uk (CD, 16- and 24-bit downloads)

Also included in Hyperion at 40 article.

For CD purchase details see Recommended – review review review

I forecast this release in reviewing a Coro recording of MacMillan’s Symphony No.5 and The Sun Danced. In the event, three of my colleagues included everything I wanted to say, so I didn’t add my two pennyworth.

My uncompleted review included a reflection on the possible influences, which added to rather than detracted from my enjoyment: We are summoned by bells into the one-movement Symphony No.4. If this is a nod in the direction of Arvo Pärt, it’s not overdone. If there is influence there, as so often with MacMillan’s music, it hovers subtly on the verge of the listener’s awareness and it’s fully absorbed into his own voice. Later there are moments when I could have sworn a piece of renaissance music is making its influence but I couldn’t quite place it – the booklet mentions the Missa Dum sacrum mysterium by the sixteenth-century composer Robert Carver, whose music, which deserves to be heard alongside his English contemporaries, MacMillan loves and promotes.

Recording of the Year
Jaakko MÄNTYJÄRVI (b.1963) Choral Music
Ave Maria d’Aosta (2004) [2:44]
Stuttgarter Psalmen (2009) [28:05]
Benedic anima mea Domino (1994) [4:04]
Pulchra es (2018) [2:58]
Trinity Service (2019) [28:03]
O magnum mysterium (2007) [4:50]
Rachel Coombs (soprano), Molly Noon (soprano), Fiona Tibbles (soprano), Edward Cunningham (tenor), Ben Mortishire-Smith (bass)
Choir of Trinity College Cambridge/Stephen Layton
rec. Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge, January 2018, January 2019 and January 2020. DDD.
Reviewed as 24/96 download from hyperion-records.co.uk.
Texts and translations included.
HYPERION CDA68266 [70:54]
For CD purchase details see review.

To the list of contemporary composers writing fantastic choral music, add the name of Finnish composer Jaakko Mäntyjärvi. A singer, conductor and translator as well as a composer, his output is fairly evenly divided between the secular and the sacred. I have yet to hear any of the former, but the sacred, as evidenced by these performances from Trinity College, for whom he composed a set of Evensong music for Trinity Sunday last year, is well worth becoming acquainted with. Finnish names may not be the easiest for notoriously language-shy English speakers to pronounce, but, like that of Rautavaara, with whose music we have become accustomed over a period of time, Mäntyjärvi's music speaks for itself – and speaks volumes.

Though his music is sung by choirs world-wide, this seems to be only the second recording entirely devoted to Mäntyjärvi’s work. The other, entitled Salvat 1701, was recorded by Tapiola Chamber Choir and Hannu Norjanen for the Alba label in 2000 (NCD18). It’s described as ‘a semi-dramatized concert or choral drama, or perhaps a hymn-oratorio based on the Finnish Old Hymnal of 1701’.

I’ve mentioned Rautavaara, but the names of Eric Whitacre – a new recording of his The Sacred Veil on Signum SIGCD630 is also available to download from Hyperion – Morten Lauridsen, John Tavener and Arvo Pärt, mentioned in the Hyperion notes, are even more relevant in setting Mäntyjärvi’s sacred music in context.

He’s certainly not a one-style-fits-all composer, as the opening works demonstrate. The Ave Maria d’Aosta achieves its effect economically yet luxuriously. Every note of this short but richly harmonic setting makes its effect: this is one of the richly robed angels of the Annunciation from a renaissance painting – Crivelli, perhaps – but his words come through to Mary and to us with considerable clarity, thanks to the proverbial enunciation of Cambridge college choirs.

Then, with the first of the Stuttgart Psalms, it’s as if words and music are thrown down to smash on the floor like the covenant that we have broken with God. If the Ave Maria is comfortable and comforting, this is just the opposite. Now, instead of harmony and economy, the words Warum toben die Heiden? (Why do the heathen rage?) are cast at us like daggers of ice.

These are the words of Luther’s German Bible sounding as shockingly direct in this guise as they must have done in Luther’s day to congregations used to hearing Latin which they didn’t understand. One old man was so confused that he fumbled and dropped the communion host when it was given into his hands. The music sounds uncannily similar to Hoffnung’s famous parody of the avant-garde style, Ja-ja’s Punkt Kontrapunkt. Yet, while Hoffnung achieves his put-down of Schoenberg, Nono and all their kind, Mäntyjärvi is searingly direct. If anything, the second of these psalms, Mein Gott, mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen? (My God, why hast thou abandoned me?) is even more searing.

The return to a more economical style in the dancing setting of Benedic anima mea Domino and the sensuous, mystic Pulchra es (tracks 5 and 6) is like a soothing massage after a hard work-out – not that I’m much given to the latter.

The Anglican service of Evensong may date back only to the first English Prayer Book (1549), but, as a conflation of the earlier services of Vespers – usually called Evensong in England even before the reformation – and Compline, it seems timeless. Cranmer’s language, itself flowing in sync with the Latin originals, is less likely to be set aside for shopping-list English here than in celebrations of the Eucharist. The Trinity Evensong is the longest work on the album, and the challenge to compose music that is clearly contemporary but relating to the past is strongest here. Mäntyjärvi’s setting opens with an Ave Maria as introit, the opening Preces, Psalm 128, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, Responses, Lord’s Prayer, Responses and Collects, including that for Trinity Sunday – the college’s patronal festival – the anthem O Lux Beata Trinitas, and the close.

The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were composed specially for the Trinity Service; unusually, the latter, the shorter of the two texts, is the longer and more impassioned setting. Dare I suggest that these canticles might become the Evensong of the 21st century to match Herbert Howells’ Anglican music in the second half of the twentieth or that of John Merbecke who published the first settings for the reformed service in 1550?

Everything fits, including the eerie cover image, which I originally mistook as depicting The Isle of the Dead.

Recording of the Year
Jēkabs JANČEVSKIS (b.1992)
Odplyw (‘Ebb Tide’) [7:05]
Atsalums (‘Coldness’) [6:33]
Mater amabilis [5:00]
Aeternum [5:53]
O lux beata Trinitas [9:03]
When [10:13]
Ar zvaigžņu kluso gaismu (‘Silent Starlight’) [4:22]
The Button [8:47]
Mixed Choir of Riga Cathedral Choir School/Jurģis Cābulis
rec. 2018/19, Riga Recording Company A Studio and Latvian Radio Studio 1, Latvia
Reviewed as 24-bit lossless download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk
HYPERION CDA68328 [56:59]
For CD purchase details see review review

This is yet another recording of ethereal music from a composer I had not even heard of before Hyperion treated us to it. I’ve already added their Mäntyjärvi recording to my regular listening; here is yet another, younger, rival to Arvo Pärt and Pēteris Vasks. It must be something that they put in the water in the Baltic countries.

Carols from King’s (2020 Collection)
GAUNTLETT: Once in Royal David's City [5:13]
Andrew CARTER: A Maiden Most Gentle [3:03]
MACONCHY: There is No Rose of Such Virtue [1:57]
Traditional, Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Herefordshire Carol (This is the Truth Sent from Above) [2:34]
Traditional, Arthur SULLIVAN: It Came Upon the Midnight Clear [3:54]
Philip MOORE: The Angel Gabriel [3:54]
LEIGHTON: Three Carols, Op. 25: No. 2. Lully, Lulla, Thou Little Tiny Child (Coventry Carol) [3:12]
Trad.: Sussex Carol (On Christmas Night) [2:26]
Walford DAVIES: O Little Town of Bethlehem [4:47]
Trad.: Ding! Dong! Merrily on High [2:11]
RUTTER: Candlelight Carol [4:15]
MENDELSSOHN: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing [3:36]
King’s College Choir, Cambridge/Daniel Hyde
rec. live 2019. DDD.
Reviewed as streamed in 24/96 sound. No booklet.
KING’S KGS0048 [41:02] Download or stream only – from Amazon UK - Presto. Stream from Naxos Music Library.

This should have been included in my recent Christmas round-up, but it appeared just too late. In any case, these recordings, from the 2019 Nine Lessons and Carols and its television sibling, are self-recommending. The short playing time comes with a reduction in the download price – pay no more than £5.60 for lossless sound; don’t pay £7.89 for inferior mp3.




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Recordings of the Month

April


The Well-Tempered Consort


The Rachmaninov Collection


Symphonies 4 & 6

 

March


piano music Vol 4


Charpentier


Songs of Love and Sorrow


Thomas Agerfeldt OLESEN
Cello Concerto


The female in Music

 

February

January


Linda BUCKLEY
From Ocean’s Floor