(Last time we offered overviews of several recording labels that led the way to a glorious high-res, multichannel future for classical music. Some persevered, some did not. Here's the rest of the story.)
William Lawes: The Royal Consort. Phantasm. Linn CKD470, 2015. Two Hybrid SACDs (5.1, 2.0 mixes). Phantasm is a viol consort led by Baroque scholar Laurence Dreyfus, joined on this recording by theorbist Elizabeth Kenny and organist Daniel Hyde. Lawes (1602–45) is not as well-known as some of his contemporaries, so Dreyfus fills us in:
This is one of the greatest collections of ensemble dance music ever composed. In it one finds 10 “Setts” or suites of dances boasting a range and depth of expression on a par with Dowland’s Lacrimae, J. S. Bach’s orchestral suites, Rameau’s orchestral dances, even the waltzes of Johann Strauss, Jr. . . In every sett there are astounding moments that excite both mind and body.
Even though they've stopped releasing SACDs, I am honoring Linn Records and producer-engineer Philip Hobbs with a spot in this list. By 2015 Phantasm had already made a fine Dowland Lachrimae. But the Lawes discs contain a wider variety of music, composed with a degree of individualism that Dowland, undoubtedly the “greater” composer, had largely forsworn. Dreyfus speaks eloquently on this point too:
It is not that the music is merely showier than normal dance music, but that Lawes composes his parts as if the performing musicians are themselves dancing. Rather than music to accompany actual dance, the Royal Consort [takes on] the varied gestures and vivid movements that we yearn for in dance. [The dancers’ imagined bodies] engage each other with an intricacy and passion exceeding the most sophisticated choreography of the day.
Once you hear a sett or two or three, you’ll know what he’s talking about. Several live performances by Phantasm of this music are available on YouTube, among them this lively Fantazy à 5 “to the Organ,” which is also on the album:
For more from Linn, try the Avison Ensemble’s complete Corelli series, an absolute joy.
Early Romantic Horn Sonatas. (Music of Ries, Danzi, von Krufft.) Steinar Granmo Nilsen, natural horn; Kristin Fossheim, fortepiano. 2L–113–SABD, 2015. Blu-ray Pure Audio plus hybrid SACD (5.1, 2.0 mixes).
Morten Lindberg emphasizes Norwegian artists and the very special (big, high-ceiling) interiors he likes for recording. I’ve featured his records often. He’s got a more identifiable house “sound” than anyone else still doing multichannel. He believes that
It is not our task as producers and engineers to try to re-create a concert situation with all its commercial limitations. On the contrary, we should make the ideal out of the recording medium and create the strongest illusion, the sonic experience that emotionally moves the listener to a better place.
Nilsen and Fossheim are scheduled to release another album in 2020. Meanwhile, check out Trachea, Lux, or Woven Brass.
Fauré: Piano Music. Nicolas Stavy. BIS–2389, 2018. Hybrid SACD (5.0, 2.0 mixes).
BIS Records was founded in 1973 by Robert van Bahr. Based in Åkersberga, Sweden, it is the leading Scandinavian classical label, continuing to release well-produced SACDs nearly every month. BIS has also adopted eco-sensitive packaging (It's more durable! And easier to shelve!).
If you are unfamiliar with Fauré’s piano output, Nicolas Stavy’s selection provides a fine introduction. It ranges from the hitherto unpublished Sonate, N. 5 (1863), a student work written in frank imitation of earlier masters, to the towering Nocturne No. 6 in D Flat Major (1894), itself the work of a master. Stavy plays with enormous sensitivity and conviction; engineering was done by Take5, a globetrotting production outfit born at BIS.
I have lots of BIS recordings, including Maasaki Suzuki’s 55-volume set of Bach Sacred Cantatas. I also treasure my assortment of Aho and Pettersson symphonies, not to mention one-offs like Christian Lindberg’s Bernstein potpourri from Liverpool, easily one of the centenary’s best. When a label’s standards are as high as they are in Åkersberga, you really can “sit back and enjoy.”
Bach: Christmas Oratorio. Netherlands Bach Society, dir. Jos van Veldhoven. Channel Classics CCS SA 20103, 2003. Two hybrid SACDs (5.0, 2.0 mixes) plus 192-page program book.
If I had to choose just one Channel Classics recording for my desert island, it would be this one. That’s partly because of the lavish program book, compiled with the generous assistance of the Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht. The visual art that graces it is both diverse and stylishly presented. Along with the discs’ duo-fold ecopak, the book is fitted into a deep-red velvet box that could sit handsomely on your shelves for at least a half-century.
The performance, like the packaging, is definitely not generic. Veldhoven and his crew made every note of these six linked cantatas their own. Some of it you’ll love immediately, some of it perhaps not. Producer-engineer C. Jared Sacks made it all glisten, though, including what you’ll take to be a lovely Baroque-church acoustic (it was actually recorded at Muzeikcentrum Frits Philips in Eindhoven).
(Above, not the Christmas Oratorio but some very Christmassy Bach from the Netherlands; click here to learn more about the NBS’s ongoing “All of Bach” video project.)
I’ve devoted a lot of space over the years to other CC artists, including Rachel Podger, Iván Fischer, and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta. Thanks again, Jared.
Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 (w/ Janáček: Symphonic Suite from Jenůfa). Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck. Reference Recordings FR–710SACD, 2014. Hybrid SACD (5.1, 2.0 mixes).
I picked this almost at random from six or eight such Pittsburgh SO discs. They’re all good. Honeck is a master of the Central European repertoire (e.g., Beethoven, Dvořák, R. Strauss, Bruckner), as on these “fresh! from RR” live recordings. Dirk Sobotka, John Newton, and others from Soundmirror have handled the engineering work, consistently first-rate. These are heat-of-the-moment readings, not “documents.” When they’re hot, they’re hot. From take-off to landing, you’re there at Heinz Hall.
I could summarize the whole Reference Recordings story here, but you undoubtedly know big chunks of it already. (For more, click here.) They’re still going all-out to provide quality classical multichannel, to which they’ve added quality downloads and a new format, HRx. Live long and prosper, folks.
(Above, Dvořák's Eighth, with Honeck but not the Pittsburgh SO; oh well! See you in two weeks.)
(Header image: Charles I in Three Positions, by Sir Anthony van Dyck, 1635; Charles was the lifelong patron of William Lawes, who was shot to death by political enemies of the Royalists at Rowton Heath, near Chester. The King instituted a "special mourning" for the man he called "Father of Musick.")