VIVALDI: Six Flute Concerti, Op. 10. Concerto in C for sopranino recorder, RV 443. Concerto in A minor for sopranino recorder, RV 445.
Daniel Rothert, treble recorder, sopranino recorder, flute; Cologne Chamber Orch/Helmut Müller-Brühl, cond.
NAXOS 6.110008 (5.1 channel) TT: 67:37

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Fantasia on Greensleeves. Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1. Concerto Grosso.
New Zealand Symphony Orch/James Judd, cond.
NAXOS 6.110053 (5.1 channel) TT: 60:48

BRITTEN: Les Illuminations. Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings.
Toby Spence, tenor; Martin Owen, horn; Scottish Ensemble/Clio Gould, violin-cond.
LINN CKD 226 (5.1 channel) TT: 72:45

CANTELOUBE: Songs of the Auvergne
Véronique Gens, soprano; Lille National Orch/Jean-Claude Casadesus, cond.
NAXOS 6.110065 (5.1 channel) TT: 61:25

Three winners from Naxos here! The Vivaldi collection of the six concertos Op. 10 and RV 443 and 445 concertos is outstanding. Young virtuoso Daniel Rothert plays flute in Op. 10 No. 3, sopranino recorder in Op. 10 No. 3, RV 443 and 445, and treble recorder for the rest, tossing off the music's manifold difficulties with brilliance. He's given strong support from the Cologne Chamber Orchestra under the dynamic direction of veteran early-music specialist Helmut Müller-Brühl. Surround sound is full and spacious. Recommended!

The Vaughan Williams collection features some of his more gentle orchestral music, far removed from the violence of his Symphony No. 4. The familiar Fantasia on Greensleeves is joined by the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 and the idyllic In the Fen Country. The last-composed work on this CD, the five-movement Concerto Grosso, was composed in 1950 for the 21st anniversary of Rural Music Schools Association, written for three levels of technical skills and premiered by an orchestra of about 400 string players including many beginners. Here we have it played by a smaller group of expert players. It's not one of the composer's more memorable pieces, but very well done. The Naxos surround sound is very natural, rich and full, with the orchestra in front, ambient sound from other speakers. The engineers have successfully captured the sound of the double string orchestra and string quartet.

Joseph Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne have been well represented on recordings since Madeleine Grey's pioneering 1930 recording of nine of the songs. The early '60's version by Netania Davrath with an orchestra conducted by Pierre De La Roche contained the complete set and rightfully became a best-seller. Fortunately for collectors this is available now at budget price on Vanguard (1189), a two-CD set that contains an additional set of charming "New Songs of the Auvergne" tastefully orchestrated by Gershon Kingsley . Sonically these were fine recording to begin with, and now sound even better than initial issues. After Davrath, many sopranos recorded the standard set of Songs, including Kiri Te Kanawa, Frederica von Stade and Victoria de los Angeles; Anna Moffo recorded 7 of them with Leopold Stokowski in 1964—all currently out-of-print except for De los Angeles' recording available in EMI's Great Recordings of the Century series (66993). This fine new Naxos issue with Véronique Gens and Jean-Claude Casadesus conducting is welcome. Gens' voice is rather light—but this perhaps is the kind of sound Canteloube preferred for this music. On this site we recently reviewed a private reissue of a group of "Songs of France" (including one of Canteloube's) sung by soprano Lucie Daullene with Joseph Canteloube at the piano. A reader wrote saying he knew the history of this rare recording and mentioned Canteloube had told him he thought Daullene's light, innocent voice was perfect for his songs (see REVIEW); I imagine Canteloube would have been pleased with Véronique Gens' sound and interpretation. Naxos' multi-channel recording is just fine, with the performers in front, ambient sound from other speakers. Complete original texts are provided with English translations.

The Britten collection on Linn is extraordinary in every way—first rate performances and stunning sonics. All three works were composed by Britten early in his career. Variations was written in 1937 when he was only 24, in 1938 he completed Les Illuminations (to poems of Arthur Rimbaud), and in 1943 he wrote the Serenade to texts by five authors.It's convenient to have all three on one well-filled (72:45) disk. There are only 12 players in the Scottish Ensemble which is directed by violinist Clio Gould; string sonorities of course would have been richer with more players, but what is heard here is perfectly balanced and the superb surround recording, which puts the ensemble in front, reveals every detail of the playing. The light expressive voice of tenor Toby Spence is ideal for the two song cycles, and he has been well-balanced with the orchestra. Martin Owen, principal horn of the Royal Philharmonic, is outstanding in Serenade, and an appropriate effect is achieved in the final song where the horn, supposed to be in the distance, sounds like it is. Complete texts are provided.

R.E.B. (March 2005)