Hyperion Box Sets

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Hyperion
PERFORMER: Various
CATALOGUE NO: See text for individual catalogue numbers

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Christopher Herrick’s complete BACH recordings for Hyperion took him seven years and used as many Metzler organs in Switzerland (CDS 44121-36, 16 discs).

He’s at his best in the more vigorously contrapuntal music – in a piece like the G minor Fantasia there could be greater fantasy and rubato, and sometimes the music is overphrased and too chopped up with staccato articulation. But the sounds that Herrick produces from the organs are varied and seductive: I particularly liked the instrument in Rheinfelden, delicate in the slighter pieces, and the more full-toned one from Lucerne, which comes into its own in the larger chorale preludes.

There’s more slimline box repackaging from Hyperion in PURCELL’s SACRED MUSIC (CDS 44141-51, 11 discs). The composer’s frequent requirements for a string orchestra and vocal soloists who sometimes have music of great range and difficulty mean that this wonderful music isn’t heard in a church context as often as it might be, and some of it is almost totally neglected.

In the introduction to his comprehensive accompanying booklet, the conductor Robert King talks about trying to recreate the intimate atmosphere of the Chapel Royal, though sometimes I’d like the soloists and chorus to be less distantly played in the recording perspective.

But that’s a small point when the performances from The King’s Consort and its Choir, the Choir of New College and a starry line-up of soloists have such qualities of concentration and precision in their engagement with the music.

The prevalence of melancholy and minor keys sticks in the mind, together with Purcell’s inventive word-setting, and the many distinguished solos from the bass Michael George.

The plug was pulled on Roy Goodman’s complete HAYDN symphony cycle before it could be completed – a pity, since it’s full of incisive music-making from the Hanover Band. Haydn gives the players a head start with his amazingly prolific invention, but the acuteness of the phrasing and dynamics, coupled with some fast tempi, makes the whole enterprise utterly invigorating.

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Symphonies Nos 42-50 and 70-78 come in at three symphonies a disc (CDH 55117-22, £6.99 each), and if pushed to choose, I’d take the second of the batch, with the Farewell Symphony, No. 46 in B with its high horn parts and No. 47 – a long-time personal favourite where each section of the minuet is played forward and backwards. All this and button-bright recordings too.