LABELS: Virgin Veritas
PERFORMER: Various artists
CATALOGUE NO: See text for individual catalogue numbers
The concept of the ‘twofer’ came up in last month’s column: the ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’ reissue. ‘Why lock anything up in the archives when it could be out there on the streets earning its keep?’ seems to be the rationale behind many of the splurges of reissues we’ve seen recently. But to some of the back-catalogue managers, twofers are a major opportunity, a chance to show some imagination when they’re recycling recordings.
Since Virgin Veritas became EMI’s early-music brand, its reissues policy seems to have shown the same surefootedness that has kept the parent classical label out of trouble.
Take this handful of historically informed performances, for instance: there’s emphatically no dross here, which immediately distinguishes these twofers from some of their peers. PURCELL: MUSIC FOR PLEASURE AND DEVOTION (5 62164 2, £10.99) is as straightforward as the title: secular songs, instrumental and theatre music mixed with anthems, services and other sacred works, all performed with great style by Andrew Parrott’s Taverner forces. None of the juxtapositions jars; this is as good a way of introducing the glorious breadth of Purcell’s music to a novice as any I know.
Parrott’s reading of HANDEL’s Israel in Egypt is a straight repackaging job (5 62155 2, £10.99), shamefully stripping out texts and translations to save pennies. This was the first complete recording on period instruments, and it’s preferable to the recent full-price King’s College recording for Decca, so at this price the Virgin’s a bargain.
Gustav Leonhardt’s recordings of BACH’s English Suites are distinguished (5 62158 2, £10.99) but you feel as though you’re sitting on his knee while he performs in an inappropriately large church.
This is Leonhardt in the mid-Eighties, and he has thawed since his Philips recording seven years earlier; hell, he even sounds as though he might have a slightly self-conscious bop in one of the dance numbers. But Leonhardt’s Bach would still rather frown than smile, even though technically these performances are beyond reproach.
Leonhardt also appears on Bob van Asperen’s recordings of BACH’s multiple-keyboard concertos (5 62152 2, £10.99), and you can see why they might get on. Asperen’s unique selling point in a busy market was that these were recorded one-to-a-part. The trouble is they frequently feel fatter and heavier than the larger-scale competition – Pinnock on Archiv or Koopman’s Erato recordings.
Pinnock’s recordings of the complete Bach keyboard concertos are currently a bargain on Universal’s Trio label; three CDs for only a fiver more than this twofer. But the imagination kicks back in with the last of these reissues (5 62161 2, £10.99).
Conundrum: what to add to VIVALDI’s Four Seasons to make it worthwhile as a twofer? The rest of his Op. 8 Concertos? Everybody does that, and anyway it’s short measure over two CDs. So how about something unexpected? The Monthes by CHRISTOPHER SIMPSON, January to December from the other end of the Baroque period, the 1660s.
They’re a complete contrast to the Seasons, fantasies of colour and mood rather than programmatic pieces; played as affectionately as this, and coupled to Monica Huggett’s estimable Seasons (plus another four Op. 8 concertos), they should bring the English viol master a much bigger audience.
A good idea, excellent performances, nicely packaged and keenly priced – in other words, everything a twofer ought to be, but all too often isn’t.