Warner: Apex

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Warner: Apex

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The latest batch from Apex is pretty representative of this budget label, with a wider range of repertoire than a lot of the competition.

MOZART and BRAHMS Clarinet Quintets come from the Berlin Soloists (0927-44350-2), where the liquid sound of the clarinettist Karl Leister offsets the slightly harsh tone of the first violin.

With acute rhythmic precision, the same group proves that HINDEMITH’s Octet isn’t as dry as it’s made out to be, but that PROKOFIEV’s Quintet has the edge in sardonic wit (0927-44395-2).

Further off the beaten track are Gerard Schwarz and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, whose upfront performances suit string music by BARBER, IRVING FINE, CARTER (an early Elegy which won’t scare the horses) and the vigorous Rounds by DAVID DIAMOND (7559-79670-2).

Schwarz gets equally incisive playing from the New York Chamber Symphony in STRAUSS’s unaccountably neglected Divertimento after Couperin, and SCHOENBERG’s outrageous take on one of Handel’s concerti grossi, where the small orchestra is a boon in sorting out the textures (7559-79675-2).

The American String Quartet features in this concerto, and has a solo turn in DVORÁK’s Opp. 34 and 51 Quartets (7559-79671-2): a little too aggressive in the outer movements, though the Adagio from Op. 34 is affectingly done.

You can’t beat Czech musicians in their own repertoire, and after the Prague SO kicks off with a spirited Bartered Bride Overture, Eva Urbanová’s live operatic recital from 1997 delights with vibrant DVORÁK (a splendid ‘Song to the Moon’), SMETANA and JANÁCEK (0927-44354-2).

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Fischer-Dieskau is similarly idiomatic in Lieder by LOEWE (0927-44767-2), but his voice was showing its age in 1987, and there are better versions of him in this repertoire elsewhere.