Elatus (Lat.): exalted, elevated, lofty, high… Just when you thought Warner had peaked with its Apex label, hurling back-catalogue at the super-budget sector (£4.99 – the ‘Naxos-knockers’), here’s the start of its assault on the mid-price market – a new label, Elatus, and 40 CDs promised in the first two months.
The approach seems at first glance to be the same as for Apex, but what makes one reissue an Apex disc and another Elatus? And what kind of value-for-money are we getting with the first few to reach the shops?
Giving them an initial look, all seems familiar: elegant minimalism, monochrome covers from the stock photo library, slim booklets, reasonable notes, some texts and translations.
No significant difference from Apex as yet, so maybe the money’s gone on remastering? No. Only two out of the first nine have been touched up, the others are all straight from the original digital masters.
What we’re dealing with here is perceived value: top artists nowhere near their sell-by date, some surprisingly recent recordings that have often made an impact at full price and should still have clout at £10.99.
Apex at £4.99 is an impulse purchase; add a fiver and most buyers need a better reason to part with their money Bottom of the heap for me is Nagano’s LSO recording of two great 20th-century ballet scores, Petrushka and The Miraculous Mandarin; the STRAVINSKY is superficially exciting, but the BARTÓK is bludgeoned to death more successfully than its main character (0927-46725-2).
The WEBER clarinet concertos fare much better (0927-46744-2). Sharon Kam is a fine player with a deliciously dark tone, and partnered by Kurt Masur she finds greater depths in these works than many players.
Former BBC Young Musician of the Year David Pyatt brings the same kind of qualities to the MOZART horn concertos, in an ideal modern alternative to the classic Dennis Brain recordings, or your favourite period-instrument performance (0927-46723-2).
Daniel Barenboim’s bleeding chunks from WAGNER’s Ring are beautifully played and recorded, even if Deborah Polaski’s vibrato widens too much for me in the ‘Immolation Scene’ (0927-46734-2).
Barbara Bonney’s SCHUBERT recital is clear-eyed, simple and eloquent – and she has the advantage of Sharon Kam’s clarinet in ‘The Shepherd on the Rock’ (0927-46741-2).
Charles Münch’s recording of two ROUSSEL symphonies is the closest thing we have here to a historic reissue, and No. 4 in particular is very fine (0927-46730-2). But wouldn’t you rather have all four symphonies on two CDs at budget price, in excellent performances and a modern recording?
That’s Charles Dutoit, ironically on one of Warner’s other budget labels, Erato Ultima – it would be cynical to suggest it might now be deleted.
Three of these first Elatus reissues are absolutely outstanding: András Schiff’s intelligent BARTÓK, with pungent accompaniment from Iván Fischer’s Hungarians (0927-46735-2).
Nagano’s BRITTEN CD – the Double Concerto with Kremer and Bashmet – was fascinating at full-price, with three first recordings and amazingly eloquent playing (0927-46718-2).
Best of the lot though is Maxim Vengerov’s SHOSTAKOVICH, the two violin concertos in searing performances that leave almost everyone but Oistrakh for dead (0927-46742-2).
They were on separate CDs, so brought together for the first time this is the modern recording to have – and for 11 quid? It’s a steal.