And still they come: no sooner has some old (or not-so-old) friend vanished than it’s repackaged at a lower price. It’s a good way to make new friends as well – something that you might reject at £15 suddenly seems attractive at less than half-price, and if it’s presented in a two-disc set, may become irresistible.
True, Warner’s Ultima series has minimal booklet notes, and in this latest batch every recording is naughtily described as digital, which some aren’t, but DG and Harmonia Mundi are more generous and accurate with their documentation.
All three labels give us MOZART: Thomas Zehetmair’s neat, flexible readings of the Violin Concertos are on Ultima (8573-85193-2), complete with his own cadenzas, where, unlike some soloists, he doesn’t go stylistically awol. And he encourages alert playing from the Philharmonia, recorded in the full acoustic of the Snape Maltings.
From the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Ton Koopman (Ultima 8573-85667-2) in Symphonies Nos 31, 34-6, 38 and 41, where the orchestral sound is far less smooth and blended, though in general Koopman avoids the tendency to drive the music too hard, which can sometimes disfigure his performances.
Three HAYDN reissues use modern chamber orchestras, and in Armin Jordan’s performance of The Creation with the Lausanne CO (Ultima 8573-85664-2) this robs the piece of weight – Haydn used 400 musicians for the premiere – though the choral singing is agile, and among the soloists the tenor Eric Tappy is outstanding.
Philippe Entremont is the soloist and directs the Vienna CO in what would be a useful collection of Piano Concertos (Ultima 8573-85192-2) if his piano sound weren’t so consistently hard, and he didn’t have the habit of directing orchestral tuttis at one speed, and then setting off faster in his solos.
Not much intimacy in Ultima’s VARÈSE collection under the direction of Kent Nagano (8573-85671-2) – the performances are less hard-edged than those of Boulez or Chailly but still pack a punch, especially in such detailed recordings.
Finally, Mstislav Rostropovich brings an authentic Russian feel to SHOSTAKOVICH’s Fifth and Tenth Symphonies (8573-85237-2), even though his orchestras are American and English respectively; and the word authentic hardly begins to describe Yvonne Loriod’s stunning performance of MESSIAEN’s Vingt regards (8573-85666-2), with her unique crystalline piano sound, and Olympian command of the music’s enormous span. Indispensable.