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Select Music & Opus Arte - October 2008

Select Music (in Redhill, Surrey) has long been one of the most important CD distributors worldwide, with the budget label Naxos effectively its flagship. One still occasionally meets people who disparage their arrangements, especially concerning finances for the performers; however there can be few reviewers and purchasers who do not value and treasure its enterprise, with rare and unusual additions to the catalogue which otherwise would remain unavailable; repertoire which is of core interest to a "niche" website like Musical Pointers.

Now Select's DVD limb has become even more essential through the purchase of Opus Arte by the Royal Opera House. New filmed live opera and ballet performances are becoming available almost indecently quickly, whilst the experience in theatre and opera house is still fresh. Some are of highest up to date quality, e.g. Birtwistle's The Minotaur, and the Amsterdam production of Rameau's Castor & Pollux; others from earlier times in 4:3 format but in good sound and generally satsifactory visual quality. The latter do tend to be sparing of background information, but words are supplied in subtitles.

This month's selection received for review have included two Gala Concerts from Covent Garden, not events we would have wanted to attend live (or been able to afford to), nor listen through on the radio or CD. Both were licensed by the BBC, and originally broadcast on TV, 1993 & 1996. Both have given us great pleasure, seen at home a part at a sitting, not straight through.

The earlier, of Opera and Ballet Favourites, is mainly given over to Tchaikovsky, starring Placido Domingo as soloist and conductor (with Edward Downes and others sharing the conducting) and a notable roster of internationa leading opera singers and ballet favourites. The presentation is efficient, moving swiftly through the programme without excessive applause between items. There is no complicated scenery and the singers are not costumed as for the operas. Likewise the ROH Great Opera Arias, with well known and less familiar arias and duets by a wide range of composers. Both are recommendable without serious reservations and should give pleasure to collectors now who are interested to see many of the stars of the '90s; they will become valuable historical documents in the not distant future.

Also from operatic history we have begun dipping into a comprehensive Bellini collection of his complete operas, a bargain box of 25 discs with Callas, Cabelle and many of the greats of yore [Dynamic 5521/25] - full review to follow.

Amongst others enjoyed from the month's cornucopia from Select have been an impressive Tchaikovsky Manfred from Liverpool, with the stormy Voyevoda, not heard for many decades [Naxos 8.570568]; a fine modern recording of three Tippett string quartets [Naxos 8.570496] including the most popular No 2 and the least often heard, No 4, and the disc to which we have returned most, and played several times, is of two of Fartein Valen's symphonies c. 1933, with derivations from Bach and Schoenberg, plus three of his shorter works [BIS 1632] - Norwegian composers since Grieg are scandalously unknown in UK - q.v. Lasse Thoresen...

It is definitely well worth checking out Select's releases month by month; http://www.selectmusic.co.uk .

Peter Grahame Woolf