Tune Surfing - July 2011
The country that brought us Anne Sofie von Otter, Wilhelm Stenhammar, Franz Berwald, Nicolai Gedda, Birgit Nilsson and Elisabeth Söderström – not to mention Abba, Ikea and Kurt Wallander – now unveils a revamped download site. The Swedish eclassical.com, affiliated to that wonderful Swedish label BIS, has undergone a facelift and a revamp of its offering.
The first major new initiative that the new site makes is that sound-files are now available in three different formats: MP3 (at 320Kbps), 16-bit FLAC and 24-bit FLAC (studio master quality). It’s always worth pointing out that the FLAC files are substantially bigger than the MP3s, and in the case of the 24-bit FLAC hugely so (if you want to burn them onto disc, a DVD has the capacity, a CD doesn’t). The newer the recording the better the chance of it being offered in these three different file formats.
At the moment the labels offered by eclassical are focussed on the independent sector but we’re promised music by the majors in the not too distant future – so currently the emphasis is on labels like Accent, Atma, BIS, Chandos, Danacord, Glossa, Hänssler Classic, Ondine, Opera Rara, Pentatone, Profil, Signum and Tudor (and about 70 others!). And there are enough labels in that list with an impressive philosophy of focusing on great sound, so acquiring the 24-bit FLAC files would be well worth it.
The design of the site is clean and easy to navigate. Search can be done by 24-bit releases, composers, performers, conductors, orchestras, instruments, moods and events, periods, genres and labels (moods and events is quite an eye-opener, and maybe reveals more about the Swedish psyche than anything about the site: “In prison”, “After a divorce”, “Having a hangover” and “Making babies”).
With that eminently sensible approach that underlines so much of what BIS does, eclassical will let you listen to complete albums rather than just a 30 second or one minute clip – the only hitch is that it stops after 30 seconds, then you just click start and it will continue. It’s a clever trick to stop piracy but it does, if you don’t might stopping and starting, allow you to sample quite substantial excerpts. The sound of this streamed music is rather impressive too.
The pricing again is underlined by a bracing realism rather than the rather arbitrary fixed prices of certain larger sites. The default currency is $US and price is based on the length of tracks/albums in seconds, so you pay 0.2 cents per second which computes to about $8.40 for a 70-minute album (in the case of 24-bit FLAC the figure is $12.60 for the same album – at the current rate of exchange that’s £5.09/£7.64 – which is very good value compared with other sites). To take a specific example, the recent BIS recording of Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth Piano Concertos from Yevgeny Sudbin, the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä works out at $8.36 for the MP3 and 16-bit FLAC and $12.54 for the 24-bit version. If you only want, say, the Emperor, the individual movements would cost $2.45/3.67, $0.91/1.36 and $1.16/1.74. And you can download a PDF of the booklet. Payment can be made either direct using a credit-card or via PayPal.
The Assistance page is very good and there is a lot of sensible and accessible information about FLAC formats, how to listen, storage, copyright and so on. If something terrible happens to your computer or hard-drive, eclassical suggests you contact them and they will organise a replacement download – it’s a touch that would be good to see spelled out on more sites. I decided to try out the revamped site with one of music’s more colourful creations and opted for the recent Sao Paõlo SO disc of Respighi tone-poems.
I downloaded two tracks: the “Trevi Fountain” from the Fountains of Rome as an MP3 file (22 seconds to download an 8.7 MB file costing 68 cents) and, in 24-bit FLAC, the “Via appia” from the Pines of Rome (just over two minutes to download a 40.9 MB file at 80 cents). I must say the “Via appia” sounded spectacular – I used VLC media player and streamed it to my hi-fi using the Airfoil software via my Airport Express. A couple of minutes in and I quite expected to see the neighbours moving out… That said, the “Trevi Fountain” was more than adequate for everyday listening. Eclassical is a very nice site and as soon as the majors are in place I can see myself revisting it often.
The BBC Proms start on July 15, but courtesy of the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Digital Concert Hall (digitalconcerthall.com), you can relive the orchestra’s 2010 appearance at the Royal Albert Hall in the company of Karita Mattila. Conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, the programme features music by Wagner, Richard Strauss (Four Last Songs), Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. The concert has now entered the archive area of the DCH and can be watched as part of the usual payment packages.
I see that June 4 marks the 60th anniversary of the death of the Russian-born Serge Koussevitzky, one-time music director of the great Boston Symphony Orchestra and one of the truly legendary patrons of music of the 20th century. The works he commissioned both under the auspices of the Koussevitzky Foundation and for the Boston SO’s 50th anniversary season read like an Essential Listening list. So, this month’s Download List features ten major Koussevitzky commissions – and I’ve added Spotify references (territory permitting) which I also stream using the Airfoil software from Rogue Amoeba ($25).
The Essential Download Playlist No 43 - Koussevitzsky
Bartók Concerto for Orchestra Budapest Fest Orch / Fischer (Philips) A, Am, iT, S
Britten Peter Grimes ROH / Britten (Decca) A, Am, iT, DG, S
Copland Symphony No 3 NYPO / Bernstein (DG) A, Am, iT, DG, S
Hindemith Konzertmusik BBC PO / Tortelier (Chandos) A, Am, iT, CS
Honegger Pacific 231 BRSO / Dutoit (Warner Apex) A, Am, iT
Messiaen Turangalîla-symphonie LSO / Previn (EMI) A, Am, iT, S
Prokofiev Violin Concerto No 1 Chang; BPO / Rattle (EMI) A, Am, iT, S
Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition Toulouse Capitole / Sokhiev (Naïve) A, Am, iT, S
Stravinsky Symphonies of Winds LSO / Nagano (Virgin Classics) A, Am, iT, S
Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms BPO / Rattle (Philips) A, Am, iT, S