The Digital Music Revolution: What
Download Sites Have to Offer -- Part 14
Starting back in 2008, I
compiled an extensive
series of articles on sites that offered digital music downloads. At first these sites
seemed to pop up like mushrooms under the full moon; there was a new one every time you
turned around. But after a while things slowed down, and I began to wonder whether
wed see any new ones. Enter Passionato,
a very interesting site for lovers of classical music. The site has been operating in the
UK and abroad for about a year, but it just opened up to US customers this past month.
Passionato operates much like most of the other download
sites on the Internet. You can join at no cost and browse the site without signing in, but
youll need to select a user name and password if you want to make a purchase.
Browsing is relatively simple, and you can search by performer, composer, genre, label,
and more. Passionato is much more detailed than other sites, as they also list sub labels
and series. Under EMI, for instance, youll find Classics for Pleasure, Seraphim,
Great Recordings of the Century, and about 50 others. If you just want to search the
entire EMI catalog, you can click "hide sub labels" and theyll all be
included in a mammoth whole-catalog search.
To learn more about a title, you can click on the cover for
a complete description that includes the recording and release date, and often the
recording location and producer. Theres a tab for reviews from both customers and
critics, and you can preview each track, though previews are at only 128k MP3. As with
most sites, you get the best deal when you buy the whole recording, but you can also
purchase individual tracks in either MP3 or FLAC. I liked that the system doesnt
change screen when you add albums or tracks to your shopping cart, so you can easily
continue shopping. Prices vary considerably, averaging about $11.99 for a premium title,
and in all cases I found that the FLAC download cost more than the MP3. Passionato accepts
major credit cards and PayPal, and the site frequently has sales on particular labels, so
its worthwhile to register and join their email list.
Currently, MP3 and FLAC are the only format choices
Passionato offers. The MP3 downloads are at 320k, the highest MP3 rate, which makes them
near CD quality, but the FLAC downloads are CD quality and in some cases more. I
was particularly impressed with the EMI downloads. They arent 24/96 or even 24/48,
but they sounded much cleaner than my comparable CDs. I have no idea why, but Id
guess that EMI has provided exceptional masters and eliminated yet another stage in the
I downloaded Sir Simon Rattles Bournemouth Symphony
recording of Mahlers gigantic Eighth Symphony, and I was impressed with the feeling
of air around the massive forces required to perform the work. I also found several EMI
recordings that are no longer available on CD. The Bernard Haitink recording of
Bartoks Bluebeards Castle, for instance, is $30 or more on Amazon.com,
which makes the Passionato download a real bargain. The old Sir Malcolm Sargent recordings
of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas sounded better than Ive ever heard them on
disc. These performances arguably boast the best singers to have ever sung the roles, so
its wonderful to hear them sounding so full bodied yet detailed. All of the EMI
operas I downloaded had remarkable imaging for the voices and outstanding balance between
the voices and the orchestra.
Downloads from other labels sounded as good as the CDs and
occasionally a little better. I was very impressed with the download of
Rachmaninoffs The Bells, on the Chandos label with Neeme Jarvi conducting.
The first few minutes of the opening movement, with its tinkling bells and cymbal strokes,
had incredible clarity. Going from small sounds to large, the bass drum thwacks in the Dies
Irae of Deccas high-voltage recording of Verdis Requiem, with Sir Georg
Solti conducting, were as impressive as anywhere else, and Ive heard that recording
on both vinyl and CD.
In addition to the labels already mentioned, Passionato has
Naxos, DG, Philips, BIS, and many more. Theres a host of smaller labels, and about
the only ones missing are Sony and BMG. Youll also find soundtracks, via the Chandos
Passionato has its own download manger, which you can
easily install, and the downloads were fairly quick. To test the manager, I downloaded a
dozen titles in the same order, and the manager didnt flinch. All 12 took a little
less than half an hour.
I faced a few problems, however. A few files were corrupt
and wouldnt download at all. And the opening movement of the Sir Thomas Beecham
recording of Haydns The Seasons had some sound issues. If you encounter any
similar problems, Passionato will find a solution for you.
Id enthusiastically encourage everyone who downloads
music to give this site a try -- especially its superb EMI titles.
. . . Rad Bennett