Friday, July 30, 2010

CPE Bach: Symphonies, Cello Concertos - OAE, Leonhardt

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Symphonies, Cello Concertos
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Gustav Leonhardt
Virgin 7243 5 61794 2 4

C. P. E. Bach's three cello concertos belong to the period between 1738 and 1768 when he served as court harpsichordist to Frederick the Great. Each work exists in alternative versions for solo flute and solo harpsichord with strings. Which version came first is uncertain. Frederick himself apparently disliked the cello, but since he seldom if ever appreciated Bach's worth as a composer, the point, perhaps, remains of minor significance.
However unlikely, circumstantially, that the cello versions came first, it is nevertheless that instrument which often seems to bring out the expressive qualities in the music most eloquently. This is, above all, the case in the slow movements where the cello captures that darkly shaded intensity of expression at which Bach excelled. The most striking of the three is the muted Largo mesto of the A major Concerto (Wq172), which plunges the listener into a shadowy world whose wide-ranging imaginative content presages early German romanticism. None of this is lost on Anner Bylsma who is quite the most ardently persuasive advocate for the Empfindsamer Stil that I could wish for. His playing of all three slow movements is suffused with an intensity and rapt contemplation which draw in the listener holding his concentration, as it were, spellbound. Fast outer movements, in contrast, dance along happily with lightly articulated solo passages, warm tone and eloquent projection. There are, admittedly, a few passages of shaky intonation, but taken in context with the performances as a whole they bothered my ears less than usual. Bylsma brings enormous warmth of spirit to the music, sometimes tender, sometimes quite fiercely passionate and always with sympathetic understanding of Bach's individual gestures. The cadenzas are Bylsma's own, and very convincing they are too.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment provide strong support for most of the time, though in the opening movement of the Concerto in A major the sound of the upper strings is occasionally thin and undernourished. Ensemble is not always impeccable and sometimes I felt that Bylsma and the orchestra were not always at one in what they were attempting to convey. Nevertheless, Gustav Leonhardt's direction—from the podium rather than the harpsichord on this occasion—is characteristically sympathetic, bringing many insights to an elusive style. The recorded sound is admirably clear and ideally resonant. A disc which should prove irresistible to all but those of Frederick the Great's persuasion.

N.A., Gramophone.net

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CPE Bach: Hamburg Sinfonias Nos 1-6 - Christian Benda

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Hamburg Sinfonias Nos 1-6
Capella Istropolitana, Christian Benda
Naxos 8.553285

By the 1760s the symphony had largely replaced the concerto as the most popular large-scale instrumental genre in Austria and the south of Germany. In Mannheim and Vienna, the two most progressive musical centres of the mid-eighteenth century, a group of exceptionally talented composers were collectively forging a new language which would dominate musical thinking for decades to come. The eventual emergence of Vienna as "the imperial seat of music as well as of power", to quote Burney, was due as much to the work of Hofmann, Vanhal, Dittersdorf and Ordonez as to the giants Haydn and Mozart. The north of Germany, by comparison, was a relative backwater in the evolution of the symphony. North German writers on music, reflecting a long tradition of serious-mindedness, regarded the new genre, and indeed the new 'classical' style in general, with contempt, considering it as frivolous and indulgent. The very greatness of their own musical tradition blinded many critics and composers to the importance of the revolution occurring elsewhere. Through a combination of natural conservatism, stubbornness and pride, the north of Germany slid into a lingering Baroque twilight. Nowhere was this more evident than at the court of Frederick the Great where Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) spent 28 years as court harpsichordist. In the early years of Frederick's reign, musical life at the Potsdam and Berlin courts was stimulating and progressive. Frederick, a fine amateur flautist and very proficient composer, involved himself in every detail. He chose artists, hired and fired instrumentalists and singers, commissioned works and expressed forceful judgements on their artistic merits. As he became older and more deeply involved in military matters, however, the court began to stagnate and the creative energy of its most brilliant star, Emanuel Bach, became increasingly frustrated. Although relations between the king and his harpsichordist were strained, Frederick was reluctant to let him go. Nonetheless, in 1768 Frederick consented to release Bach to take up the coveted post of music director in Hamburg which had recently fallen vacant following the death of his godfather Georg Philipp Telemann.

After Berlin and Potsdam, Hamburg carne as a breath of fresh air to Bach. There he was able to become part of the cultural and social life of the city as well as feel a greater sense of freedom to explore and develop his art. In his autobiography written in 1773, Bach confesses that he wrote in a conservative, even severe style, during the Potsdam years in order to satisfy the somewhat blinkered tastes of his patron. Hamburg enabled him to adopt a lighter style and it is surely significant that ten of his nineteen symphonies were written there. The ten symphonies, among Bach's most remarkable instrumental compositions, fall into two distinct sets. Six are written for string orchestra (Wq. 182) and the later set of four (Wq. 183) for a larger ensemble including two oboes, two horns and bassoon.

The symphonies of the earlier set, now generally known as the 'Hamburg' symphonies, were commissioned in 1773 by Haydn's and Mozart's future patron, Baron Gottfried van Swieten. During the years 1771-1777 van Swieten was ambassador to the court of Frederick the Great and resided in Berlin. While there, he became fascinated by the North German musical tradition, so very different to that of his native Austria, and may have travelled to Hamburg to see Emanuel Bach in the hope of acquiring manuscripts of his father's works. In his commission, sent to Bach from Berlin, van Swieten requested that the composer 'give himself free reign, without regard to the difficulties of execution' which were bound to arise. Before sending off the six symphonies to van Swieten it was decided that the works should be heard by a circle of Bach's friends and admirers. An account of this event was published in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in 1814:

In the house of Professor Büsch a large band of musicians was assembled by Eberling to make a thorough study of those symphonies before they were sent away. Reichardt led from his violin to the relief of the anxious composer. One could hear with enchantment the original, bold progression of ideas and the great variety and novelty in the forms and modulations, even ii they were not entirely appreciated. Seldom has a musical composition of higher, bolder and more witty character flowed from the soul of a genius. It would be a real loss for art if these masterpieces were to remain buried in a private collection.

Many of C.P.E. Bach's most characteristic touches can be found in these symphonies; energetic tuttis abound, sometimes in strong unison as is the casein the opening movement of Symphony No.3 in C. Sudden contrasts in mood, extreme modulations and abrupt closes, hallmarks of the so-called Empfindsamer Stil of which Bach is the supreme representative, occur frequently. In the finale of Symphony No.1 in G another characteristic gesture can be heard: the sudden intrusion of an intensely personal, emotionally anguished phrase into an otherwise warm and graceful melody. Wild and restless emotional upheaval are fundamental stylistic elements in Bach's music. His style is built around stark and sometimes bizarre contrasts, dramatic, emotional and intellectual; nowhere is it more apparent than in the sudden juxtaposition of extreme dynamic shifts also a feature of much of his keyboard music. In such an intensely personal and emotionally extravagant language it is understandable perhaps that Bach chose to omit the ubiquitous Minuet and Trio in keeping with his fellow composer Johann Adam Hiller's view that:

'Minuets in symphonies always seem to us like beauty patches on the face of a man; they give the music an effeminate appearance, and weaken the virile impression made by the uninterrupted sequence of three well-matched serious i movements, w herein lies one of the greatest beauties of execution'.

In the slow movement of Symphony No.3 Bach pays tribute to van Swieten, antiquarian and connoisseur, in a characteristically arresting manner: cellos and : basses begin the movement by declaiming the famous signature motif B [=B-flat] ACH [=B-natural] with strongly contrasting dynamics and unsettled harmonies.

Emanuel Bach possessed one of the most original musical minds of the century albeit, as David Wyn Jones observes, one that reflected local attitudes. In some respects his musical style represents a brilliant dead end but its influence on Haydn and later on Beethoven ensured that its spirit eventually triumphed.

Allan Badley, Naxos.com

Capella Istropolitana
The Capella Istropolitana was founded in 1983 by members of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, at first as a chamber orchestra and then as an orchestra large enough to tackle the standard classical repertoire. Based in Bratislava, its name drawn from the ancient name still preserved in the Academia Istropolitana, the orchestra works in the recording studio and undertakes frequent tours throughout Europe. Recordings by the orchestra on the Naxos label include The Best of Baroque Music, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, fifteen each of Mozart's and Haydn's symphonies as well as works by Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.

Christian Benda
The conductor and cellist Christian Benda was born in Brazil, descended from a family of Bohemian composers whose earlier members established a musical dynasty at the court of Frederick the Great. Discovered by Pierre Fournier, who launched him on a career as a soloist, and supported by Paul Tortelier, whom he often conducted, he made his first appearances on tours with ensembles from Eastern Europe, including the Prague Symphony and the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestras, playing the Brahms Double Concerto with Josef Suk and, as a conductor, appearing with a number of soloists of great distinction, including Lazar Berman, Michel Beroff, Bruno Giuranna, Boris Pergamenschikov, Pierre Amoyal and Barbara Hendricks. His many recordings, as cellist or conductor, include a disc devoted to the symphonies of his ancestor Jiri Antonin Benda and he has enjoyed the distinction of conducting a televised concert in Prague Castle in the presence of President Vaclav Havel.

Monday, July 26, 2010

CPE Bach: 8 Symphonies, 3 Quartets - AAM, Hogwood

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
8 Symphonies, 3 Quartets
The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood
L'Oiseau-Lyre 455 715-2

A double-disc set with Hogwood’s take on the Wq. 182 symphonies, along with two other symphonies written in Berlin and the three quartets Wq. 93-5/H. 537-9 and the Fantasy Wq. 59 no. 6/H. 284.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Geminiani: Concerti Grossi (After Corelli Op.5) - Manze, AAM

Francesco Geminiani
Concerti Grossi (After Corelli Op.5)
Andrew Manze, The Academy of Ancient Music
Harmonia Mundi 907261.62

Ah, the memories! Way back in my college days, I was very proud of my LP collection containing some 1,600 albums, including virtually all of the Philips "Living Baroque" series. One day I had occasion to welcome a couple of houseguests, self-styled "culture aficionados," and we naturally fell into a tediously predictable game of "who knows more about what." That's what sophomores do, after all, and some of us eventually grow out of it. Many others don't. Not that I felt at that time (or now for that matter) that I was anything terribly special in this department. I simply knew that I had 1,600 albums and that I could identify every damn piece on all of them. Anyway, at some point I asked my guests if they would like to hear something. They asked me if I liked Baroque music (this was when The Four Seasons and the Pachelbel Canon had just burst onto the scene via public radio pledge drives and the like). "Naturally," I replied, "What would you like to hear?" "How about some Geminiani?" came the suggestion, "He's simply DIVINE!"

Well, didn't that just beat all? I had Corelli, Albinoni, Veracini, Vivaldi, Frescobaldi, Locatelli, not to mention Addison, Scarlatti, Fasch, Tartini: by God, I probably could have found Tortellini and Spumoni if I had to, but the great Baroque Repertoire Expansion of the 1980s, largely brought on by the original instrument movement, was just getting started. There was no Geminiani anywhere in my collection, or in my Schwann catalog. I knew it, and they knew it, and they knew that I knew that they knew it. So I did the only thing I could under the circumstances. I bluffed. I took out my "Living Baroque" copy of stuff by Albinoni, put it on the stereo (which thankfully was in another room), and announced: "This is my very favorite Geminiani album!" "Oh yes," they agreed immediately. "We have this one too and we play it all the time." "I thought you might," I replied somewhat smugly. Gotcha!

And what is the moral of this story? Well, there isn't one really, unless we want to make the generic observation that all Baroque music sounds the same--until you actually listen to it, that is. Here's a particularly acute case, in which Geminiani turns out to be a sort of Corelli in drag. These marvelous Concerti Grossi take Corelli's Op. 5 violin sonatas as their starting point, and metamorphose them into something else entirely. Geminiani's music has more fire and guts, requires a higher level of musical virtuosity, and replaces some of Corelli's winsome melodic inspiration with an almost devilish sense of fun. Taken by themselves, this is Baroque entertainment of the highest order, but if you feel daring and actually spend some time comparing these works to Corelli's originals, the result adds an entirely new level of fascination to your listening experience.

Andrew Manze has no peer today in this repertoire, and his performances ideally combine his by now customary near insane technical agility (in the final "Follia" concerto especially) with a welcome freedom of phrasing and lyrical sweep. His acute sensitivity to the idea of the concerto as rhetorical speech, embodying the heroic opposition of the solo voices to those of the crowd, brings these highly contrasted, colorful works vividly to life. Both he and his players put some real danger into the minor key works, Concertos Nos. V and VIII especially, while the sunny melodiousness of the two F major concertos (Nos. IV and X) never dissipates the music's rhythmic energy. With a delightful bonus in the form of Geminiani's ornamented version of Corelli's sonata Op. 5, No. 9, as well as the former's own Cello Sonata in D minor, this collection practically defines the words "self-recommending." Throw in stupendous recorded sound and super deluxe packaging containing a history of the first performances (1770) of the original Academy of Ancient Music, and if you don't buy this you're either (a) not interested in Baroque music at all, or (b) dead. Being broke is no excuse.

David Hurwitz, Classics Today.com

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Heinichen: Dresden Concerti - Goebel, Musica Antiqua Köln

Johann David Heinichen
Dresden Concerti
Reinhard Goebel, Musica Antiqua Köln
Archiv 477 6330

Heinichen's Dresden Concertos created quite a stir when they were first released a couple of years ago, and for good reason. This is vital, colorful music scored for a large and varied ensemble. Like most composers of his day, Heinichen spent the majority of his compositional talent in the service of vocal music, for either the opera house or church. These pieces represent his only surviving set of concertos, and anyone who enjoys, for example, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos or the orchestral works of Zelenka will certainly want to hear these as well. These performances are simply the last word in style and virtuosity.

David Hurwitz, Amazon.com

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A. Marcello: Concerto for Oboe and Strings in D Minor

Alessandro Marcello
Concerto for Oboe and Strings in D Minor, Unpublished Concertos and Cantatas
Grazzi, Pozzer, Balconi, Venice Baroque Orch., Marcon
Arts 47505-2

A stunning recording courtesy of the period Venice Baroque Orchestra directed by Andrea Marcon of little known but highly evocative works by Alessandro Marcello. Unmissable.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Boyce: Symphonies - London Festival Orchestra, Pople

William Boyce
London Festival Orchestra, Ross Pople
Arte Nova Classics ANO 340320

"Ross Pople's performances confirm that he senses an ongoing revelation." -- Gramophone

William Boyce (1711-1779) was one of the earliest composers to popularize the symphony, and his seven short works continue to delight to the present day. In 1980 Ross Pople founded the London Festival Orchestra, whose numerous recordings for Hyperion and ASV have attracted positive reviews, and he has been seen often on the BBC. The repertoire of the London Festival Orchestra embraces the very widest range--from the eclectic and contemporary to the classical and baroque, from Boccherini and Bach, to Tippett and Tavener. The excellence of the LFO's playing is reflected in the outstanding reviews its recordings have universally received.

Friday, July 16, 2010

CPE Bach: Cello Concertos - Bournemouth Sinfonietta

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Cello Concertos
Tim Hugh, Bournemouth Sinfonietta, Richard Studt
Naxos 8.553298

Which of the three alternative versions of these concertos was the chicken and which were the eggs remains uncertain, though the annotator of this recording confidently declares that the harpsichord versions came first. Whatever the truth may be, the cello is clearly their natural spokesperson, the only one able to speak so eloquently on behalf of the slow movements. The concertos were probably not written to please the cellophobic Frederick the Great, Bach's employer, but, rather, Carlo Graziani, the cello teacher of the King's nephew (Frederick's successor), whose enthusiasm for the instrument was passed on to Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. Hugh's bow dances in the flanking movements and is matched by those of the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, alert to every nuance and disposed to throw their weight around only as much as is fitting. It is, however, the slow movements that are the heart of these works - and of the EmpJindsamer Sill. They are all tinged with sadness but none more than the Largo of the A major Concerto, where Hugh's abated vibrato, attenuated lines and resistance to the excessive squeezing of appoggiaturas express a sadness that is held within, not spilt in salt tears. This is a recording to set alongside that by Anner Bylsma and its bargain price may greatly twist the arm that reaches for the wallet.

JD, Gramophone.net

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Christoph Schaffrath:Trios & Sonatas - Epoca Barocca

Christoph Schaffrath
Trios & Sonatas
Epoca Barocca
CPO 777 116-2

Christoph Schaffrath was one of a group of composers who played an important role in the music life of Berlin, at and around the court of Frederick the Great. Soon after his death he practically sank into oblivion, where he has stayed until our time. The renewed interest in German music between the baroque era and classicism has led to a disc like that by Epoca Barocca.

Not much is known about Schaffrath before the 1730s. He was born in Hohenstein, but whether he came from a musical family or who his first teacher was is not known. In 1733 he applied for the position of organist at the Sophienkirche in Dresden, but he was rejected – Wilhelm Friedemann Bach received the post instead. The next year he entered the service of Frederick the Great, who at the time was still the Crown-Prince, who started his own chapel in Ruppin, which moved to Rheinsberg in 1736. With Frederick's accession to the throne in 1740 Schaffrath became harpsichordist in his chapel. But in 1741 he entered the service of Frederick's sister Anna Amalia. It seems this resulted in Schaffrath leaving the court, as he isn't mentioned in a list of musicians of the chapel from 1754.

Schaffrath composed no less than 63 concertos for his own instrument, the harpsichord. This disc concentrates on the chamber music, which shows he was a typical representative of the transition between baroque and classicism. Whereas Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, one of his colleagues in Berlin, embraced the style of the 'Empfindsamkeit', Schaffrath's music bears the stamp of the galant style. He doesn't make much use of counterpoint, not even in the trio sonatas. Themes are imitated, but they are mostly very short, and the two instruments often play in parallel thirds and sixths. At the end of the slow movement of the Trio in g minor there seems to be a hint at a cadence, but the players don't play one – perhaps they consider that inappropriate in this particular sonata. In the Sonata for oboe and bc in d minor, on the other hand, Alessandro Piqué takes the opportunity to play a cadenza in the slow movement, although rather short, which is certainly right. This slow movement opens the sonata, whose order of movements, slow – fast – fast, became fashionable in the middle of the 18th century. The same pattern is followed in the last work on this disc, the Trio in B flat, which contains a bassoon part which is very virtuosic. As Schaffrath has written demanding bassoon parts remarkably often one may conclude that at his time some players with great skills must have been around.

Especially interesting are the two duets for keyboard and melody instruments. This was a form which was developed from the trio sonata by Johann Sebastian Bach. His son Carl Philipp Emanuel also made frequently use of it. Ironically the two melody instruments here are the cello and the viola da gamba, which were competing for the favour of the string players. At Schaffrath's time the viola da gamba still had the upper hand, and it is very likely this particular piece was written for Ludwig Christian Hesse, the most famous gambist of Germany, for whom Johann Gottlieb Graun – also one of Schaffrath's colleagues in Berlin – composed a number of solo concertos. The two pieces are quite different, and this may well reflect the difference in status between the two instruments and perhaps also the original players. The viola da gamba is more independent from the keyboard than the cello, and it often introduces the thematic material whereas in the sonata for cello and harpsichord it is mostly the keyboard which takes the lead. The viola da gamba part is also considerably more technically demanding than the cello part.

The programme on this disc demonstrates that Schaffrath has been unjustly neglected, and it is again CPO which pays attention to such an ignored master. It makes this German label to one of the most adventurous and most important labels on the early music scene. And it is always able to attract ensembles and musicians who know how to put an underrated composer on the map. Epoca Barocca is one of them. The ensemble as a whole and all its members individually give splendid performances, technically assured, and with great flair and imagination. Cleverly they have saved the most interesting and most remarkable pieces for the end: the Sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord and the Trio in B flat. These alone make this disc recommendable.

Johan van Veen, Musicweb-international.com

Monday, July 12, 2010

Christoph Schaffrath: Six Sonatas - Epoca Barocca

Christoph Schaffrath
Six Sonatas
Epoca Barocca
CPO 777 440-2

Christoph Schaffrath was one of a group of composers who played an important role in the musical life of Berlin, at and around the court of Frederick the Great. Not much is known about Schaffrath before the 1730s. He was born in Hohenstein, but whether he came from a musical family or who his first teacher was is not known. In 1733 he applied for the position of organist at the Sophienkirche in Dresden, but was rejected – Wilhelm Friedemann Bach secured the post instead. The next year he entered the service of Frederick the Great, who was still Crown-Prince at that time. Frederick started his own chapel in Ruppin, which moved to Rheinsberg in 1736. With his accession to the throne in 1740 Schaffrath became harpsichordist in his chapel. But in 1741 he entered the service of Frederick's sister Anna Amalia. It seems this resulted in Schaffrath leaving the court, as his name does not appear in a list of musicians of the chapel from 1754.

Anna Amalia's taste in music was rather conservative. She preferred the traditional German contrapuntal style over the modern fashion of her days which gave prominence to melody. Whether Schaffrath adapted his style of composing to her taste or the music on this disc is an expression of his own preferences is difficult to say. In Epoca Barocca's previous recording of music by Schaffrath (CPO 777 116-2) we hear music which is partly written in a more galant idiom. That is also the case with the six sonatas for keyboard opus 2 (recorded by Borbála Dobozy - Hungaroton HCD 32566). But on the other hand Ernst Ludwig Gerber, a writer of a lexicon on music, wrote that Schaffrath was "one of our most worthy contrapuntalists".

Anyway, the sonatas which Epoca Barocca has recorded reflect the preferences of his employer. They stick to the baroque form of the trio sonata, although they are all written for two instruments. Of the six duets four are for obbligato harpsichord and a melody instrument. This kind of composition was first written by Johann Sebastian Bach, for keyboard with violin, transverse flute or viola da gamba. His son Carl Philipp Emanuel also composed pieces of this kind.

The harpsichord usually takes the lead and starts most movements, with the violin, oboe or bassoon entering after a while, beginning by imitating the opening theme of the keyboard. Although these duets have conservative traits there are certainly modern elements. All are written in three movements, with the order slow-fast-fast, and they contain imitative passages as well as episodes in which the melody instrument plays in parallel motion with the upper voice of the harpsichord. Also reflecting the fashion of the time is the repetition of notes in the harpsichord, particularly in the second movement (allegro assai) of the Duetto in g minor.

It is very likely that the keyboard parts of these duets were to be played by Christoph Schaffrath himself and therefore reflect his own brilliance as a keyboard player. In the liner-notes it is suggested that the second keyboard in the Duetto in C could have been written for Anna Amalia, who was a very good keyboard player herself. In this duet episodes for one of the keyboards alternate with passages in which the harpsichords join each other. But the duet never gets an 'orchestral' character, because when the harpsichords play together their bass parts are identical. This assures a great amount of transparency.

A special kind of duet is the Duetto in d minor for two viole da gamba. There is no doubt that it was written for Ludwig Christian Hesse (1716 - 1772), who was the most skilled gambist in Germany at a time when in most parts of Europe the viola da gamba was on its way out of the music scene. This particular duet suggests that Hesse was sometimes actively involved in the composition of music for his instrument. The two parts have different staves, one of them written by Hesse - it includes detailed articulations - and the other by Schaffrath. It is a very nice piece with two parts of a quite different character.

Epoca Barocca has a special preference for lesser-known repertoire. They have recorded chamber music by composers like Johann Friedrich Fasch, Johann Adolf Hasse, Johann David Heinichen and Giovanni Benedetti Platti. I have heard them all, and in my reviews I have always recommended them. This disc is no exception. Epoca Barocca delivers vivid and imaginative performances, and Christoph Lehmann is particularly impressive in his brilliant performance of the demanding keyboard parts. Christoph Anselm Noll is his congenial partner on the second harpsichord in the Duetto in C. Hartwig Groth and Jan Freiheit deliver an engaging interpretation of the duet for two viole da gamba.

This is a highly enjoyable disc with first-rate music in fine performances.

Johan van Veen, Musicweb-international.com

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Nielsen: Saul & David - Danish NRSO & Choir, Neeme Järvi

Carl Nielsen
Saul & David
Haugland, Lindroos, Kiberg, Westi, Gjevang, Christensen, Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra & Choir, Järvi
Chandos CHAN 8911.12

A little treat for Scoredaddy and his friend. Enjoy!
(The rest of you are welcome to download it too ;-)

It's amazing that this superb biblical opera isn't better known. Nielsen's symphonies are firmly in the international repertoire, and given their high level of drama and energy, you would think that his two operas would receive at least the occasional performance outside of Denmark. Well, that's why the compact disc was invented. Most will know the story--King Saul is jealous of the young David to the point of madness, and persecutes him until their final reconciliation on his death bed. The lack of a conventional female love interest may be what keeps this piece from becoming more popular. Handel solved this problem in his oratorio Saul by giving the David role to a woman (or countertenor, which is much the same thing), but Nielsen wasn't into anything that kinky. So we have no choice but to enjoy the recording and wait for a live production.

David Hurwitz, Amazon.com

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Händel: Concerti Grossi, Op. 6 - AAM, Andrew Manze

George Friedrich Händel
Concerti Grossi, Op. 6
The Academy of Ancient Music, Andrew Manze
Harmonia Mundi 907228.29

The Times (London) - Classical CDs of the Year 1998A masterpiece of elegance and inventionConsidered among the finest examples of Baroque orchestral music, Handel’s Concerti Grossi, Op.6, completed in 1739 over a mere four weeks, surpass the work of other outstanding composers of the form, such as Vivaldi, Scarlatti, and Corelli. Conceived as a grand cycle rather than as individual compositions, these 12 pieces demonstrate Handel’s facility blending a variety of styles and devices with seemingly endless melodic beauty. Andrew Manze leads The Academy of Ancient Music in a vivid and vibrant performance.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Händel: 6 Concerti Grossi Op.3, 12 Concerti Grossi Op.6

George Friedrich Händel
6 Concerti Grossi Op.3, 12 Concerti Grossi Op.6
Handel and Haydn Society, Christopher Hogwood
Avie AV 2065

A welcome return for these polished and stylish Handel readings. The London music publisher John Walsh threw Handel's Op 3 together in 1734 by organising various single orchestral movements into concertos without the composer's creative involvement or permission; the result was a hotchpotch. But Op 6 features 12 new concertos that Handel had deliberately composed as a coherent set during September and October 1739. While Op 6 is undeniably Handel's monumental masterpiece for the orchestra, there are a lot of excellent recordings that do much to promote the variety and charm of Op 3.

For this recording Christopher Hogwood uses a performance edition that takes into account manuscript sources that pre-date Walsh's compilation. It is good to have the Handel & Haydn Society's disciplined and lean performances available again thanks to this newly compiled and remastered reissue. The opening of
Op 3 No 2 has deliciously sprung rhythms and fine solo concertino playing; the sublime cello duet in the following Largo is sinewy yet tender, its melancholic mood enhanced by the restrained oboe solo. Handel later added oboes and bassoons to some of the Op 6 concertos when they were performed in the theatre but Hogwood prefers Handel's original scoring for string orchestra throughout.

The Handel & Haydn Society's alert enthusiasm is tangible throughout these polished and stylish readings, originally recorded by Decca's much lamented early-music division L'OiseauLyre. The sound is less dry than Andrew Manze's energised and supple performances, yet textures are more transparent than the expressive richness of Trevor Pinnock's excellent recordings. Hogwood combines the best of both worlds and directs with natural sensitivity; his tastefully emphasised suspensions and relaxed shaping of cadences are consistently perfect. I hesitate to proclaim this the finest Op 6 on disc but there is ample here to satisfy the fussiest Handelians.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Corelli: 12 Concerti Grossi, Op.6 - English Concert, Pinnock

Arcangelo Corelli
12 Concerti Grossi, Op.6
The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 474 907-2

Pinnock's set stands the test of time in this high-spirited, collaborative music. The re-release of The English Concert's awardwinning recording of Corelli's Op 6 concertos offers a welcome opportunity to reflect on some of the changes in taste that have emerged since 1989. Two competing recordings, by groups led by Italians — that of Ensemble 415 and Europa Galante — oblige with two quite different approaches to this most quintessential of Baroque music. Ensemble 415, under Banchini and Christensen, takes a historically informed approach to the instrumentation and tempi, leaning heavily on the observations of Muffat and the employment records of Corelli's patrons for evidence. This interpretation is representative, then, of the period in which the concertos were first performed — probably the 1680s — whereas Pinnock's is an 18th-century one, reflective of the time in which they first appeared in print. Where Pinnock relies on a lean and lithe ensemble to convey crystal-clear textures, the violins of Ensemble 415 luxuriate on the cushioned sound created by six cellos, five contrebasses, four archlutes and a chitarrone, in addition to the ubiquitous harpsichord and organ. They also use them as soloists (for example in Concerto Nos 4 and 12) and for special effects, as in the Pastorale ad libitum of the Christmas Concerto to mimic the sounds of bagpipes and hurdygurdies, to great, if eccentric, effect.

While Banchini and her second violin, Enrico Gatti, offer exquisitely ornamented repeats, they also at times take disconcerting liberties with the tempi within movements (for example, at the cadences in the first allegro of the Christmas Concerto). Their allegro and vivace tempi are generally slower than Pinnock's, and often agreeably so. Despite Georg Muffat's report of Corelli's preference for strongly contrasting tempi, I am inclined to believe that Pinnock often takes the fast movements too quickly. What is missing in 415's performances is Pinnock's architectural vision of these works and The English Concert's irrepressible sense of joy.

The leader of Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi, takes a distinctly personal approach to what is in essence collaborative music. His own musical voice is omnipresent. He is the impetus for the outré attitude — the eccentric articulation and dynamics and the heavily elaborated ornamentation — that characterises this recording. One could almost be forgiven for thinking these were solo concertos (which begs the question, who was Corelli's concertino second violinist?); to learn the identity of Biondi's 'second' it is necessary to log onto Naive's website; no booklet accompanies this reissue.

By contrast, the relationship between the concertino and ripieno ensembles Corelli intended is celebrated by the musicians of The English Concert. The collaboration of Simon Standage, the late Micaela Comberti and Jaap ter Linden with their colleagues remains unparalleled in terms of its consistency and precision. While the engineers in these recordings may have influenced these impressions, their hand in the 415 recording is apparently restrained by the decision not to employ special milcing; indeed, while the aural impression may be more lifelike, it is also less defined and, therefore, less brilliant.

Fifteen years after it was recorded, the glossy, corporate sheen of Pinnock's interpretation remains undimmed, securing its place as one of the lasting icons of the British early-music revival, if not the wider movement.

Julie Anne Sadie, Gramophone.net