Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Couperin: Intégrale des Livres de pièces de clavecin - Baumont

Francois Couperin
Intégrale des Livres de pièces de clavecin 1-4 Ordres 1-27
Olivier Baumont
Warner Classics 2564 64176-2


Olivier Baumont's 1991/1994 recording of Couperin's complete harpsichord works are in many way's exemplary.He pretty much lets the music speak for itself and together with Michael Borgstede's complete recording on Brilliant Classics represent the best available versions of this towering music. (I prefer both over Rousset's recording)
Baumont's account of livre 1 is the best i have ever heard.

r.b., Amazon customer

Monday, November 29, 2010

Boyce: The 8 Symphonies - Württemberg Chamber Orchestra

William Boyce
The 8 Symphonies
Württemberg Chamber Orchestra, Jörg Faerber
Carlton Classics 30371 00052

It's a shameful thing that these fresh, inspirating, virile pieces, arguably the finest musical products of Georgian England, should so long have been out of the catalogue as a complete set. And now they have come, it's from an orchestra at Heilbronn in Wurtemberg: at least someone in Germany realizes that we haven't always been a "Land ohne Musik". The performances are worthy, substantially better in most ways than the Brunswick set from America by the Zimbler Sinfonietta which for so long were the only versions available. For a start, they use the reliable edition by Max Goberman (Doblinger/Universal; miniature scores can be bought, at 5s. 6d. or 6s. 6d. each). Although all eight are fitted on to a single disc—Nos. 1-4 and 6 on Side 1, Nos. 5, 7 and 8 on Side 2—most of the repeats are done. And tempi are pretty well chosen : those three central Vivace movements in Nos. 2, 3, and 4) are taken steadily but with a gentle vivacity, as they should be—Vivace was only a moderate tempo marking in eighteenth-century England. Some of the allegros I feel are just a shade on the speedy side—the opening movements of Nos. 1 and 3, for example: Boyce's textures are by no means simple, and need a little time to be properly articulated. Here, anyway, they often emerge a trifle spongy, which is largely a matter of attack: something of the sheer melodic high spirits, the very English open-air freshness, is missing. But I don't want to make too much of these minor criticisms. Most of the music is finely done— the dances with a proper swing, the French overtures with rhythms that sound sharp but not unnaturally prickly. Boyce's original orchestration is of course followed, with its delicate use of flutes and bassoons, and in No. 5 the trumpets are properly stirring. The opening Pomposo of No. 8—a broad, serious piece, yet like all Boyce essentially genial in the final resort, as these players realize—is outstandingly fine. This disc is marvellous value (eight symphonies at 2s. 21-d. each—devaluation indeed!) and I warmly recommend it.

S.S., Gramophone Magazine

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Torelli, Mossi, Valentini, Locatelli, Leo: Concerti - MAK, Goebel

Torelli, Mossi, Valentini, Locatelli, Leo
Musica Antiqua Köln, Reinhard Goebel
Archiv 435 393-2

Even the most assiduous collectors and discerning connoisseurs of baroque concertos are likely to find some novelties in this unusual programme from Cologne Musica Antiqua. Three of the concertos belong to the Roman school (Mossi, Valentini and Locatelli), though the latter shows marked Venetian leanings, both in his adoption of a three-movement structure and in details of style, while the remaining two are products of Bologna (Torelli) and Naples (Leo). In his interesting introductory note the ensemble's director, Reinhard Goebel, provides a lively and characteristically idiosyncratic commentary on the pieces and their background, but arrives at the conclusion that ''in the last analysis the composers fall foul of their chosen instrumental forces: four violins of equal status proved to be a medium for which interesting curiosities can be written, but not great music sustained at any length''. In the case of the five concertos played here I am inclined to agree with him. However, the generalization should not be allowed to pass without censure since Vivaldi succeeded very well in writing for four violins as the Tenth Concerto of L'estro armonico unequivocally demonstrates. Goebel does rather grudgingly, perhaps, admit this later in his essay.

Whatever the doubts may be concerning the intrinsic merit of these works, they nevertheless provide a fascinating glimpse of what composers other than Corelli on the one hand or Vivaldi on the other were up to. The Concerto in E minor by Torelli is not as innovative as the six works with solo violin from his Op. 8, but it has a wellconstructed fugal second movement and a finale containing melodic material which perhaps hints at folk derivation. In the Mossi (c. 1700) and Valentini concertos, perhaps the most interesting pieces here, there is an effective freedom of part-writing within fairly restricted technical boundaries, though I should add that there are, too, brief virtuosic passages for cello in the finale of the Mossi.

Goebel who, alas, was unable to play the violin himself in this recording following an injury to his arm, directs effectively, pointing up the rich and contrasting textures present in much of this repertory. The opening Largo and ensuing fugue of the Valentini are striking examples of this. Locatelli and Leo are better known and their music brings an altogether later rococo airiness to the programme. Perhaps Goebel would now consider letting loose his excellent cellist, Phoebe Carrai, on one or more of Leo's cello concertos. In short, a fascinating programme, played with zeal and precision. Recommended.'

Nicholas Anderson, Gramophone Magazine

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bach: Chamber Music - Musica Antique Köln, Reinhard Goebel

Johann Sebastian Bach
Chamber Music
Musica Antique Köln, Reinhard Goebel
Archiv 447 713-2

Having all of these works collected together is a real treasure. It is one of the most beautiful collections I've heard. 5 cd's of all of Bach's chamber music, exquisitely performed by the outstanding soloists of Musica Antiqua Koln. Reinhard Goebel's performance of the violin works is simply perfect. As I've said before, Bach's sonatas for violin and harpsichord have been in the shadows for too long, they deserve to be heard and this performance proves it. They are a delightful partnership between violin and harpsichord. The tempos are fairly brisk but the performance is so clearly articulated that the result is energetic and very rewarding.

The viola da gamba and flute performances are equally excellent. These are "authentic instruments" performances so the sound is a little thinner, a little crispier than traditional instrumentation. In this particular recording the result is lovely; the flute is particularly fragile. I have never heard these works played with such energy, precision and affection.

Even if you own other recordings of these works, I highly recommend adding this set to your collection.

It is a tragedy that this recording is so hard to find in the U.S.! It is available from the european sources listed in purchase sources below.

Jan Hanford, jsbach.org

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Telemann: Tafelmusik - Musica Antiqua Köln, Reinhard Goebel

Georg Philipp Telemann
Musica Antiqua Köln, Reinhard Goebel
Archiv 427 619-2

In the August 1988 issue I found myself wondering what had prompted a flurry of activity amongst performers in turning their attention to
Telemann's impressive three-part anthology, Musique de table. This was following two radio recordings of excerpts, and two commercially recorded CDs (reviewed that month) from Tom Koopman (Erato/RCA) and Paul Dombrecht (Accent/Harmonia Mundi). Koopman dipped into Productions II and III of Telemann's opus, in a haphazard fashion, while Dombrecht performed Production III in its entirety and rather well at that. Now, 25 years after Archiv and Telefunken (as they were known then) apparently unaware of each other's plans, made their first complete recordings of the Musique de table almost simultaneously, they have managed to perform the same trick again!
Readers will not welcome my inability to recommend one version over another but, as you will see, it becomes quite impossible to do so. Both Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Reinhard Goebel are ardent champions of Telemann's music and I loudly applaud them for that. They have, furthermore, provided us with many recordings of distinction, bringing to life in their often contrasting approaches the subtleties of Telemann's fascinating eclecticism.

Goebel and his Cologne Musica Antigua generally have the edge over Harnoncourt and the Vienna Concentus Musicus where purely technical considerations are concerned. The precision of ensemble, the crisp articulation and the clarity of texture which Goebel achieves, not perhaps without considerable effort, are admirable features of the Archiv Produktion set and, for sheer efficiency and dependability in such matters, these artists have few rivals. The Viennese musicians, on the other hand, often sound more spontaneous in their music-making and, at their best, which is frequently in evidence, their performances are charged with excitement or imbued with delicatesse, as the case requires. But here a sad note, for Harnoncourt's first oboist, Jars Schaeftlein died before the project could be completed. David Reichenberg replaced him in Production III but he, too, died before the final sessions and was in turn replaced by Hans-Peter Westermann. Harnoncourt has dedicated the entire issue to the memory of these two fine oboists, both of whom were very ill when the sessions took place.

Telemann published his Musique de table in Hamburg in 1733. Each of its three parts or "Productions", as he called them, is laid out identically, embracing the principal orchestral and instrumental forms of the late-baroque: French overture and dance suite, quartet, concerto, trio, solo sonata and a little orchestral coda, so to speak, which Telemann simply and practically called "Conclusion". Much of his finest music is contained in this fulsome anthology and it may be found above all, perhaps, in the quartets and concertos. Harnoncourt and Goebel use similar forces for the orchestral works, although Harnoncourt always prefers eight violins to Goebel's six. The continuo section in both consists of a violone and harpsichord, though Harnoncourt occasionally substitutes an organ for the latter. Goebel scrupulously observes all repeats; Harnoncourt does so in all but one or two instances.

In the First Production Harnoncourt has the edge over Goebel. He is livelier in the OvertureSuite (E minor) and is supple where Goebel is a little unyielding and rather too self-conscious in manner. The Viennese group give a masterly and hauntingly beautiful account of the G major Quartet, one of Telemann's most beguiling pieces in quartet form. The gently sighing gestures of the opening movement are irresistible and the performance is a high spot in the issue. Goebel seems to me entirely to misjudge the character of the piece, making little allowance for eloquent, wistful expression, and knocks a full minute off Harnoncourt's first movement. A considerable disappointment, this. Much the same applies to the Trio, where Harnoncourt shows far greater sensibility towards the music than the Cologne group. Both teams give a convincing account of the Concerto in A major for flute, violin and concertante cello, though neither is airy enough for me in the galant opening Largo; Goebel over-emphasizes strong beats and Harnoncourt is too weighty. The Sonata and Conclusion are effective in both versions.

If Harnoncourt has the upper hand in the First Production then Goebel certainly has it in the Second. Both groups use Friedemann Immer as the solo trumpeter but there is no doubt that he turns in a more secure performance for Goebel than he does for Harnoncourt. The sparkling Overture-Suite (D major) comes over well in both versions. Harnoncourt achieves a thrilling sense of occasion and offers stronger contrasts between concertino and ritornello sections; but his ensemble is too often weak and the difficult circumstances prevailing at the time are all too evident in the third Air. The D minor Quartet sounds dull in the Vienna performance—the Vivace is lacklustre and the lyrical Largo too slow. Here and in the Trio, whose Dolce is marred by poor intonation at the close, Goebel is livelier in spirit and more incisive in detail. The Concerto in F for three violins is given a lively performance by both teams, though Goebel's soloists are more disciplined. The Viennese, however, convey greater warmth and more graceful poise in the slow movement. Goebel and Alice Harnoncourt are the respective soloists in the fine A major Violin Sonata. Technically, Goebel is the more impressive and he plays with fire and fantasy throughout; Alice Harnoncourt's articulation is less effective at times, though her third movement Cantabile, which she plays with appropriate delicatesse, is a delight. Rudolf Leopold's cello continuo for Harnoncourt, however, is no match for Goebel's Phoebe Carrai, whose contribution throughout the project is first rate. Indeed, it is a matter for regret that Harnoncourt himself plays the cello in only two works in all. Both sets turn in a vigorous Conclusion.

In the Third Production the prizes are more evenly distributed and perhaps more plentiful, too, since this music seems to bring out the best in both groups. Neither lacks character; Goebel, punctilious in detail, incisive in rhythm, impeccable in ensemble and fiery in spirit, holds my attention throughout; but Harnoncourt, often more expansive, capable of grander more aristocratic gestures, graceful in dance measures and less preoccupied with technical precision more frequently reaches my heart. His Bergerie, Flaterie and Badinage in the Overture-Suite (B flat) are steeped in rustic charm, while the Quartet and Trio are lovingly and expressively played by members of the Concentus Musicus.

Goebel's ensemble are also splendid in these pieces, of that there is no question, and in the end which you prefer will be foremost a matter of taste. This is, perhaps, especially so in the Concerto in E flat for two horns or "Trombe selvatiche" as Telemann called them. Goebel's rhythms are springy, his horns resonant and his sonorities ravishing to the senses. Harnoncourt is hardly less impressive but his horns sound more primitive, though pleasingly so at least in their stopped notes, than those in the other recordings. The first horn player, Andrew Joy, is common to both versions but the second, apparently a family affair, is shared between Charles (Archiv) and Cathrine (Teldec/ASV) Putnam. Archiv, alas, provide no details of instrument type or provenance, but Teldec do, and list the horns as copies of a tromba selvatica. The solo Sonata in G minor for oboe is beautifully played by Michael Niesemann (Goebel) and Jiirg Schaeftlein (Harnoncourt). My favourite here is Schaeftlein who, together with Harnoncourt (cello) and Herbert Tachezi (organ/ harpsichord) gives a wonderfully graceful, spirited and expressive performance; above all the Tempo giusto and Andante bring out the warm rapport which these artists have long shared with Telemann's music. Niesemann is a very accomplished oboe player but he understates the poetic content of the Tempo giusto; curiously, he does not observe the Presto da capo but enters straight into the Andante from the Tempo giusto which sounds as uncomfortable as it is unlikely.

To sum up, here are two outstandingly interesting releases. Both are well presented with informa tive essays, the Archiv one by Eckart Klessmann—himself the author of a useful little book on Telemann published in 1981 but not translated into English—the Teldec by SiIke Leopold, rather more informative and to the point but less idiomatically translated. Recorded sound is excellent in both cases, Teldec favouring a slightly more spacious acoustic than Archly, who clearly prefer to focus on detail. I'm afraid it may well be a case of all or nothing for committed Telemann enthusiasts, so they had better start hoping that Christmas finds their aunties and uncles in a mood for distributing largesse.

N.A., Gramophone Magazine

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Zelenka: 6 Trio Sonatas - Heinz Holliger, Maurice Bourgue

Jan Dismas Zelenka
6 Trio Sonatas
Heinz Holliger, Maurice Bourgue,
Saschko Gawriloff, Klaus Thunemann
Archiv 423 937-2

How sensible of Archly to reissue this fine recording in a two-CD set. Zelenka was a Bohemian contemporary of Bach, Handel and Telemann. He held a post as court musician at Dresden from 1710 until his death in 1745; but he travelled, too, and studied in Vienna with Fux, and also in Italy. These six trio sonatas are the only known chamber ensemble pieces by Zelenka, though he contributed a canon with 14 inversions to Telemann's periodical, Der getreue Music Meister (1728-9). In five of the six sonatas Zelenka specifies two oboes and bassoon with two obbligato basses whilst in the remaining Sonata (No. 3) he requires the first oboe to be replaced by a violin. Zelenka's "two obbligato basses" have bewildered editors in the past. Oboe players will be familiar with the Barenreiter edition which is based on Zelenka's autograph score; but this is misleading in its combining of the two bass parts (bassoon and cello or double-bass) wherever both instruments seemed to have the same part to play. Since that edition was published individual parts for the Second, Fourth and Fifth Sonatas have come to light making Zelenka's intentions quite clear. These were that two bass obbligato strands should contribute throughout to the texture—the bassoon providing a true concertante with the cello or double-bass combining with the keyboard instrument in the realization of the basso continuo.

The present performances keep to Zelenka's scoring throughout with double-bass and harpsichord the preferred continuo instruments. I was filled with admiration for this playing when the LP album was released some 14 years ago; now, whilst I can and do still enjoy the virtuoso performances of the two oboists, Heinz Holliger and Maurice Bourgue, nevertheless, I find the comparatively strident timbre of modern instruments a little tiring after a while. These artists seem reluctant to reduce dynamic range from a pretty full and well-sustainedforte and this is further emphasized by the constant and assertive presence of the double-bass. A 16-foot texture does contrast with the bassoon but often that particular kind of contrast makes no particularly valid point; a cello would have proved equally and at times more effective. But still, this is brilliant and quite stylish ensemble playing which should win over many listeners. The music is seldom dull and, as often as not, reveals a distinctive personality of its own with plenty of barbaric touches doubtless inspired by the folk-music of Zelenka's native Bohemia. Good presentation and clear recorded sound.

N.A., Gramophone Magazine

Friday, November 19, 2010

Biber, Schmelzer, Walther: Scherzi Musicali - MAK, Goebel

Biber, Schmelzer, Walther
Scherzi Musicali
Musica Antiqua Köln, Reinhard Goebel
Archiv 429 230-2

Reinhard Goebel has put together an imaginative sequence of pieces by Biber, Schmelzer and Walther - all, to a greater or lesser extent, containing a programmatic element. It is repertory which unfailingly brings out much that is most admirable in the performance style of Cologne Musica Antigua. Foremost among the ensemble's strengths are rhythmic clarity, a communicative feeling for colourful gesture and a well-developed sense of fantasy. Sometimes these last two qualities may have struck listeners as being not entirely appropriate to mainstream musical repertory of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; but here these, and many other engaging features, combine happily with pieces which are fanciful, depletive and at times eccentric. Goebel finds a rich vein of humour running through this distinctive south German mid-baroque idiom and at times it would be hard to take issue with him.

The least unfamiliar works on the disc are Biber's Sonata Die Bauern-Kirchfartt genandt, his ten-part Battalia and the charming serenade, Night watchman's Call. Schmelzer's Fechtschule ("Fencing School") was new to me as were the two Sonatas in D major and G major attributed to Biber. These attributions are engaging but did not hold my attention to the same extent as the other pieces here. Two pieces only are solo sonatas, Biber's La PastoreIla and Johann Jakob Walther's Imitatione del Cuccu—he alone hailed from central Germany rather than from the Austrian south.

Goebel and his impeccably drilled band play all this music with esprit and stylistic assurance, savouring the frequency startling harmonies and the resulting sonorities. Perhaps I prefer by a bow hair's breadth Nikolaus Harnoncourt's 1965 Archiv and 1971 Teldec recordings of the Battalia (nla), but Goebel's Nightwatchman's Call has more character, more variety of affect and more warmth than any performance previously known to me. I hardly need say that Goebel's own solo violin playing is of a high order, detailed, incisive, passionate and deadly accurate. I was especially beguiled by Biber's La Pastorella.

In short, hardly an item here fails to charm the sense both on account of the composer's fertile invention and the fresh approach of the musicians themselves. Fine recorded sound and an entertaining if at times fanciful note.

N.A., Gramophone Magazine

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Purcell: Harmonie Sacra - Gabrieli Consort, Paul McCreesh

Henry Purcell
Harmonie Sacra
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh
Archiv 445 829-2

In memoriam Ranasphenocephala.

This is one of the finest Purcell discs around, but it isn't one of the most cheerful. It's an anthology of pieces for one to four voices with continuo on spiritual themes--pieces such as "With sick and famish'd eyes," "The earth trembled," "In the black, dismal dungeon of despair," and the famous "O solitude." It really is top-notch Purcell, with much better texts than he usually had to work with, and it's performed to Paul McCreesh's usual high standard, but Baroque-for-Brunch it is not. The highlights are the deeply comforting meditation "Close thine eyes and sleep secure," and the riveting "In guilty night," effectively an eight-minute chamber opera enacting Saul's visit to the Witch of Endor, with a sensational performance by Charles Daniels as Saul.

Matthew Westphal, Amazon.com

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas - Trevor Pinnock

Domenico Scarlatti
Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 419 632-2

Domenico Scarlatti (1685 - 1757): 14 Sonatas for Harpsichord. Performed by Trevor Pinnock on a harpsichord by David Jacques Way of Stonington, Connecticut, built in 1982 and modelled on original instruments by Hemsch and others (c. 1755). Recorded at the New Victoria Theatre, Basford, Newcastle-under-Lyme, England in October 1986. Originally released in 1987 as Deutsche Grammophon Archiv 419 632-2 and since re-released at mid-price Scarlatti: Sonatas. Total playing time: 55'55".

As to the content of this disc, it can be best understood through a verbatim quote from the original liner notes by Malcolm Boyd: "The 14 sonatas recorded here are included in the last three volumes of the two principal sources. They therefore exemplify few of the more overt Hispanic touches and, with one notable exception (K. 529), none of the extravagant, athletic leaps and hand-crossings which are well-known features of Scarlatti's keyboard style; such 'happy freaks' (to borrow Burney's phrase) are confined to some of the earlier volumes. But they do show at its most mature the composer's idiosyncratic mastery of the binary structure which he adopted and developed as the almost invariable framework for the workings of his amazingly fertile imagination."

The performance by Trevor Pinnock is the best Scarlatti I have ever heard. Nowhere, even when Scarlatti demands "prestissimo" playing (K. 517), does one ever get the impression that Pinnock is "showing off" his virtuosity or intruding his personality on what the composer wrote. Pinnock's choice of tempi and his "art of touching the keyboard" seem rather designed to show forth all the glories of Scarlatti's sonatas, including their playful aspects, without ever relegating him to the status of a witty but superficial stylist. This is evidenced, for example, by a comparison of Pinnock's K. 544 and K. 545 with the same sonatas as played by Luc Beauséjour on Analekta (Scarlatti: Keyboard Sonatas), where Pinnock's version adds a profundity and a degree of musical statement to the music which Beauséjour, for all his skill and buoyancy, misses. Each and every piece on the Pinnock disc shines with some or other feature which makes it "just right" (and the original liner notes are singularly helpful, too, in spotting the chief characteristics). Add to this the typically superb Deutsche Grammophon acoustics (recorded quite near the instrument but with a minimum of mechanical noises) and you have what may be the best selection of Scarlatti sonatas ever recorded on a harpsichord.

Leslie Richford, Amazon Customer

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Händel: Alexander's Feast - Monteverdi Choir, EBS, Gardiner

George Frideric Händel
Alexander's Feast
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Solists, John Eliot Gardiner
Decca 475 7774

Classics Today rating: 10/10

Finally some Baroque vocal for you Rana. Enjoy!

This reissue from 1988 is a happy reminder of the good old days when John Eliot Gardiner was making some consistently terrific recordings, particularly of Baroque choral repertoire, with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. The conducting here (unlike many of his latest projects) is entirely without mannerism--tempos are bright but never too fast, rhythms are crisply articulated, and even the slower numbers move with their intended dramatic/emotional weight without dragging, in effective contrast with the predominant faster airs and choruses. The chorus is fabulous, soloists are first-rate, and the orchestra shows why it was among the top-tier period-instrument bands even when such groups were relatively rare and excellent ones desperately few.

Highlights include all of the airs and recits sung by soprano Donna Brown and bass Stephen Varcoe; the rousing, rich-toned horns in "Bacchus, ever fair and young", along with the engaging bass solo and its surprising melodic/harmonic twist; the precisely executed rapid string figures in the air "The princes applaud..."; and the subsequent number, "Thais led the way", one of Handel's lovlier air/chorus combinations.

Musically, this setting of Dryden's St. Cecilia Day Ode (1697) is one of Handel's more ingenious creations--the fact that this "entertainment", neither an opera nor oratorio in the strict sense, is not more often performed or recorded is odd. Not only did Handel achieve the aim to express "the power of music" in an impressive array of forms, colors, and textures, but he did it with utmost concision, typical dramatic flair, and with loads of beautiful melodies and lively orchestral music. A careful listener will notice many foreshadowings of later works such as Messiah.

This recording was made from two concert performances, and except for a few places where the balances between chorus and orchestra are weighted too much toward the instruments, the sound is absolutely fine (and it's overall slightly better than the brighter, less-detailed Sixteen recording, although that program also contains the two concertos Handel originally inserted in the middle of each of the work's two parts). Fans of Handel's choral/vocal music who have missed this unusual and indeed, very entertaining work, should snap this up without delay.

David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bonporti: Concerti & Serenate - Bloomington Baroque, Ritchie

Francesco Antonio Bonporti
Concerti & Serenate
Bloomington Baroque, Stanley Ritchie
Dorian DIS-80160

There is no review available but don't let that cheat yourself from downloading this wonderful and highly recommendable recording.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vivaldi: La Stravaganza - Kaine, Loveday, ASMF, Neville Marriner

Antonio Vivaldi
La Stravaganza
Carmel Kaine, Alan Loveday, Neville Marriner,
Academy of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields
Decca 444 821-2

For those listeners who are only familiar with the most popular facet of Vivaldi's output, the ubiquitous Four Seasons, the prospect of wading through this earlier set of twelve violin concertos may not initially sound all that enticing. Unlike their much more familiar cousins (which in fact are a part of another set of concerti, Il cimento dell'Armonia e dell'Invenzione op.8), La Stravaganza does not come equipped with easy-to-grasp programmatic clues as to what the music is 'about' - no musical depictions of cuckoos, peasant's dances, midday heatwaves, buzzing flies or walking over iced rivers here. Instead, what you get is two cd's worth of more or less 'abstract' Italian baroque concerti, with a typically Vivaldian accent. Does that imply an unimaginative déjà-vu journey over a terrain devoid of real interest, then, with nothing much more to tell these twelve concertos apart from each other than their somewhat dryish RV catalogue numbers? After all, a very accomplished composer also once exclaimed that Vivaldi was but a dull fellow who just composed the same concerto over and over again.

The answer, of course, is a resounding no. To a certain extent, the aforementioned opinion of Stravinsky may well be justified - however, following this logic, it would be as correct (and as blatantly wrong) to claim that all Camille Pissarro actually could paint was a single dot. Errare humanum est, even if you should happen to be a Stravinsky. Accusing Vivaldi of dullness just because he happened to compose in a certain personal (admitted, occasionally strictly defined) style sounds every bit as silly as condemning Pissarro's canvases, in a word, pointless.

Be as it may, and to the joy of all baroque music lovers, La Stravaganza is literally bursting with gloriously swirling melodies, dazzling solos, melting cantilenas and powerful ritornellos. All this topped with a spotless and inspired delivery from the ASMF and the soloists (Carmel Kaine and Alan Loveday) makes this mid-price Decca set an irresistible bargain. More so, in fact, than the Penguin Rosette-awarded ASMF version of La Cetra under Iona Brown - a decent record in its own right, but one which somehow seems to miss the all-important last ounce of soaring abandon. However, this performance of La Stravaganza not only manages to negotiate the tricky runway leading towards Vivaldian heights of elegance and beauty; it also takes flight, and the following dazzling sense of weightlessness elevates the listener to quite another level.

The recording comes from 1975, and while it is not absolutely hiss-free, the analogue-to-digital remaster is very successful, bringing out the glowingly warm string tone in both solo and tutti sections. The continuo (alternating between cembalo and organ, with theorbi included) is not so forwardly situated as in more recent and "authentic" versions, and, in keeping with the ASMF tradition of that era, the overall sound is rather controlled, streamlined and smooth - however, this is not a blemish when the playing is of such high voltage. The occasionally irritating dimension of over-polished surfaces and routine that was later to creep into some ASMF recordings (e.g. the later digital set of the Bach Brandenburg Concertos) is gloriously absent here, as there is a very real sense of 'competition' between the solo players and the tutti sections - almost as if both were mischievously trying to outplay each other. With musicians of this calibre, the results can be only successful.

As far as non-historical recordings are concerned, Marriner and his team in their heyday achieved heights that still remain out of reach for most ensembles trying their hand in this repertoire. Should you want to add a specimen of vintage ASMF Vivaldi in your collection, well, this is a perfect choice.

Samuli Repo, Amazon customer review

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vivaldi: La Cetra - Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Brown

Antonio Vivaldi
La Cetra
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Iona Brown
Decca 448 110-2

"There is some wonderful music here; the later concertos are every bit the equal of anything in The Trial between Harmony and Invention, and they are played gloriously." (The Penguin Guide)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Veracini: Ouvertures & Concerti Vol.1 - L'Arte dell'Arco

Francesco Maria Veracini
Ouvertures & Concerti Vol.1
L'Arte dell'Arco, Federico Guglielmo
CPO 777 302-2

Florentine violinist/composer Francesco Maria Veracini was originally trained by his Uncle Agostino Veracini, himself a violinist. By his early twenties he was already regarded as an exceptional virtuoso. He moved to Venice, presumably to provide himself with more opportunities. Veracini made his first trip to London in 1714, marking the beginning of his long years of travelling. Though an esteemed virtuoso, Veracini wasn't an easy person to get on with; Charles Burney described him as capo pazzo (a madman) and others commented on his arrogance and eccentricity. His rivalry with and jealousy of other virtuosi contributed to problems during an extended stay in Dresden and in 1722 he threw himself from a window, apparently in a fit of madness, and broke his leg.

He returned to Florence and composed sacred music and a number of oratorios, now lost. At this period it seems that Locatelli studied with Veracini. By 1733 he was on the move again, to London again where he composed operas for the Opera of the Nobility (the company which was rival to Handel's) and met with some success. He made a number of return visits to London, the final in 1745. He seems to have reappeared in Italy in the 1750s when he returned to Florence where he remained until his death.

This disc, from L'Arte dell'Arco presents a selection of Veracini's pieces, mixing two of his Overtures, two of his Sonatas and one of his violin concertos. It is promised as volume 1 of a series devoted to Veracini's Overtures and Concerti.

The six Overtures date from around 1716 and survive in a manuscript in Venice. Both Overtures are attractive, lively pieces. The Overture VI in G minor is in four movements and Overture II in F major in six movements, with a structure similar to that of a French overture. Both pieces include much brilliant woodwind writing, but that in Overture VI is probably the most virtuosic. The overtures are finely played by L'Arte dell'Arco, giving infectiously vivid performances.

The Sonata VI in A minor comes from an anthology of sonatas - for violin or flute and basso continuo - which Veracini published in Dresden in 1716 and dedicated to Friedrich August of Saxony. It was these which attracted the Prince's attention and caused Veracini to enter the Prince's service. The Sonata VI in A major comes from a later anthology published in Dresden in 1721. These pieces are smaller in scale than the overtures, but give violinist Federico Guglielmo plenty of scope for demonstrating his fine technique.

The centre-piece of the record is the Violin Concerto in A major, taken from a collection of Concerti a Cinque published in Amsterdam in 1719. I must confess that I was slightly disappointed in this piece. The orchestral writing is nowhere near as brilliant as in the overtures and the orchestra is definitely subservient to the violin, in fact the piece is rather closer in feel to the sonatas than the two overtures. That said, Guglielmo brilliantly brings to life the bravura solo writing. There is an element of virtuoso note-spinning, but Guglielmo plays so elegantly that he does convince.

Period performance group L'Arte dell'Arco were founded by Federico Guglielmo in 1994 and specialise in the music of the Venetian republic. On this disc they number some 18 players.

The booklet includes an informative note about Veracini and his music.

There seems to be a welcome revival of interest in the music of the 18th century Italian violin virtuosi. This disc makes a strong case for Veracini's music. I look forward to further volumes.

-- Robert Hugill, MusicWeb International

VERACINI Overture VI in g. Sonata VI in a. Violin Concerto in A. Sonata VII in A. Overture II in F • Federico Guglielmo, vn/cond; L’Arte dell’Arco • CPO 777 302-2 (59:28)

Are we finally going to get a complete recording of Veracini’s overtures and concertos? That would seem to be the case. Naxos began such a series in the 1990s, with Alberto Martini and the Accademia I Filarmonici, but it appears to have stalled after the second volume. Now cpo has issued Overtures and Concertos, Vol. 1 with Federico Guglielmo and the group he founded in 1994, L’Arte dell’Arco. As two of the five selections on the album are from the composer’s various published collections of violin sonatas, perhaps we should include them as well among expected future content. We can take heart in any case from this start of a series devoted to works by the violinist-composer, whose harmonic and contrapuntal capriciousness should make him as popular with today’s audiences as he was controversial with contemporaneous ones.

The selections themselves date from the early part of Veracini’s lengthy and distinguished career. The Sonata VI in A Minor was composed in 1716 in Venice, and was written under the dual influence of Corelli and the emerging galant mode. From the perspective of his subsequent career, however, it’s interesting to note the introduction of supporting contrapuntal elements in the final pair of movements. The overtures are part of a set of six preserved in manuscript that supposedly all date from the same period, though they demonstrate an internal stylistic disparity. Of the two included on this album, that in F Major is largely homophonic, though with a quasi-French overture and a galant sarabande, while the G-Minor Overture emphasizes contrapuntal procedures in its fast movements, and concludes with a curiously mock-somber minuet all’ unisono.

The Violin Concerto in A Major was published in Amsterdam two to three years later, while Veracini was pursuing his contentious career in Dresden. It displays both his intimate knowledge of Vivaldi’s compositional style, and his own great facility in performance. The Sonata VII in A Major, published in Dresden in 1721, shows the influence of the German composers at Prince Elector Friedrich August’s court, where Heinichen, Pisendel, and Zelenka, among others, composed, performed, and competed. Contrapuntal procedures are more prominent, especially in the concluding Allegro’s furious, toccata-like figurations.

The halted series with Martini/Accademia I Filarmonici (Naxos 8.553412; 8.553413) has already been mentioned, and it provides a moderate contrast with Guglielmo/L’Arte dell’Arco. Tempos are a shade more relaxed on Martini than Guglielmo, though both are reasonably varied, while avoiding extremes. Martini as soloist is a bit more flexible in his phrasing. He also employs some performance practices that are thought of as modern—such as taking the figurations in his initial cadenza entry into the concerto’s first movement slightly faster than the tempo established by the orchestra—though this is by no means an indication that the same couldn’t have held true during the Baroque. Guglielmo in general is more square to the bar throughout, though in the specific example above, he lengthens the first note of each figuration slightly and emphasizes it. His performance style also provides an instance in miniature of phrasing characteristics used by his small orchestra: While they lack the sheer heft of Martini’s group or the explosive “chuff” that Göebel/Musica Antiqua Cologne (Archiv 439 937; 447 644) bring to the beginning of many phrases in fast sections, L’Arte dell’Arco applies heavy accents tellingly to score its points.

Make no mistake, this orchestra seems lighter in timbre compared to the others. It lists 17 members, of whom eight are violinists, while only three (cello, violone, theorbo) provide bass support. The sound spread is thus particularly weighted to the bright side of the scale, more so than in Musica Antiqua Cologne or Accademia I Filarmonici. This is no disadvantage, though it may strike listeners familiar with a different instrumental balance as initially peculiar. Guglielmo has no hesitancy in reducing the bass line still further for effect on occasion. In the aforementioned sarabande of the Overture II the bass line is given to the cello, alone, and the result is an almost chamber-like intimacy. Whether this is authentic or not can be argued for years to come, but it works in context.

Guglielmo’s technique is good, and he has a generous tone with plenty of color (including the occasional fast vibrato) to make for the occasional glancing note. His orchestra need not take lessons in blending or unison playing from anyone. Sound is well forward. If these performances were less fine, the draw of the series would still be there. As it is, this is an auspicious cornerstone to build upon.

Barry Brenesal, Fanfare

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sammartini: Concerti Grossi Op.2 - KCO, Silvano Frontalini

Giuseppe Sammartini
Concerti Grossi No. 1-2-3-5 Op.2, Concerti Per Archi No.2-4 Op.9
Kaunas Chamber Orchestra, Silvano Frontalini
Bongiovanni GB 5559-2

Sorry! No review of this recording to be found anywhere.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bach: Flute Sonatas - Barthold Kuijken, Ewald Demeyere

Johann Sebastian Bach
Flute Sonatas
Barthold Kuijken, Ewald Demeyere
Accent ACC22150

Generously ripped and shared by our friend AWAKENINGS.
(Please note! Lossy format)

The six sonatas for flute and keyboard of Bach are not a homogeneous group nor their period of composition (also somewhat blurred, if not downright opaque), or even by their construction. Three are "obliged keyboard sonatas with flute," is to say that the keyboard part is written entirely and the other three are "sonatas for flute and basso continuo, for which the harpsichordist must itself even fill the dotted line. The question remains whether that bass should be played only on the harpsichord, the harpsichord and cello ... Kuijken puzzle was solved by offering six sonatas in the same form, flute and harpsichord, that's all. Kuijken has also avoided overloading the partition of ornaments and other additions that, in the case of Bach's music, are often quite unnecessary to the richness of his speech. (Google translation from french)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rameau: Ouvertures - Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset

Jean-Philippe Rameau
Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset
L'Oiseau-Lyre 475 9107

Christophe Rousset's collection of overtures to 17 of Rameau's operas and opéra-ballets, played by his original instrument ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, won a 1998 Gramophone award for best Baroque non-vocal CD, and it's easy to hear why this outstanding performance was recognized. The ensemble plays with unflagging liveliness and brilliant, clean tone. The rhythmic vitality Rousset coaxes from his players is toe-tappingly engaging; at the same time, he maintains a fluidity that avoids metronomic rigidity. The tempos he takes sometimes have a breathtaking fleetness that leaves the listener marveling at the players' virtuosity. The overtures are mostly brief, usually four or five minutes long, but they each contain a world of volatility and drama. Many of them are wonderfully eccentric, with startling juxtapositions and exotic orchestral combinations that keep them from ever settling into any kind of easy predictability. Rameau's use of percussion is unconventionally dramatic for the late Baroque; the overture to "Acante et Céphise" uses the timpani with a prominence that must have been startling to his original audiences, and to modern ears it sounds slightly odd, but charming. Rousset and the ensemble are attuned to music's eccentricities and bring out its playful character and sly humor without ever resorting to exaggeration or caricature. Decca's sound is spacious and clean, with a strong sense of presence and good balance. The CD should delight fans of the Baroque, early opera, and anyone intrigued by French music of this still somewhat obscure era.

Stephen Eddins, Rovi All Music Guide

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Scarlatti: Concerti Grossi - Valli, Accademia Bizantina, Dantone

Alessandro Scarlatti
Concerti Grossi, Cello Sonatas
Mauro Valli, Accademia Bizantina, Ottavio Dantone
Arts 47616-2

Although Alessandro Scarlatti was best known in his day for his prolific vocal oeuvre (more than 60 operas, 33 oratorios, and 700 cantatas, among hundreds of other miscellaneous settings), later in life he turned his attention to composing a few orchestral and chamber works. Among these were the six Concerti Grossi (posthumously printed in London in 1740) and three cello sonatas performed here by the Italian period-instrument ensemble Accademia Bizantina. The concertos are strikingly similar in style and temperament to the Op. 6 set by Scarlatti's friend Arcangelo Corelli, works that Scarlatti was known to have heard (and that the Accademia Bizantina has recorded as part of its complete Corelli cycle for Frequenz). Lovely pastoral sequences are balanced with equally inspired, more upbeat movements, and listeners who treasure Corelli's achievement certainly will enjoy Scarlatti's.

These CD-premiere recordings of Scarlatti's equally well-crafted cello sonatas are also welcome. Cellist Mauro Valli is joined by Accademia Bizantina director/harpsichordist Ottavio Dantone, and together they deliver animated and engaging performances throughout, though their spirited renderings of the Allegros of the C minor and C major sonatas are especially ravishing.

Arts' sound is very good, though it admittedly lacks the definition and immediacy of the equally distinguished performances of the Concerti Grossi by the Ensemble Baroque de Nice (Pierre Verany). Alessandro Borin's notes offer analysis as well as many fascinating historical anecdotes. Recommended. [11/9/2004]

John Greene, ClassicsToday.com