Thursday, March 31, 2011

Baldassare Galuppi: Concerti a Quattro - Quartetto Aglàia

Baldassare Galuppi
Concerti a Quattro
Quartetto Aglàia
Stradivarius STR 11019

The Quartetto Aglàia’s performances of Baldassare Galuppi’s concertos a quattro, recorded in the Church of Santa Maria del Populo in Vigevano, first appeared as Stradivarius 33316 and have now been reissued as part of the label’s “Echo” series. Galuppi (1706–1785), often referred to as Il Buranello because of his birth on Venice’s nearby island of Burano, worked in Venice, where he rose from second maestro at St. Mark’s Basilica to first maestro, then departed for Russia, where he became the teacher of Dmitri Bortniansky, a student who eventually followed him back to Venice.

Galuppi’s seven concertos, written for what has come to be called the string quartet, display the newly popular three-movement form, the first often slow, followed by two faster ones. They range from the bright and elegant to the dark and complex. The First and Second Concertos, in B♭ Major and C Minor respectively, represent a sort of study in contrasts, with the Second’s Grave so serious, its Allegro so contrapuntal, and its Andante almost solemn. There’s nothing superficially elegant in either the major or the minor concerto, but the beginning of the Third Concerto, in A Major, still provides relief from the shadowy conclusion of the Second.

Francesco-Vittorino Joannes’s notes cite a passage from Stendahl, in which the author tried to sketch the four contrasting personalities of the string quartet (first violin young and confident, second violin a supportive friend, cello a sententious supporter, and viola a gossip who likes to break into the conversation). But this suggested guide works only part of the time, and historically aware listeners might occasionally find earlier textures periodically nudging out later ones—although it’s clear that the cello no longer serves to provide continuo support. The first violin hardly seems as dominant as Stendahl suggests, for example, in the many nearly homophonic passages.

The Quartetto Aglàia, represented in clear but reverberant recorded sound, seems, with Jorge Alberto Guerrero’s strong cello part, to have a greater affinity for the many somber moments than for the more cheerful ones (Galuppi himself may have preferred church-like shadows to bright Italian sunshine). That’s not to say that the Allegro of the Concerto in D Major (the fourth in the set), or the Spiritoso of the Concerto in G Minor (the fifth) or the genial counterpoint of the last concerto’s opening movement don’t bubble—even though with restrained effervescence—but bubbling doesn’t seem so congenial as sighing, as the somewhat solemn Andantino that follows immediately upon the Allegro in the D-Major Concerto makes clear.

For students of the period and of the development of the string quartet, Stradivarius’s release should be most welcome, although those who prefer a more modern sound ideal should also prefer L’Offerta Musicale’s version on Tactus 700701; its more spacious slow movements and its less pinched and hurried, yet still infectious, fast ones provide a set of performances that differ in more than timbre from the Quartetto Aglàia’s. While these latter can be recommended, then, the choice between them will most likely rest, therefore, on a listener’s corresponding choice between modern and period sound.

Robert Maxham, Fanfare

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

JS Bach: Cello-Suiten 1, 4 & 5 - Mstislav Rostropovich

Johann Sebastian Bach
Cello-Suiten 1, 4 & 5
Mstislav Rostropovich
EMI 555605

Penguin Guide Rosette star 'both moving and strong, with the sound of the cello, as recorded in a warm acoustic, full and powerful, making one hear the music afresh in this key recording'

JS Bach: Cello-Suiten 2, 3 & 6 - Mstislav Rostropovich

Johann Sebastian Bach
Cello-Suiten 2, 3 & 6
Mstislav Rostropovich
EMI 555605

Penguin Guide Rosette star 'both moving and strong, with the sound of the cello, as recorded in a warm acoustic, full and powerful, making one hear the music afresh in this key recording'

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Heinichen, Graupner, Fasch, Graun: Overtures - C. Coloniensis

Heinichen, Graupner, Fasch, Graun
Cappella Coloniensis, Hans-Martin Linde
Phoenix Edition 173

These recordings have been in and out of the catalog since they were first recorded back in the late 1980s. They display all the virtues of other Cappella Coloniensis CDs of a similar vintage: moderate tempo choices, technically adroit playing, good blend between sections, and plenty of energy. On the negative side, they suffer from the same problems: an oversized acoustic and distant miking, which results in less bite to accents and phrases, as well as a moderate loss of instrumental color (though to be fair, this isn’t the case with the three Graupner chalumeau soloists, placed in a sonic spotlight). The pleasure derived from these performances is consequently compromised, though not entirely lost.

As for the music, these Baroque overture-suites run the gamut from two movements to seven, providing an unsystematic and personal mix of overture, dance movements, and airs. One of the gems is the Graupner, unusual for its harmonic waywardness, chalumeau section, and rhythmically accurate Polonaise. Is it the composer’s answer to Telemann’s so-called “Polish” concertos, exaggerating eccentric effects supposedly heard from rural folk musicians? If so, it certainly hits the mark. The more conventional Heinichen combines inventiveness, memorable turns, and excellent craft. The Zerbst Kapellmeister, Fasch, is typically more conservative than either, but his overture-suite is lively, imaginative, and sparkling in its rhythmic élan—most notably in a lengthy, flowing Minuet, and a beguiling Passapied. Only the Graun lowers the ceiling of inspiration. It is technically competent, but pedestrian. The fugal portion of the first of its two movements is a fine piece of workmanship, however—not unexpected from a man to whom J. S. Bach entrusted the musical education of his eldest son.

The liner notes are very brief and devoid of nearly all pertinent information, but bizarre enough to wish they were longer. We are told that among other matters, Heinichen’s law degree “may account for the sometimes acerbic, willful edge to his melodies.” Something to consider for young modern composers, who might want to avoid ambulance chasing if they wish someday to write like Puccini.

I hope someone will commit the Graupner and Heinichen to disc again in the near future, and in more forward sound. For now, though, if you want to hear either piece, this is the only version available, and certainly worth hearing.

Barry Brenesal, Fanfare

Beck: Six Symphonies, Op.1 - New Zealand CO, Donald Armstrong

Franz Ignax Beck
Six Symphonies, Op.1
New Zealand Chamber Orchestra, Donald Armstrong
Naxos 8.554071

Haydn may have been called the "Father of the Symphony" but the genre certainly preceded him with composers such as Sammartini and Johann Stamitz making significant early contributions.

Franz Beck started life in Mannheim and was taught by Stamitz before spending time in Venice and Naples then eventually settling in France. He seems to have been an interesting character, reputedly leaving Mannheim after a duel and then eloping from Venice with his boss’s daughter. In the midst of such intrigue the present symphonies were published in Paris in 1758 and were soon followed by three more sets. Beck then appears to have lost interest in the form. They were originally styled as Overtures but, given their consistent three-movement form have become known as sinfonias.

Allan Badley states in the booklet that Beck’s symphonies have "long been regarded as amongst the most striking of the mid-18th century". On the evidence of this disc that seems a plausible claim but Beck is hardly a well-known figure. For example, he doesn’t warrant an entry in the current edition of the Oxford Companion to Music. Recordings of his music have so far been quite rare although there is a Naxos disc in their series "The 18th century symphony" partly devoted to some his later symphonies (8.553790). The series also features two discs of symphonies by Stamitz and it is not clear to me why this new release isn’t considered to be part of it.

Each of the sinfonias has a central andante framed by two quick movements. Most of the finales are marked Presto but the second has a notable Vivace minuet. The opening G minor symphony is perhaps the most interesting and, in the extended opening allegro, seems to point towards Haydn. Within the set, there is plenty of variety of mood and imaginative touches abound making an hour in the company of this disc pass by quickly.

The New Zealand Chamber Orchestra was as unfamiliar to me as Beck but it was also pleasing to make their acquaintance. Formed in 1987 as an offshoot of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, they play on modern instruments and are directed by their leader Donald Armstrong. Their playing is lively and they give these works a fairly light touch. Orchestral numbers are not given but I would guess about twenty string players with harpsichord continuo. The recording is well-balanced and was produced by Stephen Managh, the founder of the orchestra who, sadly, did not live to see the disc issued.

This CD is recommended to anyone interested in the origins of the symphony and to collectors of worthwhile little-known music. Please Naxos can we have the rest of Beck’s symphonies?

Patrick C Waller, Musicweb-International.com

Beck: Symphonies Op.3 - Toronto Chamber Orchestra, Mallon

Franz Ignaz Beck
Symphonies Op.3 Nos. 1-4
Toronto Chamber Orchestra, Kevin Mallon
Naxos 8.570799

Beck was a major composer. His Op. 3 symphonies, published in 1762, are substantial. They have four movements each and, while none of the works are long in total (15-17 minutes each), they contain a great deal of arresting musical invention. No. 3 is the most obviously affecting of the four, with its G minor tonality, and it's also the biggest single piece. The performances here are all very well played, as we have come to expect from these forces, and Kevin Mallon paces each movement with unaffected naturalness. My only reservation, as so often in music of this period, concerns the harpsichord continuo, an unnecessary anachronism that is not only too loudly recorded but, especially in quick movements, too frequently employed. I find it very hard to believe that bass lines in rapidly repeated eighths had a harpsichordist flailing away on each note like a petulant child throwing a tantrum, but that's how these things are done today. Still, for the otherwise fine performances and the far more numerous beauties that the music affords, I'm willing to put up with it, and others may not share my reservations in this respect. Recommended.

David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

Beck: Symphonies - Northern Chamber Orchestra, Ward

Franz Ignaz Beck
Northern Chamber Orchestra, Nicholas Ward
Naxos 8.553790

Not another early symphonist! Well, Franz Beck is an early symphonist with a difference. Certainly, his roots are immediately clear. Born as he was in Manheim, the influence of the Manheim school is apparent--here and there a so-called Manheim rocket, as well as the kind of question-and-answer (soft answered by loud) or call-and-echo (loud followed by soft) format of first subjects, especially in the last movements, that the Manheimers favored. But given that Beck's symphonic career ended in the 1760s and that Mozart nonetheless admired him years afterward, he must have had something on the ball. And that something is found in the remarkable slow movements of the Sinfonias in B-flat and G. The slow movement of the B-flat Sinfonia is as long as some whole Manheim symphonies by the likes of Stamitz, and it has a tender, balletic quality that is almost proto-Romantic in feeling. I can't recall another symphony from circa 1760 that has such an individualistic movement. Did Mozart know this movement and think of it as he wrote the beloved slow movement of his Piano Concerto No. 21 a generation later? Perhaps not, but still, I hear echoes in the piano concerto that cause me to wonder if Mozart didn't learn almost as much from Beck as he did from his hero J. C. Bach.

Of the five symphonies on this disc, only Beck's Sinfonia in D, Callen 30, is in four movements. The rest are in the three-movement format favored by the Manheim symphonists. Some of the finales, notably the finale of this symphony and of the E-major Sinfonia, have the athletic fervor of early Haydn. But again, the gentle, distinctive Allegro first movement of the B-flat Sinfonia shows that Beck was his own man. Now, I must say that listening to him, you won't rethink the history of the symphony; you'll still come away astounded at what Mozart and especially Haydn contributed to the primitive musical form that Beck and others pioneered back in the 1750s. But I think you will see the merit in Beck's art, a merit that no less an authority than Mozart acknowledged.

These are very fine performances, characterized by good, vital playing from the whole orchestra; tasteful contributions from the continuo harpsichord; and special attention to that tender elegance that is Beck's calling card. The recording was made in a hall that imparts a special glamour to the strings, making the string body sound a bit bigger than it probably is in real life. But this seems just right too. Beck is a special case and deserves the special advocacy he receives from Nicholas Ward and his orchestra.

Amazon Customer Review

Sunday, March 27, 2011

JS Bach: Brandenburg Concertos - Swiss BS, Andreas Gabetta

Johann Sebastian Bach
Brandenburg Concertos
Niklas Eklund, Stéphane Réty,
Swiss Baroque Soloists, Andrés Gabetta
Naxos 8.557755-56

You would expect the catalogue to be oozing with marvellous recordings of this core repertoire of Baroque genius, but so many versions come and go that it’s sometimes a matter of luck as to what you will find in the shops. I was weaned on the Herbert von Karajan DG recordings, and after such a heavy diet it was always going to be something of a relief when the first decent ‘authentic’ versions appeared. Trevor Pinnock’s 1982 Archiv set has an all-star cast, but is getting a little long in the tooth after 25 years or so and always was an uneven project, with some balance problems in the recording and struggling horns in the then revolutionary super-fast tempi. I’ve lived quite happily with the Taverner Players under Andrew Parrott on EMI Reflexe for what now also seems far too long, so I was glad of the opportunity to hear what today’s musicians make of Bach’s own instrumental pride and joy.

For a start this is a very well recorded production. The acoustic is warm but not overly resonant which, given the material at hand is just as well – this is playing whose white-hot crispness needs all the detail it can get. The horns are the stars in the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major, with plenty of the echo effects and gorgeously handmade notes being pinched out of the natural instruments. The tempo in the opening movement is brisk but unforced, allowing the parts to flourish but without sluggish stagnation. There is a little tempo inflection at the recapitulation which Andrés Gabetta likes doing, dipping slightly and allowing the music to ‘take off’ anew rather than just plunging on at the same pace. It’s a tiny point, but well made. I’m not sure how Bach would have felt about another interesting moment, which is the way the oboes imitate the throbbing strings near the beginning of the Adagio. There are one or two understandable stability problems for horn 1 in the very high reaches in the final Menuet, but in general this is a satisfying and successful opening.

Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, also in F major is the one with solo trumpet, recorder, oboe and violin as soloists. Again, the opening tempo is well judged, being excitingly fast without tumbling over itself or becoming too hectic and busy. The soloists are all very good, though I’m not so keen on the recorder player Luis Beduschi’s forcing of the notes in the Andante and elsewhere. Trumpet player Niklas Eklund deserves a mention, not only for his spectacular solos, but for his chamber-music sensitivity when playing accompanying lines.

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major has a strong ‘wow’ factor in the tempi in both of the outer movements, but especially in the final Allegro. The strings really get to flex their technique here, and even the basses come off well in the maelstrom of notes. Giorgio Paronuzzi has a nice harpsichord solo for the Adagio, which serves as an introduction for the very lively final movement. There is very minor technical point with the harpsichord here: some kind of acoustic reflection going on which I found hard to pin down.

There is some balance shifting between pieces, with the harpsichord being brought forward for the Trio Sonata from the Musical Offering. This is understandable, but becomes a little jangly and distracting in this last piece – being in the foreground rather than mixing with the other instruments. Musicologists can argue about some of the trills, which sometimes seem a little slow and grandstanding, especially in the flute. I would also argue that fillers should be just that, fillers at the end rather than intermezzi – especially with the balance adjustment, but seeing as Bach would never have expected all six concertos to be played back to back there’s no winning the argument one way or another.

Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major plays a solo violin against a recorder duet. Andrés Gabetta’s solo playing is suitably dazzling, and the recorders still come over as reasonably well matched despite the less strident playing of Vivian Berg on the 2nd part. It’s a shame about the slightly sagging intonation and lack of ensemble on that Phyrigian cadence at the end of the Andante, but the final fugal Presto has an irresistible elegance and bounce which I enjoyed greatly.

The harpsichord is once again dragged forward for solo glory in the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, but not as far as for the Trio Sonata, making a fine balance between strings and soloist violin and flute. The historical significance of the harpsichord part: deliberately written out rather than left as a figured bass as a basis for judicious improvisation – is pointed out in the usefully comprehensive booklet notes by Keith Anderson. There’s a bum note from the flute at 2:54 in the otherwise nicely turned Affetuoso and one or two intonation ‘moments’ here and there but I don’t mean to be picky, this concerto has an infectious drive and generally superb playing which carries the extra weight of its extended thematic development well.

The mixed bag of strings with which the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat major sets out is light-footed and well controlled. The opening movement is difficult to bring off well, but the recording spreads the instruments nicely so that there is good definition between the parts. Each part is taken by one player, but even though there is only the harpsichord to fill out what is only a string sextet, there is plenty of richness to the sound. It is of course a nightmare keeping each part pinpoint accurate in terms of intonation all of the time, but even with some nimble playing demanded of the bass part the player succeeds well enough.

The Concerto in G minor, BWV 1056 was (possibly) originally for harpsichord and strings, and has been arranged here for flute, strings and continuo, meaning that the harpsichord is still around, but has been relegated to filling out the texture. The opening Allegro seems quite stately in comparison to many of the Brandenburgs, but the flute playing of Stéphane Réty, who also created the arrangement, carries the important melody lines well and the pace and balance always feels natural. Bach’s music is such that this kind of arrangement is relatively straightforward, the message and content of the music having enough strength of character to be performable on virtually any instrument with the virtuosic characteristics required from the passagework. BWV 1056 has already appeared as a violin or an oboe concerto, and this arrangement is a useful addition to the flute repertoire.

This is a cracking production with very much going for it. Anyone lacking this essential repertoire in their collection should purchase post-haste, and need probably look no further. Those of us with cherished favourites can explore further without breaking the bank, and while this issue may not entirely replace established catalogue evergreens it can certainly tick as many boxes as most people will require.

Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International

Haydn: Stabat Mater - The English Concert & Choir, Pinnock

Joseph Haydn
Stabat Mater
Rozario, Robbin, Johnson, Hauptmann,
The English Concert and Choir, Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 429 733-2

At last there is a Haydn Stabat mater within easy reach. The piece is seldom performed and even more rarely recorded, and this despite the fact that it contains some of the composer's most rich and deeply felt writing. One of the few works not written to order (Prince Nikolaus Esterházy was less than keen on encouraging the sacred duties of his Kapellmeister) the Stabat mater is also one Haydn himself grew to respect highly, and Trevor Pinnock's performance makes it clear why.
The Feast of the Seven Sorrows inspired in Haydn writing of similiar length, gravity and meditative concentration as the Seven Last Words were to do some 20 years later. But the almost unrelieved sobriety of minor keys and slow turning harmonies were subtly offset by a wonderfully acute instinct for pulse, melodic shape and vocal and instrumental colour. It is these elements which Pinnock and his colleagues enjoy to the full.

There is Anthony Rolfe Johnson, for instance, ideally cast to care for the opening's long, bending lines, slightly distorted by syncopation, and to catch the breath in the "dum emisit spiritum". There is Cornelius Hauptmann, not over-characterful of voice, yet splendidly incisive in the dislocated rhythms and jagged line which expresses simultaneously the violence and the indignation at the scourging.
When it comes to the almost Handelian length and strength of Haydn's melodic line, it is Catherine Robbin and Patricia Rozario who come into their own. They, too, are cunningly cast. The energetic leaps from chest to head voice in which Haydn both expressed and manipulated response to the Virgin's grief, catch the flare at the top of Robbin's voice, especially where it tunes in to the cor anglais with which Haydn replaces the oboes in the "0 quarn tristis".

Just as her mezzo flows into the upward spiral of sympathy in "Fac me vere tecum flere", so the gummy legato of Rozario's distinctive soprano creates melismas to rival those of any oboe in the "Sancta mater" duet. Some listeners may well prefer a voice of more conventional purity and high agility in this part, but the unique tint of Rozario's soprano plays its own role in the cumulative power of the performance, and nowhere more so than in the sudden surfacing "Amen" in the final vision of Paradise.

Unequal temperament, the pungency of The English Concert's woodwind soloists, the often glaring brightness of its strings all make their mark on the work's sensibility. There are passing moments where they strive for unnecessary effect, such as in the long decrescendo over the chorus's "Gladius" which sounds over-engineered. But the strength of the chorus's inner parts, the near spiccaio kindling of the strings in hell, and the sensitivity to Haydn's high fibre string writing in this piece compensates for any passing weakness.

H., Gramophone Magazine

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Garth: Six Concertos for Violincello - Tunnicliffe, Beznosiuk

John Garth
Six Concertos for Violincello
Richard Tunnicliffe, The Avison Ensemble, Pavlo Beznosiuk
Divine Art dda25059

John Garth (1721-1810) may not be a familiar name to many now, but in the north-east of England in the middle decades of the 18th century he was a well known figure, particularly in Durham, where he lived and worked as a concert promoter, organist and cellist. Newcastle knew him too, not least because that city’s leading musical light, Charles Avison, was a friend (and possibly teacher).

It is in the last two of Garth’s above-mentioned occupations that we meet him on this enterprising release, which offers the Six Concertos for the Violoncello published in London in 1760, but which he had been performing at such venues at the Durham Assembly Rooms for some years before. They turn out to be accomplished stuff: melodically attractive, pleasingly fluent and set out on a leisurely scale which, while occasionally suffering a phrase-repetition too many, at no time feels as if it is seriously outstaying its welcome.

Garth was a declared admirer of CPE Bach, and these concertos could be described as mid-century galant in style, if in a slightly conservative version which, like much English music of the time, can never quite forget Corelli. It rarely runs deep but it is always good company, and there are touching moments such as the melancholy slow movements of Concertos no. 4 and 5.

The Avison Ensemble is Newcastle-based and dedicated to rediscovering the music of the 18th-century north-east, and their performances are technically and musically skilled, both from soloist Richard Tunnicliffe and the one-to-a-part band vibrantly led by Pavlo Beznosiuk. The recording is clear and airy – perfectly fitting for this refreshing release.

Lindsay Kemp, Gramophone Magazine

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Facco: Pensieri Adriarmonici - L'Arte Dell'Arco, Guglielmo

Giacomo Facco
Pensieri Adriarmonici (Vivaldi; Concerto RV157)
L'Arte Dell'Arco, Federico Guglielmo
DHM 05472 77514 2

No review available for this wonderful recording.

Durante: Concerti 1-8 - Concerto Köln, Hambitzer, Ehrhardt

Francesco Durante
Concerti Nos. 1-8, Harpsichord Concertos in B flat major
Concerto Köln, Gerald Hambitzer, Werner Ehrhardt
Phoenix Edition 427

Every lover of baroque instrumental music will get a lot of pleasure out of listening to these concertos by a highly original master.

Francesco Durante is one of the least-known composers of the Italian baroque. His music isn't that often played, in comparison to, for instance, that of Vivaldi. His music is difficult to grasp, as it is so different from what one would expect. In contrast to most of his contemporaries, and in particular those from Naples where Durante worked most of his life, he composed not a single opera. The largest part of his output is sacred, and in addition he wrote various secular cantatas, a considerable amount of keyboard music and some instrumental works.

Durante was born in Frattamaggiore, not far from Naples. Although his father was a woolcomber, he was also a singer in church. Most of his early musical training he probably received from his uncle, Don Angelo Durante, who took care of him when his father died in 1699. Don Angelo was a priest and musician and was primo maestro of the Conservatorio di S Onofrio a Capuana in Naples. In 1728 Francesco became primo maestro of the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo. Very little is known about his life and activities before that. But the fact that he was elected to this post proves that he was held in high esteem. Among his pupils was Giovanni Battista Pergolesi.

In 1739 he resigned from his post, only to take up the same position at the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto in 1742, which he held until his death. Here he had again some famous pupils, including Tommaso Traetta and Antonio Sacchini. In 1745 he was appointed primo maestro at the Conservatorio di S. Onofrio, as the successor of Leonardo Leo.

As a composer he concentrated on writing sacred vocal music. He made some efforts in composing sacred dramas, but these were not received well, and as most of his output in this genre has been lost its quality is difficult to assess. In his church music there are some strongly conservative traits. He wrote several masses in the stile antico, and one of these was called Missa in Palestrina. At the same time his music also reflects the modern fashion, in regard to harmony, the use of chromaticism and dynamics.

These features come also to the fore in the eight so-called 'Concerti per quartetto', for two violins, viola, cello and basso continuo. Whereas most compositions of this kind in Durante's time follow a certain pattern, for instance in the number and order of movements, these Concerti seem to be completely independent of any tradition. The number of movements varies from three to six. The first two concertos begin with a movement in two sections, slow-fast.

Several movements are rooted in the past, like the canons in the Concerto No. 3 (largo staccato, canone amabile) and Concerto No. 6 (canone a tre). The second movement of Concerto No. 4 is even a 'ricercar del quarto tono', a common form of the 16th and 17th centuries. At the same time the concertos are full of expression, in particular in the slow movements, as character indications like 'largo affettuoso' (Concerto No. 2) and 'amoroso' (Concerti Nos. 1 and 6) demonstrate.

There are strong contrasts in character, tempo and dynamics between the various movements within a concerto, and also between the two sections of the first movements of Concertos Nos. 1 and 2. Although Durante's Concerti are unique and not comparable to any other music of his time, the opening presto of Concerto No. 5 could be taken for a piece by Vivaldi. The most remarkable concerto of the set is No. 8, nicknamed 'La Pazza'. This means 'the mad, the insane'. It applies particularly to the first movement, taking more than half the time of the whole concerto. This movement, allegro affettuoso, is like a little opera, as there are various recitative-like passages and some episodes which are reminiscent of a rage aria. I was also thinking here of Locatelli's concerto 'Il pianto d'Arianna' (opus 7,6).

The set concludes with the only solo concerto Durante ever has composed. As he has written many keyboard pieces it is no surprise that it is a harpsichord concerto. It is one of the very few keyboard concertos from the Italian baroque. Two fast movements in which the keyboard player can demonstrate his technical skills, embrace an expressive grave.

It is great that this recording by Concerto Köln is available again. As far as I know it was the very first recording of any of Durante's concertos on disc, and although some concertos from the set have occasionally been played in concert - in particular No. 8 - Durante's music is still barely explored. It is hard to imagine a better performance than that by Concerto Köln. The ensemble was at its very best at the time these concertos were recorded, and all features of these compositions are fully explored. There is no shortage of expression, and the way the eccentricities of the 8th concerto are realised is nothing less than brilliant. Every lover of baroque instrumental music will get a lot of pleasure out of listening to these concertos by a highly original master.

Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

JS Bach: Violin Concertos BWV 1052, Double Concertos - AAMB

Johann Sebastian Bach
Violin Concertos BWV 1052, Double Concertos
Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin
Harmonia Mundi HMC901876

This unusual quartet of Bach concerto transcriptions presents one of the most richly coloured discs of its kind'. Of particular interest, perhaps, will be the harpsichord concerto reworked for violin by Midori Seiler. The Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin make it all work with a combination of commitment and imagination.

Gramophone Magazine

JS Bach: Solo & Double Violin Concertos - Podger, AAM, Manze

Johann Sebastian Bach
Solo & Double Violin Concertos
Rachel Podger, The Academy Of Ancient Music, Andrew Manze
Harmonia Mundi HMU907155

It's well known that most of Bach's harpsichord concertos began their lives as violin concertos. Since only three violin originals survive--the ones designated as BWV 1041-43--and since these are among his greatest instrumental works, musical scholars and performers have been reversing the process, turning the harpsichord concertos back into violin originals. BWV 1060 is one such case, a concerto for two harpsichords, which sounds much less clangy and bangy in this reconstructed version for two violins. Now Andrew Manze is simply the finest baroque violinist alive, and so this recording is self-recommending on that count alone. It's just about perfect.

David Hurwitz, Amazon Editorial Review

Monday, March 21, 2011

William Hayes: Concerti Grossi, Overtures - Capriccio Basel

William Hayes
Concerti Grossi, Overtures
Capriccio Basel
Capriccio 71 135

An outstanding release - historically important and musically enthralling. (MusicWeb International)

"Perhaps, as I have been so particular in delivering my Sentiments concerning the Hero of the Essay, you may expect me to give you a Detail of the various Excellencies, which still remain unmentioned in Handel ... Perhaps you may expect me to enter into Particulars to defend and characterize this Man; - but the first would be an endless Undertaking; - his Works being almost out of Number; - The Second, a needless one, the Works themselves being his best Defence; - And the third, I must acknowledge is above my Capacity; and therefore once more refer you to his Works, here only his true Character is to be found". These are the words with which William Hayes defended George Frideric Handel against his critics, and in particular his colleague Charles Avison, in his book Remarks on Mr. Avison's Essay on Musical Expression. Avison had the audacity to rank Geminiani, Rameau and Marcello above Handel. Later the historian Charles Burney judged that "Hayes produced a pamphlet ... written with much more knowledge of the subject than temper; he felt so indignant at Avison's treatment of Handel, that he not only points out the false reasoning in his essay, but false composition in his own works".

Hayes was born in Gloucester in 1708 and entered the town's cathedral choir. Its director, William Hine, probably gave him his first organ lessons. In 1729 Hayes was appointed organist of St Mary's in Shrewsbury. In 1731 he became organist of Worcester Cathedral. In 1734 he moved to Oxford, where he took over the position of organist and master of the choristers at Magdalen College. In 1741 he was appointed organist at the university church. Here in Oxford he played a central role in the music scene: Hayes directed the weekly concerts in the Holywell Music Room, which was opened in 1748. Hayes was also an academic: he received his B.Mus. in 1735, was appointed professor in 1741 and in 1749 he received his D.Mus.

He was an ardent supporter of Handel, whom he had met in London in 1733, when he attended the first performance of the oratorio Athalia. Hayes performed many of Handel's works outside London, especially in Oxford, but also in other towns in the Midlands. Very often he made use of soloists who had sung those works under Handel's own direction in London. In 1749 the first performance of Handel's Messiah in Oxford was directed by William Hayes.

Hayes was also active as a composer, and wrote a number of vocal works, in particular Odes. His last work was the oratorio David, but he was only able to compose the first two acts before he died. His second son, Philip, completed the work. He was the most successful of Hayes' three sons who all made a career in music. Philip also inherited the large collection of music which his father had brought together. It contained music as old as the 16th century.

Very few composers in Handel's time were able to avoid being influenced by Handel. That was also the case with Hayes, but he obviously didn't want to avoid Handel's influence: he was his hero and remained so until the end of his life. This makes it impossible to date his compositions - almost all of which were never published - as there are no real stylistic differences between them. Hayes' music reflects his willingness to speak the musical language of his hero, but it would be a mistake to conclude from that he was an epigone of Handel. Just one look at the structure of the compositions on this disc shows that Hayes was his own man. The Sinfonia in d minor, which opens the programme, contains only one fast movement: andante, largo, allegro, andante. Closing a piece with an andante is rather unusual; as is the inclusion of a march as the third movement in the Organ Concerto in G.

That is not the only feature of this Organ Concerto which reveals Hayes' individuality. In the march movement the organ remains silent; instead two bassoons are given solos. These also have an obbligato part in the closing movement of the Sinfonia in d minor. This reveals a feature of Hayes' orchestral works which comes to the fore in almost every piece on this disc. In the same Sinfonia the second movement contains a long solo for the oboe. The Concerto in D has no less than six movements: in the first two flutes play, with divided strings, but they return only in the fourth movement. The second has concertante parts for two cellos, whereas the third is for strings alone and is dominated by a dialogue between concertino and ripieno. In the last movement there is a short solo for violin. Variety in the instrumentation also characterises the Overture to the Ode 'The Passions'. The first and third movements are for strings with an oboe playing 'colla parte'. The second movement begins with a solo for the flute with basso continuo only; after which the strings come in. And the last piece on this disc, the Concerto in d minor, is an alternative version of the opening Sinfonia in d minor. The second and fourth movement of the Concerto correspond with the third and fourth movements of the Sinfonia. The instrumentation differs in that the Concerto is for strings alone. The two slow movements of the Concerto are newly composed, and the first stands out as the viola is treated on equal terms with the violins.

In the booklet Dominik Sackmann states that Hayes' music shows how different the musical style in England was in comparison to what happened on the continent. "However, that is not to say that in the immediate post-Handel era England did not produce altogether original and captivating music of lasting worth". One can only agree with this judgement, as this music by William Hayes proves. I have been listening with great interest and growing enthusiasm to these works, which make one ask for more. I would like to hear in particular his vocal works: the overture to the Ode 'The Passions' is promising and makes one eager to hear the whole work.

It is great that this unknown repertoire is being brought to our attention. One has to thank the ensemble and the record company for that. What is even better is that the performances are so good. Capriccio Basel is a first-rate ensemble, technically assured and here playing with great flair and panache. The expression in these works, for instance in the first movements of the Overture and of the Concerto in d minor, is fully explored. The obbligato parts are well realised by members of the ensemble. Marc Meisel gives a splendid account of the solo part in the organ concerto, and the ad libitum insertions in the slow movement really sound like improvisations, even though Hayes - unlike Handel - has written them out in full.

In short, this is an outstanding release - historically important and musically enthralling.

Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International

Brentner: Concertos & Arias - Collegium Marianum, Blazíková

Jan Josef Ignác Brentner
Concertos & Arias
Collegium Marianum, Jana Semerádová, Hana Blazíková
Supraphon SU 3970-2

Spirited and stylish performances of music by a Czech composer of the early 18th century.

Few Czech composers of the early 18th century are heard today. Of them Jan Josef Ignác Brentner is probably the best known. That is mainly down to part of his output having been preserved in Bolivia, courtesy of the Jesuits. Since music from South America’s archives is enjoying growing interest among early music ensembles Brentner’s name appears now and then.

Brentner lived and died in Dobrany in the Plzen region, but worked in Prague around 1730. Little is known with any certainty about his musical activities or the positions he held. But four collections of his music were printed in Prague, and there is firm evidence that his music was held in high esteem as it was widely disseminated right after its publication. The fact that Jesuit missionaries had his music in their baggage when they travelled to South America is further evidence of its popularity.

This disc presents the complete Opus 4 which consists of six 'Concerti'. The term has to be put between quotation marks because of their varied textures and the differentiation in the treatment of the instrumental parts. The original title contains the word 'cammerales' which indicates that these concertos are not orchestral works, but rather chamber music. Therefore they are rightly played with one instrument per part on this disc.

The concertos are scored for four instruments and basso continuo. The first treble part is given to either violin, transverse flute or oboe. In this recording only the violin and the flute are heard; I am wondering why the oboe is not involved in any of the concertos. Considering this collection was printed in 1720 it is noteworthy that the transverse flute is given an important role as at that time it was still a relatively new instrument.

Four of the six concertos are in four movements: slow - fast - slow - fast, following the model of the Corellian sonata da camera and sonata da chiesa. Five of the concertos begin with a largo, and these opening movements are all very expressive. That is also the case in the Concerto III in B flat whose first part is played on the violin. The third movement is another largo, which is very short and not more than a transition between the preceding and the following fast movements.

The Concerto I in g minor contains a bourrée and closes with a capriccio. Here two recorders play colla parte with the violins, although this is nowhere mentioned in the programme notes and the list of players doesn't indicate the use of recorders. This practice gives these movements a kind of folk-like flavour.

In many movements the two treble instruments get some solo passages and imitate each other or play in parallel motion. Sometimes one of the instruments acts as soloist as in a solo concerto. That is in particular the case in the allegro of the Concerto VI in c minor. In the next piece, the Concerto IV in G, this happens again in the largo and the allegro. This concerto is in three movements, and the middle movement is called 'Vigil Nocturnus - Der Nachtwächter', a reference to the Nightwatch as in a Serenade by Biber. Both in the opening largo of this concerto and in the largo - the third movement - of the Concerto II in d minor the flute plays against quietly moving strings.

In the Concerto V in F the recorders are playing colla parte with the strings again in the capriccio. This movement is preceded by a very lively allegro, one of the most sparkling pieces on this disc, alongside the gigue of the Concerto VI. Also worth mentioning are the menuets. These are very well played.

In addition to the concertos opus 4 we get three arias for soprano with instrumental accompaniment. They are modelled after the Italian opera aria, and written in ABA form. In Aria V the soprano is supported by two transverse flutes, strings and bc. This scoring suits the text which says "I surrender my heart to you, sweet Jesus, heart for heart, love for love I give you".

Aria XII begins with an instrumental introduction in binary form (slow - fast) for oboe, violin and bc, which is also the instrumental scoring of the aria. Its text is not that different from the Aria V: "O Lord, it is thou I adore since thou were the first to love me."

Aria II is for soprano, flute and bc; in the first line there are some effective general pauses, again derived from the text: "If you are silent, Jesus ...".

These three arias were written to be used as Graduals or Offertories during Mass. The last piece on this disc is specifically written as a Gradual for Sunday Quinquagesimae by Šimon Brixi. He was the father of the better-known Franz Xaver Brixi, and also worked in Prague. Only a small portion of his compositions has survived, among them the Gradual 'Tu es Deus', a fiery piece praising God for his power: "You are God, the sole creator of miracles, amongst nations you have revealed your strength".

This is well reflected in the performance, at high speed, with strong dynamic accents. Hana Blažíková gives a splendid performance, and she also sings the arias by Brentner with great sensitivity and a thorough understanding of the text. She has a lovely voice, and I very much like her very relaxed way of singing, without any stress at the high notes. She also adds some tasteful ornaments.

The instrumentalists give spirited and stylish performances, technically impeccable and rhythmically infectious. Brentner may have been virtually ignored for a long time, but he couldn't have wished for better performances of his works than the Collegium Marianum and Hana Blažíková are delivering here.

The booklet is exemplary: informative liner notes, a list of the players and a specification of their period instruments as well as all lyrics with English, German, French and Czech translations.

Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International

Saturday, March 19, 2011

JC Bach: Symphonies & Concertos - Alpermann, Huntgeburth

Johann Christian Bach
Symphonies & Concertos
Raphael Alpermann, Christoph Huntgeburth,
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
Harmonia Mundi HMC901803

This program devoted mostly to the works of Johann Christian Bach, J.S. Bach's youngest son by his second wife Anna Magdelena, likely is the most captivating if not bizarrely eccentric recording of his music to date. In fact, given how the Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin thrills here with its deft articulation of dynamics, severe movement contrasts, and generally breathtaking ensemble playing, it's doubtful that the composer himself ever heard these relatively conservative works performed in such a fashionably progressive way. For example, the opening Adagio of the Symphonie in E-flat minor begins with an extraordinarily quiet entrance, eventually punctuated by flourishes of strings and winds, all the while maintaining the momentum of a snail. The brusque, sharply-delineated brass and wind figures that open the hyper-animated second-movement Allegro molto make for a startling contrast - as does the third-movement Allegretto, which regardless of its actual dynamic marking is performed so quietly as to be barely audible. Unless you happen to enjoy adjusting your volume control movement by movement, you'll likely be more annoyed than excited here.

As suggested earlier, the material itself is also somewhat wanting, and regardless of all the apparent exuberance, passion, and vigor these expert musicians bring to this music, little here transcends well-worn galant convention. The outer Allegro and Allegro molto movements of the Symphonie in G minor seemingly feature J.C.'s most inspired, forward-looking writing, though for this I'm more inclined to credit the ensemble's overly dramatic performance rather than any intention on the part of the composer. Arguably the final Andante con moto of the Concerto for harpsichord is the least-inspired, most excruciating movement, where soloist Raphael Alpermann (whose instrument often sounds unnaturally recessed) introduces the theme, and the orchestra repeats it--again and again.

The program ends with a performance of a work by J.C.'s younger brother, Carl Philipp Emanuel. It's the premiere recording of a 1747 Concerto in D minor previously recognized to be scored for harpsichord, though recently discovered sources have revealed the flute as the composer's originally intended instrument. How refreshing! Here - and notably in comparison to his sibling's preceding works - C.P.E.'s often rich thematic diversity and inventive use of harmonic and rhythmic detail are a marvel. Soloist Christoph Huntgeburth and the accompanying ensemble deliver a wonderfully lucid, engaging performance, and their brisk concluding Allegro di molto makes for an especially impressive and memorable finale.

John Greene, Classics Today.com

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach: Symphonies - Alpermann, AAM Berlin

Wilhelm Friedrich Bach
Symphonies, Concerto for Harpsichord
Raphael Alpermann, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
Harmonia Mundi HMC901772

Classics Today Rating: 10/10

W.F. Bach, oldest son of J.S., had a long and controversial life (1710-84) marred by accusations of erratic behavior, the likely result of alcoholism. Be that as it may, his music certainly does not deserve the obscurity into which it has fallen. This splendid selection of pieces offers ample evidence of his skills, presenting music in a variety of forms from all periods of his professional career. The opening item, the Sinfonie in D Fk 64, features colorful writing for horns and oboes in its outer movements and some exquisite flute playing (remarkably rich-toned for authentic instruments) in the middle. The Adagio and Fugue in D minor, composed for church performances, opens with an exceptionally beautiful and deeply moving slow movement (given the right movie or TV commercial it easily could become a "pop" hit along the lines of Albinoni's Adagio or Bach's "Air" in G major), and the ensuing fugue offers no end of contrapuntal resource. Its attractive sister piece, the Adagio and Fugue in F minor, actually is an arrangement by Mozart, who composed its introductory slow section.

The four-movement Sinfonie in F dates from W.F.'s early, Dresden period, and in its quick movements it shows the same joy in wild contrasts of rhythm, dynamics, tempo, and dissonance that you can find in the music of Zelenka, though it ends with a charming minuet. By far the longest work on the program, the Cembalo Concerto in E minor is every bit as personal and interesting. Less focused on highlighting the keyboard soloist than are similar works by his father or more famous brother (C.P.E.), this piece shows an unusual degree of integration between strings and keyboard. Soloist Raphael Alpermann's selection of an attractively un-clangy, delicately lute-toned instrument adds to the impression of his being "primus inter pares" in a remarkably vibrant and intricate dialogue. The rhythmically lively but also warm and tangy string playing by the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin under concertmaster Stephan Mai leads the ear on from one delight to the next, and Harmonia Mundi's sonics uphold the high standards of the house. If you love Baroque music, this disc is a must.

David Hurwitz, Classics Today.com

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fux: Ouvertures - Il Fondamento, Paul Dombrecht

Johann Joseph Fux
Il Fondamento, Paul Dombrecht
Passacaille 905

Born approximately 25 years before Bach, Johann Joseph Fux was Austria's number one baroque personality in the early eighteenth century. He wrote hundreds of instrumental and vocal works during his lifetime, the contents of this CD representing just four orchestral suites of the great number he composed. The B flat sinfonia and G minor suite are from his spectacular publication of 1701, "Concentus Musico Instrumentalis", and together with the D minor and B flat ouvertures they represent a wonderful and addictive set of recordings. I decided to buy this CD after becoming fascinated by the Fasch Ouvertures also with Il Fondamento, and was not disappointed when I began playing this CD. The unique sound of Paul Dombrecht and the other musicians really shows through here, creating something truly outstanding in quality and in musicianship; the style is one which effectively brings to life the wonderful and original style of Fux in a "light" manner - the sound being authentic due to the period instruments and not at all laboured as with so many other recordings of music from the period. Very highly recommended for anyone interested in Baroque music, or indeed anyone wishing to listen to something not spoiled by over-exposure.

Amazon Customer Review

Thursday, March 17, 2011

JS Bach: Concertos for Harpsichord and Strings BWV 1055-1058

Johann Sebastian Bach
Concertos for Harpsichord and Strings BWV 1055-1058
The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 415 992-2

There's some brilliant playing here, especially from Trevor Pinnock, and much to enjoy, the balance being excellent. I would myself prefer less brilliance in the finale of the A major Concerto which really is taken much too fast for an Allegro ma non Santo (the last three words must mean something), but many will listen with astonishment as well as admiration.

R.F., Gramophone Magazine

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Allegri: Miserere - The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips

Allegri: Miserere, Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli,
Mundy: Vox Patris Caelestis
The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips
Gimell CDGIM 339

The original release, not the cheap 25th Anniversary version.

Here's a wonderful introduction to Renaissance choral music, with two tried-and-true repertory standards and the Mundy, a gorgeously sensuous example of a lesser-known mid-16th-century work, whose complex polyphonic strands are rendered with compelling involvement by the Tallis Scholars. These performances were among the group's earliest recordings and helped catapult them into the forefront of specialists in this demanding repertoire. The Allegri became a favorite back in the 1970s, a sort of choral equivalent of Albinoni's Adagio, in which repetition serves as the driving force. The Tallis Scholars give it welcome variety through spatial placement in a large church and their colorful singing. Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli is one of that great composer's finest works. Its mastery of polyphony while clarifying the text is said to have convinced the Church to withhold its impending ban on polyphonic church music. The group sounds larger than its 21 members because of the acoustics, the clear diction of the Scholars, and the power of their singing, always transparent and involved. They use female sopranos instead of boys' voices, so there's more heft and color than we often hear from early-music groups. Vivid engineering makes the CD even more attractive.

Dan Davis, Amazon Editorial Review

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Benda: Concerti - Il Gardellino, Winne, Treakado, Ad-El

Franz & Georg Anton Benda
Il Gardellino, Jan de Winne, Ryo Treakado, Shalev Ad-El
Accent ACC 24215

A fine introduction to the music of the highly gifted Benda brothers - their compositions are served well by Il Gardellino.

Frederick II of Prussia (1712 - 1786) had a great interest in intellectual and artistic matters and a special liking for music. He was taught to play the flute by Johann Joachim Quantz, to the great dissatisfaction of his father. When Frederick William I took drastic action Frederick only became more resolute to follow his heart. At his court in Ruppin he started to assemble musicians, and appointed Carl Heinrich Graun as general court musician in 1735. The next year he moved to Rheinsberg, accompanied by musicians of fame, like Graun and his brother Johann Gottlieb, the brothers Franz and Georg Anton Benda, Christoph Schaffrath and Johann Gottlieb Janitsch.

In 1740 he succeeded his father as King of Prussia, and immediately started to extend his court chapel. Apart from the musicians mentioned above he attracted Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Christoph Nichelmann, his former flute teacher Quantz - who until 1741 was at the service of the court in Dresden - and Johann Friedrich Agricola. The fact that these musicians and composers were all connected to Frederick's court doesn't necessarily imply their music was played there. It is a well-established fact that Frederick's musical taste was rather conservative, and there is no doubt that many of the compositions of members of his chapel would not find his approval. These concertos recorded by Il Gardellino are good examples of such compositions.

Franz and Johann Georg Benda were of Bohemian origin, and they are just two of the many musicians engaged in a diaspora all over Europe both as performers and composers. They were the sons of Jan Jiri Benda, a linen weaver and village musician. Five of his six surviving children became musicians: Franz, Johann Georg, Georg Anton, Joseph and Anna Franziska.

Franz was the eldest, born in 1709, and was a very good singer in his youth, working in Prague and the court chapel in Dresden. After his voice broke he concentrated on playing the violin. He at first worked for a while in Vienna and then in Warsaw. In 1733 he was engaged as court violinist by Frederick. The rest of his life he stayed at his service, ending his career as Konzertmeister.

Benda was held in high esteem, as quotations from Charles Burney and Johann Friedrich Reichardt testify. The former wrote that he "acquired a great reputation in his profession, not only by his expressive manner of playing the violin, but by his graceful and affecting compositions for that instrument". And Reichardt stated that Benda was able to "overwhelm and command the heart of his audience".

The graceful character of his compositions comes well to the fore in his violin sonatas, but also in his solo concertos. It is not known for sure how many violin concertos Benda wrote, but 15 have survived whose authenticity is established. Three which have been attributed to him are probably written by someone else. The Concerto in E flat is a perfect example of the 'cantabile' style for which he was so famous as a performer. It is not too far-fetched to assume that his own past experiences as a singer had everything to do with his preference for a 'singing' propensity. The slow movement contains some very spicy harmonies.

The Flute Concerto in e minor is an example of a composition that is very unlikely ever to have found the approval of Frederick the Great. Benda and other composers at the court, like Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, also wrote compositions for private performances in the salons of the bourgeoisie in Berlin. In fact, this concerto has much in common with the style of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. In particular the nervousness of the fast movements is reminiscent of Bach's solo concertos and string symphonies. The solo part is quite different, though, much quieter and much more elegant - not very different from the solo part of the violin concerto. In this way Benda creates a kind of dialogue between the solo and the tutti. In the slow movement the strings play con sordino, a technique characteristic of the style of the Empfindsamkeit.

The second son of Jan Jiri, Johann Georg (1713 - 1752), became a member of Frederick's chapel too, first as viola player, then as violinist. He was joined by Georg Anton in 1742, who also played as a violinist in the chapel. But in 1750 Georg left the court and became Kapellmeister to Duke Frederick III of Saxe-Gotha. There he composed sacred cantatas, instrumental music and was one of the earliest contributors to two new genres, the Singspiel and the melodrama. He was an intellectual who spoke several languages and was strongly interested in politics and philosophy.

The two keyboard concertos are dated in the 1770s and 1780s. Like Franz Benda's Flute Concerto in e minor they are strongly reminiscent of Carl Philipp Emanuel's keyboard concertos. Here the harpsichord does not establish a contrast with the string parts, but joins them in that nervous style which is usually called Sturm und Drang. Sudden pauses and dynamic outbursts regularly appear in these concertos. The slow movements bear the traits of the Empfindsamkeit, with the strings playing con sordino again.

Because of their irregular character the solo parts sometimes sound like improvisations. It seems that Shalev Ad-El cannot resist adding a little extra by hesitating at some moments, slowing down and using a modicum of rubato now and then. It makes these concertos all the more exciting, and the ensemble follows him closely. The orchestral parts in Franz Benda's two concertos are also given splendid performances. Jan De Winne is an experienced player of the transverse flute, and delivers the solo part elegantly, with excellent phrasing and articulation. Ryo Terakado's duty is to play the solo part in the violin concerto in the singing style for which Benda was famous. He does this with real aplomb such that one perhaps gains a sense of the playing that so impressed Benda's contemporaries. Some of them were even moved to tears when they heard him playing. In every concerto cadenzas are added - all in good taste without overstepping the mark.

The oeuvre of the Benda brothers is as yet little explored. Franz's flute concertos have been recorded before, but his violin concertos are still pretty much unknown territory. Georg's keyboard concertos seem to have enjoyed some popularity in recent years, as several recordings have been released. This disc gives a very fine introduction to the music of these highly gifted brothers. Their compositions are served very well by Il Gardellino.

Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International

Monday, March 14, 2011

Boyce: The 8 Symphonies - I Solisti Zagreb, Antonio Janigro

William Boyce
The 8 Symphonies
I Solisti Zagreb, Antonio Janigro
Vanguard Classics 08 9055 71

No info, no review, no rating... Only the most wonderful and cheerful music you can ever imagine. Enjoy! :)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fasch: Overture, Sinfonias & Concerti - Cappella Coloniensis

Johann Friedrich Fasch
Overture, Sinfonias & Concerti
Cappella Coloniensis, Günther Wich, Hanns-Martin Schneidt
Phoenix Editon 191

It's a fairly well known fact that Bach had a keen interest in music of his musical ancestors as well as his contemporaries. His library contained music of other German composers as well as music from France and Italy. Among the composers whose music found a home on Bach's shelves were Antonio Vivaldi, Christoph Graupner, and Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758). Whether or not Bach ever performed this music with his Collegium Musicum at Zimmermann's Coffee House in Leipzig is unknown, but Bach thought enough of the music of these and other composers to seek it out and collect it.

In the case of Fasch, Bach's interest was well founded. Fasch had been a student of Johann Kuhnau, Bach's predecessor at Leipzig's Thomasschule, and had founded an ensemble that rivaled Kuhnau's. Fasch also had encountered the music of Vivaldi, which had a telling effect upon an entire generation of composers. He had no formal training in composition, but by the second decade of the 18th century, Fasch's reputation was so widespread that he was being commissioned to compose operas for Duke Moritz Wilhelm of Saxe-Zeitz. A period of travel followed and Fasch settled in Zerbst in 1722. The same year Fasch was twice invited to apply for the post of Thomaskantor in Leipzig, the position being vacated by the death of his teacher, Kuhnau, but Fasch withdrew from the competition and the position eventually went to Bach. Fasch was to remain in Zerbst for the rest of his life.

In the 19th century, Fasch was overshadowed by Bach and it was only in the early years of the 20th century that German musicologist Hugo Reimann, after studying several of Fasch's overtures, described him as one of the most important transitional composers between the Baroque and Classical periods. The transitional nature of Fasch's work, that is to say, the synthesis of Baroque and Classical styles with a gradual increase in emphasis on the more "modern" elements, is the most striking aspect of his music. The orchestral suites, or overtures, are based on the traditional form of the French overture, followed by a series of dance movements. The fugues in the overtures are frequently interrupted by homophonic episodes for wind instruments; sometimes they are entirely replaced by free symphonic movements. The airs, allegros, or andantes interspersed between the dances are of an equally striking "modern" nature, being derived from the lyrical or rhythmical alternation of wind and string groups. In the symphonies, there is evidence of what would become Classical form, and in the concertos, of which 64 survive, one can detect the shift from Baroque to the early Classical style quite clearly. As for Fasch's concertos, most follow the three-movement form forged by Vivaldi.

The material on this Phoenix Edition CD was recorded and broadcast by WDR Köln between 1970 and 1987, but I'm unable to determine whether this is a reissue. That aside, the performances, though entirely musical and competent, are somewhat dated in sound and style, lacking the energy and excitement that we now associate with the period-instrument movement. The soloists are certainly up to the challenges offered them and perform admirably.

These are not the best recordings of Fasch that I have heard, but for the uninitiated, they will serve as an adequate introduction to his music.

Editorial Review, Amazon.com

Friday, March 11, 2011

JS Bach: Violin Concertos 1041-43 - The English Concert, Pinnock

Johann Sebastian Bach
Violin Concertos BWV 1041, 1042, 1043
Standage, Wilcock, The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 410 646-2

The date when Johann Sebastian Bach composed his violin concertos is not known but there are six concertos written for the instrument: four written for a single soloist; one for two players and one for three players. Three of the concerti have been lost, their music preserved from arrangements made for other instruments. The three works on this disc for solo violin are original.

The first concerto, BWV 1041, opens with a tutti section in the fashion of a Vivaldi concerto; indeed if one did not know this was Bach the first guess would be Vivaldi. The final movement is a fugue and is noticeably more typical of the Bach of the Brandenburg Concertos. The second concerto, BWV 1042, is instantly recognizable as Bach with its bold opening chords; the melodies are beautifully conceived and the shaping of the music is highly original and striking. The finale is a rare rondo played tutti before the soloist enters. The third concerto (BWV 1043) is for two violins and opens with a fugue. The soloists play each melody, one leading and one following. A stately slow movement is followed by a magnificent and energetic finale.

This is a marvelously played disc with excellent performances by Simon Standage and Elizabeth Wilcock (in the double concerto). As always, the English Concert play with real passion and Trevor Pinnock directs from the Harpsichord. The only problem is that the disc is only 46 minutes long. This would be a more competitive CD if there were additional music but, this aside, the superb performance makes this one worth having.

D. A. Wend, Amazon Customer Review

Thursday, March 10, 2011

JS Bach: 3 Concerti - The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock

Johann Sebastian Bach
3 Concerti
Simon Standage, David Reichenberg, Lisa Beznosiuk,
The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 413 731-2

This is one of the best records of Bach concertos, in particular BWV 1060. I am a fan of this concerto and I have more interpretations, including the one with Hilary Hahn at violin, and I think this is unsurpassed. Right tempo and a very warm sound. Standage at violin is great, but all are very good. I can listen to it for ages and the sound never fails to amaze me. I am thinking to buy the multiple cd case of Bach concertos under Pinnock direction. Anyway this cd is worth the price, only three concertos but you can play them for hours.

Chirotteri, Amazon Customer Review

JG & CH Graun: Concerti - Capella Academica Frankfurt

Johann Gottlieb & Carl Heinrich Graun
Capella Academica Frankfurt
CPO 777 321-2

Google translation:

Expressive Concerts of the Graun brothers. During his lifetime included the brothers Graun as "fiery Instrumentalcomponisten" the most famous, well above Berlin and Potsdam also known musicians. A varied program with CD "Concerti" features the brothers Graun our latest CD. Here they are with technical virtuosity and rhythmic finesse igniting formulations in her element. In the concerti, allowing all the stylistic language of the transitional period between the high Baroque and so-called "classical music related. " Unfortunately, the works because of the short notes "del Sig re Graun" or "di Graun" is not always clear one or the other. Nevertheless, the audience of the immense diversity and good color of concert music from the mid-18th Century in its varied facets dazzling stylistic definitely enjoy, even if it is not the author with a hundred percent certainty.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Benda: Sinfonias Nos. 1-6 - Prague Chamber Orchestra, Benda

Jirí Antonin Benda (Georg Anton)
Sinfonias Nos. 7-12
Praque Chamber Orchestra, Christian Benda
Naxos 8.553408

The twelve symphonies, not published as a set, are all in three movements, developed from the Potsdam style of the Graun brothers. The Sinfonia No. 7 in D major starts with a lively Allegro assai, followed by a minor key Larghetto with two flutes providing a contrast of timbre. The sinfonia ends with a final Presto, interrupting the gentle mood of the preceding movement, but bringing its own distinct contrasts. Sinfonia No. 8 in D major starts with a crescendo worthy of Mannheim. There is a moving minor key slow movement and a brisk final Spirituoso. Sinfonia No. 9 in A major opens boldly with a texture in which the horns assume importance. The following minor key Andante, an oboe aria, leads to a robustly cheerful final movement. Sinfonia No. 10 in G major starts with the customary call on the listener’s attention and goes on to make playful use of a recurrent octave figure, with an active rôle for bassoon and other wind instruments, which have a prominent place in the movement that follows the very brief Andante. Sinfonia No. 11 in F major, after a first movement that has its own light and shade, moves forward to a central Larghetto, again lyrically poignant in its minor key. The sinfonia ends with expected triple metre Allegro. Sinfonia No. 12 in A major opens with an Allegro that provides brief moments of contrast in mode. The second movement is marked, with a momentary lapse into Latin, as Andantino semper piano, follows without a break. Here the flute has a leading part to play; briefly interrupted by the horns before the movement comes to an end. The sinfonia finishes with an Allegro in a work that, together with Benda’s other symphonies, was once claimed to have rivalled those of Haydn and Mozart in contemporary popularity.

Benda:Sinfonias Nos. 7-12 - Prague Chamber Orchestra, Benda

Jirí Antonin Benda (Georg Anton)
Sinfonias Nos. 7-12
Praque Chamber Orchestra, Christian Benda
Naxos 8.553409

The twelve symphonies, not published as a set, are all in three movements, developed from the Potsdam style of the Graun brothers. The Sinfonia No. 7 in D major starts with a lively Allegro assai, followed by a minor key Larghetto with two flutes providing a contrast of timbre. The sinfonia ends with a final Presto, interrupting the gentle mood of the preceding movement, but bringing its own distinct contrasts. Sinfonia No. 8 in D major starts with a crescendo worthy of Mannheim. There is a moving minor key slow movement and a brisk final Spirituoso. Sinfonia No. 9 in A major opens boldly with a texture in which the horns assume importance. The following minor key Andante, an oboe aria, leads to a robustly cheerful final movement. Sinfonia No. 10 in G major starts with the customary call on the listener’s attention and goes on to make playful use of a recurrent octave figure, with an active rôle for bassoon and other wind instruments, which have a prominent place in the movement that follows the very brief Andante. Sinfonia No. 11 in F major, after a first movement that has its own light and shade, moves forward to a central Larghetto, again lyrically poignant in its minor key. The sinfonia ends with expected triple metre Allegro. Sinfonia No. 12 in A major opens with an Allegro that provides brief moments of contrast in mode. The second movement is marked, with a momentary lapse into Latin, as Andantino semper piano, follows without a break. Here the flute has a leading part to play; briefly interrupted by the horns before the movement comes to an end. The sinfonia finishes with an Allegro in a work that, together with Benda’s other symphonies, was once claimed to have rivalled those of Haydn and Mozart in contemporary popularity.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Hebden: Six Concertos for Strings - Cantilena, Shepherd

John Hebden
Six Concertos for Strings
Cantilena, Adrian Shepherd
Chandos CHAN 8339

These concerti grossi for strings were written for Vauxhall Gardens in the 1740s, and most of the movements are astonishingly alive. Hebden's counterpoint flows so irresistibly that it seems extraordinary he should have been forgotten for so long. Not all the playing is very polished, but its fresh enthusiasm well matches that of the music. I found myself enjoying this record even more than in 1983, and that wasn't only due to the excellence of the CD quality. Recommended.

R. F., Gramophone Magazine

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Johann Sebastian Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge - Kenneth Gilbert

Johann Sebastian Bach
Die Kunst der Fuge
Kenneth Gilbert
Archiv 427 673-2

Gramophone 4/1990, Nicholas Anderson The Art of Fugue or ''complete practical fugal work'', as C. P. E. Bach described his father's giant contrapuntal achievement, is well represented in the current recording catalogue. The approaches to it vary considerably with performances on solo keyboard—harpsichord and organ—and mixed ensembles with markedly different shades of instrument colour. Varied too, is the sequence in which the performers play the fugal parts which comprise the whole. Some complete the final fugue, some do not; some find a place for all the pieces included in the posthumous original edition of 1751, others have given reasons for omitting those which seem not to play a directly relevant part in Bach's scheme. Kenneth Gilbert leads us down another fascinating path his performance on a solo harpsichord follows not the 1751 printed edition but Bach's own autograph material differing from the other both in content and layout.

In a lucid, informative essay, the Bach scholar Christoph Wolff lays before the reader the chief differences between the sources, and in the course of doing so arrives at interesting conclusions relating both to Bach's intentions and to the extended period of time over which he was intermittently occupied with this great project. The autograph material which forms the basis of this performance falls into two sections—a self-contained volume in open score consisting of 12 fugues and two canons in fair copy and a supplement consisting of revisions and newly-composed pieces. Gilbert only plays the music in the self-contained volume following the order in which the pieces are numbered: three fugues in simple counterpoint five fugues in double counterpoint; two canons and two mirror fugues with their inversions. Thus we arrive at four fewer movements than the 1751 printed version. Those omitted from the autograph correspond with the Neue Bach-Ausgabe edition Nos. 4 (Contrapunctus IV), 16, 17 (Canon alla decima/Canon alla duodecima) and 18 (the so-called ''Fuga a 3 Soggetti'' whose place in the musical scheme of The Art of Fugue has been challenged by Gustav Leonhardt and others but more recently defended).

Gilbert's playing is disciplined with a rigour that complements the character of Bach's contrapuntal design. A certain stiffness in his approach which would be less welcome elsewhere, gives his reading a deliberate emphasis which suits the majority of the fugues. Yet I felt the need for less deliberation than that with which Gilbert treats the two concluding mirror fugues (Neue Bach-Ausgabe Nos. 12 and 13). Didactic they are, certainly, but it is the spirit of the dance which has the upper hand here and I longed for a more light-hearted approach. Nevertheless, this is an impressive recital and no admirer of Bach's profound science will feel justified in passing it by. The recording is clear, the documentation informative and the harpsichord itself a fine-sounding Flemish one of the late seventeenth century enlarged by Blanchet and Taskin well into the following one. A stimulating release.

Nicholas Anderson, Gramophone Magazine

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Johann Sebastian Bach: Cello Suites - Truls Mørk

Johann Sebastian Bach
Cello Suites
Truls Mørk
Virgin 7243 5 45650 2 1

My favorite recording of the Cello Suites. (Sankerib)

Truls Mørk's unaccompanied Bach playing has a lightness and agility that seems to downsize his cello to violin dimensions. No rough edges tarnish his bow arm, while the tiniest dynamic calibrations, articulation choices, and vibrato applications occur because Mørk wants it so. His intonation is better than perfect. Add Virgin Classics' sumptuous engineering (if you can get past Mørk's heavy breathing at times), and all of these qualities should point toward a recommendation. But they don't quite. To my ears, Mørk's interpretations represent a thousand and one gorgeous details that have lost track of the dance.

Let's take the C minor suite, for example. The Allemande's dotted rhythms ought to convey the proud pomp of a French Overture, yet Mørk's studied dynamic inflections pull focus from the rhythmic momentum that Boris Pergamenschikow generates by means of his greater expressive economy and sharper accents. The same is true for Heinrich Schiff's more "traditional", larger-toned viewpoint. You can understand Mørk's sophisticated parsing of the Gigue in order for the phrases not to demarcate the barlines, but don't expect that you'll dance to the music.

A similar intellectualized game plan works better in the D minor suite's Prelude, yet, like Yo-Yo Ma, Mørk coyly pulls back from bass notes that when played louder provide crucial centers of gravity. The Allemande proceeds in a series of pretty, disconnected patterns. Even Paul Tortelier's heavier, legato-based approach communicates a more vibrant inner pulse. Mørk's complete control over the D major suite's punishingly high tessitura impresses, but not so much as Pergamenschikow's purity and restraint. Mørk does best when he "interprets" least, such as in the C major suite's brisk, flowing Prelude, or in his simple and snappy rendition of the famous Bourrée: This is the real Bach and, I suspect, the real Truls Mørk. That said, I have no doubt that cello connoisseurs will savor Mørk's exquisite yet overly self-conscious workmanship.

--Jed DIstler, ClassicsToday.com

Evaristo Felice Dall'Abaco: Concerti - Concerti Köln

Evaristo Felice Dall'Abaco
Concerti Köln
Teldec 3984-22166-2

This cd blew me away when I first heard it in the autumn of 1998. I had never heard of Dall'abaco, but bought it on faith, knowing that given Concerto Koln's integrity, the album would not fail to please. I have played this cd numerous times, and am always amazed that Dall'abaco is not given the recognition he deserves. He surely ranks up there with all the great baroque composers. The breadth of tonal colors is what contributes to the sheer beauty of the concerti, especially the ones in minor keys. Track 17 ( part of no. 3 in E minor, op. 5) is the one that really makes me sit up; it is incredible, especially the string "fanfare" effect. This cd really would change anyone's mind from thinking that baroque music is just predictably like the Masterpiece Theater theme. The ensemble and sound quality are superb also.

"A Customer", Amazon Customer Review

I remember as a child coming across violin music by Dall'Abaco and thinking it very dull. This recording came as a total revalation to me. I work as a professional musician and have, on the whole, not been impressed by the "authentic" movement. I have heard too much poor and unmusical playing. The Concerto Koln are a very gifted group, their playing is brilliant with a good feeling for style and this recording keeps one sitting on the edge of the chair the whole time. It shows these concerti to be exciting and well worth performing. The sound world this group create for these works is fantastic, with brilliant bowing especially in their off string playing. If you want to try out before buying I suggest track 26 - Ciaconna from the concerto number 6 in D major op.5.

R J S Secret, Amazon Customer Review