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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Albinoni: Oboe Concerti Vol.1 - The London Virtuosi, Georgiadis

Tomaso Albinoni
Oboe Concerti Vol. 1
Anthony Camden, The London Virtuosi, John Georgiadis
Naxos 8.550739

The London Virtuosi use modern instruments, but their playing is fresh and refined and the digital recording is natural and beautifully balanced. The calibre of Anthony Camden’s solo contribution is readily shown in slow movements, matched by Georgiadis’s rapt, sensitive accompaniments. On the first disc Camden’s excellent colleague is Julia Girdwood, but for the two other collections Alison Alty takes over, and the partnership seems even more felicitous, with the two instruments blended quite perfectly. Also included is a Sinfonia arranged by Camden a Sinfonia concertante. This series can be strongly recommended on all counts.

Penguin Guide Key Recording, January 2009

CPE Bach: Symphonies & Concertos - Alpermann, Bruns, AAM

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Symphonies & Concertos
Raphael Alpermann, Peter Bruns, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
Harmonia Mundi HMG501711

Performance: *****
Sound: *****

(BBC Music)

Even by Emanuel Bach’s standards, the Symphonies in E flat and E minor, both dating from the late 1750s, are disturbingly outré. With their obsessively driven tuttis, breaking off for fragile wisps of cantabile, and their weird harmonic and rhythmic dislocations, they constantly threaten chaos. Both first movements sound like music on the edge of a nervous breakdown; the slow movements exude the edgy, self-communing pathos characteristic of Bach’s Empfindsamkeit; and only the finales suggest anything approaching stability. The Berlin players rightly go for broke in this astonishing music, attacking the fast movements with tigerish energy, mining the vein of acute sensibility in the slow ones, and playing up Bach’s bizarre, disorientating contrasts for all they’re worth. The two earliest works on this disc – the G major Symphony and the C major Keyboard Concerto – are the most ‘normal’, though with Emanuel Bach normality is only relative: the Concerto, in particular, is a wayward, highly strung piece, with a broodingly introspective Adagio full of tortuous chromaticism. Raphael Alpermann, playing on an attractive copy of a German 18th-century harpsichord, is an eloquent soloist here. In the more familiar A minor Cello Concerto Peter Bruns, with his grainy, plangent tone, may lack the sheer abandon that Anner Bylsma (on Virgin) brings to this music; but he phrases imaginatively and scores over Bylsma with his spot-on intonation and adroit despatch of Bach’s low-lying toccata figuration. For a cross-section of orchestral works by one of music’s great eccentrics, you won’t do better than this.

Richard Wigmore, BBC Music

CPE Bach: Symphonies, Concertos - Alpermann, Bruns, AAM

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Symphonies, Concertos for Harpsichord
Raphael Alpermann, Peter Bruns, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
Harmonia Mundi HMC901711

Harmonia Mundi's well-packed, well-recorded C.P.E. Bach CD certainly whets the appetite for more of this amazing composer. The second son of J. S., Carl Philipp Emanuel blazed new paths with his unorthodox approaches to form, counterpoint, and especially emotional expression, developing a style that to modern ears points forward to the romantic era. The three symphonies (from 1741 and 1756) share similar traits of extremes of tempo, abrupt transitions, shocking contrasts, and completely unheard of modulations. Even today's listeners can be caught off-guard by Bach's bracing originality.

Turning to the two concertante works, the 1750 Cello Concerto is the far more radical. The furious first movement is a perfect example of Bach's innovations with the concertante form: the tight interplay between the soloist (a fire-breathing Peter Bruns) and orchestra resembles the rapid-fire exchanges of a heated discussion, completely at odds with the polite conversation typified by the conventional concertos of the day, a category into which even Bach's much earlier (1720), far less explosive, but no less brilliant Harpsichord Concerto (exquisitely played by Raphael Alpermann) does not fit. The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin scores a triumph with these fresh, powerful, and ever-stylish performances that even long-time connoisseurs shouldn't be without. And if you're new to C.P.E., you're in for a pleasant surprise.

Victor Carr Jr, Classics Today.com

Friday, April 29, 2011

JS Bach: Mass in B minor - English Baroque Soloists, Gardiner

Johann Sebastian Bach
Mass in B minor
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner
Archiv 415 514-2

One of the most frequently mentioned "favorite" works of Bach, the B Minor Mass is not really a functional liturgical work, but an assemblage of movements written over a period of many years. Its grand scale is certainly awesome, but its musical and spiritual unity is more remarkable, considering its origin and the fact that it contains several different compositional styles - not to mention some of Bach's most profound and beautiful music. Performing this work and preserving a sense of its grand design while bringing out the considerable musical details is a challenge that most choirs, orchestras, and conductors are not up to. Almost by consensus, however, John Eliot Gardiner's version is the most successful - and it is indeed a phenomenal recording - at once sumptuous and penetrating, with gorgeous choral and solo singing, and spacious, vibrant sound.

David Vernier, Amazon Editorial Review

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fasch: Concertos, Orchestral Suite - TEC, Trevor Pinnock

Johann Friedrich Fasch
Concertos, Orchestral Suite
The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 449 210-2

In comparison with their contemporary, Telemann, German composers such as Fasch, Graupner, Heinichen and StOlzel enjoy a dimin ished profile among present-day concert-goers and music enthusiasts. None of them, admittedly, was anything like so prolific as the Hamburg Director Musices but they all had one thing in common - a fascination with woodwind instruments whose role in concertos and suites was imaginatively developed in their hands. Early on in life Fasch took Telemann as a model, on at least one occasion successfully passing off a piece of his own music as that of the elder composer.

Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert have assembled an engaging programme of four concertos and an orchestral suite which, taken together, demonstrate something of the variety and range of Fasch's style. Three of the works, a Concerto in D for trumpet and two oboes, another in C minor for bassoon with two oboes, and a third, in B fiat for chalumeau, have been previously recorded but the remaining pieces, to the best of my knowledge, are new to the catalogue. Fasch, more than Telemann or Graupner, for instance, forges a link between the late baroque and early classical styles. In movements such as the Allegro finale of the Chalumeau Concerto or that of the concluding D major Concerto on the disc, we are not far away from the galant minuets of the early Mannheim symphonists, while innovative ideas in the deployment of the wind instruments themselves often serve to underline a progressive vein in Fasch's music.

While Fasch is more up-to-date than Telemann in his concept of the three-movement Venetian concerto, his Ouverture-Suites more closely resemble those of the latter. But if the woodwind writing is sometimes more adventurous and forward-looking than that of Telemann it frequently lacks the melodic charm that lends distinction to so many of Telemann's beguiling vignettes. There is, for instance, a slight feeling of aimless meandering in the oboe writing of the first Aria of the G minor Suite. But, almost throughout the remainder of the work, Fasch maintains a sufficiently high level of interest to capture the attention of all but the most indolent of listeners. If in doubt, try the second Aria.

As well as consistently clean and lively ensembleplaying by The English Concert there are also strong solo contributions from oboists Paul Goodwin and Lorraine Wood, bassoonist Alberto Grazzi, chalumiste Colin Lawson and trumpeter Mark Bennett. Recommended.

NA, Gramophone Magazine 1997

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Avison: 12 Concerti Grossi (Scarlatti) - ASMF, Neville Marriner

Charles Avison
12 Concerti Grossi
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner
Philips 438 806-2

Newcastle-born and -based, Charles Avison issued his string arrangements of harpsichord sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti in 1744. Forty-two of Scarlatti's sonatas had been published by Roseingrave in London five years earlier and it was these which, by and large, provided Avison with his material. 'By and large', since, as Stephen Roe remarks in his note, the sonatas included only two slow movements and Avison, planning 12 concertos in the slow-fast-slow-fast scheme favoured by his teacher, Geminiani, required 24. So, at "extraordinary expence", Avison got hold of some manuscript copies of further sonatas by Scarlatti which provided him with additional slow pieces. In the end, however, he inserted a few of his own, albeit in some cases little more than cadential chords. Avison's arrangements are delightful and even as early as 1768 the novelist, Laurence Sterne had immortalized them in the Third Book of Tristram Shandy where he finds an ingenious analogy between Tristram's father's apoplectic rage and the Con furia movement of the Sixth Concerto. In a coda of some asperity Sterne then ticks off Avison for his use of such terms for, as he says, "What has 'con furia'-'con strepito' [which Avison never used]-or any other hurly-burly whatever to do with harmony?"

These performances are lively in spirit, bringing out much of the charm and vitality of some inventive musical ideas. Marriner adopts sensible tempos throughout and has a good feeling for dance measures. The concertino players are excellent and the performances are almost consistently reliable in matters of tuning and ensemble....

All in all, this is an engaging issue of music that stands up to more than cursory investigation. The recorded sound is clear and there is effective differentiation between solos and tuttis. Lovers of Tristram Shandy will require no further recommendations, but the set should have a wider appeal.

Nicholas Anderson, Gramophone Magazine 1994

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Corelli: Trio Sonatas - Members of TEC, Trevor Pinnock

Arcangelo Corelli
Trio Sonatas
Simon Standage, Michaela Comberti,
Anthony Pleeth, Nigel North, Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 419 614-2

It is odd that the trio sonatas of Corelli should have been overlooked for so long by the earlymusic revival, for they were the stimulus for so much of the late-baroque trio sonata repertory. However, to judge by this recording, it was well worth the wait, for in its well-blended artistry and variety of ensemble texture this first recording on period instruments sets a worthy standard.

Trevor Pinnock and members of The English Consort have chosen six sonate da chiesa (Op. 1) and four sonate da camera (Op. 2) from the 48 that Corelli published. Like Edward Mel kus, on his now deleted Archiv Produktion LP recording of Corelli's Op. 5 solo sonatas, Simon Standage and Micaela Comberti play with a variety of continuo combinations appropriate to Rome of the 1680s. The church sonatas are very effectively accompanied by organ and cello or archlute, the chamber sonatas by harpsichord and cello; no violone is used.

The recorded sound on this CD-only release is intoxicating—especially in the church sonatas where the organ sustains while the second continuo instrument takes the moving bass as in Op. 1 Nos. 1, 7, 9 and II. The violin tone is warm and resonant, though the upper part is occasionally more forward than the second (Op. 1 No. 3 Grave); even the cello (Op. 2 No. 6) and lute (Op. 1 No. 7 Grave) parts—both firmly and sensitively played by Anthony Pleeth and Nigel North— occasionally stand out (one suspects these moments of slight imbalance, among so many perfectly judged, are the fault of engineers, not of players).

The group play with wonderful precision, the fruit of many years' collaboration. The Largo e puntato of Op. 1 No. 12 is particularly well articulated. Points of imitation sparkle in the fugal allegros, suspensions ravish in the slow movements, lively gigas provide exuberant finales. Standage and Comberti insert some playful glissandos in the gigs of Op. 2 No. 6; trills abound though there might have been more of the artful filling in found in the Preludio of Op. 2 No. 4 and elsewhere. Neither player shrinks from the breathtaking dissonances Corelli sometimes dropped into his harmonic progressions, as in the finale of Op. 1 No. 1, and both are sensitive to the mercurial quality of the music, never more evident than in the Op. 1 No. 9 first and last movements. It is clear from these fine performances that this music is beautiful and compelling as well as historically significant. I hope that they will continue the cycle.

J.A.S., Gramophone Magazine 1987

JS Bach: Die Familie Bach vor Johann Sebastian - MAK, Goebel

Johann Sebastian Bach
Die Familie Bach vor Johann Sebastian - Die Kantaten
Musica Antiqua Köln, Reinhard Goebel
Archiv 419 253-2

This is certainly amongst the most absorbingly interesting releases to have come my way: "Music Of The Bach Family Before Johann Sebastian", the very title beckons to the baroque-curious mind; and it will not be disappointed by the greater number of compositions in this collection. Four members of the Bach family are represented-Heinrich (1615-92), his two composer sons, Johann Christoph (1642-1703) and Johann Michael (1648-94), and Georg Christoph (1642-97), the son of Heinrich's brother Christoph. We cannot thank Johann Sebastian Bach enough for the music included here since it was he who initially collected it together. After his death this Altbachisches Archiv which included many more pieces besides, passed to his second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel. When he died, the Bach anthology was bought by a collector whence it passed, via Zelter, to the Berlin Singakademie. In 1935, Max Schneider published the vocal works of the collection- "in the nick of time", writes the author of an interesting accompanying essay, Andreas Holschneider, "for the Berliner Singakademie's entire collection of manuscripts was burnt during the Second World War".

This two-disc issue contains all the works for solo voices, choir and instrumental ensemble but not the choral motets which have generally been given more attention in the past. Heinrich Bach's vocal concerto, or cantata, Ich danke dir, Gott is the sole surviving vocal work by him. It's scored for two sopranos, alto, tenor and bass with five-part string ensemble and continuo. The stile concertato recalls Schutz, especially in the ripeno sections, but the instrumental writing and the important solo and ensemble vocal episodes have a distinctly forward-looking aspect. On the strength of this piece it's not surprising to learn that Heinrich's funeral oration described him as an experienced composer of chorales, motets, concertos (such as the present work), preludes and fugues.

The history of Georg Christoph Bach's little cantata, Siehe, wie fein und lieblich is delightful. In the year following his appointment as Cantor at Schweinfurt, his brothers Ambrosius and Johann Christoph (not the one represented in this anthology) paid him a visit to celebrate his birthday. Georg Christoph was so delighted by this gesture of family solidarity that he wrote his birthday cantata to the highly appropriate text of Psalm 133: "Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is brethren to dwell together in unity". Everything about the work conveys the harmonious spirit which existed among the three brothers. 'Three' plays a highly significant role throughout: three voices (two tenors and a bass), three bass viols and, admittedly a solo violin, an instrumental prelude containing three themes and so on. The music is full of interest with some dashing gestures and one cannot but feel sorrowful that this is the only piece by him to have survived.

Johann Michael Bach is represented by his five formally varied sacred concertos. All but one are scored for a five-strand string ensemble and prefaced by a short instrumental movement. The vocal requirements differ from cantata to cantata. Ach, bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ is scored for four-part choir and begins with a darkly-coloured sinfonia containing brilliant episodes for the upper strings. Some of the images of the text are colourfully illustrated with affective dynamic shading in passages such as "In these last sorrowful hours". The cantata, Auf, lasst uns den Herren loben is scored for an alto voice with strings and continuo. Its opening sinfonia with recitative-like solo-violin writing is particularly arresting though the simplicity of the strophic setting, with its little instrumental echoes is appealing, too. The other cantatas, Es ist ein grosser Gewinn and the strophic Ach, wie sehnlich wart' ich der Zeit are for soprano voices with strings, whilst the fifth one, Liebster Jesu, hor mein Flehen, is a Lenten dialogue for five solo voices. The contrast between instrumental virtuosity and the gentle directness of much of the vocal writing is an engaging feature of this music; it avoids predictability and constantly surprises us with its wide, sometimes unexpected terms of reference.

The remaining compositions in this collection have left a deep impression upon me. Johann Christoph, younger brother of Johann Michael, expresses himself in musical language which ranges from profound melancholy to fierce spiritual affirmation. Johann Sebastian greatly admired his work as did Carl Philipp Emanuel. Some of the pieces here, such as the wedding cantata, Meine Freundin, du bist schon and the hauntingly beautiful lament, Ach, dass ich Wassers g'nug hatte, were already familiar to me but his setting of the cantata for the Feast of St Michael and All Angels, Es erhub sich ein Streit, though available through Karl Geiringer's anthology, "Music of the Bach Family", was, for me, a thrilling and unforgettable first performance. Johann Sebastian performed it, according to Philipp Emanuel, in Leipzig where everybody was astonished by its effect. It's lavishly scored for two five-part chorus, five soloists, four trumpets, drums, bassoon, strings and continuo. The piece offers the greatest contrast imaginable with the two poignant laments, Ach, dass ich Wassers g'nug hatte and Wie bist du denn, O Gott. The first, for alto voice with strings, contains a marked Purcellian flavour in its opening measures. The second, for bass with a similar string ensemble, is on a more ambitious scale, making considerable demands both upon singer and violinist. The cantata, Die Furcht des Herren, for a town council election, is scored for five soloists with four-part chorus and an orchestra of strings. Meine Freundin, du bist schon is an extended wedding cantata for four soloists, four-part choir, strings and continuo. The text is accompanied by an amusing and light-hearted commentary by Johann Ambrosius Bach, which is reproduced in full in the accompanying booklet.

The performances in the main are very strong, with outstanding contributions both from Reinhard Goebel as violin soloist and from Cologne Musica Antiqua. Anyone who has heard this group's recording of German chamber music before Bach (Archiv Produktion 2723 078, 10/81-nla) will readily understand my enthusiasm for its contribution to this altogether more ambitious project. Goebel's own violin playing seems to me expressive in almost every detail sometimes conveying passion, but more often the deep pathos contained in so much of the music. His account of the poignant little sinfonia of Johann Michael Bach's Auf, lasst uns den Herren loben is just one of many instances where he eloquently captures the spirit of the music. In the larger scale pieces such as Johann Christoph's Es erhub sich ein Streit, Goebel directs his 22-part ensemble with skill and vivid imagination. Few if any listeners will be disappointed either by the music or the thrilling performance.

The vocal contributions are mostly stylish and convincing. I have reservations, however, about the bass, Michael Schopper. In most of the pieces in which he sings he blends fairly well with the other soloists though he sounds somewhat more closely balanced than they do; but his important opening music in Johann Christoph's Meine Freundin, du bist schon is a disappointment. An element of theatre is certainly required here and throughout the cantata, but Schopper over-acts his part and is tempted, it would seem, to play to the gallery. He might just have got away with it but for the fact that his intonation is a little insecure and there is a decided tendency to sing under the note. Later on, he settles more comfortably into the piece. Perhaps, once again, however, it is Goebel himself who steals the show with some splendidly incisive and communicative violin playing. In the several choral movements which feature in the anthology the Rheinische Kantorei sound fresh and well disciplined.

To sum up, this is an issue of distinction and an important addition to our recorded catalogue of music. The level of artistic creativity in a single family is cause enough for wonder, but when it is complemented by performances of this calibre we can be doubly thankful. Excellent recorded sound and full texts in accordance with Archiv Produktion's usual high standard. Bravo!

Nicholas Anderson, Gramophone Magazine 1987

Monday, April 25, 2011

JS Bach: The Complete Orchestral Suites - Martin Pearlman

Johann Sebastian Bach
The Complete Orchestral Suites
Boston Baroque, Martin Pearlman
Telarc CD-80619

There is no dearth of recordings of the Bach Orchestral Suites, but this new one goes right to the top of the list of recommended performances. Pearlman and his Boston Baroque play on period instruments but there is never any stridency in the strings, none of the odd pressured quality that can creep into "historically informed" readings. The 3rd and 4th suites, the most heavily scored, are given truly rousing readings, with the trumpets and timpani making a joyful noise and the oboes and bassoon audible and very welcome in the mix---the recording is well-balanced. The first suite has prominent wind parts as well, and Pearlman weaves them in and out of the orchestral fiber effectively, as the music indicates. The tricky Suite No. 2 is often presented as a type of flute concerto, but Pearlman has the solo flute backed up by multiple strings in the grander passages and reduces them to solos when the flute has its own melodic line. And most importantly, he realizes that the movements of all the suites are dances, and so the music, in its own, French Baroque way, swings. The recording is as fine as the performances, which is to say, remarkable.

Robert Levine, Amazon Editorial Review

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Locatelli: Introduttioni Teatrali and Concerti Op.4 - Wallfisch

Pietro Locatelli
Introduttioni Teatrali and Concerti Op.4
Raglan Baroque Players, Elizabeth Wallfisch
Hyperion CDA67041-2

Locatelli is, of course, an exceptionally tasty sheep's milk cheese related to Romano, but he was also a very important and talented composer of violin music. Later generations looked back at him as the "Baroque Paganini," and his music abounds in technical difficulties and flashy writing for the soloist. Of course, instrumental virtuosity alone doesn't make a great composer, but in this collection of concertos and orchestra suites we see that the challenge of writing other types of music didn't faze Locatelli composer one bit. The so-called "Theatrical Introductions" are what we now call "overtures" or "suites," consisting largely of dance movements arranged in a pleasing sequence. The whole collection is expertly performed by this excellent "authentic" instrument group.

David Hurwitz, Amazon Editorial Review

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dall'Abaco: Concerti à più Istrumenti, Opera Sesta - ITA, Monti

Evaristo Felice Dall'Abaco
Concerti à più Istrumenti - Opera Sesta
Il Tempio Armonico, Alberto Rasi, Davide Monti
Stradivarius STR 33791

Fully two-thirds of this disc, Stradivarius' Evaristo Felice Dall'Abaco: Concerti à più Istrumenti Opera Sesta, had passed under the laser, with the reviewer's jaws agape at the undeniable excellence of the proceedings thereon, before note was taken that this performance was the work of the Verona-based orchestra Il Tempio Armonico under the direction of Alberto Rasi. That much should have been obvious; Rasi and his group have been recording Dall'Abaco's six opus numbers seemingly entire, with the whole Opus 2 on ORF and Opus 5 on a previous (and outstanding) Stradivarius disc. As good as that was, this one, which contains the 12 concerti in Dall'Abaco's last opus, issued in Amsterdam when the composer was 60, manages to exceed the already high standard set by its predecessor. Firstly, the recording quality is perfect; this was made at the Villa Verità in Verona, a seventeenth century edifice now used as a resort hotel that regularly serves as a low-key concert venue. The acoustics are just right to accommodate the 15 pieces in Il Tempio Armonico; it decays just enough to provide warmth and a sense of room size without swallowing the music. Secondly, although the dimensions of the group are modest, they put out a BIG sound; it hardly seems possible that Rasi's band could produce such a full, rich ensemble, but it does. Il Tempio Armonico likewise benefits by being efficient, fleet of foot, well drilled, and scrupulously in tune.

Thirdly, though, one must take note of the quality of the work itself. Dall'Abaco was an Italian musician roughly the age of Antonio Vivaldi, and superficially sounds like Vivaldi, though in their day the two were regarded as peers. While Vivaldi worked practically his whole career in Venice, Dall'Abaco was based in Munich from about 1715; his music combines the scrappy angularity and drive of Vivaldi with a subtle hint of the hardy counterpoint and ballast of the German Baroque. Most of the latter aspect goes toward filling in the underpinnings of the music and results in a very satisfying texture. Dall'Abaco's Opus 6 was published in 1735, and while normally one might assume these 12 concerti were written over a long period of time, Dall'Abaco introduces some slight elements drawn from the galant style then emergent in Italy, which demonstrates that even in the twilight of his career Dall'Abaco still had his ear to the ground for new and worthwhile sources of inspiration.

Rasi and Il Tempio Armonico have wisely arranged the opus in an order to best facilitate listening, rather than recording the whole work in its original order, and each concerto appears to open upon new and unheralded vistas; this music is often immediately memorable and makes you want to listen -- even to just individual movements -- again and again. Stradivarius' Evaristo Felice Dall'Abaco: Concerti à più Istrumenti Opera Sesta with Alberto Rasi and Il Tempio Armonico is two discs of top-flight Baroque orchestral music that are built to last, and perhaps Rasi was aware of the sense of occasion, as after Opus 6 there is nothing left of Dall'Abaco except his chamber music. This is urgently recommended to those who appreciate and enjoy the Baroque.

Uncle Dave Lewis, Allmusic.com

Friday, April 22, 2011

Dittersdorf: 6 Symphonies after Ovid's Metamorphoses

Carl Ditters Von Dittersdorf
6 Symphonies after Ovid's Metamorphoses
Cantilena, Adrian Shepherd
Chandos CHAN 8564-5

Dittersdorfs Six Symphonies after Ovid's Metamorphoses, written about the time of Haydn's "Paris" Symphonies and Mozart's Prague Symphony, are less conventional than either, constructed as they are to reflect the stories related in Ovid's celebrated poems. They are not programme-music in the Lisztian, or even the Beethovenian, sense; while there is some element of imitation in them (for example, of the croaking of the frogs created by Latona from the Lycian peasants) and some narrative element too, the music mostly depicts expressive states analogous to those provoked by the verse. The music is often deeply impressive, for example the opening movement here, a solemn, noble piece that will strike the listener above all as Gluckian; this is not the only echo of Dittersdorfs old teacher, but there is plenty of music that is quite individual in tone, inventive, witty and polished in style.

The present performances are, like Dittersdorf himself, Viennese, so may be thought to have some edge over the British ones on the rival Chan dos CDs cited above. But in fact I do not think they serve the music any better. They are technically rather more polished, perhaps, and (in the Viennese way) more homogeneously blended. Some of the slow movements—such as the first one, mentioned above, or that of No. 3 (which so resembles "Che puro ciel" from Orfeo), or the oboe solo one of No. 4, or the 'lute and voice' one (Ovid's words, represented by pizzicatos accompanying oboe and bassoon)—are appealing, with warmth and restraint. But the fast movements, and indeed some of the slow ones too, seem to me decidedly dully played, with a routine air that does little to put across the unusual character of the music. There is a marked lack of energy, for example in the Allegro of No. 1, the witty minuet and the dramatic finale of No. 3 or the Allegro of No. 6—to name just four of the many movements that sound weary and as if the players are not really interested in the music.

The Cantilena performances, although often rather slower, give an impression of an altogether stronger commitment to the music and a livelier feeling for it. There is more drama and more contrast. The Viennese recording is marginally the smoother and the more surely balanced, and it comes with a superior programme-note (even if at times uncertainly translated). If you have the old recording, then, stick to it; and it is probably the better buy if you haven't.

S.S., Gramophone Magazine 1990

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Boyce: 8 Symphonies - The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock

William Boyce
8 Symphonies
Trevor Pinnock, The English Concert
Archiv 419 631-2

Here you go Kwork! The ultimate version.

William Boyce's eight Symphonys (to follow his own spelling) are not symphonies in the modern sense but a collection, issued for concert use, of overtures he had composed over a period of nearly 20 years for theatre pieces and court odes. They represent English eighteenth-century music at its excellent and unpretentious best, notably in their formal unorthodoxy. There are brisk little binary allegros, French overtures (with a marked English, or Italian, accent), fugues that cheerfully stop being fugal then as like as not start again, middle movements with a curiously naïve, rural tunefulness (or airiness, as Boyce's contemporaries might have put it), and sturdy dance movements, often with happy touches of English eccentricity to their lines. And there are movements that can't readily be pigeon-holed, so individual are they. Sometimes you may be reminded of Handel, for example by the trumpets-and-drums opening movement of No. 5 in D, which hints at the Fire works Music; but this piece was written in 1739, nearly a decade earlier. Boyce is wholly himself.

The performances here, the first on record to use period instruments, are a delight—cleanly articulated, decisive in rhythm, just in tempo. The French overture-like movements that open Nos. 6 and 7 are crisp and brilliant; the more Italianate first movements, like those of Nos. 2 and 4, have a splendid swing. And the tone of gentle melancholy behind the fine, expansive D minor first movement of No. 8 is particularly well caught. (The finale here, a gavotte with two variations—one with a moving bass part, the other with violin triplets—does have Handelian echoes, especially of the Op. 3 No. 2 Concerto.) Three of the symphonies have middle movements marked Vivace, which often leads conductors into unsuitably quick tempos; but Pinnock obviously knows that, in eighteenth-century England, Vivace meant a speed not much above Andante, and for once these movements make proper sense: they are lively, to be sure, but not fast. But it was a mistake to play the repeats in the slow movement of No. I as flute solos (admirably though they are done)—there is no authority for this and the effect is foreign to orchestral music. At one or two points, for example the fugal music in the first movement of No. 3, more shapely bass playing would have given the music a firmer sense of direction.

This recording, however, comfortably surpasses any rivals in terms both of style and accomplishment; and the sound of the modest-sized band (strings 4.4.2.2.1) is brightly and truly reproduced.

S.S., Gramophone Magazine 1987

Welcome to All the Pleasures - The English Concert, Pinnock

Bach, Boyce, Haydn, Händel,
Mozart, Purcell, Scarlatti, Vivaldi
Welcome to All the Pleasures
The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 437 175-2

I am thrilled that Archiv Produktion in Canada has assembled "Welcome To All The Pleasures", and happy that it includes so many personal favorites from my discography. This celebration of choral, keyboard and orchestral music on authentic instruments is a voyage filled with delicious musical pleasures and warm personal memories, for 1993 marks my fifteenth anniversary with Archiv Produktion, and the twentieth anniversary of my founding of The English Concert. My new assosiation with Canada's National Arts Centre Orchestra is providing every bit as adventurous and is filled with the pleasures of rich musical rewards. So, indeed, welcome to all the pleasures!

Trevor Pinnock

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Haydn: Missa in Angustiis 'Nelson Mass', Te Deum - TEC, Pinnock

Joseph Haydn
Missa in Angustiis 'Nelson Mass', Te Deum
Lott, Watkinson, Davies, Wilson-Johnson,
The English Concert and Choir, Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 423 097-2

Of all the Haydn worthy of recording on original instruments, the so-called Nelson Mass surely puts forward one of the highest claims. The com poser himself called it the Missa in Angusiiis - the Mass in straitened times, or times of fear-and not until the particular dry rattle of the smaller, contemporary timpani with their hard sticks, and the pungency of these long trumpets has permeated the consciousness, can the true nervous sensibility of its unique writing perhaps be fully experienced.

Both these recordings provide stimulating perspectives on the work: Pinnock's, by far the more successful, actually supersedes both Argo versions from Hickox and Willcocks in insight, performing skill and recording quality. Presentation alone is superior: Archiv offer the fullest notes and text, include the Te Deum as well on the single disc, and take the trouble to sing in German, not Italian Latin.

It is, without doubt, the distinctive sonority which sets this performance apart: the trumpets and drums bite into the dissonance of the Kyrie and the Benedictus; there is finely pointed, near vibrato-less string playing, mordant and urgent; there is the heavy groan of the bass strings on the repeated notes of the "Qui tollis". But it is also Pinnock's tempos which bring the score into sharp focus. The Allegro-Adagio-Allegro triptych of the Gloria is set out in bold, nervously contrasted speeds, with scampering phrases bent towards the uneasy pace of each "Dona nobis". The Credo, with its bouncing rhythms, moves from a sense of affirmation as jubilant of that of The Creation, to a supple, chant-like declamation of its litany of belief.

In this, as elsewhere, it helps not a little to have a choir of young professionals. The English Concert Choir may be a little chill compared with the full-blooded singing of Hickox's London Symphony Chorus; but the balance with the instrumental forces is meticulous, the matching of inflexion minutely observed.

Pinnock's soloists have been chosen to blend and highlight the tone values of his distinctive palette. They are no specialist early music-makers, but each one has a highly intelligent grasp of phrasing and pacing: David Wilson-Johnson's "Qui tollis" combines both true bass weight and the momentum of long-breathed, elegantly taper ing phrases, while Felicity Lott hones away every trace of superfluous vibrato for her lithe, plangent Benedictus. No other team of soloists is so wellmatched; though the considerable and abiding attraction of the otherwise conservative, even precious, Willcocks performance is the presence of Sylvia Stahlman's soprano and Tom Krause's bass.

The second new version, that by Pearlman and the Boston-based Banchetto Musicale, is disappointing. The forces (not listed or described) sound smaller even than Pinnock's - too small for the texture and scale of the work, as they provide insufficient ballast for lively, eager, but essentially unstylish choral singing. There is a serious lack of balance here, too: the choir's tenors dominate and the soloists sound as if they are singing from within a glass jar. Individual performances are high on zeal and low on discipline, with a sizeable vibrato in James Maddalena's baritone providing yet another distraction in a well-meaning but illat-ease performance.

H.F., Gramophone Magazine 1988

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dall'Abaco: Concerti for Strings - Capella Coloniensis

Evaristo Felice Dall'Abaco
Concerti for Strings
Capella Coloniensis, Günther Wich, Hanns-Martin Schneidt
Phoenix Edition 190

Distinctly individual works in the tradition of the Italian baroque concerto.

In that huge diaspora of Italian musicians which characterises so much in the history of Baroque music, whereby instrumentalists and composers spread across the courts and cities of transalpine Europe, Evaristo dall’Abaco is a relatively unusual case. For the most part the Italian musicians who relocated to Spain or Sweden, London or Vienna, were primarily agents in the spreading of Italian styles and musical aesthetics. In the case of dall’Abaco we have, however, a musician who strikingly absorbed the non-Italian models he encountered and accommodated himself to tastes that were not merely Italianate.

Evaristo dall’Abaco was born in Verona - he died in Munich - he was born on 12 July 1675 and died on 12 July sixty five years later. His father was a prominent jurist, but also a player of the guitar and encouraged the son’s musical abilities and he studied both violin and cello. By 1696 he was working in Modena. In the light of dall’Abaco’s later development it is interesting to note that the conductor (Monsieur Ambreville) of the court orchestra in Modena was French. The next record of dall’Abaco seems to be in 1704, when he was working as a cellist at the Bavarian court. Military defeats in the War of the Spanish Succession forced dall’Abaco’s employer, Maximilian II of Emmanuel, elector of Bavaria, into exile in Brussels and later in Mons, before his eventual return to Munich in 1715. Accompanying his employer, dall’Abaco was exposed to the music of France, music that Maximilian clearly found very much to his taste. Gradually dall’Abaco’s own compositions showed increasing signs of French influence.

For all its responsiveness to French examples - responding both to his employer’s tastes and to all the music he heard during his years in the Netherlands and France - dall’Abaco’s music was also firmly grounded in the tradition established by Corelli, although always handled with a certain independence of mind. Increasingly his concertos included French dance movements and characteristic qualities that Benjamin Ivry’s too brief booklet notes well describe as “light, fleet, self-contained, and discreet”. Increasingly (as, for example, in the concertos published in 1735) a manner one might sensibly describe as galant becomes noticeable. The results are intriguingly individual and should appeal to anyone who enjoys the tradition of the baroque concerto.

These were originally broadcasts by Westdeutschen Rundfunks Köln, with Cappella Coloniensis playing under various conductors. The recorded sound is occasionally lacking in the highest degree of clarity but is generally satisfactory. The playing of the Cappella Coloniensis is idiomatic, though their reading of some of the slower movements will seem rather on the lush side to ears attuned to some contemporary baroque ensembles.

Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International

Monday, April 18, 2011

CPE Bach: Sonatas & Rondos - Mikael Pletnev

Carl Philipp Emanulel Bach
Sonatas & Rondos
Mikael Pletnev
DG 459 614-2

Classics Today Rating: 10/10

Anyone who has heard Mikhail Pletnev's Scarlatti knows that he has a real feel for the improvisatory element in Baroque and pre-Classical music, and no one was more improvisatory, capricious, and emotionally extravagant than C.P.E. Bach. Play him straight, and his keyboard music risks sounding perilously thin and disjointed. Give his music the measure of fantasy it demands, as here, and the result is pure jazz--"Baroque blues" really is an accurate description of C.P.E. Bach's special sound world. In any performance of these works, timing is a critical element. Pletnev understands this, phrasing the abrupt runs and turns that constitute the first movement of the G minor sonata in a way that carries over the numerous pauses and relates them to the larger whole. He does this not by smoothing over textures or by underplaying harmonic or dynamic contrasts, but by highlighting them wherever possible. The result is a tantalizing "guess what happens next" invitation to some delightful listening.

It should be obvious from the foregoing that Pletnev never tries to imitate the sound of the harpsichord or fortepiano, but calls upon the full resources of his instrument to bring each work to life and maximize sectional variety (perhaps the single most important element in the three rondos included in this collection). In the F-sharp minor sonata his remarkably independent left hand underlines every harmonic twist and turn, and his romp through the syncopations that characterize the tiny D major sonata overflows with energy and character. In slow movements, the emotional heart of these works, Pletnev never lets the music drag. He brings an operatic eloquence to the recitative-like sequences that often comprise their principal thematic material and underlines their expressiveness with a wonderfully fluid freedom of phrasing and subtle use of dynamics. In short, the music really speaks. Pellucid sonics and a rich, singing tone that never becomes harsh or brittle cap a release that's simply outstanding in every way. On a non-musical subject, the cover features a hideous, deathly pale picture of a piece of Pletnev's face. Someone was paid for this?

David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

Avison: Concerti Grossi Op.9 & 10 - Avison Ensemble, Beznosiuk

Charles Avison
12 Concerti Grossi Op.9, 6 Concerti Grossi Op.10
The Avison Ensemble, Pavlo Beznosiuk
Divine Art dda21211

Avison's Opus 9 and Opus 10 Concerti Grossi are sweetly melodic, succinct and conservative. Led by Pavlo Beznosuik, the ensemble does its composer proud in a stylish series of sturdy allegros, graceful largos and delicate, attractive arias.

The Daily Telegraph

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Avison: 12 Concerti Grossi after Scarlatti - Avison Ensemble

Charles Avison
12 Concerti Grossi after Scarlatti
The Avison Ensemble, Pavlo Beznosiuk
Divine Art dda21213

Excellent pair of CDs if anything this is finer music than the op. 9 and 10 which I so recently recommended and the performances and recording are equally fine. This is early music without the rough edges recorded sound is first-rate. All [the Avison Ensemble recordings] are very worthy of your consideration.

Musicweb International

Saturday, April 16, 2011

JS Bach: Concertos for Harpsichord and Strings BWV 1052-54

Johann Sebastian Bach
Concertos for Harpsichord and Strings BWV 1052, 1053, 1054
The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 415 991-2

Such classic 80's recordings like this just don't go out of style for the classical music lover. Masterful compositions from a truly towering composer and performed with equisite period artistry make this still a highly desirable recording. The vibrant and enthusiastic moods Pinnock and the English Concert produce would probably make Bach quite proud. The sound quality is extremely clear, bright and bold. Compositions - 5 stars, Performance - 5 stars, Sound quality - 5 stars.

For those less into the period sound of the harpsichord, the recordings on piano by Muray Perhahia or Angela Hewitt are very desirable. Also fans of Pinnock should hear his recent and rather amazing recording of Bach's famous Partitas which most agree even eclipse his earlier recordings.

Alan Lekan, Amazon Customer

Haydn: Concertos - Goodwin, Bennett, TEC, Trevor Pinnock

Joseph Haydn
Concertos for Oboe, Trumpet, Harpsichord
Paul Goodwin, Mark Bennett, Trevor Pinnock, The English Concert
Archiv 431 678-2

For me this reading of the Trumpet Concerto is as close to ideal as possible.

Bennett and Pinnock find a balance in this music that other interpreters invariably distort, one way or another. Maurice Andre, for all his attractive tone and phrasing, is unidiomatic as he tends to make these three movements into concert aria showpieces; Herseth and Solti, with the powerhouse Chicago Symphony, turn it into Mahler-lite; Marsalis and Leppard are overstated, the orchestral texture is opaque, and Marsalis for his part doesn't grasp the architecture of this music, distracted as he is by his concern to demonstrate his considerable virtuosity; Hardenburger and Marriner are understated (I've even thought they seem bored with the music) and miss the spirit of Haydn's sound and style; Immer and Hogwood, on period instruments, get the sytle exactly right, deliver an electrifying orchestral performance, and would be my first choice were everything not ruined in the end by Immmer's very weak tone - at times he is all but inaudible.

Bennett and Pinnock get it right. The period orchestra has the right balance and sonority; there is much more space in the texture so that all of the voices sound distinctly. Bennett, on a keyed trumpet, plays the solo part with flair and in balanced dialog with the orchestral counterpoint, and he uses the most engaging cadenzas, fills, and ornaments I've ever heard. Pinnock brings to the reading as a whole the sense of protortion, the earthiness, the rhythmic vitality that animate the Classical style, bring it to life.

I can't imagine it being done any better.

D. Jack Elliot, Amazon Customer

Friday, April 15, 2011

Brescianello: Concerti, Sinfonie, Ouverture - La Cetra BO, Luks

Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello
Concerti, Sinfonie, Ouverture
La Cetra Barockorchester, David Plantier, Václav Luks
Glossa GCD 922506

One part of Glossa’s new approach to recordings with the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis is to bring back selectively into the catalogue some of the recordings made under the auspices of the SCB in the past. Among the many notable recordings, a strong impression was made with the music of Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello as played by La Cetra Barockorchester Basel when it had David Plantier as its konzertmeister. This recording was made with Harmonia Mundi France in 2002.

Brescianello comes from the time of an illustrious generation of composers active in the first half of the 18th century, being born a few years later than figures such as Bach, Handel, Telemann and Rameau. Hailing from Italy he spent much of his active career as the kapellmeister at the southwestern German Württemberg courts of Dukes Eberhard Ludwig and Karl Eugen in Stuttgart. The Baroque Concertos and Sinfonias (and a Chaconne) performed by La Cetra demonstrate Brescianiello’s command of music from his own country (there are certain echoes of Vivaldi, for example) and also of the French orchestral language in the tradition of German composers of the time. Much of Brescianello’s biographical origins and of his compositions has been lost, which has forcibly hindered previously either a full evaluation of his musical merits or merely placing him in the context of other Baroque luminaries.

La Cetra’s recording, played with skill, musicality and spirit, sought – in the best traditions of the SCB – to do something about that unfortunate historical assessment and it is a pleasure to welcome this recording back into the catalogue.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Albinoni: Complete Oboe Concertos - Robson, CM90, Standage

Tomaso Albinoni
Complete Oboe Concertos
Anthony Robson, Collegium Musicum 90, Simon Standage
Chandos CHAN 0579

Exaggerated attention to one of a composer's works can breed neglect of the others, as seems to have been the case with Al binoni and the famous (and spurious) Adagio. Recordings of this piece occupy over seven column inches in The Gramophone Classical Catalogue, while there is no period-instrument set of Op. 9 and none of any kind of Op. 7 on record. All the concertos of Op. 7 and Nos. 2, 5, 8 and II of Op. 9 are for solo oboe and strings or, better, for strings tvith oboe: the soloist complements rather than 'opposes' the ripieno, interacting with it and eschewing 'spotlit' virtuosity. Albinoni treats the oboe like a voice (another wind instrument), writing in mainly conjunct lines, whereas Vivaldi (whose oboe works ! were written at about the same time) has the agile violin more in mind. There isn't one 'filler' in either set, which means that there isn't one in the programme either, and the slow movements have tunes that stay in the mind.

Anthony Robson seems set to become the 'new David Reichenberg', velvet-toned but with the hint of an edge (matching that of the strings), phrasing flawlessly and alert to lyricism and poetry where they appear over the parapet. Collegium Musicum 90 are one of the very best baroque bands to emerge in recent years and here they are in their element. The recorded balance is just right, keeping soloist and strings in equal perspective. In every good sense these are listener-friendly works, and this recording bids strongly for a place on every shelf. It is good news indeed that Chandos will shortly be completing both of these sets.

JD, Gramophone Magazine 1995

Albinoni: Double Oboe Concertos & String Concertos - Volume I

Tomaso Albinoni
Double Oboe Concertos & String Concertos - Volume I
Robson, Latham, Collegium Musicum 90, Simon Standage
Chandos CHAN 0602

This is one of my favorite discs and it's a pity that it hasn't been reviewed yet. If you're a fan of Italian baroque instrumental music, and especially the oboe, you owe yourself to buy this cd.

It isn't St. Matthew's Passion, but it's not meant to be. This is very pleasant, upbeat, and tuneful music. The conductor has mixed Albinoni's violin and double oboe concerti together - I suppose in an attempt to mix the music up a bit. I haven't checked, but I'm pretty sure that if you buy both volumes you'll be getting all of Opus 7 and 9.

The performers are excellent. I don't have any dynamic criticism as far as that goes. The different instruments have just the right presence, and are balanced very well (no single instrument is unduly pronounced or drowned out). On some recordings of period instrument music the oboe can easily get drowned out, or the baroque guitar is impossible to hear, but here (to my taste at least) everything is exactly right.

As far as recording quality goes this cd is very good. It's very clean; there isn't any sort of echo or distracting sounds that occasionally appears in some recordings.

AAM has recorded all the oboe concertos on a cd, which I have listened to, but I prefer this Collegium Musicum disc as I find the bass in the Hogwood to be a bit heavy, the violin a bit more distant, and I can't hear the guitar at all (if it's even there). Not that the AAM disc is poor, but this one just has more clarity.

Amazon Customer Review

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Albinoni: Double Oboe Concertos & String Concertos - Volume II

Tomaso Albinoni
Double Oboe Concertos & String Concertos - Volume II
Robson, Latham, Collegium Musicum 90, Simon Standage
Chandos CHAN 0610

My review of this disc is the same as Volume I. You would be equally satisfied buying either (or both) discs.

This is one of my favorite discs and it's a pity that it hasn't been reviewed yet. If you're a fan of Italian baroque instrumental music, and especially the oboe, you owe yourself to buy this cd.

It isn't St. Matthew's Passion, but it's not meant to be. This is very pleasant, upbeat, and tuneful music. The conductor has mixed Albinoni's violin and double oboe concerti together - I suppose in an attempt to mix the music up a bit. I haven't checked, but I'm pretty sure that if you buy both volumes you'll be getting all of Opus 7 and 9.

The performers are excellent. I don't have any dynamic criticism as far as that goes. The different instruments have just the right presence, and are balanced very well (no single instrument is unduly pronounced or drowned out). On some recordings of period instrument music the oboe can easily get drowned out, or the baroque guitar is impossible to hear, but here (to my taste at least) everything is exactly right.

As far as recording quality goes this cd is very good. It's very clean; there isn't any sort of echo or distracting sounds that occasionally appears in some recordings.

AAM has recorded all the oboe concertos on a cd, which I have listened to, but I prefer this Collegium Musicum disc as I find the bass in the Hogwood to be a bit heavy, the violin a bit more distant, and I can't hear the guitar at all (if it's even there). Not that the AAM disc is poor, but this one just has more clarity.

Amazon Customer Review

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Haydn: 3 Violin Concertos - Standage, TEC, Pinnock

Joseph Haydn
3 Violin Concertos
Simon Standage, The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 427 316-2

Purchased this CD after hearing the finale concerto on this CD on public radio. I believe these were written early in Haydn's life. They have a Baroque/Rococo feel to them. These are good pieces and superably performed by the English Concert. Simon Standage, violinist, does an exceptional job; his playing is masterful, precise, expressive, and accomplished. Haven't listen to other verisons, but sense these are hard to beat. As with all English Concert recordings, they are difficult to match. This may be the best recording of Haydn's violin concertos. Unfortunately, it is out of print; good luck finding a copy.

Amazon Customer Review

Monday, April 11, 2011

Boyce: Symphonies - London Festival Orchestra, Ross Pople

William Boyce
Symphonies
London Festival Orchestra, Ross Pople
Arte Nova Classics 74321 34032 2

I didn't hesitate when I came across this, especially at the price. Pople has a solid reputation, and the pieces have been standards for years. The music is lightweight and enjoyable - technically early classical (published 1760) but with a strongly Late Baroque cast, and is, not surprisingly, reminiscent of Handel. Much of it was actually written before 1750 and the collection wasn't published till later, when this style of music was already outdated. There's not much more to say - it's not especially profound stuff, just charming. Here it's played on modern instruments; period instruments give this music a bit more grit, which doesn't hurt it one bit.

Amazon Customer Review

JS Bach: Das Wohltempierte Clavier 1 & 2 - Kenneth Gilbert

Johann Sebastian Bach
Das Wohltempierte Clavier 1 & 2
Kenneth Gilbert
Archiv 413 439-2

The preludes and fugues which comprise the 48 date from two periods in Bach's life. The first anthology of 24 was completed in 1722, shortly before Bach left Cöthen for Leipzig; the second followed 20 years later, in 1742, by which time he had completed 24 more preludes and fugues, this time without the title Well-tempered Clavier which he had given to the first. The upward semitone journey in which Bach set about exploring as many different keys as was then practicable is the same in both books. The idea was not without precedent, among earlier examples being J.C.F. Fischer's Ariadne musica, in which the composer seems to have had a similarly didactic purpose to that of Bach, though on a smaller scale.

This is the first complete 48 to have come my way for some while and I can say, at once, that it is a very satisfying one. Both the rival complete versions currently in the UK catalogue (Leonhardt on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi/Conifer and Walcha on Archiv Produktion) are elderly and suffer, at least in comparison with this new one from a lack of warmth in the instruments themselves. Archiv Produktion have achieved splendid results here with their recorded sound; there is an ideal resonance which captures the radiant character of the instrument extremely well. Kenneth Gilbert's blend of scholarship and fine technique, together with a thoughtful, modest personality, give his performances a notably concentrated quality free from gimmickry and excessive imposition of personal whim. It is a quality which, perhaps, does not always serve him quite so well on the concert platform where an extra dimension is sought and where there is less opportunity of becoming properly acquainted with an artist's deepest feeling. Such is not the case with recordings and Gilbert succeeds triumphantly with his 48; one might almost say, in fact, that he is never happier than when the studio red light is on!

In the first book there are virtually no markings and so the performer carries heavy responsibility for phrasing and articulation. Gilbert reaches some convincing conclusions; take the third fugue (C sharp major) for example where he achieves a marvellous carefree atmosphere by the degree of staccato which he applies to the quavers. At the same time his fine rhythmic sense never allows him to lose the innate elegance of the piece. That quality in his playing also serves him well in the preceding C sharp Prelude and in the D minor Prelude of Book I. There, rhythmic vitality and clear articulation make for outstanding performances; the flattened Es of bar 17 of the D minor have a haunting poignancy in Gilbert's handling of the piece. Leonhardt, incidentally, uses a 'lute' stop for both these preludes. In general, he makes more use than Gilbert of this kind of differentiation of colour and strand; but, despite its virtues both from entertainment and instructional points of view, I prefer the consistency of Gilbert's tonal palette which yields nothing to the other in textural clarity. Leonhardt's 48, by the way, is recorded on an instrument pitched at A=440 whereas Gilbert's is at something approaching A =415.

In short, this recording represents a major achievement both for Kenneth Gilbert and for Archiv Produktion. The digitally-recorded sound is first class (the recording was made in Chartres Museum). Refined performances full of elegance, clarity and lyricism.

N. A., Gramophone Magazine

Sunday, April 10, 2011

De Danske Sange - Musica Ficta, Bo Holten

De Danske Sange
Musica Ficta, Bo Holten
Naxos 8.570173G

In Memoriam P. N.
May 1934 - April 2011

What evil God lets a husbond die on his wife's birthday?


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Caldara: XII Sinfonie a Quattro - Ars Antiqua Austria, Letzbor

Antonio Caldara
XII Sinfonie a Quattro
Ars Antiqua Austria, Gunar Letzbor
Arcana A 324

There has been no doubt that, sooner or later, Gunar Letzbor would turn his attention to Antonio Caldara (1670-1736). The praiseworthy activity of this noted violinist and director in redrawing the musical map of the Austrian baroque could not ignore the cosmopolitan figure, admired by Bach and many others and who, in these present days, is being established as one of the major composers from the first half of the eighteenth century. A stunning achievement.

Amazon Customer Review

Friday, April 8, 2011

Albinoni: 12 Concertos - Manze, Bruine, Bernardini, Hogwood

Tomaso Albinoni
12 Concertos, Op.9
Andrew Manze, Frank de Bruine, Alfredo Bernardini,
The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood
Decca 458 129-2

Uninterrupted pleasure from start to finish.

For consistently amiable, if undemanding entertainment, Albinoni’s concertos, with or without oboe, or oboes, are hard to beat. Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music here perform the 12 concertos contained in the collection published in 1722 as the composer’s Op. 9. Neither the formal content nor the musical style differs significantly from Albinoni’s earlier collection, Op. 7 (1715); each set includes four concertos for strings, four for strings with oboe and four for strings with two oboes. In the Op. 9 set, though, greater emphasis is placed on solo violin in the all-string pieces.

I seem never to tire of these endlessly charming works and it is this set that perhaps contains Albinoni’s crowning achievement in the concerto sphere, a lyrical Adagio for solo oboe with a simple string arpeggio accompaniment belonging to the Second Concerto. Its wistful, undulating melody lingers forever in the memory, outclassing in every conceivable respect the spurious G minor Adagio, which persists like a virus, but upon which, paradoxically, Albinoni’s reputation during the second half of the twentieth century has largely been established. There are many delightful slow movements in this set, but also some irresistibly sprightly ones. These belong mainly to the pieces for two oboes, the Third and Sixth Concertos of the set providing spirited examples.

None of this is lost either on the three accomplished soloists – Andrew Manze, Frank de Bruine and Alfredo Bernardini – or the strings of the Academy of Ancient Music which provide lively and sensitive support. In short, the set affords uninterrupted pleasure from start to finish.

Only one other complete rival period-instrument version currently appears in the catalogue; that is by Collegium Musicum 90 directed by Simon Standage. Readers who have that set will perforce also have Albinoni’s Op. 7 concertos which intermingle with Op. 9 throughout the three discs. Collegium Musicum 90 offers brighter-sounding performances with the addition of a guitar, theorbo or archlute providing effective variety to the continuo support. But intonation in the A major Concerto is less secure than the more unanimous playing of the Academy. These matters apart, the choice will be determined by taste, above all, perhaps, where individual oboe tone is concerned. Both sets, in their own different ways, project the unfailing charm of these warmly expressive, unassuming but beautifully crafted concertos. No collection should be without the Second, Sixth or Eleventh Concertos.

Nicholas Anderson, Gramophone Magazine

CPE Bach: 4 Hamburger Sinfonien - Franz Liszt KO, Rolla

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
4 Hamburger Sinfonien
Franz Liszt Kammerorchester, János Rolla
Teldec 8.42843 ZK

I simply couldn't find a review for this recording anywhere...

But it's great!


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Johann Friedrich Fasch: Concerti - Il Gardellino

Johann Friedrich Fasch
Concerti
Il Gardellino
Accent ACC 24182

The 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688–1758) arrived last year. Fasch wasn’t ignored, but his anniversary appears to have been under-celebrated, as was Telemann’s when the tercentenary of his birth occurred in 1981. Fasch was another one of those composers who, like Graupner and Heinichen, has been overshadowed by composers like Telemann and Vivaldi.

Fasch undertook a long journey that involved several courts and cities, including a tenure in near ideal circumstances in Prague with Count Morzin, but it was only after the third time that a position in Zerbst landed in his lap (and following a letter to the composer from his father-in-law) that Fasch made the change. Fasch would spend the rest of his life there, although in his last years he faced constant financial difficulties as evidenced by surviving numerous petitions received by Fasch’s employer. Fasch’s reticence to make the change appears to have been well founded, as the workload in Zerbst was immense. He not only had to compose a large quantity of church music, but also provide music for special occasions and perform time-consuming and laborious administrative work. These responsibilities made the Zerbst post one of the most coveted in the region, and Fasch made an effort to keep it so by establishing and maintaining contact with Johann Christoph Graupner in Darmstadt (with whom Fasch studied for three months in 1714), Johann Georg Pisendel and Johann David Heinichen in Dresden, and Georg Philipp Telemann in Hamburg. In this way, Fasch was able to have his music performed outside of Zerbst and thereby establish a reputation in important music centers. But this turned out to be a quid pro quo, as it gave Fasch an opportunity to access and presumably perform music from other courts. This accounts for the fact that there are several sources for some of Fasch’s works, making it difficult to assess. But it appears that most of the vocal works are lost while most of the instrumental works survive.

Fasch’s output includes 87 orchestral suites scored for a variety of instruments, including just over six dozen concertos. These form the next most significant portion of Fasch’s instrumental output. With the exception of four concertos (none of which are included here), they follow the three-movement plan generally attributed to Vivaldi. But unlike his Dresden colleagues, Fasch turned away from the excessive virtuosity and flamboyance of Vivaldi and embraced the more restrained style of Telemann. The manuscripts of the concertos recorded here are housed in Darmstadt and Dresden, with those featuring multiple soloists reflecting the makeup and taste of the Dresden orchestra, which at the time, was one of the finest in Europe.

Fasch was no Bach, so there is nothing esthetically revelatory about the music offered on this recording, but there is much to appreciate in these conservatively paced, nicely colored, and admirable interpretations that are consistently fresh and intelligent. Though there isn’t a great deal of tonal variety, these recordings do offer an elemental beauty of tone, and afford much pleasure, even with the occasional repeated listening. The SACD format augments the sound, creating a wholly realistic aural environment.

Michael Carter, Fanfare

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

JS Bach: Brandenburg Concertos - Musica Antiqua Köln, Goebel

Johann Sebastian Bach
Brandenburg Concertos
Musica Antiqua Köln, Reinhard Goebel
Archiv 423 116-2

Why does Mr. Goebel play his violin so fast, daddy?
Because he can, son.


I suppose that's not an adequate answer. Most of the negative reviews of this performance express outrage at Goebel's tempi, but in fact the only movements of the six Brandenburg Concertos that might be considered abnormally fast are the second of #3 and the first of #6. Otherwise Goebel sets consistently playable tempi, with maximum contrast between the allegros and the adagios. To my ear, the breakneck fiddling on the allegro of #3 sounds authentically thrilling; anyone would have to admit that it's very well played. Concerto #6 isn't my favorite. It has been nicknamed "The Scrub Board" and Goebel chooses to exaggerate its gruffness, not only in tempo but also in bowing technique. I would wager it's not his favorite, either.

What's so darn good about Bach, anyway? Some people may never know. To really appreciate Bach, you need to hear all the voices - all the lines - simultaneously. It's a listening skill not everyone has, and an intellectual mode of listening more than an emotional one. Not that Bach can't be appreciated emotionally! That would be an absurd assertion. But to really hear Bach, you need to follow the counterpoint instinctively, to make sense of three, four, five instruments in a conversation where they all play at once. That's what's so very darn good about Musica Antiqua Koeln's performance of the Brandenburgs: all the lines speak clearly. The precision and balance of the ensemble creates an astonishing musical transparency. I know the Brandenburgs very well; I've played the bassoon and recorder parts in concert. I've been buying and listening to new recordings of them since I was a teenager in the 1950s. Even so, when I listen to this performance by MAK, I invariably "hear" exchanges between parts that I never noticed before. I hear the distinct eloquence of the inner voices. In #5, my favorite of all, I hear the incredible harpsichord of Andreas Staier in every measure, even when the full ensemble is blazing away. Thus, when the harpsichord soars into its otherworldly extended cadenza, the most electrifying moment in all Baroque music, it sounds both inevitable and continuous with the musical development of the allegro.

There are at least sixty performances of the Brandenburgs available on CD currently. Some are superb, some are mediocre, and some should be mercifully retired. Even if you already have a favorite, one of the superb sort, you won't regret hearing Reinhard Goebel's bold interpretation. And if it's too fast for you, all I can say is...listen faster!

Giordano Bruno, Amazon Customer Review

JS Bach: 4 Ouvertüren BWV 1066-1069, 1070 - MAK, Reinhard Goebel

Johann Sebastian Bach
4 Ouvertüren BWV 1066-1069, Ouvertüre BWV 1070
Musica Antiqua Köln, Reinhard Goebel
Archiv 415 671-2

Goebel and Musica Antiqua Koln play these works beautifully and with great taste. Understand it is difficult for me to believe this after having heard this same ensembles' Brandenburgs, which are a bit of a joke (the 6th concerto, all 3 movements, sound like a 33 played at 45rpm, it's that fast - and rest of the concertos are ridiculously fast as well.) Here in the overtures, tempi are quick, but not overly so; the orchestral forces blend very well and produce a beautiful sound, particularly during Suite No. 1. The reedwork from the oboes is beautiful, as is the tone of Goebel's lead violin - excellent attack and tasteful ornamentations. The group's performance of Suite No. 2 is my favorite version, again with the overture played quickly but not overly fast like Pinnock/English Concert. The Badinerie here features some very fine recorder work. The horns in Suites 3 and 4 are as precise as one can possibly expect from period instruments, and they never sound blatty or sloppy. The famous Air movement sounds beautiful here, highlighted again by Goebel's exceptional lead violin. Throughout, fugues in the overtures are taken at brisk tempos and feature razor-sharp accuracy and accomplished solo work. Dance movements are slightly faster than average, but again not overly so and each movement still flows musically.

These are excellent period performances, showing the evolution of the very notion of the period performance in the late 1980s as tempi get even quicker. Still, Musica Antiqua are always in tune and in time, unlike some of their historically informed brethren. I find this ensemble to be rather hit or miss, but they really scored here - everything works beautifully and I encourage any fan of period performances to pick this set up. Between this and the other sets I've heard (Pinnock/English Concert, Marriner/ASMTF, Fasolis/I Barocchisti, Harnoncourt/Concentus Musicus Wien, Hogwood/AAM), this set has the best instrumental playing and the most natural-sounding performances, even if it lacks the big-name punch of some of the competitors. Highly, highly recommended.

Amazon Customer Review

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Gregori, Stradella: Concerti Grossi - Capriccio Basel

Giovanni Lorenzo Gregori, Alessandro Stradella
Concerti Grossi
Capriccio Basel
Capriccio 71 091

It is hard to understand but there seems to be no review of this wonderful recording to be found anywhere on the internet.
That shouldn't stop you from downloading it though.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fasch: Concerti & Sinfoniae - Main-Barockorchester Frankfurt

Johann Friedrich Fasch
Concerti & Sinfoniae
Main-Barockorchester Frankfurt
Aeolus AE-10017

While it would be premature to talk of a full-scale revival of the music of Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688–1758), recent years have witnessed a respectable interest in the composer. The attention is unquestionably justified, since while Fasch rarely sought profundity, his music is unfailingly well crafted, highly inventive, and effortlessly conforms to one of the most important tenets of 18th-century orchestral music to entertain.

Stylistically, Fasch’s orchestral works span the transition from the late Baroque to the pre-Classical style. This is clearly apparent in the three contrasted sinfonias on the present disc, in particular the B♭ Sinfonia, one of only three of Fasch’s 19 surviving pieces in this form to add a pair of oboes to the strings. In the infectiously bright opening Allegro, the advanced leanings of what sounds like a thoroughly mature work are in evidence in the periodic phrasing, and contrasts of dynamics and color (Fasch is fond of imitative exchanges between high and low strings, also in evidence in the first movement of the G-Minor Sinfonia). The succeeding Cantabile is a gem, a sinuously lovely and highly expressive movement in siciliano rhythm that also displays its modern credentials by using the oboes to bind the texture. The dramatic intensity of the first movement of the G-Minor Sinfonia depends on the contrast between the harsh triple chord heard at the outset (and used as a motto throughout the movement) and the quieter answering phrase. The glowingly lyrical Andante that follows is in the major, after which comes a contrapuntal movement that starts as a four-part fugue (significantly marked by Fasch in stile antico), and a finale notable for its major/minor ambiguity. The Sinfonia in A Minor is perhaps marginally less noteworthy than its fellows, the highpoint being the delicately pastoral Andantino scored for muted strings. Main-Barockorchester Frankfurt is one of the younger German period-instrument ensembles (it was founded in 1998), with this being its debut recording. On this evidence, it is a body that needs fear no comparison with better-known rivals; quicker movements are played with a bright-eyed élan and tonal finesse, while Fasch’s eloquently melodious slower movements are given just the right degree of expressive warmth.

All three of the sinfonias appear to be new to the catalog, as are two of the concertos. The odd man out is the concerto for chalumeau, which has received two previous recordings, one by the English Concert, the other on an Accademia Daniel disc that was the subject of a feature review in Fanfare 23:6. The rustic liquidity of this precursor of the clarinet seems to have particularly appealed to Fasch, who included it in a number of his works. He certainly wrote idiomatically for the instrument, exploiting its ability to “sing” a cantabile aria in the opening Largo of the B♭ Concerto, a movement of Handelian breadth, in addition to playing flexible passagework in allegros. This beguiling work well deserves its relative popularity, and is splendidly played here by Christian Leitherer. In outer movements, Fasch’s concertos conform to the basic principles of Venetian ritornello form, but their material is invariably more closely integrated. The opening Allegro of the D-Minor Violin and Oboe Concerto is a particularly striking example, the distinctive material of both ritornello and the solo episodes constantly developed as the movement progresses. The writing here, as in the central Largo—another of Fasch’s memorably melodic cantabiles—is notable for eschewing showy work for the soloists in favor of concertante-writing. The Violin Concerto in A is a more overtly solo work, including some fairly demanding decorative passagework, but again features a long-breathed Largo with Lombardic rhythms (another Fasch favorite) that is well negotiated by Martin Jopp, the odd moment of slightly sour intonation excepted.

The attractions of this irresistible disc are further enhanced by superb sound. It is rare for a first recording to achieve such distinction, and I greatly look forward to hearing the Hertel disc subsequently recorded by Main-Barockorchester Frankfurt.

Brian Robins, Fanfare

Fasch: Ouvertures - Il Fondamento, Paul Dombrecht

Johann Friedrich Fasch
Ouvertures in G Minor, D Minor and G Major
Il Fondamento, Paul Dombrecht
Fuga Libera FUG502

Both CPO and Berlin Classics have given serious attention to the music of Johann Fasch (1688-1758), and you can read reviews of several of these recordings by typing Q1627, Q1270, Q5998, and Q8034 in Search Reviews. Rather than rehash the importance of Fasch's artistic influences and personal friendship with the older Telemann, or his masterful use of French and Italian stylistic devices in his orchestral suites - also called Overtures - all of which is discussed in the previous reviews, I'll just say that for listeners who enjoy Baroque orchestral music, these three works will prove very satisfying if not particularly revelatory. Most interesting are the timbres elicited by the prominent scoring for oboes (two or three) and bassoon, and the varied manner by which Fasch plays one group - winds or strings - against the other. Especially notable are movements such as the first Aria Largo in the G minor suite, where each component of the orchestra - even the bassoon - gets significant moments in the spotlight.

The melodic writing can be quite lovely in the slow movements and infectiously vivacious in the quicker ones, and it's all affectingly and effectively written to keep us happily interested. Textures in the French-style opening movements can be on the heavy side - and Il Fondamento, aided by the somewhat hard-edged sound environment, seems to particularly relish a strong-handed approach to the dotted rhythms while emphasizing the reedy timbre of the winds. I had a pleasant time listening to this - and it's worth mentioning that it was made more so by the well-written, informative liner notes.

David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com