Mysterien-Kantaten

Mysterien-Kantaten
Ensemble Les Surprises
Ambronay Editions AMY051. 58’16

Mysterien Kantaten

Music by Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Bruhns, Bernhard, Scheidemann, Reincken

Taking its title from Biber’s Mystery Sonatas (although not actually including any of those pieces), this recording from Les Surprises delves into the mysteries of life and death with an exploration of late 17th-century North German sacred cantatas of Buxtehude, Bruhns and Bernhard. What was particularly interesting for me to listen to, as an organist, were the arrangements of two well-known ground bass organ pieces for instruments. The CD opens with a version of Pachelbel’s Ciaconna in F minor, based on a repeated descending four-note bass line. We are then plunged straight into the world of death, with the Klag Lied, Buxtehude’s extraordinarily moving reflection on the death of his own father, whose last days were spent in his son’s home in Lübeck. It is followed by Nicolaus Bruhns’ cantata for bass voice meditation on death, De profundis clamavi and the second of the instrumental arrangements of organ pieces, Buxtehude’s Passacaglia in D minor. The programme notes (perhaps rather too unquestionably) the admittedly rather good theory that this is based on the lunar month and the phases of the moon, with its 28 variations and four sections, each with a distinctively different mood.  Continue reading

Gonzaga Band: Venice 1629

Venice 1629
The Gonzaga Band
Resonus RES10218. 68’27

Music by Castello, Monteverdi, Marini, Schütz, Grandi, Pesenti,
Tarditi, Carrone, Donati, and Rè

The Gonzaga Band, as the name suggests, was founded to explore the
music of late Renaissance Italy, their name inspired by the Mantua seat of the Gonzaga family, where Claudio Monteverdi had been their maestro della musica. However, this recording is centred in Venice, around 150km east of Mantua. The year 1629 is when Schütz, then  Hofkapellmeister of the Saxon court in Dresden, made a second visit to Venice to learn more about the music of Monteverdi and his contemporaries. Monteverdi had been maestro di cappella at St Mark’s since 1613, and the style of Giovanni Gabrielli, under whom Schütz studied in Venice a couple of decades earlier, was beginning to be superceded by the new style of the early Baroque.  Whilst there, Schütz published the first volume of his Symphoniae Sacrae. The same year also saw the publication of music by Dario Castello, Alessandro Grandi, Biagio Marini and others. This recording explores the extraordinarily productive musical life of Venice during that single year of 1629, with pieces from the musical greats of the city, as well as lesser-known composers.  Continue reading

Vivaldi: Le Quatro Stagioni

Vivaldi: Le Quatro Stagioni
Il Riposo, L’Amoroso, and Il Grosso Mogul
Rachel Podger, Brecon Baroque
Channel Classics CCS SA 403318. 75’24

Although the Four Seasons sounds much better in Italian, it doesn’t hide the fact that this is yet another recording of the inevitable old favourite. Despite there being squillions of other recordings available, a new one will probably guarantee good sales, not least because people do seem to like what they know. And they do know the Four Seasons, even if the CD title of Le Quatro Stagioni might confuse them a little. Vivaldi wrote more than 200 concertos for violin and orchestra, For the more discerning listener, there has to be something distinctive to separate any new recording out from the competition. And, boy, haven’t some people tried something distinctive. Rachel Podger and her Brecon Baroque avoid the ‘distinctive’ route and instead focus on intelligent music-making, aided by sensitive articulation, sensible speeds and appropriate accompaniments.  Continue reading

Buxtehude: Abendmusiken

Buxtehude: Abendmusiken
Vox Luminis, Ensemble Masques, Lionel Meunier
Alpha:
ALPHA287. 85’17

Gott hilf mir, denn das Wasser geht mir bis an die Seele, BuxWV 34
Befiehl dem Engel, dass er komm, BuxWV 10
Jesu, meine Freude, BuxWV 60
Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr, BuxWV 41
Jesu, meines lebens leben, BuxWV 62
Trio Sonatas, BuxWV 255, 267, and 272

Although the CD publicity and Peter Wollny’s programme essay credit Dietrich Buxtehude with the Lübeck Abendmusik, the famous series of Thursday early evening concerts during the five weeks leading up to Christmas were in fact founded by Buxtehude’s predecessor as organist of the Marienkirche, Franz Tunder. He died in 1667, so the roots of the evening entertainment funded by local businessmen, and free to all-comers, are well before the music heard on the recording, most of which comes from Buxtehude’s later years. As organist, rather than Kantor, of the Marienkirche, Buxtehude was not required to compose music for the weekly liturgy, so he was able to devote more time to his compositions, independent of the pressure of service writing. This resulted in a magnificent series of vocal, choral and instrumental works, much of which is still not as well known as his highly influential organ music. It was these Abendmusik concerts that attracted the young Bach and Handel to Lübeck, as well as the prospect of succeeding Buxtehude, even with the requirement to marry his sole unmarried daughter, by then considerably older than either of them. Incidentally, Buxtehude had married his predecessor’s daughter, as had Tunder and many other generations of Marienkirche organists.

This impressive recording helps to reset that balance with a well-chosen sequence of vocal and instrumental pieces, including three of his beautifully expressive Trio Sonatas. Although not specifically intended for service use, Buxtehude’s cantatas offer an insight into the Pietist sentiments of 17th-century Lübeck, with an exquisitely profound underlying sensitivity and sensuousness. Continue reading

Fantasia Incantata

Fantasia Incantata
Ensemble Libro Primo

Sabine Stoffer & Alex McCartney
Veterum Musica VM018. 50’53

G. B. Viviani: Sonata Prima
N. Matteis: Passaggio Rotto
B. Marini: Sonata Quarta ‘Per sonar con due Corde’
G. G. Kapsberger: Preludes, Toccatas, Gagliarda, Corrente, Passacaglia
G. A. Pandolfi Mealli: Sonata Seconda ‘La Cesta’
H. I. F. Biber: Sonata IV ‘Darstellung im Tempel’

This impressive recording by Ensemble Libro Primo (Sabine Stoffer & Alex McCartney) features 17th-century music for violin and theorbo written in the Stylus Phantasticus:  a style described by Johann Mattheson as “sometimes agitated, sometimes hesitant, sometimes one- and sometimes many-voiced; often also shortly after the beat: without rhythm; but not without the intention to please, to rush nor to amaze.” This seemingly anarchic compositional style was a major influence on Italian and German composers of the period, its rapid changes of mood, pulse and metre creating an almost operatic sense of drama. As the programme note describes, this style was “a natural conveyance of a highly elaborate improvisatory performance practice“. That sense of improvisatory performance infuses these performances with drama and excitement. One example is the solo violin Passagio Rotto by N. Matteis. Matteis was praised by Roger North for his “eloquent, expressive style“: words that accurately describe Sabine Stoffer’s own delightful playing. Continue reading

Rondeau Mélancolique

Rondeau Mélancolique
László Rózsa, Jonathan Rees, Alex McCartney

Veterum Musica VM 017. 62’22

The CD notes open with a quote from Laurence Sterne’s ‘A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy’ (London, 1768): “Tis going, I own, like the Knight of the Woeful Countenance in quest of melancholy adventures. But I know not how it is, but I am never so perfectly conscious of the existence of a soul within me, as when I am entangled in them“. It helps to describe the mood of the music on the recording, which focusses on the more intimate, delicate and sensuous music of the often flamboyant and dramatic of the French Baroque courts from the time of Louix XIV onwards into the mid-17th-century. It was period of change for French music, as the influence of Italy slowly began to make itself felt, particularly after the death of Lully, whose dominance of the French music scene had stifled any imported musical ideas. Continue reading

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri, Giulio Prandi
Marlis Petersen, Marta Fumagalli
Arcana A444, 71’18
Arcana_A444_PERGOLESI_Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri_Giulio Prandi

Messa in Re maggiore;  Mottetto: “Dignas laudes resonemus”

Whether you assume that Pergolesi only wrote one work or are an aficionado, this CD of two previously unrecorded pieces (the Messa in Re maggiore and the operatic “Dignas laudes resonemus”) is an important one. The editions used are the outcome of recent musicological research by the Centro Studi Pergolesi in Milan. The Messa in Re maggiore is performed in the second of two surviving versions, dating from 1733/4, incidentally, the same year as the first version of Bach’s B minor Mass. It is in the two-movement Neapolitan form of Kyrie and Gloria. It is a joyful work, with an almost skittish concluding Amen. Pergolesi’s use of vocal and orchestral colour and texture can range from the utmost delicacy to thundering drama, as exemplified in the dramatic opening of the Messa in Re maggiore. The dark opening to the Qui tollis is followed by a subdued section that seems to foreshadow the Sturm und drang of the later Hadyn generation. These two works explore Pergolesi’ theatrical style of writing, in the Neapolitan tradition.  Continue reading

Mozart: Piano Duets: Vol 2

Mozart: Piano Duets: Vol 2
Emma Abbate & Julian Perkins
Resonus RES10210. 70’43

Mozart: Sonatas in F major K497 and C major K19d
Mozart, completed Levin: ‘Sonata’ in G major K357
Clementi: Sonata in E-flat

I reviewed Volume 1 of this two-disc series here. That review gives the background to Mozart’s piano duets and the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection of early keyboard instruments. For this recording, Emma Abbate and Julian Perkins choose two different fortepianos from the collection, a Viennese grand piano by Michael Rosenberger c1800 and a 1820s square piano by London’s Clementi & Co. The recital opens with the most substantial and important work, the Sonata in F, K497, running the risk of overpowering the other pieces. Unfortunately, for some reason, the programme notes do not follow the recorded order of the pieces.  Continue reading

Pour La Duchesse du Maine

Pour La Duchesse du Maine
Ensemble La Francaise
Polymnie ‎POL 503 134. 55′

Bernier: Cantate Médée
Mouret: Concert de Chambre
Bourgeois: Cantate Ariane

This recording presents two cantatas and an orchestral suite representing the type of music enjoyed by the colourful Duchesse Du Maine (Louise Bénédicte de Bourbon) during the early years of the 17th-century. Unhappily married off at the age of 15 to the Duke de Maine, the legitimised son of Louse XIV and his mistress Mme de Montespan, the ‘princess of the blood’ saw the arrangement as a disgrace, and soon find ways to distance herself, not least by being pretty insulting to her husband (like her, suffering from a physical disability) and taking several lovers. In her mansion at Seaux (pictured below), she set up an alternative court and arranged lavish entertainments for which she became known as La Reine des Abeilles (Queen Bee).

Château de Sceaux.jpg Continue reading

Baptiste Romain: In Seculum Viellatoris

In Seculum Viellatoris
‘The Medieval Vielle’
Baptiste Romain, Le Miroir de Musique
Ricercar RIC 388. 67’00

Baptiste Romain devotes this recording to the different varieties of the medieval bowed fiddle, or vielle, with a selection of troubadour songs, dances and polyphonic compositions from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. The exploration opens with the haunting sound of soprano Grace Newcombe singing Ar ne kuthe ich sorghe non, the well-known tune here with an English text replacing the original Latin (a ‘contrafactum’), copied around 1274. The voice is accompanied by a crwth (or crowde), a Gaelic relative of the Nordic lyre that was popular in England and Wales in the Middle Ages, competing for popularity with the fiddle. There are five tracks with a singer, the remaining 11 are instrumental, with Baptiste Romain playing vielle, rubeba, crwth, or bagpipes, supported by well-judged accompaniments (often with just one or two instruments) from members of the ensemble Le Miroir de Musique. There are two pieces by Pedigon, a Provençal troubadour around 1200 who was famed for his playing of the fiddle (pictured below).

Perdigon.jpg

 

Continue reading

Hieronymus Praetorius: Missa Tulerunt Dominum Meum

Hieronymus Praetorius: Missa Tulerunt Dominum Meum
Siglo de Oro, Patrick Allies
Delphian DCD34208. 59’27

Hieronymus Praetorius is one of the finest, but one of the least-known, of the magnificent sequence of North German organist-composers centred around Hamburg during the 17th century.  He represents what to many is a surprising reflection of the state of music in Hamburg in the years before the influence of the Amsterdam-trained generation of Sweelinck pupils. These included Hieronymus’s own sons, Jacob II and Johannes, together with Samual Scheidt, Heinrich Scheidemann and Melchior Schildt.  In the ‘family-business’ world of German organists, Hieronymus was the son of an organist (Jacob I) and eventually replaced him as organist of the Hamburg Jacobikirche.  Continue reading

XII Fantasie per il Flauto senza Basso

XII Fantasie per il Flauto senza Basso
Tabea Debus, recorders
TYXart XA18105.  79’51

XXIV Fantasie per il Flauto - Tabea Debus

Telemann’s 12 Fantasias for solo Flute paired with pieces commissioned by the City Music Foundation from the 12 contemporary composers: Leo Chadburn, Ronald Corp, Moritz Eggert, Arne Gieshoff, Dani Howard, Oliver Leith, Colin Matthews, Fumiko Miyachi, Misha Mullov-Abbado, Alastair Penman, Max de Wardener and Frank Zabel.

There is more than enough classical music around to keep performers happy for hundreds of years to come, but without new composers and compositions, music as a creative art form will die. So this recording from recorder player Tabea Debus is particularly important. In conjunction with the City Music Foundation, she commissioned 12 contemporary composers to write companion pieces to Telemann’s 12 Fantasies, originally written for solo flute, but here performed very effectively on a range of different recorders. I reviewed some of the new pieces during a Baroque at the Edge festival earlier this year (see here), but this CD brings them all together in a fascinating sequence of Telemann and contemporary takes on Telemann. Some of the new pieces follow the relevant Telemann Fantasias, some introduce them – and some are interspersed within the Telemann movements.  Continue reading

Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 2

Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 2
London Early Opera, Bridget Cunningham
Signum SIGCD479. 59’44

This recording is the second part London Early Opera’s exploration of the music of Handel as it might have been performed at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in the 1740s. Their 2017 recording, Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 1 (reviewed here) presented the first half of a conjectural reconstruction of typical evening’s entertainment, and we now have the second half, continuing the fascinating mix of orchestral, organ and vocal music. Each half of these concerts usually had around eight pieces, usually including an organ concerto, other instrumental pieces, songs and dances, performed from the central bandstand. The opening song of the second half, Spring Gardens: Flora, goddess sweetly blooming sets the scene, noting that “Belles and beaux are all invited / To partake of varied sweets . . . as breaking notes descending / Break upon the list’ning ear”. In complete contrast, it is followed by the Concerto Grosso (Op 6/4), one of a set of twelve published in 1739/40 in homage to Corelli.  Continue reading

Concerto

Concerto
Works for one & two harpsichords
Guillermo Brachetta, Menno van Delft
Resonus RES10189. 56’24

I have reviewed harpsichordist Guillermo Brachetta recordings on Resonus favourably several times before (here) but was almost immediately put off this CD by the overly mannered playing of Bach’s opening Italian Concerto (BWV 971), particularly the first two movements. Lingering on notes to this extent not only disrupts the flow of the music and the underlying pulse but, in my view, is alien to the Baroque concept of performance style as I understand it. That said, I am glad that I continued listening to the CD as this aspect of performance is not as apparent in the later pieces, even in the pieces by WF Bach and Graun where, arguably, such flexibility of rhythm and articulation might be considered rather more appropriate. Interestingly there is also no recurrence in the other JS Bach piece, the Concerto a due Cembali in C major (BWV 1061a) performed with Menno van Delft. This is the assumed original version, from around the same time as the Italian Concerto, which was later turned into a concerto with added string accompaniment. For me, this performance is the highlight of the CD,  Continue reading

César Franck: Trois Chorals

César Franck: Trois Chorals
Tournemire: transcriptions from Franck’s operas Hulda and Ghiselle
Yoann Tardivel, organ
HORTUS 147. 57:56

The Trois Chorals of César Franck rank amongst the highlights of both the French organ repertoire and the related instrument, the French 19th-century French symphonic organ, typified by the famed organ builder Cavaillé-Coll. They were one of the last works written just two months before he died, in 1890. Yoann Tardivel has won some impressive organ prizes. He takes an attractively reflected approach to his performance of the Three Chorales, avoided the look-at-me approach of some organists who see pieces like these as vehicles to demonstrate their own prowess, rather than demonstrating the music. Some of his speeds are a little slow by present-day standards, but this seems to add gravitas to his playing and is fine by me. He choice of registrations is excellent, and the recording is particularly well engineered with a solid bass.  Continue reading

Splendour

Splendour
Golden Age of North German Organ Music
Organ Music & Vocal Works by Buxtehude, Hassler, Praetorius & Scheidemann
Kei Koito, Il Canto di Orfeo
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 88985437672. 73’15

This CD features a comprehensive survey of the important 17th -century North German School of organist composers, broadly covering the generations of composers between the Hamburg Sweelinck pupils and Buxtehude. The latter’s predecessor in Lübeck, Franz Tunder, opens the programme with his ebulient Praeludium in g. The programme then broadly follows the format of a organ chorale prelude followed by the relevent chorale, sung by the Italian choir Il Canto di Orfeo, directed by Gianluca Capuano. The organ used is the well-known 1624 Hans Scherer instrument in the Stephanskirche, Tangermünde, Germany, a splendid example of the early 17th-century North German organ building tradition. It’s impressive range of colours and textures are explored to the full in Kei Koito’s choice of registrations. 
Continue reading

French Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin

French Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin
Philippe Grisvard & Johannes Pramsohler
Audax ADX13710. 2CDs. 64’20+51’45

Balbastre: Sonata I in G major
Clément: Sonata No. 1 in C minor
Corrette: Sonata Op. 25, No. 4 in E minor
Duphly: Suite in F major; Suite in G major; Troisième livre de pièces de clavecin
Guillemain: Violin Sonatas, Op 8/4, 5 & 6
Luc Marchand: Suite, Op 1/1
Mondonville: Sonate en symphonie, Op. 3 No. 6; Violin Sonata in G minor, Op 3/1

Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville was the subject of two earlier Audax CDs, reviewed here and here. He is generally credited with moving the French harpsichord from a mere continuo supporting instrument to a role that became equal, or even supplanted, that of the violin with his 1740 publication: Pièces de clavecin en sonates avec accompagnement de violon. This started a plethora of similar pieces over the next 20 years from many different composers. It is a repertoire well worth hearing, and this recording is an important contribution to musical understanding of this middle period in French musical history, half way between the musical heights of the High Baroque in the years around 1700, to the more populist style of the latter part of the decade. Continue reading

JS Bach/JC Bach/CEP Bach: Magnificats

JS Bach, JC Bach & CPE Bach: Magnificats
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion CDA68157. 76’48

This recording has the same programme as the concert in St John’s, Smith Square in October 2015. The CD was recorded a few days after the concert, in the church of St Mary the Virgin and St Mary Magdalen in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, but has only recently been released. The acoustics of this large Gothic church (with its wide nave and tiny side aisles) are more generous than St John’s, Smith Square, giving an added bloom to the sound, although the spacing of the musical forces sometimes gives more of a sense of distance that the more compact London stage avoided. Unlike the concert performance, the CD opens with JS Bach’s 1733 reworking of his earlier E flat version, written for his first Christmas in Lübeck in 1723. It is given a forthright performance without the irritating gaps between movements that I mentioned in the concert review.  Continue reading

Bach & Weiss

Bach & Weiss
Music For Baroque Violin & Lute
Johannes Pramsohler & Jadran Duncumb
Audax Records ADX13706. 77’32
 


JS Bach/Weiss: Suite in A Major (BWV 1025) arr. for violin and obligato lute
Weiss: Suite in A Minor for baroque lute
JS Bach: Partita in D Minor for solo violin (BWV 1004)

The inspiration for this CD is the opening work, an arrangement for violin and obligato lute of the Bach/Weiss A Major Suite (BWV 1025). The whole of the programme note is given over to explaining the complicated background and source history of this piece, leaving the other two works in the programme to “speak for themselves”. The distinguished lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss knew the Bach family well. He was a friend of WF Bach in Dresden and sponsor of CPE Bach’s application for a post in the Prussian court. In 1739 Weiss visited JS Bach in Leipzig, together with WF Bach, staying for around four weeks. During that time they indulged in friendly improvisation contests, including playing fantasias and fugues, Bach on harpsichord, Weiss on lute. Bach’s private secretary wrote: “Something extra special is happening here.”

For this recording, Johannes Pramsohler and Jadran Duncumb have reconstructed one possible outcome of the visit, the Suite in A Major, BWV 1025, seemingly an arrangement by JS Bach for harpsichord and violin of an original lute piece by Weiss. It is not entirely clear from the sources how Bach made his arrangement, but it seems likely that he added a violin part to a keyboard transcription of Weiss’s lute piece, presumably with some help from Weiss because, as far as we know, JS Bach was not proficient at reading lute tablature.  Continue reading

Duo Enßle-Lamprecht: Tesserae

Tesserae
Duo Enßle-Lamprecht
Anne-Suse Enßle, Philipp Lamprecht
Audax Records ADX 13712. 52’54

The rather severe-looking Duo Enßle-Lamprecht concentrates on newly commissioned music and the very early repertoire. For this recording, they explore pieces drawn from a number of medieval manuscripts, including Can vei la lauzeta mover by the 12th-century Bernart de Ventadorn (the only vocal piece on the recording), La Quinte Estampie Real from the 13th-century Manuscript du Roi, Eya herre got was mag das gesein and Stabat mater from the 13th-century Castilian Las Huelgas Codex, an Alleluja from the Swiss Codex Engelberg (c1375), three pieces by the enigmatic 14th-century ‘Monk of Salzburg’, the early 15th-century Codex Faenza, and the famous British Library MS.Add.29987 with its enormous collection of 14th-century Italian music. Performing medieval music is always a bit of a minefield. There isn’t much of it, and what there is leaves very little indication of how it should be played. Evidence for instrumentation tends to come from the occasional literary reference, or from artworks of the time.  Continue reading

CPE Bach: Clavierstucke Tangere

CPE Bach: Clavierstucke
Tangere
Alexei Lubimov

ECM New Series 2112. 67’30

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Fantasien, Sonaten, Rondi und SolfeggiRussian pianist Alexei Lubimov concentres his performances and recordings on new music and music from the Baroque era performed on period instruments. This CD presents CPE Bach’s fantasies, sonatas and rondos played on the little-known tangent piano, usually referred to in German-speaking countries as the Pantaleon, Spattisches Klavier or Tangentenflügel. It enjoyed a brief moment of glory in the 18th century as a gap between the harpsichord and clavichord and the forthcoming fortepiano. Rather like the clavichord, its strings are struck from underneath by wood or metal tangents. Unlike the clavichord, where the note continues to sound while the tangent is in contact with the string, the tangent piano has an escarpment action similar to that of a fortepiano which allows the string to freely vibrate. It has a similar extent and control of expressiveness to the clavichord but is capable of much greater volume and intensity. It makes a gloriously twangy sound. There are a few original instruments still in existence, but this recording uses a modern replica, by Chris Maene of Belgium, of a 1794 Späth and Schmahl tangent piano from Regensburg.  Continue reading

Bach Inspiration

Bach Inspiration
Juliette Hurel, flute,
Maïlys de Villoutreys, soprano, Alice Julien-Laderriere, violin
Ensemble Les Surprises, Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
Alpha Classics/Outhere, ALPHA 358. 67’31

Although usually outnumbered by the violin and oboe as a solo instrument, JS Bach made use of the solo flute and recorder in many of his pieces, using the recorder more often in cantatas, and the flute in chamber music. In an eclectic programme, this recording, clearly intended as a showpiece for flautist Juliette Hurel, explores some of Bach’s writing for flute. It includes four arias for soprano, sung effectively by Maïlys de Villoutreys. The opening B Minor Orchestral Suite (BWV 1067) is the key orchestral work including flute, although the 5th Brandenburg concerto (not included) comes a close second. The Trio Sonata in G (BWV 1038) reveals the flute in chamber mode (played with violinist Alice Julien-Laderriere) while the Partita in A minor (BWV 1013) reveals the flute in solo mode. Continue reading

CPE Bach: Complete works for keyboard & violin

CPE Bach: Complete works for keyboard & violin
Duo Belder Kimura
Resonus RES10192. 2CDs 69’32+62.51

This CD includes all of CPE Bach’s pieces for violin and keyboard, with seven Sonatas, a Fantasia, Sinfonia and Ariosa with variations (Wq. 71-80). For the first few seconds of listening to this recording, I wondered if it was playing at the correct speed, so sparkily light and delicate was the brisk opening with its precisely articulated rapid-fire trills from both violin and harpsichord. But this was the musical language of the young CPE Bach heard in the opening of his Sonata in C Wq.73, one of a group of three Sonatas composed in 1731 when Bach was just 17 and a student at the Leipzig Thomasschule. He later revised them 15 years later in Berlin, and it is not clear to what extent we are hearing the young or more mature Bach. But the combination of his father’s influence and the move away from the style of ‘Old Bach’ that was to dominate CPE Bach’s compositional style is clear. The second group of Sonatas date from 1763 (Wq. 75-78), with the harpsichord taking on a stronger role. The final two pieces (the Arioso and Fantasia) date from the 1780s, and the keyboard (a fortepiano after Walter, 1795) dominates the texture. The other pieces use a harpsichord after Blanchet (1730); the violin an original from the Gagliano school (c1730).  Continue reading

Telemann: Complete Trio Sonatas with Recorder and Viol

Telemann: Complete Trio Sonatas with Recorder and Viol
Da Camera
Chandos/Chaconne CHAN0817. 67’00

This excellent recording explores the compositions that Telemann considered to be his best – his Trio Sonatas. Da Camera (Emma Murphy, recorders, Susanna Pell, treble and bass viols, Steven Devine, harpsichord) performs eight such Sonatas, four from the 1739 Essercizii musici and four from the collection of Telemann manuscripts surviving in Darmstadt, mostly dating from the 1720s. The Darmstadt pieces are particularly interesting in that Da Camera use the combination of instruments specified by Telemann, with recorder and dessus de viole (treble viol), rather than the more usually heard combination of recorder and violin. Telemann’s indication makes perfect sense, the delicately expressive and sensitive sound of the treble viol both blending and contrasting perfectly with the recorder. Continue reading

Maximum Reger

Maximum Reger – The Last Giant
Fugue State Films. FSFDVD011. 6 DVD. c15h

Maximum Reger

Reger_Back_Cover

Johann Baptist Joseph Maximilian (Max) Reger (1873 -1916) is generally best known, if, perhaps, not always best liked, by organists. He is a bit of a love-or-hate composer, his extended and frequently dense organ pieces can be as hard to play as they, arguably, can be to listen to. As a breed, organists tend to concentrate on a composer’s organ music (with the possible exception of Bach) rather than exploring their music for other forces. Reger is one such, along with, for example, the contemporary, but longer-lived French composer Tournemire. If Reger is known at all to non-organists, it is probably through his chamber music. This extraordinary Fugue State Films box set of 6 DVDs, including a three-part documentary ‘The Last Giant’, aims to redress the balance of bringing Reger’s non-organ music and complex life story to organists, and the music of Reger in toto to non-organists who are not familiar with his music. For filmmaker and organist Will Fraser, of Fugue State Films, it is clearly a labour of love. Continue reading

Olwen Foulkes: Directed by Handel

Directed by Handel
Music from Handel’s London Theatre Orchestra
Olwen Foulkes, recorder
Barn Cottage Recordings, bcr019. 64’04

The decline of the recorder as a serious classical music instrument has long been predicted, for reasons that are quite beyond me. As an example, some years ago I was shocked to hear somebody involved with a well-known young artists competition in the north of the UK comment that a recorder player or consort would never win first prize. But evidence shows that recorder music and players are going from strength to strength, not least with through an impressive cohort of young performers making their way onto the professional circuit. One such is Olwen Foulkes a recent prize-winning graduate of London’s Royal Academy of Music where she obtained a Distinction and DipRAM award for her MMus degree. I first heard and reviewed her at the 2016 Royal Academy of Music’s early music prize competition, where she was part of the prizewinning group, of two recorder players plus cello and harpsichord continuo. This is her debut recording.  Continue reading

Secret Fires of Love

Secret Fires of Love
Studio Rhetorica, Robert Toft
Daniel Thomson, Thomas Leininger & Terry McKenna

Talbot Productions TP1701. 65’11

Studio Rhetorica, Daniel Thomson, Thomas Leininger & Terry McKenna | Secret Fires of Love

This recording is issued under the banner of Studio Rhetorica, a cover for the research work of Robert Toft, Canadian vocal coach and researcher, and this CD’s producer and musical director. The recording was planned to demonstrate examples of his research and approach to musical performance. To explain this, I quote from the extensive programme note on performance. This states that the performers (Australian tenor, Daniel Thomson, Canadian lutenist Terry McKenna, and German harpsichordist Thomas Leininger) “take a fresh approach to Renaissance and Baroque songs by treating the texts freely to transform inexpressive notation into passionate musical declamation. Daniel Thomson adopts the persona of a storyteller, and like singers of the past, he uses techniques of rhetorical delivery to re-create the natural style of performance listeners from the era would have heard (all the principles of performance Daniel employs are documented in period treatises on singing and speaking). This requires him to alter the written scores substantially, and his dramatic singing combines rhetoric and music in ways that have not been heard since the Renaissance and Baroque eras“. I suggest that several people would dispute the latter part of the final sentence.

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(Ex)Tradition

(Ex)Tradition
The Curious Bards
Traditional & Popular Music of 18th-Century Ireland & Scotland
Harmonia Mundi (harmonia#nova) HMN916105. 62’47


The Curious Bards was founded in 2013 by musicians from the music conservatories of Lyon, Paris and Basel, sharing an interest both in early music and traditional Irish, Celtic and Gaelic music. They aim to unite these musical worlds through research and historical musical discoveries. For this CD, they use a range of instruments including triple harp, violin, viola da gamba, a transverse flute, a tin whistle, and a cittern specially constructed by William Gibson for this recording, based on a 1778 Irish original in Dublin’s Collins Barracks Museum, part of the National Museum of Ireland. Continue reading

Bach: Organ Chorales

JS Bach
Organ Chorales of the Leipzig manuscript/Schübler Chorales
Vincent van Laar
Aliud ACDBN 103-2. 2CDs 60’32+52’34

There are many recordings of these pieces, so a new one needs to be judged by what it can offer that others cannot. One question is about the nature of performing in recital and for a recording. It is generally accepted that performers can be much freer in their interpretation when playing live than in recording. An interpretational flourish in a recital is a take-it-or-leave event, which may well not repay repeated listening. So recordings tend to be ‘safer’ interpretations. Some recordings are, in effect, ‘live’, in that they are either taken from a live recital, or are performed as if live, without editing or re-takes. On this recording, Vincent van Laar generally plays in the ‘safe’ zone, but there are a few occasions when he steps into a more personal mode. And it is these moments that make this recording worth considering.  Continue reading

Music in a Cold Climate

Music in a Cold Climate: Sounds of Hansa Europe
In Echo, Gawain Glenton (director)
Delphian DCD34206. 67’32

In Echo is a new period instrument group, directed by the cornettist Gawain Glenton. Their core instrumental line-up of cornetto, violin, sackbut (doubling violin), bass viol and keyboards has been expanded for this their debut recording by an additional violin/viola, bass viol and, in one piece, a violone. Their programme retraces the route of musicians active in the Hanseatic League (Hansa) during its heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries. The league was a trading partnership encompassing several countries, from Tallinn to London via the Germanic free cities of Lübeck, Hamburg, and Bremen and similar ports in Holland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The CD programme notes mention that the represented composers “each looked beyond their own shores and toward a sense of shared European culture and understanding” – a timely reminder today of the importance of freedom of travel for musicians. For this recording, In Echo also commissioned a new composition to complement the early pieces – Andrew Keeling’s Northern Soul. Continue reading