J S Bach: Well-tempered Consort – II
Linn CKD657. 70’05
Phantasm’s first ‘Well-tempered Consort’ recording, reviewed here, was a rather anarchic collection of Bach keyboard pieces arranged for viol consort. This, their second recording on the same theme, is far more coherent, combining Preludes and Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier. Of the 24 tracks, seven are from Book I, the rest from Book II. It is not surprising that there are far more fugues than preludes on the recording, with just six prelude and fugue pairs. The tracks are not in key order, but make perfect sense in terms of key relationships and mood. Four tracks are transposed down a semitone: the C# pair, and the F# and D# minor fugues.
Any reservations I might have had over their first recording are resolved here. The balance between the instruments is perfect, as it should be, particularly for the fugues. They avoid the temptation to accent fugal entries and, although there are far more subtle nuances of tone on an individual note available on a viol than on a keyboard instrument, such expressive devices are only used with sensitivity.
The programme notes are rather too romantic and flowery for my taste, as can often be the case when written by an academic. “Even the slightest musical turn of phrase might trigger intense disquisitions on the human condiction” is one such example.
It was recorded in Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford over a four day period. The recording rate of some six tracks a day is reflected in the quality of the performance. Despite the size of the space, the acoustic remains suitably domestic in scale.
J S Bach: Well-Tempered Consort – 1
Linn CKD 618. 66’55
This CD could well become essential listening for all organists and harpsichord players, alongside the various examples of Bach organ works played on recorder consorts. Transferring Bach’s keyboard works, such as The Well-Tempered Clavier, Musical Offering and Clavier-Übung III, to a viol consort reveals the sensitivity of timbre possible with bowed string instruments rather than a plucked or wind-blown one. Of course, keyboard players have their own, often complex, way of imparting musical expression to their playing within the limitations of their particular instrument, principally by using aspects of touch and articulation. But it is only the clavichord, which was arguably the instrument of choice in the Baroque era, that has the ability to change the nature of the sound of a note once it has started sounding, using the technique known as bebung which imparts a controllable vibrato to sounding notes.
John Dowland: Lachrimae or Seven Tears
Phantasm, Elizabeth Kenny, lute
Linn Records CKD527. 57’00
What a gorgeous CD! As well as Dowland’s famed seven ‘tears’ (lasting around 26’) we also have a balancing succession of dances, many based on Dowland songs. The pieces in the 1604 Lachrimae publication were used by generations of other composers’ in their own versions and variations. Key to viol consort music like this is the balance between the instruments. Unlike some of their concerts, where the treble viol can dominate, here the balance is perfect, not just between the five viols, but also with the delicate tone of the lute, played with superb conviction and musicality by Elizabeth Kenny. Continue reading
Regensburg: Tage Alter Musik
22-25 May 2015
For those with limited time but an insatiable urge to attend early music concerts, I can recommend the Tage Alter Musik festival in the delightful Danube city of Regensburg (the entire city centre is a World Heritage site). With no fewer than 17 concerts in just 4 days, this is not for the faint-hearted. But the musical rewards and the historical venues (which include extreme Baroque, austere Gothic and the Reichssaal, for centuries the seat of the Parliament of the Holy Roman Empire) are worth the attempt. Continue reading