Classical Vienna: Music for Guitar and Piano

Classical Vienna: Music for Guitar and Piano
James Akers, romantic guitar, Gary Branch, fortepiano
Resonus RES10182. 67’47

Music by Ferdinando Carulli, Anton Diabelli, Ignaz Moscheles, Mauro Giuliani

The title of Classical Vienna is a bit misleading, and is not perhaps as you know might know it. Firstly the dates of the composers and pieces are rather late for the usual definition of the Classical period of music. Secondly, using an alternative meaning of the word ‘classical’, the combination of guitar and fortepiano is not exactly a mainstream aspect of Vienna’s musical life. For those not familiar with the sound world of period instruments, the notion of music for guitar and piano might seem bizarre. But as demonstrated on this recording, it works perfectly well. Gary Branch’s contribution to the extensive programme notes explains the history of the Viennese fortepiano and why it was suitable to balance with a guitar. Continue reading

O Sing unto the Lord

O Sing unto the Lord
Sacred music by Henry Purcell
Saint Thomas Choir, New York, Concert Royal, John Scott
Resonus RES10184. 54’03

O sing unto the Lord, Z44; Remember not, Lord, Z50; Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei, Z135; Evening Hymn, Z193; O God, thou art my God, Z35; Morning Hymn, Z198; I was glad, Z19; Hear my prayer, O Lord, Z15; Voluntary in G major, Z720; Te Deum in D major, Z232.

Following on from their recent issues of Bach and Rachmaninoff, Resonus continue their series of recordings from the Saint Thomas Choir, New York, under their conductor, the late John Scott, with this release of a 2010 recording of Purcell. The well-balanced programme includes major works for choir and orchestra, such as the substantial opening O sing unto the Lord, as well as more intimate pieces such as the Morning and Evening Hymns, here separated by the early anthem O God, thou art my God with its famous Hallelujah, later turned into the hymn Westminster Abbey. This amply demonstrated the extraordinary range of Purcell’s musical style and his harmonic inventiveness. Continue reading

A Wells Christmas

A Wells Christmas
Wells Cathedral Choir
Jonathan Vaughn, organ, Matthew Owens, conductor
Resonus RES10176. 61’54

Music by David Willcocks, Andrew Carter, John Rutter, Kenneth Leighton, Thomas Hewitt Jones., Bob Chilcott, Jefferson McConnaughey, Matthew Owens.

The Wells choir dates back to the year 909 with the earliest mention of singing boys, the full choral tradition going back around 800 years.For more than 1000 years, the tradition of cathedral choirs is one of the foundations of the UK music industry, nurturing an enormous number of young musicians (albeit almost exclusively the male offspring of white middle-class parents) and then providing employment for some of them in later life. After a 1991 equal opportunities challenge in the European Court, Salisbury became the first cathedral to start a girls choir and the male domination has been lowly decreasing. Wells started their girls choir 3 years later, although curiously they do not usually sing together with the companion boys choir. However this CD uses both It is billed as “an irresistible array of popular carols and more recent offerings” and a “scintillating and varied programme vividly realised by the combined boy and girl choristers and Vicars Choral”.

Unlike the other two Christmas CDs I have reviewed here, this CD uses the full forces of the cathedral organ, both in accompaniment role Continue reading

To Bethlehem

To Bethlehem
Carols and Motets for Christmas
Kantorei of Kansas City, Chris Munce
Resonus RES10175. 61.29

Music by Renaissance composers Giovanni Bassano, Melchior Vulpius, Jakob Reiner and Blasius Amon and contemporary composers Matthew Culloton, Ivo Antognini, R. Douglas Helvering and Kim André Arnesen.

The inevitable flood of Christmas recordings is an inevitable result of commercial pressures, but I confess that they do not rate as my favourite reviewing task. But one of this year’s batch that did stand out, however, was this recording from the Kantorei of Kansas City, a Missouri-based choir that resulted from a choir put together for a wedding in 2009. They have since consolidated into a collection of professional singers under a non-conducting artistic director. This recording is a neat combination of Renaissance pieces with very impressive pieces by contemporary composers, all I think American. It is the latter pieces that really stand out, particularly, dare I say, in comparison to some of the rather tame contemporary Christmas pieces composed in the UK, as judged by home-grown Christmas CDs. Continue reading

The Celebrated Distin Family

The Celebrated Distin Family: Music for Saxhorn Ensemble
The Prince Regent’s Band
Resonus RES10179. 55’40

Music by Mayerbeer, Berlioz, Donizetti, Verdi, Handel, Arne and the Distin family

Unless you have been weaned on the sound of brass bands (which I wasn’t) the sounds and the instruments on this recording might appear rather unusual. It features no fewer than seven saxhorns, ranging from contralto to contrabass, along with five different cornets, and a ventil horn, all dating from around 1850-1900 (pictured below). The five players of the period brass ensemble, The Prince Regent’s Band, share these out amongst themselves as they explore the music of the extraordinary Distin family who, between 1835 and 1857, journeyed around Europe and North America performing and promoting new designs of brass instruments. They were instrumental, so to speak, in the development of new valved instruments, one being the saxhorn, designed by Adolphe Sax (who they met in Paris in 1844) but improved by the Distins, who gave the instrument its name.

Instruments used in the recording: 

Continue reading

Franz Tausch: Music for a Prussian Salon

Franz Tausch: Music for a Prussian Salon
Boxwood & Brass
Resonus RES10177. 72’53

With the subtitle of ‘Franz Tausch in Context’, this début recording by Boxwood & Brass explores the music of the clarinettist and composer Tausch as he moved from Mannheim to Munich and then to Berlin. His XIII Pièces en Quatuor for two clarinets, horn and bassoon was his most substantial chamber work, and is performed here complete, in two suites. Published in 1812, the pieces might have been intended for Taush’s own saloon concerts – they are clearly music to be listened to, rather than the mere background music of some of the harmoniemusik repertoire. This is the first time that they have been recorded complete, an important occasion for Tausch and Boxwood & Brass.

The twelve pieces are each about three to five minutes long, and explore a wide range of musical styles within the late 18th century idiom. Serious thought has gone into their composition – these are not empty exercises in note-spinning, but are deftly-worked musical miniatures of exceptional quality. The influence Continue reading

Mozart: Piano Duets

Mozart: Piano Duets – Vol 1
Julian Perkins & Emma Abbate
Resonus  RES10172. 68’04

Mozart: Sonata in D, K381; Sonata in C, K521; Sonata in B-flat, K358, JC Bach: Sonata in A.

This is the first of two volumes of Mozart’s complete piano duets, played on original fortepianos by Julian Perkins & Emma Abbate. It was recorded in Finchcocks House, Kent, and was the last recording made their before the house was closed and much of Richard and Katrina Burnett’s important collection of early keyboard instruments was sold. These two pianos, together with another 12 instruments from the collection, remain within the Finchcocks Charity for Musical Education which will continue to sponsor research and training a new generation of early keyboard restorers, tuners and technicians.

Although Mozart’s piano duets are a little-known part of his compositional output, they are a genre that he returned to throughout his life. They Continue reading

Boismortier: Six Sonatas Op 51

Boismortier: Six Sonatas Op 51
Elysium Ensemble
Resonus RES10171. 71’24

Despite their name the Elysium Ensemble, at least on this recording, consists of just two people, Greg Dikmans and Lucinda Moon, playing flute and violin respectively. Founded in 1985, the Australia-based Elysium Ensemble has in recent years concentrated on the instrumental duet, with research and concerts exploring the concept of ‘Dialogue: the Art of Elegant Conversation’. The foundation of this is the concept of rhetoric, or “the art of discourse and communication, of speaking with elegance and eloquence.” With roots in Aristotle’s discussions on oratory, and 18th century musicians and writers such as Quantz, they explore the concept of rhetoric in music through Boismortier’s Six Sonatas pour une flute traversiere et un violin par accords, published in Paris in 1734.

Boismortier (1689-1755) is one of those composers that crops up in occasional concert programmes, but is far from a household name amongst musicians. Continue reading

The Soldier’s Return

The Soldier’s Return
Guitar works inspired by Scotland
James Akers
Resonus RES10165. 61’00

Music by Mauro Guiliani, Lauigi Legnani, Fernando Sor & Johann Mertz

If the composers aren’t familiar to you, some of the melodies will be in this selection of 19th century guitar pieces inspired by Scotland during the early Romantic era. Scotland was an influence to many artists and musicians of that period, famously Mendelssohn after the 1829 visit that produced the Scottish Symphony, Hebrides Overture and Fingal’s Cave. Giuliani Mauro is given most coverage, with six simple pieces, some of which are enlarged into a larger format by combining, repeating, and adding a prelude. Fellow Italian Lauigi Legnani has the most extended and elaborate pieces with his two variation sets on themes from Rossini’s opera La donna del lage, based on Sir Walter Scott’s poem on James V of Scotland. Continue reading

Conversed Monologue

Conversed Monologue
Fantasticus XI
Resonus RES10166. 70’08

Graun: Concerto for Viola da Gamba in C; Leclair: Concerto for Violin in G minor; WF Bach: Concerto for Harpsichord in F major.

I have been impressed with previous CDs by Fantasticus (see here) and am equally impressed by their latest project, now expanded from their usual trio into a small baroque orchestra with the name of Fantasticus XL. All three members of the original Fantasticus take solo roles in the featured concertos – and what fascinating pieces they are. One of the joys of this recording is that all three pieces are little-known, but well worth discovering.

When the CD starts, it is difficult to appreciate that this is the start of a viola da gamba Concerto, such is the bravado and élan of Graun’s opening phrase. Continue reading

Her Heavenly Harmony


Her Heavenly Harmony
Profane Music from the Royal Court
The Queen’s Six
Resonus RES10164. 62’19

Music by Tomkins, Byrd, Morley, Weelkes, Byrd & Tallis.

The UK seems to breed small-scale a capella male choral groups. The aptly named Queen’s Six are one of a particular branch of that breed, with their matching suits and shirts (and, it seems, overcoats) and carefully posed publicity photographs. They are half of the contingent of lay clerks (adult choir singers) at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, an official residence of the Queen as well as her private weekend home. Living within the castle walls, and performing eight or more services a week in the Royal Chapel; the six male singer’s vocal credentials couldn’t be greater. They were formed in 2008 on the 450th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth I, Continue reading

Bach: French Suites

Bach: French Suites
Julian Perkins, clavichord
Resonus RES10163. 58’11+67’26

Bach: French Suites BWV 812-817; Froberger: Partita 2 in d; Telemann: Suite in A.

The programme notes explain the rational for recording these pieces on clavichord rather than harpsichord, with a convincing argument based on the four-octave compass of the pieces and the didactic nature of their composition, in this case, for his recent (and second) wife Anna Magdalena. This is private, domestic music for home performance or teaching purposes, rather than the more elaborate pieces Bach wrote for public performance, using the larger compass of the harpsichord, for example the three non-organ parts of the Clavierübung. It is also the case that the clavichord was the principal home practice instrument for organists, because the arm to finger weight transfer required is similar for both instruments.

Julian Perkins’ playing is sensitive and musical. He makes excellent use of ornaments, both realised from the score and also added improvisational ornaments, Continue reading

Divine Noise – Theatrical music for two harpsichords

Divine Noise – Theatrical music for two harpsichords
Menno van Delft, Guillermo Brachetta
Resonus RES10145. 74:26

Rameau: Platée Suite arr Brachetta; F. Couperin: Le Pais du Parnasse; Le Roux: Suite in F

You really do need to like the sound of the harpsichord to appreciate this CD, with its two powerful French harpsichords doing battle with each other and, on occasion, the eardrums. Guillermo Brachetta’s arrangement of pieces from Rameau’s Platée lasts about 50 minutes, and runs the whole gamut of the French Baroque vocal, instrumental and dance style. And it is an extraordinary style, aided by a very clever arrangement and the forthright and imaginative playing by Guillermo Brachetta and his former teacher, Menno van Delft. Continue reading

Forgotten Vienna

Forgotten Vienna
Amadè Players, Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge;
George Clifford & Dominika Fehér (violins);
Nicholas Newland (director)
Resonus RES10157. 71’43

I reviewed the March concert version of this CD (see here) and will repeat some of what I wrote then. Eighteenth century Vienna attracted many émigré musicians from Hungary, the Czech lands of Moravia, Silesia and Bohemia, and other smaller city states within the Hapsburg Empire.  Alongside composers such as Mozart and Haydn, they were important contributors to the development of the classical style during the mid to late 18th century. They included the composers Ditters and Waṅhal, the focus of this CD.  Both were known to have to have played in a string quartet alongside Haydn and Mozart, so were clearly a key part of Viennese musical life.  ‘AKA’ was a bit of a sub-plot of the detailed programme notes – Ditters is usually referred to in his ennobled form of ‘Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf’, while Waṅhal was also known as Vanhal, Vaňhal, Vanhall, Wanhall, Wannhall or Van Hall. Continue reading

Bound to Nothing: The German Stylus Fantasticus

Bound to Nothing: The German Stylus Fantasticus
Fantasticus
Resonus. RES10156. 71’15

Buxtehude: Sonata in A Major (Op2/5), Praeludium in g (BuxWV 163);
Erlebach: Sonata II in E Minor, Sonata III in A;
Krieger: Sonata X in A,
JJ Walther: Cappricio in C; Kühnel: Sonata VIII in A.

I think I would be rather nervous of meeting Bach face to face, but Buxtehude seems to have been an altogether more companionable and jovial chap; something very ably demonstrated in the opening Sonata in A on this CD. Buxtehude is one of the key composers in the Stylus phantasticus – as it is usually spelt, unless your group’s name happens to be Fantasticus. With its roots in the music of Frescobaldi and the like in early 17th century Italy, the style was taken up with gusto by many later German composers. Written references to the style are rare, although Kircher in 1650 and Mattheson around 1740 (well after it had declined in popularity) both had a go at describing it – as did Frescobaldi. Mattheson referred to it as “most free and unrestrained … now swift, now hesitating … without theme or subject that are worked out”. The latter is evident in fugal passages that often start off correctly enough, but then fizzle out in a dazzling display of figuration – a common aspect of Buxtehude’s organ works, here represented by the G minor Praeludium, played on the harpsichord. Continue reading

Tartini & Veracini: Italian Violin Sonatas

Tartini & Veracini: Italian Violin Sonatas
Rie Kimura & Fantasticus
Resonus RES10148. 57’58

Although Tartini is better known nowadays, no doubt because of the myths surrounding his ‘Devil’s Trill’ sonata, it was the virtuoso violinist Veracini that was hitting the headlines in early 17th century Italy, Dresden and London. There is a certain degree of comeuppance in the fact that Tartini was described (by Charles Burney) as a humble and timid man, whereas the now relatively unknown Veracini was considered ‘foolishly vainglorious’. When Veracini descended upon London, Roger North was scathing in his criticism of the influx of Italian violinists, based on hearing Veracini play – in a style he described as ‘not better than insane’.

Veracini’s two Sonata on this CD, from his 1744 Sonate Accademiche perhaps Continue reading

As our sweet Cords with Discords mixed be: English Renaissance Consort Music

As our sweet Cords with Discords mixed be: English Renaissance Consort Music
Consortium5
Resonus RES10155. 67’15

Music by Robert Parsons, William Byrd, John Dowland, Christopher Tye, Edward Blankes, Jerome Bassano, William Brade and Antony Holborne 

There are some people, even in the fairly rarefied early music world, who would rather pluck out their eyes than listen to a recorder consort. In normal circumstance I would just warn such people that this probably isn’t the CD for them. But this is an exception that might convert some doubters. Consortium5 (Oonagh Lee, Kathryn Corrigan, Gail Macleod, Roselyn Maynard, Emily Bloom) have established themselves as some of the most exciting and committed performers of early and contemporary music on recorders. And this CD demonstrates why they deserve that reputation.  Continue reading

Songs of Love, War and Melancholy

Songs of Love, War and Melancholy
the operatic fantasies of Jacques-François Gallay
Anneke Scott, natural horn, Steven Devine, piano, Lucy Crowe, soprano
Resonus Classics. RES10153 66’41 

Fantaisie brillante sur l’opéra ‘Les Martyrs’ de Donizetti (Op. 49),
Fantaisie sur une cavatine de ‘Belisario’ de Donizetti (Op. 42),
‘Fuis, laisse-moi’ de ‘Roberto Devereux’ de Donizetti,
Fantasia sopra un motivo dell’opera ‘Bianca e Fernando’ di Bellini (Op. 47/2),
Troisième Mélodie sur une cavatine de ‘La Sonnambula’ de Bellini (Op. 28),
‘Une Larme Furtive’ de ‘L’Elisir d’amore’ de Donizetti,
Fantaisie sur l’opéra ‘L’Elisir d’amore’ de Donizetti (Op. 46),
Fantaisie brillante sur un motif de ‘Norma’ de Bellini (Op. 40),
‘L’Appel du Chasseur’ des ‘Soirées Italiennes’ de Mercadante.

This CD explores the fascinating (and little-known) world of the French ‘opera fantasy’, an early to mid 19th century musical genre where leading instrumentalists, already well-used to having to create their own repertoire, arranged extracts from Italian operas for their own instrument. One of the leading exponents of that art was the renowned principal horn-player of the Théâtre Italian, Jacques-François Gallay. Five of his Continue reading

The Saxon Alternative – Telemann: Music for Wind Band

The Saxon Alternative – Telemann: Music for Wind Band
Syrinx
Resonus Classics RES10154. 62’04

Overtures TWV 44:7, 55:c3; 44:2; 55:B3; 44:14

The sound of the Baroque wind band was (and still is) more often heard on the continent than in the UK, so this CD from Syrinx is a refreshing reminder of just how attractive baroque wind instruments can be.  It would be interesting to research the extent to which the weather was an explanation for this, as the wind band was often used in Germany for outside entertainment, always rather risky in the UK. Two of the five Telemann Overtures on this CD feature the traditional French-inspired German Continue reading

Bach: Clavier-Übung III – Stephen Farr

J.S.Bach: Clavier-Übung III
Stephen Farr organ
The 1975 Metzler organ,Trinity College, Cambridge
Resonus Classics RES10120.  105’08

Bach’s Clavier-Übung III is one of his most important contributions to the whole organ repertoire. Published for ‘connoisseurs’ in 1739, the 27 pieces include music of the utmost intensity and contrapuntal complexity, alongside more approachable pieces such as the well-known ‘Giant’ Fugue, Wir glauben all an einen Gott. Bettina Varwig’s detailed programme notes reveal that this collection could be Bach’s defiant response to his critic, and former pupil, Scheibe who criticised him for writing in “an antiquated, bombastic style that eschewed the current taste for pleasant, natural, singable music”.  It is about as far as he could get from that new style, one taken up with gusto by his son CPE Bach.

Stephen Farr’s choice of the 1975 Metzler organ in Trinity College, Cambridge, is a good one. An early UK example of continental organs designed with Continue reading

Et in Arcadia ego: Italian Cantatas and Sonatas. Concentus VII

Et in Arcadia ego: Italian Cantatas and Sonatas
Concentus VII
Resonus RES10142  67’16

Handel Mi Palpita il Cor, Pensieri notturni di Filli, Sonata pour l’Hautbois; Alessandro Scarlatti Filli tu sai s’io t’amo; Francesco Mancini Recorder Sonata 1 in d; Antonio Lotti Ti sento, O Dio bendato.

Emily Atkinson (soprano), Louise Strickland (recorder), Belinda Paul (oboe & recorder), Amélie Addison (cello) & Martin Knizia (harpsichord)

This CD, from a relatively new London-based group, explores music performed in the Roman Academy of Arcadia (Pontificia Accademia degli Arcadi).  It was founded in 1690, a year after the death of, and in homage to, Queen Christina of Sweden, a major patron of the arts who moved to Rome after her 1654 abdication.  The Academy took its inspiration from an idealised world of rural innocence, and advocated a simple and direct style in music and poetry. The two opening Handel’s cantatas, the pastoral Pensieri notturni di Filli and the more dramatic Mi Palpita il Cor, demonstrate the attractive and approachable style of his early years in Italy.  Music from Naples and Venice complete the programme.

Alessandro Scarlatti’s cantata Bella s’io t’amo includes a recently discovered opening recitative – the arias are notable for the use of obligato recorder, unusual in Scarlatti’s cantatas. The CD notes include English translations of the texts, which generally focus on the complicated love lives and amours of the likes of Clori and Phyllis.

One of the delights of the cantatas on this CD is that they are accompanied by recorders or oboe as well as the harpsichord and cello continuo group.  Louise Strickland and Belinda Paul demonstrated excellent articulation and use of baroque ornaments in their contributions to the bucolic sound world, and in the two instrumental sonatas, for oboe and recorder respectively that contrast with the vocal works.

The continuo playing by Amélie Addison and Martin Knizia is sensitive and entirely appropriate for the period and genre.  The simple harpsichord realisations are particularly welcome – far too many harpsichords over-do continuo realisations.

Emily Atkinson has an attractive and clear voice, her gentle inflexions adding to the Arcadian mood of the cantatas. Only in final aria of Pensieri notturni di Filli does the voice begin to show signs of struggle with Handel’s tricky flurry of notes.

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