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Recording

Christian Ernst Graf: Five String Quartets

Via Nova Quartett
61:13
cpo 777 865-2

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here are five works on this CD; three are from the composer’s op. 17 set “à Deux Violons, Taille et Basse” and played with harpsichord continuo, and two quartets without opus number (though given numbers 4 in D and 6 in F), played as string quartets. The booklet notes (which are fine, though all the politcal background to the House of Orange got a little much for me) do not give a date for publication of op. 17, nor whether the “Basse” part has figured bass, which might justify the Via Nova’s choice to add harpsichord – I suppose the record company was responsible for the titling of the CD. (The bass part of his six flute quintets, op. 8, does include figures…)

Be that as it may, the playing on the disc is outstanding – the beautiful sound (especially from the first violinist in the very high passages) is unrivalled in any period instrument playing of this repertoire I have ever heard. The balance between the instruments is exemplary as is the way in which the recording engineer has faithfully captured the whole range of sound. On this evidence, Graf’s chamber music really deserves to be better known – listen to the last track on the disc to hear some really original ideas (unless you count Biber!) I don’t know how much of the final results is down to “good genes” – three members of the five-part quartet are from the same family! I look forward to hearing much more from them.

Brian Clark

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Recording

Aashenayi: Rencontre musicale en terre Ottomane

Canticum Novum, Emmanuel Bardon
75:39
Ambronay AMY043

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he listener who is anticipating a presentation of authentic studies supported by derivations and reference to manuscripts may search the booklet notes in vain. Clues as to the nature of this recording are found in the translation of Aashenayi as ‘encounter’ in Persian (becoming familiar with each other); Bardon’s training under Montserrat Figueras and Jordi Savall; and his foundation of Canticum Novum, the festival Musique à Fontmorigny, the itinerant early music festival Le Festin Musical, and l’École de l’Oralité, through which he teaches young audiences about early music, mainly in deprived neighbourhoods of the Loire département. This context of outreach programmes and creative workshops clarifies the metaphor of the “big top” (le chapiteau), suggested, by Aline Tauzin of the Cultural Encounter Centre of Ambronay, as an “ephemeral place set up at the end of each summer for a few weeks and then taken down”. The idea of a giant circus marquee suggests the inclusiveness and entertainment value of this performance.

So cultures, singing styles, languages, the nationalities of refugees and immigrants across the centuries, all are blended without individual attention being drawn to them. The languages of songs are transliterated though not obviously identified, and are translated into French and English. A soloist in the Eastern style of the Ottomans known to Cantemir is joined by a chorus singing with French intonation; Afghanistan, Turkey and Armenia rub shoulders unobtrusively, along with Sephardic romance and the Cantigas of Alfonso X. So, this is not historical reconstruction so much as social and cultural integration, musical improvisation and living participation.

Some of the pieces upon which performances are based will be familiar to the listener, including the Cantigas, Cantemir, and Sephardic lyrics from various lands, but the instrumental arrangements are particularly atmospheric, giving a new life to traditional themes. One representatives of the Armenian tradition (Sareri hovin mermen) expresses romantic sadness, while the other (Nor Tsaghik), though about Christ rising, seems in its mood to emphasise “the shadow of death in the darkness”. The representative of Afghanistan (Dar Dậmané Sharậ) expresses the mysterious singing sound of the shifting desert, the awe and timelessness. Iran’s representative (Sậki ba khodậ), though in the indulgent poetic tradition of Persia, would hardly meet the approval of the Revolutionary Guard. Attached to the cheeky dialogue of a Sephardic romance from Turkey (La comida de la ma­ñana), is an Afghan piece (Khan delawar khan) with a crescendo of excitement. The traditional Turkish Sirto accelerates the dance rhythm and increases amplification, before the Cantiga, Offondo do mar tan chao, with its processional movement to the finale.

Diana Maynard

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Recording

Cavalli: L’Ormindo

Sandrine Piau L’Armonia Martin Oro Ormindo Howard Crook Amida, Dominique Visse Nerillo, Magali Léger Sicle, Jean-François Lombard Erice, Stéphanie Révidat Erisbe, Karine Deshayes Mirinda, Jacques Bona Hariadeno, Benoit Arnould Osmano
131:10 (2 CDs)
Pan Classics PC 10330 (© 2006)

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here is a dearth of recordings of L’Ormindo, only this version recorded in 2006 and the old Raymond Leppard Glyndebourne arrangement dating from 1967. Perhaps the success of the staging of the Royal Opera’s English language version under Christian Curnyn at the Globe has encouraged the publishers?

This is quite a stylish performance, recorded in Paris in 2006, and I believe released originally on Pan; downloads from this are still available and feature Sandrine Piau prominently on the sales pitch, who however only sings the much-ornamented Prologo as Harmonia. The continuo group including an organ, two harpsichords, just one chittarone, harp and guitar provide a varied texture in the narrative exchanges; and two violins, two violas da gamba and a violone form the five part ritornelli. The clefs for the middle parts in the score are alto and tenor, and Monteverdi normally calls for viole da brazzo: are gambas right here? Sometimes the score provides worked-out ritornelli in the arias, but occasionally I hear the strings ‘improvising’ with the singers – a euphemism for being written in to the score Leppard-style where there are some blank staves from time to time. This and a number of cuts make it hard to follow in the on-line facsimile available from the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice. The timing of the BBCs Globe broadcast runs to 180:15, while these two CDs last for 131:10. No details of the performing edition – how it was created, who edited it, what editorial principles were used, how decisions were made – are recorded in the liner notes, which are slender in the extreme and largely taken up with introducing the listener to the complex plot. There is nothing about the performers, or the circumstances of the recording in Paris in June 2006. As the only recording with any gesture towards HIP, this is disappointing.

Among the singers, Dominique Visse has the cameo part that suits his voice and the kind of camp stage presence he has created for himself. In Nerillo, Amida’s page, he exploits this to the full. The action however is dominated by the female roles of Erisbe and Sicle, both sung beautifully by Stéphanie Révidat and Magali Léger. These two soprano characters run the plot, and it is right that they should come across more strongly that their two male lovers, Ormindo and Amida. Ormindo really needs to be sung by an haute-contre, not an alto as here. But all the voices have a lyrical quality, and they have certainly got their minds and tongues round the occasionally fast-moving Italian, so I guess this is the fruit of a well-prepared staged version.

As the plot develops, we get some fine exchanges, and the laments and lovers’ partings as they drink what they believe to be poison are sung passionately yet clearly. The drama in this production – aided by some pruning – moves the music along at a good pace; only occasionally was I aware of some awkward changes of key, and some of the blank staves are filled – for example in Erisbe’s “Ah questo è l’imeneo” – with a questionable violin part.

But lovers of Cavalli and students of the beginnings of the Venetian opera house and its early productions will be glad of this performance, despite my reservations.
David Stancliffe

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Recording

Weber: Silvana

Michaela Kaune Mechthilde, Ines Krapp Clärchen, Ferdinand von Bothmer Graf Rudolf, Jörg Schärner Albert von Cleeburg, Detlef Roth Graf Adelhart, Andreas Burkhart Fust von Grimmbach, Simon Pauly Krips, Tareq Nazmi Kurt, Marko Cilic (spoken) herald/Ulrich, Rut Nothelfer cello, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Ulf Schirmer
141:34 (2 CDs)
cpo 777 727-2

An opera in which the heroine doesn’t sing? Well, I suppose many of us will have experienced performances that inspired the feeling that it might be an improvement, but this is the only example I know of where the part was written in such a way. The first of Weber’s operas to achieve some success, Silvana has its roots in the composer’s first operatic venture, Das Waldmädchen of 1800. The immature teenage work was discarded, but Weber incorporated fragments of it when he returned to a re-worked version of what is an archetypal Romantic story. A naïve mute girl is discovered living in a wild forest by Rudolf, a hunting nobleman. He of course falls in love with her and after many twists and turns eventually discovers she is the noble sister of the woman to whom he is unwillingly engaged. Fortunately she too wants to marry someone else, so all ends well, especially as Silvana has only been playing mute. Silvana created little impression when first given in Frankfurt in 1810, but achieved greater success when it was staged in Berlin two years later.

Both as literature and drama Silvana is fatally crippled by a quite abominable libretto. Characters appear and disappear, only to play no further part in the proceedings, while a line like ‘shall I ruffle my hair in my rage?’ is sadly not unique. Musically, too, the opera is hardly distinguished, though the forest setting of the first and third acts inspires the evocation of nature in all its sublime awesomeness that would reach full maturity in Der Freischütz a decade later. There are also many felicitous touches of orchestration, the touching scene in which Rudolph attempts to question the silent Silvana enhanced by an expressive cello solo.

The present performance of the original 1810 version is taken live from a production in Munich in 2010. The singing is variable, the demanding role of Rudolph in particular needing an heroic tenor in the Jonas Kaufmann mould, qualities regrettably not in evidence in the strained, over-parted singing of Ferdinand von Bothmer. The main female singing role is that Silvana’s sister Mechthilde, Michaela Kaune progressing from an unsteady start in the scene with her blustering father Adelhart to give a dramatically compelling and more tonally secure account of her big act 2 recitative and aria. The only other major role is that of the squire Krips, a Papageno-like character, well if not memorably sung by Simon Pauly, while the singing of the smaller roles does nothing to add or detract from the overall competency. The experienced Ulf Schirmer directs with sensitivity and due regard for Weber’s fresh, bright orchestral palette, while drawing fine playing from his Munich Radio forces, though period winds (in particular) would doubtless have provided greater piquancy. The booklet includes a translation of the sung parts, but does not print the spoken dialogue in German or English, a synopsis being provided in another part of the text.

Brian Robins

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Recording

Bach: Motets

Saint Thomas Choir of Men & Boys, Fifth Avenue, New York, John Scott
68:34
Resonus 10152
BWV [Anh.] 159, 225-230

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hese performances were taped during sessions in May 2012, 2013 and 2014 with the same “men” (seven altos, ten tenors and eight basses) but a slightly different group of two dozen or so boys and three different organists, though the same cello and violone players. As a full-time church choir singing five services every week, and under the guidance of the former director of music at St Paul’s in London, they are a well-oiled machine which performs these masterpieces with self-assured gusto. The “chorale arias” are carefully shaped (one can almost hear the conductor’s hand waving in the air), much thought has gone into deciding which phrases should or should not be “sung through” (and ensuring that sufficient breath is reserved for the final long notes!) and the texts (and their meanings) come across clearly. There are very occasional technical imperfections – the devilish lines of some of the faster sections lack clarity, for example – but the overall impression is positive indeed. John Butt’s booklet essay is – of course – excellent.

Brian Clark

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DVD Recording

Biagio Marini & Antonio Vivaldi a Vicenza: Cantate e Sonate da camera

Giuseppina Bridelli, I Musicali Affetti, Fabio Missaggia
58:49
Tactus TC590004 (DVD)

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his DVD not only features a recital of two alto cantatas by Vivaldi (Cessate omai cessate and Amor hai vinto) and four works for strings by Biagio Marini, but it also includes visuals of the fine palazzo in Vicenza where the recording was made. Both composers were associated with the city at various points in their careers; Marini as maestro in the cathedral, Vivaldi as composer of and violinist in the 1713 premiere of Ottone in Villa and his oratorio Il battaglia navale (the latter in a church 100 metres from the afore-mentioned palazzo!) Giuseppina Bridelli has a wide-ranging and agile voice, well suited to the dramatic nature of the texts and the technical demands of Vivaldi’s music; she does well not to be distracted by the camera, and the sound engineer does a great job of taming the expansive acoustic. The two violins and viola are joined by a continuo team consisting of cello, plucker and harpsichord. Missagia’s introduction to the location and the music (especially his passionate advocacy of Marini’s music – the group is named after his first publication) is very enjoyable and really enhances the experience.

Brian Clark

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Recording

Cantar de Amor: Juan Hidalgo and 17th-century Spain

Juan Sancho T, Accademia del Piacere, Fahmi Alqhai
56:42
Glossa GCD P33204
Music by Falconieri, Guerau, Hidalgo, Marín, Romero & Sanz

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]nother fine recital culled from the riches of 17th-century Spanish sung drama, enjoyably interspersed with elaborately – and stylishly – realised instrumental fantasias. The lion’s share of the vocal items are by the great Juan Hidalgo and range from the teasingly delightful ‘Trompicavalas Amor’ and the mocking ‘Ay, que me rio de amor’ to the lovelorn intensity of ‘Esperar, sentir, morir’; I haven’t been able to get the plangent refrain of the latter out of my head since!

Juan Sancho sings with much dramatic intensity – try the Romero ‘Ay, que me muero de zelos’ with its anguished exclamations, or the Recitativo a lo humano ‘Rompa el aire en suspiros.’ Fahmi Alqhai and his fellow instrumentalists provide spirited accompaniments and shine particularly in their dazzling improvisations. The opening Passacalle a tre is a good taster.

The exemplary sleeve notes, as one has come to expect from Glossa, provide scholarly background and commentary, along with the (essential) texts. One hopes that more of this repertoire might be forthcoming; it would be fascinating to explore further the dramatic contexts of the vocal items.

Alastair Harper

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Recording

Stile Antico: Sing withe the Voice of Melody

Harmonia Mundi HMU607650
72:41
Music by Byrd, de Ceballos, Clemens, Gibbons, Gombert, McCabe, Sheppard, Tallis, Tomkins, Victoria

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his ‘greatest hits’ album celebrating stilo antico’s tenth season draws from nine of their highly successful CDs. Each track is accompanied by a brief comment from one of the singers, not a scholarly commentary but a practical response from the perspective of the performer. Particular highlights are the opening 12-part O Praise the Lord by Thomas Tomkins, the Gloria from Tallis’s Mass Puer natus est and John McCabe’s Woefully arrayed, the only modern track on the CD. The singing is beautifully tidy and expressive, and the CD is a useful way to decide which of their CDs you would like to explore further. Personally I was intrigued by Rodrigo de Ceballos’s Hortus conclusus on their Song of Songs album.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Bach: Lutheran Masses I

Hana Blažíková, Joanne Lunn, Robin Blaze, Gerd Türk, Peter Kooij SScTTB, Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki
65:30
BIS-2081 SACD
BWV235-238, 240-242, Anh. 26

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he interest for me in this well produced CD which has all the quality we expect from Suzuki’s forces is not only in the two Lutheran Masses, of which there are already a number of recordings like the recent one by the Sixteen or the earlier and matchless OVPP version by the Purcell Quartet (1999), but in the additional movements which have rarely been recorded – four settings of the Sanctus BWV 240, 241 (after Kerll), 238 and 237 – and the Kyrie in C minor based on Durante with the Christe in G minor BWV 242. These are presented as part of Suzuki’s mopping up operation, and have an interesting blend of scoring. They show Bach exploring styles of writing – some very dense vocally – which illuminate the way he developed the clarity of his mature style from the models which he reworked. On many occasions Bach must have used other composers material either straight or adapted in some way in his regular presentation of Sunday music. Some of this material shows him at work, and I’m grateful for these typically illuminating performances.

David Stancliffe

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Handel: Suites for Harpsichord volume 3

Gilbert Rowland
129:10 (2 CDs)
divine art DDA21225
HWV426, 440, 442, 445, 447, 448, 449, 451-3

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hough renowned in his day as a keyboard virtuoso, Handel’s own music in this medium is relatively little known, and beyond the ‘Eight Great Suites’ of 1720, surprisingly seldom performed today. This double-disc release, (which I see from the notes is the third to appear) is thus doubly welcome. Gilbert Rowland has assembled a beguiling programme, ranging from the early suites in D minor (HWV 448) and G minor (HWV 453), via the first of the Great Suites (HWV 426), to the final ones in D minor (HWV 447) and G minor (HWV 452) written in 1739 as exercises for Princess Louisa, daughter of George II. Though all sharing the ‘suite’ title, the individual movements are wonderfully varied; in addition to the standard Allemandes, Courantes and Gigues, there are extended French Overtures, Sarabandes, Menuets, Airs and an astonishing Chaconne, with no fewer than 62 variations, to finish the recital. All posess the characteristic Handelian blend of melodic charm and harmonic substance.

Gilbert Rowland is a persuasive performer. His realisations of the chordal preludes are extremely convincing, and he decorates and varies reprises as the ‘Caro Sassone’ himself might have done. He plays a fine 2005 harpsichord by Andrew Wooderson, after Goermans (Paris 1750).

Alastair Harper

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