Torelli | Perti | Pollarolo | Colonna – Concertos and Cantatas

Nuria Rial soprano, Kammerorchester Basel directed by Julia Schröder violin
DHM 19658813432

‘For the most part, nothing can be heard in their [the Italians’] music apart from a consistently elaborated basso continuo, often consisting of a kind of barrage of chords, with arpeggios added to throw dust in the eyes of those who are no judges of such things’. What was true for the Mercure galant in 1713 is equally as true of the 2020s, with the exception that the contagion is now widely spread throughout early music and not just applicable solely to the Italians. I’ve opened in this rather unusual way to highlight that the present recording provides one of the most severe examples of theorbo-itis I’ve encountered, with inappropriate twanging, passaggi, bangs, and arpeggiated janglings throughout the performances. Especially damaging examples appear in ‘Aurae sacrae amati ardores’, a charming solo motet by Pollarolo (c. 1653-1723). Both its arias (it ends in typical motet-fashion with a virtuosic Alleluia) feature lovely cantabile writing for the soloist, here the lovely warm, but pure voice of the enchanting Spanish soprano, Nuria Rial. Both however are virtually ruined by the distraction of the theorbist, who seems unaware that the arias are intended to evoke tranquility and contemplation by twanging away as if playing a concerto, masking the lyrical line of Rial’s voice. The result sounds ridiculous and is totally unmusical.

The foregoing would alone be enough to stop me wanting to hear the CD again, but given that the orchestral playing is excessively mannered there is little to attract any but the most tolerant of listeners. Allegros are invariably taken too fast, the performances skating over the surface with clipped chords and meaninglessly superficial runs. Slower movements are played in a mannered style in which I suppose some may find elements of sprezzatura and certainly there’s some virtuosic solo violin playing by director, Julia Schröder, though I don’t care much for her rather thin tone.

For those interested, that might be more forgiving than the present writer, a word or two about the programme. The instrumental part is devoted to four of the concertos from Torelli’s Concerti grossi, op 8. Composed in 1709, but only published posthumously, they are, like Corelli’s famous op 6 of five years later, intended to make a grand sonorous effect, with the body of concertante strings creating breadth and depth. That doesn’t happen here because of the clipped phrasing and the solo contribution being dominated by the solo violin. The other vocal solo items sung by Rial are a brief scena comprising a fluid alternation of air and recitar cantando from Giovanni Colonna’s oratorio Salomone amante (Bologna, 1679) and a spirited cantata, ‘San Tomaso d’Aquino’ by Giovanni Perti (1661-1756). In these, there is some enchanting singing. Rial demonstrates not only lovely cantabile lines but impressive agility in passaggi and ornamentation, though regrettably she has no trill and her words might have been projected with greater clarity.

Sadly for all the quality of the singing the disc is a non-starter for the reasons given above. A pity given that the repertoire is unusual and of considerable interest.

Brian Robins


Lully: Grands Motets – Volume 3

Les Épopées, conducted by Stephane Fuget
Versailles Spectacles CVS087

Volume 3 of the Versailles edition of Lully’s motets – part of a more extensive series devoted to motets of the 17th and 18th centuries – brings four grands motets: Plaude, laetare Gallia of 1668; a setting of the Benedictus of unknown date, but probably the late 1660s; the tiny Domine salvum fac regum, an undated early work that lasts under four minutes; and the dramatic Notus in Judaea Deus, a late work probably dating from around 1684 or 85. Also included is a splendid Magnificat composed between 1663 and 1666 by Henri Du Mont (1610-1684), composer of the Chapelle Royale from 1672 to 1683. The recording was made in the Chapelle Royale at Versailles and has an imposing depth and resonance, though I always feel the acoustic of this wonderful building is at its best when it has an audience, which is not the case here.

The grands motets of Lully and contemporaries such as Du Mont always carry with them a question mark as to whether they are directed more at praise of the king, Louis XIV or God. There is little doubt here in the case of the grandest and most panegyric of these works, Plaude, laetare Gallia for it owes existence to the christening of the Dauphin at St Germain-en-Laye (then the royal palace), an occasion attended by so many it had to be held in the courtyard rather than the palace chapel. Like all the grands motets it is cast in contrasting sections that include solos, chamber-like writing for a small group of soloists (the petit choeur) and the full chorus (grand choeur). The orchestral writing is often elaborate and, in a ceremonial work such as this, intended for the large forces employed here. As one might expect for such an occasion the overall mood is bright and often exuberant, though the heart of the work is a more supplicatory and lyrical passage based on the text, ‘O Jesu, vita credentium! (O Jesu, life to those who believe), its long lines beautifully sustained by the unidentified tenor soloist. It would indeed have been helpful to have the excellent soloists drawn from the chorus identified as they deserve to be in the context of performances that convey outstandingly all the varied features of these works.

The most ambitious work as to scale is the Lully Benedictus, which is divided into nine sections ranging from the measured opening tenor solo, via the chamber-like intricacy of ‘Sicut locutus est’ for tenor and bass and solo instruments and the full choral texture of ‘Salutem’ to reach a magnificent peroration in the sublime solo bass ‘Per viscara misericordiae’ and the theatrical contrast of ‘in tenebris, et in umbra mortis sedent’ (in darkness and in the shadow of death) and ‘ad dirigendos pedes nostros in viam pacis’ (to direct our feet into the way of peace). The text of Notus in Judaea Deus, based on Psalm 75 (76) and the most colourfully orchestrated of these motets allows for even greater theatricality, its invitation to word painting at references such as ‘the earth trembling and then becoming still’ not passed up by Lully. The Du Mont setting of the Magnificat is a supreme example of his work, combining polyphony that displays a clear influence of Venetian sacred music in addition to exquisitely lovely beautiful cantabile writing at a passage such as ‘Et misericordia’, a tenor and bass duet with choral interjections.

It has already been made clear that the performances are of outstanding quality, leaving this an essential addition to a series of great value.

Brian Robins


Binder & Clavecin Roïal : Chamber Music at the Dresden Court

Ricardo Magnus, Ensemble Klangschmelze
Etcetera KTC 1753

The programme note for this intriguing CD is quick to answer the first of two obvious questions raised by the title. The Clavecin Roïal is a type of square piano, specially reconstructed for this recording, which has the facility to change from one timbre to another at short notice. In fact, under the fingers of Ricardo Magnus it is not so much rapidly changing tones but its constantly tinkling presence, soothing and absolutely charming, that is its distinguishing feature. To my ears, it combines the virtues of the clavichord and the early piano. In his introduction to the instrument, the builder Johann Gottlob Wagner announced it has a number of stops which reproduce the sounds of clavecin, harp, lute, pantaleon, and fortepiano – some explanations raise as many questions as they answer! The second question – who or what is a Binder? – is answered almost as quickly. Christlieb Siegmund Binder is the composer of the chamber music featured on the CD: two keyboard quartets and a trio for obbligato keyboard and flute, all receiving their premiere performances, as well as a further trio for obbligato keyboard and viola. This innocuously entertaining repertoire, sensitively and expressively played by Magnus and his ensemble, helps further to confirm the role of the Dresden Court as an important focus of music-making in 18th-century Germany. Binder was born and died in Dresden, and in his youth played the pantaleon, a type of large hammered dulcimer invented by Pantaleon Hebenstreit, so would certainly have appreciated the Clavecin Roïal’s ability to reproduce its sound.

D. James Ross


Early European and Hungarian Dances

Capella Savaria, Zsolt Kalló
Hungaroton HCD 32881

Founded in 1981, the Hungarian period instrument ensemble Capella Savaria are veterans in the field and have assembled an impressive discography over the forty years of their existence. Their playing combines precision and energy, and these are the predominant features of this recording of Telemann’s Ouverture-Suite in B flat major ‘Les Nations’, in which the composer characterises the nations of Europe in appropriate movements. The ever-imaginative Telemann warms to the task, and produces some strikingly original music which suggests that he had some passing acquaintance with folk music from Turkey, Switzerland and Russia. The transition into the second half of the programme, which opens with a couple of dance movements by Hungarian composers of the early 19th century – essentially concert music with a slight Hungarian flavour – is a bit of a jolt. Soon we are into more distinctive traditional Hungarian melodies and dances from a selection of 19th-century manuscripts. With their instinct for their native music, we could expect no better guide to this material than Capella Savaria, and they find the ideal blend of classical ensemble and gypsy folk band. I recalled the recordings of earlier Hungarian material made by the late great Rene Clemencic, and this CD has some of the flamboyance and smouldering energy with which he invested his accounts of his native music. In the final analysis, this had the feeling of two very different programmes sharing a CD. I have heard more imaginative accounts of the Telemann, and in a way I would have preferred a whole CD of the later fascinating Hungarian material. I hope this isn’t as annoying for the performers as the suggestion from a member of one of our audiences, after we had finished an intense programme of Renaissance music lightened with an encore of Ronald Binge’s Elizabethan Serenade, that we should perform a whole programme of ‘that kind of music’! Anyway, the music from Pest, Nagyszombat and the Poszony Manuscripts has considerable charm and character, and Capella Savaria clearly enjoy playing it.

D. James Ross


Mozart : Piano Concertos K107s K175 K336

Robert Levin, Academy of Ancient Music, Laurence Cummings
AAM 042

The Academy of Ancient Music’s complete recordings of the Mozart piano concertos with Robert Levin is a project begun in 1994 under the direction of Christopher Hogwood and resumed in the 2020s, now under the direction of Laurence Cummings, in which the latest scholarship is combined with state-of-the-art period performance. For volume 10, we return to Mozart’s earliest essays in the genre, a movement from Nannerl’s Music Book reconstructed by Levin, the composer’s three concertos K107 based on J C Bach Sonatas and his first completely original Concerto K175 no 5. Famous for his quest for authenticity as a keyboard player specialising in the music of the 18th century, Levin’s flair for embellishment is given full rein here – I remember him explaining to me at a concert (only partly in jest) that he had the musical notes in front of him on his piano mainly so that he knew what to avoid in his embellished versions. The radical approach of this project is further manifest in the fact that no piano features in the making of the CD! In the extensive and lavishly presented programme notes, Cliff Eisen makes a very cogent case for the K175 concerto having been intended for performance on organ, and this imaginative piece flamboyantly scored by the young Mozart fresh from a visit to Mannheim for horns, trumpets, timpani, oboes, bassoon and strings works very well as an organ concerto. The solo instrument is the recently restored George England in Christ’s Chapel in Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift, Dulwich, which offers a range of characteristic stops which bring this lovely music to life. If the geography of the chapel just occasionally takes the edge off the crispness of this performance compared to an account on fortepiano, the colour palette more than compensates. In similar vein for the G major fragment and the K107 concerti Levin very convincingly employs a harpsichord, a 2013 copy by Alan Gotto of an instrument of around 1770 by Johann Heinrich Silbermann of Strasbourg. It is interesting that having composed them in his teens in 1773, Mozart continued to perform these concertos on tour, clearly enjoying their freshness and originality. The influence of Mannheim and the revolutionary Stamitzes is never far from this music, while J C Bach’s sonatas provide a useful framework and springboard for the developing young composer. Levin and the AAM provide beautifully nuanced accounts, crisp and fresh but also thoughtful and profound. For a brief bonus track Levin returns to the organ for no 17 of Mozart’s K336 church sonatas, a set of effervescent works in which I have observed elsewhere Mozart’s originality found perhaps its most unfettered expression. With its rippling cadenza and its dynamic interaction between soloist and ensemble, it provides the perfect sign-off for this excellent CD.

D. James Ross


Around Baermann

Maryse Legault clarinet, Gili Loftus, fortepiano
Leaf Music LM265 (

Born in Potsdam, Heinrich Baerman (1784-1847) was the great clarinet virtuoso of the early 19th century, a pupil of Joseph Beer, who in his turn had revolutionised clarinet playing late in the previous century. As such, Baerman, who for most of his career was first clarinet of the court orchestra in Munich, had contact with many of the leading composers of the day. These links owed much not only to his reputation as a virtuoso but also to his apparently congenial personality. The present CD includes two works by Baerman himself, an improvisatory Introduction and bright Polonaise (op 25), and a Nocturne in several sections, the most appealing of which is the lovely cantabile melody that follows the unexpectedly (given the title of the work) lively opening. Neither reveal Baerman to have been more than a modestly talented composer.

As might be expected, the works by Weber and Mendelssohn are a different matter. Weber’s connections with Baerman are more significant than those with any other major composer since, after their meeting in 1811, they not only toured together but Weber also composed several works for Baerman. They include his two clarinet concertos and a quintet.  The Variations on a theme from the Opera ‘Silvana’, op 33, are a particularly interesting example of collaboration between composer and performer, having according to an anecdote cited in Maryse Legault’s helpful notes been composed together over the course of one night. One wonders how much liquid refreshment might have been added to the mix! It’s an attractive set of a theme and seven variations based on an aria from Weber’s Silvana, first given in Frankfurt in 1810. The theme sounds like the seeds of something that might have re-emerged in the music for Agathe in Der Freischütz. Also premiered by Baerman and Weber was the virtuosic Grand Duo Concertant, op 48, first performed in 1815, while the CD programme is completed by Mendelssohn’s  three-movement Sonata in E flat of 1824, a work astonishingly not published until 1941 in New York. In addition there is a digital bonus in the shape of a three-movement Sonatina by Caroline Schleicher-Krähmer (1794-1873), the daughter of musicians who in addition to having been the first woman clarinettist to play in public also played the piano and violin professionally. The Sonatina – which includes a Waltz (ii) and Polacca (iii) is pleasing enough, if never aspiring to be more than salon music.

‘Mr Baerman does wonders on the clarinet, but he charms as much as he amazes’. These words quoted by Legault from a review published in the Gazette de France in 1818 might well with slight adjustment be applied to Maryse Legault herself. A native of Montreal, she studied with Erich Hoeprich, the father-figure of the revival of the historical clarinet. Not only does she own to an exceptional technique but equally a beautiful evenly produced tone across the range. She plays with real musicality and considerable nuance, as the slight change of dynamic in the repeated phrases in the statement of the theme the Weber variations immediately announces. The third variation of the same work demonstrates her ability to encompass a wide tessitura and virtuoso leaps, while her mezzo voce playing can be heard to ravishing effect at the end of the central movement of the composer’s Grand Duo. She seems, too, to have an exceptional rapport with her accompanist, Gili Loftus, herself evidently an outstanding fortepianist (she also plays the harpsichord and modern piano). She is especially impressive in the Mendelssohn, which needs some demanding bravura work from the keyboard player. Her instrument here is a copy of a Viennese fortepiano from 1820 and 1840 inspired by Conrad Graf and Ignaz Bösendorfer and built by Rodney J Regier of Freeport, Maine in 2000. The sound as recorded is full and rounded across the range.

An exceptional disc. well worthy of investigation by any one attracted to the historical clarinet – or indeed the exceptionally talented young performers. 

Brian Robins


Haydn No.14 – L’Impériale

Kammerorchester Basel, conducted by Giovanni Antonini
Alpha Classics 694

Giovanni Antonini’s Haydn cycle, with his own Il Giardino Armonico and the Kammerorchester Basel alternating, here turns its attention to three symphonies plus an alternative finale for No 53 in D. It is from the nickname for that symphony, a 19th-century acquisition, that the programme takes it theme. All three symphonies are celebratory in character, with trumpets and timpani to enhance the grandeur, though they were a later addition in the case of No 53. The earliest, No 33 in C, is a pre-Esterháza work and is indeed with its twin No 32 in C the first of Haydn’s symphonies to include trumpets and drums. It was composed during the short period Haydn was in the employment of Count Morzin (c 1759-60). Cast in four movements, it opens with a Vivace that brings some champagne-like sparkle and agility from the superb Basel strings, a tranquil Andante scored only for strings, a pompous Minuet that unlike many of Haydn’s remains firmly in the ballroom, and an Allegro finale full of quirky humour made much of by Antonini and his orchestra. Oddly only passing mention of the symphony is made in the otherwise informative notes, suggesting that perhaps its inclusion to make for the unusually long playing time was a late decision.

One of the ever-increasing problems with Antonini’s cycle for a reviewer is to find something new to say about performances that up to this point have been remarkably consistent, whichever orchestra he is directing. Both produce superb playing for him, with unflagging dynamic energy brought to outer movements, insightful sensitivity to slower ones, while the bucolic extroversion that characterises many of the minuets is consistently infectious. Perhaps question marks may arise over a fast tempo, such as the secondary idea in the opening Vivace of No 53. Perhaps a little more warmth might have been brought to the odd cantabile movement, though that is certainly not the case here where the Adagio assai of No 54 – the only true slow movement on the disc and one of the longest Haydn ever wrote – takes on a mesmerizingly nocturnal mood.

Symphonies 53 and 54 both belong to the Esterháza period. No 53, first performed in 1778, is – to put it inelegantly –something of a dog’s dinner of a work. In addition to the later trumpets and strings mentioned above, it also originally lacked the boldly imposing slow introduction. There are three different finales, though one is considered spurious. The one given here is a Presto dated 1777. It is believed by some Haydn scholars to have been composed originally for the fourth part of the marionette opera – which were extremely popular at Esterháza – Genovefens, although Robbins Landon is of the opinion that Haydn, responsible for all dramatic performances there, just assembled the music for it. It’s a movement that juxtaposes pomp with an extremely attractive and more lyrical secondary idea.

Those who have investigated this series will need no urging to obtain this latest addition, in which they will find three less familiar symphonies given in performances that happily maintain the extraordinarily high standard established from the first issue in the series. Otherwise, anyone starting here has a great deal of catching up to do!

Brian Robins


Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria

Christina Fanelli Amore, Lauranne Oliva Giunone, Fortuna, Emőke Baráthe Minerva, Rihab Chaieb Penelope, Alix Le Saux Ericlea, Mathilde Etienne Melanto, Philippe Jaroussky L’Humana fragilità, Anders J Dahlin Pisandro, Philippe Talbot Eumete, Zachery Wilder Telemaco, Emiliano Gonzalez Toro Ulisse, Fulvio Bettini Iro, Álvaro Zambrano Eurimaco, Anthony León Anfinomo, Giove, Nicholas Brooymans Tempo,  Antinoo, Jérôme Varnier Nettuno, I Gemelli, conducted by Emiliano Gonzalez Toro
177:00 (3 CDs)
Gemelli factory GEFA006

Emiliano Gonzalez Toro’s Monteverdi Orfeo won high praise from me when it was released on Naïve in 2020. He has now turned his attention to Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Monteverdi’s penultimate opera, first staged at the Teatro San Giovanni e Paolo in Venice in 1640 to a libretto by Giacomo Badoaro. The set is the first to be issued under the name of the ensemble founded by Gonzalez Toro and artistic director Mathilde Etienne, who is excellent in the role of the lascivious maid Melanto. It is an extraordinarily lavish affair issued in book form, with the English edition consisting of 234 pages printed on high-quality paper. There are no fewer than five major articles including an interview with Etienne and Gonzalez Toro and a highly speculative piece peppered with inaccuracies (San Cassiano, Venice’s first public opera house was not purpose-built for opera but adapted from an existing theatre and so on) on the history of Monteverdi’s operas and their supposed debt to the commedia dell’arte, Orfeo excepted. Nowhere are the considerable doubts that surround the attribution of Il ritorno even mentioned in the interview or the other articles. On a practical level the libretto, the most essential bit of literature for most people, is paradoxically printed in a smaller – and in English lighter – font than the articles, making it difficult to follow.

The lavish presentation seems to be of a part with that devoted to the production itself, which was recorded over a 23-day period, an astonishing amount of time these days. The cast list, too, speaks of generous support for the project, with no fewer than 17 different singers to cover 20 roles. Furthermore, four very brief scenes that were not set by Monteverdi (or any collaborator he may have employed) have been composed especially, that for Nereids and Sirens (act 1, sc 3) being particularly appealing. It might seem, therefore, that the scene is set to report another great success to set alongside the I Gemelli Orfeo. And indeed there are certainly things to commend, but Il ritorno is not Orfeo, which poses relatively few problems to a director if they follow the composer’s beautiful printed score – a rarity for the period – and detailed instructions as to instrumentation. While Orfeo still has slightly more than one foot in the Renaissance, ll ritorno is an unashamedly Baroque opera posing all kinds of problems that need solving by anyone mounting it.

It is the failure to provide satisfactory answers to two of the most important of these questions that to my mind mars this set considerably. The first concerns instrumentation. Gonzalez Toro has gone for a large orchestral body of some 30 players, far exceeding the pair of violins, bass and modest continuo most authorities accept is the norm for mid-century Venetian opera. As Gonzalez Toro makes clear in the interview he is well aware that his orchestra is not historically accurate, rather lamely suggesting that since the first score of the opera to be re-discovered was in Vienna, where the court employed a sizable number of instrumentalists, the work may have been given there. There are in fact two good reasons for the modest scoring of Venetian operas of this period. The first is practical. The explosion of interest in opera in Venice (and subsequently elsewhere) resulted in a number of new opera houses being built in Venice. Invariably they were small and we know from surviving designs and images that the ‘pit’ (often an inverted shell-like structure) would have been incapable of housing more than some half-dozen instruments comfortably. The second is the more important because it concerns the nature of operas of the period, which relied heavily on the heightened recitative or recitar cantando, songs or more lyrical passages being only occasionally introduced. Such writing, as is the case with the later plain recitative that evolved, needs only the support of the continuo bass. To add fuller instrumentation to vocal writing risks obscuring the all-important vocal line. That’s what happens here far too frequently. For a single example from among many go to act 1, sc 5 and 6, where first Neptune is swamped by sackbuts, then Jupiter is drowned out by cornetti not just playing but adding agile improvisation that ensures it is impossible to hear what the god is singing. Certainly there is no prima le parole, dopo la musica here and it is surprising to find a musician with Gonzalez Toro’s experience with this repertoire making such a fundamental error.

Equally as surprising is that he chose for the critical role of Penelope – Ulisse’s long-suffering wife – a singer who had never previously performed Baroque repertoire. Rihab Chaieb is a young Tunisian-Canadian mezzo who has been making waves in later repertoire – go to YouTube and listen to her beautiful, glowing voice soaring in Richard Strauss. But the casting experiment fails disastrously. Much of the role lies just under what I would guess to be the ‘break’ in her voice, where there is little colour and none of the dramatic personality the role requires. Both in the opening monologue and the final reconciliation with her husband, this Penelope misses point after point and is not within hailing distance of the superlative performance by Lucile Richardot in the Versailles set under Stéphane Fuget, a set I have described elsewhere as setting new standards of performance for this repertoire.

Let’s turn to what is good. The set is directed by Gonzalez Toro with a keen awareness of tactus, which means he obtains a fluent flow with plenty of scope for flexibility within the beat. To hear this at its best, listen to Ulisse’s opening monologue (act 1, sc 7), where the warrior awakes, finding himself on a beach after the Phaeacians are shipwrecked. Here the stream of thought and reaction is brilliantly echoed through the constant screwing up and subsequent release of tension. Throughout the tenor’s singing and portrayal of the role is as outstanding as his Orfeo; if less spectacular than that achievement that is only because the role itself is.

It is not my intention to minutely detail every singer’s performance, not least because some of the singing is more than acceptable without being especially notable. This is no doubt because of the director’s declared belief that additional ornamentation to that already provided by Monteverdi is not required. Given the poor articulation of some of what there is, he may be right, but it contributes to some rather featureless performances. Among those that are certainly not featureless are the bright, lively Minerva of Emőke Baráth, the Antinoo and Tempo (Time) of Nicolas Brooymans, the Anfinomo and Giove of Anthony León and the ripely comic Iro (which is a true commedia nell’arte) of Fulvio Bettini). Also commendable is the splendid madrigalian singing of the suitors in their trios of act 2, sc 13 and the choral passages generally.

So much has gone into the making of this set that it seems churlish to conclude by reiterating that it is flawed by what are in my view two serious errors of judgment. Admirers of Gonzalez Toro (of whom I count myself as one) will certainly wish to hear it, but for a general recommendation the recording cannot compete with that of Fuget.

Brian Robins


Charpentier: Te Deum

La Chapelle Harmonique, conducted by Valentin Tournet
Versailles CVS098

In the time of Charpentier the text of the Te Deum was particularly associated with giving thanks to God for victory on the battlefield. Within this context, Marc-Antoine Charpentier composed four settings, of which the present example, H 146, is much the best known and for reasons that extend beyond the use for many years of its instrumental prelude as a flagship theme for major Eurovision transmissions. Charpentier expert Catherine Cessac suggests that H 146 may date from 1692 and the victory of Marshall  Luxembourg at Steenkerque.

Like all such works, the Te Deum’s principal mood is by definition celebratory, enhanced here by the inclusion of trumpets and timpani. But there are, too, more reflective moments of contrast. ‘Te per orbem’, for example, is wonderfully expressive, originally in the hands of outstanding tenor Mathias Vidal, then as a trio involving the addition of haute-contre David Tricou and bass Geoffroy Buffière, the gradual addition of soloists to form an ensemble being a favourite device of Charpentier’s. The succeeding ‘Tu devicto’ for solo soprano is quite ravishingly projected, its long cantabile lines relished with near-sensual delight by Gwendoline Blondeel. Yet ultimately it is the sheer joyous verve with which Valentin Tournet directs the work – and his chorus is magnificent – that sets the seal on a terrific performance.

The opening work on the CD could hardly be more contrasted as to character or performance style. It is a setting of De profundis (H 189), Psalm 129 (or 130 in the Protestant Bible), one of the seven penitential psalms and the psalm set more frequently by Charpentier than any other, a total of no fewer than eight times. H 189 was composed in 1683 on the occasion of the death of Queen Marie-Thérèse. Scored unusually for five-part strings and nine vocal parts, it explores a rich variety of textures and colour. The mood is set at the outset by an orchestral prelude in spacious sentimental style. The breadth and depth carry on into the opening choral setting of the first words ‘De profundis clamavi’, directed by Tournet with quite remarkable concentration. The choral writing here is mostly syllabic homophony, the choir’s cohesion and balance near perfectly sustained. The next number, the deeply expressive ‘Fiant aures tuae’ is initially a soprano solo that brings a new feel to the music, the lyrical lines exquisitely drawn by Blondeel and ultimately by both she and second soprano, Cécile Achille. The final verse, employing words familiar from the Mass for the Dead, ‘Requiem aeternam, dona eis’, rounds off an immensely impressive and profoundly moving work with a return to the breadth of the opening.

The final major work is the Magnificat, H 79, one of ten settings by Charpentier. This one is modestly scored for four vocal parts and four-part strings with a pair of flutes and is dated by Cessac as 1692 or 3. The opening verses are set with a lively sense of the praise they involve, evoking an infectious exuberance. Later contrast comes with more reflective verses such as ‘Suscepit Israel’ an haute-contre solo exquisitely sung by Tricou. But it is the joyous spirit that prevails, the Gloria bursting in to thrust aside the more thoughtful words that precede it and end the work by returning to the elation of the opening.

Finally the Magnificat and Te Deum are separated by four short ceremonial pieces for brass and timpani, the final one for timpani only, by J D Philidor, in some ways an odd idea as it means the prelude to the Te Deum fails to open with quite the startling impact it normally has, its thunder stolen by nearly two preceding minutes of timpani! A quite outstanding addition to the Charpentier discography from one of the rising stars in the already crowded constellation of outstanding French early music musicians.

Brian Robins


Antico tastame

Organi storici dell’Arcidiocesi di Monreale
Giovan Battista Vaglica
Tactus TC 720003

This recording has been a labour of love by Giovan Battista Vaglica who is heavily involved in cataloguing and restoring organs in the Archdiocese of Monreale in Sicily. He plays on three of these instruments here: a 17th-century organ, originally by Antonino La Valle but much altered, in the church of Maria SS. del Carmelo; an anonymous 18th-century instrument in the Chiesa Madre of Terrasini; a 19th-century instrument by an unknown maker in the church of S. Vito in Monreale. The music – all by Sicilian or Neapolitan composers – is well chosen to show off the variety of stops on each of the organs. The two earlier instruments are used for Toccatas by Alessandro Scarlatti and Francesco Durante, as well as a fine fugue by Domenico Scarlatti. A rather over-long set of partite on the Follia di Spagna by the elder Scarlatti provides a good opportunity to put the Terrasini instrument through its paces. The majority of tracks on the recording are played on the Monreale organ, featuring music by Cimarosa, Paisiello and Pergolesi, as well as the lesser-known Neapolitans Pietro Altieri and Fedele Fenaroli. This is all attractive music, without taking itself too seriously, and successfully showcases the surprising variety of timbres available – with only five stops – on the Monreale organ. This recording is a useful reminder of the riches that survive in just one small area of Sicily and the importance of keeping organs such as these in playing condition.

Noel O’Regan