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Pierre Colin: Trésor oublié de la Renaissance

Messes & Motets
La Note Brève
57:37
Paraty 7221120

Simon Gallot and his ensemble have done us a favour in introducing the neglected work of this mid-16th-century Burgundian composer. Although he seems to have spent his life in the relative musical backwater of Autun, Colin was scrupulous in seeing that much of his music made it to print. Still, while copies found their way into many of the great establishments of Europe, the music was often anonymous, and despite his best efforts Colin’s name lapsed into obscurity. His settings of the Mass and his motets, as well as his chansons, represented here by a performance on organ of L’oeil dict assez, are firmly in the mid-century style of the likes of Claudin. In tutti sections, the voices are accompanied by organ, an approach which suits the generally simple counterpoint rather well – the programme note suggests that Colin’s style is slightly more adventurous than the standard Parisian style of the period, with a greater tolerance of dissonance, but I can’t say that I was aware of this. However, Colin has a distinctive idiom and a thorough grasp of harmonic progressions and imitation, which means that this music is rarely dull. La Note Brève is a happy blend of male and female voices, producing a mellow sound and singing expressively. In their pursuit of authenticity, including convincing period pronunciation, this group belongs in the worthy tradition of French exploration of early choral music.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Méditation

Les quarte saisons du luth
Simone Vallerotonda
56:42
Arcana A496

Seventeenth-century French lute music has a distinct sound quality unlike any other. It is musique recherchée, appealing then as now to a relatively small number of enthusiasts. It involves snippets of sound which create a variety of moods and effects. There are elements of polyphony, but not always a clear number of voices. There are glimpses of melodies, but not suitable for singing in the bath. The overall texture varies, but is generally quite thin, with musical ideas suggested rather than hammered out. It is enhanced with a plethora of ornaments. It is clearly expressive, but quite what it expresses is elusive.

In this charming, well-played anthology of French lute music Simone Vallerotonda groups pieces according to the four seasons, the four elements, and the four humours. First is Winter – Earth – Black Bile – Spleen – and the key of C minor. The mood of this group is set by an unmeasured Prélude by Charles Mouton (1626-1699), no. 22 in the CNRS edition. One might expect some rhythmic freedom in this sort of piece, but I think Vallerotonda overdoes it. For example, he makes no clear distinction between crotchets and quavers, as if he makes the rhythm up as he goes along. Better to listen without looking at the score. Mouton’s final cadence is extraordinary and unsettling: the dominant – a broken chord of G major with a seventh – takes us predictably to C minor defined by an e’ flat. Two quavers later there is an e’ natural switching the tonality to a cheerful C major, but any optimism suggested by the new key is soon erased, the bar ending back with e’ flat and a mournful chord of C minor.

There follows Mouton’s La belle Espagnole (CNRS no. 27), a chaconne with distinctly unequal quavers. Perfect cadences in C minor occur every four bars in the first half of the piece, and then, with harmonic progressions becoming more complex, they occur every eight bars. There is much variety, including a scale in the bass rising from the lowest note of Mouton’s 11-course lute, and a rising chromatic scale in the bass from e flat to c’. In fact chromaticism is an ever-present feature of the piece.

More sober is Mouton’s La belle Florentine, a sarabande which ambles along at a slower speed, again with unequal quavers, and a few strums. The inherent melancholy of the piece is partly derived from its low tessitura: in the long first section the first course is not used at all, and but for one open string note in bar 6 and four more at the end of the section, the second course is not used either. Thereafter a few higher notes begin to appear culminating with an anguished c” (7th fret on the 1st course) towards the end. Vallerotonda returns to the first section for a petite reprise of gloom.

Amongst the pieces in the Winter set are Tombeau Mazarin by Robert de Visée (1650-1725), played with some slides up to high notes, and down to lower ones, and a repetitive chaconne, La Comete, by Jacques Gallot (1625-95). This last piece has unexpected harmonic turns and is very soothing on the ears, but I do not understand why it should be included in the Winter set. Gallot’s Chaconne is in C major, and does not evoke Black Bile and Spleen as the C minor pieces allegedly do. However, from the programming point of view it does round off the set nicely.

One might have expected Spring to follow Winter, but here it is Summer which comes next – Choleric – Fire – Yellow Bile – Liver – and music in G minor by different composers. Particularly noteworthy is Air pour les esclaves africains by Jean Philippe Rameau (1683-1764). It is a fine piece, reminiscent of Lully, and Vallerotonda’s transcription sounds well on the lute. The fourth piece of the set is a courante in G major by Robert de Visée, so no Yellow Bile and Liver here. By the way, it would have been helpful to include more information in the liner notes about the music. Which courante is it, and from which source?

The third season of the CD is Autumn – Phlegmatic – Water – Phlegm – Head – and music in D minor. One of the items is another transcription of music by Rameau, this time from a harpsichord solo, Les Tendres Plaintes, which comes from Rameau’s Pieces de Clavessin (Paris, n.d. [1724]) p. 15. The piece consists of two voices for the most part, mainly with continuous quavers in the bass, and slower note values in the treble. To fit on the lute, the music has to be transposed down an octave, but otherwise little needs changing for a playable transcription. Most of the music on the CD was written for the 11-course lute, but in his transcription, Vallerotonda takes advantage of the low A available on his 13-course instrument. The last Autumn track is Canaries ou Gigue by Valentin Strobel (1610-69), a surprising choice since Strobel was German, not French.

The last season is Spring – Sanguine – Air – Blood – Heart – and A major/ minor. The set begins with an upbeat La Muzette by Robert de Visée, the first half of which is in A major, and the second half in A minor. In contrast, it is followed by De Visée’s beautiful Tombeau du Vieux Gallot in A minor, where the bass is forever heading downward, and the final chord is shockingly dissonant. There follow two pieces by Jacques Gallot – La Cicogne and Les Castagnettes – the latter with many off-beats strums. The set ends with Charles Mouton’s My mistress is pretty [Bransle de Mantoue], no. 114 in the CNRS edition, played with many ornaments added to the repeats of sections and a flurry of notes enlivening the repeat of bars 7. The CD ends with an intabulation of Les Barricades Mystérieuses by François Couperin (1668-1733). The piece is in B flat major, which does not fit any of the four seasons, but its justification for being included is given as “Eucrasia or balance of the four temperaments”.

Simone Vallerotonda’s CD includes some delightful music which he plays well, but trying to link these pieces to the seasons, elements, and humours, is illogical, fanciful nonsense.

Stewart McCoy

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Recording

Music for French Kings

Amanda Babington musette, Claire Babington cello, David Smith 
Duration unknown (34 tracks lasting from 19 seconds to 3 minutes 40)
Deux-Elles DXL 1188

Well, you’d never guess it from the title, but this is a disc of music for musette and continuo. I have to be honest, for a ‘generally-interested-in-early-music’ person it will be a hard continuous listen all the way through, not so much because of the drones and their inevitable conflicts with the underlying harmony but more because of melodic intonation issues on higher notes, which would not be acceptable from either of the soloist’s other instruments.

However, perhaps that’s not really the point. In its time and place, as the very readable essay (in English only) makes clear, the musette – like the hurdy-gurdy – was an important element in French courtly entertainment with a substantial published repertoire by perfectly respectable composers such as Hotteterre and Boismortier. The style inclines to the lightweight in these various suites and the music must have been the perfect foil to the pastoral entertainments of which it may well have been part.

But explore the recital in instalments. Other than the intonation ‘moments’ (inherent in the instrument) the playing is excellent.

David Hansell

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Recording

Gervais: Grands Motets

Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vahegyi
72:04
Glossa GCD 924013

Charles-Hubert Gervais (1671-1744) became one of the sous-maitres of the Chapelle du Roy in 1722, one of those to benefit from the re-establishment and re-vamping of the court’s musical institutions after the relatively austere Regency years. He composed more than 40 grands motets, some of which remained in the repertoire right up to the Revolution. These are very much ‘after Lalande’ – indeed, the elder man’s music is alluded to or even quoted from time to time – but in many respects Gervais is very much his own man. Unusually, he often reduces the orchestral texture from its traditional five parts to three (violin, viola and bass) and is inclined to eschew vocal virtuosity in favour of more restrained expressive effects, such as harmony, despite his background in the theatre.

Among the soloists, haute-contre Cyrille Dubois is the stand-out, with the range, taste, and skill to deliver his music beautifully. The other soloists are never less than good, though all are guilty from time to time of trying to do a bit too much with their music. Choir and Orchestra are also on good form, and I note that, whereas in their earlier days, there was a significant number of western European players, almost all are now home-grown.

The booklet (in English, French and German) offers its thorough and interesting essay in all three languages though the Latin texts are translated only into English and there is no information about the artists.

David Hansell

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Recording

Handel: Theodora

Lisette Oropesa Theodora, Joyce Didonato Irene, Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian Didymus, Michael Spyres Septimus, John Chest Valens SmScTTB, Il Pomo d’Oro, conducted by Maxim Emelyanychev
Erato 5054197177910
179:18 9 (3 CDs)

Having frequently berated British conductors for directing Handel’s operas as if they were oratorios, here’s a case of the boot being on the other foot – a non-British conductor directing one of the oratorios as if were an opera. If you are going to choose to do this, it would be difficult to think of a better candidate than Handel’s penultimate oratorio Theodora, first given to a libretto by Thomas Morell at Covent Garden in 1750. It is unusual for Handel in a number of respects, not least because it does not follow the usual format of setting an Old Testament story, but rather that of a Christian martyr in the Roman Empire. Moreover, in addition to being a morality, it is equally a love story between Theodora, the martyr and Didymus, a Roman soldier converted to Christianity by his love for her. That the pair suffer martyrdom together to meld into a love as unbreakable and eternal as that of Galatea and Acis is the uplifting message of Theodora, one underlined in Handel’s final chorus but totally (deliberately?) missed by Peter Sellars in his infamous 1996 production for Glyndebourne.

Maxim Emelyanychev’s approach is light-textured, rhythmically buoyant in quicker, more dramatic numbers, but above all infused with the Italianate lyricism that is so much a defining feature of Handel’s operas. More expressive numbers are often taken fashionably and excessively slowly, the Roman soldier Septimus’s sensitive ‘Descend, kind pity’ and Irene’s ravishing ‘As with rosy steps’ being two extreme examples from part 1; others follow at regular intervals. Also taken far too deliberately are the plain recitatives, which suffer from the all-too-common fault of being sung, often cantabile. And speaking of tediously repetitive faults in current performance practice, the inclusion of a theorbist who constantly makes his presence felt where it is not wanted is another. Indeed his superfluous and at times tasteless contributions serve to further inspire my intentions to found a society for the banning of continuo lutenists. It is worth recalling that in his benchmark recording of the oratorio Paul McCreesh found no reason to include such a personage. More positively, Il Pomo d’Oro’s playing is well up to the orchestra’s high standards, while the choral singing is one of the glories of the set. Employing a leaner ensemble than we usually hear in Handel oratorios – just four voices per part – balance, contrapuntal detail, incisiveness and projection are exemplary, while the English diction of the largely Italian membership is highly commendable. 

The cast assembled is interesting for including some of the most fashionable current names in the operatic world, a far cry from the kind of soloists that normally appear in a British Handel oratorio performance or recording. The Cuban-American soprano Lisette Oropesa is particularly hot property at present – as I write she is about to sing her first Alcina as Covent Garden – whose activities extend way beyond the Handelian repertoire. The voice itself is simply gorgeous, generously imbued with a near-voluptuous quality. Bigger than one might expect in this repertoire, neither that fact nor a fast vibrato is troublesome here, both being under impressive control. Oropesa’s mid-range is especially lovely, with ‘Angels, ever bright’ a particularly good place to sample it. An air like ‘Oh, that I on wings’ displays an attractive bright agility, while passage work throughout is stylishly articulated. Some less than stylish ornamentation in the da capo of the same aria however features a less laudable side of her singing, while I found scant evidence of the ‘endless supply of golden-age trills’ mentioned in a blurb on the singer’s website. Indeed trills of any age are in notoriously short supply and you won’t find any coming from Joyce DiDonato’s as Theodora’s Christian companion Irene. What you will find in spades is her rare ability to colour a text and given the role’s allotment of some of Handel’s most memorable airs – ‘As with rosy steps’ and ‘New scenes of joy’ to name a couple – there is much to relish from her splendid assumption of the role. Not everything is praiseworthy, however, and like Oropesa, she is inclined to moments of self-indulgence, especially at cadenzas. Much the worst example occurs at the end of the recap of ‘Lord, to thee’, the air that opens part 3, where the long, unaccompanied meanderings come close to touching on narcissism.

The young French countertenor Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian is another artist understandably making considerable waves. The voice is one of intrinsic beauty, well produced and controlled. His Didymus is a highly musical performance, as is already apparent in the way he shapes the opening of his first aria, ‘The raptured soul’, while ‘Dread the fruits’ demonstrates full confidence in more bravura writing, with impressive passaggi. I’ve become accustomed to Michael Spyres as today’s leading interpreter of the great Berlioz tenor roles, so wondered what he’d make of the part of Septimus, the empathetic friend of Didymus. The answer is that he triumphs with it, producing a performance of great character, while demonstrating himself fully capable of encompassing the rather different technique required for Handel. And finally to round off a truly distinguished cast, John Chest is magnificent in the role of the unbending Roman tyrant Valens, his richly burnished tone and authoritative performance adding a further element of distinction.

Theodora is indisputably one of Handel’s greatest works, though it is worth recalling that as with many works of great stature, it was not always considered so. As such the present set is highly valuable for the fresh light it casts on a work that is one of the glories of the English oratorio repertoire. It is not perfect, as noted above, but it does include some exceptional singing and should to be heard by anyone who loves the work. If the ultimate library version remains Paul McCreesh’s superb 2000 recording, I am grateful to have heard this remarkable new Erato, to which I hope to return on many occasions.

Brian Robins

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Recording

Gervais: Grands motets

Les Ombres, Choeur du Concert Spirituel, Silvain Sartre
57:21
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS 073

Previous releases in this splendid series devoted to the grand motet repertoire and recorded in the Chapelle Royale at Versailles have been devoted to the known masters: Lully, Delalande, Rameau, and so on. Charles-Hubert Gervais will likely be a less familiar name to most prospective listeners.

Born in Paris in 1671, he spent much of his life in the service of the Duke of Orléans (the Regent from 1715), replacing his father as valet to the duke, who he assisted in the composition of two operas. In 1723 he was one of three composers (along with Campra and Nicolas Bernier) to succeed to three-quarters of Delalande’s position as sous-maître of the Chapelle Royale (traditionally a composer served as sous-maître three months of the year). He died, also in Paris, in 1744. Anecdotally Gervais apparently tried to avoid his position as sous-maître, claiming the Latin motet was not his favoured form of competition, yet, as is adequately demonstrated on the present CD, his achievements in the field merited the considerable fame and recognition granted him both in France and further afield.

The motets included here all follow the customary sectional form, with verses divided between soloists, petit choeur (solo ensemble) and grand choeur supported by orchestra comprising wind and strings. Each motet is given its own distinctive character in Gervais’s settings. Super flumina Babilonis is a setting of the well-known text of Psalm 137, ‘By the waters of Babylon’, with its dramatic juxtapositions into the largely yearning text fully exploited by the composer. The exquisitely lovely opening, announced by the orchestra and taken up by the chorus, captures all the nostalgia felt by captive Israel, the falling sequential figure an expression of intense longing. Later passages such as ‘Quia illic’ (For they that they led us into captivity), with its martial dotted rhythm introduce elements of the dramatic so strongly as to make the prospect of hearing one of Gervais’s tragedies lyrique mouth-watering.

Super flumina is a quite splendid work, arguably the pick of the three recorded here. Jubilate Deo (Psalm 100) is well known for its place in the liturgy. Gervais’s setting of it is for a work of joyous praise not inappropriately pervaded by the spirit of the dance. Introduced as a duet for two sopranos which is then taken up by the full choir, this opening is a fine example of the skill and confidence with which Gervais handles contrasting textures, both choral and orchestral. The final contrapuntal chorus (‘Be thankful to him’) is beautifully laid out and constructed. The final motet is a setting of the Miserere mei (Psalm 51), at once much the longest (it runs about half an hour) and most ambitious of those here. It is also, perhaps predictably, the most uneven, as a general observation more compelling in its penitential passages. That said it opens and ends superbly, starting with a broad, serious bass solo (well, if not outstandingly sung by Benoît Arnould) taken up first by the male voices of the chorus then the upper voices to build sonorously and impressively, a favourite procedure of the composer. The final section (‘That the walls of Jerusalem’) opens with a duet for two sopranos (Marie Perbost and Déborah Cachet, who excel in all they do in these works) before proceeding to a lively contrapuntal chorus that alternates the petit choeur with the grand, while introducing suggestions of modality. Elsewhere hints of the conventional occasionally crop up, but overall these motets reveal a composer well capable of taking his place alongside better-known names.

If marginally failing to attain the exalted level of some previous issues in the series, the performances by one of the lesser known of the profusion of ensembles that currently grace the French early music scene are extremely accomplished. Chorus and orchestra, both smaller than some that essay this repertoire, acquit themselves well, while as already intimated the soloists are first-rate, tenor Nicholas Scott particularly catching the ear among those not so far mentioned.

Brian Robins 

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Recording

Dowland: Lessons

Jonas Nordberg lute
72:14
BIS-2627 | SACD

From the first few notes of this CD it is clear that Jonas Nordberg sets out to put his own gloss on well-known music by John Dowland (1563-1626). He begins with Dowland’s Prelude, playing at quite a slow speed, taking liberties with the rhythm, adding a few more ornaments than were in the unique source (Margaret Board’s lute book), and exaggerating the briskness of repeated high notes towards the end. There follows A Fancy (Poulton 73) which opens with a theme similar to “All in a Garden Green”, and develops many contrasting musical ideas – little four-note rising scales overlapping each other, the introduction of a new theme which shares the first four notes of the opening theme, more rising scales but with a quaver followed by six semiquavers, a lengthy tremolo passage, and rounding off with Dowland’s characteristic alternation of tonic and dominant chords before the final grand 6-note chord. Nordberg wisely does not add a chord at the end of bar 19 as suggested by Diana Poulton, since this would interfere with the theme reiterated in the bass.

For The Frog Galliard Nordberg creates a gentle mood, perhaps thinking of the words “Now oh now I needs must part”. However, those words, supposedly for the Duc d’Alençon leaving Queen Elizabeth after a failed courtship, were probably loaded with sarcasm, and a happier mood might have been more appropriate. Who is to say? One thing I do like about Nordberg’s performance of this piece is his ornaments of which there are many. Some match Poulton’s edition, no. 23a, others are his own, but they are all most convincing. It is Nordberg’s use of ornaments and imaginative little touches of his own, which bring Dowland’s music to life.

A good example of Nordberg’s little touches comes at the end of Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe. There is a rising scale in parallel tenths, where each note of the treble is followed by a note a third higher before moving on to the next tenth; this means that the treble has a succession of rising thirds in quavers. On the repeat Nordberg introduces a fast passing note between each of these thirds – such a simple idea, but a pleasant surprise which put a smile across my face.

The title of the CD is Lessons, meaning pieces to be learned. Nordberg gives a good account of five pieces from Robert Dowland’s Varietie of Lute-lessons (1610): Galliards for Queen Elizabeth, the King of Denmark, and the Earl of Derby, John Smith’s Almain, and Fantasie (Poulton 1a).

An important aspect of English music at this time, whether for lute, virginals or other instruments, was the writing of variations on simple folk melodies. Dowland’s variations on “Loth to depart” are a fine example of this, with a wealth of musical ideas displaying the expressive capabilities of the lute. In contrast is Dowland’s simple setting of Orlando Sleepeth, which is a short piece with no ornaments or decorated repeats. Nordberg plays it through with some decoration of his own, and then again with more embellishment.

For Solus cum Sola Diana Poulton used the setting in the Ewing lute book, but Nordberg instead turns to the setting in Cambridge University Library, Dd.2.11. The last strain appears only once in the manuscript, so Nordberg repeats it with his own tasteful additions. In another pavan, Semper Dowland Semper Dolens, Nordberg creates a suitable melancholic mood, but I am puzzled by the penultimate chord of the second strain. The Ewing lute book has d’ and b, and the Weld lute book has f’ and d’. Either is fine, but Nordberg plays f’ and b creating a diminished fifth, which cannot be right.

Nordberg plays a nine-course lute strung in gut, with a string-length of 65 cm tuned to g’ at A=392. It was built by Lars Jönssen. In modern times it has been common to tune lutes to g’ at modern pitch (A=440), which requires a smallish lute with a string-length of 60 cm, and which can sound a bit tinkly. Nordberg’s larger lute is effectively tuned a tone lower, giving a richer, warmer sound, which is ideal for Dowland’s lute solos.

The number seven and multiples of seven seem to have been important for Dowland. There are 21 songs in three of his four printed collections of songs (The Second Booke has 22), 21 instrumental pieces in Lachrimae [1604] of which the first seven pavans are seven different Lachrimaes, and 42 lute solos in Varietie of which there are seven of each of the six genres represented. His setting of “Loth to depart” consists of seven variations. Significantly Robert  Nordberg’s CD has 21 tracks.

Stewart McCoy

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Recording

Telemann: Fantasias for solo violin

Alina Ibragimova
65:56
hyperion CDA 68384

Above and beyond his regular duties as a vast provider of music for all occasions, Telemann also catered for the growing amateur and domestic demands for appropriately crafted “training aids” in both sung and instrumental areas within his “Selbstverlag” (self-publishing house). Excluding the Frankfurt publications, the Hamburg activities took off with the Harmonische Gottesdienst 1725-6, a full year’s worth of chamber cantatas for church or domestic use, or indeed training aids! The provision of music to all was a keen aim which was fulfilled across the board. It was during the period of 1732-1735 that we find the four sets of Fantasias: Flute, Harpsichord (Three Dozen) Violin and Gamba, each side of the highly successful Musique de Table publication in 1733… and the Sing- Spiel- und General-Bass Übungen 1733-4. The latter set good “training aids” to improve performance and proficiency.

All of these attributes are found in the Fantasias; within those for solo violin we find a clever combination of older framed pieces and more forward-looking galant textures, mixed with some rusticity. Neat, trick polyphonic devices and echos, suggesting a duo-effect to one’s ear. Not everyone pulls this off as they transit the various modes and styles. It is all a question of phrasing and correct articulation of the implied flow of musical ideas. As I stated in a previous review of these same works (Thomas Cotik) each violinist brings their own stamp to these pieces. Alina Ibragimova brings her style to bear within the six retro-looking and six more galant pieces on what may be an Amati violin which has both a deep sonority and crystalline top register.

The total timing gives a slight guide to tempi used; Ibragmiva’s 65:56 is slower than the benchmark Fabio Biondi at 62:30, but faster than Andrew Manze at 70:44, and Rachel Podger at 75:20. Strangely, I wasn’t won over by the opening phrase nor the (over-)use of diminuendo, which to me clashed with some overemphatic gestures. Some of the subtle faux-duo lines were lost in a straightforward chain of notes, which were most dextrous in delivery yet lost some improvisatory magic. The F-minor work seemed to slip from a normally melancholic feel to rather mournful, while the D-major had a much freer flow and familiar exposition of some galant-styled tones. Here it must be said the CD booklet notes by Joseph Fort are pertinent and informative, aiding the listener’s transit.

Comparing this version to a whole “string” of violinists tackling these works (pun intended!), I  would probably opt for the CRD Maya Magub or the recent Orchid Classics with Iryna Gintova, yet everyone ought to have the Biondi (Glossa), possibly the Dubeau (Analekta, on modern violin), most probably have either the Manze or Podger, or maybe the Cotik (Centaur, also modern violin) for his brash and showy yet cogent version. Many others will bring their stamp and phrasing in these engaging works with stylistic signposts and faux-double violin effects, plus typical Telemann rustic elements… in short, the violin fantasias are a neatly crafted assemblage to tease player and listener!

David Bellinger

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Recording

The Poor Branch

Nineteenth-century guitar music by Ivan Klinger (1818-97)
James Akers guitar
64:18
resonus RES10302

Ivan Andreevich Klinger (1818-1897) was born in Kherson, Ukraine. His guitar music is little known today, although much of it is available online at IMSLP. Unlike so many of his contemporaries from his part of the world, Klinger wrote for the six-string classical guitar, or Spanish guitar, rather than the Russian seven-string guitar with its characteristic open G tuning of DGBdgbd’. Klinger’s music is very easy on the ears – charming melodies decorated with occasional chromatic inflections and virtuosic interjections – arpeggios, harmonics, changes of tempo, glissandos, but always lyrical, and exploiting the full range of the instrument. Klinger’s compositional skill and James Akers’ sensitive interpretation combine to produce a premiere recording which has been a pleasure to review. The CD is enhanced by excellent liner notes from Oleg Timofeyev, who puts the pieces in context, and provides a wealth of interesting information about them.

Fantasy no. 2, is an attractive piece with considerable variety. An Introduction opens with two phrases, each consisting of five plucked chords, a flourish of single notes, and harmonics; there follows a short passage of arpeggios marked diminuendo, followed by a tremolo marked accelerando. The mood is set for three folk song melodies: “In the garden”, “I love Peter”, and “A birch tree stood in the field”. Each melody is played with variations, including an extraordinary and very effective imitation of the balalaika: the note b is held at the 4th fret of the 3rd string acting as a drone, occasionally dipping down to a# for a first inversion of the dominant; the melody is sustained on the first string; and the second string fills out the harmony, often duplicating in unison the b of the third string; all chords are strummed, but only involving the first three strings of the guitar, creating second inversions of E minor. This is just like the balalaika, which has three strings, is strummed with the fingers, and typically involves unisons and unavoidable inversions of chords.

So much of Klinger’s music is cheerful, but a change of mood comes with “Elegie par Henri Vogel”, which begins with a sad melody sustained by gloomy repeated chords low down in the bass. In his liner notes Oleg Timofeyev explains that the music was originally a composition by Henri Vogel (1845-1900) for viola and piano, and he describes what Klinger has done to adapt it for solo guitar.

The title of the CD, “The Poor Branch”, comes from the title of a song composed by Nikolai Titov (1800-75), which Klinger arranged for solo guitar adding his own variations. It is heard as the penultimate track of the CD. One can easily imagine Klinger captivating 19th-century salon audiences in Ukraine and thereabouts with his playing, and hopefully James Akers will succeed in introducing Klinger’s music to a wider audience today.

Stewart McCoy

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Recording

Mozart: Piano Concerto no. 23, Symphony no. 40

Andreas Staier fortepiano, Le Concert de la Loge, Julien Chauvin violin & director
56:59
Alpha 875

Named in part – they had to drop ‘Olympique’ after protests from the French Olympic association – after the Parisian concert organisation that commissioned a set of symphonies from Haydn, Le Concert de la Loge was founded by the violinist Julien Chauvin in 2015. Today it is firmly established as one of the many outstanding period instrument orchestras in France, having gained a particular reputation (at least on record) in Classical repertoire.  For the present CD, they have joined forces with the distinguished forte-pianist Andreas Staier, who plays one of Mozart’s best-loved concertos on a very fine copy of a Walter instrument of c.1790 built by Christoph Kern of Staufen. Those coming across the disc may be surprised to find that the G-minor Symphony has acquired an unlikely nickname – ‘Le Dodécaphonique’. Apparently, it was chosen by the musicians of Le Concert following a contest among their concert audience, though not I suspect without the prompting of Chauvin, who in his note draws attention to the start of the development of the opening movement and its use all the notes of the chromatic scale, with the exception of G natural. Perhaps he might with better purpose have noted Mozart’s extraordinary use of chromaticism throughout the symphony; it is responsible for engendering much of the work’s tragic drama and is a prime feature that distinguishes it from many another turbulent G-minor symphony, including Mozart’s own earlier example, K 183.

Leading from the first violin desk, Chauvin’s way with Mozart is quickly established with the Don Giovanni Overture that opens the CD. His tempos tend to be on the brisk side, leading to a danger of brusqueness not always avoided. On the credit side, however, there is an inherent sense of drama, which is aided by splendid balance between strings and the exceptionally accomplished wind, and a keen ear for detail. The strings are not always a match for the wind and there is a trace of sourness in the Overture. One movement where greater forward momentum certainly does pay dividends is in the central Adagio of the A-major Piano Concerto, which without losing the depth of feeling the music conveys – some of the most profound even Mozart ever wrote – better conveys its siciliana rhythm and avoids the trap of sentimentality into which it sometimes falls. For the most part, this movement is also exquisitely decorated, as it must be if it is to be expanded from its skeletal state. It is to Staier’s credit that he mostly avoids the temptation to rewrite rather than ornament the melodic line, and only near the conclusion (from bar 88) do I feel he slightly over-eggs the pudding. Otherwise, Staier’s performance is marked by the nimble and precise finger-work that is a hallmark of his playing, with judicious touches of rubato underlining just how fine a musician he is.

The G-minor Symphony is given in the second version with clarinets, as is usual. Unlike the overture and concerto it was not recorded in the Arsenal de Metz – Cite Musicale but in the Notre-Dame de Liban church in Paris with a warmer, more generous acoustic  (and a substantially differently constituted orchestra). It’s a fine performance – fine enough indeed to have wished that Chauvin had taken the second-half repeat of the finale, again illustrative of Mozart’s astonishing contrapuntal chromatic mastery, though a steadier tempo might have been more effective here. But all-in-all these are challenging and rewarding performances of familiar masterpieces that make the listener prick up his ears anew, not always a foregone conclusion.

Brian Robins