Categories
Recording

Le Masque de Fer

Ensemble La Ninfea
69:45
Raumklang RK 3308
Music by Chambonnières, Marais, Sainte-Colombe, Toinon & the Saizenay manuscript

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Man in the Iron Mask has been the subject of books, films and much speculation about his identity. He may just have been a valet but there have been claims that he was an illegitimate half-brother of Louis XIV, a disgraced French general or an Italian diplomat. The one certain fact is that he died in the Bastille in 1703 after more than thirty years in several different French prisons where elaborate precautions were taken to hide his identity. On the assumption that the prisoner was not just a servant but had access to music, German ensemble La Ninfea present a programme of French baroque music designed not to cheer the prisoner in his lonely cell but rather to reflect his desperate situation. There are pieces for two recorders and continuo, duets for two gambas, solos for recorder or gamba with continuo and two for solo theorbo. The prevailing melancholy mood is lightened by the occasional fast movement and in two sets of arrangements by La Ninfea of music originally adapted for theorbo by Robert de Visée. On the whole the programme flows nicely along with stylish performances of some beautiful music, but this is perhaps not a CD to listen to if you are already feeling depressed.

Victoria Helby

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DVD

Handel: Rodelinda

Danielle di Niese Rodelinda, Bejun Mehta Bertarido, Kurt Streit Grimoaldo, Konstantin Wolff Garibaldo, Malena Ernman Eduige, Matthias Rexroth Unulfo, Luis Neuhold Flavio, Angelo Margiol Flavio’s friend, Concentus Musicus Wien, Nicolaus Harnoncourt
189′ (2 DVDs)
Belvedere 10144

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his DVD is hardly worth listening to, let alone seeing. The speeds are dull – to take for example the overture (where was the minuet?), the largo was andante-larghetto; the allegro was andante. The tempi continue in such fashion (‘mean’ Handel – where fast is too slow and slow too fast). The cast is pretty decent, although indiscriminate vibrato taints them all. And while Bejun Mehta is not bad as Bertarido, Matthias Rexroth (Unulfo) makes a good case for using a contralto or mezzo. (Amazingly, women can play men.) As the heroine, de Niese has good facial expressions and can act (makes up for an indifferent voice), but Rodelinda is misconceived: no dignity or that aura of untouchability that means a) Grimoaldo is helpless about her in more sense than just love, and b) that she keeps her reputation and poise throughout. For example, her ‘L’empio rigor’ (far too pedestrian, by the way – and that’s before de Niese lags behind the beat) starts with Grimoaldo actually touching her and towering over her; she seems indecisive and at a loss what to do. The music is so at odds with this that the whole thing’s a nonsense. It’s a shame, for Grimoaldo’s entrance is suitably bumbling. And there’s some bizarre wardrobe-moving – but what else do you do in the da capo? (And, of course, Rodelinda, being a woman, is only interested in clothes anyway.) The recitatives are awful – very sung; all notes almost the same length (interminable). There are occasional good moments (e. g. the first encounter between Grimoaldo and Eduige, and Bertarido’s ‘Dove sei’), but the bad moments are too cringe worthy – e. g. the sex scene between Eduige and Garibaldo (never mind that Eduige is supposed to have left the stage… And how do you bonk with your trousers on/tights up?) We’ve only got a third of the way through Act I. It doesn’t improve. Avoid!

Katie Hawks

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Recording

Good Friday in Jerusalem: Medieval Byzantine Chant from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Cappella Romana, Alexander Lingas
74:38
Cappella Romana CR413CD

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]lexander Lingas, in collaboration with Ioannis Arvanitis, is fortunate in being able to reify his archival researches into Medieval Byzantine chant by means of Cappella Romana’s fine musical skills and their recording team. In his booklet he draws attention to the ritual use in Byzantine Jerusalem of shrines associated with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He describes the elements of the Holy Sepulchre cathedral complex built on the accepted site of the crucifixion and entombment, an atrium incorporating the hill of Golgotha and a rotunda over Christ’s tomb, and cites the diary of a late fourth century pilgrim, Egeria, who refers to readings, prayers and psalmody performed at historically appropriate locations. Continuing the idea of spatial performance, he depicts the nocturnal start of the Jerusalem Passion Office on the Mount of Olives, the processions of worshippers to shrines such as Gethsemane, and the assembly in the atrium of the church, with specific chants, reading and hymns relating to these locations.

All this ritual once performed in space with the participation of celebrants must now be compressed onto the tracks of a CD and heard in the confines of a home. Only imagination and memories of Greek Orthodox services and processions could transform these tracks from music to chant enacted spatially in the presence of worshippers. Yet taken as a whole, the intensity of the singing and the vocal techniques do not allow the mind to wander into ecclesiastical reminiscences. Initially we may admire the poetry of the words, clearly pronounced but sensitively and powerfully translated in the booklet, though hardly matched by the music in any programmatic sense. Then, as if we might be thinking the considerable potentialities of monophonic chorus and drone were exhausted, we are surprised by even more heartfelt drama and striking solos. In all, we can rejoice that these rites are preserved from a Holy Land now surrounded by architectural, human and cultural destruction.

Diana Maynard

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Recording

Flight of Angels: Music from the Golden Age in Spain

The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
63:52
Coro COR16128
Guerrero Agnus Dei I & II (Missa Congratulamini mihi),Credo (Missa de la batalla escoutez) Duo Seraphim, Gloria (Missa Surge propera), Laudate Dominum a8, Maria Magdalene, Vexilla Regis
Alonso Lobo Ave Maria a8, Ave Regina caelorum, Kyrie (Missa Maria Magdalene), Libera me, Versa est in luctum,

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is a lovely disc. Guerrero and Lobo were associated with the great cathedral of Seville during its Golden Age in the late 16th and early 17th century, when it was the immensely wealthy mother church of Spain’s South American colonies. Harry Christophers has assembled a delectable feast of motets and mass movements; the disc opens with one of my personal favourites, the glorious Guerrero Duo Seraphim, dripping with Trinitarian symbolism – three choirs (12 voices!), three ‘full’ episodes, two voices for the Duo Seraphim, rising to three for the Tres Sunt and so on. The Sixteen capture Guerrero’s uniquely mellifluous vocal scoring to perfection. The same composer’s Maria Magdalene, describing the events around the Resurrection, is another show-stopping favourite – try the wonderful Secunda Pars and marvel! Guerrero’s pupil and eventual successor, Alonso Lobo, completes the disc; it is fascinating to compare his denser reworking of Maria Magdalene into a mass ordinary with the more limpid original. I particularly enjoyed the tremendous contrapuntal cleverness of his 8-voice Ave Maria, where the second choir’s music is derived canonically from that of the first. The Sixteen perform with their customary poise, precision and passion. The programme neatly reflects their 2015 Choral Pilgrimage concert series, hopefully coming to A Church Near You at some point in the next few months. Go forth, attend and acquire!

Alastair Harper

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Categories
Recording

Mésangeau’s Experiments

Alex McCartney lute
Veterum Musica – details below the review
Suites in B flat, f and C

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ené Mésangeau (fl 1567-1638) was one of the pioneers of what was to become the Baroque lute, not least through his experiments in lute tuning that led to the ‘standard’ Baroque lute tuning based around a D minor chord. After a time in Germany he returned to his native Paris and the Court of Louis XIII. Three Suites are included on this CD, in B flat, F minor and C, the latter Suite including two movements by an anonymous composer. Each suite opens with an unmeasured prelude following by groups of Allemandes and Courantes, finishing with Sarabandes or a Chaconne. The playing is sensitive and musical (albeit with a fair bit of finger noise), the acoustic adding a nice resonance to the sound, particularly in the many pieces at low pitch. The sleeve notes are minimal, and there is no indication of track or total timings – something to watch out for if you want anybody to broadcast tracks.

Andrew Benson-Wilson

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Categories
Recording

The Famous Weiss

David Miller baroque lutes
68:21
Timespan TS1401
Sonatas 5 in d & 30 in g, Prelude & Fantasie in c, Prelude in D, Campanella in D, Passagaille in D, Giga in D

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he thoughtful and reflective mood of the opening D minor Prelude sets the scene for this enthralling CD of lute music by Silvius Leopold Weiss. I was introduced to the music of Weiss by David Miller in a Dartington concert in the mid 90s. An almost exact contemporary of J. S. Bach and Handel, Weiss spent time in Rome (alongside Handel and Scarlatti) before settling as lutenist to the Dresden Court. His visit to Berlin produced the ‘Famous Weiss’ comment from the sister of the future Frederick the Great. The two Sonatas (in practice, multi-movement suites) from the Dresden manuscripts are nicely contrasted, the simpler D minor suite forming a foil to the more substantial, elaborate and musically advanced G minor set. Of the six other pieces from a British Library manuscript, the Prelude in C minor, with its distinctive octave opening, shows Weiss’s imaginative use of harmonic modulation, a factor specifically mentioned in relation to a competition with Bach in Dresden. As the opening Prelude demonstrates, David Miller plays with a particular sensitivity to musical ebb and flow, as well as producing a beautifully rich and refined tone.

Andrew Benson-Wilson

Categories
Recording

Giuseppe Sammartini: Concertos for the organ, op. 9

Fabio Bonizzoni, La Risonanza
63:17
Glossa GCD C81505

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is a re-release of a 2000 recording. Giuseppe was the elder brother of the better known Giovanni Battista. Born in 1695, he left Milan for London in 1728, where he stayed until his death in 1750, making quite a name for himself. These concertos, published after his death for “Harpsichord or Organ”, are domestic in scale, with just two violins, cello and bass alongside the organ. It is not clear when they were composed, but they have more of a Rococo than Baroque feel to them, rather enhanced by the playing style on this CD. The spiky solo registrations are not in keeping with the English organ of the period, and nor is the over-articulated performance style. Bonizzoni keeps to the two-part structure of most of the organ solos (without infilling the harmonies, a debatable point for this repertoire), but it is a shame that he doesn’t make more of the organ when in its continuo role – it is more-or-less inaudible. The notes give no information on the organ, but I have a feeling it is later than this repertoire. It is certainly not in any English or Italian early to mid 18th-century style. Two lively little Sonatas by Giovanni Battista Sammartini complete the disc.

Andrew Benson-Wilson

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Recording

Les ombres heureuses: Les organistes français de la fin de l’Ancien Régime

Olivier Baumont organ & piano organisé
63:31
Radio France TEM316053
Music by Balbastre, Beauvarlet-Charpentier, Benaut, Corrette, A-L Couperin & Lasceux

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he CD was so tightly jammed into the central jaws that it snapped in half as I tried to get it out of the box. However I found snippets of all the pieces on the internet. The period leading up to the French Revolution formed the technical peak of the French Classical organ although the music written for it didn’t reach similar heights. In France, the musical highlight came around 1700 with De Grigny, after which pieces became increasingly secular and fanciful in character – and more fun. Pushing the earlier Baroque forms and colours to extremes, the likes of Balbastre ended up providing entertainment for the revolutionary populace in the newly desig-nated Temples of Reason, saving many important organs from destruction in the process. This CD covers most of the composers of the mid to late 18th century, along with the varied musical styles, most loosely based on the earlier Baroque concepts of registration and form. The 1748 Dom Bedos organ in Sainte-Croix, Bordeaux, is one of the finest surviving organs of this period, with a rich palette of tonal colours. The 1791 Erard-frères piano organisé used for several central tracks produces a fascinating and unusual sound and brings the sound world into the domestic scene. Olivier Baumont takes this repertoire seriously, as he should, and is a compelling advocate for an often-criticised period of French music.

Andrew Benson-Wilson

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Recording

Dialoghi a voce sola: Italian music of the 17th century

Ulrike Hofbauer, Ensemble &cetera
71:53
Raumklang RK 3306
Music by Berti, Carissimi, Castaldi, Ferrari, Frescobaldi, Huygens, D’India, de Macque, Mayone, Mazzocchi, Merula, Nauwach, Orlandi, Rasi, Luigi Rossi, Barbara Strozzi & Trabaci

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his CD takes us on a tour of the rich 17th-century Italian repertoire for solo voice and continuo. The success or failure of such an enterprise relies heavily on the prowess of the soloist, and Ulrike Hofbauer has a lovely voice and a ready sense of the drama inherent in the music she is singing. She is helped considerably here by a small but inspired consort of instruments consisting of arpa doppia, chitarrone and lirone alternating with a treble viol. They come into their own in the lovely instrumental works which punctuate the programme and which they play with a wonderful freedom and spon-taneity. These are qualities which they also bring to their accompanying, allowing them to respond appropriately to Hofbauer’s creative interpretation of the vocal lines. The programme note addresses the rather oxymoronic title of the CD by explaining that the voice is in dialogue with the listener, and certainly this is a recording which demands your undivided attention and, with its constantly changing colours and moods, fully earns it. All the big names of the period are here – Trabaci, Carissimi, Gastoldi, Frescobaldi, Strozzi, D’India, Merula and Luigi Rossi – but the performers have looked beyond the obvious to the less familiar and have included works by the likes of Camillo Orlandi, Giovanni Pietro Berti and Giovanni de Macque. Accounts of the singing of the 17th-century Roman soprano Leonora Baroni suggest that she augmented her singing with gestures and appropriate movements like an opera singer, and listening to this music it is easy to imagine such dramatization working extremely effectively.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Schütz: Matthäuspassion

Georg Poplutz, Felix Rumpf, Dresdner Kammerchor, Hans-Christoph Rademann
70:27
Carus 83.259
+Litania SWV458, O du allersüßester SWV340, In dich hab ich gehofft SWV446

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his eleventh volume in the Dresdener Kammerchor’s projected complete recording of the works of Heinrich Schütz brings them to a work of his extreme old age, his Matthew Passion. According to Dresden Schlosskapelle edicts up to the end of the 17th century, instruments were forbidden from playing during passion tide, as a result of which three quarters of Schütz’s Matthew Passion consists of unaccompanied recitative while the balance is made up of a cappella choral singing. The former can be a little wearing for modern audiences, although the undoubted power of the choral contribution is undoubtedly heightened by the minimalism of the bulk of the work. The huge dramatic and musical responsibility which lands on the shoulders of the Evangelist and Jesus is easily born by Georg Poplutz and Felix Rumpf respectively, who sing with engaging expression and drama. And if you like your 17th-century part-music sung by a small choir, as opposed to a group of soloists singing one to a part, you couldn’t ask for more effective advocates than the Dresdener Kammerchor who sing with admirable focus and unanimity. The fillers are also small treasures, particularly the late setting of Luther’s Litania, which in this performance takes on an almost narcotic quality, with its statement and response pattern. Particularly touching are the translation of the Agnus Dei and Kyrie which occur at the end, almost like a folk memory of the Catholic Mass. I noticed an occasional small degree of distortion on the Evangelist’s microphone as if he was sometimes overstepping the max setting, or perhaps standing too close to the microphone, but otherwise the recording is of Carus’s usual high quality.

D. James Ross

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