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Recording

Roman: The 12 flute sonatas: Nos. 1–5

Dan Laurin voice flute, Paradiso Musicale
70:04
BIS-2105 SACD

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Swedish composer Johan Helmich Roman’s twelve flute sonatas were published in Stockholm in 1727, the year in which he was appointed as court Kapellmeister. Telemann advertised that he was the agent for their sale in Hamburg and praised them “for their lively and very charming composition” and for the quality of the printing (which you can see on the IMSLP web site). Roman claimed that they were youthful works so they may have been composed during his prolonged stay in London from 1716 to 1721 where he studied, played the violin for Handel and would have encountered Italian music and musicians. They certainly pre-date his visit to Italy but he owned and translated into Swedish Gasparini’s L’armonico pratico al cimbalo which was first published in Venice in 1708. This fact has been used to justify harpsichordist Anna Paradiso’s colourful and often dissonant continuo playing, which in any case is invited by Roman’s dramatic style of composition. This is flute music of a high quality which works well on the voice flute (tenor recorder in D), avoiding the need for transposition. The SACD sound is so good that you can hear Dan Laurin’s breathing and a faint jingle from the harpsichord but this should not put you off this excellent recording. The disc forms part of a series of recordings of Roman’s music by the same musicians and I look forward to hearing their performances of the remaining seven sonatas in the set.

Victoria Helby

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Recording

Bach St Matthew Passion BWV244b

Charles Daniels Evangelist, Peter Harvey Christus, Yorkshire Bach Soloists, Peter Seymour
153:33 (2 CDs)
Signum Classics SIGCD385

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]eter Seymour’s Yorkshire Baroque Soloists give us a thoughtful, moderately-paced account of the early version of Bach’s Matthäuspassion, helped greatly by a score carefully prepared by Peter Seymour and splendidly sung by Charles Daniels and Peter Harvey. Charles Daniels has that exquisite vocal and linguistic fluency that makes you relish every syllable and hang on to the edge of your seat; and Peter Harvey’s seasoned account of the part of Jesus, where in this performance the halo of single strings led by Lucy Russell have the clarity of a consort of viols, gets better each time he does it. He forms the secure bass of choir 1, so sings the arias too – as is proper: “Mache dich” is as splendid as it could ever be, with plenty of oboe da caccia coming though the texture.

In terms of vocal quality, Choir 2 has better blend, with the admirable Matthew Brook a violone-like bass, utterly gripping in “Gibt mir”, and the clarity of Julian Podger’s splendid tenor line (only heard on its own, alas, in “Geduld”) well-matched by Nancy Cole, a very promising young singer. Peter Seymour is well-known for searching out and nurturing local talent, and Nancy has studied at York, as has the more experienced Helen Neeves. Choir 1 has another young local, Bethany Seymour, on the top line. In Part 1, I found her rather tight vibrato, apparent even in the chorus numbers, unattractive and her lack of breath control in “Ich will dir mein Herze” distracting; however, in the recit and “Aus Liebe” we hear a totally different singer! Here her clarity and ability to float the lines are winsome. But it is Sally Bruce-Payne who is of star quality throughout; she combines a real rich, deep vocal quality with a clarity and verbal flexibility that is not always evident in real alto voices. By contrast, Charles Daniels’ sub in Choir 1, Joseph Cornwell, sounds rather strained in “O Schmerz”. Peter and Pilate are sung convincingly by Johnny Herford, and Bethan Thomas, singing the soprano bit parts, has the kind of voice I like.

The single strings have the advantage of letting us hear all the woodwind detail with even greater clarity. All the flutes are from the North East, and we hear their detail even in the turba choruses. The opening chorus is unhurried and well balanced, and I like the way the recording – in a relatively small space in a York church – is so clear and immediate. But we have a vocal line for the chorale in the very first chorus: is this right in this early version? I thought that it was most likely to have been played on the organ – but then this is a small box organ, and almost certainly has no sesquialtera.

The occasional accidentals that are different in the early version are intriguing, and of course the major differences from the 1736 version are the simple chorale to conclude Part 1, and a lute instead of the later gamba in “Komm süßes Kreuz” which gives it a less tortured, more domestic feel. Here I’d have preferred an organ to the lute stop of a harpsichord as providing a better contrast to the lute.

But overall, this is a musical and coherent performance, as you would expect from a group who have played together a good bit, made distinguished by some fine singing by many of the singers and lovely playing especially by the strings.

David Stancliffe

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Recording

Sinkovsky plays & sings Vivaldi

Dmitry Sinkovsky violin & countertenor, la voce strumentale
61′
naïve OP30559
Le quattro stagioni, Cessate omai cessate, Gelido in ogni vena (Farnace)

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat might one not like in this issue? Well, for me top of the list are the ‘silly [and unnecessary] pluckers’. I also wonder about the need for more than single players on the ripieno parts and the presence of a double bass in the concertos. And the more I listened and studied the booklet the more I kept wondering. Should the concertos be continuous (yes, for me) rather than have a vocal item after each of Summer and Autumn? Surely a recording of the Seasons needs to include the ‘libretto’ in the booklet? Is the string articulation rather too contrived? Is this a baroque violin player or Nigel Kennedy? So approach with caution (as you might a CD from Red Priest), but amid all the questions I am quite certain that dmitry sinkovsky (sic – booklet title page) is a wonderful player and not far behind as a singer.

David Hansell

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Recording

Veracini: Adriano in Siria

Sonia Prina Adriano, Ann Hallenberg Farnaspe, Roberta Invernizzi Emirena, Romina Basso Sabina, Lucia Cirillo Idalma, Ugo Guagliardo Osroa, Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi
172′ (3 CDs)
Fra Bernardo FB1409491

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]driano in Siria was the first of three operas written by the virtuoso violinist Francesco Maria Veracini for Handel’s London rivals, the Opera of the Nobility. It was first performed at the King’s Theatre on 26 February 1735, subsequently running to an impressive 20 performances. The booklet notes for this first recording wrongly suggest a mixed reception, in the process inaccurately citing the king as the leading supporter of the Nobility, and quoting a long, damning (if amusing) report of the opera by Lord John Hervey, without recognising that Hervey was by no means an impartial observer, being a bitter opponent of the Prince of Wales, who was the leading supporter of the Nobility. Adriano was set to a much-altered libretto of Metastasio’s. It tells of the Emperor Hadrian’s (Adriano) betrayal of the Roman princess Sabina in favour of Emirena, his captive and the daughter of his enemy Osroa, King of Parthia. Caught in the middle of this intrigue is Farnaspe, a Parthian prince betrothed to Emirena, a role taken by Farinelli, who headed a glittering cast that also included Senesino (Adriano), Cuzzoni (Emirena) and the bass Montagnana as the fierce Parthian ruler. The score is an admirably capable piece of work that includes an agreeable variety of arias. The writing, perhaps understandably, tends to be more instrumental in character than one might expect from Handel or Hasse, some of it indeed being reminiscent of Vivaldi (cf Osroa’s act 1 aria di furia ‘Sprezza il furor’). If there is a weakness it is a tendency for the instrumental writing (usually for strings alone) to fall back on sequential chains of roulades.
     Nonetheless a large vote of thanks is due to Fabio Biondi for reviving the opera (and providing the missing plain recitatives) and doing so with a cast that in present-day terms seeks to emulate the original. Praise must however be tempered with considerable reservation regarding Biondi’s direction of the live performance, which emanates from the 2014 edition of Vienna’s Resonanzen Festival. Tempos are often extreme, while within arias they are often pulled around mercilessly, especially (for some reason) in B sections. The strings, not favoured by a dry recording, sound woefully undernourished, the small number (3-3-2-1-1) contrasting starkly with the 20-odd known to have been employed by the King’s Theatre at the time. The addition of timpani in several numbers is almost certainly spurious. It is a measure of the quality of Ann Hallenberg’s wonderful Farnaspe that it eclipses the remainder of a splendid cast, not least because she is the only one to produce proper trills. But whether in primarily lyrical arias such as ‘Parto, sì bella’ (act 1) or the rather vacuously virtuosic ‘Amor, dover, rispetto’ that ends act 2, Hallenberg is here at her peerless best. The presen-tation by the recently established Fra Bernardo label is poor. The booklet’s small white print on black is difficult to read, there is no translation of the Italian text and the synopsis of the plot is remarkably unhelpful. The company has an interesting catalogue in prospect, but it will need to be more user friendly to English speaking collectors if it is to succeed.

Brian Robins

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Brian adds: The rating for performance is an average. It would be 2 for orchestral work, 4 for singing (5 for Ann Hallenberg!)

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Recording

Janitsch: Sonate da Chiesa e da Camera

Epoca Barocca
73:03
cpo 777 910-2
da Chiesa in F & d; da Camera in D, E flat, F & g

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]here previous releases of discs devoted to Janitsch’s gorgeous chamber music have concentrated on quartets that highlight winds, the emphasis here is slightly on the string family, and divides the programme equally between quartets and the less often heard trios (one of which is taken one step further by having one of the treble lines played by the harpsichordist’s right hand). While I have no problem with that, and it was always going to be a pleasure to hear the trios, in a perfect world I would have preferred the order to have avoided grouping the quartets at the beginning of the disc. The da chiesa and da camera tags are here taken to indicate a change of continuo keyboard from organ to harpsichord, but there is surely no less “churchy” indication than that of the first of the two da chiesa sonatas – “ala [sic] siciliana ma un poco largo“. Unlike his rather shapeless sinfonias and his mundane concertos, Janitsch’s chamber music has remained popular as it gives everyone in the group a chance to share the melody, and it is not often in pre-20th century music that one is asked to pull off even quintuplets and septuplets in the same bar! And for an example of just how original Janitsch could be, try Track 4… Even despite the use of the lute stop on one track, I’m happy to recommend this CD for some exceptionally fine playing.

Brian Clark

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Recording

Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki: [Church music]

The Sixteen, Eamonn Dougan
68:02
Coro COR16130
Conductus funebris, Illuxit sol, In virtute tua Domine, Litaniae de Providentia Divina, Missa Rorate caeli, O Rex gloriae Domine, Sepulto Domino

[dropcap]D[/dropcap]on’t be put off by the snappy title and marvellous marketing! This is a gorgeous recording of some really lovely music – you will not be alone if you have never heard of the composer; he lived 1665–1734 and was head of music in the Wawel Cathedral in Krakow for the last 36 years of his life. You will be doing well if you can read all of the booklet note; while there is undoubtedly a lot of interesting material there, I was simply overwhelmed by the in-depth analysis of the pieces on the disc, especially when they are nothing out of the ordinary for the period in which they were written. The a cappella music is Fux-like (is that surprising for someone who lived in Prague and Vienna as a student?), while that with instruments has a lot in common with German music of the time (les goûts réunis and all that!) The performances are excellent, with lovely solo singing, a beautifully balanced and controlled choral sound, and some lively playing from the band (pairs of trumpets and oboes with strings and continuo including theorbo and harp, with special plaudits to Huw Daniel for some nifty bow work in the motet Illuxit sol). This is the third CD in The Sixteen’s exploration of early music from Poland – don’t miss them!

Brian Clark

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Rubino: Messa de Morti à 5 concertata, 1653

Cappella Musicale S. Maria in Campitelli, Studio di Musica Antica “Antonio Il Verso”, Vincenzo Di Betta
75:33
Tactus TC 601503

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] new composer for me, Bonaventura Rubino (1600-1668) was master of music at Palermo Cathedral from 1645 until his death. His Messa di Morti a 5 concertata was published as part of his Opera Quarta in Palermo in 1653. The music is as it says on the box – substantial late renaissance polyphony alternates with a kaleidoscopic array of affecting solos, duos and trios; try the extended and attractive Dies Irae for a good taster:

The recording has been carefully prepared to reproduce the structure of a solemn Requiem mass, using three celebrants for the chant and interspersing organ and instrumental music at appropriate points in the service. The performance is generally enjoyable. Although comparatively large, the choir sounds focused and well blended. The soloists are good, and the instrumentalists, as well as providing excellent doubling for the choir, shine in the sinfonias. I particularly relished the delectable sound of the 1635 chamber organ. Occasionally, especially in the full sections, the music sounds a little rhythmically over emphasised, but this does not detract unduly from one’s overall pleasure in this important addition to the recorded repertoire.

Alastair Harper

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Recording

J. S. Bach St Matthew Passion, BWV 244 (1727 Version)

James Gilchrist Evangelista, Matthew Rose Jesus, Ashley Riches Pilatus, Elizabeth Watts, Sarah Connolly, Thomas Hobbs, Christopher Maltman SATB, Choir of the AAM, Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr

AAM Recordings AAM004

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Academy of Ancient Music with Richard Egarr have also released a 1727 Matthew Passion, which in many ways is very different from Peter Seymour’s Yorkshire Bach Soloists. Here the current orthodoxy of eight voices is set aside in favour of two choruses of ten voices each and four distinctly soloistic soloists, who, together with three ‘character parts’ – Evangelist, Jesus and Pilate – never sing with the chori. This means that the chorus numbers – especially the turba choruses can be, and are, sung extremely fast and cleanly – there’s no trace of a wobble here. Only once did I find myself really querying the elasticity of their fluent tempi changes, and that was in “Andern hat er geholfen” – the turba chorus that taunts Jesus on the cross. But sometimes they outpace even the admirable and mellifluous Evangelist, James Gilchrist, who sings to the accompaniment of a fairly full continuo section. In the surviving score of the early version, copied by Altnickol’s pupil c.1755, the one bass section serves as a joint bass line for both orchestras. Richard Egarr clearly plays the rather mellow harpsichord with the Evangelist, but why is there another one? Two harpsichords to one organ seems an odd balance.

Chorales are also brisk; not merely unsentimental, but fast and direct. In the opening chorus, at a rhythmic, swinging pace, the chorale is played (correctly) on the organ alone, (like the chorale in Cantata 161: Weimar 1716, where the Sesquialtera is also called for) although the Klop organ which boasts an 8’ wooden principal doesn’t run to the specified Sesquialtera – a pity, as some of Klop’s do: and the tempo hots up for the sharp staccato exchange between the choirs – a foretaste of things to come. The variations in tempo indicated in this early score for “O Schmerz” for example – un poco allegro for the choir II chorale – are exploited to the full, and indeed the playing is so assured and confident that there can be a good deal of rubato in the movements – beautifully done by the flute, Rachel Beckett, in “Aus Liebe” for example. This confidence and rhythmic fluency – evident in the soloists (for that’s what they are) too – is the hallmark of this recording. Sarah Connolly stretches many phrases in “Erbame dich”, and the solo violins in each band are accompanied by the string of the opposite group: an indication of single strings originally perhaps?

For me, the weakest voice is Matthew Rose, the bass who sings Jesus. His voice is much plummier than the others, and he makes Jesus sound rather portly and elderly. The tenor Thomas Hobbs is wonderfully clean by comparison and Christopher Maltman sings beautifully in “Komm süßes Kreuz” with the lute and just the organ in this early version, evoking the domestic side of Lutheran piety to perfection.

So there is much to commend this beautifully crafted performance: only in her last phrase did I find Elizabeth Watts’ wobble on the sublime “Tausend Dank” unbearable. But it was clearly all very much meant and even if this isn’t my favourite version there can’t be enough takes – especially now that the 1727 material is readily available – of the Great Passion.

For those who would like an early version Matthew, there is a choice between these two versions. The AAM one is more polished, and a lot faster. The YBS is less hurried, and has a far finer Jesus; its soloists are the singers of the chori, so in many ways it is more ‘proper’, and it is on 2CDs in a standard package. But the slicker and glossier presentation – even if the scholarly evidence is less to the fore: why can’t all directors and writers of liner notes quote their sources, and give us helpful references to the instruments being used (as is done on the AAM set) and on the temperament chosen for the keyboards? – may win friends for the AAM. I would listen to both, and find a pair of contracting performances like these unusually instructive.

I should add, so that it is clear where my own preferences lie, that neither of these displace Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort recording from 2003 (though it is of course the later version) made with the splendid organs in the cathedral at Roskilde at the top of my list of Matthew Passions.

David Stancliffe

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Rameau: Pièces pour clavecin

Bertrand Cuiller harpsichord
151′ (2 CDs)
Mirare MIR266
Premier livre (1706), Pièces de Clavessin (1724), Nouvelles Suites (1726-27), extracts from “Pièces de clavecin en concerts

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] must say I find quite extraordinary the note’s suggestion that Rameau’s solo harpsichord pieces are ‘somewhat neglected’, especially after this last year. Be that as it may, Bertrand Cuiller here sets about rectifying any such neglect with a will and no little vigour. He’s also not afraid to go out on a bit of an interpretative limb, though from time in the slighter and slower pieces I did feel that the flexible pulse was losing touch with its base and the famous Gavotte is anything but dance-like, though the ensuing variations build to a rousing climax. Overall the greatest strength is that every track does sound like a performance with a touch of spontaneity even if this is at the expense of the occasional minor imperfection. The resources of the (modern) instrument are sensibly deployed and its sound is very well captured. The tuner/technician might have done a better job however. Some tuning ‘moments’ are not the temperament and not every note always damps cleanly. So Christophe Rousset remains the king of this repertoire, though this release is certainly worthy of a place on the same shelf. Whoever typed and/or passed as fit for publication the track list in the booklet should be sacked.

David Hansell

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A painted tale

Nicholas Phan tenor, Michael Leopold lute, Ann Marie Morgan viola da gamba
69:39
Avie Records AV 2325
Music by Blow, Dowland, Alfonso Ferrabosco, Lanier & Henry Purcell

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he young American tenor Nicholas Phan has rightly attracted praise for his performances of Britten, with whose music he identifies. It is very noticeable that he has welcomed on board many elements of Pears’ style, notably the latter’s use (particularly in his later years) of acciaccatura – launching up to a higher note from the lower one, like a mini trampoline in front of a vaulting horse. This is a technique which most singers approaching Early Music rejected outright way back in the 1980s, mercifully. This might serve Britten well, and one could even describe it as ‘authentic’, since it is based upon a reliable source or two (Pears, and later Robert Tear – likewise no stranger to the trampoline), but when performing music of the 17th century, we have definitely moved on nowadays. This is a great shame – Phan is clearly a singer to watch, but not in this repertoire, sadly. Inspired by Pears’ love of English lute song, as performed with Julian Bream, Phan tackles many of ‘the usual suspects’, arranging them into a faux-cycle to create a narrative of love and rejection inviting comparison with ‘Die Schöne Müllerin’ (he suggests), which is as good a way to present a programme as anything, but his style of singing scuppers enjoyment. Unfortunately, Phan has failed to learn from Pears’ subtle ‘less is more’ adjustment of his unique voice to form a close balance with the lute, and some tender songs here seem over-projected, Britten-esque style, as if he is imagining he is on the beach at Aldeburgh, with a gale blowing behind. Some songs (such as Purcell’s ‘Evening Hymn’) with its long phrases feature some very dubious choices of where to take breaths – indeed, in that song, he appears so out of breath at the end of the final Hallelujah, he almost beats the lute and viol to arrival at the last note! Sometimes he will remember he should be emphasising words, in best Bostridge fashion, so the occasional one is promoted over its companions, but not always the best one in the sentence ‘And he whose words his passions Rr-right can tell’, with the ‘R’ on ‘right’ rolled like a sudden drum roll, making that one (not particularly important) word made to protrude from the phrase like a sore thumb. He does something similar in Purcell’s ‘O Solitude’, at ‘when their Harr-rd, their hard fate’, a phrase that he feels needs to stand out, for some reason, so although he precedes it with softer, gentle singing, he then belts that particular phrase, forte, like Grimes railing against Fate.

Throughout the disc he cannot seem to reconcile both ideas – emphatic and gentler singing. Like Bob Tear of blessed memory, Phan also strains and projects higher phrases by the trusty expedient of singing louder as the music ranges higher – often with a similarly slightly strangled tone! Purcell’s ‘Sweeter than roses’ taxes him, and his breathing to breaking point. Call me old-fashioned, but if you can’t sing the whole of Purcell’s phrase setting the word ‘victorious’ in one breath, you really should be re-thinking how to perform these songs. Then, at other times, he contradicts my moans by turning in a near perfect performance of, for example, Dowland’s ‘My thoughts are winged with hopes’. I said ‘near – he still belts the highest phrases! But Blow’s ‘Of all the torments’ is all over the place – he seems to think he is Loge in Rheingold. The editions he is using have some oddities, unfortunately. In ‘O Solitude’ the word is ‘Apollo’s lore’, for example, not Apollo’s love. Likewise, Dowland wrote ‘Better a thousand times to die, than for to live thus…, not ‘then for to live’, which makes no sense. I don’t enjoy writing so many negative remarks about such a promising young singer who is clearly trying so hard to create something really beautiful and special, but he really needs to acquire some Early Music Technique like the rest of us had to – you really can’t just ‘wing it’ in everything from Monteverdi to Wagner today, like Bob Tear got away with, no matter how suitable your voice may be for other material. I hope he re-thinks how to approach this earlier repertoire, and seeks proper advice, because I want to hear him do better.

David Hill

Since we only received a preview copy of the disc, David felt unable to comment on the booklet note or the packaging.

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