Pegolotti: Trattenimenti Armonici, op. 1, 1698

Opera Qvinta
Tactus TC 661604

Tomaso Domenico Pegolotti was born and spent his life in the small town of Scandiano in Regio Emilia, famous mainly for parmesan cheese but also a notable centre for the arts. The twelve Trattenimenti Armonici printed in 1698 is an eclectic collection in a variety of musical forms and styles and making considerable demands on the solo violin, suggesting that Pegolotti was something of a virtuoso. The present recording presents the pieces in a variety of instrumentations using the group’s cello, theorbo, organ and clavicembalo, although the main focus is necessarily on the solo violin line, played by the group’s musical director Fabrizio Longo. Although the violin sound is occasionally a little pinched, and at the ends of some tracks we are aware of some background hiss, Longo plays with confidence and musicality, ornamenting appropriately and tastefully and finding the essence of these engaging pieces. As a result of his established position in his home town and his contacts with the wealthy local aristocracy, Pegolotti’s Trattenimenti were published as part of what was clearly envisaged as a cumulative body of printed work. Sadly, this project remained unrealised as the composer, who already divided his time between music and law, was increasingly lured by circumstances into the latter sphere. Local politics and the law may have benefited, but music undoubtedly lost a promising musician, who might have gone on to make a distinctive contribution to the melting pot of Italian music at this crucial time.

D. James Ross


Felice Giardini: 6 Sonatas for Flute & Harpsichord

ConSerto Musico
Brilliant Classics 95625

The delightfully named Felice Giardini has filled these sonatas for flute and continuo with the two aspects of his name, joy and gardens! Joyful in mood and making frequent reference to birdsong, these six pieces clearly demonstrate Giardini’s celebrated ability to inhabit the character of the instruments he was composing for. As a virtuoso violinist, Giardini spent much of his life on tour and specifically in the musical honeypot of 18th-century London, where he directed a number of important ensembles, while also finding time to compose and give solo concerts. ConSerto Musico employ both cello and bassoon to vary the texture of the continuo group, and this and a vivacious musicality help to bring this charming music vividly to life. Flautist Mario Foleno plays a copy by Martin Wenner of an original 18th-century flute by Carlo Palanco, which produces a rich and warm tone ideal for this sunlit repertoire. The CD concludes with a Minuet and Variations for keyboard by Giardini which allows harpsichordist Roberto Loreggian to step capably out from his continuo role to take his share of the spotlight.

D. James Ross


G. B. Sammartini: Six Viennese Sonatas

Oinos Baroque Trio
Dynamic CDS7959

These six sonatas, recorded here for the first time, were collected from a variety of sources for use at the Viennese Hofkapelle. Compared to the violin music of his Italian contemporaries, this music by Sammartini is relatively technically undemanding, although it demonstrates a pleasantly lyrical character which makes it constantly engaging. The composer’s long life spans a period of rapid musical development from the Baroque to the Classical period, and his music embodies aspects of both these styles. The Oinos Baroque Trio provide us with persuasive premiere recordings of all six works, although occasionally I feel a little more passion in the playing might have brought the music more convincingly off the page. The fact that these sonatas found their way to Vienna is probably more due to the fact that Sammartini was working in Milan which was at the time under Habsburg rule than to any intention of the composer or any active decision by the musicians of the Viennese Hofkapelle, but that this music subsequently had an influence on the development of Classical music in Vienna is undeniable. This is particularly noticeable in the sonatas in which the Oinos Trio choose a fortepiano as continuo instrument.

D. James Ross


Telemann: Twelve Fantasias for solo flute

Sami Junnonen
resonus RES10312

This current recording on a 24-carat Japanese muramatsu flute, must be sitting on a large pile of predecessors, by now possibly over 70? The other morning I was reading something from 2015, and listed were some 10 recordings, some on recorder, one arrangement for tuba! Despite the freshness, and newly minted recording status, some will already have landed upon favourite versions of these well-crafted works. Rachel Brown’s version of 2007 (Uppernote Recordings) was noteworthy, and came with a fine dissertation to boot! The impeccable dulcet tones of Claire Guimond’s version of these pieces on Analekta/Fleurs de Lys (FL 2 3080) have left their impressive mark, and this remains my absolute favourite, or at least a very high benchmark despite being from 1995.

As mentioned in this latter-mentioned recording, there’s an element of “Trompe l’oreille” (Trick of the Ear?) built into these works, which – though written for solo flute – give the impression of an echo, or second voice.

Sadly, some of these clever dynamics, and tricks of the ear, are swept aside for a more lesson-like approach as mere Solfeggi for competent flautists. The test here comes in No. 7 in D, with its Alla Francese, a most cleverly spun French ouverture, requiring the two-voice approach for effect! Oddly, I do often imagine a Japanese (hermit?) flautist reverberating through misty forests here!

The final work in G major is a mini tour de force of alternating movements, and if your ability falls short, then a bumpy ride can occur! With some push-me, pull-me turbulence… such are the clever virtuosic twists here, which some achieve better than others.

I have heard these works on flute, baroque flutes, recorder, and even bassoon, (though never tuba!) and can hear the registers and instruments that best suit, the bassoon was really rather good! Here, the lower and middle registers seem to sit comfortably, however, I found a slightly strident tone in the higher registers. That said, occasional flourishes made an impression.

I haven’t kept up with all the recordings in this expanding pile of approaches, yet this version must sit in the bottom 20 of perhaps almost 50+ ? Extrapolating from 2015, approximately ten (+ or -) a year!?, the figure could be as high as 90, and this new version – despite its expensive Japanese flute – will inevitably slip down the ratings! Benchmarks were set back in 1995!

David Bellinger


Uccellini: Violin Sonatas from Opp. 3-5

Noxwode, Conor Gricmanis violin/director
First Hand Records FHR125

This series of violin sonatas is fascinating for its contrasts of mood, flamboyantly rendered by the young violinist Conor Gricmanis. Each of an opening series of four is given an epithet in its title, suggestive of the spectrum of moods it should embrace. The series is introduced by “La Musica”, which as you might imagine, embraces them all. Subtle flicks and swirls and touches of portamento bring to life these relatively well-aired pieces, giving them a pinch of folky excitement without ever being made too “appliqué”. Coupled with episodes of lyricism, this makes for an imaginative journey through the 17th-century Italian avant-garde. The continuo make-up is varied between pieces and between sections to give real flavour to each of the desired moods: from the 16ft bass support in the opening providing an anchored grandeur, to delicate sections of transparently plucked theorbo. The occasional use of a tremulant stop on the organ creates mystery and wide space around, for example, the duet with Bojan Čičić (Gricmanis’ teacher).  “La Ebrea marinata” emerges from her morose “worse for wear” state into carefree dancing, lurching into triple and unexpected key changes, followed by a vaporous period of self-reflection, and a final heavy-footed exit. “La Luciminia contenta” is intimate and alluring, and undoubtedly content. “La Vittoria trionfante” is a singing contrast, but amongst such colourful company, perhaps Gricmanis could have allowed himself an articulation of the opening arpeggiated passages more suggestive of having succeeded in the field. As the disc progresses, we have “Shining Laura”, and even “The Lie”, which present further interpretive challenges! But these titles are intended to invite the performer to open up to new possibilities in performance, and this invitation is accepted in these performances. It is gratifying to hear a new player bringing freshness to a repertoire with which we might have felt familiar.

Stephen Cassidy


La Sorella mi fa fallare

[Music by] Marco Uccellini
Ensemble Ozio Regio
Seuletoile SE05

The booklet notes draw attention to the parallel creative firmament of science and music which characterised 17th-century Italy (with a long lead-up of course). This was the period of Galilei and a fascination with order, conceptual hierarchies, and exploration. The title of the disc is taken from an intriguing piece which embodies this preoccupation with formalism. The piece is based on the sol fa “translation” of its title into a melody – la sol re la mi fa fa la re – which repeats a good number of times throughout.

The Uccellini programme is punctuated with organ pieces by Pasquini and harpsichord solos by Battifieri, in a very well-conceived sequence. The opening organ toccata makes for a dramatic entry, with an enticing procession of promised cadences being wrong-footed by the pedal, so to speak. The expectation generated leads into a grand ensemble with bright trombone and a light and flighty cornett, with violin and cello. The natural balance between the parts is a remarkable piece of recording engineering, giving clarity and a realistic presence to all the parts. In one or two other pieces the trope of placing the cornett in its own acoustic, away from the strings, has proved tempting. Maybe this is intentional, but in a real performance, the physical proximity of the players creates the musical conversation. An acoustic separation is therefore subliminally interpreted as a lack of that conversation, which is of course very unfair to this marvellous playing. The cornett and violin tightly follow each other, and yet at the same time each has its own characteristics, which gives real interest. This is exemplified in the aforementioned “La Sorella…”, which is then followed by a cleverly chosen harpsichord piece by Battifieri, which has a remarkably similar mode and mood.

The instrumentation is varied in sympathy with each piece. The cool abstract sound of the tenor recorder in the fourth piece floats in its own circle of the Galilean heavens, looking down on the terrestrial strings. The performances overall are relatively gentle and abstract. The violin narratives are told in the flicker of a fireside rather than under the hard light of a stage. With appropriate symmetry, the programme ends with the full ensemble, rounding off this excellent performance.

Stephen Cassidy


Surprising Royer – Orchestral Suites

Les Talens Lyriques, directed by Christophe Rousset
Aparte AP298

It is not clear why it should be ‘surprising Royer’, Royer being Pancrace Royer (1703-1755). He was born of French parents in Turin, his father, an engineer, having been seconded by Louis XIV to assist the house of Savoy. The family returned to Paris while he was still a child. The connections with the royal family stood Royer in good stead; he became a teacher of the royal children, his links securing him his first opera commission, the tragédie Pyhrrus, composed to celebrate the birth of the Dauphin in 1729 and subsequently first performed at the Paris Opéra in 1730. That same year he was appointed maïtre de musique at the Opéra, where he oversaw the production of Rameau’s first opera, Hippolyte et Aricie (1733). Later Royer would become director of the famous Parisian concert society, Le Concert Spiritual and the composer of a virtuosic and highly successful book of keyboard works that included transcriptions from his own operas.

They number five works in addition to Pyhrrus and from them Christophe Rousset has chosen orchestral extracts, mostly dances, from four: Pyhrrus, the ballet-heroïque Le pouvoir de l’Amour (1743), Zaïde, reine de Grenade (1739), another ballet-heroïque and the acte de ballet Almasis (1748). The opening overture to Le pouvoir immediately reveals a composer not only thoroughly competent in contrapuntal technique but also one with an impressive command of orchestration and orchestral colour. If Royer’s dances overall lack the supreme distinction of those of his contemporary Rameau – in particular we find only rare glimpses of the languid sensuality that is just one of many reasons for Rameau’s greatness as a dance composer – there are many that have thoroughly attractive qualities of their own. The two from a hunting scene in Zaïde that was apparently much applauded, an ‘Entrée des chasseurs’ and an ‘Air pour les chasseurs’ creating exciting evocations of the hunt, while some of the more extended dance movements are also particularly striking. Among these is a long and effective Chaconne from Le pouvoir that contrasts airy, diaphanous writing for the flute with more animated passages for the full orchestra. Another extended movement, an ‘Air tendrement’ again with restful trilling flutes and a counter melody featuring bassoons, is arguably the closest Royer comes to Rameau. And if you want irresistible verve, the two ‘Tambourins’ from Royer’s penultimate opera, the one-act Almasis fills the bill admirably.

To say that no one does this kind of music with the élan, the insight and the sensitivity that Christophe Rousset does has by now become virtually a cliché rather than an observation. Rhythms are sprung with refined grace, melodies shaped with elegance, but above all comes the feeling that dancers are never far removed from Rousset’s ‘mind’s eye’. Add to this superb orchestral playing by Les Talens Lyriques – just listen to the rich depth of the bass string section with its six cellos – and it becomes clear that this is a CD that needs no further endorsement from me or anyone else. If you have any kind of feeling for French baroque music you need to hear this. Post haste.

Brian Robins


Webern | Bach

Complete published strings quartets | The Art of Fugue
Richter Ensemble
Passacaille PAS1129

This CD offers a novel approach, interspersing Bach’s Art of Fugue with Webern’s string quartet movements. ‘You find everything in Bach: the development of cyclic forms, the conquest of the realm of tonality – the attempt of a summation of the highest order’, said Webern, and both composers recorded here display the exploration of the logic that canonic and fugal writing imposes.

The Richter Ensemble are joined by Paolo Zuccheri (Violone) and James Johnstone (harpsichord) for the Bach, which they play at A=415Hz and recorded in France in 2019. The Webern is played at A=432Hz and was also recorded in France, but in 2021. The shift in pitch between the Bach and Webern is perceptible, but oddly, not disturbing to me; and the grouping of The Art of Fugue numbers into simple fugues (Contrapuncti I-IV), stretto fugues (Contrapuncti V-VII), double and triple fugues (Contrapuncti VIII-XI) and mirror fugues (Contrapuncti XII-XIII, and finally XIV at the end) allow for coherent groups of increasing complexity to mirror the chronological development of Webern’s Op. 5 (1909), the Six Bagatelles Op. 9 (1913) and the late Quartet Op. 28 (1937/8).

So not every possible piece from the later version of The Art of Fugue is included, and the liner notes make it clear that it is the juxtaposition of the very different composers that is at the heart of the CD’s purpose.

I found this refreshing, and illuminating – up to a point. I am no expert in Webern, and I do not have scores of much of his music. But the well-recorded dynamic range suggests that the players are masters of this highly nuanced music, and the effects produced in terms of glissandi, pizzicato and exceptionally well-tuned intervals. For the Bach, the ensemble grows in grip and power when joined by the violone and harpsichord.

An oblique observation: most of the performances of The Art of Fugue opt for the clarity of one-to-a-part scoring as must have been standard in viol consort playing (and singing) until the second quarter of the 18th century at least. While it is most likely that Bach – if he ever thought of a live performance of the material we know as The Art of Fugue – would have used a keyboard for preference, this performance quarrying material that reflects most nearly the intellectual and disciplined focus of the composer’s life and work and the transmission of that legacy to the 20th century certainly has its place in that towering edifice of polyphonic complexity.

David Stancliffe



The Gonzaga Band directed by Jamie Savan
Resonus RES 10314

The Gonzaga Band is small group of acclaimed experts who deliver music-making of extraordinary power, where the whole seems miraculously more than the sum of its parts.

Partly this is because their expertise is forged in bringing exactly this music – music written in the years when Renaissance polyphony was just bursting out of its ecclesiastical shell into a more florid, instrumental-driven freedom of divisions or passaggi as these techniques of ornamenting the four-square polyphonic writing were called – to life. It was this development – along with the development of instrument-making – especially in violin making – that would enable Corelli and Vivaldi and their associates to emerge into what we know as the high Baroque, and Milan was particularly important in the development of the violin and its music in this period.

But partly also it is because their leader, Jamie Savan, researches and prepares music for performance that is not only a pleasure to listen to, but which makes the links between Milan’s past and future as a distinctive player in the extraordinary flowering of the Nuova Musica along the Po valley from Lombardy to the Veneto. Savan’s liner notes are always a model of good practice: the sources are listed, along with the performing pitch (A=465Hz) and the temperament (1/4 comma mean tone); so are the instruments they all play, including the Hauptwerk organ sampled from S. Maria d’Alieto, Izola, Slovenia used by Steven Devine. I would love to hear them play with an organ by Walter Chinaglia based on open wooden principal pipes described in his Duoi organi per Monteverdi, for details.

Attention to balance and allowing space for sonorities to bloom is second nature to this group, and we should be grateful for a glimpse into such a wide variety of music. There is a good deal of the best-known Milanese composer of the time, Giovanni Paulo Cima, and his Capriccio 8, 1606 (track 12) will give you a good idea of the instrumental sonorities offered here. Particularly interesting to me as examples of how the earlier polyphonic masterworks were being transformed by passaggi are the tracks 6, 11 and 15 where music by Palestrina, Lassus and de Rore is re-presented with divisions: here Mark Caudle’s violone playing in Rognoni’s version of Lassus’ well known Susanne un jour is a star turn, as are Jamie Savan’s cornetto divisions in track 15. Towards the end, we hear two tracks by Caterina Assandra, a novice nun who was clearly a remarkable composer in her own right at a young age.

Faye Newton has a wonderfully clear yet expressive voice, negotiating the passaggi and trills with ease, she manages to convey the varying moods of the music without the aid of those modern singerly conventions like vibrato or unaccountable swelling on weak notes. This means she matches the instruments splendidly: Cima’s Surge propera (track 16) is a motet with echo effects on the cornetto, and Rognoni’s Ave Virgo Benedicta (track 17) lets us hear her unadorned. You would expect a degree of athleticism from the cornetto, but here you can hear it from the bass sackbut too in the skilled hands of Guy Morely (tracks 5 and 18). Oliver Webber whose relaxed technique is so well-suited to this period’s divisions is heard on his own in Canzon ‘la Porcia’ by Antonio Mortaro with divisions by Francesco Rognoni (track 7), where Steven Devine is playing a harpsichord by Colin Booth (1998) based on one by Domenico da Pesaro (Venice, 1533).

The whole CD is a treat, introducing us to a distinctive sound-world which helps us make sense of the rise in instrumental skills which preluded the shift from Canzone to Sonatas and Concerti, marking the distinctive Baroque period both instrumentally and vocally. I commend it wholeheartedly.

David Stancliffe



Bach: The Art of Fugue
New Collegium, Claudio Ribeiro
Ramée RAM2208

There are essentially two schools of thought about how to perform the Art of Fugue – provided you discount the ultra-purist view that says you should not perform this Last Will and Testament – only read it! The first seeks to minimise the different character of the numbers by using the same scoring, as in those versions performed by a single player on keyboard instruments like the Régis Allard version on the Aubertin organ in Saint-Louis-en-I’lle in Paris in 2005 or Vincent Groppy at St Benoît-sur-Loire in 2018 or those performed by a single group of instruments, like Fretwork’s classic version recorded in 2001 on viols or Brecon Baroque’s from 2015 on period strings and harpsichord. And the second, like this version by Claudio Ribeiro, which seeks to underline the differences in style using the autograph’s last version and presenting the character of each fugue or canon with a wide variety of instrumental scoring, using winds as well as strings and harpsichord, and even the more old-style cornetto and trombones.

Under the title of LEMNISCATE, that figure of eight shape that I think of as a symbol for infinity, and with a striking cover image of a richly engraved and inlaid calculating machine of 1735 by Anton Braun and Philippe Vayringe to illustrate the complex interweaving nature of the canons and fugues that make up this complex summary of Bach’s contrapuntal genius, the group embarks on a novel presentation of this amazing music.

Starting with a sober, conventional account of Contrapunctus 1 played on a harpsichord, the group branch out in a variety of scoring to colour the various forms, giving titles to a number of the pieces to heighten their character: 1080/5 is headed ‘In Stile Antico’, scored for trombones and cornetto alongside strings and 1080/9 ‘Spiritoso’ with a high recorder and harpsichord joining strings in a concerto-like movement; 1080/10a entitled ‘Es ist ein Ros entsprungen’ uses a treble recorder, ‘cello and harpsichord to create a more contemplative feel; the oboe and traverso join the strings for the dotted Ouverture-like 1080/6 and we are back with more restrained string-playing for 1080/7 – ‘Memoria’. The most striking beginning is the opening of 1080/13,1 scored for oboe and recorder with harpsichord and its twin 1080/13,2 – a model for imaginative balance.

This process plays out most successfully in the final fugues 1080/18.1 & 2, where pairs of instruments decorate the harpsichord – first violin and violoncello, then flute and viol – in the style of Pièces de clavecin en concert. And the final great triple fugue begins with the cornetto and trombones, overlapping with and yielding to the strings and then the woodwind. The brass return with the BACH theme: this is a splendid climax which leaves us hanging in the air just when we imagine this music might go on forever. . .

The players are excellent – adopting a series of different personae easily as the music demands unfolding characterisation. Altogether I was entirely seduced by the colour, clarity and novelty they brought to this extraordinary music, and while I remain wedded to both Fretwork’s and Rachel Podger’s versions, I enjoyed this imaginative performance greatly.

David Stancliffe