Categories
Recording

Smock Alley

Irlandiani
61:15
FHR 144

This delightful CD juxtaposes traditional Irish music with the music of Italian masters, some of whom worked in Ireland. At the heart of the programme are the six duos for two cellos by Tommaso Giordani, who spent long periods of his life in Dublin as musical director of the Theatre in Smock Alley, and in whose music can be heard the influence of the traditional music he would have heard around him. Born in Dublin, the organist Thomas Roseingrave provides a further link with Italian music, travelling to Venice and encountering the Scarlatti family and becoming obsessed with the music of Domenico Scarlatti, which he published with a charming musical introduction of his own composition – it is recorded here followed by two of Scarlatti’s sonatas. Francesco Geminiani lived in Dublin several times and indeed died there in 1762 – he is represented by a cello sonata op 5/1. It is fascinating to have confirmed the extent to which Dublin was an international musical crucible in the years following Handel’s Messiah performances there. Irlandiani play all this music with an elegant musicality, and wisely don’t overplay the ‘celtic’ aspects of the traditional music, even when they are joined by Irish flautist Eimear McGeown. The inclusion of a composition by the group’s lead cellist Carina Drury, lovely as it is, is maybe a bit of an indulgence with its completely different idiom – better maybe to have ended the CD with the spirited account of The Rakes of Westermeath? On the other hand, one of the highlights for me was Drury’s imaginative arrangement of a glee by Francis Ireland (Hutcheson) To Sleep  – Hutcheson was indeed a lad o’ pairts, a lecturer in chemistry at Trinity Dublin and a consultant physician as well as clearly a competent composer. I very much enjoyed this CD, the result of much revelatory research and a paragon of tasteful and expressive performance.

D. James Ross

Categories
Recording

Hélène de Montgeroult

Portrait d’une compositrice visionnaire
Marcia Hadjimarkos fortepiano, Beth Taylor mS, Nicolas Mazzolini violin
61:51
Seulétoile SE09

The composer and pianist Hélène de Nervo, Marquise de Montgeroult by marriage, 1764-1836) lived through tumultuous times in her native France. With such a colourful career and such characterful music as the performers have found here, it is remarkable that she has passed below the radar for so long. A student of Dussek and Clementi, Montgeroult benefited from the rapid development of the piano-forte during her lifetime, a process she was able to take full advantage of during her years in Paris. Pianist Hadjimarkos also takes full advantage of the developing pianoforte in her choice of some striking stops in her performances of the solo Etudes (1812 and 1816) and accompanying Beth Taylor’s powerful accounts of the Nocturnes (1807). She plays a beautiful 1817 pianoforte by Antoine Neuhaus. The piano works appear as an appendix to a Complete Method for Piano, and while seven of the Etudes recorded here are for both hands, a further three focus more intently on the right hand and yet another on the left – presumably Montgeroult’s intention was to strengthen both hands of the performer independently and to build up their distinctive roles. Given their very practical purpose, these Etudes are remarkably imaginative and effective, and are given superbly expressive performances here. The subtitle of the CD is ‘Portrait d’une compositrice visionnaire’ and this aspect of Montgeroult’s strikingly individual musical style is very much to the fore in the performers’ minds. Mezzosoprano Beth Taylor gives beautifully eloquent accounts of the six short Nocturnes op 6 for solo voice and piano accompaniment. In the style of the time, the opus 2 Sonata no 6 (1800) for piano with accompaniment by the violin is just that, a piece very much led by the piano with fairly restrained commentary from the violin. It too is imaginatively presented by Hadjimarkkos with violinist Nicolas Mazzoleni. Montgeroult’s biographer Jérôme Dorival considers her the missing link between Mozart and Chopin, and while she might not be the only deserving candidate for this title, she is clearly an important composer who thoroughly deserves a place in the history of the early piano and in composition generally. These performers have done us all a great service in shining such a musically convincing spotlight on a composer who clearly merits much more attention.

D. James Ross

Categories
Recording

Marc’Antonio Ziani: La Morte vinta sul Calvario

Les Traversées Baroques, directed by Etienne Meyer & Judith Pacquier
73:18
Accent ACC 24402

Often confused with oratorios, the sepolcro is a peculiarly Viennese form best thought of as a cross between opera and oratorio. The genre flourished at the Hapsburg court during the reign of the highly musical and deeply religious Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (1658-1705), its best-known practitioners being Antonio Draghi (1634-1700) and Marc’Antonio Ziani (1658-1715). Sepolcri can be defined as semi-staged dramatic works performed on Good Friday in either spectacular fashion in the Hofkapelle or more intimately in the private chapel of one of the senior members of the Imperial family. The characters depicted were nearly exclusively allegorical, thus similar to the type of libretto familiar today from Handel’s early Roman oratorio La resurrezione (1708).

The Venetian opera composer Ziani arrived in Vienna in the wake of Draghi’s death, appointed vice-Kapellmeister in 1700. For the Viennese court he composed operas, oratorios and eight sepolcri. His La Morte vinta sul Calvario dates from 1706, when it was given in the Hofkapelle on the evening of Good Friday and has for its subject matter Christ’s triumph over death as a result of his dying on the Cross at Calvary. The topic is explored in P A Bernardoni’s libretto by five allegorical characters: Il Demonio (Satan), La Morte (Death), La Natura Umana (Human Nature), La Fede (Faith) and L’Anima d’Adamo (the Soul of Adam). The ‘action’ is carried on through alternating brief da capo arias and recitative, a typical sequence being aria-recitative-aria for the same character. There is also a duet (for Il Demonio and La Morte) and a final madrigalian chorus. A number of the arias are fairly florid, Il Demonio opening the work with a particularly bravura piece in a role sung at the first performance by the bass Rainaldo Borrini, one of the most highly paid singers at the Viennese court. The taste for contrapuntal writing at the court is much in evidence, with chromatic seasoning also strongly featured in Ziani’s score. Some of the cantabile arias have considerable beauty, La Natura Umana’s ‘Io languia’ (no. 30) being a particularly winning example. Accompaniments feature a rich assortment of brass and wind – pairs of cornetti, recorders, sackbuts and bassoons in addition to the strings, which include violas da gamba. It is a weakness of the present recording that only single strings to a part are employed, since we know sepolcri employed the substantial forces available at the Viennese court, which just a few years later is recorded as employing over 30 string players.

The demands made on the singers are in the main too great for the present performers, though the performance is obviously one of great integrity. Yannis François’s is a lightish bass-baritone whose voice carries neither sufficient authority nor personality for Il Demonio. La Natura Umana is sung by Vincent Bouchot, listed as a tenor but who, particularly in his first aria, sounds more like an haute-contre. La Morte, a countertenor part, is sung by Maximiliano Baños pleasingly enough but without making any significant impression. Much the most satisfying performances come from the two sopranos, Dagmar Šašková’s in particular bringing to the role of La Fede a sense of real commitment lacking elsewhere, along with some highly impressive chest notes in her angry recitative exchange with Il Demonio (no. 25). However, both she and the charmingly fresh-sounding L’Anima d’Adamo of Capucine Keller had difficulty controlling a few notes above the stave. The instrumental playing is good.

Although the performance is not ideal it is praiseworthy for its honesty and intentions. Les traversées Baroques deserve praise for reviving a splendid example of a repertoire little known today.

Brian Robins

Categories
Recording

Haydn: Baryton Trios

Treasures from the Esterháza Palace 2
Valencia Baryton Project
62:55
NAXOS 8.573504

Haydn’s employer, Prince Nikolaus Esterháza, was a proficient player of the baryton, essentially a bass viola d’amore – with strings stopped over a bridge and played with a bow and a series of sympathetic strings that resonate and can be plucked with the thumb. The composer was commissioned to write new music for the Prince and he produced over a hundred trios with viola and cello. Each begins with its longest movement, followed by a minuet and trio (or a similar dance), and concludes with a short, quick movement. Many of them are in A major because of the tuning of the baryton, but this selection of six by the Valencia Baryton Project (Matthew Baker as the Prince on baryton, Estevan de Almeida Ries as Haydn on viola, and Alex Friedhoff on cello) includes one each in C, D and G major. The music is – of course – charming, especially so when the viola and cello accompany the main attraction with plucked notes. I have heard several recordings of this repertoire (though not these particular pieces) before and have rarely been so aware of the sympathetic strings, the metallic buzz of the plucked notes. I mean that positively – the engineers have done an excellent job of capturing the sound quality without distorting it or upsetting the balance with the other instruments. I was sure a couple of tracks would be more than enough, so imagine my surprise when the music stopped – I’d happily listened to over an hour of Haydn played by the same three instruments! It really was a very pleasant hour.

Brian Clark

Categories
Recording

Sperger: String Quartets op. 1

Mitglieder der Kammerakademie Potsdam
55:51
cpo 555 470-2

Johann Matthias Sperger‘s three string quartets, opus 1, were printed by the renowned Berlin published Hummel in 1791, the year of Mozart’s death. Comparisons with the younger man’s work are inevitable. Although Sperger’s works very definitely deserve to be heard (and this excellent performance on modern instruments can only help lift the composer’s popularity), these three substantial pieces could have been written by a young Mozart, not the man who had just died. As noted in the booklet, Sperger’s more introspective moments (especially in the slow movements, but always when he wanders into a minor key) are his strongest. He was not a shy musician, dedicating his music to the Russian Tsar and the King of Prussia, and I think he had good reason to think his output good enough. There are at least six more quartets awaiting discovery – perhaps a period quartet out there would like to take up the baton?

Brian Clark

Categories
Recording

Popora: Music for the Venetian Ospedaletto

Josè Maria Lo Monaco contralto, stile galante, Stefano Aresi
67:36
Glossa GCD 923537

On the inside cover of the booklet, along with the other credits, we read: “This recording is an outgrowth of musicological research seeking new insights on historically informed performance practices based upon the acoustics of the Ospedaletto in Venice”. That all sounds great, but there is no further explanation or, indeed, any other comment on the actual performance apart from a half-hearted explanation of the presence of a cello concerto on an otherwise vocal programme because there it is known that one of the women in the orchestra there was a known virtuoso on the instrument…

While the disc is promoted as an exploration of music at the Ospedaletto, in fact it focuses very much on the activities of a single singer for whom Porpora conceived a valuable body of work during his several years there (having also worked at the three other similar institutions in Venice), the alto Angiola Moro. With a range from the A below middle C to the E flat at the top of the treble clef, she apparently had no problem with chromatic scales, wide arpeggios and leaps, or rapid scales. As the “early music voice” seems to get bigger and bigger, it is no surprise to find a singer of the calibre of Josè Maria Lo Monaco tackling this repertoire, and she does it very well.

Whether or not it was played by Niccolosa Fanello, Porpora’s G major cello concerto is beautiful; its opening movement was very reminiscent of some of the slushier passages from the concertos attributed to Wassenaer. The booklet notes tell us that Porpora’s official appointment (after two years of working for free – musicians, it was EVER thus!) the violin teacher asked for extra resources to support him in getting his musicians up to the standards of the “new music”, and – if they were up to playing this piece – he clearly succeeded.

Brian Clark

Categories
Recording

Couperin: Concerts

Emanuel Abbühl oboe/oboe d’amore/cor anglais, David Tomàs bassoon, Carla Sanfelix baroque cello, Miklós Spányi harpsichord Benoït Fallai theorbo
77:22
Genuin GEN 24873

Although Pascal Duc’s booklet note tells us almost everything we could ever need to know about the five suites on this CD, he never once refers to the performances on it – for some people, there may be no need to justify an ensemble that juxtaposes two modern instruments and three baroque ones. Indeed, why not? Surely it is just a different sound world… Yet, for me, there is something missing – technical improvements over time have ironed out all the quirks of early woodwind instruments in order to ensure equality of sound quality over the entire range of the instrument. While I would never criticise the quality of music making here – these are outstanding musicians at the very top of their game – even two harmonic continuo instruments are insufficient to balance the oboe and bassoon. Others will undoubtedly disagree, but I am afraid this is not a recording I shall often return to when I feel the need for Couperin (which does sometimes happen!)

Brian Clark

Categories
Recording

David Pohle: Complete Sonatas & Ballet Music

Clematis
152:16 (2CDs in a card triptych)
Ricercar RIC460

I don’t imagine for a minute that many readers will be familiar with Pohle’s music. He was acquainted with several better-known figures: a student of Schütz in Dresden, later in life he was a friend of Handel’s father in Halle. In between, he worked for the chamber music-loving Margrave Moritz in Kassel, and then the court of Gottorf. In Halle, he wrote a cycle of cantatas for the entire church year, among the first to do so.

Founded in 2001, Clematis most recently impressed me with their recording of Legrenzi’s music and these new discs have merely enhanced my impression. The majority of Pohle’s surviving sonatas are for five or more instruments; he exploits every possible combination of voices in intricate patchwork pieces where counterpoint and homophonic passages – often of striking harmonic richness – are juxtaposed. It’s just the kind of mental stimulation I love! That is why I set out to publish all his surviving manuscript music, in collaboration with the author of the booklet note, Gottfried Gille, and a German postgrad, Juliane Peetz. While it is nice to see my editions credited in the booklet, it is rather frustrating to read that reconstructing the missing first violin part for four of the sonatas was more difficult than 13 of the others, but not that Clematis played my solutions! The second time I’ve been written out of musical history in the past few years…

Be that as it may, the performances are fabulous – the violins are bright, the violas crisp, the winds suitably raspy, and the continuo largely content to supply a backdrop for all the activity in the obbligato parts.

I am surprised that I had not noticed the passage around two and a half minutes into Sonata 6 in A minor that is more than a little reminscent of Monteverdi’s Ballo delle ingrate. The Dances in F (G. 28) survive in the library in Kassel, prefaced by a work called “Le Testament” by a Sr. Belleville; I have to say that they are quite like anything else in the set – I hear Georg Muffat…

Brian Clark

 

Categories
Recording

Fantaisie Romantique

19th-Century Eastern European Guitar Music
James Akers
63:07
resonus RES10334

With this charming CD, James Akers continues his exploration of guitar music from 19th-century Ukraine and its neighbours. He plays music by seven composers on three different guitars: by Pietro Pettoletti (c. 1795-c. 1870) on a six-string guitar; by Johann Dubez (1828-1891), Nicolai Petrovich Makaroff (1810-1890), and Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856) on an eight-string guitar; and by Mikhail Polupayenko (1848-1902), Johann  Decker-Schenk (1826-1899), and Nicolas Pavilstscheff (1802-1879) on a nine-string guitar. All three instruments have their first six strings tuned the same as a conventional Spanish or classical guitar from Western Europe (EAdgbe’), and although some of these composers also wrote for the seven-string Russian guitar with its distinctive open G tuning (DGBdgbd’), none of that repertory is included on the present CD. The instruments with two or three extra strings may at first sight look weird, because the extra strings are fixed equidistant from the other strings at the bridge, but splay out away from the sixth string to their own separate nut leaving quite a gap between the sixth and seventh strings. I guess that this enables the instruments to feel the same at the nut end, and allows the player space for his left-hand thumb to reach round the neck to stop notes on the sixth string.
 
The harmonic palette of these guitarist-composers is at times somewhat restricted – take away all the tonic, dominant and diminished seventh chords, and there is not always so very much left – but the simple melodies decorated with appoggiaturas and acciaccaturas, occasional chromatic touches, flourishes of arpeggios up and down the neck, and a tessitura widened by extra strings in the bass and extra frets at the treble end of things, combine to create an overall effect which is pleasing to the ear, and would have provided easy listening for salon audiences. No doubt the listeners would have felt at home if they recognised popular folk melodies or well-known tunes from operas, and would have been impressed by the virtuosity of flashy, extrovert variations. Each item is quite short – a total of 39 tracks lasting a mere 63 minutes.
 
From Oleg Timofeyev’s interesting and informative liner notes we learn that Mikhail Polupayenko was born in Kharkiv, studied medicine in Kharhiv and Kyiv, and gave guitar recitals throughout the Ukraine. His last performance was in Bakhmut in 1902. His Fantasia on Zaporozyhe Themes consists of five short contrasting movements, now slow, now fast, ending with an exciting Allegro vivo where repeated riffs get faster and faster. It brings to my mind Cossack dancers wearing furry hats, with baggy trousers tucked into their boots, kicking out as they crouch down, and calling out with triumph and joy. One thing is for certain: Polupayenko’s music is pleasantly brought to life with Akers’ interpretation and his subtle contrasts of tone colour.
 
Polupayenko’s Fantasia was dedicated to his friend, the Austrian-born guitarist Johann Decker-Schenk, who moved to Russia in 1861. There is much variety in his music too: Ukrainische Weise is enhanced by some delicate harmonics, and the third movement of his Fantaisie Romantique has a tremolo effect sounding like a Neapolitan mandoline.
 
Unlike the other composers represented here, Johann Dubez was Austrian. He was a versatile musician who played the violin, harp, mandoline and zither, as well as the guitar. His flamboyant Fantaisie sur des motifs hongrois pour la Guitare consists of 11 short items, including Tempo di Marcia, a setting of the well-known Rácóczi March. The music for the Fantaisie is available online for free download from the IMSLP website, where you can see evidence of his extravagant style, including an Allegretto with fast, arpeggios up and down the neck of the guitar followed by five sextuplets, a passage of descending quavers, rounded off with a super-fast rising scale in broken octaves, diatonic for the first octave and chromatic for the second.
 
Virtuosity is a constant feature of the music of Nikolai Makaroff, and his Fleurs du Nord, Op. 3, No. 1, also available on IMSLP, are no exception. He finds various ways of catching a casual ear’s attention, including a tricky passage in “Down on Mother Volga”, where the melody is played entirely in harmonics. James Akers makes it all sound so easy, but it most certainly is not.
 
Pietro Pettoletti was born in Norway, lived for a while in Germany, moved to Sweden when he was 25, and eventually settled in St Petersburg. In his liner notes Oleg Timofeyev explains that Pettoletti’s Fantaisie sur une Romance favorite de Paschkoff, Op. 31, consists of variations on the song, “He fell out of love with me”, by Alexander Guriliov (1803-1858), and that there are no apparent links to the eponymous Paschkoff.
 
Akers ends his CD with Nicolas Pavilstscheff’s Grande Fantaisie sur un motif de l’Opera “La fiancée” d’Auber, Op. 25 – a splendid showpiece deserving much applause.
 
Stewart McCoy
Categories
Recording

Il n’y a pas d’amour heureux

La Palatine
59:41
Ambronay AMY316

This young ensemble, brought to us by the excellent Eeemerging programme promoting new early music performers, does exactly what it says on the tin, presenting a lovely selection of works for voice and instruments on the subject of unhappy love from the pens of Monteverdi, Rossi and Merula. These are beautifully sung by the group’s soprano Marie Théolyre, who imparts passion and intelligence in performances that are also wonderfully precise and musical. While they provide lovely responsive accompaniments to the songs and cantatas, the instrumentalists of La Palatine also take their turn in the spotlight with beautifully executed instrumental works by Alessandro Piccini, Giovanni Salvatore, Bellerofonte Castaldi and Angelo Michele Bartolotti and a lovely set of diminutions by Riccardo Rognoni on Amor che col partire by Cipriano de Rore. These instrumental interludes are both an imaginative and inventive device for breaking up a sequence of mainly plangent vocal music, but are so much more than this, showcasing the importance of instrumental composition in early 17th-century Italy while also depth of talent in this young ensemble. They have thrown their net wide when selecting repertoire, and side by side with a powerful rendition of the classic Lamento d’Arianna by Monteverdi, we have the premiere recording of Fermate, occhi, fermate by Mario Savioni, an exciting discovery indeed.

D. James Ross