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J. S. Bach Libro Primo | 1720

Guillaume Rebinguet Sudre violin / harpsichord / organ
150:00 (2 CDs in a card triptych)
Encelade ECL 2001

These two CDs of the Sei Soli are a novel addition to our experience of Bach and multi-tasking. Like Bach, Guillaume Rebinguet Sudre plays both violin and keyboard instruments: the violin is a copy by Christian Rault in 2015 of a Jacob Stainer of 1699, the harpsichord he made himself in 2015 and is modelled on three Mietke instruments (Bach is known to have travelled to Berlin in 1719 to take delivery of one that had been ordered by the Prince of Anhalt-Köthen) and the organ is by Andreas Silbermann of 1718 and was restored by Blumenrode in 2015 for Sainte-Aurélie, Strasbourg. The performances were all recorded in lock-down, and like others of that period offer an insight into how players passed that time in a series of rather introspective, self-critical solo performances. 

Exploring the resonances and implied if not entirely realised harmonies is a good mental exercise and bears out C. P. E. Bach’s comment that his father composed in his head but afterwards would try it out on a keyboard. Bach was already experimenting from the two-part inventions onwards how to develop a melodic phrase in such a way as to make it capable of being the germ of a complex polyphonic structure. Such a phrase might immediately suggest a countersubject, or be capable of inversion, augmentation or diminution. Such compositional skills had been an expected stock in trade of those early Renaissance composers like Obrecht, Ockeghem and Josquin, but reappear as key techniques in Bach’s ever-resourceful inventiveness. It was this ability to hear the implied harmonic structure of a particular melodic line that is revealed by his pupil J. F. Agricola’s comment that Johann Sebastian would sometimes play one of the suites or partitas he had written for a solo instrument on a keyboard, filling out the implied harmonies: 

their author often played them on the clavichord himself and added as much harmony to them as he deemed necessary. In doing so he recognized the necessity of resonant harmony which in this kind of composition he could not otherwise attain. 

This is what these CDs offer: CD 1 opens with the cembalo version of the opening Adagio of BWV 1005, which we hear in its violin version on CD 2.7. 

CD 2 opens with the Prelude BWV 539 which has been added to the keyboard version of the Fugue from the violin sonata BWV 1001.ii which we hear on CD 1.3. We do not know whether the transcription of the fugue for keyboard is from Bach’s own hand, and the authenticity of the Prelude is doubted, as no version before c. 1800 is known. On CD 1 the third Sonata is the cembalo version of BWV 1003, BWV 964. So we hear Rebinguet Sudre play the organ (manualiter) and harpsichord as well as the violin. He plays with a considered gravitas, emphasised when he moves to a more resonant acoustic for the violin recordings on CD 2, and offers us a take that might not have seen the light were it not for the lockdown. 

While I am grateful for his passion and dedication – not least in the very fine harpsichord he has built – I am not entirely convinced by his mystical account of Bach’s supposed state of mind as he wrote these pieces. 

David Stancliffe

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Recording

Hebenstreit’s Bach

La Gioia Armonica (Margit Übellacker dulcimer, Jürgen Banholzer organ)
66:10
Ramée RAM 2101

This recording is a delightful re-imagining of a number of Bach sonatas and movements for solo violin or violoncello played on a dulcimer and organ. It is inspired by Margit Übellacker’s conviction that the hammered dulcimer – developed by Bach’s near contemporary Pantaleon Hebenstreit – was the instrument that Bach came across when a ‘foreign musician’, possibly Hebenstreit himself, came and displayed his instrument at the court of Köthen in July 1719. Hebenstreit’s instruments were made by Gottfried Silbermann and were one of the inspirations behind the development of the fortepiano, being admired by Bach’s predecessor in Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau, who was intrigued by the possibility of shading rapidly from forte to piano that the dulcimer offered. 

Übellacker’s instrument is a tenor dulcimer made by Alfred Pichlmaier of Fraunberg in 1997 and the organ is the 1990 instrument built to hang over the gallery in the Erlöserkirche in Bad Homberg by Gerald Woehl, after a specification by J. S. Bach for Bad Berka in 1743. 

The works presented are the sonatas in G (BWV 1019) and A (BWV 1015) for violin and obbligato harpsichord, the sonatas in E minor (BWV 1023) and G (BWV 1021) for violin and basso continuo, two movements from the cello suites (BWV 1009.iv and 1007.i) and one from Partita III (BWV 1006.i). Like other adaptations (and here I am thinking especially of the versions of the Trio Sonatas for organ arranged by Richard Stone for Tempesta del Mare, Chandos: CHAN 0803), I rather enjoy these performances: they make you listen with new ears, and the surging arpeggios seem to suit the instrument well, so for my money the Preludio in C BWV 1006.i, a version of Partita III in E or the Prelude in D BWV 1007.i from the G major cello suite sound the most plausible. 

This may be an acquired taste, but it certainly has more claims to authenticity than performances on a fortepiano. You should listen to it, and read the campaigning essay by Margit Übellacker. 

David Stancliffe

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Recording

Beethoven: Piano Trios, op. 1, nos. 1 & 2

Rautio Piano Trio
60:36
resonus RES10305

To my mind, one of the great pleasures of early Beethoven is encountering the future giant as he flexes his muscles, makes his first confident flights of fancy and exercises his ever-increasing power and strength. While admitting there is of course more than a fair share of wisdom after the event about making such an observation, it is nonetheless substantially true. It certainly is, I think, regarding the three Piano Trios of op 1. First given in 1793 at the Viennese home of Beethoven’s patron Prince Lichnowsky, to whom the trios were dedicated, they were revised before publication two years later. Advised by Haydn to make changes, Beethoven not only admitted to his youthful profligacy, observing he had introduced into one work ‘enough music for twenty’, but thanked Haydn for his advice. When the trios were published in 1795, very likely courtesy of a secret subvention by Lichnowsky, they were a great success among the Viennese. It is said they earned him nearly two years’ worth of the salary he had been paid in the post he occupied in Bonn before coming to Vienna.

One of the first things to be noted about the op 1 trios is their ambitious scale. Unlike the three-movement trios of Haydn and Mozart, they are cast in four movements and planned as expansive works, which, if no longer containing enough ideas for twenty, are arresting pieces overflowing with the young composer’s sheer joie de vivre and the unadulterated pleasure of composing. It is these qualities that are so convincingly and compellingly communicated by the period-instrument Rautio Piano Trio (Jane Gordon, violin; Victoria Simonson, cello and Jan Rautio, fortepiano). Both string players play original 17th-century instruments, by G B Rogeri and G Granico respectively, while Rautio’s is based by Paul McNulty on an 1805 Viennese fortepiano built by the Walters. It’s an exceptionally fine-sounding instrument, with an appealingly silvery top and a richly endowed bass capable of powerful chords when necessary. To hear how well and beguilingly the instruments can interact, try the lovely Adagio cantabile (ii) of the Trio in E flat (No 1), where the violin’s song-like melody is joined in dialogue by the cello and then delightful filigree work by the piano, all beautifully balanced. Throughout tempi are well judged, with the players not misled in the ‘slow’ movement of the G-major Trio by the Largo con expressione marking, achieving just the right flow for the movement. And for sheer exuberance go the Finale of the same Trio, with its headlong chasse-like impetus disrupted only by what sounds like a bucolic dance. Technically the playing is of a high order, with Rautio himself, as one might expect in these works, stealing the thunder, his splendid articulation and clean finger-work being a constant pleasure.  Just occasionally I thought the violinist’s tone a little thin, though this may be the recording, which in all other aspects is fine. Overall this is an outstanding addition to the catalogue and it is much to be hoped that the Rautios will complete the set with the C-minor Trio.

Brian Robins

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Recording

Monteverdi: Concerto. Settimo libro de’ madrigali

Concerto Italiano, Rinaldo Alessandrini
132:39 (2 CDs)
Naïve OP 7365

Concerto Italiano’s extremely steady progress through the Monteverdi madrigals – some of the earlier releases go back to the 1990s! – reaches its penultimate issue with Book 7, first published in Venice in 1619. Dedicated to Caterina de’ Medici, Duchess of Mantua and Montferrat its 29 items represent a complete break with the traditional integrated madrigal book, the composer giving us prior notice to expect something different by heading the collection ‘Concerto’ . Here we find an extraordinary range and variety ranging from long recitative solos in the stile rapresentativo (‘Se i languidi’, the famous love letter, here extremely well communicated by Monica Piccinini, a long-standing Italianist, , and ‘Se pur destina’, the lover’s parting), to madrigals in the old polyphonic style through to extended theatrical works like the ballo ‘Tirsi e Clori’and, perhaps most importantly of all, duets, including the unforgettably toe-tapping ‘Chiome d’oro’, here sung by two sopranos rather than the expected disposition of two tenors.

Anyone familiar with Alessandrini’s progress through the madrigal books will know that despite inevitable changes of personnel over the years, it has remained remarkably consistent both as to ambition and achievement, attaining high levels of performance throughout. This is no different. The bar is immediately set high by tenor Valerio Contaldo, an outstanding Ulisse in the recent ground-breaking Versailles Il ritorno d’Ulisse, with the introductory ‘Tempro la cetra’, an ever-increasingly virtuoso number with ritornelli, the ornamentation superbly articulated by the singer, whose diction is also exemplary. Here, too, though we find one of the few grounds for complaint in these performances. It’s the familiar one of over-elaborate plucked continuo, the constant arpeggiations adding an unwanted gloss. And while in moaning mood, let’s add violin playing in those numbers that call for bowed strings that continues to adhere to an all-purpose Baroque style rather than 17th-century bowing and set up. But in context these are relatively minor points and for the rest it really is nothing but praise. The works for two tenors seem to perhaps dominate the book. Contaldo and his colleague Raffaele Giordani, who is entrusted with the lamentations of the departing lover mentioned above, combine beautifully, especially in duets like ‘Interrotte speranze’ and ‘Ah, che non si conviene’, fascinating for their fundamentally harmonized rather than contrapuntal writing. Among more ostensibly traditional pieces the tortuous rising chromatic figure that dominates the four-part (SATB) ‘Tu dormi, ah crudo core’ brings with it a foretaste of the pleading of Seneca’s followers in L’incoronazione di Poppea.

To detail all the wonders of Book 7 would be too exhaustive and exhausting in a review of this nature. Suffice it to say Monteverdi here carries his revolution, his daring evolution of the madrigal to new levels. The key is the expression of extreme emotions by the employment of expressive mannerism that remarkably manages to remain just about under control. Overall it would be difficult to envisage performances that capture and convey this essence to a more telling, a more convincing level than these of Alessandrini.

Brian Robins

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Recording

The Galant David Rizzio

Makaris
73:55
Old Focus Recordings FCR921

The subtitle of this CD (“eighteenth-century arrangements of traditional Scottish songs”) is more helpful than the main title, as the back of the CD readily admits that any attribution of the contents to Mary, Queen of Scots’ ill-fated secretary David Rizzio is entirely bogus. Rizzio was a musician, a singer and a fiddler, but none of the music which survives from Mary’s reign can be associated with him, while later attempts to invoke his musical ghost are clearly spurious. So what we have here is a programme of 18th-century traditional Scottish tunes, attractively and idiomatically sung and played by Makaris, a period instrument ensemble based in and around New York. They take the same free approach to their sources as the Baltimore Consort, and like them, occasionally the results sound a bit overdone to me. However, like the BC there is a beguiling energy and integrity to the playing and singing which is very attractive, while Fiona Gillespie’s vocals have a particular charm and authenticity. For some of the vocal duets, she is joined by the equally persuasive Corey Shotwell. Mischievously, the inside of the CD wallet sports ‘press cuttings’ from the 18th century, making and undermining the case for Rizzio’s authorship of the wealth of traditional repertoire which found its way into print at this time. The self-evident attractiveness and inventiveness of this music, so idiomatically presented here, makes the desire to provide it with a Renaissance courtly pedigree puzzling to us. Though perhaps for all we know ‘Davy the Fiddler’ may indeed have passed some of his time at court playing the forerunners of some of these tunes!

D. James Ross

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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

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

Telemann: Recorder Sonatas

Dan Laurin, Anna Paradiso, Mats Olofsson
70:20
BIS 2555 SACD

At a cursory glance, these works seem like more “Coals to Newcastle” for the cognoscenti! Many have been covered by some of the early pioneers of Baroque recorder, notably Frans Brüggen way back on his noteworthy Teldec series (with LP extractions!); indeed, this very selection of works almost echoes that much older CD found on dusty library shelves. More recently, the exact works appeared on Erik Bosgraaf’s very fine Brilliant Classics disc (95247). They do almost feel like musical “stepping stones” before touching upon the fuller concerti for this instrument by this composer and others. It is a modest surprise that tsuch a seasoned player as Dan Laurin tackles these fairly deep into his highly reputable career, and this he does with his customary musicianship. Some can make these works sound rather perfunctory, uninspired, lacklustre. Here we have the perfect understanding of the phrasing and dynamics that pushes the melodic line along just enough without becoming an outrageously keen machine-gun or conversely, a flat, exsanguinated dud. The booklet notes alone are enlightening in many respects, showing Laurin to be an intelligent and thoughtful musician. He has fully grasped the musico-linguistic side to Telemann, which responds to, and uses rhetorical devices. The two sonatinas with their basslines restored offer an introspective and perfect vehicle for the splendid trio of musicians here. The basso continuo unit is bright, fluid and responsive, complementing not smothering the recorder. The neat journey through these works, again thoughtfully arranged with the two C-major pieces to open and finish. Both the F-minor pieces are fairly well known, especially TWV 41:f1 with its recognizable Triste first movement (even bassoonists have lifted this piece!) To round-up, if you don’t already have a full set of Der getreue Music-Meister (1728-9) or the full Essercizii Musici (1739-40), or the Brilliant Classics recording mentioned above, then this balanced, elegant recording offers a selection of these almost “rites of passage” works, before embarking on the more expansive recorder repertoire! The recorded sound is gently engaging, fluid and elegant without over- or under-stressing, displaying the finer sides of these intimate pieces.

David Bellinger

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Paris 1847

La musique d’Eugène Jancourt
Mathieu Lussier bassoon, Camille Paquette-Roy cello, Sylvain Bergeron guitar, Valérie Milot harp
97:00 [NB this includes two sonatas that can be downloaded from ATMA’s website]
Atma Classique ACD2 2834

I have to say that if I were to choose an ensemble to perform representative music from 1847 Paris then a combination of bassoon, cello, guitar and harp would be some way down the list of possibilities. But one has to at least give a hearing to a player described as ‘a harpist with the soul of a rebel’.

And what a delight! Our rebellious harpist is not the star but she is a more or less constant presence in music composed and/or arranged by Eugène Jancourt, noted bassoonist and pedagogue, who published his comprehensive Méthode in 1847. Mathieu Lussier here takes responsibility for bringing his predecessor’s work to our notice in a quite brilliant recital of music which cannot be described as profound but which is certainly much more than merely instructional for aspiring players. There are affecting slow movements and jolly rondos as well as arrangements of Donizetti, Bellini and Schubert, all for bassoon with an accompaniment for either cello or a second bassoon (here always a cello). To these, the ensemble adds harp (or, for one piece, guitar) as a sort of mid-19th-century continuo. Questionable in HIP terms, but effective.

The booklet essay (in French and English) includes extensive quotes from Jancourt and the graphic designer has managed to combine the inevitably small font with legibility. But to end with the music. If outstanding – actually, remarkable – performances of charming if unknown repertoire appeal to you in any way, go for this. The music can all be found on IMSLP.

David Hansell

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Recording

Dieupart: Suites de Clavecin

Marie van Rhijn (+Tami Troman violin, Héloïse Gaillard recorder/oboe, Myriam Rignol gamba, Pierre Rinderknecht theorbo)
64:58
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS060

The front of this CD package will lead you to expect a straightforward performance of these relatively well-known suites in their solo harpsichord guise. However, this is not what happens. These suites were originally published in two versions, for solo and for treble instrument and continuo. In addition, there is a 1702/3 notice for a London performance of ‘Mr Dieuparts Book of Lessons for the Harpsichord, made in Consorts’, and all of this leads our current performers to arrange the music for combinations of harpsichord, violin, oboe, various recorders, viol and theorbo. In addition, some movements are interpolated from other suites. In short, these are arrangements, or – in the current jargon – ‘re-imaginings’.

I don’t mind this too much when a suite retains a clear identity with a consistent scoring throughout but here not even movements enjoy this luxury, with changes of sonority being imposed at double bars or even more frequently. So, despite the commitment of the players, this is not for me and I do not think it can reasonably be described as HIP.

The booklet (in French, English and German) is at least honest about what we hear.

David Hansell