Telemann: Fantasias for solo violin

Alina Ibragimova
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


Telemann: Recorder Sonatas

Dan Laurin, Anna Paradiso, Mats Olofsson

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


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


Dieupart: Suites de Clavecin

Marie van Rhijn (+Tami Troman violin, Héloïse Gaillard recorder/oboe, Myriam Rignol gamba, Pierre Rinderknecht theorbo)
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


Oh, ma belle brunette

Reinoud van Mechelen, A Nocte Temporis
Alpha Classics Alpha 833

I thoroughly recommend this anthology of gentle gorgeousness from 17th/18th century France. Reinoud van Mechelen is the perfect singer for these lovely songs from the art/folk borderland and he is most beautifully supported by his team of flute, gamba, theorbo and harpsichord, though not all at once.

The overall mood is one of restraint and control with an emphasis on beauty of sound, though there’s no hint of self-indulgence. The instrumental items complement the songs very well, inviting us into their world rather than demanding attention.

The booklet (in French and English) includes the sung texts and translations. This disc will be my late evening companion for some time.

David Hansell



Meisterwerke der französischen Gambenmusik
[Masterpieces of French music for gamba]
Ensemble Art d’Echo, Juliane Laake
Querstand VKJK2110

To variety of presentation of CDs there is no end, it seems. Here the booklet (in German and English) is glued into the cardboard casing and the programme contents appear only on the back of the case. This isn’t a bad idea, actually, once you work out the best way of handling it for your current purpose.

Juliane Laake and her ensemble are skilled interpreters of this wonderful repertoire and the programme is more varied than it may at first sight seem. Some works are for gamba and continuo (the fewer instruments the better, to my ear); there is a luscious concert à deux violes ésgales by Sainte-Colombe; and a suite for treble viol and continuo by Louis Heudelinne, who published the first-ever collection of solos for this instrument. In style, this is perhaps the music Corelli would have written had he been French and played the viol. I found it more than merely interesting historically, though it is certainly that.

The recital ends with the Marais Folies. If you know anyone who wonders what a viol can do, just play them this!

David Hansell


J. S. Bach: Harpsichord Concertos

The Hanover Band, Andrew Arthur director and harpsichord
Signum Classics SIGCD 710

This fine first CD – the second will include the other three harpsichord concertos and Brandenburg V – was recorded in the admirable acoustic of St Nicholas, Arundel and uses a harpsichord by Andrew Garlick, built in 2009 and after Jean-Claude Goujon, 1748 and tuned in a 1/6 comma circulating meantone at A=415.

What is particularly good is the splendid balance between the single strings of the Hanover Band’s A team and the harpsichord – a resonant and singing instrument, well able to hold its own. What is very odd is that the experienced and skilled leader of the Hanover Band, Theresa Caudle, is not mentioned at all in the liner notes, which list the violin II, viola, violoncello, double bass and harpsichord together with details of their instruments. This reflects poorly on Signum’s production team.

It is now largely accepted that using single strings is the best way to balance these exquisite concerti, the majority of which had earlier lives as concerti for violin before being re-scored for a six-instrument ensemble for Bach’s concerts in Zimmermann’s coffee-house. The fascinating detail of their reworking for keyboard can be studied in NBA VII.4, where you can see how the articulation in the cembalo part frequently differs from the identical line in the first violin, as well as seeing how the left hand of the keyboard part often varies from the basso continuo part, with its suggestive flourishes frequently hinting at the polyphonic overtones of Bach’s writing. Sometimes, the articulation of the sections is enhanced by suppressing the 16’ in some parts, as in the Adagio of BWV 1054 where only a violoncello plays the continuo line.

But these subtleties aside, what is so beguiling about these performances is the absolute integration of the players with one another. Not one player fails to contribute and the way the first violin and the right hand of the harpsichord play in complete sync – even when negotiating slight inégales in the rhythms – is so elegant and makes for that fluidity which only one-to-a-part can give.

Although the excellent performance by Francesco Corti and Shunsuke Sato uses a second harpsichord to play the continuo of BWV 1055 for All-of-Bach, this marvellous performance beats it for natural clarity and for the way all the players – even when they appear to be just filling in the realisation of the continuo – shape their lines to make them sing in response to one other and to the free but perfectly rhythmic playing of Andrew Arthur.

This is not only a very ‘correct’ textbook version that I shall enjoy returning to for a long time, but it is fluid, inventive and utterly musical. You should get it, even if you have Conti’s performances with Il Pomo d’Oro. Andrew Arthur is not a soloist in the modern sense of the word – out to stamp his personality on this music: he is content to help the ensemble to listen to each other and above all, to listen to Bach. There are no grand gestures or extremes of tempi. This is the best we are likely to get and I look forward to the second CD immensely.

David Stancliffe


Piani: 12 Sonate a Violino solo

Pierluigi Mencattini, Labirinto Armonico
133:38 (2 CDs in a single jewel case)
Tactus TC 671690

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These two CDs present Giovanni Antonio Piani’s opus 1 set of 12 sonatas for solo violin and continuo printed in Paris in 1712. Piani moved from Italy to Paris in 1704 as part of the interest there in the Italian style and moves to integrate it with the native French taste. This set is the only surviving music by Piani, who went on to have a glittering career as a violin virtuoso, moving in 1721 to Vienna where he enjoyed considerable celebrity until at least 1757. Perhaps the main interest in these sonatas is the degree to which the composer manages to meld the Italian and French styles, a near obsession at the time. There are certainly elements of both flavours in Piani’s music. I have a couple of reservations about these recordings – where Piani states very clearly his very simple vision of their performance by a solo violin with cello and harpsichord continuo, the present performance draws in a whole menagerie of other instruments including double bass, archlute, organ and even a tambourine! A complete recording of twelve sonatas may suggest some liberty be taken with instrumentation in the interests of variety, but adding percussion may represent a red line. I also found the sonatas, whether due to the rather workaday playing of soloist Pierluigi Mencattini or Piani’s limited compositional skills, frankly a little predictable and dull.

D. James Ross


Cello Concertos from Northern Germany

Gulrim Choï, Ensemble Diderot
Audax Records ADX11200

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Ensemble Diderot’s exploration of pre-classical German music has recently focussed on the culturally dynamic city of Berlin, and these four attractive cello concertos, two of which are receiving world premiere recordings, certainly deserve a place in our understanding of it. The most famous composer represented here, probably due to his later move to London, is gamba virtuoso, composer and Bach pupil, Carl Friedrich Abel, indeed the only one of the four composers here that I have previously come across. By contrast, Ignác Frantisek Mara, Markus Heinrich Grauel and Johann Wilhelm Hertel have been treated less kindly by posterity, sinking into relative neglect. In these characterful performances by cellist Gulrim Choï, the quirky originality of all four composers becomes evident. It is interestingly in the slow movements of their cello concertos that their individuality becomes most apparent, but these are remarkably accomplished works full of musical inspiration. I often feel that the music from the melting pot of the pre-classical period, with its heady ethos of exploration and experimentation, is more interesting and exciting than that of the more settled classical period itself, and this is very much the case here. Combining technical assurance and an engaging sense of adventure, all four composers represented have something valuable to say, and Choï and the Diderot Ensemble give them vivid and eloquent expression here.

D. James Ross


Schütz: Dafne

La Capella Ducale, Musica Fiata, Roland Wilson
cpo 555 494-2

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Readers of reviews on a site devoted to early music are likely to know something of the history of Schütz’s Dafne, an “opera” performed for the wedding festivities of the daughter of his employer the Elector of Saxony in 1627. Given at the castle theatre in Torgau it then disappeared and remains lost. Given Schütz’s place as the greatest of German 17th-century composers, the notion of a lost  Schütz opera has of course long intrigued music historians, but so far as I’m aware this is the first time anyone has attempted to reconstruct Dafne.

The word opera appeared in the opening sentence in inverted commas advisedly, since there is some debate as to whether or not Dafne can be termed an opera. New Grove Opera thinks not: ‘Dafne, Zwo Comoedian and Orpheo und Euridice (two other lost dramas of Schütz) are spoken plays with vocal inserts, usually in the form of strophic lieder’. Roland Wilson disagrees, making the apparently reasonable point that if Schütz was not writing an opera why would he turn to an adaptation (made by Martin Opitz) of an Italian libretto by Rinuccini that had already been set as operas by Peri (in 1597) and Marco da Gagliano (1607). Wilson points out that Opitz’s rather dismissive comments about the piece stemmed from the fact that he did not understand recitative, himself missing the point that no German drama of this period employed anything other than spoken dialogue. I strongly suspect that what Wilson has set as recitar cantando would have remained spoken dialogue

Wilson’s methodology fundamentally involves setting the libretto to other works of Schütz he believes to have some relevance, though his working methods are not clearly set out. It goes without saying that any assessment of Wilson’s reconstruction is going to involve subjective views, hopefully informed by such points as that made in the previous paragraph. I have immediately to say that I remain unconvinced both by his arguments and the aural results. Opitz’s libretto casts the work as a prologue (declaimed in recitative by Ovid, from whose Metamorphosis the story of Dafne and Apollo is taken) and five brief acts, thus suggesting Monteverdi’s Orfeo, on which Wilson leans heavily in various ways, often wrongly in my opinion, especially as to instrumentation. There is a strong sense of symmetry, each act ending with a madrigalian chorus for the three shepherds, in one case augmented by a soprano. All these choruses –and many of the solo lieder – are cast in extended strophic form and it is a fatal flaw of the performance that there is little or no convincing attempt to vary the verses, as would certainly have been the case with 17th-century performers. Many of Wilson’s choices as to instrumentation and its deployment also strike me as highly questionable. His use of wind and brass is surely far too extensive for a work of this kind, the solemnly lugubrious trombone chords that open act 1, for example, more suggestive of a scene in Hades than an introduction by the shepherds to Apollo’s slaying of the Python. More importantly, and a-historically, instruments not infrequently mask voices, either as continuo that frequently reminds the listener of a ‘flock of noisy sparrows’, to borrow the composer and theorist Agostino Agazzari’s delightful phrase, or, worse, melodically, as in act 2 where Cupid is at one point drowned out by cornetti.

The singers are competent enough, but none show much awareness of the principles of ‘prima le parole poi la musica’ that form the basis of the seconda prattica, leaving some of the extensive passages of recitative lacking any sense of dramatic articulation and, frankly, often being tedious. I’m sorry to sound so negative about a brave project to which Wilson has obviously devoted much time and energy. Others may well be less concerned about some of the historical points raised and should perhaps investigate the disc for themselves.

Brian Robins