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Musik aus dem alten Stralsund

Musik der Hansestädte Vol. 1
Europäisches Hanse-Ensemble, Manfred Cordes
73:54
cpo 555 578-2

Like most of the cities that formed the Hanseatic League, Stralsund grew rich on the back of its trading activities. Much of the music on this disc (and the others that will join it in the series) will be at best little known; I had only heard of one of the three composers on the programme, Johann Vierdanck. Hitherto I had only known his instrumental music, though – through my studies of the musical life of the court of Anhalt-Zerbst – I was aware of his many publications of vocal music. Typical of Manfred Cordes, he has selected some truly wonderful music by him and by the even-less-well-known Caspar Movius (born five years after Vierdanck, he outlived him by 25!) and Eucharius Hoffmann, who was cantor at the city’s Latin School in the second half of the 16th century.

The disc is well balanced: four pieces by Vierdanck surround two by Movius, then four by Hoffmann (in a different style, as one would expect) then four more Vierdanck pieces frame another two by Movius. There are four instrumental pieces, all by Vierdanck; two sonatas a4 (one for pairs of violins and cornetti, one for cornetto and three trombones), a capriccio (two violins and gamba), and an extraordinary sonata a6 in D minor – I literally sat up straight when he had the instruments suddenly play in octaves! It was quite the unexpected effect. All of the vocal music is delightful, and beautifully sung. I am not surprised that the princes of Anhalt-Zerbst bought Vierdanck’s music for the local schoolboys to sing at weekly services. The first two Movius works are for double choir (sung one to a part here), while the second pair are for two sopranos and bass. Cordes deploys some instruments in three of the Hoffmann pieces, but the fourth is sung a cappella.

For anyone looking for an unexpected treat and a clear demonstration – if it were needed – that the 17th century in German music history does not just mean Schütz, Schein and Scheidt, this disc (and, indeed, many others curated by this innovative conductor), look no further! Buy this now.

Brian Clark

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Recording

Telemann: Fantaisies pour violon

Patrock Oliva
79:58
Triton Trihort 581

This 2023 recording enters the lists (all senses of that phrase!) and will find itself immediately in a considerable pile of top runners and also-rans. There must be nearly 80+ adventures in the interpretation of these 1735 works coming from Telemann’s “Selbstverlag” along with the flute and gamba fantasies. Patrick Oliva’s versions are respectful to the very letter of the movement markings, and as shown by the length of this recording the slower movements are a little ponderous, perhaps mildly introspective, contrasting thus with the faster passages. The playing feels rather compartmentalised, and one senses the player has chosen to mark out each section with his annotated intentions and phrases. Compared to Tomás Cotik (Centaur) and Alina Ibragimova (Hyperion) the timing element tells its own story, Patrick Oliva’s trajectory through these works lasts some 18 minutes more than the others. Again, this is a respectful interpretation with some pleasant contrasts, but does tend to languish in the slower passages. The galant effects found in the final six are respected without pushing the bar. I recently heard Rachel Podger live, playing the E minor piece (the sixth of the set); it was most captivating with elegant immediacy.

All in all, this is a fair recording, but may come around middle of my ever-expanding pile; when I last looked, at least three recordings were spawned per month! The sound quality is good and the booklet notes are very good, even a quote from J. J. Rousseau on the back of the CD.

David Bellinger

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Recording

Monteverdi: tutti i madrigali

Concerto Italiano directed by Rinaldo Alessandrini
707:62 (11 CDs)
Naïve OP7547

There are many cases where it is possible to chart the development of a composer through a specific genre, Haydn’s symphonies being a good case in point. But I know of no comparable example when it comes to plotting the development of musical history to the madrigals of Monteverdi, which starting with Renaissance polyphony transitions unfalteringly through eight published books into the new world of the Baroque. To explore the intégrale within a brief period is to feel a sense of privilege, to wonder afresh at the genius of their creator.

The present opportunity comes via the set recorded by Concerto Italiano under their founder and director Rinaldo Alessandrini over a period of nearly thirty years. The final instalment, featuring Book 1 and the posthumously published Book 9, has unlike the other books not been previously issued. Needless to say, the vocal ensemble utilised over the years has involved many different singers, the prize for the greatest number of appearances being soprano Monica Piccinini, who participates in no fewer than seven of the books. In the succeeding review it is not my intention to comment to any extent on individual performances, except in the case of solos. In general terms, I find the ensemble singing in the earlier contrapuntal madrigals to be extremely satisfying to a degree that perhaps is not quite so rewarding in the later books, where solo work is liable to reveal more flaws. This applies particularly to the important contribution of the two tenors in the later works. But in general terms the overall level of performance is not only very high but admirably consistent given the period over which the recordings were made. Given the bargain price – you should expect to pay around £45 – there are unsurprisingly no texts or translations, though there is a 96-page booklet that includes helpful notes by Alessandrini. It is also possible to download the texts and English translations provided with the complete Naxos set,  one of two currently available rivals, the other being the excellent La Venexiana recording (Glossa).

Like all great works of art, the magnificent madrigal legacy Monteverdi left us with did arise from a void. The first three books, published respectively in 1587, 1590 and 1592, all of which exploit the ‘pure’ unaccompanied one-voice-per-part polyphonic madrigal stem from Monteverdi’s studies with Marc’Antonio Ingegneri (1535-1592), the composer of eight books of madrigals and himself the pupil of one of the most distinguished of madrigal composers, Cipriani de Rore (1515/6-1565). The most famous of the madrigals included in Book 1 is ‘Baci soave e cari’, a sensually lovely work to a text by Battista Guarini, the writer of Il pastor fido and a poet Monteverdi would turn to frequently. Like all the madrigals of the first three books, it is in five parts and like many combines contrapuntal writing with simpler homophonic passages, a favourite device of Ingegneri in his sacred works.

Book 2, published at much the time Monteverdi moved from his home city of Cremona to the court at Mantua, is particularly notable for the domination of texts by Torquato Tasso (1544-1595). Nearly half the contents are settings of Tasso and commentators have noted that his poems seemed to have particularly inspired Monteverdi. In keeping with the time-honoured tradition of putting something especially striking at the head of a publication, Monteverdi opens the book with the two-part ‘Non si levava’ancor l’alba novella’, a Tasso narrative in which two lovers that have a spent a blissful night without sleep greet the dawn with reluctance, knowing parting is close. This is one of several magical evocations of dawn in Monteverdi’s madrigals, while the sweetness and passion of the night are drawn with unerring tenderness. The preoccupation with Tasso continues into Book 3, which also features poems by Guarini, the lighter pastoral moods of the latter contrasting with the deeper expressions of emotions found in Tasso, two of the madrigals extracts from his great epic poem Gerusalemme liberata. Also apparent is the greater level of virtuosity making its way into the madrigals, possibly as a result of Monteverdi having become familiar with the music associated with Ferrara and its famous ‘concerto delle donne’, an ensemble of virtuoso women singers employed by the court and renowned for its virtuosity. This kind of ensemble would be emulated at the Mantuan court, spurring Monteverdi  to introduce more bravura solo work in madrigals of the most up-to-date type.

The greater emphasis on virtuosity, solo episodes and fragmentation undermining the contrapuntal texture becomes more emphatic in Book 4, published in 1603, a long gap during which Monteverdi became a fully- mature composer who had been appointed director of music in Mantua. It is likely the contents were assembled from works composed over a period of time. Here the texts are concentrated on Guarini, although it is worth noting that ‘Sfogava con le stelle’ one of the most radical settings has a text by Ottavio Rinuccini (1562-1621), the librettist of the earliest operas and Monteverdi’s lost opera L’Arianna (1608). It opens with an appropriately thoughtful narrative employing the title words – ‘Communing with the stars’ before suddenly exploding like a star burst as the lover takes up his anguish; ‘O sweet images of the one I adore’. Gone completely is the balance of contrapuntal writing, replaced by mannerist solo writing that pushed the virtuosity of the singer ever further. It’s an astonishing example of the way in which Monteverdi is pushing the limits of the classical madrigal ever closer to breaking point.

That point arrives in Book 5, which quickly followed in 1605. Again the lion’s-share of texts are by Guarini, while the increasing part played by solos and homophonic writing at the expense of polyphony is again apparent. At times that affects the present performances negatively, the greater demands for the communication of text not always met by singing that perhaps concentrates too much on beauty. The moment where Monteverdi takes the madrigal firmly into the 17th century arrives some two-thirds of the way through the book. In ‘Ahi, com’a un vago sol cortese giro’ we hear a lute accompanying the singers, a capella works henceforth absent. The span of the madrigal is greater, the texture now freed to allow for more concentration on solos and a greater degree of melismatic writing and its attendant bravura. The book concludes with ‘Questi vaghi concenti’, a virtuoso madrigal about music itself, complete with instrumental introduction (string ensemble) and accompaniment.

The subsequent close relationship of the madrigal with opera is apparent from the outset of Book 6, published in 1614, the year after Monteverdi arrived in Venice to take up the post of choirmaster of St Mark’s. Monteverdi’s own first experience with opera had come with Orfeo in 1607, succeeded the following year by the lost L’Arianna. All that remains of it is the ‘Lamento d’Arianna’ that the composer put at the head of Book 6. In the course of its four parts, the tortured Ariadne pours out her feelings after being abandoned by Theseus, her emotions veering wildly from distress to vengeful anger. The madrigal became a seminal work in 17th-century music, imitated in a thousand laments. On the present set, it is powerfully sung by Anna Simboli. It is followed by one of Monteverdi’s most enchanting works, ‘Zefiro torno’, its scherzo-like lightness (but for the devastating final line) providing an effective contrast between serious and light, a hallmark of Book 6.

The two final books published in Monteverdi’s lifetime take us into realms undreamt of by earlier composers of the classic a capella madrigal. Book 7, published in Venice in 1619, includes madrigals for 1,2,3,4 and 6 voices, in other words anything but the disposition of the earlier standard 5-part madrigal. The texts are by a variety of composers, not excluding the composer’s favourites, Guarini and Tasso. Among a dazzling variety of forms are two pieces employing the new recitative or rappresentativo style, both solo monologues for lovers, the one in the form of a letter written to the beloved, the ‘lettera amorosa’, the other the parting words of a lover, ‘partenze amorosa’. Book 7 closes with what is in effect a miniature opera, the pastoral love of Thysis and Chloris in dialogue leading into a choral dance of the kind familiar from Act 1 of Orfeo.

If Book 7 is wonderfully variegated, Book 8 ends Monteverdi’s career as the man that split the madrigal asunder with a set for which the term tour de force hardly suffices. Published in Venice in 1638, Monteverdi divided the contents into two, the ‘madrigali guerrieri’and ‘madrigali amorosi’, madrigals of war and love, though the topics are more frequently concerned with wars of love than being literally concerned with military war. It should be noted that while the two groups were published with their contents grouped together Alessandrini does not perform them in this order, preferring his own juxtapositions and contrasts. Given no one would perform the whole book in sequence there can be no objection, though it does make following the text and translation rather more challenging. To do justice to this magnificent collection in a line or two is impossible, but it is interesting to note that Alessandrini opens with another quasi-opera that is one of its greatest glories, the Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. The text, taken from Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, tells the story of the tragedy of Tancredi, who in battle unknowingly kills Clorinda, the woman he loves. It thus fulfils a story that is both one of literal war and its metaphor of love. It is also significant for introducing a new musical device, the stile concitato – the rapid reiteration of notes – used here for the battle sequences and frequently thereafter by composers to signify great agitation. The other major extended work is very different and involves song and dance. Il ballo delle ingrate relates the story of the fate awaiting proud women that scorn love. The Book also includes what is perhaps the greatest of all madrigals, ‘Hor che ’l  ciel’, a wonderful poem of Petrarch’s that is a corollary of ‘Sfogava con le stelle’. Here there is no joyous dawn awakening but the lover that has passed a tormented night alone, text and music a vivid description of his intense suffering.

Finally Book 9, published in Venice in 1651, nearly a decade after the composer’s death, consists mainly of lighter canzonette for three voices, a relatively insignificant supplement to one of the great glories of musical literature, here given performances that match its stature.    

Brian Robins

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Recording

Telemann: Trio sonatas & quartets

Campagnia Transalpina, Andreas Böhlen
71:05
aeolus AE-10366

Telemann’s cultivation of the trio form was truly prodigious, and we have ample proof of this with some 150 extant examples, as well as about 50 quadros. The timeline for these works spans from the early Eisenach period right up to the 1740s. There is already a rich scattering of recordings of many, with just the double violin trios seeming under-explored. The recorder and oboe trios are amongst the most often tackled, and in my own listings, I find two real gems: Tel-Strad: Teldec (a double CD) and the superb Stradivarius (STR 33595) with Tripla Concordia (Alfredo Bernardini et al). Some of these trios featured on this current CD were recorded as long ago as the 1980s, and even the quartets here have had numerous recordings, and feel like fine euphonic friends.

The writing for recorder and oboe is most satisfying, and the dialogues between these instruments are both languid and sensual, fluid and dynamic; Campagnia Transalpina has captured this aspect very well indeed, their voices balanced, and with unforced expressivity. The recorded sound quality is crisp, full and measured. This feels like a well-polished concert, with perhaps a touch of understatement in the finales. The oddest thing to my ears was the opening Largo from TWV42:F15, where a pile-up of ornaments from both the main instrumental protagonists dismantled the normally sensual flow of this beautiful slow movement. This aside, this recording demonstrates Telemann’s admirable prowess in writing fine chamber music.

The playing cards on the cover of the booklet may have shocked the composer, recalling the substantial gambling debts and infidelity of his second wife! Fortunately, the music offers some elegant conversations from a great musical esprit, the familiar G-major work displaying this in spades.

David Bellinger

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Recording

Beethoven: String Quartets, opp. 74 & 130

Chiaroscuro String Quartet
71:26
BIS BIS-2668

As late as 1801, Beethoven – already 30 years of age – felt the need to write to a friend that ‘only now do I know how to write string quartets properly’. They are words that might be said to provide a telling introduction to the publication of the six quartets of opus 18 the same year. Beethoven’s admission that he had found the medium a difficult one to master is pre-echoed by both Haydn and Mozart. Haydn, more aptly given the appendage ‘father of the string quartet’ than the more familiar ‘father of the symphony’, had a near-decade gap between producing his six opus 20 string quartets and his next set, opus 33 in 1781. It was a lengthy period for such a prolific composer and one in which he intimates that the cause may have been the need to reconsider the medium and compose the recent group ‘in an entirely new and special way’. And we know even Mozart, too, had to work on the string quartet to satisfy himself, writing in his dedication to Haydn of his first set of mature strong quartets that ‘they were the fruits of long and laborious toil’.

This struggle for mastery over the medium is mirrored in the demands made of performers of string quartets and none more so than the later quartets of Beethoven, among which we can include for the present purposes the E-flat Quartet, op. 74, ‘The Harp’ of 1809. It is probably at least in part for this reason that few period instrument quartets have to date tackled them, the wide range of tone and sonority, the extremes of expression making demands few feel confident of tackling. If there was one quartet one felt might be admirably suited to do so it is the Chiaroscuro Quartet, which has already demonstrated convincingly in Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ that it is quite capable of bringing off the big gestures of the early 19th-century repertoire, my review suggesting, ‘It is rare to hear period instrument playing of such technical accomplishment and perfect sense of balance’. Those qualities are again well to the fore in these superbly accomplished performances, embracing as they do an extensive range of sonority and colour achieved across a range of dynamics that extends from little more to a pianissimo whisper to, for example, the attack of the Presto (ii) of op. 130 in B flat, a headlong collision between music and performer. Just occasionally such extremes may be found by some a little too exaggerated, but throughout they fill the performances with vibrant immediacy.

At the other end of the scale, one need only listen to the manner in which the Chiaroscuros lure the listener into the opening Poco Adagio of op. 74, with playing owning to a rapt concentration that segues with the utmost naturalness into loving tenderness at the start of the Allegro. In the context of a performance that captures the general geniality of the quartet, the Presto scherzo brings the savagery of a galloping madman’s cavorting fury along with the grotesquery of the central trio vividly to life, providing a marvellously stark contrast.

For many op. 130 is the epitome of not just Beethoven’s string quartets but the medium itself. Yet associated with that perception are the myths that grew up surrounding the work, that this is music that gives up its secret only on a transcendental level. And then only to those granted some kind of spiritual insight into the work.  To remind those less familiar with it, the quartet is unusually cast in six movements, with four shorter inner movements framed by a large-scale opening movement that, like that of op. 74, opens with an intensely inward Adagio leading to a masculine, strongly muscled Allegro and a finale whose playfulness is affectionately toyed with in the present performance, especially in the feather-light spiccato playing. Equally at odds with the reputation of the forbidding aesthete Beethoven is the tiny Alla danza tedesca (iv), an enchanting German dance caught by the Chiaroscuros with beguiling charm and just a hint of rubato rather than the hefty nudge some quartets give it. And finally I hope it will be forgiven if a personal note creeps into a comment on the heart of the work, the Cavatina (v). But I cannot hear this movement without it recalling a dear friend, long dead. One of the most cultured people I have ever known, for her this was simply the most profound music ever written. She was no friend of period instruments, but I like to think even she would have been moved by the inner concentration and extraordinarily beautiful sonority of the Chiaroscuro Quartet’s playing here.

Brian Robins

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Recording

Vivaldi: Serenata a tre (RV 690)

Vivaldi Edition Vol. 70
Marie Lys Eurilla, Sophie Ennert Nice, Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani Acindo, Abchordis Ensemble, Andrea Buccarella
72:03
naïve OP 7257

The Serenata RV690 is a two-part dramatic cantata for three soloists and orchestra set in an arcadian world of shepherds and shepherdesses and revolving around the romantic intrigues of the three central characters. Written as light entertainment for a special occasion, in this case an aristocratic wedding, Serenatas generally entertained through melodic felicity and colourful orchestration rather than intellectual demands, and the present work is particularly engaging in its musical originality. Three excellent and expressive soloists are sympathetically supported by a period string ensemble, enhanced by horns, oboes, and bassoon as required for local colour. There is evidence in the manuscript that Vivaldi originally intended to include recorders too, and it is interesting that he reworked the score several times, suggesting that he valued this composition and took time to perfect its details. This detailed and musically sensitive account is volume 70 in a superb projected complete recording of Vivaldi’s music, which has already unearthed several unsuspected masterpieces, and through the engagement of excellent Italian vocalists brought much overlooked material vividly to life. Thus too this apparently inconsequential occasional piece is revealed as much more important and substantial than it first appears, and a worthy companion piece to Vivaldi’s operatic writing.

D. James Ross

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Torelli | Perti | Pollarolo | Colonna – Concertos and Cantatas

Nuria Rial soprano, Kammerorchester Basel directed by Julia Schröder violin
57:29
DHM 19658813432

‘For the most part, nothing can be heard in their [the Italians’] music apart from a consistently elaborated basso continuo, often consisting of a kind of barrage of chords, with arpeggios added to throw dust in the eyes of those who are no judges of such things’. What was true for the Mercure galant in 1713 is equally as true of the 2020s, with the exception that the contagion is now widely spread throughout early music and not just applicable solely to the Italians. I’ve opened in this rather unusual way to highlight that the present recording provides one of the most severe examples of theorbo-itis I’ve encountered, with inappropriate twanging, passaggi, bangs, and arpeggiated janglings throughout the performances. Especially damaging examples appear in ‘Aurae sacrae amati ardores’, a charming solo motet by Pollarolo (c. 1653-1723). Both its arias (it ends in typical motet-fashion with a virtuosic Alleluia) feature lovely cantabile writing for the soloist, here the lovely warm, but pure voice of the enchanting Spanish soprano, Nuria Rial. Both however are virtually ruined by the distraction of the theorbist, who seems unaware that the arias are intended to evoke tranquility and contemplation by twanging away as if playing a concerto, masking the lyrical line of Rial’s voice. The result sounds ridiculous and is totally unmusical.

The foregoing would alone be enough to stop me wanting to hear the CD again, but given that the orchestral playing is excessively mannered there is little to attract any but the most tolerant of listeners. Allegros are invariably taken too fast, the performances skating over the surface with clipped chords and meaninglessly superficial runs. Slower movements are played in a mannered style in which I suppose some may find elements of sprezzatura and certainly there’s some virtuosic solo violin playing by director, Julia Schröder, though I don’t care much for her rather thin tone.

For those interested, that might be more forgiving than the present writer, a word or two about the programme. The instrumental part is devoted to four of the concertos from Torelli’s Concerti grossi, op 8. Composed in 1709, but only published posthumously, they are, like Corelli’s famous op 6 of five years later, intended to make a grand sonorous effect, with the body of concertante strings creating breadth and depth. That doesn’t happen here because of the clipped phrasing and the solo contribution being dominated by the solo violin. The other vocal solo items sung by Rial are a brief scena comprising a fluid alternation of air and recitar cantando from Giovanni Colonna’s oratorio Salomone amante (Bologna, 1679) and a spirited cantata, ‘San Tomaso d’Aquino’ by Giovanni Perti (1661-1756). In these, there is some enchanting singing. Rial demonstrates not only lovely cantabile lines but impressive agility in passaggi and ornamentation, though regrettably she has no trill and her words might have been projected with greater clarity.

Sadly for all the quality of the singing the disc is a non-starter for the reasons given above. A pity given that the repertoire is unusual and of considerable interest.

Brian Robins

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Binder & Clavecin Roïal : Chamber Music at the Dresden Court

Ricardo Magnus, Ensemble Klangschmelze
68:33
Etcetera KTC 1753

The programme note for this intriguing CD is quick to answer the first of two obvious questions raised by the title. The Clavecin Roïal is a type of square piano, specially reconstructed for this recording, which has the facility to change from one timbre to another at short notice. In fact, under the fingers of Ricardo Magnus it is not so much rapidly changing tones but its constantly tinkling presence, soothing and absolutely charming, that is its distinguishing feature. To my ears, it combines the virtues of the clavichord and the early piano. In his introduction to the instrument, the builder Johann Gottlob Wagner announced it has a number of stops which reproduce the sounds of clavecin, harp, lute, pantaleon, and fortepiano – some explanations raise as many questions as they answer! The second question – who or what is a Binder? – is answered almost as quickly. Christlieb Siegmund Binder is the composer of the chamber music featured on the CD: two keyboard quartets and a trio for obbligato keyboard and flute, all receiving their premiere performances, as well as a further trio for obbligato keyboard and viola. This innocuously entertaining repertoire, sensitively and expressively played by Magnus and his ensemble, helps further to confirm the role of the Dresden Court as an important focus of music-making in 18th-century Germany. Binder was born and died in Dresden, and in his youth played the pantaleon, a type of large hammered dulcimer invented by Pantaleon Hebenstreit, so would certainly have appreciated the Clavecin Roïal’s ability to reproduce its sound.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Early European and Hungarian Dances

Capella Savaria, Zsolt Kalló
54:06
Hungaroton HCD 32881

Founded in 1981, the Hungarian period instrument ensemble Capella Savaria are veterans in the field and have assembled an impressive discography over the forty years of their existence. Their playing combines precision and energy, and these are the predominant features of this recording of Telemann’s Ouverture-Suite in B flat major ‘Les Nations’, in which the composer characterises the nations of Europe in appropriate movements. The ever-imaginative Telemann warms to the task, and produces some strikingly original music which suggests that he had some passing acquaintance with folk music from Turkey, Switzerland and Russia. The transition into the second half of the programme, which opens with a couple of dance movements by Hungarian composers of the early 19th century – essentially concert music with a slight Hungarian flavour – is a bit of a jolt. Soon we are into more distinctive traditional Hungarian melodies and dances from a selection of 19th-century manuscripts. With their instinct for their native music, we could expect no better guide to this material than Capella Savaria, and they find the ideal blend of classical ensemble and gypsy folk band. I recalled the recordings of earlier Hungarian material made by the late great Rene Clemencic, and this CD has some of the flamboyance and smouldering energy with which he invested his accounts of his native music. In the final analysis, this had the feeling of two very different programmes sharing a CD. I have heard more imaginative accounts of the Telemann, and in a way I would have preferred a whole CD of the later fascinating Hungarian material. I hope this isn’t as annoying for the performers as the suggestion from a member of one of our audiences, after we had finished an intense programme of Renaissance music lightened with an encore of Ronald Binge’s Elizabethan Serenade, that we should perform a whole programme of ‘that kind of music’! Anyway, the music from Pest, Nagyszombat and the Poszony Manuscripts has considerable charm and character, and Capella Savaria clearly enjoy playing it.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Around Baermann

Maryse Legault clarinet, Gili Loftus, fortepiano
71:11
Leaf Music LM265 (www.leaf-music.ca)

Born in Potsdam, Heinrich Baerman (1784-1847) was the great clarinet virtuoso of the early 19th century, a pupil of Joseph Beer, who in his turn had revolutionised clarinet playing late in the previous century. As such, Baerman, who for most of his career was first clarinet of the court orchestra in Munich, had contact with many of the leading composers of the day. These links owed much not only to his reputation as a virtuoso but also to his apparently congenial personality. The present CD includes two works by Baerman himself, an improvisatory Introduction and bright Polonaise (op 25), and a Nocturne in several sections, the most appealing of which is the lovely cantabile melody that follows the unexpectedly (given the title of the work) lively opening. Neither reveal Baerman to have been more than a modestly talented composer.

As might be expected, the works by Weber and Mendelssohn are a different matter. Weber’s connections with Baerman are more significant than those with any other major composer since, after their meeting in 1811, they not only toured together but Weber also composed several works for Baerman. They include his two clarinet concertos and a quintet.  The Variations on a theme from the Opera ‘Silvana’, op 33, are a particularly interesting example of collaboration between composer and performer, having according to an anecdote cited in Maryse Legault’s helpful notes been composed together over the course of one night. One wonders how much liquid refreshment might have been added to the mix! It’s an attractive set of a theme and seven variations based on an aria from Weber’s Silvana, first given in Frankfurt in 1810. The theme sounds like the seeds of something that might have re-emerged in the music for Agathe in Der Freischütz. Also premiered by Baerman and Weber was the virtuosic Grand Duo Concertant, op 48, first performed in 1815, while the CD programme is completed by Mendelssohn’s  three-movement Sonata in E flat of 1824, a work astonishingly not published until 1941 in New York. In addition there is a digital bonus in the shape of a three-movement Sonatina by Caroline Schleicher-Krähmer (1794-1873), the daughter of musicians who in addition to having been the first woman clarinettist to play in public also played the piano and violin professionally. The Sonatina – which includes a Waltz (ii) and Polacca (iii) is pleasing enough, if never aspiring to be more than salon music.

‘Mr Baerman does wonders on the clarinet, but he charms as much as he amazes’. These words quoted by Legault from a review published in the Gazette de France in 1818 might well with slight adjustment be applied to Maryse Legault herself. A native of Montreal, she studied with Erich Hoeprich, the father-figure of the revival of the historical clarinet. Not only does she own to an exceptional technique but equally a beautiful evenly produced tone across the range. She plays with real musicality and considerable nuance, as the slight change of dynamic in the repeated phrases in the statement of the theme the Weber variations immediately announces. The third variation of the same work demonstrates her ability to encompass a wide tessitura and virtuoso leaps, while her mezzo voce playing can be heard to ravishing effect at the end of the central movement of the composer’s Grand Duo. She seems, too, to have an exceptional rapport with her accompanist, Gili Loftus, herself evidently an outstanding fortepianist (she also plays the harpsichord and modern piano). She is especially impressive in the Mendelssohn, which needs some demanding bravura work from the keyboard player. Her instrument here is a copy of a Viennese fortepiano from 1820 and 1840 inspired by Conrad Graf and Ignaz Bösendorfer and built by Rodney J Regier of Freeport, Maine in 2000. The sound as recorded is full and rounded across the range.

An exceptional disc. well worthy of investigation by any one attracted to the historical clarinet – or indeed the exceptionally talented young performers. 

Brian Robins