Categories
Recording

Carlo Graziani: Six Sonatas

Armoniosa, Stefano Cerrato
88:29 (2 CDs in a jewel case)
Rubicon RCD1018
4454

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]orn in Asti in Piedmont around 1710, Carlo Graziani spent his life touring Europe, sharing his enthusiasm for the cello and soaking up a wealth of stylistic influences, which he incorporated into his compositions, including this op 3 set of cello sonatas recorded here complete on two CDs. Primarily designed to show off his mastery of the instrument, they seem to me rather humdrum fare with occasional moments of lyrical or technical felicity, such as the inventive use of high harmonics. The present performances are very effective, although to my ear the recorded sound is a little bit dead and favours the incidental sounds of the player (deep breathing and other extraneous noises) over the tone of the solo cello. The continuo cello and harpsichord are helpfully placed back from the action, but I would have preferred a little more resonance generally. It is clear from the contemporary responses to Graziani’s playing and the prestigious Royal post he held at the Prussian court that his cello playing was a cause for much admiration, and it has to be said that whether due to the slightly dull recorded sound or Stefano Cerrato’s account of it, I was not similarly moved to enthusiasm. It also struck me that by the time Graziani died in 1787 his music must have sounded quaintly archaic.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Bach: Variations on variations

concerto italiano, Rinaldo Alessandrini
68:17
naïve OP30575
BWV582, 588, 988, 989

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here seems to be no end to the processes of second-guessing the inventiveness of Bach’s gift of parodying his own compositions. Re-cycling music too good not to find a continuing life was clearly a temptation to which he frequently yielded. A few years ago a chamber group from Philadelphia, Tempesta di Mare, produceded a CD of the Trio Sonatas for organ (BWV 525-530) arranged for a variety of period instruments by Richard Stone: some movements already existed as prototypes, parodied by Bach himself as sinfonias in cantatas. I much enjoyed hearing them, and indeed bought the transcriptions and have played a number of them. Now Rinaldo Alessandrini has taken a number of Bach works where Variations are the linking theme, and scored them for a few strings and continuo.

The results are enjoyable, and mostly pretty successful. The Passacaglia in C minor taken from BWV 582 (which Alessandrini outdatedly claims was for the pedal harpsichord originally) sounds well on strings in D minor. The way the melodic material of successive variations frequently grows out of the preceding figurations suits the four-part string instrument texture well, as does the polyphony of the fugue. This is a full-blooded performance, and lets you know what you are in for, in terms of a “no holds barred” style.

A lover of Vivaldi, Alessandrini sees the potential in developing a keyboard work into a rather fuller texture. While the Canzona (BWV 588) is a literal transcription, and the Italian Aria variations translate pretty straightforwardly into a sonata for violin and basso continuo, it is in the Goldberg Variations that we see him working the sketchy counterpoint possible on the keyboard – where there are frequent hints of a third or even fourth part in more polyphonic variations – into new, freely composed parts. Sometimes the result goes with a swing (as in Variation 1) or lets us hear in detail what the keyboard original only suggests. Sometimes it is too far from the original, and sounds almost like Brahms (as in the minor Variation 25). So, while I admire Alessandrini’s ingenuity (and his normally pretty minimalist continuo playing), I am not altogether taken with his arrangements here, though his rather spare sounds are certainly an improvement in textural terms on the chamber orchestra version recorded by Bernard Labadie and Les Violons du Roy in 2014.

All this is a long way from Stokowsky’s orchestration of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, and Bach, after all, was known to improvise a third voice when playing continuo, but I am not sure that I’ll play these Goldbergs in wakeful hours of the night. Each variation’s scoring raises some new hare running in my mind, and I’d be endlessly switching on the light and reaching for the score. I’m more likely to keep it in the car for long journeys.

On the whole, it’s a stimulating exercise, and well worth doing, though for my money Tempesta di Mare and Richard Stone do it better, if you want to explore the possibilities of this kind of parody technique.

David Stancliffe

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Categories
Recording

Wunderkammer

Acronym
66:44
Olde Focus Recordings FCR906

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he qualifications for admission to Acronym’s cabinet of curiosities seems at first a bit vague – all the music here seems to share is obscurity and a degree of eccentricity, the latter very much in the ear of the listener. However, the cabinet turns out to be a wonderful conceit to permit the performance of a delightful range of neglected music for strings from 17th-century Germany. Beautifully and expressively played by the small period string ensemble, it is revealed as indeed a box of unsuspected treasures. When the programme notes for a CD include the phrase ‘of the ten composers on this recording, probably the best-known is the violinist Antonio Bertali’, you know you are in for a cruise through genuine musical backwaters. Music by Bertali rubs shoulders with works by Samuel Capricornus, Adam Drese, Johann Philipp Krieger, Andreas Oswald, Daniel Eberlin, Philipp Jakob Rittler, Georg Piscator, Alessandro Poglietti and Clemens Thieme, a catalogue of names some of which lurk in the shadows at the edge of my experience but by none of whom could I name a single work.

This plethora of unfamiliar composers reflects the political fragmentation of 17th-century Germany which at this time was a patchwork of semi-independent states. Fortunately, many of these were wealthy enough to employ the services of musicians, and the presence of many small ensembles and the competition between these statelets proved fertile ground for an explosion in composition. Furthermore, competition rather than collaboration led to what we would now regard as musical eccentricity and the cultivation of the individual and distinctive. This very informative trawl through 17th-century German repertoire helps to put composers such as the Austrian Heinrich Biber in a more comprehensible context, but most of this music is also extremely enjoyable in its own right, and Acronym are to be congratulated for their intrepid trawl through voluminous archives to find it, and to perform it so convincingly.

D. James Ross

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Categories
Recording

Oddities and Trifles

The Very Peculiar Instrumental Music of Giovanni Valentini
Acronym 68:53
Olde Focus Recordings FCR904

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen I tell you that Giovanni Valentini preceded Antonio Bertali as Kapellmeister in Vienna, your reaction probably depends on your familiarity with Acronym’s recording entitled Wunderkammer, which explores the music of 17th-century Germany, and which places Bertali’s music in a wider context. Valentini’s quirky compositions provide the musical foundations on which Bertali was building, and – as with Bertali – it is easy to hear the links with the eccentric music of the likes of Heinrich Biber from nearby Salzburg. For a representative sample of Valentini’s striking originality, listen to track 3, his Sonata in C (and indeed every other tonality); this was the piece which I heard some time ago on Radio 3, first alerting me to the existence of this unsuspected talent.

What is interesting is that Valentini belongs to the generation prior to Biber, and so allows us to trace this eccentric taste in textures and harmonies back to his training in Venice. The loss of his publication Messa, Magnificat e Jubilate Deo  of 1621, containing polychoral music in the grand Venetian style including parts for trumpets, is a tragic one indeed. Imbued with the tradition of the Gabrielis, he seems to have pre-empted Monteverdi in a number of musical developments traditionally ascribed to the latter composer. Boldly original and harmonically daring, Valentini’s music is beautifully played here by the innovative period string ensemble, Acronym, who have uncovered yet another highly distinctive and largely forgotten link in the chain of musical history. For Valentini to dictate musical taste for some 20 years in one of the great musical capitals of Europe, suggests the esteem in which he was held during his own lifetime, and, as we become more familiar with his music, I am sure we will more fully recognize his legacy in the music of the next couple of generations of German composers.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Danican Philidor: Six Parisian Quartets

L’Art de la modulation
Ars Antiqua with Elizabeth Wallfisch
65:07
Nimbus Alliance NI 6347

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hese six delightful “Quatuors pour un Hautboy, 2 Violons, et Basse” were published in 1755. Gambist Mark Kramer’s notes say relatively little of the music (in all honesty, there is not much he could have said, since these are the composer’s only surviving chamber works) but they do a marvellous job of setting the scene, describing the transition of taste and artistic and musical styles as the strict order of Louis XIV’s France gave way to the Age of Enlightenment. Philidor was better known in his own day as a master chess player, capable of playing three games simultaneously while blindfolded; thus, writing music in four parts in ever-varying combinations was no complex task for him. These are enjoyable pieces, very nicely played, but they are less contrapuntally complex than Telemann’s of three decades earlier, and – in terms of the rococo filigree that Kramer highlights – they scarcely rival the many quartets produced by Janitsch, his Berlin-based contemporary. Ars Antiqua perform sinfonie  3, 4 and 6 with flute instead of oboe. Their inclusion of a harp is probably justified on the basis of the instrument’s popularity in French music tooms of the period, and I suppose the original gamba player might have read over the keyboard player’s shoulder. Yes, these are quartets for six! And thoroughly entertaining they are, too.

Brian Clark

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Recording

J. S. Bach: Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord

Pauliina Fred, Aapo Häkkinen
70:17
Naxos 8.573376
BWV 1030-35

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is a very good recording, and stands up well to all the others I know in quality of tone, the clarity of the recording and the sense of partnership between the two players, both well-known in the Finnish period instrument world.

Fred plays most of the sonatas on a full-toned and crystal-clear Wenner copy of a Palanca flute, but switches for BWV 1035 to a lighter-voiced copy of a Rottenburg by Claire Soubeyran. In this sonata she is accompanied – the right word here for the sonatas where the keyboard is a continuo instrument rather than a sparring partner – by a clavichord, whose arpeggios in the final Allegro assai seem especially plausible. For BWV 1033, which may have had its origins in a sonata for unaccompanied flute dating from Bach’s time in Köthen, Häkkinen plays a lute-harpsichord by Knif & Ollikka (2014). This certainly suits the rhapsodic nature of this sonata well, while in BWV 1032 he plays an Italian-style instrument, where the single 8’ used in the slow movement is a singing alternative to the lute stops used in the slow movements of 1030, 1031 and 1034. These multiple possibilities of registration illustrate the quality of preparation that has gone into the choices the players make about tone, phrasing and tempi, especially the easing of the tempo where it seems right. In the other sonatas, registration – including the use of the lute stop – seems well-judged, and softens the edge of the somewhat hard-toned flute (so good for balancing with other instruments in a larger band, I imagine) a bit.

The quality of attention one to the other in these sonatas is very high, and makes for chamber music making of the highest order. I can’t believe that there could be a better recording of these characterful and diverse works. I entirely recommend this CD.

David Stancliffe

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Recording

Donizetti: String Quartets 1-3

Pleyel Quartett Köln
55:19
cpo 777 909-2

[dropcap]D[/dropcap]onizetti might not be the first name you would come up with if asked to name a composer of string quartets. The truth, however, is that these are three accomplished pieces, requiring virtuosity from three of the four players (the poor violist is pretty much a filler-in…), and all in the same four-movement pattern (fast – slow – playful – fast). The young Donizetti had regularly played Mozart and Haydn quartets with his teacher of the time, the opera composer Johann Simon Mayr. Klaus Aringer’s informative note seems to cover the whole of Donizetti’s quartet output, and together with other volumes featuring The Revolutionary Drawing Room, cpo has built up an excellent period instrument monument to Italian chamber music, of which we hear precious little. The Pleyel Quartett Köln (here playing late 18th-or early 19th-century instruments or have strayed from the eponymous composer’s Prussian Quartets to music by Wolf and Gyrowetz for their most recent recordings, and very fine all of those have been. This CD adds another feather to their cap with fine playing from all concerned. The violinists take turns playing the Violin 1 part. I can heartily recommend this recording to all fans of the string quartet.

Brian Clark

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Recording

Musical Offering

The Bach Players
54:13
Hyphen Press Music HPM 011
BWV1057 + BuxWV257

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is a first-rate performance of a late and intriguing work that is under-performed. There is a CD by Ton Koopman from 2009 and a more recent one by Ricercar in 2015, but this version was prepared and scored by Silas Wollston, the group’s harpsichordist, whose excellent essay in the booklet Bach the orator  is a model for what research and performance practice can create, and I doubt if it could be bettered. He convincingly summarises Ursula Kirkendale’s thesis that the rhetorical basis for the order of the movements is to be found in Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria, and displays how this works in practice.

Everything is good, except possibly the choice of a Buxtehude trio sonata as a filler: there are a lot of underperformed J. S. Bach fragments among his more canonic writing, (BWV 1072-8), or his arrangement of Fasch’s trio for organ (BWV 585) which might play more interestingly alongside The Musical Offering  than BuxWV 257.

But this is really beside the point. The playing – apart from a slightly lumpy start to the Ricercar à3 – is neat, balanced and fluid. Each of the players in Nicolette Moonen’s group (flute, violin, gamba and harpsichord) is confident without being exhibitionistic and the clarity of the recording in a sufficiently yeilding acoustic is a tribute to the seasoned producer, Roy Mowatt, and the editor, Nick Parker. Silas Wollston plays a Clayson & Garrett copy of a Dulcken 1745 instrument.

David Stancliffe

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Sheet music

Giuseppe Antonio Bernabei: Orpheus ecclesiasticus

Edited by Michael Wilhelm Nordbakke
A-R Editions, Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era, B195
xii + 6 facsmilies + 203pp, $175.00
ISBN 978-0-89579-849-7

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen this volume arrived, I espected a collection of church music. Instead, it is a set of 12 sonatas (prefaced and concluded with texted canons for six and four voices respectively), dedicated to Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor, dated 1698.

The 12 Symphonias  (as they are called) are divided into two groups; the first six are for two violins with continuo, while the second half features a (lost) chelys gravior  (Nordbakke calls this cello) or pentachordum  (gamba). In producing this edition, the editor has added the missing line. Nos. 1–6 have between four and six movements and average 165 bars, while the other six range from six to eight movements and are around 240 bars. Tempo markings are in Latin (just as the instrument names are in Greek), which may reflect the composer’s perception of Vienna as a seat of learning, and the Emperor as a highly educated man.

I would like to hear the music, perhaps alongside pieces by Colista and Henry Purcell; while it lacks the “perfection” of Corelli, this is precisely the kind of music that informed the latter’s contributions to the genre.

Brian Clark

Categories
Recording

Felice Giardini: Quartetti da camera

Quartetto Mirus + Giorgio Bottiglioni viola, Nicola Campitelli flute, Attilio Cantore harpsichord
67:05
Tactus TC 710701

[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]ears ago, while I was cataloguing a collection of 18th- and 19th-century music in the Central Library in Dundee, I flicked through several volumes of music by Felice Giardini. While they looked “nice enough”, nothing ever inspired me to get together with my string quartet friends and play through them. Now that I have heard this delightful CD – featuring works for a variety of ensembles – I will have to reconsider my decision; although these are not HIP performances, neither are they heavy modern renditions, and Giardini’s tuneful and sometimes challenging music comes over very nicely indeed. I challenge you to play this to dinner party guests and ask them to guess the identity of the composer; undoubtedly, his name will be something of a surprise to most, but one or two more famous names may be thrown into the mix before they give up!

Brian Clark

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