Categories
Recording

Pleyel: String Quartets, op. 41–42, Nos. 1–2

Authentic Quartet
62:04
Hungaroton HCD 32783

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]everal months ago I gave high praise to a CD of Pleyel’s piano trios, part of an extensive series issued under the auspices of the Internationale Ignaz Pleyel Gesellschaft (IPG) (anyone interested will find it in the September 2016 listing). This new disc is not from the same stable, rather presenting four works listed on the disc as string quartets.

As many readers will know, the usual listing for Pleyel’s works is under their Ben number (after their cataloguer Rita Benton). I was puzzled by the lack of any such identification on the present CD, leading me to further investigation. That opened up something of a can of worms, for it transpires that these ‘quartets’ are not in fact quartets at all, but rather keyboard trios whose correct listing should read Ben 443 in A (op. 41/1, Ben 444 in F (op. 41/2), Ben 446 in G (op. 42/1), and Ben 447 in B flat (op. 42/2), almost certainly composed around 1792, the year Pleyel came to London at the invitation of the Professional Concerts. The adaptation was probably made not by Pleyel himself, but the publisher of the quartets, Johann Andre, who issued them in 1793/4. Astonishingly, you will learn nothing of this from Hungaroton’s booklet notes and I’m indebted for an extensive anonymous Amazon review and its attendant comment for this information, apparently based on Benton’s Thematic Catalogue. There seems no reason to doubt its accuracy.

A notable feature of the ‘quartets’ is that apart from an opening allegro in standard Classical sonata form, the remaining movements (one in Ben 443 & Ben 446, two in the others) all feature Scottish airs. The original trios are indeed included in books designated as such, being the result of a commission from the Edinburgh publisher George Thompson for Pleyel to produce a series of introductions and arrangements of Scottish melodies for keyboard trio (there appear to be six books in all), a provenance seemingly unknown to either the assiduous Amazon reviewer or the rather less than assiduous Hungaroton note-writer. It will be recalled that both Haydn and Beethoven received similar commissions from Thompson.

Having settled the background, what of the music itself? Well, it is characterised by the high level of compositional skill I noted in the earlier CD. Opening allegros are pleasing, well-constructed movements with considerable melodic and contrapuntal interest and some effective modulation in development sections. Although the first violin is given occasional passages of bravura writing, there are no real difficulties for the performers, the works doubtless originally having been intended for the burgeoning dilettante market. The Scottish airs are mostly lively, good-humoured music, although the wistful Andante of the Ben 444 – perhaps the most appealing movement of all – and the central Adagio espressivo of the B-flat quartet introduce a more pensive note. The performances on period instruments by the Hungarian-based Authentic Quartet are very capable, being well tuned and balanced. They manage to capture convincingly the wit and general spirit of conviviality that informs these highly agreeable works.

Brian Robins

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Categories
Recording

Mondonville: Trio Sonatas Op. 2

Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler
67:22
Audax Records ADX13707

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen it comes to French baroque chamber music, there is a real paucity of high quality repertoire; or so it has seemed until now! Move over Couperin and Rameau, there’s a new kid on the block – in typical style, Johannes Pramsohler has sought now fresh jewels for his stylish Ensemble Diderot, and what a revelation de Mondonville’s opus 2 trios have turned out to be. This world premiere recording of the six works (two of them pairing violin with flute as per the composer’s alternative versions) reveals not only a composer of great technical skill but also demonstrates that by the time they were originaly published, the level of violin playing in France had progressed immensely since Couperin insisted that only professional musicians need even attempt to play his music… Double stops abound, as well as wide leaps and other difficulties, all of them surmounted by Pramsohler and co. But – again as we have come to expect from these musicians – overcoming the challenge of actually playing the notes is merely the beginning; playing them beautifully and in a way that serves the music is key, then add a liberal sprinkling of passion and you begin to understand who they function. With the recent broadcast on Hungarian television of one of his operas, it seems we may be in for a revival of de Mondonville’s spectacular output; this fabulous recording deserves to be recognised as one of the most exciting releases of 2016, and I will be surprised (in fact, I will actually be disappointed!) if it does not win many awards.

Brian Clark

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Categories
Recording

Boismortier: Six Sonates, Op. 51

Elysium Ensemble (Greg Dikmans flute, Lucinda Moon violin)
71:24
resonus RES10171

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is the second in a series exploring ‘neglected or newly discovered chamber music 1600-1800’. The first was of Quantz’s Op. 2. There’s certainly plenty to explore with the prolific and very capable Boismortier: has anyone heard or played all eight of his collections of flute duets? Here, however, we have Op. 51 for flute and violin and very charming they are, a most agreeable and varied listen. Much of the time the violin part is a high bass line to more ornate flute writing but there also more democratic contrapuntal movements as well as quasi-three-part writing via double-stopping. The playing is very accomplished (though there is an odd-sounding moment in the middle of track 10) with clear articulation, neat ornaments and sense of space to the phrasing. The booklet is as comprehensive as one could wish (though in English only) but there is one incorrect cross reference to the track list.

David Hansell

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Categories
Recording

Rameau: Pièces de clavecin en concerts

Korneel Bernolet, Apotheosis

Et’cetera KTC 1523

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t may not bother others, but for my taste these performances tinker too much with Rameau’s instrumentation to earn a recommendation. Yes, I know that alternatives are offered by the composer but I find it ineffective and fussy to change instrumentation between the movements of a concert, let alone within them. And while there’s no reason not to transcribe other Rameau movements for these forces please present these movements as a discrete suite. Had J-P wanted the second concert  to start with an overture he’d have written one. There are some nice touches in the interpretations but I’m afraid I may have been too irritated to notice them all. The booklet does not include a track list.

David Hansell

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Categories
Recording

Mozart: Piano Trios, KV 502, 542, 564

Rautio Piano Trio
57:11
Resonus RES10168

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]arely does a disc come along that unexpectedly brings so much pleasure as this one; I confess that I was non-plussed (at best) when it fell from the envelope and I saw the repertoire (a staple of the chamber music club I used to have to attend on behalf of the local newspaper) but from the opening notes, I just knew it was a total winner. The balance between the three instruments is beautifully handled (the cello only sometiems emerges from its bass line duties), and the gorgeous tone Jane Gordon gets especially from the upper reaches of her violin is absolutely to die for. The three works on the disc only last just under an hour, but what an hour! According to the booklet note, the Rautio Piano Trio also play modern repertoire on suitable instruments, so they are clearly a force to be reckoned with. I hope they and Resonus will continue to explore period performances of some less well-known pieces for the line-up, too – fabulous recordings, magical performances.

Brian Clark

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Categories
Sheet music

Emanuel Aloys Förster: Six String Quartets. Op. 7

Edited by Nancy November
Recent Researches in Music of the Classical Era, 99
A-R Editions, Inc.
xx+226pp
$240.00

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hese six four-movement works (in A, F, D, B flat, G and E flat major respectively) were dedicated to Friedrich Wilhelm, the cello-playing Prussian king who had inspired Mozart and Haydn to write music for him. Förster (eight years Mozart’s senior) was a multi-talented musician, teaching keyboard and musical theory in 1780s Vienna, while playing violin and viola in chamber music ensembles (having been an oboist in the Prussian army earlier in his life!)

After a quick opening movement, the tempo lessens for the second, then a menuetto-trio pairing leads into a lively finale. In fact, these are essentially what by that date had become standard Viennese string quartets. For much of the time the 1st violin dominates, though the cello (as mentioned at the beginning of the review) does regularly take the limelight, and the middle parts – though largely harmonic in function, with some neat figuration – are occasionally also allowed to join in (or even lead) the conversation.

The scores are elegant and spacious without being dominated by white space. As there is no need to worry about page turns, some of the layout seems a little random to someone (i. e., me) who spends his life typesetting music (such as turning a page for a single system of a trio, which then requires a turn back of two pages), but since these scores are for study and not conductors or players, such considerations (and observations) are perhaps irrelevant?

The Authentic Quartet have recorded Förster’s three quartets, op. 21, for the Hungaroton label but I have not been able to locate a version of these six works – now that they have been neatly edited (and A-R Editions do sell performing materials for the set) someone can rectify that situation.

Brian Clark

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Categories
Recording

Beethoven: Sonatas for Fortepiano and Violin, volume 2

Ian Watson and Susanna Ogata
50:37
CORO connections COR16143

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is the second volume in a projected complete recording of Beethoven’s sonatas for fortepiano and violin. It was recorded in a marvellously open and bright acoustic by engineers who clearly know how to set up their equipment to get the very best sound from both instruments – the sound quality is ravishing!

That said, so are the performances. I’ve known these works for many years and yet somehow they both sounded so fresh here. The photographs in the excellent booklet show the lefthand edge of Susanna Ogata’s stand placed just above the extreme of the fortepiano’s treble register; in other words, she can (if she wants to) watch Ian Watson’s hands on the keyboard and he can sense her breathing, which must go some way to explaining the wonderful sense of togetherness.

I shall now have to go out and buy volume 1 – this is definitely a complete set worth having!

Brian Clark

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Categories
Recording

A Bassoon in Stockholm…

Chamber works associated with the bassoon virtuoso Frans Preumayr
Donna Agrell bassoon, Lorenzo Coppola clarinet, Teunis van der Zwart horn, Marc Destrubé & Franc Polman violins, Yoshiko Morita viola, Albert Brüggen cello, Robert Franenberg double bass, Ronald Brautigam fortepiano
68:53
BIS 2141 SACD

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his remarkable recording owes its existence to the fine detective work of the solo bassoonist, Donna Agrell. She plays a Grenser & Wiesner instrument which she bought some thirty years ago and whose case had a Swedish address label on it; the connection led her to Frans Preumayr who moved there with two of his brothers at the beginning of the 19th century to join the Royal Orchestra. The clarinettist in that ensemble was none other than Bernhard Henrik Crusell, who as well as composing several pieces for him later became his father-in-law. The works on this CD are by another member of the orchestra, Franz Berwald, and its director, Edouard Du Puy (though its third movement – which requires the bassoonist to cover three and a half octaves! – was actually added later by one of the court oboists, Carl Anton Philipp Braun).

Agrell is joined by colleagues from the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century and a fortepianist who needs no introduction. Together they make fabulous music, with the bassoon really only prominent in the Du Puy quintet. In Berwald’s Septet (clarinet, horn, bassooon, violin, viola, cello and bass) and quartet with piano, clarinet and horn, it is just one voice – albeit an eloquent and stylish one! – among many.

The recorded sound is first rate, as we expect from BIS.

I cannot imagine this recital being an “easy sell” for the company, given that the title is not exactly going to grab the attention of prospective buyers in shops (if such things even exist any more!) or online, but I sincerely hope that it gets decent air time and sells well – it is rare for such obscure repertoire to be given such fine performances, and the tale behind the whole project is enchanting!

Brian Clark

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