Categories
Recording

C. P. E. Bach: Hommage!

Matthias Höfs piccolo trumpet, Christian M. Kunert bassoon, Wolfgand Zerer harpsichord
66:38
Es Dur ES 2052
H504, 516–521, 542/5 (aka BWV1020), 545 (aka BWV1031), 552, 578

Not infrequently in these pages one reads how Bach’s music will pretty much work in any medium, and – while few modern musicians have (to my knowledge) gone down that route with the music of his sons, C. P. E. recycled his own material to such an extent that one can surely forgive the present performers for wishing to pay tribute to the man despite an obvious lack of repertoire for their combination. Clearly, had they not been players of such distinction, such a scheme should probably not have been very successful, but when the only thing that one could seriously fault in the performances is the dreaded modern trill with its relentless uniformity, then one gets the measure of the line-up. The harpsichordist uses subtle inégalité and if the trumpeter does no quite respond, he at least shapes the lines with a sense of light and shade that sounds natural. The music chosen for the recital ranges from the flute sonata in E flat, which might be by Bach père, to extracts from the six sonatas for clarinet, bassoon and harpsichord. I did not expect to enjoy this, but was very pleasantly surprised!

Brian Clark

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Categories
Recording

Michael Haydn: The Complete String Quintets

Salzburger Haydn-Quintett
146:02 (2CDs)
cpo 777 907-2

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]f the five works that make up this fine collection, only one is categorically named “Quintetto” by the composer (Perger 110); of the others, two are divertimenti (106 with six movements, and 112 with seven!), while 109 is a “Notturno” and 108 has this designation and Quintetto. All are in major keys and abundant in Michael Haydn tunefulness and mirth. One of the most interesting movements is one of the Allegretto variations from 105, marked “Recitativo. Adagio. Senza Rigor di Tempo”. Contrasting the pairs of violins and violas is a common technique throughout, and the Salzburger Haydn-Quintett on period instruments seem to enjoy this entertaining if not exactly intellectually challenging repertoire. Since Haydn was a viola player in the prince-elector’s chamber ensemble, we must possibly imagine him enjoy his turn in the limelight.

Brian Clark

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Categories
Book

The Musical Life of Joseph Martin Kraus…

by Bertil H. Van Boer
Indiana University Press, 2014.
[viii] + 371 pp, $55.99.
ISBN 978 0 253 01274 6

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s someone who has long enjoyed listening to Kraus’s music, it has come as something of a disappointment that he seems to have been a rather unlikeable person. Most of the letters that comprise the first part of this volume are full of requests for money from his parents, and complaints about his lot in life; of course, these are very real considerations for all of us, and it makes it all the more remarkable that he chose to strive to make a musical career rather than become the lawyer his parents would have preferred. And while reading the letters, one constantly has to put on one’s Jane Austen hat and try to understand what he writes in the context of the period – not to mention all the arcane references he shares with his family. In this one is sometimes aided by Van Boer’s footnotes to the 116 letters, but some of his comments are fairly pointless (“The promised piece of music is unidentified”, Letter 54, note 2 is but one example of notes dedicated to mysterious people and things), while others are contentious (discussing the Handel Centenary that Kraus attended in London in 1785, “Presumably the Dettingen “Te Deum,” not the Utrecht “Te Deum.”,” Letter 77, note 2 – need one speculate at all, I would ask).

The book has four appendices, devoted to the composer’s will (and a discussion of the value and dispersal of his estate), and three sets of letters written to Fredrik Silverstolpe (Kraus’s first biographer) – 11 from members of the family and the answers to two questionnaires he had sent them, three that the family had asked Kraus’s former teachers to write and nine from the composer Roman Hofstetter, who was one of the young Kraus’s major influences. The latter tells Silverstolpe (among other things) that “the late Herr Kraus had for the most part nothing good to say about Italian composers”; from his own letters, it seems this extended to the majority of French and German composers, too.

I suppose the real value of this volume (aside from the many titbits of information about travel and postage in the late 18th century) is the insight it gives into the daily drudgery of composers’ lives at this time, constantly struggling to make ends meet, and at the beck and call of fickle royal employers (in Kraus’s case constantly at risk of being ousted by one or other of the factions at the Swedish court); it makes it all the more remarkable that he produced such beautiful music.

Brian Clark

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Categories
Recording

Mozart · Mendelssohn

Chiaroscuro Quartet
58:06
Aparté AP092
K421 + op. 13

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]hiaroscuro is a period instrument quartet that is not frightened of its pianissimos. So many ensembles pay little attention to the full range of dynamics that are available on their instruments. These players, however, all emanating from the Royal College of Music in London but now in a residency in France, are able to immediately captivate the attention of the listener. Through their use of wide-ranging dynamics, the discreet use of rubato and impeccable intonation and attention to detail, they are able to convey the dramatic intensity of the fine D minor work’s first movement, as well as the skittishness of the minuet’s trio section and the last movement’s variations. The booklet notes relate ideas and compositional principles in Mendels-sohn’s second string quartet of 1827 to material from Beethoven’s late string quartets, but I would need a more careful study of the scores to see any but a general relationship. For those that, like me, only enjoy classical quartets on gut strings and with only the most sympathetic use of vibrato, this is an impressive CD, and I look forward to hearing more from these players.

Ian Graham-Jones

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Categories
Recording

Hoffmann: Symphony, Overtures Witt Sinfonia in A

Sinfonia in A Kölner Akademie, Michael Alexander Willens
61:39
cpo 777 208-2

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]andwiched between two lively symphonies, each equally deserving of a place in the repertoire of most orchestras looking to explore the music of Beethoven’s contemporaries, are the overtures to Hoffmann’s Undine and Aurora, considered by many as the first Romantic operas in German. In the case of the latter, Willens and his ever impressive band opt to resolve the final cadence that originally led into the work’s opening chorus into one of the marches from its closing pages. (On my equipment, that caused an extra track to appear, so the Witt was tracks 8-11). I was more often reminded of Haydn than Beethoven, but I imagine that is what one would expect; all credit to cpo and the Kölner Akademie for continuing to present us with “new” music that can only help to broaden our understanding of those composers in whose shadows the likes of Hoffmann and Witt have laboured for too long, and – in the case of this recording for one – provide an easy evening’s entertainment.

Brian Clark

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Categories
Recording

Haydn Symphonies Nos. 57, 67, 68

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Nicholas McGegan
78:29
Philharmonia Baroque Productions PBP-08

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] colleague once said that the best Haydn symphony was the one that he had heard last. This has worked for me over the years, with very few exceptions, and certainly I found this dictum true again in Nicholas McGegan’s selection of these three symphonies. Haydn’s creative imagination never ceases to astound. A simple variation movement (57/2) with of a theme of just three notes with a simple I-V7-I harmony held me spellbound. Haydn uses interesting innovations of col legno (67/2) and even scordatura (67/3), with a solo second violin playing a drone on the G string tuned down to F accompanying the first violin solo playing in dizzying heights (up to a top B flat). Haydn unusually places his Minuetto before his Adagio in No. 68, the latter lasting over 12 minutes – as long as the same movement in Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, for example. Of course, the finales of all three will never cease to delight the listener. The symphonies of the 1770s don’t always get the attention they deserve, and it is good that these works have here got such a special airing on period instruments. The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is on top form under McGegan’s direction, and so, for Haydn lovers, this CD is a must. Which is the best of the three? The last one I put on!

Ian Graham-Jones

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Categories
Recording

Rolle: Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt – 31 motets

Kammerchor Michaelstein, Sebastian Göring
119:58 (2 CDs)
cpo 777 778-2

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hough nowadays considered a secondary figure in the history of music, Johann Heinrich Rolle was actually widely respected in his own day. His oratorios were very widely disseminated and performed (even enjoying the relative luxury of being printed in vocal score format) and it is not difficult to see why – in an age that saw musical language simplified to a certain degree (complex baroque counterpoint giving way to a more tuneful style), Rolle’s works manage to combine elements of both. The 31 motets on these two CDs are perfect examples of this – and more, since they show that Rolle also understood how to vary the textures and styles within relatively short works to give them all a satisfying overall shape. The discs are taken from different recording sessions (2004 and 2006 respectively) but there is no discernible difference in the quality of the performances. If I am brutally honest, I do find the alternation between the solo ensemble and the tutti on the first disc a little unbalanced – the choir is simply too big (22 singers with single strings doubling, while the second disc has two singers per part and only lute or guitar accompaniment). Otherwise, this is a fine achievement and convincingly demonstrates that choirs need not simply jump from motets by Bach to those by Mendelssohn!

Brian Clark

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Categories
Recording

Les ombres heureuses: Les organistes français de la fin de l’Ancien Régime

Olivier Baumont organ & piano organisé
63:31
Radio France TEM316053
Music by Balbastre, Beauvarlet-Charpentier, Benaut, Corrette, A-L Couperin & Lasceux

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he CD was so tightly jammed into the central jaws that it snapped in half as I tried to get it out of the box. However I found snippets of all the pieces on the internet. The period leading up to the French Revolution formed the technical peak of the French Classical organ although the music written for it didn’t reach similar heights. In France, the musical highlight came around 1700 with De Grigny, after which pieces became increasingly secular and fanciful in character – and more fun. Pushing the earlier Baroque forms and colours to extremes, the likes of Balbastre ended up providing entertainment for the revolutionary populace in the newly desig-nated Temples of Reason, saving many important organs from destruction in the process. This CD covers most of the composers of the mid to late 18th century, along with the varied musical styles, most loosely based on the earlier Baroque concepts of registration and form. The 1748 Dom Bedos organ in Sainte-Croix, Bordeaux, is one of the finest surviving organs of this period, with a rich palette of tonal colours. The 1791 Erard-frères piano organisé used for several central tracks produces a fascinating and unusual sound and brings the sound world into the domestic scene. Olivier Baumont takes this repertoire seriously, as he should, and is a compelling advocate for an often-criticised period of French music.

Andrew Benson-Wilson

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