Categories
Recording

Mozart: Piano Concertos

K242, K315f, K365
Robert Levin & Ya-Fei Chuang fortepiano, Bojan Čičić violin, Academy of Ancient Music, conducted by Laurence Cummings
60:48
AAM AAM043

Two reviews of the previous issue in this revived series appeared on EMR earlier in 2023, mine in July and that of my colleague D James Ross in October. Well, why not? It’s always interesting to read different reviews of the same concert or CD. On that occasion Ross was rather more enthusiastic than me about an issue that curiously included no music played on the piano (or of course in this case fortepiano). Both Ross and I provided an introduction to the resumption of a series that it seemed for some years was likely to remain incomplete, so I’ll simply refer interested readers to one (or both!) of those reviews.

There is no general shortage of fortepianos on the present CD, though there is a shortage of one such instrument in the case of K242 in F, which is the concerto for three pianos, but here played on a version for two, which Mozart himself later adopted as being more practical. The unusual combination of three concertante instruments  – at least in Salzburg, where it was written, if less so in Paris and Mannheim – is explained by it having been composed in 1776 for one of Mozart’s patrons, the Countess Lodron and her two young daughters, age 15 and 11. It conjures up a charming domestic scene, though the countess must have had a salon of substantial size to accommodate three pianos and an orchestra that includes oboes and horns. Not surprisingly most of the leading material is assigned to the first pianist but the demands made on the second are not far behind. Cast in the usual three movements, the most substantial expressively is the central Adagio, the poetic yearning of which suggests a later phase of Mozart’s life. The performance by Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang, his wife, is also at its best in this movement, finding sensitivity not always apparent elsewhere, though the performance is as fluent and agile as always from this source. According to the beautifully produced hard-cover booklet the three-piano version will be included in a future issue, which is surely pushing completeness to the limit.

The only query surrounding the more familiar two-piano Concerto in E flat, K365/316a is a date of composition, which as with the greatest of Mozart’s concertante works, the Sinfonia concertante for violin and viola in E flat, K364/320d, is unknown.  Both belong to Mozart’s final years in Salzburg, c 1780, but no purpose for their composition is known and the autograph scores are lost. The performance by the Levins again has a  pleasingly natural flow, though the rondo finale opens with a somewhat graceless, clipped orchestral introduction and a speed that could with advantage have been steadier. But there is considerable wit and sparkle in the playing and the wit and touches of rubato from the soloists, not to mention the ever-present fascination of Levin’s renowned improvisatory embellishments stand the performances in good stead. Cumming’s somewhat four-square accompaniment here as throughout again reveal him as a less idiomatic Mozartian than was Christopher Hogwood in the earlier Florilegium issues.

The final work is a fragment from another concertante work, a Concerto for piano and violin in D, KAnh56 (315f), one of a number of works Mozart for one reason or another stopped working on. This one dates from 1778 and his stay in Mannheim on his return journey home from Paris. From a letter to his father we know it was intended for the violinist Ignaz Fränzl, leader of a new ‘academy’ there, but it breaks off after 120 bars, an extraordinary fact given that the work was planned on an unusually ambitious scale not only as to scoring, which includes horns, trumpets and timpani, but scale, the opening orchestral ritornello being of such imposing length and grandeur that it caused Einstein to consider Mozart’s inability to complete the work a major loss. The opening Allegro is given in a reconstruction by Robert Levin, but is disappointing in that the violin tone of Bojan Čičić, at least as recorded, sounds thin. Overall this is a fascinating issue that those collecting the series will want to obtain, but it doesn’t convince completely.

Brian Robins

Categories
Recording

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

Categories
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

Categories
Recording

Mozart : Piano Concertos K107s K175 K336

Robert Levin, Academy of Ancient Music, Laurence Cummings
62:33
AAM 042

The Academy of Ancient Music’s complete recordings of the Mozart piano concertos with Robert Levin is a project begun in 1994 under the direction of Christopher Hogwood and resumed in the 2020s, now under the direction of Laurence Cummings, in which the latest scholarship is combined with state-of-the-art period performance. For volume 10, we return to Mozart’s earliest essays in the genre, a movement from Nannerl’s Music Book reconstructed by Levin, the composer’s three concertos K107 based on J C Bach Sonatas and his first completely original Concerto K175 no 5. Famous for his quest for authenticity as a keyboard player specialising in the music of the 18th century, Levin’s flair for embellishment is given full rein here – I remember him explaining to me at a concert (only partly in jest) that he had the musical notes in front of him on his piano mainly so that he knew what to avoid in his embellished versions. The radical approach of this project is further manifest in the fact that no piano features in the making of the CD! In the extensive and lavishly presented programme notes, Cliff Eisen makes a very cogent case for the K175 concerto having been intended for performance on organ, and this imaginative piece flamboyantly scored by the young Mozart fresh from a visit to Mannheim for horns, trumpets, timpani, oboes, bassoon and strings works very well as an organ concerto. The solo instrument is the recently restored George England in Christ’s Chapel in Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift, Dulwich, which offers a range of characteristic stops which bring this lovely music to life. If the geography of the chapel just occasionally takes the edge off the crispness of this performance compared to an account on fortepiano, the colour palette more than compensates. In similar vein for the G major fragment and the K107 concerti Levin very convincingly employs a harpsichord, a 2013 copy by Alan Gotto of an instrument of around 1770 by Johann Heinrich Silbermann of Strasbourg. It is interesting that having composed them in his teens in 1773, Mozart continued to perform these concertos on tour, clearly enjoying their freshness and originality. The influence of Mannheim and the revolutionary Stamitzes is never far from this music, while J C Bach’s sonatas provide a useful framework and springboard for the developing young composer. Levin and the AAM provide beautifully nuanced accounts, crisp and fresh but also thoughtful and profound. For a brief bonus track Levin returns to the organ for no 17 of Mozart’s K336 church sonatas, a set of effervescent works in which I have observed elsewhere Mozart’s originality found perhaps its most unfettered expression. With its rippling cadenza and its dynamic interaction between soloist and ensemble, it provides the perfect sign-off for this excellent CD.

D. James Ross

Categories
Recording

Haydn No.14 – L’Impériale

Kammerorchester Basel, conducted by Giovanni Antonini
77:07
Alpha Classics 694

Giovanni Antonini’s Haydn cycle, with his own Il Giardino Armonico and the Kammerorchester Basel alternating, here turns its attention to three symphonies plus an alternative finale for No 53 in D. It is from the nickname for that symphony, a 19th-century acquisition, that the programme takes it theme. All three symphonies are celebratory in character, with trumpets and timpani to enhance the grandeur, though they were a later addition in the case of No 53. The earliest, No 33 in C, is a pre-Esterháza work and is indeed with its twin No 32 in C the first of Haydn’s symphonies to include trumpets and drums. It was composed during the short period Haydn was in the employment of Count Morzin (c 1759-60). Cast in four movements, it opens with a Vivace that brings some champagne-like sparkle and agility from the superb Basel strings, a tranquil Andante scored only for strings, a pompous Minuet that unlike many of Haydn’s remains firmly in the ballroom, and an Allegro finale full of quirky humour made much of by Antonini and his orchestra. Oddly only passing mention of the symphony is made in the otherwise informative notes, suggesting that perhaps its inclusion to make for the unusually long playing time was a late decision.

One of the ever-increasing problems with Antonini’s cycle for a reviewer is to find something new to say about performances that up to this point have been remarkably consistent, whichever orchestra he is directing. Both produce superb playing for him, with unflagging dynamic energy brought to outer movements, insightful sensitivity to slower ones, while the bucolic extroversion that characterises many of the minuets is consistently infectious. Perhaps question marks may arise over a fast tempo, such as the secondary idea in the opening Vivace of No 53. Perhaps a little more warmth might have been brought to the odd cantabile movement, though that is certainly not the case here where the Adagio assai of No 54 – the only true slow movement on the disc and one of the longest Haydn ever wrote – takes on a mesmerizingly nocturnal mood.

Symphonies 53 and 54 both belong to the Esterháza period. No 53, first performed in 1778, is – to put it inelegantly –something of a dog’s dinner of a work. In addition to the later trumpets and strings mentioned above, it also originally lacked the boldly imposing slow introduction. There are three different finales, though one is considered spurious. The one given here is a Presto dated 1777. It is believed by some Haydn scholars to have been composed originally for the fourth part of the marionette opera – which were extremely popular at Esterháza – Genovefens, although Robbins Landon is of the opinion that Haydn, responsible for all dramatic performances there, just assembled the music for it. It’s a movement that juxtaposes pomp with an extremely attractive and more lyrical secondary idea.

Those who have investigated this series will need no urging to obtain this latest addition, in which they will find three less familiar symphonies given in performances that happily maintain the extraordinarily high standard established from the first issue in the series. Otherwise, anyone starting here has a great deal of catching up to do!

Brian Robins

Categories
Recording

Sturm und Drang 3

The Mozartists, conducted by Ian Page
72:59
Signum SIGCD759

This is the eagerly anticipated third volume in what is planned as a seven-disc series of so-called ‘Sturm und Drang’ (storm and stress) works. Applied to music, as previously noted, it’s a slippery concept that takes its origination from the literary genre of that name, a movement typified by Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and driven by the expression of fierce, sometimes uncontrollable passions. A forerunner of 19th-century Romanticism, it is applied notably to literary works from the early 1770s until c.1790.

The most common usage of the term in music is to a group of stormy, dramatic symphonies composed by Haydn from the mid-1760s to around a decade later, the present ongoing series having to date featured three of them: No. 39 in G minor (1765) on vol 2; No 49 in F minor ‘La Passione’ (1768) on vol 1, and No 44 in E minor ‘Trauer’ (c.1771), which is included on the present CD. It’s a work Ian Page describes as the greatest of the composer’s ‘Sturm und Drang’ symphonies, while I, throwing caution to the wind, would describe it as one of the greatest of all his symphonies. It will be noted that these works are in a minor key, one of the main characteristics of ‘Sturm und Drang’ compositions, and also that two of them pre-date the literary movement, making it difficult to tie them into any suggestion of a defined ‘Sturm und Drang’ movement. As Ian Page suggests in his general note on the topic included, another and more tenable explanation is that it is a reaction against the Rococo charm of the mid-century.

All four movements of the ‘Trauer’ symphony are outstanding, but it is arguably on the magnificent Adagio, placed as the third rather than second movement, that the symphony’s particular claim to exceptional quality lies. Employing muted strings throughout, it threads a path of utmost tranquillity disturbed only by momentary restlessness in the second half. It is supremely well played here with a sense of rapt beauty that further enhances it, as does the contrast with the fiercely uncompromising outer movements. By coincidence, the other symphony here also includes a remarkable slow movement with muted strings. This is the three-movement Symphony in G minor by the Bohemian composer Leopold Kozeluch (1747-1818), the last of a group of three published in 1787. Kozeluch was well-established in Vienna by the time Mozart arrived there in 1781 and in 1785 founded his own publishing house in the city. The outer movements of the G minor Symphony are splendid examples of ‘Sturm und Drang’, typical of the angst, tension, buzzing tremolandi and angularity familiar from the symphonies of Haydn and Mozart (and J C Bach in vol 2) in that key. The central Adagio, however, is a sublime movement, with some particularly felicitous writing; the whole movement sounds as if it is an anticipation of Così fan tutte. The final orchestral work on the disc is Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue for strings, K 546, two movements composed some while apart, with the new, deeply, almost spiritual Adagio composed in 1788 prefacing a fiercely inexorable fugue orchestrated from an earlier fugue for two pianos. The work as a whole is a Janus-like composition with the Adagio anticipating Romantic expressivity, the Fugue looking firmly back over its shoulder to the Baroque. It is projected with great depth and body by the strings of The Mozartists.

Another special feature of the series is the inclusion of vocal, mainly operatic, extracts. Vol 1 is especially valuable in this respect, including first recordings of arias by badly neglected composers such as Jommelli and Traetta, in addition to Gluck, all splendidly sung by Chiara Skerath.

I don’t feel the vocal contribution here to be as strong, either as to content or performance. The US soprano Emily Pogorelc is typical of the current vogue for singers that essay a wide range of repertoire rather than specialise in earlier music. She has a significant continuous vibrato – listen for example to the lovely cavatina that bridges the two stretches of accompanied recitative in Paisiello’s scena for Adrane from Annibale in Torino (Turin, 1771) – and there is a distinct lack of control in the upper range, especially in coloratura. The voice itself has a lustrous quality that brings its rewards, but I feel these are more likely to be appreciated in a later repertoire. The other, and to my mind, superior, vocal excerpt comes from Anton Schweitzer’s Alceste (Weimar, 1773). The opera is notable for having a German libretto by no less celebrated a writer than Wieland, though the music is thoroughly Italianate. Alceste’s  ‘Er ist gekommen … Zwischen Angst’ opens the opera in full dramatic flood, as the queen awaits news of her husband Admetus’s impending death. Pogorelc captures the drama well, but again too much of her singing is blustery and lacking control.

Overall, however, this makes for another exceptionally satisfying addition to a series that is special not just for the thought and scholarship that goes into it, but Page’s direction of his fine players. It is throughout beautifully balanced and paced, while at the same time musically highly insightful.

Brian Robins

Categories
Recording

Festin Royal: Du mariage du Comte D’Artois, Versailles, 1773

Les Ambassadeurs – La Grande Écurie, conducted by Alexis Kossenko
125:56 (2 CDs in a card triptych)
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS101

Following its completion in 1770 the magnificent Opéra Royal in the palace of Versailles played host not only to opera but also to large-scale court events such as weddings, banquets and balls. In fact, the day of its inauguration witnessed such an event in the form of the marriage of the Dauphin, the future Louis XVI, to Marie Antoinette, the youngest daughter of the Hapsburg Empress Maria Theresa. This was followed by a performance of Lully’s Persée. Three years later, having hosted the wedding celebrations of Louis XV’s next-in-line successor, the Count of Provence in 1771, came the marriage of the Count of Artois. As with all these sumptuous proceedings, music played an important role in the banqueting, in 1773 under the auspices of the current Surintendant de la Musique de la Chambre du roi, François Francoeur.

In contrast to previous incumbents, Francoeur did not write special music himself. Rather in conjunction with his close collaborator François Rebel he produced four suites for the occasion, utilising music taken not only from his works, understandably the lion’s share, but also successful operas by such as Rameau, Royer, Dauvergne, Mondonville and composers whose names are today less familiar: Pierre-Montan Berton (1727-1780), René de Galard de Béarn, marquis de Brassac (1698-1771) and Bernard de Bury (1720-1785). One of the fascinating aspects of the music included is not only how much of it is not recent, but also the number of works added to existing classics by the likes of Lully and Campra. Thus we have additions by Francoeur and de Bury for productions in 1761 and 1770 respectively of Lully’s Armide, providing a rare example at this time of a secular canon of works having become established as repertoire.

There are two particularly striking aspects of this recording produced at Versailles. The first is that the four suites are a rare example of music being performed in the exact location in which they were originally given. More fascinating still is that the performing forces were determined from a contemporary document that lists the number of instrumentalists that took part. From that, we learn that the orchestra consisted of 70 players, including 26 violins, six violas, no fewer than 14 cellos, four oboes, six bassoons, four horns and, interestingly, a pair of historic clarinets made in France. The results of putting together this large band are stunning, every bit as exciting as hearing Handel’s big occasional pieces played by the forces originally intended. As conductor Alexis Kossenko eloquently puts it: ‘This indulgence turned into exhilaration when we played the first notes of Francoeur’s overture [an addition to that from Lully’s Armide for a 1745 or 1761 production] … The density, the richness of the sound, the robustness of the attacks, but also the mellowness afforded by the 50 or so strings … All of this suddenly made sense, revealing the grandeur of this repertoire, royalty that asserts itself as much in magnificence as in grace …’ Both magnificence and grace are abundant in these splendidly played performances (well, I suppose the horns have their moments, but that’s all part of the fun) which far from being routine or dutiful exude an irresistible verve and character.

It would be pointless to spend much time discussing individual tracks. It’s not that kind of issue and in any event there are too many items, over 40. But a few observations. To get a taster of the visceral excitement that frequently leaps from these CDs try Royer’s Chaconne from his Pyrrhus of 1730, relishing especially the episode with the cellos and basses chugging energetically away. That’s just one of four chaconnes, a magnificent form that I have to confess having a particular weakness for. The one by Berton, an addition to Iphigénie en Tauride, Desmarest’s 1761 production of Campra’s 1704 opera, is a noble, stirring structure running to some nine minutes. Although almost forgotten today, Berton enjoyed a high profile in French musical life, being joint director (with Jean-Claude Trial (1732-1771), also represented here) and then general administrator of the Opéra, in addition to taking on the directorship of the Concert Sprituel, the famous concert-giving organisation. One final thought. As is proved by this hugely enjoyable issue, 18th-century France was not short of fine composers, but one name obstinately stands out as a great one. That name? Jean-Philippe Rameau, of course!

Brian Robins

Categories
Recording

J. S. Bach: Harpsichord concertos

Steven Devine, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
63:30
resonus RES10318

This collection of Bach’s harpsichord concertos is notable for including Steven Devine’s reconstruction of BWV 1059, of which the first eight bars alone survive in Bach’s hand indicating that the opening Sinfonia of Cantata 35, Geist und Seele wird verwirret, forms the earliest version of this cantata. What Steven Devine has done is to take other movements from BWV 35 to complete the concerto, using material from the first aria and the sinfonia that opens part ii. This parallels other harpsichord concertos like BWV 1053 which draws material from cantata movements in BWV 169 & 49. He also notes the intriguing autograph instruction written over the top line ‘Haut e Viol.1’, indicating a part for a single oboe – not the three-part oboe band as in the Cantata 35 original.

Devine’s solution to creating an oboe part is to look at those passages where the oboe band and the string band diverge (as in bars 24 ff) and use this to create melodic interplay between the violin and oboe. In the second movement (the Siciliano-like opening of the ABA first aria), he uses the oboe to play much of the low-lying voice part (did Katharina Sprecklesen try it on a d’amore?), though he adds the oboe to the tutti in the opening sinfonia as well, which slightly clouds the distinction he is trying to make between the melodic line of the given voice-part and the filigree diminutions of the harpsichord.

But I like both the feel and the sound of Devine’s versions – all very much in the spirit of Bach’s arrangements of his own pre-loved versions, and hope that this will become an accepted way of re-creating BWV 1059.

And the performance? Devine’s chosen harpsichord for these concertos is a two-manual by Colin Booth (2000) after a single manual by Johann Christof Fleischer (Hamburg, 1710). They recorded in the rather dry acoustic of St John’s, Smith Square and in consequence the sound, though crystal clear, lacks a little bloom. The players are the OAE’s top players, led by Margaret Faultless. Add Devine’s magical fingerwork and you have a recipe for success – except I don’t find it quite as captivating as the recent releases by Andrew Arthur and the Hanover Band.

David Stancliffe

Categories
Recording

Bach: Harpsichord Concertos

The Hanover Band, Andrew Arthur
68:34
Signum Records SIGCD764

When the first volume of Andrew Arthur’s harpsichord concertos with The Hanover Band (which I reviewed for the EMR in July 2022) was recorded, they also recorded the concertos that make up volume II. So the admirable acoustic of St Nicholas, Arundel and Trinity Hall’s excellent harpsichord by Andrew Garlick, built in 2009 (after a Jean-Claude Goujon of 1748), are common to both. A major key to the success of these recordings is the singing quality of this harpsichord in this acoustic under the fluid coaxing of Andrew Arthur’s touch.

This second volume begins with BWV 1050, which we know as the fifth Brandenburg Concerto, with its ground-breaking harpsichord ‘cadenza’, and brings the wonderful Rachel Brown into the ensemble to join Andrew Arthur and the string players of the Hanover Band, led by the spirited, agile and mellifluous playing of Theresa Caudle – this time properly acknowledged in her crucial role as the first violin. What makes these recordings so special is the natural balance between the instruments – harpsichord, woodwind and strings alike. This is particularly evident in the final concerto on the disc – BWV 1057, the version in F of the fourth Brandenburg, with two recorders (Rachel Brown and Rachel Becket) – where in this 1738 version the florid violin part of Brandenburg 4 is recast for the harpsichord and the amazing final fugal movement offers us every conceivable instrumental combination. There is so much to be learned, as always, by comparing closely Bach’s later versions with his earlier ones.

That kind of comparison is also offered by the other concertos. The Concerto in E (BWV 1053) draws each of its movements from one of Bach’s cantatas. The opening allegro is a version of the Sinfonia from Cantata 169 (1726) Gott soll allein, while 169.v, the aria Stirb in mir, Welt for alto, strings and obbligato organ is the model for the middle movement, a lyrical Siciliano. The last movement is adapted from the opening Sinfonia of BWV 49, another cantata from 1726. Were these instrumental sinfonias that Bach used instead of an opening chorus in a number of cantatas in the autumn of 1726 already in existence as concerto movements for a solo violin, like others that became harpsichord concertos in due course?

The intimate Concerto in F sharp minor is perhaps the biggest treat of all. The tempo in the first movement is moderate, and the alternation of pizzicato and arco in the string parts underlines the quest to discover where we are headed with the angular opening theme. The answer is to the second movement, where the magical Sinfonia for oboe and strings that opens Cantata 156, Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe appears in the unlikely key of A flat. Here again, the acoustics give the pizzicato accompaniment a surprisingly resonant bloom, capped by their final arco bar. Like the first movement, there are repeated echo effects within which the dialogue between the first violin and the harpsichord establishes their natural duetting relationship.

In this second volume, I have become more aware of the crucial part that the acoustics of St Nicholas, Arundel play in shaping the sound in these recordings. This is perhaps most evident in the slow movement of BWV 1050, where as well as the perfectly articulated overlapping threads of all three players, the expressive lift after the first quaver beats in bars 27 and 37 in the harpsichord gives this movement such finesse; and having a two-manual instrument that can revert to basso continuo mode helps articulate the structure as well. The acoustics help establish the tonality so splendidly in the opening of the last movement too. It begins with the violin playing a clear, rounded rhythmic entry that is mirrored by the bloom of the traverso, so that when the harpsichord (in two parts) joins them we are well prepared for the tutti, and ready to appreciate the subtlety of the bass line in those sections where the violone is silenced and the cello plays alone.

Enchanting too is the way every player contributes. Listen to the wonderful viola at bar 147 in this last movement – and in bars 181 ff, and the cello in 192 ff: this is real playing with each other. How lucky Andrew Arthur is to have such fine companions in making these wonderful recordings, where the harpsichord is never stridently soloistic but always the first among equals.

I shall enjoy returning to this recording for a long time. It is such responsive, unshowy but fluid, utterly musical playing. This is how to hear Bach, and you should get it at once.

David Stancliffe

Categories
Recording

Mozart: Double Concertos

Capella Savaria, conducted by Nicholas McGegan
72:20
Hungaroton HCD 32866

Founded in 1981, Capella Savaria is the oldest Hungarian period instrument ensemble and boasts an impressive back-catalogue of authentic accounts of Baroque and classical music mainly on the Hungaroton label and mainly under their chief conductor Nicholas McGegan. There are many period-instrument performances on CD of the famous Sinfonia Concertante by Mozart, and this account stands out for its freshness and musicality, the two soloists particularly moulding the music tastefully and allowing it to breathe. If the ensemble playing is not quite of the highest order, another attractive feature of this CD are the pairings, the unfamiliar Concertone K190/186E for two violins and orchestra and a fragment for violin, piano and orchestra K Anh. 56/315f reconstructed by Robert D Levin. The Concertone is a charming piece dating from Mozart’s Salzburg period, and at times it seems poised to involve the principal oboe and cello in a larger concertante ensemble. Of the Concerto for Violin and Piano the musicologist Alfred Einstein opined that it was ‘one of the greatest losses in art that Mozart did not complete this work’, and indeed from the opening passage and subsequent writing for the large orchestra and the versatile concertante duo it is clear that the composer had set his sights very high. Mozart composed the work in Mannheim, and although the famous court orchestra (the celebrated ‘army of generals’) had recently departed, clearly their impressive musical standards had permeated the local musical scene – Mozart was writing for what was technically an orchestra of amateurs. Although he customarily wrote well for the piano, the same cannot always be said of his writing for solo violin, but in this work he writes brilliantly for both. More than once we hear pre-echoes of Mendelssohn’s imaginative concerto for violin and piano, and we should be grateful for the reconstructive skills of Robert Levin, which have allowed us to enjoy this lovely movement – albeit while yearning for the movements Mozart never completed.

D. James Ross