Vivaldi: Complete Concertos and Sinfonias for Strings and Basso Continuo

263:15 (4 CDs in a jewel case)
Brilliant Classics 95835

51 pieces in all of the standard keys of the Baroque era, mostly in three movements (only the G minor RV155 and D minor RV129 “Madrigalesco” have four), but what a wonderful array of styles; and what a treat to have them all in these fine performances in a single set. There are no gimmicks, just fine playing, well recorded. The fourth CD was originally performed in the Palazzo Ghilini in Alessandria in 2015 for the Tactus label, but the others are new recordings, dating from three sessions in 2018. Each of the four discs starts in C and ends in B flat or B minor, having worked their way through the rising scale, so clearly some careful planning went into the programming. If you find yourself tiring of the violin pyrotechnics of Vivaldi’s solo and duet concerti, these “orchestral” may be more to your taste.

Brian Clark


Handel : Water Musick / Telemann : Wassermusik

Zefiro, Alfredo Bernardini
Arcana A 432

This CD juxtaposes the Water Musick Suites in F, G and D by Handel with the ‘Hamburger Ebbe und Flut’ by Telemann. It is a live recording made in St John’s Smith Square as part of the 2003 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, and, while there is a miraculous absence of audience noise and all the excitement of a live performance, the sound is a little immediate and brittle and surprisingly lacking in the St John’s warmth of acoustic. Calling Telemann’s Suite his Wassermusik draws a direct parallel between the two works, which is frankly disingenuous. While we know that Handel’s Water Musick’s only aquatic association is that is was performed mainly ‘on the river’, Telemann’s suite on the other hand is a thoroughly pelagic affair, with movements associated with Thetis, Neptune, Amphitrite, Tritonus, Aeolus and Zephir and ending with a depiction of the Hamburg ebb and flow, given a particularly tidal performance here, and the singing of lusty boatsmen. The Telemann, scored for strings and oboes doubling recorders, is also very much the poor relative orchestrally of Handel’s Suites with their additional brass, including famously the first orchestral use of horns. Zefiro under the direction of Alfredo Bernardini give all of the music crisp idiomatic performances, although I did find the immediacy of the recorded sound a little wearing – perhaps I would have been no more enamoured of the acoustic of the original performance of the Handel in the open air and ‘on the water’!

D. James Ross


The Lammermuir Festival comes of age

D James Ross at the 10th Lammermuir Festival 2019

{ Click here to download an eight-page PDF of this review }

One glance at the brochure for the 2019 Lammermuir Festival revealed that the organisers had really pushed the boat out for their tenth anniversary. At the heart of this ambitious programme were concert sequences by three internationally renowned ensembles, the Quatuor Mosaïques, Vox Luminis and the Dunedin Consort. It is two years since the Quatuor Mosaïques delighted the Lammermuir audience with revelatory accounts on period instruments of the music of classical Vienna, and their very welcome return opened the current Festival with performances of Haydn and Beethoven in the exquisite St Mary’s Parish Church, Whitekirk. The Festival prides itself in the innovative matching of venues and performers, and this 15th-century jewel of a building proved the perfect home for the Quatuor. Appropriately for a beautifully sunny day, the programme opened with a sparkling account of Haydn’s op 64/6. Composed towards the end of the composer’s period of employment with the Esterházy family, this is a work of classical perfection with an overlay of virtuosic writing for the first violin and some witty episodes of rusticity, recalling the eastern European folk playing Haydn must have heard all around him. With Viennese blood coursing through their veins, the Quatuor inhabit Haydn’s music with a definitive authenticity, revelling in the master’s quirky writing and eloquent idiom. The decision to employ gut strings seems to alter the dynamics within the ensemble, leading to a much more democratic sound, from which the first violin is allowed to emerge by dint of Haydn’s cunning use of the upper range – how his colleague, the Hungarian virtuoso violinist Johann Tost, would have relished these moments in the sun! Erich Höbarth’s easy virtuosity gave us an inkling of why these op 64 quartets caused such a stir in London during Haydn’s first visit there in 1791.

Six years later, Haydn composed his op 76 Quartets, and the Quatuor gave us the fourth of these, called the Sunrise. The sheer elegance of this work by perhaps the greatest ever composer of string quartets was captured beautifully by the Mosaïques, whose rich sustained playing contrasted perfectly with episodes of sparkling wit and inspiration. Just as the op 76 Quartets are perhaps the most complete contribution made to the genre, this group seems to offer the complete package in performing them: utter integrity, technical assurance, considered authenticity, towering musicality and that x-factor of Viennese spirit!

The concert concluded with the first of Beethoven’s Razumovsky Quartets, composed in 1806 and marking a radical departure in the genre from the 36-year-old composer. The first of the set is a wonderfully lyrical and eloquent piece, and the Quatuor seemed to find a new intensity in their playing to express this new sound-world. Particularly impressive in this account were the two inner movements, the ironic Allegretto, where Haydnesque wit tipped occasionally into Beethovenian rage, and the sublimely sad Adagio, which the Quatuor imbued with an almost unbearable intensity. This opening recital in the Quatuor’s series of three seemed to set a standard it would be very hard to match.

The opening day of the Festival ended in spectacular style in St Mary’s Parish Church Haddington and the Dunedin Consort, fresh from a triumphant visit to the Proms. ‘Parish Church’ hardly seems an adequate epithet for Haddington’s magnificent 14th-century Collegiate Church, an establishment built for music and where the acoustic seems to be an active participant in every performance. Under the direction of John Butt, the Dunedins opened their four-concert series with a programme comprising two of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, two of his Orchestral Suites and two violin concertos by Vivaldi. The stunning soloist in the Vivaldi and the First Brandenburg, as well as being in many ways the soul of this remarkable ensemble, was its leader, Cecilia Bernardini. It seems that every note she plays is from the heart, and her stunning virtuosity seems just another way of her exploring the truth behind the music she plays. It is this intense musicality and desire to explore every aspect of the music they are playing which seems to possess this ensemble whenever they perform. An exquisitely phrased account of the first Orchestral Suite proved a stunning curtain-raiser, with some spectacular contributions from the group’s wind section of oboes and bassoon. Vivaldi’s less familiar op 8/6 Il Piacere proved an absolute delight.

The first half ended in spectacular style with Bach’s first Brandenburg. It would be nice if this work were the first orchestral use of the horn, although of course it isn’t. They sound as if they have been kidnapped from the darkest German woods, still braying their hunting calls and never quite integrated into the orchestral texture! The playing of Anneke Scott and Joe Walters, horns held spectacularly aloft, underlined the untamed nature of the Baroque horn, although they made the hair-raising practicalities of playing the valveless instrument without hand-stopping look effortless. This was a wonderfully vivid account of Bach’s first Brandenburg, and boded well for the complete set, which we would be hearing over the rest of the Festival.

The strings were allowed to shine in the second half, which opened with Bach’s beautifully compact third Brandenburg, whose imaginative opening movement and scampering concluding Allegro were linked by a heartfelt cadenza from Bernardini. The ‘Summer’ concerto from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons seemed to be extra Italianate in a sunny performance by the Dunedins, in which the fiery Presto episodes sizzled with energy. For the concluding account of Bach’s second Orchestral Suite, the Dunedins were joined by flautist Katy Bircher, whose warm tone and flawless virtuosity added a gleaming festive quality to some of Bach’s most joyous music.

The Lammermuir Festival are privileged to be allowed access to Lennoxlove Castle the home of the Duke of Hamilton, and in this special anniversary year they found to my mind the perfect synthesis of venue and performers for a charming morning recital. Surrounded by the finest of Scottish art, recorder player Tabea Debus and her ensemble seemed to thrive in the baronial magnificence of Lennoxlove’s 14th-century barrel-vaulted Great Hall. The sounds of recorder, viol, guitar and theorbo seemed utterly at home here, and the group’s Ode to an Earworm programme took us from the Middle Ages to the Baroque touching on a series of cult melodies. Processing in to the haunting tones of 14th-century Lament of Tristan, Debus magically conjured up her consort for a version of the Monteverdi’s Ciaconna. Playing mainly two lovely Renaissance instruments in the first half, Debus’s beautifully even tone and eye-watering dexterity breathed life into a sequence of material, familiar and unfamiliar.

The second half opened again with Debus on her own, this time playing a modern work by Freya Waley-Cohen called Caffeine in which both composer and performer would seem to have over-indulged in this powerful stimulant – a witty and stunning performance of a very effective show-piece. Concluding with an end-stopped high C-sharp, Debus ended up standing with one leg raised like the god Pan himself! A set of flighty variations on another earworm, Daphne, by the 17th-century recorder virtuoso Jacob van Eyck were given a performance which combined technical prowess with expressive musicality, while the highlights for me of a selection of Baroque pieces played by Debus on a variety of Baroque recorders were a beautifully passionate account of Purcell’s Fairest Isle and a heart-stopping performance of Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga, which would have made Farinelli weep. In response to a well-deserved ovation, the group gave us one last earworm, which appropriately enough various members of the audience were heard to be singing and whistling as we wandered away through the lovely Lennoxlove grounds. It is a tune known in some sources as Old Bob Morris, but it exists in a number of guises which over the years I have played and even recorded – but can I put a name to it…?

To the lovely arts and crafts style Chalmers Memorial Church in Port Seton for the second of the Quatuor Mosaïques’ concerts. Mozart had just been studying Bach’s fugues when he was inspired in 1788 to write an Adagio and Fugue. While technically saturated in the world of the Baroque master, Mozart manages to make both these movements distinctly classical in style, and being Mozart he sets himself quite a challenge with his fugue subject which he proceeds to surmount triumphantly. The Quatuor seemed particularly intent on bringing out the fugal infrastructure of the music, which they achieved emphatically without sacrificing the overall musicality of the piece. Mozart famously was less comfortable composing string quartets than many other chamber genres, but you would never guess this from the consummate mastery displayed in his Prussian Quartet K575, composed the following year. Mozart was at the height of his powers, and his renewed interest in counterpoint helped conceive a work which belies any struggle he experienced in composing it. Christophe Coin found a wonderful singing tone for the cello melodies Mozart gives him, while the group’s performance generally had a wonderful assurance and gleam about it.

The second of Beethoven’s Razumovsky Quartets is a dark piece, but the Quatuor found what light they could in a revelatory reading, which showed the work to be subtle beyond imagining. In this performance the lop-sided Allegretto, so often performed as something of a freak show, had a knowing grin on its face, while the preceding Molto Adagio never lost its hymn-like quality, even after moments of desperation. The finale, a bundle of energy, seemed more optimistic and positive than I have heard it. The group are preparing a set of recordings of these ‘middle quartets’, and it seems to me that they will shine the same revelatory spotlight on them as they have just done on the ‘late quartets’.

The Catholic Church of Our Lady of Loretto and St Michael in Musselburgh is a new venue for the Lammermuir Festival, and what a venue! Rebuilt in 1903, the apse features a spectacular set of murals depicting the five joyful mysteries of the rosary executed between 1945 and 1947 by George N Duffie. What better backdrop than gleaming, burnished gold angels for the first in a pair of concerts by the renowned Belgian choral group Vox Luminis featuring music by Palestrina and Victoria? In this mini-Sistine Chapel the choir performed Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, a work famously composed to show that polyphony and clarity of text were not mutually exclusive. As so often when composers are under pressure, they produce their finest work, and this beautiful six and seven-part setting of the Mass is one of Palestrina’s finest works in the genre. Vox Luminis directed by Lionel Meunier sing with a direct, edgy tone without vibrato, but with enormous integrity and intensity. Preceded by the magnificent Super flumina Babylonis, the Mass was sung at low pitch avoiding the uncomfortable tenor singing and intrusive soprano tone sometimes unjustifiably associated with Palestrina and providing instead a wonderfully rich texture, built on the low bass voice of which the director was one. This was a performance without extremes of tempo or fussy interpretative details, but with a magnificent flow and sweep which were irresistible. The second half was an account of Tomas Luis de Victoria’s 1605 Requiem. Victoria had trained and worked in Rome, where he probably collaborated with Palestrina, and a juxtaposition of the two men’s work was informative. Where Palestrina, the consummate contrapuntalist, produces music of supreme perfection, Victoria, an ordained priest, seems to be more interested in the ways he can use compositional devices to heighten the passion and persuasiveness of his music. Innately in tune with this aspect of Victoria’s music, Vox Luminis produced a performance of towering intensity and overwhelming passion. Victoria builds his polyphony on the relevant plainchants, which also link and introduce several polyphonic sections. I could see why the performers used measured forms of these chants rather than the more customary freer chanting style, as these dovetailed beautifully when the chant became just one of several polyphonic voices. Greeted with enthusiastic applause, the group reprised the lovely six- and seven-part Agnus Dei from the Palestrina Mass they had opened with. It was impressive that two of their singers were ‘stand-ins’ replacing performers who at the last minute were indisposed – one of them was David Lee, the author of the excellent programme notes, who as he penned them can hardly have imagined he would be singing this wonderful music!

The 15th-century Collegiate Church at Crichton was the venue for the final concert in the Quatuor Mosaïques’ fascinating series, and notwithstanding a few access issues it proved a spectacular setting. Again it was clear that this was a building constructed with music in mind, and its acoustic was beautifully resonant. In his quartet op 74/3 the Rider we find Haydn at his most affable, with a perky Allegro, which is indeed redolent of a ride in the country, and a wonderfully genial Largo, while wit and energy suffuse the Menuetto and Allegro con brio. Composed for his return visit to London in 1794, the op 71 and 74 Quartets were designed to have an immediate impact, and Erich Höbarth’s easy virtuosity and the ability of the ensemble to conjure just the right mood proved equally triumphant. It is as well that we had been soothed by Haydn’s charms, as the next item in the programme was Beethoven’s acerbic, explosive and disturbing Quartet in F minor op 95, a work which the composer himself labelled Serioso and at one point considered suppressing. This was my second op 95 in a fortnight, and if anything I found the Quatuor’s raw and biting interpretation even more disturbing. The composer was in suicidal mood and wrote music which is by turns furiously angry and serenely resigned. The Quatuor, the masters of turning the mood on a sixpence, found every nuance in this remarkable work, producing a monumental performance which clearly astonished the capacity audience. While the final Allegro, intentionally shallow and brittle, solves nothing, the audience seemed to clutch at it like a straw. How things had changed in the 17 short years between these two string quartet masterpieces!

The stage was set for the third of Beethoven’s Razumovsky Quartets, completing the cycle at the heart of these concerts. In many ways the third Razumovsky is the mosrt attractive and certainly the most popular of the three, and while it is the only one not to embody Russian themes, it has a recurring eastern European flavour which is beguiling. The group, who are planning to record these quartets soon, have clearly prepared them already to an advanced level, and communicate their sheer joy as they play them. As the opening Andante transitioned into a charming Allegro vivace a smile went round the players, and at various other moments their sheer delight in playing such original music was clear. This masterpiece of Beethoven’s middle period, written just two years before the doom-laden op 95, when the composer’s hearing was failing and his life was falling apart, couldn’t be more different from the later work. It exudes positivity, and in a wonderfully expressive account, the Quatuor Mosaïques demonstrated why they are probably the most admired period instrument quartet in the world. An ovation worthy of Glastonbury from a rapt audience elicited a calming performance of a movement from Haydn’s op 33 – how innocent and uncomplicated this sublime music from 1781 sounded!

It is useful to remember the profound effect that historically informed performances have had on mainstream modern instrument groups, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with their period brass and percussion and intimate grasp of classical phrasing and bowing techniques are a shining example. In a concert which included more contemporary music, their accounts of Haydn’s Symphony no 44 Trauer and Mozart’s Linz Symphony no 36 were models of classical poise and elegance. Although the use of modern strings and woodwind does create some balance issues with the period brass, the crispness of attack, the stunning sense of ensemble and the sheer musicality of this fine ensemble make their performances of this repertoire thrilling. Under the baton of Moritz Gnann, standing in for the indisposed Daniel Blendulf, the SCO were in fine fettle, mesmerising a capacity audience in Dunbar Parish Church, a building extensively remodelled in 1987 after a fire and which proved a very sympathetic venue.

For their second performance for the Lammermuir Festival, Vox Luminis appeared in the festival’s most magnificent venue, St Mary’s Parish Church Haddington. Showing their versatility, they were joined by a continuo group of organ, gamba and harp for choral music mainly from the 17th century. Appositely for the venue, their main subject was the Virgin Mary, although an outlier here was Monteverdi’s Lamento della Ninfa, with its own maiden in distress. Rather perversely the concert opened with the anonymous 13th-century Lamentation de la Vierge au pied de la Croix, a medieval work for unaccompanied solo voice exquisitely sung ‘at a distance’ in the apse. If the character of the rest of the concert proved to be very different, the theme was firmly established, and Antonio Lotti’s famous 8-part Crucifixus proceeded to pluck at our heartstrings. Its chains of plangent discords proved to be the perfect medium for an ensemble whose edgy vibratoless voices further turned the knife in the wound. More mellow was Monteverdi’s setting of Adoramus te Christe followed by his Lamento della Ninfa. The ‘backing group’ of commentating chorus and the solo soprano part were beautifully executed, although I did feel this attempt to open the theme to embrace all suffering women blurred an otherwise admirably focused programme. The first half of the concert ended with a work which I had never heard of by a composer I had also never heard of, the Lamentatio Virginis by Alessandro Della Ciaia. This extraordinary piece casts two voices as narrators, a solo soprano as the Virgin and a chorus of eight as Angels, and in a post-Monteverdian idiom with echoes of Caccini and even Gesualdo it conveys the suffering of the Virgin at the cross in such graphic and emotive music that I found tears forming in my eyes. An infrequent occurrence in a hardened performer/reviewer, my reaction is a testimony to the originality of this unique piece and the power and intensity of Vox Luminis’ performance. The concert was brought to an appropriately hard-hitting conclusion with a stunning performance of the ten-part Stabat Mater by Domenico Scarlatti, another work of enormous emotional and rhetorical power. Vox Luminis have an uncanny ability to maximize the intensity of the sound they are producing to create an almost unbearably overwhelming effect, making high-points in this Baroque repertoire deeply effective. The superbly sensitive continuo group were also a huge contributory factor in the success of the concert. Something which struck me only after the concert was over, was that the singers made minimal use of ornamentation, such as one might have expected in repertoire of this period – the fact that I didn’t even notice until after they had finished shows that their performances didn’t really need decoration of this kind. A calming five-part setting of Christe, adoramus Te by Monteverdi sent us out into a balmy Haddington night.

The third of the Dunedin Consort’s Brandenburg Concertos series brought us all to Prestongrange Church in Prestonpans, a rather sombre Presbyterian building with however a fine acoustic and whose unadorned windows let in the bright afternoon sunshine. The concert contrasted two of Handel’s op 6 Concerti Grossi with two Vivaldi concerti and Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg. While the fourth of Handel’s op 6 is a charming orchestral piece, the eleventh is a true concerto grosso with contrasting ripieno and concertino ensembles. The latter soloists chirp and twitter in imitation of birdsong evoking the Spring concerto of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which was played with lovely spontaneous ornamentation by Cecilia Bernardini. The decision to invite the group’s principal oboist Alexandra Bellamy to play Vivaldi’s op 8/12 was an inspired one – in c-major, the piece seemed to lie under her fingers, and the lovely rich tone of her Baroque oboe contrasted beautifully with the string ensemble. This fine concert concluded with Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg, a piece which like the First Concerto relied on the solo virtuosity of Cecilia Bernardini, this time in combination with Katy Bircher’s mellow Baroque flute playing and the harpsichord skills of John Butt. Essentially the earliest concerto to feature a solo keyboard instrument, Bach’s concerto sets the bar very high with blizzards of scales and arpeggios which demonstrated his own stunning keyboard virtuosity and spotlighted John Butt’s own remarkable keyboard prowess. The context in which the Dunedins have been placing Bach’s Brandenburgs as well as their novel insights into the works’ nuances and distinctive features have meant that a series which appeared to offer mainstream classic repertoire has been consistently thought-provoking and utterly revelatory.

While the chief joy of the Lammermuir Festival for me is the plethora of superb historically informed performances, many other concerts offer contemporary music, orchestral classics – indeed just about every other genre of music. I attended a beautifully executed account of Schubert’s Lieder cycle Die schöne Müllerin, or rather The Fair Maid of the Mill as it was sung in English by the legendary baritone Roderick Williams accompanied by Christopher Glynn – again an established classic but with a new spotlight shone on it. Cheek by jowl with a major new work by Stuart Macrae, the Prometheus Symphony, a work commissioned jointly by Radio 3 and the Lammermuir Festival, we enjoyed a truly stirring performance by the BBCSSO string section directed by Matthew Halls of Vaughan Williams’ Tallis Fantasia. Exploiting the lavish acoustic of St Mary’s Haddington, with the second orchestral group placed authentically towards the apse with the main ensemble and soloists in the cross, this masterpiece was allowed to blossom as its composer originally intended.

What better way to open the final concert of the Dunedin Consort’s Bach series, and indeed the final concert of the 2019 Lammermuir Festival, than Bach’s flamboyant Second Brandenburg Concerto. With its colourful line-up of soloists – treble recorder, oboe, violin and trumpet – the work extends the spectrum of timbres the composer has to play with, and of course the use of period instruments and historically informed performance practice causes apparent issues of balance simply to melt away. Trumpeter David Blackadder has arguably he most challenging job realising Bach’s intricate clarino writing on a valveless Baroque trumpet, but his performance was beautifully detailed and all exercised in a gleaming rounded tone. The recorder soloist László Rózsa managed to project his sound beautifully to emerge from the texture, while the ever excellent Cecilia Bernardini and Alexandra Bellamy completed a stellar concertino group in St Mary’s Haddington, which fairly rang to the tone of the period instruments.

The programme proceeded with another of the op 8 violin concertos of Vivaldi, no 10 La Caccia, a work invoking the sounds of the hunt and a cousin to Autumn in the Four Seasons. There was a little raggedness at the start of this charming piece and a couple of ‘rabbit in headlights’ moments later, perhaps understandable in the last in a series of such demandingly packed programmes. Handel’s urbane op 6 concertos have contributed heavily to the series, and now we heard no 10 which was played with a confident sweep within which every detail was audible. Vivaldi’s violin concerto op 8/11 brought the first half of this concert to a virtuosic conclusion. The remarkable Cecilia Bernardini, who in the course of the series had been the single or joint soloist in every single piece apart from the two oboe concertos, was as impressive here as she would be in Winter from the Four Seasons, which we would hear in the second half.

The second half opened with Handel’s op 6/9, a work in which the composer is at his most genial. The work features a magnificent hymn-like Larghetto and concludes with a wonderfully skipping Gigue – you can’t avoid the impression that the composer is working very hard to sound English here. A further contribution from the Consort’s principle oboist Allexandra Bellamy in the form of a charming account of Vivald’s op 8/9 proved technically challenging, but she brought the work to a convincing conclusion. The concert ended as it had started with the sparkling virtuosity of a Brandenburg Concerto, the Fourth with its nimble pair of treble recorders played by László Rózsa and the group’s flautist, Katy Bircher, whose flute playing had mesmerised us earlier in the week, and the ubiquitous Cecilia Bernardini. In this concerto Bach gives the violin cascading scales of notes in the manner of an early Baroque cornetto part.

It is fitting that we took leave of this tenth Lammermuir Festival with the sounds of Baroque instruments ringing around Haddington Collegiate Church, yet another wonderful coincidence of music and venue and a fulfilment of the Festival’s mission to combine beautiful music with beautiful places. Perhaps more importantly this was a festival replete with the very finest in historically informed performances, making it now the leading festival of this kind in Scotland today, and indeed now of European significance. Although the early music strand is just one of many which run through this remarkably eclectic festival, James Waters and Hugh Macdonald, the inspiring genius and driving force behind the Lammermuir Festival, continue to do a remarkable job in spotting ensembles which will enhance and enrich their programme and delight their audiences. Due to their efforts and those of a dedicated army of volunteers, the Lammermuir Festival has established itself at the top table of international music festivals, and we look forward with eager anticipation to its second decade.

Sheet music

Ballet Music from the Mannheim Court, Part 5

Edited by Paul Corneilson & Carol G. Marsh
Recent Researches in the Music of the Classical Era, 111
xxxii + 207pp, $375
A-R Editions, Inc ISBN 978-1-9872-0170-3

These excellent editions of Cannabich’s Les Fêtes du sérail (Corneilson) and Angélique et Médor ou Roland furieux bring this series to a fine conclusion. With 21 and 25 numbers respectively (not counting the overtures), these are substantial pieces which, with the help of two contemporary sources (one given in translation as the original is freely available online, and the other given side-by-side in French and English), the editors hope not only will orchestras pick up the music and perform it, but ballet companies will also take up the challenge of creating suitable choreographies for both sets. The scores feature all the instruments you’d expect to find in a classical orchestra, and Les Fêtes throws in a pair of piccolos and some percussion for good measure. The music mixes through-composed pieces with movements consisting of repeated sections and Da Capo structures; some have nuanced dynamics, others are left to performers’ discretion; both end with susbtantial Contredanses. Both editors provide excellent introductions to the works, as well as comprehensive editorial commentaries. RRMCE now has 111 volumes – what a monumental achievement!

Brian Clark

Sheet music

Mozart & Haydn from Henle

Mozart: String Quartets Vol. 3 (performing materials)
Henle 1122 €32
Mozart: String Quartets Vol. 3 (study score) Edited by Wolf-Dieter Seiffert
Henle 7122 €22 [Also available for tablet]
Mozart: Piano Trio K. 442 (performing materials) Edited by Wolf-Dieter Seiffert with Piano fingerings by Jacob Leuschner
Henle 1379 €29.50
Haydn: Symphony in C, Hob I:82 (study score) Edited by Sonja Gerlach & Klaus Lippe with a preface by Ullrich Scheideler
Henle 9050 €13 [Also available for tablet]

Any new issues from G. Henle Verlag are to be welcomed. The latest consignment paired Urtext study scores of Mozart’s celebrated “Haydn” quartets with a set of performing materials (of which the Violin 1 part includes the prefaratory material and critical commentaries that enhance the score!), a piano trio consisting of not one but two completions of three fragments – the first by the composer’s friend, Maximilian Stadler, and the other by celebrated Mozart expert, Robert Levin – as well as the movement Stadler added to make a more balanced work (after discarding one of Mozart’s!), and finally another Urtext study score, this time of Haydn’s C major symphony, “The Bear”.

It goes without saying that the printing is beautiful and the paper of the highest quality. The typography is also exemplary, both in the detailed introductions and critical commentaries (in three languages!) and the music itself. Outstanding work at unbelievably reasonable prices!

Brian Clark

Sheet music

Tomaso Albinoni: Balletti a Quattro

Edited by Simone Laghi
Ut Orpheus ACC80A £30.95 (score, 96pp), ACC80B £29.95 (parts)

Chamber music for 2 violins, viola and continuo from the early 18th century is not that common, so this collection of 12 Balletti (four-movement “dance suites”) will be a welcome addition to any group’s repertoire or teacher’s library. Five of them are in minor keys and most give the first violin the lion’s share of the musical interest. I would call the layout “generous” – the brevity of some movements and the placement of repeat signs at the ends of systems and pages left the typesetter with few options. The four parts present each of the suites on a single opening, which is perfect. According to the introduction (in Italian and slightly odd English), notes have been beamed according to modern principles, yet groupings of matching rhythm are not consistent. Editorial changes are given in tabular form at the end of the score; this could have done with a little copy editing. These small criticisms do not detract from a beautiful presentation of Albinoni’s fine music – this repertoire is just perfect for junior orchestras as everyone plays continually. Highly recommended.

Brian Clark

Click here to visit the publisher’s website.


Haydn 2032 vol. 7 – Gli Impresari

Kammerorchester Basel, Giovanni Antonini
Alpha Classics Alpha 680
Symphonies 9, 65 & 67; Mozart: Thamos, König in Egypten

A search in the EMR archives will reveal several of my previous reviews of this thrilling vibrant cycle of Haydn’s symphonies, due for completion in time for the 300th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 2032. Among its many merits is the evidence of the care and thought that has gone into the planning of the series, with each CD not only given its own theme but also including either a non-symphonic work by Haydn or relevant music by a contemporary.

Vol 7 carries the appendage ‘The theatre managers’ and includes symphonies written for or adapted from music believed to have been intended for dramatic works staged at Eszterháza. If that sounds convoluted then blame the notes of musicologist Christian Moritz-Bauer (M-B), which are by no means always clear as to the reasoning behind his claims of theatrical connections between the three symphonies featured here. The most convincing argument is for No. 65 in A, the quirky nature of which, with its military and hunting calls, led Robbins Landon to suspect connections with the stage more than 40 years ago. M-B has now pretty convincingly tied it to Der Postzug, a comedy by Cornelius von Ayrenhoff (1769) that became highly fashionable and is known to have been given at Eszterháza. The evidence for No. 9 in C (c. 1762) – ‘probably a prelude to a secular cantata’ (M-B) – and No. 67 in F (1779) is less compelling, though again Robbins Landon had his suspicions about the latter, a work that became one of the most popular of the middle-period symphonies and which he described as ‘boldly original’. The first movement, which juxtaposes extreme delicacy with thrillingly propulsive Sturm und Drang writing is succeeding by an Adagio that fuses chamber music luminosity with contrapuntal complexity. There is, of course, no argument about the final pieces on the CD, the orchestral pieces from the incidental music Mozart wrote for Tobias von Gabler’s play Thamos, König in Egypten. First given in Vienna 1773, Mozart’s music for it postdates that and in its present form probably dates from a Salzburg performance of the play in 1779.

The performances unsurprisingly bear the same hallmarks as those that distinguished previous issues in the series, though I sensed the extremes of dynamics were less marked formerly. This may possibly be explained by the orchestra, one of the two Antonini has to date employed for the series, since the Kammerorchester Basel tends to less febrile playing than his own Il Giardino Armonico. That’s not to say there’s anything tame about the superlative Swiss orchestra, whose playing fully equals that of their Italian colleagues. Indeed one of the major hallmarks of the series has been the intensity and dramatic impetus contrasted with delicacy and light, chamber-music transparency. One need listen no further than the opening few minutes of No. 67, with its ethereally weighted and pointed introduction answered by a full orchestral outburst, with low horns a-snarling to thrilling effect. One other point that I’ve possibly not previously stressed sufficiently is Antonini’s wonderful ear for acutely judged orchestral balance, an asset he shares with his compatriot and friend Ottavio Dantone. Listen, for example, to the Maestoso-Allegro (No.1) of the Thamos music, where despite the full orchestration including trombones and cracking timpani the majesty of Mozart’s intense dark-hued writing stands fully revealed.

This is another valuable addition an already highly distinguished intégrale, essential listening for all Haydn enthusiasts.

Brian Robins

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Jean-Louis Duport: Concertos pour violoncelle

Raphaël Pidou, Stradivaria, Daniel Cuillier
Mirare MIR 394

I slightly feared death-by-passagework from this CD, but need not have worried! Yes, there are passages of galant predictability, but also many striking moments. A sudden high (or low) passage; an intervention from the woodwind; a striking chord. And then there’s the constant and spectacular virtuosity of the solo line – wow! Having said that, however, I enjoyed most the graceful melodic writing in the middle movements and the curiously melancholic finale to Concerto no. 4 (Duport wrote six, of which 1, 4 and 5 are presented here.)

The booklet (French, English & German) includes biographies of the composer and the artists but offers little more than a paragraph of generalities about the music. And the English, though without actual errors, is curiously stilted: translators need to remember that their job includes producing a decent piece of prose.

Until now, this composer has perhaps been most famous for being a previous owner of a Stradivarius cello more recently played by Rostropovich. We should now start to value his music as well.

David Hansell


Bach: Concertos for Organ and Strings

Les Muffatti, Bart Jacobs
Ramée RAM1804

This is an interesting and beautifully produced CD, combining three elements: ingenious scholarship, a fine organ and excellent playing.

First, what are these organ concertos by Bach? There are none – or rather, none that survive in that precise form. But both Bart Jacobs the organist and Christof Wolff the scholar have hit on the same supposition: that the concert Bach gave on the new Silbermann organ in the Sophienkirche in Dresden in 1725, where a newspaper review says that Bach ‘performed various concertos with sweet underlying instrumental music’, might well have contained movements drawn from earlier instrumental concerti composed at Köthen and Weimar, some of which have survived in later concerti for harpsichord; and another potential source could be movements that found a home in the series of cantatas written in 1726 that feature the organ as a solo instrument either in a concerto-like sinfonia or sometimes as a melodic alternative to a wind instrument in arias. So the prime source for quarrying these ‘concertos for organ and strings’ are the church cantatas BWV 169, 40, 146, 188, and 35; with sinfonias from BWV 156, 75, 29 and 120a. There are just four movements drawn from harpsichord or violin concertos in addition, and some of this assemblage has been transposed up or down a tone to help it fit a group of movements.

Second, this CD was recorded using the fine Thomas organ in the church in Bornem, not far from the Thomas organ-building works in Southeastern Belgium.  This ingenious instrument, after the organ for Rötha near Leipzig that Silbermann built in 1721/2 and which must have been known to Bach, offers a system of jeux baladeurs – a number of ranks that can be played by transmission on more than one key- or pedal-board. Its position on the floor of the north transept allows the strings and harpsichord to group around it easily and ensures a unanimity between organ and instruments that is rare – though perhaps unsurprising in view of Bart Jacobs impressive playing in the CD of Bach Cantatas produced under the title Actus Tragicus with Vox Luminis in 2017. A description and full specification together with detailed registration is included, and I can vouch for the quality of the instrument and the excellence of the acoustic as I played it in 2014. I particularly liked the registration for the slow movements incorporating the 8’ Dulcian, the languid tremulant and the versatile Nasat. 

Third, the quality of playing, the balance between the instruments and the apt registration are splendid. The organ is not over-strident, and the registrations provide both blend and clarity: no wonder Bach must have prized Silbermann’s instruments. The only drawback is that the organ’s pitch of A=440 Hz means that no wind instruments playing at 415 can be included, which were a feature of a good number of the cantata movements. And the use of the organ pedal 16’ from time to time seems plausible, though the string 16’ is a robust contrabasso rather than an edgy violone. But that aside, I find the arrangements and performance highly convincing and entirely in the style and spirit of Bach’s own multiple borrowings and rearrangements. I recommend this novel and delightful performance and hope that Bart Jacobs will publish his versions so that others can play them.

David Stancliffe


Haydn Symphonies

Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini (cond)
Alpha 670
Symphonies 1, 39 & 49; Gluck: Don Juan

Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini (cond)
Alpha 672
Symphonies 4, 42 & 64; Overture – L’Isola disabitata; Cantata – Sole e pensoso

Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini (cond)
Alpha 674
Symphonies 12, 60 & 70; Cimarosa: Il maestro di cappella

HAYDN: SYMPHONIES Nos. 79, 80 & 81
Capella Savaria, Nicholas McGegan (cond)
Hungaroton HCD 32823

Le Concert de la Loge, Julien Chauvin (cond)
Aparté AP186
Davaux: Sinfonia Concertante for 2 violins; Devienne: Sinfonia Concertante for flute, oboe, bassoonn & hornn

There can surely be few compositions more suited to binge listening than the symphonies (or indeed the string quartets) of Haydn. With him you get just about everything: unfailing invention and compositional technique of the highest order; drama; pathos; wit; and of course genial companionability, the reputation for which has arguably done the composer more harm than good. So the accumulation in my in-tray of no fewer than five CDs featuring Haydn symphonies reaching from the first of them, composed around to 1758, to No. 82, ‘The Bear’, composed for Paris in 1786, offered a rare opportunity to survey nearly three decades of prolific symphonic output.

Three of the discs included come from an ambitious project to record the complete symphonies, planned for completion by 2032, the year in which the 300th anniversary of Haydn’s birth will be celebrated. The musical director of the series is the Italian conductor Giovanni Antonini, who has directed his own Il Giardino Armonico and the Kammerorchester Basel in the seven issues so far released (reviews of volumes 2 and 5 can be found elsewhere on this site). In his notes that preface volume 1 Antonini writes of attempting to find a ‘code’, or key to the logic behind Haydn’s music, concluding ‘I don’t know if Haydn performed his music the way I do it; probably not. But taking a conscious approach to historical music also includes adding a good dose of your own creativity’. Indeed it does and although one doesn’t have to agree with everything Antonini does (this listener doesn’t) the overwhelming single impression made by his performances is that every bar is intensely alive and compelling in a way that is rarely experienced on a recording.

As one progresses through the series, certain common characteristics emerge. One of the most obvious is the extreme dynamic contrasts employed, from barely heard whispers of sound – superlatively sustained by outstanding orchestral playing – to furious, at times brazen outbursts. Tempos, too, tend to follow the modern taste for extremes, but so compelling are the performances that only in a movement like the Allegro di molto (ii) of ‘La Passione’ (No. 49 in F minor) might the listener perhaps occasionally pause to question the very brisk speed. In these quicker movements articulation is extremely precise, short-bowed and again arguably at times guilty of not allowing notes their full value. But that is a post-listening observation; at the time of experiencing the music the listener tends to be so caught up by the rhythmic spring and exuberant, sinewy muscularity of the playing that such thoughts are swiftly banished. Neither is a lighter, often enchanting and engaging grace excluded, a quality already apparent both in Haydn’s writing and Antonini’s performance of the exquisite Andante of Symphony No. 1 in D, one of the more impressive symphonic debuts in the repertoire.

Antonini’s way with Haydn’s slower movements (and it is rarely appropriate to write of slow movements in the Classical symphony) never ceases to remind us that he is an Italian, that his ability to draw beautifully structured and shaped cantabile lines is one of the great beauties of the cycle. Among many examples, perhaps one might take the Andante (ii) of the Symphony in D (No. 70), considered by the great Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon to be greatest symphony of the period (the late 1770s). The movement features exceptionally learned compositional technique, being a double canon. Yet what the listener hears is a grave, understated nocturnal march, played with the utmost finesse, with warm winds contributing to sounds of quite magical delicacy. Finally, it would be wrong to leave Antonini’s Haydn without paying the highest tribute to the playing of Il Giardino Armonico, which in all departments is throughout so outstanding that I hope singling out the fabulous playing of the four horns in the G-minor symphony (No. 39) on volume 1 will not be thought too ungallant.

Not the least of the attractions of the Antonini series is the inclusion of music other than symphonies by either Haydn himself or his contemporaries. Volume 1 includes a substantial ‘extra’ in the shape of the original version of Gluck’s ballet Don Juan of 1761, though the fact that it is incomplete is not noted in the booklet. The scenario, with small variations, will be familiar to anyone who knows Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The score, which originally consists of 31 mainly brief movements (or dances), is colourfully varied, culminating in the demonic scene in which the Don is dragged to hell, here played with fiercely incisive drive. Volume 3 includes two additional works, the overture to Haydn’s opera L’isola dishabitata (1779) and the scena for soprano ‘Solo e pensoso’, Haydn’s setting of the magnificent sonnet by Petrarch, also set by Marenzio as a magnificent five-part madrigal. Here it is beautifully done by the lustrously-voiced Francesca Aspromonte, who captures the vulnerability and fragility of the poem to near-ideal effect. A very different kind of vocal work makes a substantial contribution to Volume 4. Cherubini’s effervescent Il maestro di Capella (1795) is a work that takes us firmly into the world of opera buffo. It takes a popular 18th-century conceit – a work about musicians performing music (c.f. Mozart’s Impressario) – to introduce a hard-pressed Kapellmeister trying to get his musicians to perform correctly his latest ‘masterpiece’. Into his increasing frustration are introduced sly digs relevant to contemporary music making. Needless to say all ultimately comes out well. Baritone Riccardo Novaro is outstanding, capturing every mood and nuance in richly hued but never overplayed fashion.

During Nicholas McGegan’s days as artistic director of the Göttingen Handel Festival, I recall several exceptional Haydn symphony performances, one of the ‘London’ Symphony (No. 104) lingering particularly in the mind. It is no surprise therefore to find his CD with a trio of symphonies from the period immediately before the ‘Paris’ symphonies of the late 1780s to be most attractive. If the playing of Capella Savaria, the Hungarian period instrument orchestra with which McGegan has a long association, cannot quite match that of Antonini’s superb band, it is never less than extremely capable and well balanced, with some especially good wind playing. This is less radical Haydn than that of Antonini, but the urbane geniality of No. 79 in F in particular suits McGegan’s own affability to a tee. No. 80 in D minor is a different matter altogether, termed by Robbins Landon ‘mock-heroic’ because of the huge contrast between the opening Allegro spiritoso’s tautly dramatic main subject and the unexpected lightness, almost triviality, of the secondary idea in the major. It is almost as if the composer is having a laugh at our expense. McGegan captures ideally this duality with all his masterful experience, going on to provide a satisfying account of this strangely quirky symphony.

Le Concert de la Loge is (unsurprisingly) a French ensemble that derives its name from the organisation that commissioned and performed six Haydn symphonies in the mid-1780s. Its CD includes the first numbered of them (though not the first composed), No. 82 in C, which bears the nickname ‘The Bear’ after the heavy ‘bear dance’ theme of the final movement. Le Concert de la Loge Olympique – to give it its full name – boasted a large orchestra and the symphonies Haydn wrote for it are the most ambitious he had yet undertaken. The performance is closer to those of Antonini than McGegan, lithe and vibrant with well-sprung rhythms both in fully and lightly scored passages. The ‘bear dance’ finale is especially rumbustious and characterful, the only drawback being odd moments of rhythmic disruption, which introduce an unwelcome degree of affectation. In addition Julien Chauvin adds two works of a kind particularly associated with Paris, the sinfonia concertante, a kind of cross between symphony and concerto with two or more soloists integrated into a symphonic texture. It’s a difficult genre, dominated by one incontrovertibly great work, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, K364. Neither of the two examples here are remotely in that league, that by Davaux being in the potpourri form fashionable around the turn of the century. The concertante by Devienne, who will be known to all flautists, is the better, falling as it does agreeably on the ear. There is some felicitous writing for the four soloists, though it suffers from the form’s usual problem – finding space for all the soloists to have solo passages employing the same material and thus tending to become somewhat longwinded and repetitive.

To sum up. It is noteworthy that all these CDs would grace a collection. The three Antonini discs especially are part of a series that demands the attention of all serious Haydn collectors. It is now firmly established as the on going cycle de nos jours, though some of us are unlikely to live to see its completion! McGegan’s attractive CD brings to attention three lesser-known works, while the French recording includes a compelling version of an outstanding work, though it will be less appealing to anyone not attracted to the sinfonia concertantes.

Brian Robins