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

Sheet music

New from G. Henle Verlag

The first title in the most recent batch we received from this publisher is a piano reduction of Neruda’s Horn (or trumpet) concerto (Henle 561, ISMN 979-0-2018-0561-0, €15) by Dominik Rahmer (editor) and Christoph Sobanski (piano reduction). Famed for his stratospheric playing, Neruda was one of the outstanding Bohemian hornists at the Dresden court. The set includes three parts for a variety of brass players – one notated in C for a natural horn player (presumably playing an F horn to be in tune with the piano?), one for trumpet in E flat (the music in C an octave below the horn part) and for the concert trumpet in B flat (the music in F). All three have the same idiomatic (though virtuosic for the natural instrument!) cadenzas by Reinhold Friedrich. An excellent and very reasonably priced addition to the horn player’s repertoire.

Mozart’s Erste Lodronische Nachtmusik is a sequence of dances, written for the name day celebrations of Countess Antonia of that ilk in 1776. Felix Loy’s Urtext edition sensibly pairs it with a March written for the same celebrations and, based on his belief that it was performed by the musicians (strings with two horns) as they assembled for the divertimento, it comes first in the volume (Henle HN7150, ISMN 979-0-2018-7150-9 study score, €14, Henle 1150, ISMN 979-0-2018-1150-5 parts €32), although that causes the two Köchel numbers to be reversed. As you would expect, the edition is meticulous with succinct critical notes, and the parts are beautifully laid out, with fold-out pages when movements are too long to be accommodated on a two-page spread. First class attention to detail.

The remaining two editions sent are from the on-going Beethoven piano sonata series from Norbert Gertsch and Murray Perahia (who is credited as joint editor and for supplying the fingerings). There is not much I can say that I did not already cover in my previous review – same beautiful engraving with carefully planned page-turns, and the same footnotes providing on-the-page important information or insights. The A major sonata op 2/2 (Henle 772, ISMN 979-0-2018-0772-0, €12) and that in C major, op 2/3 (Henle 1222, ISMN 979-0-2018-1222-9, €10) were dedicated to Haydn – even relatively early in Beethoven’s career, we must wonder what his former teacher made of them when he heard the composer play them in 1796.


Beethoven: Symphony No 3 ‘Eroica’

Nizhny Novgorod Soloists Chamber Orchestra, Maxim Emelyanchev
Aparté AP191
+Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Haydn, op. 56a

The most frustrating thing about this beautiful CD is the lack of information about the performers. Typically, readers of these pages would probably not take any notice of it, given that one assumes the orchestra plays on modern instruments, and that they would not expect the Russian school would bring any worthwhile revelations to two such well-known pieces from the repertoire. Yet, from the opening bars, both the sound world and the energy of the performances held my attention and I have ended up listening to the disc several times which, when one has a room full of other things awaiting review, is no small achievement. So often with modern chamber orchestras, the bass parts lack “air”, the wind players find it awkward to fit in with string sections that have turned off their vibrato (because that’s what they think HIP playing means!), and there is just a lack of vitality that overpowers the good intention. The out-of-date website that I found for the group suggests the orchestra is made up of 16 elite students specialising in orchestral playing, the photo suggesting that the figure refers to string players only. This modest number would be about what Beethoven would have expected and allows Emelyanchev to treat the programme more as expanded chamber music, lending their sound a clarity to too often escapes non-HIPsters. I played the “Haydn Variations” with my university orchestra, but I can guarantee it never sounded anything like this! I hope this is not the last we hear of this combination.

Brian Clark