Freiburger Barockorchester, Gottfried von der Goltz 70:36 Aparté AP190
It’s Corelli, but not as we know it! Everyone who knows anything about Baroque music knows that the written note is only the starting point of a performance; singers and players must adorn it in their own style while respecting the composer’s original thoughts. It is equally well known that various writers described how concerti grossi could be embellished (and the harmony made richer) by the doubling of parts and, in certain circumstances, the addition of instruments not specified, such as oboes and bassoons, and “other instruments”.
So, you will know what is coming next. The 66423 strings (more basses than cellos?) are joined by oboes, bassoon, trumpets, trombones, lutes (yes, plural!), harp and one harpsichordist/organist (whose presence you will certainly notice). Anything in D with arpeggio themes is taken over by trumpets (except, obviously enough, in the passages where modulation makes their participation impossible). The two solo violinists “improvise” a very neat introduction to one concerto. It’s all great fun, and a novel way to hear Corelli’s music, but is it HIP? In fact, I would argue that actually the arrangements (because that is what they are) do not go far enough; rather than giving the brass players music and telling them to play whatever they can of a violin part, why not sit down and compose a brass part that is fully participatory – that is, after all, what musicians of the time would have done; the Dresden music collection is full of parts for instruments the composer did not intend which were composed by the copyists according to the style of the court musical establishment – and frequently these parts do not feature in surviving contemporary scores. While I initially warmed to the extra colours in Corelli’s music, ultimately I found the overall result a little disappointing from an intellectual perspective. The playing, as you would imagine, is wonderful!
ONLY ONE PIECE on this recording can be said to be “well known”, the D major flute concerto nicknamed “Il gardellino”; the others including two concertos for violin, as well two for bassoon and another for flute, and finally a chamber concerto that features all three of those instruments (RV91). Zsolt Kalló is the artistic director of the enterprise and solo violinist; his counterparts are László Feriencsik on bassoon and Andrea Bertalan on flute. For this project, Capella Savaria field 44221 strings with harpsichord and archlute continuo. As far as the performances go, there are no surprises in store here – the three soloists are outstanding and the orchestra support them with sensitivity and style in buckets. Vivaldi does pull the occasional stunt, such as the bassoon solo at the very opening of RV472! The orchestra is well established as one of Europe’s best and this CD will enhance that reputation – as well as that of the soloists. Brian Clark
Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, Barthold Kuijken
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen one sees one of the Kuijken brothers at the helm of an orchestra, a kind of comfortable assurance sweeps over any major drifting worries about interpretation; he certainly knows his musical “onions”!
It seems this was a long-held wish to perform/record these chosen works by these three important composers, showing the transmission of the overture-suite (suite de danses) from the early operatic epicentre of Paris, through Amsterdam’s publishers, and out into the wider Germanic realm, and then back. One of the very first works to make such a musical journey was Lully’s opera, Cadmus and Hermione of 1673, published in 1682 in Amsterdam as “Ouverture avec tous les airs…fait a Paris par Monsr Jean Baptiste Lully”. Two of the early (first wave of Lullistes) were P. H. Erlebach (1657-1714) and J. S. Kusser (1660-1727) the latter maybe even a pupil of the famous French master? Their fine Lully-influenced works featured on a similar concept CD, “Lully in Deutschland” on Amati, with L’Arpa Festante München under Michi Gaigg. On this disc we have an overture-suite by one of the Baroque’s dynamic masters, a gifted “fusionist” of styles, who was no sluggard in producing a profusion of overtures, alongside their following movements, some being direct extracts from operas, some much more idiomatic readings of tasteful and witty insights, plus topographic, nationalistic and mythological depictions; at times with elemental and fanciful themes – Telemann. The work chosen to represent him here, TWV55: e3, from ca. 1716, incorporates some of these elements mentioned. There are some delightfully eccentric qualities and dynamic twists that make it perfect for inclusion. Finally, we have a return to Paris, with Rameau’s fabulously orchestrated Dardanus (1739/44) suite; truly captivating music that just seeps and sighs with delicious “finesse” and “tendresse” – every single serious Baroquophile will recall the very first encounter with this ravishing, fantastical music which casts a potent, lasting spell. I wouldn’t like to guess how many versions there are out there… Amusingly, peeping out from the CD tray, I espy the EUBO under Roy Goodman doing: Dardanus!
The playing here is refined, never pushed to excess, yet might have had a touch more vim and pepper in the Telemann, and boisterous fun with the Rameau. The overall effect is steady and elegant at the helm! The Lully itself, a few extracts from Armide, could have been longer… and possibly selected movements from elsewhere (the afore-mentioned Cadmus and Hermione?) This is a fine recap for all those not already in the know.
Tempesta di Mare
Chandos Chaconne CHAN 0821
TWV 43:g3, 51:F4, 54: F1
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n some regards, the accomplished baroque ensemble Tempesta di Mare are emulating the very musicians for whom these two extravagant concerti grossi or concerti-en-suite in F were almost certainly intended, the Dresden court orchestra under J. G. Pisendel. Telemann not only knew this famously skilled concertmaster well, but also the eminent abilities of the musicians active in this well-honed orchestra.
This recording opens with one of my favourite Telemann concerti-en-suite, TWV 54:F1, which for many years was only to be heard without the pair of Bourees I/II found only in the Schwerin source on an early Berlin Classics CD; and to compound matters further, it was often confusingly catalogued simply as “Suite in F”! Thankfully, Tempesta di Mare take into account both sources of this really vivacious and almost mischievous piece; they spread their musical wings wide and fly; additionally, Richard Stone has astutely filled in the “bridging” trio in the da capo menuet, with an excellent reconstruction after extant horn parts in Schwerin. This is now the fourth recording of a fine work, truly welcome for all the reasons above, and the lively and polished performance. The following concerto di camera for recorder and strings now has more than a dozen recordings, and feels like a concession to the ensemble’s co-director Gwyn Roberts, who nevertheless exhibits her agility in Telemann’s fluent and accommodating music; that said, two other concerti-en-suite, TWV 53:g1, 53:a1, or even the later 50:21, would perhaps have better fitted the “billing”, i.e. main focus of this CD. Finally, we come to an outstanding example of the genre, in scope, instrumentation, style, and forward-looking, almost symphonic textures. TWV 51:F4 was definitely conceived with virtuoso violinist Pisendel in mind, and the seasoned orchestra behind him. The use of the very same paper as for the composer’s St. John Passion of 1749 TWV 5:34 gives a rough date of composition. Again Tempesta di Mare capture the ebullient drive and wonderful contours of this grandiose piece, flattering both the talents of the orchestra, and with Polish royal connections through Dresden’s Elector of Saxony, King Augustus III of Poland! One begins to sense what a well-aimed and perfectly conceived exposition of music this is. It is worth noting that they eschew Telemann’s alternative trumpet parts for the penultimate “Pollacca” movement, before the closing stately menuets; a seven-movement tour de force which Tempesta di Mare tackle with typical flourish and flair.
Kammerorchester Basel, Giovanni Antonini
Alpha Classics 676
Symphonies 19, 80, 81; Joseph Martin Kraus: Symphony in C minor VB142
I’ve heard plenty of good things about this planned intégrale of Haydn symphonies being undertaken by Giovanni Antonini, but this is the first to come my way. If they’re all of this outstanding quality, then it could end up being the outstanding cycle if it gets to be finished (Haydn symphony cycles have a bad record when it comes to being completed, cf., Max Goberman, Solomons, Hogwood), being scheduled to do so in time for the 300th anniversary of Haydn’s birth in 2032.
This is the fifth CD of the series and the first to feature the Kammerorchester Basel rather than Antonini’s own Il Giardino Armonico, with whom the project is being shared. The present CD carries the title ‘L’homme de génie’, applied in this instance not to Haydn, but the words the great man used when speaking of the German-born Joseph Martin Kraus. ‘He was the first man of genius that I met. Why did he have to die?’, a sentiment inspired by Kraus’ early death in Sweden in 1792 after a brief lifespan almost identical with that of Mozart. Haydn also tells us that Kraus wrote his stunningly dramatic C-minor Symphony in Vienna for him, though the symphony has a more complex history than that. Nonetheless Haydn was delighted with the dedication of a work he suggested would be ‘considered a masterpiece in every century’. So the symphony, dating from 1783 or possibly before in an earlier version, makes for a fascinating comparison with a later minor key symphony of Haydn’s, no. 80 in D minor, composed the following year. This intelligent juxtaposition is one of the hallmarks of the care with which the series is being undertaken, with each CD including a work by a contemporary designed to cast light on the featured Haydn symphonies.
Haydn was right about the Kraus symphony, for it is certainly a near-masterpiece, with a first movement that is one of the great symphonic movements of the 18th century. It opens with a slow introduction whose dissonant suspensions, dark bassoon colouring, low strings and snarling horns immediately plunge the listener into a world of impending tragedy that somehow seems to extend beyond Sturm und Drang. When the main allegro blazes forth it is into an emotional world torn apart by burning grief. Later respite arrives and eventually a more reflective, if still disturbed, mood. It is as if the music can no longer bear the level of intensity with which it had set out. If the two succeeding movements don’t quite attain the same level, neither do they come as an anti-climax. The central Andante wears an air of sturdy dignity, its contrapuntal writing occasionally glancing back to an earlier era, while the strong, thrusting finale does inhabit the world of Sturm und Drang.
Haydn’s own involvement with that world of course stems from rather earlier in his career, so it is perhaps surprising to find him revisiting it at a time when his style had moved on to become rather more urbane. Nonetheless Symphony no. 80 is a magnificent work, overflowing with invention and energy. The opening introduces tautly dramatic urgency flecked with fizzing tremolandi, before leading us into a movement that manages to maintain seriousness while flirting with a cheeky codetta that will come to form the development’s initial idea. This incorporation of both joke and serious drama is archetypal Haydn. The Adagio is both wistful and uneasily restless, the Minuet a strongly articulated minor key movement, while the Presto finale displays a muscular intensity never bought at the expense of balance or poise. The other two Haydn symphonies, no. 81 in G, a companion of the D-minor Symphony also dated November 1784, and the much earlier no. 19 in D (1766) are more conventional, which is certainly not to decry the G-major in particular, which has its own strongly dramatic moments, particularly in the development of the Vivace, which fluctuates between tempestuous vitality and a sense of expectant mystery.
The performances of all this music are quite exceptional, being full of spirit, beautifully balanced, and played with outstanding skill. Antonini captures the individual character of each work with consummate and unerring skill, veering from a restless, at times near demonic drive in the opening movements of the Haydn D minor and the Kraus to poise and warmth in the friendly companionship of the G-major Symphony’s Andante. Just occasionally I feel the tempo is driven just that bit too hard, a caveat that applies particularly to the finale of the same symphony, where Haydn’s ‘non troppo’ tempering of his allegro marking is there for good reason. But make no mistake these are marvellous, life-enhancing performances beautifully presented in a richly-illustrated booklet. The disc indeed positively demands I make it my urgent business to catch up on the four CDs I’ve previously missed.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he HIP world owes a lot to I Musici. I am fairly certain I had at least one boxed set of LPs of them playing complete Vivaldi concerto editions and it was partly through them that I discovered Baroque music. Unfortunately, around that time I also bought an LP of the new kids on the block, The Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood, and my ears were forever opened to the possibilities of period instrument performance (squawky oboes and all!). Yet, if the arrival of this new disk raised an eyebrow, that is more a reflection on my pre-conceptions that anything else. Sammartini’s concertos (four in three movements, two with only three) contain such a rich variety of material that the attention never wavers and while their bowing arms remain steadfastly in the 21st century, at least I Musici have engaged with earlier left-hand techniques – open strings resound brightly, trills start on the upper note and are shaped rather than automated, ornaments are added with imagination and relentless vibrato is banished. And all for the good, I would say. Even on modern instruments, it is perfectly possible to produce fine performances of this unexpectedly gripping music.
The Oregon Symphony, Carlos Kalmar
Pentatone PTC 5186 612
No 53 ‘The Imperial’, No 64 ‘Tempora Mutantur’, No 96 ‘The Miracle’
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e are very fortunate in Scotland in that our premiere chamber orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, make use of period brass and percussion instruments, gifted to them many years ago by Sir Charles Mackerras, in classical repertoire and earlier, and it is only when I listen to recordings such as this that I recognize the full benefit of this. The Oregon Symphony are doing all the right things, playing with light bowing and no vibrato, the wind and brass players also eschewing vibrato and the more strident tone needed for later repertoire – and yet… There is a burnished tone to the strings which plays against the coolly classical lines Haydn writes, the brass are too wholesome and not punchy enough, the woodwind too rich without being sufficiently plaintive. You will find a growing school of thought nowadays that says that authenticity is not about the correct instruments but only about the correct techniques, but to my mind this type of recording undermines that theory entirely. It is very beautifully played and a fine account of Haydn’s music, if you are not interested in what Haydn intended it to sound like. But I am, and I am of the opinion that once you have heard a good orchestra on classical period instruments there is really no going back. The SCO is a very successful halfway house, where the punchy period brass and percussion add a genuine period flavour to their Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, but when you think about it there is really no logic to being part authentic! Increasingly, I feel that there is equally no logic in buying an inauthentic CD if a perfectly good authentic one is available, so for all the undoubtedly sensitive playing of the Oregon Symphony this is really not for me.
Anton Steck violin, L’arpa festante, Matthew Halls
Accent ACC 24320
+ Pössinger: Violin Concerto in G, op. 9
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hile there will be a great deal of interest shown in this recording purely by virtue of its claim to be a world premiere recording after the original autograph score, and the fact that the “filler” (who I detest this disparaging description!) was written by a violinist with a very close personal link to Beethoven, for me the disc is a tremendous success simply because it offers beautifully recorded, accomplished performances. Anton Steck is a first-class violinist and his accounts of these two very different works are honest and engaging. Yes, of course, there are moments when the subconscious inner ear is surprised by the unexpected, but these are rarely disturbing; even the early published editions of the concerto offer variant readings – Beethoven’s score offers violinists up to four different versions of some bars! L’arpa festante (76543 strings) support Steck with some ravishing playing, and enjoy the tunefulness of Pössinger’s relatively light work (with a far smaller orchestra and lasting just under 18 minutes, compared to Beethoven’s 44!) There is some evidence that Pössinger was the violinist to whom Beethoven turned for technical advice, so the pairing of the two works is appropriate. An especial delight of the recording are Steck’s cadenzas for the Beethoven! Perhaps this line-up could be persuaded to follow up the booklet’s title: “Viewed in a completely different light” – let’s have another couple of contemporary concertos and Beethoven’s Romances?