Schumann & Mendelssohn: Symphonies

Accademia Bizantina, conducted by Ottavio Dantone

An old cliché has it that Schumann’s symphonies suffer from thick, indifferently orchestrated textures. Not if they are played like this performance of the ‘Rhenish’ they don’t. Throughout both symphonies the listener is constantly struck not only by Dantone’s superb ear for balance but how helpful period instruments are when it comes to clarifying textures and providing colour. Thanks to conductors such as Mackerras and Norrington we are by now used to hearing this repertoire in this guise, but I do not recall previously being so aware of the rich inner detail of the contrapuntal writing in these works as there is here. It is relevant that in a perceptive note Dantone draws attention to the relationship both composers have with Bach, one of his great heroes. Thus, for example, in the development of the opening Allegro Vivace of the Mendelssohn, the counterpoint stands superbly revealed thanks to a lightness of touch comparable with the scintillating writing of the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” Overture.

‘Lightness of touch’ and ‘clarity of texture’ are two phrases that referring back to my notes I see recur time and again. They are benefits aided and complemented by the superb playing Dantoni inspires from an augmented Accademia Bizantina. String articulation is outstanding, the benchmark set by the cellos and double basses at the start of the Italian Symphony taken up and equalled by that of the upper strings in the secondary idea. The harmonie band is exceptional, too, never more telling than in the Andante con moto (the ‘moto’ well observed), where the delicate luminosity of the period flutes gives the music a magical ambiance. The beautifully paced Nicht schnell third movement of the Schumann finds lower strings and wind band exuding an affectionate, glowing warmth.

The succeeding Feierlich (‘solemn or grave’) is the most telling example of Dantone’s ability to span the architectural sweep of an entire movement, building the majestic edifice, said to have been inspired by a visit to Cologne Cathedral, to a quite overwhelming climax before gradually subsiding to a tranquil conclusion. In the final movement Lebhaft (lively, vivacious) Dantone avoids the temptation to take the heading to imply a fast tempo, keeping the movement moving at a brisk, but not rushed tempo which once again allows for admirable clarity of texture and building to an exuberant climax.

In his ‘Conductor’s Notes’ Dantone also discusses the importance of rhetoric in interpreting the music of the period, a topic that plays a major role in the recent Narratio Quartet recording of Beeethoven’s op. 18 String Quartets reviewed in EMR. It is fascinating to observe what seems to be an increasing preoccupation among some of today’s musicians with a topic whose importance, once a vital part of education, went out of fashion to the point where few today understand its linguistic let alone musical importance. Here there are fewer obvious cases of its application than in the Beethoven quartets; the use of portamento, for example, is subtly understated, often more hinted at then observed, but rubato is sparingly if tellingly applied at times, the second idea of the opening movement of the Schumann being an example.

In sum, I’ve found these performances revealing, challenging and endlessly fascinating. If, like me, you now infrequently visit works such as these, the music most of us grew up on, then do listen to these performances and prepare to have the senses refreshed.

It should be noted that the CD is available direct from or  

Brian Robins


Beethoven: String Quartets, op. 18

Narratio Quartet
165:35 (3 CDs)
Challenge CC72969

Published less than five years apart, what a world of difference exists between the six opus 18 String Quartets of Beethoven and the similarly constituted opus 76 set of Haydn! While the latter are the supreme work of a man at the height of his powers, the man indeed responsible above all others for the creation of the form, opus 18 represent the entry into the field by a young man who had probably just reached 30 by the time he completed the set. And it had proved to be a far from an easy entry. We know because Beethoven himself admitted it – ‘Only now’, he wrote to a friend in 1801, the year of publication, ‘do I know how to write string quartets’. 

This feeling of exploration and questing with a form accepted as arguably the most difficult to master is also very much a part of these performances by the Amsterdam-based Narratio Quartet. Playing on period instruments they have spent some fifteen years re-examining and working on the quartets in the context of the expressive performing traditions of Beethoven’s own time. These include a more flexible approach to tempo and rhythm than the strict, metronomic time-keeping we generally encounter today. The use of rubato was once a valuable expressive tool and is often used in harness with dynamic and other expressive markings. You can hear an example at the point of arrival of the secondary subject of the opening Allegro con brio of the F-major Quartet (no. 1), where the brisk opening subsides not only into a decrescendo and piano marking but also here an unmarked slowing of tempo, all combining to tell us we’ve moved into fresh territory.  Less innovative is the restriction of vibrato to expressive use, a technique now employed by many instrumentalists and singers. Most radical of all is the use of portamento or glissando, the sliding of one note into another in imitation of the human voice. It is used for expressive purposes, but needs to be employed sparingly. Especially in slower music, it carries a risk of sentimentality if used excessively. Beethoven is reported to have liked it, particularly in his chamber music. The Narratios seem to me to have got it just right, with the technique used sparingly and always sensitively, with little impression of simply making a spectacular effect. You can hear a startling example right at the start of the first CD, in the opening of the D-major Quartet (no. 3), where Beethoven’s unexpectedly poetic opening seems to expect this kind of expression. Incidentally, the quartets are arranged in the order it was once thought they were composed: 3; 1; 2; 5; 4; 6. It is now disputed.  

All this attention to such detail would be to little effect were the performances less perceptive than they are. Other more usual expressive devices such as dynamics and hairpin markings are keenly observed and I could find no tempo with which to take exception. But more importantly, the Narratios have for me captured the youthful essence and spirit of the six quartets to as near ideal an extent as can be humanly expected. Perhaps above all, it is the manner in which the wit and humour are embraced, a characteristic so frequently missing by those that would have Beethoven elevated to some kind of spiritual status. There are countless examples dotted through these performances, but I’ll highlight one. One of the most striking movements of opus 18 is the finale of the B-flat Quartet (no. 6), the structure of which has led some commentators to think in terms of an anticipation of the designs of the late quartets. It opens with an adagio marked La Malinchonia, an intensely inward passage almost entirely marked pp, it is played here with a rapt, intense inwardness brought to a halt by a fortissimo chord that quickly segues into a bright, witty triple-time movement marked Allegretto quasi Allegro. It is Beethoven laughing at us: ‘Ah, fooled you there, didn’t I?’ Wit, good humour and the dance now pervade the movement until a climax, led to in the present performance by an ever-quicker tempo subsiding to a dozen bars of the Adagio interspersed with four bars of triple-time. The coda brings a final example of these two extremes. You will find nothing comparable in the quartets on Haydn and Mozart; it is music that announces a musical revolutionary to whom the Narratio Quartet respond with compelling insight.

The quartet’s name refers to the art of rhetoric, the projection of which is tellingly apparent in these marvellously communicative performances. The continuation of the Narratio’s cycle can be awaited with the keenest anticipation.

Brian Robins    


Hélène de Montgeroult

Portrait d’une compositrice visionnaire
Marcia Hadjimarkos fortepiano, Beth Taylor mS, Nicolas Mazzolini violin
Seulétoile SE09

The composer and pianist Hélène de Nervo, Marquise de Montgeroult by marriage, 1764-1836) lived through tumultuous times in her native France. With such a colourful career and such characterful music as the performers have found here, it is remarkable that she has passed below the radar for so long. A student of Dussek and Clementi, Montgeroult benefited from the rapid development of the piano-forte during her lifetime, a process she was able to take full advantage of during her years in Paris. Pianist Hadjimarkos also takes full advantage of the developing pianoforte in her choice of some striking stops in her performances of the solo Etudes (1812 and 1816) and accompanying Beth Taylor’s powerful accounts of the Nocturnes (1807). She plays a beautiful 1817 pianoforte by Antoine Neuhaus. The piano works appear as an appendix to a Complete Method for Piano, and while seven of the Etudes recorded here are for both hands, a further three focus more intently on the right hand and yet another on the left – presumably Montgeroult’s intention was to strengthen both hands of the performer independently and to build up their distinctive roles. Given their very practical purpose, these Etudes are remarkably imaginative and effective, and are given superbly expressive performances here. The subtitle of the CD is ‘Portrait d’une compositrice visionnaire’ and this aspect of Montgeroult’s strikingly individual musical style is very much to the fore in the performers’ minds. Mezzosoprano Beth Taylor gives beautifully eloquent accounts of the six short Nocturnes op 6 for solo voice and piano accompaniment. In the style of the time, the opus 2 Sonata no 6 (1800) for piano with accompaniment by the violin is just that, a piece very much led by the piano with fairly restrained commentary from the violin. It too is imaginatively presented by Hadjimarkkos with violinist Nicolas Mazzoleni. Montgeroult’s biographer Jérôme Dorival considers her the missing link between Mozart and Chopin, and while she might not be the only deserving candidate for this title, she is clearly an important composer who thoroughly deserves a place in the history of the early piano and in composition generally. These performers have done us all a great service in shining such a musically convincing spotlight on a composer who clearly merits much more attention.

D. James Ross


Fantaisie Romantique

19th-Century Eastern European Guitar Music
James Akers
resonus RES10334

With this charming CD, James Akers continues his exploration of guitar music from 19th-century Ukraine and its neighbours. He plays music by seven composers on three different guitars: by Pietro Pettoletti (c. 1795-c. 1870) on a six-string guitar; by Johann Dubez (1828-1891), Nicolai Petrovich Makaroff (1810-1890), and Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856) on an eight-string guitar; and by Mikhail Polupayenko (1848-1902), Johann  Decker-Schenk (1826-1899), and Nicolas Pavilstscheff (1802-1879) on a nine-string guitar. All three instruments have their first six strings tuned the same as a conventional Spanish or classical guitar from Western Europe (EAdgbe’), and although some of these composers also wrote for the seven-string Russian guitar with its distinctive open G tuning (DGBdgbd’), none of that repertory is included on the present CD. The instruments with two or three extra strings may at first sight look weird, because the extra strings are fixed equidistant from the other strings at the bridge, but splay out away from the sixth string to their own separate nut leaving quite a gap between the sixth and seventh strings. I guess that this enables the instruments to feel the same at the nut end, and allows the player space for his left-hand thumb to reach round the neck to stop notes on the sixth string.
The harmonic palette of these guitarist-composers is at times somewhat restricted – take away all the tonic, dominant and diminished seventh chords, and there is not always so very much left – but the simple melodies decorated with appoggiaturas and acciaccaturas, occasional chromatic touches, flourishes of arpeggios up and down the neck, and a tessitura widened by extra strings in the bass and extra frets at the treble end of things, combine to create an overall effect which is pleasing to the ear, and would have provided easy listening for salon audiences. No doubt the listeners would have felt at home if they recognised popular folk melodies or well-known tunes from operas, and would have been impressed by the virtuosity of flashy, extrovert variations. Each item is quite short – a total of 39 tracks lasting a mere 63 minutes.
From Oleg Timofeyev’s interesting and informative liner notes we learn that Mikhail Polupayenko was born in Kharkiv, studied medicine in Kharhiv and Kyiv, and gave guitar recitals throughout the Ukraine. His last performance was in Bakhmut in 1902. His Fantasia on Zaporozyhe Themes consists of five short contrasting movements, now slow, now fast, ending with an exciting Allegro vivo where repeated riffs get faster and faster. It brings to my mind Cossack dancers wearing furry hats, with baggy trousers tucked into their boots, kicking out as they crouch down, and calling out with triumph and joy. One thing is for certain: Polupayenko’s music is pleasantly brought to life with Akers’ interpretation and his subtle contrasts of tone colour.
Polupayenko’s Fantasia was dedicated to his friend, the Austrian-born guitarist Johann Decker-Schenk, who moved to Russia in 1861. There is much variety in his music too: Ukrainische Weise is enhanced by some delicate harmonics, and the third movement of his Fantaisie Romantique has a tremolo effect sounding like a Neapolitan mandoline.
Unlike the other composers represented here, Johann Dubez was Austrian. He was a versatile musician who played the violin, harp, mandoline and zither, as well as the guitar. His flamboyant Fantaisie sur des motifs hongrois pour la Guitare consists of 11 short items, including Tempo di Marcia, a setting of the well-known Rácóczi March. The music for the Fantaisie is available online for free download from the IMSLP website, where you can see evidence of his extravagant style, including an Allegretto with fast, arpeggios up and down the neck of the guitar followed by five sextuplets, a passage of descending quavers, rounded off with a super-fast rising scale in broken octaves, diatonic for the first octave and chromatic for the second.
Virtuosity is a constant feature of the music of Nikolai Makaroff, and his Fleurs du Nord, Op. 3, No. 1, also available on IMSLP, are no exception. He finds various ways of catching a casual ear’s attention, including a tricky passage in “Down on Mother Volga”, where the melody is played entirely in harmonics. James Akers makes it all sound so easy, but it most certainly is not.
Pietro Pettoletti was born in Norway, lived for a while in Germany, moved to Sweden when he was 25, and eventually settled in St Petersburg. In his liner notes Oleg Timofeyev explains that Pettoletti’s Fantaisie sur une Romance favorite de Paschkoff, Op. 31, consists of variations on the song, “He fell out of love with me”, by Alexander Guriliov (1803-1858), and that there are no apparent links to the eponymous Paschkoff.
Akers ends his CD with Nicolas Pavilstscheff’s Grande Fantaisie sur un motif de l’Opera “La fiancée” d’Auber, Op. 25 – a splendid showpiece deserving much applause.
Stewart McCoy

Beethoven: String Quartets, opp. 74 & 130

Chiaroscuro String Quartet
BIS BIS-2668

As late as 1801, Beethoven – already 30 years of age – felt the need to write to a friend that ‘only now do I know how to write string quartets properly’. They are words that might be said to provide a telling introduction to the publication of the six quartets of opus 18 the same year. Beethoven’s admission that he had found the medium a difficult one to master is pre-echoed by both Haydn and Mozart. Haydn, more aptly given the appendage ‘father of the string quartet’ than the more familiar ‘father of the symphony’, had a near-decade gap between producing his six opus 20 string quartets and his next set, opus 33 in 1781. It was a lengthy period for such a prolific composer and one in which he intimates that the cause may have been the need to reconsider the medium and compose the recent group ‘in an entirely new and special way’. And we know even Mozart, too, had to work on the string quartet to satisfy himself, writing in his dedication to Haydn of his first set of mature strong quartets that ‘they were the fruits of long and laborious toil’.

This struggle for mastery over the medium is mirrored in the demands made of performers of string quartets and none more so than the later quartets of Beethoven, among which we can include for the present purposes the E-flat Quartet, op. 74, ‘The Harp’ of 1809. It is probably at least in part for this reason that few period instrument quartets have to date tackled them, the wide range of tone and sonority, the extremes of expression making demands few feel confident of tackling. If there was one quartet one felt might be admirably suited to do so it is the Chiaroscuro Quartet, which has already demonstrated convincingly in Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ that it is quite capable of bringing off the big gestures of the early 19th-century repertoire, my review suggesting, ‘It is rare to hear period instrument playing of such technical accomplishment and perfect sense of balance’. Those qualities are again well to the fore in these superbly accomplished performances, embracing as they do an extensive range of sonority and colour achieved across a range of dynamics that extends from little more to a pianissimo whisper to, for example, the attack of the Presto (ii) of op. 130 in B flat, a headlong collision between music and performer. Just occasionally such extremes may be found by some a little too exaggerated, but throughout they fill the performances with vibrant immediacy.

At the other end of the scale, one need only listen to the manner in which the Chiaroscuros lure the listener into the opening Poco Adagio of op. 74, with playing owning to a rapt concentration that segues with the utmost naturalness into loving tenderness at the start of the Allegro. In the context of a performance that captures the general geniality of the quartet, the Presto scherzo brings the savagery of a galloping madman’s cavorting fury along with the grotesquery of the central trio vividly to life, providing a marvellously stark contrast.

For many op. 130 is the epitome of not just Beethoven’s string quartets but the medium itself. Yet associated with that perception are the myths that grew up surrounding the work, that this is music that gives up its secret only on a transcendental level. And then only to those granted some kind of spiritual insight into the work.  To remind those less familiar with it, the quartet is unusually cast in six movements, with four shorter inner movements framed by a large-scale opening movement that, like that of op. 74, opens with an intensely inward Adagio leading to a masculine, strongly muscled Allegro and a finale whose playfulness is affectionately toyed with in the present performance, especially in the feather-light spiccato playing. Equally at odds with the reputation of the forbidding aesthete Beethoven is the tiny Alla danza tedesca (iv), an enchanting German dance caught by the Chiaroscuros with beguiling charm and just a hint of rubato rather than the hefty nudge some quartets give it. And finally I hope it will be forgiven if a personal note creeps into a comment on the heart of the work, the Cavatina (v). But I cannot hear this movement without it recalling a dear friend, long dead. One of the most cultured people I have ever known, for her this was simply the most profound music ever written. She was no friend of period instruments, but I like to think even she would have been moved by the inner concentration and extraordinarily beautiful sonority of the Chiaroscuro Quartet’s playing here.

Brian Robins


Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, op. 10

Daniel  Tong
Resonus RES 10307

Daniel Tong here plays a copy of an Anton Walter fortepiano of 1805 built by the prolific Paul McNulty. In his informative note, Tong makes a number of points regarding the advantages of playing Beethoven on a fortepiano, correctly observing that it brings both the ‘player and the listener closer to Beethoven’s sound world’. Strangely, among other well-made points, he doesn’t mention what to me is always one of the principal advantages of playing the music of this period on a fine fortepiano, which this example unarguably is. That is the deliberate contrasts of tonal colour in the various registers of the instrument, one of the key differences to the modern grand piano, which aims for homogeneity across the spectrum. This seems to me particularly on display in the opus 10 sonatas, where one senses time and again that Beethoven is deliberately exploiting the contrasting sonorities of the instrument. This exploitation is especially potent in such imitative passages between treble and bass (much exploited in these sonatas) as the coda in the Presto of the D-major Sonata.

The three sonatas that constitute opus 10 were published in 1798 with a dedication to Countess von Browne-Camus, the wife of one of Beethoven’s wealthy patrons, one of several dedications of his publications to both count and countess. As Tong notes, the sonatas follow a pattern that applies to almost all of Beethoven’s publications in threes, aiming at works of considerable diversity and one work in a minor key (No 1 in C minor). The one thing all three have in common is their evident intent to provide above all music for Beethoven the virtuoso pianist who wowed the aristocratic salons of Vienna during the 1790s. This is particularly the case with the D-major Sonata, the only one of the three with four rather than three movements and at once the most ambitious and the most technically demanding for the pianist. Tong meets these demands admirably, articulating the virtuoso passagework of the Rondo finale with nimble fingers and great clarity.  He is also capable of extracting poetry from the music where required, as for example in the final bars of the Largo e mesto of the same sonata, where the dynamics are exquisitely controlled to bring the movement to a close of perfectly attained peace. Neither is wit absent from Tong’s playing of a movement like the mostly playful Allegro of the F-major Sonata, where Beethoven uniquely in this set asks for the repeat of the development and recapitulation.

Overall these are admirable performances, enhanced by a recording that presents the instrument itself in the best light, its lovely bell-like treble admirably set off by a characterful middle register and richly resonant bass notes.        

Brian Robins 


Beethoven: Piano Trios, op. 1, nos. 1 & 2

Rautio Piano Trio
resonus RES10305

To my mind, one of the great pleasures of early Beethoven is encountering the future giant as he flexes his muscles, makes his first confident flights of fancy and exercises his ever-increasing power and strength. While admitting there is of course more than a fair share of wisdom after the event about making such an observation, it is nonetheless substantially true. It certainly is, I think, regarding the three Piano Trios of op 1. First given in 1793 at the Viennese home of Beethoven’s patron Prince Lichnowsky, to whom the trios were dedicated, they were revised before publication two years later. Advised by Haydn to make changes, Beethoven not only admitted to his youthful profligacy, observing he had introduced into one work ‘enough music for twenty’, but thanked Haydn for his advice. When the trios were published in 1795, very likely courtesy of a secret subvention by Lichnowsky, they were a great success among the Viennese. It is said they earned him nearly two years’ worth of the salary he had been paid in the post he occupied in Bonn before coming to Vienna.

One of the first things to be noted about the op 1 trios is their ambitious scale. Unlike the three-movement trios of Haydn and Mozart, they are cast in four movements and planned as expansive works, which, if no longer containing enough ideas for twenty, are arresting pieces overflowing with the young composer’s sheer joie de vivre and the unadulterated pleasure of composing. It is these qualities that are so convincingly and compellingly communicated by the period-instrument Rautio Piano Trio (Jane Gordon, violin; Victoria Simonson, cello and Jan Rautio, fortepiano). Both string players play original 17th-century instruments, by G B Rogeri and G Granico respectively, while Rautio’s is based by Paul McNulty on an 1805 Viennese fortepiano built by the Walters. It’s an exceptionally fine-sounding instrument, with an appealingly silvery top and a richly endowed bass capable of powerful chords when necessary. To hear how well and beguilingly the instruments can interact, try the lovely Adagio cantabile (ii) of the Trio in E flat (No 1), where the violin’s song-like melody is joined in dialogue by the cello and then delightful filigree work by the piano, all beautifully balanced. Throughout tempi are well judged, with the players not misled in the ‘slow’ movement of the G-major Trio by the Largo con expressione marking, achieving just the right flow for the movement. And for sheer exuberance go the Finale of the same Trio, with its headlong chasse-like impetus disrupted only by what sounds like a bucolic dance. Technically the playing is of a high order, with Rautio himself, as one might expect in these works, stealing the thunder, his splendid articulation and clean finger-work being a constant pleasure.  Just occasionally I thought the violinist’s tone a little thin, though this may be the recording, which in all other aspects is fine. Overall this is an outstanding addition to the catalogue and it is much to be hoped that the Rautios will complete the set with the C-minor Trio.

Brian Robins


The Poor Branch

Nineteenth-century guitar music by Ivan Klinger (1818-97)
James Akers guitar
resonus RES10302

Ivan Andreevich Klinger (1818-1897) was born in Kherson, Ukraine. His guitar music is little known today, although much of it is available online at IMSLP. Unlike so many of his contemporaries from his part of the world, Klinger wrote for the six-string classical guitar, or Spanish guitar, rather than the Russian seven-string guitar with its characteristic open G tuning of DGBdgbd’. Klinger’s music is very easy on the ears – charming melodies decorated with occasional chromatic inflections and virtuosic interjections – arpeggios, harmonics, changes of tempo, glissandos, but always lyrical, and exploiting the full range of the instrument. Klinger’s compositional skill and James Akers’ sensitive interpretation combine to produce a premiere recording which has been a pleasure to review. The CD is enhanced by excellent liner notes from Oleg Timofeyev, who puts the pieces in context, and provides a wealth of interesting information about them.

Fantasy no. 2, is an attractive piece with considerable variety. An Introduction opens with two phrases, each consisting of five plucked chords, a flourish of single notes, and harmonics; there follows a short passage of arpeggios marked diminuendo, followed by a tremolo marked accelerando. The mood is set for three folk song melodies: “In the garden”, “I love Peter”, and “A birch tree stood in the field”. Each melody is played with variations, including an extraordinary and very effective imitation of the balalaika: the note b is held at the 4th fret of the 3rd string acting as a drone, occasionally dipping down to a# for a first inversion of the dominant; the melody is sustained on the first string; and the second string fills out the harmony, often duplicating in unison the b of the third string; all chords are strummed, but only involving the first three strings of the guitar, creating second inversions of E minor. This is just like the balalaika, which has three strings, is strummed with the fingers, and typically involves unisons and unavoidable inversions of chords.

So much of Klinger’s music is cheerful, but a change of mood comes with “Elegie par Henri Vogel”, which begins with a sad melody sustained by gloomy repeated chords low down in the bass. In his liner notes Oleg Timofeyev explains that the music was originally a composition by Henri Vogel (1845-1900) for viola and piano, and he describes what Klinger has done to adapt it for solo guitar.

The title of the CD, “The Poor Branch”, comes from the title of a song composed by Nikolai Titov (1800-75), which Klinger arranged for solo guitar adding his own variations. It is heard as the penultimate track of the CD. One can easily imagine Klinger captivating 19th-century salon audiences in Ukraine and thereabouts with his playing, and hopefully James Akers will succeed in introducing Klinger’s music to a wider audience today.

Stewart McCoy


Paris 1847

La musique d’Eugène Jancourt
Mathieu Lussier bassoon, Camille Paquette-Roy cello, Sylvain Bergeron guitar, Valérie Milot harp
97:00 [NB this includes two sonatas that can be downloaded from ATMA’s website]
Atma Classique ACD2 2834

I have to say that if I were to choose an ensemble to perform representative music from 1847 Paris then a combination of bassoon, cello, guitar and harp would be some way down the list of possibilities. But one has to at least give a hearing to a player described as ‘a harpist with the soul of a rebel’.

And what a delight! Our rebellious harpist is not the star but she is a more or less constant presence in music composed and/or arranged by Eugène Jancourt, noted bassoonist and pedagogue, who published his comprehensive Méthode in 1847. Mathieu Lussier here takes responsibility for bringing his predecessor’s work to our notice in a quite brilliant recital of music which cannot be described as profound but which is certainly much more than merely instructional for aspiring players. There are affecting slow movements and jolly rondos as well as arrangements of Donizetti, Bellini and Schubert, all for bassoon with an accompaniment for either cello or a second bassoon (here always a cello). To these, the ensemble adds harp (or, for one piece, guitar) as a sort of mid-19th-century continuo. Questionable in HIP terms, but effective.

The booklet essay (in French and English) includes extensive quotes from Jancourt and the graphic designer has managed to combine the inevitably small font with legibility. But to end with the music. If outstanding – actually, remarkable – performances of charming if unknown repertoire appeal to you in any way, go for this. The music can all be found on IMSLP.

David Hansell


Asioli: Cello Sonata, Piano Sonatas

Francesco Galligioni cello, Jolanda Violante fortepiano
Brilliant Classics 95908

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The fortunes of Bonifazio Asiola very much mirror the rise and fall of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy – in 1807 at the age of 38 he is appointed director of the Milan Conservatory by the French Viceroy only to be forced into early retirement by the fall of Napoleon in 1814, although he continued to teach and compose until his death in 1832. Labelled a ‘Sonata per Clavicembalo e Violoncello Obbligato’, Asioli’s Cello Sonata is very much in the new idiom where the cello usually takes the melodic initiative while the piano tends to accompany, although the demanding keyboard part is also allowed to sparkle. This is a substantial work with wonderfully idiomatic writing for the cello – it was after all in Italy that the cello had originally emerged from its traditional continuo role to become a solo instrument. This work was composed in 1784 as a Divertimento for cello and piano, although by 1817 when it was published it had acquired a name more befitting its substantial nature.

We also hear two of Asioli’s three Piano Sonatas op 8, published around 1790, works of considerable musical variety and charm. They are given powerful and expressive renditions by Jolanda Violante on a copy of a bright and incisive Walter & Son fortepiano of 1805, while Francesco Galligioni plays wonderfully eloquently on a late 17th-century Cremonese cello. The excellent programme note by Licia Sirch mentions in passing a wealth of other work by Bonifazio Asioli, and on the basis of these three attractive sonatas, he is a name we should watch out for. But for the vagaries of history, he would probably be much more generally appreciated.

D. James Ross