Body & Soul Consort 47:41 E-Label: bellesecouteuses.com
Well… I approached this CD with an open mind, and if I could have selected my favourite bits I would have been writing quite a positive review of about ten minutes of music. This would have consisted of some lovely singing of 17th-century material by Ellen Giacone, accompanied by archlute, cornet and gamba. Unfortunately, this was not possible as, in addition to being interspersed by 1940s and 50s numbers, the early material had a habit of being invaded by drumkit and bass guitar, as if they had been waiting for centuries for this treatment. While the ‘early’ material is relatively inoffensive, the later material does not really lend itself to performance on a mixture of early and modern instruments, while the crossover treatment is often just silly. I usually complete the headings of my reviews after I have written the review itself, and it is quite some time since I have noted with relief the brevity of a CD. I can’t imagine who will want to buy this curious CD, but if 17th–/20th-century fusion is your thing, knock yourself out.
CROSSOVER IS NOT really our thing, but these Bach arrangements for a cappella voices reminiscent of The Swingle Singers are actually quite revelatory in the way in which the original lines are vocalised to different sounds, meaning not only the timbres of the individual voices but also the vowels and consonants they choose, and how they are sometimes shared between voices to cover the wide ranges. For me, it was frustrating to have so many bleeding chunks – two of three movements of the A minor violin concerto, for example, are separated by the theme and seven of the Goldberg Variations and the slow movement of the D minor concerto for two violins. While I found the theme a little languorous, the first half of Variation 1 (especially with two voices sometimes singing the “top” line to give added colour) babbled along, though parts of the verbal exchanges of the second half were a little too “hard” for my ears. This was not always a problem, as the “Fuga Canonica in Epidiapente” from The Musical Offering really gained from the same treatment – the complex counterpoint became so clear! Not one for purists, I fear, but possibly something to put on during a dinner party to see if anyone can guess what it is. Brian Clark
Christopher Purves, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]uch was the success of the first volume of Handel arias made by this line-up that they have released a second, exploring both opera and oratorio and portraying virtually every human emotion. Purves’s wide-ranging baritone voice has a real presence to it, and – as Handel requires – he pulls off some seemingly effortless wide leaps, and navigates the coloratura without a hint of the bluster that typically accompanies this repertoire. Arcangelo go from strength to strength – their performance of op. 3 no. 4 bustles with energy and the solos (including the bassoon in an aria by Porpora that featured in Handel’s London pasticcio, Catone) are all neatly done. The star of the show, though, is that voice; be it angry or sad, happy or regretful, there is a range of colours and an evenness of quality that must be the envy of many singers.
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ans of The Swingle Singers will not be the only people to enjoy this take on Bach’s music; where they incorporated jazzy rhythmic percussion and restricted to their range of syllables to the minimum required to delineate the polyphonic lines, SLIXS (a group of six German singers) provide all of the sounds (including some very deep notes and some “beatboxing”) and explore different vocalisations to suit the mood and the tempo of the piece being performed. Highly dubious, as you can imagine, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that the first track (their interpretation of the opening movement of the A minor violin concerto) revealed new possibilities for a work I’d actually played at school and thought I knew! The bulk of the recital is made up of the theme and seven of the Goldbergs, alongside a movement from the Magnificat, the slow movement of the aforementioned violin concerto, the Gavotte from the E major solo violin partita, the slow movement of the D minor concerto for two violins, and two fugues. The group make no claim to be classically trained and some of the sounds are not beautiful, but there is a real integrity to these renditions and also a real joy in exploring new facets to some truly timeless music – I have no doubt the disc will not be to everyone’s taste, but equally I doubt any musician genuinely interested in how to perform music will walk away without learning something new. As far from HIP as it is possible to be, but with a lot to teach us.
Luise Haugk, Czech Ensemble Baroque, Roman Válek
Supraphon SU 4240-2
+Exsultate Deo,* Oboe concerto in F,* Sinfonia no. 52 in D (*premiere recordings)
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is the third recording by these forces of Richter’s music, and once again it amply displays the many impressive facets of the composer’s output; alongside a grandiose setting of the Te Deum we hear an impressive symphony packed with pomp and circumstance, a little-known virtuosic oboe concerto (recorded on period instruments for the first time), and the first of four motets for a procession in Strasbourg on the Feast of Corpus Christi. Famed as he may nowadays be for his Mannheim symphonies, the more we are able to hear his church music, the better we are able to understand that Richter was no second-rate composer; the rousing openings of the symphony and the choral works show that he had an ability to seize the listeners’ attention and enough imaginative power to hold it for long periods – at over 22 minutes long, the Te Deum didn’t seem to last any time at all. The composer cannot take all the credit, though; this is a team effort, and Válek and his excellent musicians (the choir has four singers per part and he uses 44221 strings) are perfect advocates of their compatriot’s output; the soloists are taken from the tutti group (with the exception of tracks 5 and 9 where another tenor is used), and throughout the singing is first rate with nicely articulated lines and neat ornamentation. The booklet notes, which say no more than they have to (in four languages!), promise more releases in the series – I, for one, shall be waiting!
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his CD of psalm settings by Benedetto Marcello opens with a charming Sonata a tré for gamba, cello and continuo. This elegantly understated music prepares the ground perfectly for the psalms, two for solo soprano, one for alto with a pair of obbligato gambas, and one for soprano and alto duet. Intriguingly Marcello quotes Hebrew chants in these settings, although it seems rather eccentric for the present performers to have monodist Antonio Magarelli sing the relevant chants in the middle of Marcello’s settings. Marcello has a wonderful sense of melody and writes beautifully for voices and instruments alike, and the present soloists, soprano Caroline Pelon and contralto Mélodie Ruvio, sing with an effective lyricism and musicality. More famous as an instrumental composer, it is interesting to see that Marcello is just as capable in his compositions for voices, introducing the same effective blend of strong melodic ideas and inventive harmonic and textural concepts. The setting for alto and violette, interpreted here as meaning gambas, is particularly striking with some unusual deployment of the obbligato instruments (track 17).
Benno Schachtner, Axel Wolf, Jakob Rattlinger, Andreas Küppers
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his delightful recital CD recorded in the Baroque splendour of the library of Roggenburg Abbey in Bavaria is a showcase for the lovely voice and expressive musicality of male alto Benno Schachtner. Choosing the finest solo songs of the 17th century by the English composers Purcell, Dowland, Croft, Blow, Robert Johnson and token Scotsman Tobias Hume, Schachtner and his virtuoso continuo ensemble give exquisite and dramatic accounts which speak of deep study and considerable familiarity with this fine repertoire. At no point does Schachtner’s technique sound remotely stretched; indeed, we are blissfully unaware of technical considerations throughout this recording.
[Video is in German, without sub-titles]
More than this, the performers have clearly researched their material closely and alongside two energetic Hume gamba solos, the same composer’s Fain would I change that note is performed by voice and gamba alone, as if the composer himself were performing it! Further elegant solos on the harpsichord and lute provide variety, but actually I could have listened to Schachtner’s expressive voice until the cows came home. Just as the group finish the song which gives the CD its title, Dowland’s Cleare or cloudie, and significantly just before they start Purcell’s Fly swift ye hours, the microphones pick up the plaintive call of a great tit in the background – so glad they left that in!
Chamber duets by Bononcini, Steffani, Marcello et al.
Filippo Mineccia, Raffaele Pe, La Venexiana, Claudio Cavina
Glossa GCD 920942
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his interesting CD presents a series of chamber duets for two alto voices from the early 18th century. As the perceptive programme note points out, the chamber duet is a form distinct from any other duet, such as those occurring regularly in cantatas and operas, in that the two parts are not sparring with one another, but are rather two complementary parts of one persona. Many of the composers represented were also writing powerful operatic roles for male altos and sopranos, and so were well acquainted with the technical possibilities as well as possessing a developed sense of drama. Very effectively accompanied by the four continuo instruments of La Venexiana, the two excellent male alto soloists Filippo Mineccia and Raffaele Pe provide something of a masterclass in expressive alto singing, ranging from the powerfully declamatory to the whisperingly intimate. We are currently living in a golden age of male falsetto singing, allowing us once again to appreciate the finest of Baroque music composed for the great castrato singers of the 18th century, and this CD taps into a rich seam of music which reveals a more subtle side of the repertoire than perhaps opera provides. To introduce variety, the performers include two lovely alto solos by Bononcini, while the complex and imaginative duet by the Venetian-born Neapolitan composer Cristofaro Caresana is a revelation, adding to the growing profile of the Neapolitan Baroque scene. As a bonus, the designer of the package, Rosa Tendero, has been allowed to go mad with ‘cut and paste’ on Baroque prints, to hilarious effect.
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]n unkind review of some years ago referred to the ‘tweedledum-tweedledee’ style of performance applied sometimes to Monteverdi, and I’m afraid the term sprang to mind when I was listening to this CD of Monteverdi’s madrigals. In his programme note, Pierre Mamou seems to suggest that the performers will be seeking the exaggerated and ugly beneath the beauty of Monteverdi’s music (I oversimplify), and I’m afraid for my part they succeed only too well. Monteverdi’s dramatic dialogues need careful handling to avoid triteness, and I’m afraid if you are going for a comic effect as the singers do here, the result soon becomes tiresome and ridiculous. There is some lovely singing, when the performers temporarily seem to forget their stated mission and engage in lyrical singing and delicate ornamentation, but soon the exaggerated expression returns and the effect is spoiled. The central work, The Battle of Tancredi and Clorinda, receives a more measured account, or perhaps the drama inherent in the work makes this mode of performance more acceptable. Luca Dordolo is an animated testo, while the instrumental forces are also effectively engaged in this powerful tale. Due to the enlightened Scottish Exam Board decision to include Il Combattimento in the 1970s Higher Music syllabus, it was the first music by Monteverdi I ever came across. As a result, I am very familiar with the multitude of recordings which have been made of it since, and while this is not the best, it stands up rather well by comparison. I should point out there is a bonus track on the CD, a rather ‘contemporary’ realisation of a song by Giovanni Felice Sances, which would not sound out of place in a New York piano bar – perhaps this is where the performers have been longing to be all along…
Graindelavoix, Björn Schmelzer
Glossa GCD P 32114
[dropcap]R[/dropcap]egular readers of my reviews will have charted my growing disenchantment with the recordings of Graindelavoix, and this latest album does nothing to buck the trend, although perhaps some of the more obnoxious features of previous releases are not as pronounced. In his frankly rambling and idiosyncratic notes to this programme of madrigals by Cipriano de Rore, the group’s director Björn Schmelzer states that they will be presenting the music in its ‘simple form’ as defined by the Renaissance musician Luigi Zenobi. It is certainly the case that they generally eschew extended decorative passagi, but in some of the accounts there is scarcely a note which isn’t bent, wobbled or swooped up to or down from, creating a most unpleasant and unsettling effect. A very close and dense recorded ambiance with a curious tinny after-echo, which recalled Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody or Sting’s unfortunate brush with Dowland, serves to exaggerate the wealth of self-indulgent mannerisms in the singing to the point of obscuring the original music. Rather than ornamenting according to any sort of historical precedent, each of the singers just seems to be doing whatever comes up their back, while vocal production seems to be allowed to range wildly from a pure focussed sound to raw shouting. All this would be more than enough to put me off these accounts, but there are also regular examples of uncomfortable intonation and lack of rhythmical unanimity. On the instrumental front, Floris de Rycker’s ceterone is much too closely recorded, giving it an unpleasant tinny tone, and only the cornett of Lluis Coll I Trulls seems to escape the generally inept recording. The completely bonkers title of the CD, which seems to rely entirely on a link in Schmelzer’s fevered imagination between Dylan Thomas, a portrait of a rather gaunt Cipriano and the starving dog featured in the corner of Dürer’s engraving of Melancolia, seems like an excuse to distort the rather happy world of de Rore’s music into a nightmare of the group’s own warped imagination. I can only hope that only Graindelavoix fans – and there must still be some, I suppose – will invest in this grotesque distortion of the music, while the general listening public will be warned off by the macabre title.