568:25 (8 CDs in a box)
This boxed set of 8 CDs is so much more than the sum of its parts. Over forty years, London Baroque has accrued experience at playing Baroque trio sonatas which is probably without parallel. This set could so easily have been a celebration of this substantial back catalogue, incorporating their greatest hits, but it isn’t. It is something much more ambitious and much more important. By the careful choice of recordings, pairs of CDs chart the history and development of the Trio Sonata in England, France, Germany and Italy. As far as possible, the tracks on each CD, recorded during the decade between 2002 and 2012, are arranged chronologically by date of composition so the process of evolution is plainly audible, and the comprehensive nature of London Baroque recordings and the sheer authority and musicality of their playing makes this set seem satisfyingly definitive. The English CDs start in the fascinating world of Lawes, Jenkins, Coprario, Locke, Simpson, Blow, and Purcell when the concept of the Trio Sonata was still emerging from the viol consort and bring us gradually step by step through the music of Ravenscroft, Handel, Avison, Boyce, Arne and Abel to a Trio Sonata by Thomas Erskine, Earl of Kelly (actually a Scot) in which the very concept of the Trio Sonata teeters on the edge of string quartet. It is fascinating to listen to the broad arc of development demonstrated here from the quintessential ‘English’ sound, quirkily traditional in the manner Playford’s Dancing Master tunes and reaching back to the Elizabethan era, through the arrival of influences from Europe, chiefly Italy and arriving at the Germanic pre-classical idiom demonstrated by the Stamitz-trained Kelly. Similar journeys of discovery await in the other three pairs of CDs, which also draw in composers whose music is hardly familiar, but who play a vital role in the development of this genre. The playing of London Baroque is wonderfully expressive throughout, capturing perfectly every nuance of the gradually evolving musical styles, while forty years of rapport is apparent in their perfect coordination. Ornamentation, dynamic variation and subtleties of tempo are thoroughly organic, and the rich, full sound of the ensemble is vividly captured by the BIS engineers. This boxed set is an absolute delight – buy it and indulge!
D. James Ross