This is a reissue
– and a welcome one – on Hyperion’s Helios label; it’s a collection
of string pieces by the late Baroque composer Francesco Geminiani.
First released twenty years ago, it makes a valid and representative
introduction to some of the strengths of Geminiani. At the same
time the selection highlights the skills and interpretative powers
of performers, many of whom were just beginning to make names
for themselves in the 1980s and are now firmly established as
specialists in their fields. Indeed the Purcell Quartet was in
the middle of a wider series of chamber music based on La Folia.
Grosso is actually the only work on this disc so based. It’s beautifully
played here, though. There is energy, a sailing and uplifting
movement in what’s already a lively and extrovert theme. The other
Concerto Grosso, the G Minor Opus 7 number 2, is tackled just
as stylishly and should convince anyone sceptical of Geminiani’s
place in the canon that his blend of thematic thrift and apposite
instrumentation admirably vindicates his champions’ faith in the
composer’s inventiveness and technical adeptness.
There are three Trio
Sonatas here. Number 3 in F Major seems at time to be holding
back and has the most delightful, subtle melodies. Number 5 in
A Minor has just as much sophistication, variety and emerges through
gentle curves and swayings of sound; the opening movement has
some exciting yet controlled counterpoint. And number 6 in D Minor
has an almost Handelian middle movement and much uplifting yet
not unserious ripieno and thrusting passages which reveal the
beauty of these dedicated players’ string sound.
The thing you’ll probably
notice as you settle into the first few tracks is the sedate pace
- a marked slowness of tempi. This is all to the good - for the
unrushed unfolding of thematic ideas and supporting instrumentation
allow the music to breathe, and every nuance to be fully audible.
Indeed there is a dignity and gravitas to, for example,
the F Major’s gentle statement and counter-statement; they make
it sound more classical than spontaneous. Yet the execution here
is far from predictable or dull. Similarly the gentle, walking
pace with which each of the players sets out the theme of La
Folia itself has the effect, almost, of a first time hearing.
hits some high spots and sends shivers down the spine with her
performance of the Opus 1 number 3 solo sonata in E Minor; Catherine
Mackintosh similarly does opus 4 number 12 proud – though with
perhaps not quite the same self-confidence as Wallfisch.
So there’s a pleasing
array of textures, musical ideas and harmonic depth on this CD.
It bears repeating that this is music originally meant for amateur,
‘local’ performance (and consumption). Its flavour has been suavely
picked up and handled very well by these consummate professionals.
The lasting impression remains of unspectacular detachment; the
music is played with a generous seriousness that nevertheless
never cloys nor draws attention to itself. It’s stately and almost
regal at times. Maybe that’s chiefly because tempi are a tiny
bit slower than we have become used to in intervening years. But
really none the worse for that – we can savour every turn and
The fact that these
dozen accomplished musicians haven’t thereby rendered the music
in any way ‘precious’ must originate in their evident exuberance,
and enjoyment of knowing and presenting it. There’s a genuineness
and gentle familiarity in their playing that makes them superb
ambassadors for what Geminiani was aiming at – and what he usually
so successfully achieved: persuasive, thoughtful and accessible
music of great originality and subtle beauty.
Geminiani (who studied
with Corelli in Rome) seems to have been a bit… ‘needy’ where
conducting and organizing his own music was concerned; Burney
put his failings down to a shaky sense of tempi! He was more adept
at re-arranging (his) music when necessary – indeed it is the
1739 revision of his Opus 1 from 1716 that we hear on this CD.
The musicians here play with never a hint of such shortcomings
thereby lifting the music into a more refined, almost rarefied,
sphere. But, again, this steadiness is a big plus where music
of such delicacy is concerned.
The liner notes are
somewhat on the sparse side; the sound is more than adequate if
a little closely recorded, and the quantity not all that generous
at little more than 50 minutes. All in all this is a disc that
can be thoroughly recommended. Listening to it carefully and with
renewed attention (there’s always something new at each hearing…
a delayed harpsichord entry, an apposite rallentando, a
striking counterplay of closing chords) will bring hours of pleasure.