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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    




The Art of Ornamentation in Early Music [107.38]
Various performers, including:
Deller Consort
Maureen Forrester
Anton Heiller
I Solisti di Zagreb
Jaye Consort of Viols
Igor Kipnis
Gustav Leonhardt
Rec: November - December 1966, Musikverein, Vienna.
VANGUARD OVC 2537/38 [107.38]
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Early and baroque music make ample use of ornamentation, or the addition of notes to a melody to change and decorate it. All types of music from these periods use ornamentation, and it is, in most cases, up to the performer to decide how to play it. In many cases, music with repeats - the same section played twice, as is often the case with baroque music - is played in such a manner that the repeat is an ornamented version of the first section. There are many ways to ornament music, and the latitude is wide - from subtle, occasional ornamentation, as is often heard with Bach’s music, to more complex ornaments such as that of the French school of harpsichord music.

This two-CD set, recorded in 1966, is an attempt to show listeners the ins and outs of ornamentation. By the presentation of the same pieces of music in two forms - a simple form, followed by an ornamented form - listeners can understand just how music is ornamented, and can hear a wide variety of ornamental styles.

The music on this set ranges from renaissance vocal music, by composers from the 15th and 16th centuries, to baroque and late baroque music, stopping with Gluck. Some of the most famous composers are featured here: Couperin, Vivaldi, Handel, Telemann, Corelli, but absent are some of the staples of the baroque period, such as Bach, Buxtehude, and Purcell. Nevertheless, the reason to buy this set is more for its pedagogical value than the music itself.

One of the most striking examples of ornamentation is the Menuet by Couperin. In its basic, "unornamented" form, it already contains a great deal of ornaments. The second form shows how ornamentation can truly be improvisation, as the melody is deconstructed and reconstructed. This short piece, at just over one minute, is a lesson on its own on the art of ornamentation. Some of the vocal music shows how complex ornaments can be. The Handel aria Lascia ch’io pianga is a good example of this, as soprano Annelise Hückel takes this simple melody and changes it totally in tone and effect.

This is not a disc to buy to listen to often, nor are its performances memorable. But it does give insight into the art of ornamentation and will help any lover of early and baroque music better understand this essential component that gives the music a unique character.

Kirk McElhearn


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