Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Serenade No.13 in G major KV 525 ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’ (1787)
Georg Friederich HANDEL (1685-1759)
Largo: ‘Ombra mai fu’ from opera: Xerxes (1738) Arranged by Sir Neville Marriner
Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706)
Canon in D major
Arcangelo CORELLI (1658-1718)
Concerto grosso Op.6 No.8 in G minor ‘Christmas Concerto’
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
‘Air on the G string’, from Suite No.3 for orchestra in D major BWV 1068
Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751)
Adagio for organ and strings Reconstructed by Remo Giazotti
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’ from opera: ‘Orfeo and Eurydice’ (1762)
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Dido’s: Lament ‘When I am Laid in Earth’ from opera ‘Dido and Aeneas’ (1689) Orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski
Georg Friedrich HANDEL (1685-1759)
‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ Sinfonia: introduction to the third act of Handel’s oratorio ‘Salomon’ (1748)
Academy of St. Martin in the Field/Iona Brown
Recorded in July 1996, Henry Wood Hall, London DDD
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 94.040 [67:40]
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Even if the craze for compilations of the ‘greatest hits’ of various composers is driving you mad this new release ‘Serenade’ from Hänssler Classic on their ‘Masterpiece Performance’ series is well worth considering; especially as the playing from the ASMF is of such a high calibre. Ultimately what matters is whether the music is of high quality and with this collection the quality is never in question.
The director Iona Brown confidently leads the ASMF extracting bouncing rhythms, deep meditative episodes and excellent ensemble balance in often heard music which can sound dull in less imaginative hands. It makes me realise just how talented 17th and 18th century orchestral players must have been to cope with the frequently taxing demands of these works.
First up on this disc is the evergreen serenade ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’ by Mozart of which there are many excellent versions in the CD catalogue. The loveable and charming serenade comes off very nicely with an exceedingly graceful andante (sound sample track 2, point 3:10) an organised and focused finale, and a feeling of joie de vivre throughout.
The glorious largo from Xerxes’ aria ‘Ombra mai fu’ by Handel is performed in an arrangement by Sir Neville Marriner with finely expressive playing from the ASMF strings. Next the ensemble give a stately account of Pachelbel’s celebrated ‘Canon’ and Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op.6, No.8 known as the ‘Christmas Concerto’ (composed for the Nativity at Christmas Eve) which requires a dialogue between the larger and smaller groups of instruments and is particularly well done.
Although I am unsure whose arrangement is being used, the popular ‘Air on the G string’ from the Suite No. 3 by J.S. Bach comes across as a most spiritual work with a particularly effective harpsichord part. The performance is as fine as I have heard (sound sample track 13, point 0.00) . The ‘Adagio’ for organ and strings was put together from the fragments left by Albinoni by Remo Giazotti. Meditative, measured and dignified the ASMF give a sterling interpretation of the work which can all too easily sound inflated (sound sample track 14, point 4:54). There is top drawer playing too in a most enjoyable and gracious account of the ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’ from Gluck’s opera ‘Orfeo and Eurydice’.
Stokowski’s deeply-felt orchestration of Dido’s lament: ‘When I am Laid in Earth’ from Purcell’s opera ‘Dido and Aeneas has been wickedly described as rather indulgent and not fit for purists. That’s as may be, here Iona Brown directs a performance which is attractively played bringing out the special qualities of the melody.
The concluding work on the release is the ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ which is in fact a ‘sinfonia’ the introduction to the third act of Handel’s oratorio ‘Solomon’. The ensemble play with the necessary sensitive lightness of touch that can often get forgotten.
Throughout the disc the playing from the ASMF is fresh, engaging and particularly expressive in the slower, more meditative works, without a hint of playing to the gallery. The excellent recorded sound from the experienced engineers Timperley and Rowlands is full, warm and immediate.
I must state my protest at the lack of information in the booklet notes. Like several other record companies Hänssler allow the complete notes to be downloaded from their website. Firstly this assumes that all listeners are on-line, secondly this can be a pain to undertake and thirdly who wants to keep A4 size paper notes folded up inside the CDs jewel case ad infinitum. For me this practice is little to do with record companies keeping their overheads down and more to do with wanting the purchaser to visit their website for marketing purposes.
This is an exceptionally fine release from Hänssler Classic without any hint of the routine. Listeners requiring any of these famous works will not be disappointed.
Serenade No. 13, KV 525 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik':
Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (Solomon)
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