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"The Best of Baroque Music"

  1. HANDEL: Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from "Solomon" *
  2. BACH: Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3
  3. BACH: Badinerie from Orchestral Suite No. 2
  4. BACH: Largo ma non tanto from Concerto in D minor

  5. Christine Pichlmeier and Lisa Stewart, violins
  6. CORELLI: Pastorale from "Christmas " Concerto Grosso
  7. BACH: Allegro (III) from Brandenburg Concerto No. 2
  8. HANDEL: Largo from "Serse" *
  9. BACH: Bourrée I/II from Orchestral Suite No. 4
  10. ALBINONI: Adagio from Oboe Concerto in D minor

  11. Stefan Schilli, oboe
  12. PACHELBEL: Canon and Gigue *
  13. VIVALDI: Largo from Flautino Concerto in C major

  14. Daniel Rothert, recorder *
  15. TELEMANN: Harlequinade from Overture in D major
  16. BACH: Largo from Harpsichord Concerto in F minor

  17. Harald Hoerer, harpsichord
  18. TELEMANN: Réjouissance from Recorder Suite in A minor

  19. Daniel Rothert, recorder *
  20. TELEMANN: Passepied I/II from Recorder Suite in A minor

  21. Daniel Rothert, recorder *
  22. MARCELLO: Adagio from Oboe Concerto in D minor

  23. Stefan Schilli, oboe
  24. BACH: Allegro from Brandenburg Concerto No. 4
  25. ALBINONI/GIAZOTTO: Adagio in G minor *
Cologne Chamber Orchestra/Helmut Müller-Brühl
Recorded at Deutschland Radio, Cologne, 1995-99, April 2002 *
NAXOS 8.557124 [68:18]

Naxos has been releasing many compilation discs, and "The Best of Baroque" is the latest to hit the record stores. These types of recordings are not intended for serious collectors, but for new listeners who want to get a sampling of a particular composer or genre.

The first measure of this new discís merit is the degree to which it does offer the best of baroque music. One quickly notes that all the programmed works on the disc are of the orchestral variety and that only one performing group is presented. Using just the Cologne Chamber Orchestra is quite a limitation on the variety of music that can be offered. It also brings up another limitation in that we get three Telemann pieces of dubious Ďgreatnessí, while Vivaldiís ever-popular "The Four Seasons" is entirely absent. In essence, this is the way it has to be since Müller-Brühl has not recorded "The Four Seasons". Considering the extent of the Naxos back-catalog of baroque music, the Ďone groupí approach does not appear wise.

Concerning the performances themselves, the Cologne Chamber Orchestra is a fine modern instrument band and has recorded often for Naxos. The groupís recordings of Bach have been well received, and they have also ventured into the Classical era with discs of Haydnís Symphonies and the Cello Concertos.

Generally, the interpretations on the new disc are stylish and rewarding. In fact, Tracks 1-6 are exceptional. Handelís "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba is an exciting listening experience as are Bachís Badinerie and the Allegro from the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. Poignancy is fully conveyed in Bachís Air and the Corelli Pastorale. Most impressive is the definition and interplay between the two solo violins in Bachís Concerto in D minor.

Problems begin to crop up with the Largo from Handelís opera "Serse", which is music that should pierce the listenerís heart. However, the orchestra is merely efficient, never digging deeply into the incisive human longing conveyed within the context of the opera.

The woodwinds present my primary skepticism. The solo oboe and especially the solo recorder sound thin and shrill, making it difficult to enjoy the otherwise excellent performances of the Albioni Adagio from the Oboe Concerto, and the two Telemann pieces from his Recorder Suite. Particularly troublesome is the Largo from Vivaldiís Falutino Concerto where the recorderís piercing sounds could be damaging to oneís eardrums.

There are many Bach compilation discs in well-stocked record stores to choose from that are consistently engaging and well engineered. Given the less than fully satisfying program and the shrill woodwinds, the Naxos "Best of Baroque" disc represents a low priority and I can only offer a tepid recommendation to new Bach listeners. The more seasoned Bach record collector has no reason to consider the disc.

Naxos has provided the classical music world such a great service with its various complete series of composersí bodies of works, instrumental series like the Organ Encyclopedia, the American Classics series, and the discovery of obscure works that might have never seen the light of day. However, this "Best of" recording strategy is beginning to get old. Snippets and movements from major works are not my idea of a worthy presentation of any composerís music, and Naxos shouldnít think that new classical music fans have only a short attention span. Still, I am always at the ready to praise this type of enterprise if the performances and programs live up to the artistry of the composer. In this case, Naxos, Helmut Müller-Brühl and the engineering crew are not consistently suitable.

Don Satz



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