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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger




Discover the music of the Baroque Era
135pp. book included

NAXOS 8.558160-61 [78:28 + 79:34] [2:38:02]




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Gregorio ALLEGRI (1582 - 1652) Misereri Mei
Johan Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750) Violin Sonata No. 1: 1st Movement; Cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51: Aria ‘Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen’; Prelude from Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 550; Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, BWV 1047: 3rd Movement; Prelude and Fugue in G minor BWV 861 from ‘The Well-tempered Clavier’; Wedding Cantata, BWV 202: Aria ‘Sich uben im Lieben’; St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244: Wir setzen uns mit Tranen nieder; Harpsichord concerto in F minor, BWV 1056: 2nd Movement
Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637 - 1707) Membra Jesu Nostri: 3rd movement.
Pierre CERTON (d. 1572) La, la, la, je ne l’ose dire
Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643 - 1704) Noel: Un flambeau, Janette, Isabelle
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653 - 1713) Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op. 6 No. 8 ‘Christmas Concerto’: Pastorale
Francois COUPERIN (1668 - 1733) Les Sentiments; La Manon
Giovanni GABRIELI (1554 - 1612) Sonata pian’e forte, alla quarta bassa, a 8
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759) Concerto Grosso in B minor: 3rd Movement; Rinaldo: ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’; Acis and Galatea: ‘O Ruddier than the Cherry’; Harpsichord Suite No. 7 in G minor, HWV 432: Passacaille; Messiah: ‘For unto us a child is born’; Concerto Grosso in D minor, Op. 6 No. 10: 6th Movement
William LAWES (1602 - 1645) Royal Consort in D major: Ecco;
Jean-Baptise LULLY (1632 - 1687) Benedictus: 1st movement
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 - 1643) Vespers of the Blessed Virgin: Domine ad adiuvandum
Johann PACHELBEL (1653 - 1706) Toccata in C major
Henry PURCELL (1659 - 1695) Hear my prayer, O Lord; Dido and Aeneas: Dido’s Lament
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683 - 1764) Les Boreades: Gavotte pour les Fleures et les Zéphires; Suite in E minor-major: Musette en rondeau, Tambouring
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660 - 1725) Cantata pastorale per la nascita di Nostro Signore: Aria: L’Autor d’ogni mio bene
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685 - 1757) Sonata in D minor, K120; Sonata in E major K. 380; Sonata in D major, K 96
Heinrich SCHUTZ (1585 - 1672) Der Psalm 100, SWV 36
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562 - 1621) Variations on ‘Mein junges Leben hat ein End’
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767) Overture in D major: Réjouissance
Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741) Flute Concerto in D Maor, Op. 10 No. 3 ‘Il gardellino’: 1st Movement, Allegro; Beatus Vir RV 597
Kym Amps (soprano)
David van Asch (bass)
Tracy Smith Bessette (soprano)
Maya Boog (soprano)
James David Christie (organ)
Lawrence Cummings (harpsichord)
Lucy van Dael (violin)
Bela Drahos (flute)
Jacob Heringman (theorbo)
Harald Hoeren (harpsichord)
Jeno Jando (piano)
Ingrid Kertesi (soprano)
David Miller (theorbo)
Gilbert Rowland (harpsichord)
Wolfgang Rübsam (organ)
Jurgen Schuster (trumpet)
Christine Stelmacovitch (alto)
Balazs Szokolay (piano)
Friederike Wagner (soprano)
Choir of Radio Svizzera, Lugano
Hungarian Festival Choir
Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly
Oxford Schola Cantorum
Accademia Strumentale Italiana Verona/Diego Fasolis
Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon
Camerata Budapest/Laszlo Kovacs
Capella Istropolitana/Jozef Kopelman
Capella Istropolitana/Chrisian Brembeck
Capella Savaria/Mary Terey-Smith
Cologne Chamber Orchestra/Helmut Muller-Bruhl
Failoni Chamber Orchestra, Budapest/Matyas Antal
Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra/Geza Oberfrank
Le Concert Spirituel/Herve Niquet
London Symphony Brass/Eric Crees
Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfinia
Northern Chamber Orchestra/Nicholas Ward
Rose Consort of Viols
Scholars Baroque Ensemble
Sonatori de al Gioiosa Marca, Treviso
Westra Aros Pipers/Bertil Farnlor
Recording dates and locations not given

 

All record companies are keen to lever their back catalogue. Compilation albums are a useful way not only to re-use recordings but also to tempt the listener into exploring the original recordings more fully. Naxos has a rather didactic streak so they have been using their catalogue to try and educate the casual punter. They produce a useful series introducing works, where a spoken commentary is interleaved with recordings. The problem with this format is that when the work has been well and truly introduced, the recording becomes a little redundant.

For their Discover the music of the Baroque Era set, they provide a 2 disc set containing selections from the Baroque Music in their catalogue (some 41 items in all) plus a 130 page booklet written by Clive Unger-Hamilton. The booklet comprehensively introduces the music and the composers of that era and adds pictures, a time-line and a useful glossary. In this case there is no spoken narration so to get the most out of the set the listener must read the booklet and listen to the CDs. The booklet helps to explain a rather puzzling feature of the discs, namely the running order. At first it seems a little random, but in fact the sequence of the pieces is carefully chosen so that as the user reads the book he can work his way through the tracks of the CD in order.

Inevitably Unger-Hamilton has to skate over things pretty quickly; after all he has plenty of ground to cover. The booklet is divided into four major chapters Introduction: Enter the Players, The Beginnings, The Fashion Spreads: Different Styles for Different Lands and Full Flower: High Baroque. Within these he covers the major (and some minor) composers and outlines musical activity within significant European countries.

The musical excerpts are never less than creditable and most performances are more than adequate but only a few have a real wow factor. In terms of casual listening, this can be a problem, but viewed as a learning aid this set fits the bill well.

The only significant drawback is that the musical illustrations have to be drawn exclusively from the Naxos catalogue. Some composers such as Arne, Avison and Biber, who the reader may be less familiar with, have no musical excerpts.

The discs covers keyboard solos by Domenico Scarlatti, Bach, Couperin, Rameau, Pachelbel, Sweelinck and Handel, recorded variously on harpsichord, piano and organ. Those recorded on harpsichord suffer from similar problems of close recording in an over-reverberant acoustic and none displays the full range of tonal colour that the instrument can produce. Some of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas are played on piano by Balazs Szokolay and although he avoids making them sound like Schumann, he is not quite crisp enough for my taste. Jeno Jando is more successful with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G minor on piano. It is a shame, though, that Wolfgang Rübsam is denied his fugue and plays only the organ Prelude in G major.

A number of performing groups contribute more than one performance. The Oxford Camerata, under Jeremy Summerly, sings with a good clear, focused and rather English tone. They provide perfectly straightforward accounts of Allegri’s Miserere, Schutz’s attractive, double-choir Psalm 100 and a stunning Purcell Hear my Prayer.

The Capella Istropolitana’s performances of the movements from Handel’s Concerto Grossi no. 3 and no. 6 are creditable but rather old-fashioned; whereas the Cologne Chamber Orchestra, though also playing on modern instruments, manage to turn in performances which sound a little more contemporary. They provide fine accompaniments to Maya Boog’s lovely soprano in an aria from Alessandro Scarlatti’s Cantata pastorale per la nascita di Nostro Signore and to Jurgen Schuster’s fabulous solo trumpet in a movement from Stradella’s Sonata in D. When the orchestra performs on their own in Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in G minor, they sound rather heavy-handed, but they play Telemann’s Overture in D major with a lighter touch, though it is really the woodwind who impress here.

The Scholars Baroque Ensemble turn up several times. They give a rousing performance of the opening movement of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610. But in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas there is something of a mismatch between the lightly-scored orchestra and Kym Amps’ big-boned and vibrato-laden Dido. Similarly in Polyphemus’s aria from Handel’s Acis and Galatea the strings contribute a wonderful dancing accompaniment but David van Asch sounds light-voiced and his passage-work disappoints. Their complete Messiah for Naxos was notable for its use of Handel’s first version of the work, so it is a shame that the excerpt chosen (the chorus ‘For unto us a child is born’) does not reflect this.

As ever on such compilations, it is the discoveries one makes which stand out. Ingrid Kertesi’s stunning account of Lasci ch’io pianga from Handel’s Rinaldo sent me running to the Naxos catalogue to check out her complete disc. Similarly William Lawes’ Ecco from his Royal Consort in D major for two theorbos, made me keen to hear the rest of the work. I was unfamiliar with Schutz’s Psalm 100 and am glad that the Oxford Camerata’s fine performance has brought it to my attention.

The discs cover a gamut of styles. As I have said, some of the string playing is very heavy and too old-fashioned for my taste. Perhaps the single most old-fashioned movement is the chorus from the St. Matthew Passion performed by the Hungarian Festival Choir and the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra. At the opposite end of the spectrum Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel contribute a sparkling movement from Lully’s Benedictus, all played and sung in the most contemporary of period performance practice. Similarly the Canadian group, the Aradia Ensemble, provide a charmingly light account of one of Charpentier’s Noels. Gabrieli’s Sonata is played on modern instruments by London Symphony Brass and if I have to have to hear it on modern instruments then I cannot think of a better group to play it.

Though purists may not enjoy all the performances there is something here for everyone and the set is highly recommended as a present for someone who enjoys the odd bit of Handel or Bach and would like to know more. The format has the advantage that when you have read Clive Unger-Hamilton’s excellent notes, you can just sit back and enjoy the music.

Robert Hugill

see also review by Goran Forsling

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