MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2023
Approaching 60,000 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             



November 2006 - January 2007

What do we expect baroque music to sound like and what compromises are we prepared to countenance to enable us to hear the music sung by famous voices? Rolando Villazon's achievement on Emmanuelle Haim's new recording of Monteverdi's Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda on Virgin is astounding. He's trained to sing 19th and 20th century Italian opera and has never sung early music before. He has mastered the vocal style and ornamentation. He sounds wonderful, but do we want Monteverdi to sound like this, with vocal beauty the prime concern rather than words.

I associate the testo part with those wonderful spat-out repeated notes; Villazon just doesn't spit.

This concern cropped up again on the Naxos recording of Cavalli's Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne directed by Alberto Zedda, the Rossini scholar. Using a modern orchestra and many singers who work in opera the result sounds like a 19th century transcription. But I must balance my annoyance with the knowledge that Zedda's orchestra is a Spanish youth orchestra and the exercise is a training one. There is the possibility that this less austere version of Cavalli will win followers over, but will it? Is this sort of sub-Raymond Leppard type production what we want to be hearing nowadays?

Elsewhere the transcriptions get even more distant from the original. Parabolically Bach presents Bach transcriptions on an orchestra of saxophones. (review ) Now I rather like the idea of a saxophone orchestra and am very responsive to experimenting with Sax's instrumental inventions. But here the results don't convince. The art of transcription requires you to make an imaginative leap to re-create the original in the new sound-world; think Stokowski or Grainger. On this disc the transcriptions don't make that leap. And the playing has an embarrassing hint of the awful clarinet choir that I used to hear when doing a night school class, many years ago.

A transcription of another sort, this time Brahms's Requiem review with his own piano duet accompaniment. I'm afraid that again I was not convinced. As a performer, I'd be fascinated to sing in this version of the piece. As a listener it did not work for me. I did wonder whether the performers had been radical enough and that they ought to have replaced the choir with a vocal ensemble, to make a real chamber music piece. As it is, this version too easily comes over as the piano rehearsal before the main orchestral rehearsals start.

Nigel North's 2nd volume of Dowland's lute music requires no compromise and is no transcription, itís the real thing. Its amazing quite how many volumes of Dowland's lute music have fallen out of the catalogue. So North's volumes are doubly welcome. In The Gramophone the reviewer described North as a veteran, given that he's only a year older than me that is surely worrying. Surely when coming into his 50s a player can still be regarded as being in his prime. Judging by this disc, North surely is. I was tempted to turn in a three word review (Wonderful! Buy It!) but thought perhaps that Rob and Len might want a little more.

Itís worrying quite how many pieces seem to drop out of the catalogue. I was recently looking for some of Andrew Parrott's Bach recordings - I'm a bit of a one-voice-to-a-part fiend in this music - and was amazed quite how vague the presence of these recordings in the catalogue was. But then, so often when you look something up on The Gramophone web-site, so many of the important versions of the recordings are labelled as deleted. Which makes it all the more puzzling when Deutsche Harmonia Mundi choose to re-issue a rather indifferent 1974 recording of Palestrina's Missa Tu Es Petrus by the Tolz Boys Choir Ė surely the choir has made better recordings than this! review

And now for something completely different. I was entranced by Oystein Baadsvik's disc of music for Tuba and Piano. review Itís not a combination that I would have really thought of investigating on my own, and the rather wacky cover-picture put me off. But to listen to Baadsvik in such a well chosen programme - Hindemth, Gordon Jacob, Bernstein, Astor Piazzolla, Anthony Plog and Niklas Sivelov - was a joy. Itís one of the delights of reviewing, when such unaccustomed pleasures appear on ones desk, more than making up for the disappointments.

Another, slight disappointment was the latest in a long line of recordings of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater. review I would have much rather heard Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante in something rather less over-recorded. Not that their performance was less than wonderful, but again this was a recording where I wondered about the dynamics of its creation. How much it had to do with star names - David Daniels and Dorothea Roschman - and how much to do with whether this group really wanted to record these pieces.

Whereas La Serenissima's recording of Vivaldi cantatas, review, with soprano Mhairi Lawson had all the feel of a programme which was put together with some thought, because Adrian Chandler wanted to do it. There is so much music from this period, so it can be daunting for performers to investigate the sources. Itís far easier to stick to the tried and trusted pieces, but so wonderfully vivid when performers do go off and produce imaginatively.

The other area where we allow for duplication is, of course, the recording of live events. A whole batch of discs have recently surfaced, detailing the annual Handel performances at Maulbronn Monastery in Germany. The advantage these have is that they give us opportunities to hear singers in roles that they have not recorded: Emma Kirkby as Jephtha's daughter Iphis. The disadvantage is that the performances don't necessarily transcend the limits of live performance and inevitably, Handel oratorios are shortened in performance. It all depends how much you value hearing a live performance I suppose. (Links: Jephtha, Saul, Belshazzar)

Interesting light was shed on the background to these pieces when I read Roz Southey's book on Music-Making in the North-East of England in the 18th century. So very little information from this period is easily available to casual readers, it is quite often easy to ignore the very different background that music-making had then. Southey's book helps cure us of the tendency to back-project our own world onto Handel's, it stops us thinking that 18th century musical audiences were just like ourselves. review

Vivica Genaux dazzled in her Handel and Hasse recital. But though her performances of the Hasse arias could not be faulted, it was the Handel that, for me, shone out as brilliant music. Hasse seemed to be wedded to displaying virtuosity for its own sake; no wonder singers liked him. His popularity in the 18th century made me realise that in some things, audiences have not changed. The flashing and easily pleasing often wins out over the things which make the listening work a little harder. review

Another name new to me, Romanus Weichlein, a disc of whose masses came my way. I found them charming and passed it on to my church choir, they sound eminently suitable for regular use. review

Robert Hugill


Return to Index

Error processing SSI file