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Baroque Europe
CD 1
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Recorder and oboe sonatas
CD 2
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerti per flauto e per violoncello
CD 3
Furioso ma non troppo: Italy 1602 - 1717
CD 4
Jeux de dames à la cour
see end of review for full disc contents
Amarillis (Héloïse Gaillard (recorder, oboe), Ophélie Gaillard (cello), Violaine Cochard (harpsichord,organ))
David Plantier, Lorenzo Colitto (violin), Patricia Gagnon (viola), Emmanuel Jacques (cello), Laura Monica Pustilnik (archlute, guitar), Richard Myron (double bass) (CD2)
Maryseult Wieczorek (soprano, CD3)
Anne-Marie Lasla (viola da gamba, CD4)
rec. April 2001, Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem, Netherlands. DDD (CD1) May 2003, Église évangelique allemande, Paris, France. DDD (CD2) August 1998, Switzerland. DDD (CD3) July 1999, Studio Tibor Varga, Sion, Switzerland DDD (CD4)
AMBROISIE AM143 [65:14 + 64:18 + 73:10 + 68:55]
Experience Classicsonline


These four discs are available in a cardboard box, amd are no longer available separately (previously released as AM9910, AM9944, AM9901 & AM9904 respectively). This is of interest as the set includes two discs of repertoire which is very common and has been recorded many times. The disc of Italian music and, in particular, the one devoted to French music are far less conventional and at least some of the pieces on both discs are hardly known.
 
A disc presenting chamber music by Handel always calls for caution: it is often very difficult to know for sure whether a sonata by Handel is written for a recorder, a transverse flute or an oboe. This problem is partly caused by Handel himself who often reworked his own compositions, but even more by publishers who were only too keen to exploit Handel’s popularity. They had no scruples about adapting his sonatas for other instruments and transposing them to another key. As a result Handel's chamber music is a kind of a mess, as a Handel expert once wrote. In this recording Amarillis follows the established conventions as far as the choice of instruments is concerned. This also means that there’s nothing out of the way here: these sonatas have been recorded in this scoring before, and Amarillis's performances do nothing to make them notably desirable. On the contrary, despite the fact that some movements are done quite nicely, I have some problems with these performances. First of all, I am not very pleased by the sound of the recorder, which is often a bit on the rough side. Secondly, as I noticed in another recording by this ensemble (Telemann, 'Virtuoso traveller' - Ambroisie AM 112 - see review), the interpretation is rather inconsistent, in particular in regard to articulation. Some movements are very well articulated, whereas in others Héloïse Gaillard plays legato all the time. In some movements there is a clear differentiation between good and bad notes, but in others it is mostly absent. The musicians are generous in regard to ornamentation, which is a good thing, but not all ornaments are well-chosen, and sometimes there is too much repetition of the same pattern. What I am mostly missing in these recordings is a truly gestural interpretation, based on the baroque principle of music as a form of speech.
 
The second disc is entirely devoted to Vivaldi, whose flute concertos belong to his most popular works and are frequently recorded. The scoring of these concertos is much less of a problem here than in the sonatas by Handel, but some still give reason for debate. Only the first and the last concerto on this disc are originally set for a recorder; the other three are from the collection of six concertos which was published around 1728 in Amsterdam. These works were scored for transverse flute, two violins, viola and bc. Five of these concertos were reworkings of concertos Vivaldi had written earlier for either recorder or transverse flute, violin, oboe (or a second violin) and bassoon with basso continuo. It is not clear whether Vivaldi had made these reworkings himself. There are some scholars who severely doubt it. In this light Héloïse Gaillard is too speculative as she writes in the booklet that Vivaldi may have rewritten them because he was "particularly fond of those pieces, so wanted to give them a new lease of life". It is much more likely that the publisher wanted to exploit the popularity of Vivaldi's music. And as the recorder was losing ground to the transverse flute the best way to do that was to adapt them to the instrument which was growing in popularity. The ensemble has chosen to play the solo parts on the recorder - either the treble recorder or the sopranino. That is the freedom of the performer, and the range of the solo parts makes it unnecessary to arrange them, but then to say that "we have chosen to play these three concertos as they appear in Opus X" is simply to evade the truth. In my view the result would have been more convincing if the scoring of the first versions, which I have already referred to, had been used. It is also inaccurate to call the concertos with titles concertos with a 'programme'. There is general agreement among scholars that the best way to describe those concertos is as 'descriptive music'.
 
Despite the fact that I remain unconvinced that the recorder is the best choice for these three concertos I have generally been pleased by the way they are performed. Only in the Concerto in g minor 'La Notte', in particular in the first movement, do some of the effects fail to register. The concertos played on the sopranino are played quite well, not only by Héloïse Gaillard, but also by the strings. The two remaining concertos are written for cello - no problems regarding the scoring here. The performances are very energetic, with lots of lyricism in the slow movements.
 
As far as the repertoire is concerned the third disc is more interesting as it contains some pieces which are hardly known. In addition, the programme demonstrates the changes in musical taste and style of composition. Listen, for instance, to the 'Lamento della Didone' by Sigismondo d'India and then to Antonio Lotti's cantata. The first half of the 17th century was a time of experiment and invention, as in particular the pieces by Pandolfo Mealli show.
 
As with the Vivaldi recording the choice of instruments is debatable. Often the composers failed to specify for which instrument they had intended their works. That is the case with the collection of instrumental works Andrea Falconieri, himself a chitarrone player, published in 1650. Even if composers did specify the instrument they had in mind, that doesn't necessarily exclude a performance on another instrument. But sometimes the writing for a specific instrument is so idiomatic that a performance on another instrument isn't really convincing. The two pieces by Pandolfo Mealli are from his opus 4, which is a collection of six sonatas 'a violino solo per chiesa e camera'. This and the fact that Pandolfo Mealli himself was a violinist point into the direction of a performance on violin. Here they are played on the recorder. Gaillard plays them rather well, but due to the relatively small dynamic range of the recorder in comparison to the violin these sonatas lose some of their character. The piece by the Spanish composer Bartolomeo de Selma y Salaverde fares much better: he was a bassoonist and his works seem to be composed from a wind player's perspective.
 
A programme devoted to Italian music of the 17th century should not be without vocal music. Even though it was the era of the emancipation of instrumental music the human voice was still considered the most perfect instrument to express human emotions. The vocal works I have already mentioned are very different in style. Sigismondo d'India was one of the main representatives of the vocal monody and his lament of Dido is a perfect example of the way composers of that time aimed at expressing emotions in music. Antonio Lotti's cantata is also about love, in which joy and suffering go hand in hand. This is typical for many chamber cantatas of that time, as is its structure of two arias embracing a recitative. Less conventional is the inclusion of an arioso, with the indication 'largo', between the recitative and the concluding aria. Also less conventional is the use of an oboe: most chamber cantatas were set for solo voice - usually soprano - and basso continuo. If a melody instrument was used, it was mostly a violin or a transverse flute.
 
The performances leave a mixed impression: the pieces by De Selma y Salaverde and Falconieri are well played, and so are Corelli's variations on La Follia. Ophélie Gaillard gives a good performance of the cello sonata by Jacchini. But, like I said, the sonatas by Pandolfo Mealli are less than satisfying, and so are the vocal items. Maryseult Wieczorek has a nice voice and sings stylishly, but only fitfully is she able to bring the emotions of the texts to the fore. On the whole her performances are a shade too bland to make a lasting impression.
 
The programme of the fourth disc is probably the most interesting of the set, as the composers represented here are not very often played in concert or on disc; that’s with the exception of Rameau, and perhaps also Hotteterre. Philidor, De La Barre and Boismortier are among the better-known of the French composers of the early 18th century, but their oeuvre is still largely obscure. From this perspective it is rather unfortunate that on the whole this disc is unsatisfying. In particular the scoring of the compositions performed here is more than questionable. The first item is a suite by Pierre-Danican Philidor, who was a member of a large family of musicians. He was active as a player of the oboe and the viola da gamba. Playing this suite on the oboe is very appropriate. But the next piece is different: Jean Barrière was a cellist, and only composed pieces for his own instrument. In the list of his works in New Grove no trio sonatas are mentioned. In some of his sonatas for cello and bc, the cello which is supposed to play the basso continuo gets an amount of independence, turning it into a kind of second solo part. I assume that is the case here: the cello part has been transposed - a recording of the original version for cello gives the key as f sharp minor - and the cello plays the second cello part. The result is rather odd, in particular when both instruments play in parallel at several points. Of course, interpreters of baroque music have a lot of freedom, also in regard to scoring, but there are limits to what they can do. This performance crosses the line of what is acceptable.
 
The suite by Michel de La Barre is also played on the recorder. In this case that is easier to accept, but it is still very unlikely that this is what the composer had in mind. De La Barre was a pioneer of the transverse flute in France, which around 1700, when he started to publish collections of music, was still a relatively new instrument. It was De La Barre, who strongly developed the playing technique on the instrument, and as he was such a prominent representative of the new instrument, it is rather strange to play his music on an instrument which was on the verge of disappearing. The suite by Hotteterre also raises doubts about the judgement of the performers. The choice of the oboe to play this suite is defensible: Hotteterre, a member of a large family of musicians and instrument makers, seems to have mastered virtually all wind instruments. But the use of a recorder is less convincing: Hotteterre, like De La Barre, was an advocate of the transverse flute, an instrument he described as "one of the most pleasant and one of the most fashionable instruments". He allowed his music to be played on other treble instruments, but mainly for commercial reasons. To use two instruments and change from one to another in the middle of a suite is a bit peculiar, to put it mildly.
 
The booklet does not provide us with any information about the reasoning behind the choice of instruments. That is also the case for the last item on the programme, the 'trio sonata' by Boismortier. His oeuvre is very large, and includes pieces for two instruments with basso continuo. But in the worklist in New Grove I could not find any piece whose two melody parts are set for a treble and a bass instrument respectively. So I assume this is a kind of arrangement again, but the booklet isn’t telling. The combination of oboe and cello doesn't work particularly well here.
 
The features I noticed in the other discs of this set - concerning matters like articulation and differentiation between notes - are also present here. From a purely musical point of view these performances are not top of the bill by any means, but the strange decisions regarding the scoring are most problematic.
 
All discs have their own booklets. The documentation - sources, arrangements - is poor. There is hardly any information on the compositions of discs 3 and 4. Also, what exactly was the reason for the title of the fourth disc - "the playing of ladies at the court'. It’s anyone’s guess and it certainly isn't explained in the booklet. The English translations of the programme notes leave something to be desired and the lyrics of the vocal items on the third disc contain several printing errors. And if this isn't enough, the track-list of the fourth disc has 28 tracks, whereas the disc has only 26. The menuets I and II (tracks 21 and 22 in the track-list) are not played. Were they recorded but omitted for some reason, or - hard to believe - has the technical team forgotten to include them?
 
To summarize my experiences: the playing is never better than so-so. Often it fails to do full justice to the true character of the music. It could be so much more exciting and captivating if the performance practice of the baroque era had been applied more consistently, and if the musicians had chosen music which naturally suited their instruments rather than adapting music to them. I find it impossible to recommend this set.
 
Johan van Veen

Track listing
CD1
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Sonata for recorder and bc in d minor (HWV 367) [15:41]
Sonata for oboe and bc in F (HWV 363) [08:17]
Sonata for recorder and bc in a minor (HWV 362) [11:14]
Sonata for recorder and bc in C (HWV 365) [10:20]
Sonata for oboe and bc in c minor (HWV 366) [06:11]
Sonata for recorder and bc in F (HWV 369) [07:23]
Sonata for recorder and bc in g minor (HWV 360) [06:04]

CD2
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto for sopranino, strings and bc in C (RV 444) [09:47]
Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in g minor 'La Notte' (RV 439) [08:05]
Concerto for cello, strings and bc in c minor (RV 401) [09:53]
Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in F 'La Tempesta di Mare' (RV 433) [05:56]
Concerto for cello, strings and bc in b minor (RV 424) [10:21]
Concerto for sopranino, strings and bc in D 'Il Gardellino' (RV 428) [09:30]
Concerto for sopranino, strings and bc in C (RV 443) [10:42]

CD3
Giovanni Antonio PANDOLFI MEALLI (17th Century)
Sonata IV La Biancuccia, op. 4,4 [07:45]
Sigismondo D'INDIA (1580-1629)
Lamentatione della Didone [08:36]
Bartolomeo DE SELMA Y SALAVERDE (17th Century)
Vestiva i colli [03:45]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Toccata I (bk 2) [03:33]
Andrea FALCONIERI (1585-1656)
La Borga [03:33]
Giulio CACCINI (1550-1618)
Amarilli mia bella [05:12]
Giovanni Antonio PANDOLFI MEALLI
Sonata I La Bernabea, op. 4,1 [07:31]
Giuseppe Maria JACCHINI (1670-1727)
Sonata in a minor [03:43]
Antonio LOTTI (1660-1740)
It sento, O Dio, bendato, cantata [11:35]
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)
La Follia, op. 5,12 [11:55]
Andrea FALCONIERI
La Suave Melodia y su corrente [04:35]

CD4
Pierre-Danican PHILIDOR (1681-1731)
Suite for oboe and bc in d minor, op. 5,5 [11:35]
Jean BARRIÈRE (1705-1747)
Trio Sonata for recorder, cello and bc No 2 in d minor (2e Livre) [07:36]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
L'Entretien des muses [06:42]
Les Cyclopes [03:42]
Michel DE LA BARRE (1675-1745)
Suite IX dite 'Sonata l'Inconnüe' for recorder and bc [09:04]
Jean BARRIÈRE
Sonata for cello and bc No 4 in F (1er Livre) [10:23]
Jacques-Martin HOTTETERRE (1674-1763)
Suite for recorder/oboe and bc No 2 in c minor (2e Livre) [13:38]
Joseph Bodin DE BOISMORTIER (1689-1755)
Trio Sonata for oboe, cello and bc in e minor [06:11]

 


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