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Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762)
Six Concerti Grossi, Op.3 (1733, rev. up to 1755)
Concerto grosso no.1 in D [8:21]
Concerto grosso no.2 in g minor [9:17]
Concerto grosso no.3 in e minor [8:48]
Concerto grosso no.4 in d minor [7:12]
Concerto grosso no.5 in B-flat [7:09]
Concerto grosso no.6 in e minor [6:26]
Jaap Schröder, Catherine Mackintosh (violins); Trevor Jones (viola); Anthony Pleeth (cello);
The Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood (harpsichord)
rec. Rosslyn Hill Chapel, London, October 1976 ADD.
DECCA L’OISEAU LYRE 4780024 [46:33] 
Experience Classicsonline

I thoroughly enjoyed making the acquaintance of the
Academy of Ancient Music of the 1970s again.  Having been rather rude about some of the earlier efforts from the period-performance school in my review of Volume II of Naïve’s series of Vivaldi Cello Concertos (OP30457) I must immediately make an exception of the recordings which Christopher Hogwood made with the AAM, including the present reissue.  In fact, by the date of this recording, 1976, the ‘authentic’ movement was well under way and the strident playing to which I referred was already rather a thing of the past; indeed, the only AAM recording which I recall with some discomfort is that of Handel’s Water Music, made at a time when the playing of period wind instruments left something to be desired. 

Geminiani’s orchestral music is much less well known that of Corelli, whose disciple he largely was, though he was no slavish imitator.  In these Op.3 concerti, for example, his addition of the viola goes beyond his model.  Even his twelve Concerti Grossi, Op.5, ostensibly ‘after’ Corelli’s Trio Sonatas with the same opus number, are no mere straight orchestrations of the master.  This is thoroughly enjoyable music; don’t let the apparent preponderance of minor keys put you off – the music is attractively varied, and the performances are to match. 

A more recent rival version from Europa Galante and Fabio Biondi (Opus 111 OPS30-172) offers a very different kind of performance – like most modern Italian interpreters, Biondi plays his baroque forbears in a much more aggressive manner than you will find on the AAM reissue.  In some moods, I find such an approach exhilarating – see, for example, my review of the Vivaldi Op.8 concertos by Accademia Bizantina on Arts – but the AAM versions are much the safer bet.  In any case, the Opus 111 CD is currently deleted though, I expect, it will appear in due course at mid price. 

If I describe these AAM performances as more comfortable to live with, I don’t mean to imply that they are in any way slack.  They were revelatory in their day and they still sound well.  They resemble the ‘old school’ of the Academy of St Martin’s, which was a powerful force for good in its day, rather than the older ‘old school’ of I Musici or the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra.  That we can still listen with enjoyment to this 30+ year-old take on baroque music is as much a tribute to Jaap Schröder, already an associate of the likes of Gustav Leonhardt and Frans Brüggen, as it is to the AAM and Christopher Hogwood – this was one of their first collaborations, if not the first.  I’m pleased to see Warner reissuing some of Schröder’s earlier recordings for Telefunken – more, please, and may we have some of his Seon label recordings back, too, please, Sony? 

The recording hardly shows its age or its ADD origins at all – it does full justice to the performances – and Lindsay Kemp’s notes in the booklet, though brief, are informative about both the formation of the AAM and their association with Jaap Schröder as well as about the music.  I thought it was a comparatively recent phenomenon to have a near-inaudible continuo but this reissue indicates that this kind of recording balance dates back to the mid-1970s.  Perhaps the engineers employed a different mix for the original LPs or my memory is playing tricks again. 

There are also versions of the Op.3 concertos on Naxos: nos.1-4 are available with the Op.2 concertos on 8.553019, nos. 5 and 6 with the Op.7 concertos on 8.553020.  I haven’t heard these versions with the Capella Istropolitana/Jaroslav Krček, but their other baroque recording which I have heard have been more than reliable – their two CDs of Corelli’s Op.6 are particularly recommendable.  There is also a 2-CD set with Camerata Bern on Novalis 1507162, coupled with Tartini, which I have seen recommended.  Either of these should serve well those who prefer modern instruments. 

The short playing time detracts from the mid-price at which the CD is reissued – surely Decca could have eked it out with some other AAM material from the same period.  In that respect, the Naxos couplings offer much better value. 

Since Geminiani was an Italian resident in London, the use of one of Canaletto’s paintings of London is appropriate, though this particular one, showing St Paul’s with the royal barge – and looking for all the world like the ducal vessel in Venice – has been somewhat over-exposed on CD covers.  It’s used on the Harmonia Mundi set of  Geminiani’s Op.5 and a Naim CD entitled A London Concert, which also includes music by Geminiani. 

If this CD makes you want to explore Geminiani further, try the Op.5 Concerti Grossi after Corelli, to which I referred earlier.  In fact, I would be inclined to recommend that you get to know Op.5 first, but that’s merely a reflection of the order in which I got to know the music.  The second disc of the excellent 2-CD set of Op.5 by the more recent incarnation of the Academy of Ancient Music, directed by Andrew Manze (HMU90 7261.62) is also available at budget price (Concertos 7-12, HMX290 7262).   The old standby with I Musici on Philips Duo 438 766-2 appears to be deleted, though it has worn much better than many of their recordings and it’s well worth looking out for second-hand copies. 

As Geminiani orchestrated Corelli, so his works in turn were employed to the same end by the English composer Avison for his Concerti Grossi after Geminiani, recently recorded by The Avison Ensemble on Divine Art DDA21210 – see Johan van Veen’s review: I especially endorse his advice not to listen to all twelve concertos in one go.

Brian Wilson


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