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Baroque Cello Illuminations - shedding new light on old favourites
Henry ECCLES JUNIOR (1675/85-1735/45) Sonata No.11 in g minor, second movement transcribed from Francesco Antonio BONPORTI (1672-1749) Op.10/4/iv) [7:41]
Willem de FESCH (1687-1757?) Sonata in d minor Op.8 No.3 [11:23]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Sonata No.5 in e minor, RV40 [11:25]
François COUPERIN 'le Grand' (1668-1733) Pièces en Concert (from Les Goûts Réunis, arr. Paul BAZELAIRE (1886-1958) / Angela East)
Prélude [2:14]
Sicilienne [2:06]
La tromba [1:33]
Plainte [1:59]
Air de Diable [1:40]
Giuseppe (?) SAMMARTINI (1695-1750) / Martin BERTEAU (1700-1771) Sonata Op.1a No.3 in G major [14:00]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Suite No.1 for solo cello in G major BWV1007* [19:40]
Angela East (baroque cello); Ruth Alford (baroque cello, continuo); Howard Beach (harpsichord)
rec. St John's Church, Loughton, Essex, UK, 17-19 May 2008, * François-Bernier Concert Hall, Domaine le Forget, Saint-Irénée, Quebec, May, 2001. DDD.
* Also available from Red Priest Recordings as part of the complete Bach Cello Suites.

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Red Priest - Pirates of the Baroque: Stolen Masterworks and Forgotten Musical Jewels
Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764) Tambourin [2:22]
Giovanni Paulo SIMONETTI (alias Winfried MICHEL, b.1948) Sonata in C minor Op.5 No.2, La Burrasca [8:23]
Tomasso ALBINONI (1671-1751) Adagio adapted by Remo GIAZOTTO (1910-1998) [8:05]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733) Suite from Ordres assembled as 'Pirates of the Baroque' by Howard Beach [18:05]
Antonio VIVALDI (1676-1741) Concerto Grosso in d minor RV 565 [8:39]
Tomasso VITALI (1665-1717) Chaconne [8:38]
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770) Senti Lo Mare [3:43]
Antonio VIVALDI Concerto in G, La Tempesta di Mare RV 433 [6:23]
Red Priest (Piers Adams (recorders); Julia Bishop (violin); Angela East (cello); Howard Beach (harpsichord))
rec. Champs Hill, nr Petworth, UK, November 2006. DDD

Experience Classicsonline

Though this is just as much about casting new light on the baroque repertoire as Red Priest's other recordings, I doubt that it will prove quite as popular as its predecessor Pirates of the Baroque (RP004) - see above, also Robert Hugill's review - or Priest on the Run (RP001), Nightmare in Venice (RP002) and The Four Seasons (RP003) - see Jonathan Woolf's review of the complete set. Indeed, as Angela East's website makes clear, it is primarily intended for teachers and their students:

This really useful CD, full of pieces that teachers love to teach:
- Brings together on one disc the most popular baroque works played by young cellists
- Provides an opportunity to hear these works played by one of the world's leading baroque cellists who is also an experienced teacher
- Applies creativity to a base of knowledge about historical performance practice in both the solo and the continuo cello lines
- Will soon be available in sheet music format showing both original and ornamented versions

All of which would seem to warrant that favourite word of students everywhere - 'boring'.

So what, if anything, is there here for the general listener? In fact, plenty. To begin with the most obvious, Angela East's performance of the Bach solo Cello Sonata at the end of the recital (trs. 22-27) augurs so well for her complete recording that you may prefer to wait for that to appear separately. The illuminations of the title are certainly present here, in that she makes music which can sometimes sound merely intellectual and academic genuinely affective. Of course, she isn't the only performer to do so, but her performance deserves to ranked with the best which, for my money, include Pierre Fournier (DG Archiv 449 7112 or 477 6724, both at lower mid-price) and Paul Tortelier (EMI GROC 5628782, mid price, or Classics for Pleasure 2283582, budget price). I haven't heard Steven Isserlis's highly praised performances on Hyperion (CDA675412, full price), which Dominy Clements made Recording of the Month in May, 2007 - see review - but I can't imagine that his version of No.1 surpasses East.

I can't pretend that the rest of the music approaches anywhere near the quality or the familiarity of the Bach; to specialists, this will, however, be corn in Egypt. The 'old favourites' mentioned in the title are really only so for cello teachers in much the same way that I might refer to Old English poems such as The Dream of the Rood or the works of the early 15th-century poet-priest John Audelay as old favourites - and leave everyone else shaking their heads in disbelief. Be that as it may, I must admit that all the music here is more likely to be attractive to the non-specialist than my two examples.

Henry Eccles, whose dates are so uncertain, was the youngest significant member of a family of English musicians, including his near-contemporary John Eccles who composed the Judgment of Paris, recently recorded on Chandos Chaconne (CHAN0759, strongly recommended in my May, 2009, Download Roundup). A violinist by trade, he had moved to Paris by 1720, where he published a number of Violin Sonatas. Sonata No.11, presented here in a transposition, includes one of his numerous 'borrowings' from the music of Bonporti - a common enough practice then, though composers such as Avison at least had the decency to transform the music which he adapted from Scarlatti. It's attractive enough music, as is the de Fesch Sonata which follows, though neither is going to set the world on fire, even in such fine performances. 

No recording on the Red Priest label would be complete without music by the Red Priest himself, Vivaldi. His sonatas for cello and basso continuo (c.1740) may be less adventurous and less immediately interesting than his concertos, but still very attractive. Angela East's notes explain the difficulties of interpreting these sonatas and the solution which she has adopted. I'm not qualified to comment academically on her solutions, merely to say that the result sounds convincing enough to make these tracks (9-12) almost as much a highlight of the recording as the Bach which completes it. The jaunty performance of the allegro second movement is already a favourite in our household.

The music by François Couperin has needed the most adaptation, in that the originals were intended for the viola da gamba, though they are often performed, as here, on the cello. East employs her own effective adaptation of Bazelaire's reworking of five of the pieces. With considerable assistance from Howard Beach's harpsichord, these tracks, too, are very entertaining (trs.13-17). I suggested above that Red Priest should find a replica tromba marina and record Vivaldi's concerto for that obsolete instrument; East has forestalled me by imitating that very instrument in La tromba, the third piece from the Couperin collection. The Air de Diable (tr.17) brings the set to a close with something like the panache which marks the Couperin adaptations on the Pirates recording.

Detective work has been involved in determining whether Sammartini or Berteau was the composer of the Sonata on tracks 18-21, and which Sammartini. East concludes logically that collaboration was involved - the sonata has been ascribed to both contenders - and that the Sammartini in question is most likely to have been Giuseppe. It isn't likely to make it into Classic FM's rather pointless top 100, but it's attractive music and it receives as good a performance as it's ever likely to receive.

With good recording throughout and an attractive presentation - but did Howard Beach have to pose in such an 'interesting' manner? - this recording will clearly find a market with cello teachers and pupils, to whom it is offered on Angela East's website at a special discount price for bulk purchases, with a promise of the sheet music to follow. The notes are exemplary, which should also help to broaden its appeal to the general music-lover. Go for the Pirates and the other Red Priest recordings by all means, but don't forget this equally valuable CD.

Red Priest - Pirates of the Baroque: Stolen Masterworks and Forgotten Musical Jewels

We seem to have received several review copies of this CD; it's already been reviewed here by Robert Hugill - see review - and by Jonathan Woolf, in the latter case alongside three other Red Priest recordings - see review. The three other recordings, on RP001, RP002 and RP003 are reissues of CDs originally issued on the Dorian label but Pirates of the Baroque is a new recording.

I'd heard several extracts on Radio 3 before receiving the review copy and was expecting something a little too over the top in places but, in the event, I very much enjoyed hearing the complete recording - what may seem OTT heard out of context fits seamlessly into the general treatment of the whole programme, though that's not to say that this is a disc for the faint hearted or the purist, despite the use of a Carcassi violin (1741) and a Walmsley cello (1725).

The original Red Priest was Vivaldi; I think that he would have been surprised at two aspects of modern musical criticism: the separation of the 'popular' and the 'classical', with the invention of a third 'crossover' category to bridge the gap, and our obsession with deciding between performances on modern and original instruments. There is evidence that he re-invented some of his own music for different occasions - several of the Op.10 flute concertos, for example, exist in pre-Op.10 guise and music from The Four Seasons finds its way into his opera Montezuma. Handel and Bach, of course, went further, regularly 'borrowing' from their own earlier works and rehashing; there is no one definitive form of Bach's St Matthew Passion, much less of Handel's Messiah or Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno/The Triumph of Time and Truth.

Not all the music here is strictly baroque. There's a very good reason why no dates are given for Simonetti, the composer of the 'Sea storm' sonata (trs.2-5); the real composer, as the booklet explains, is a contemporary early music specialist, Winfried Michel. It's a pretty good spoof of a baroque trio sonata with, as the notes say, 'an irresistible logic to it', which is hardly surprising when his pseudo-Haydn piano sonatas convinced even the great Haydn authority H.C. Robbins Landon.

Nor is the 'Albinoni' Adagio a genuine baroque work; in its present form it's a considerably elaborated work for organ and orchestra by the twentieth-century Giazzotto of an original which may or may not exist - probably not. Here it's further elaborated by Red Priest, though in the process they have removed a great deal of the overdone sentimentality. The notes express the opinion that the new arrangement removes the work yet further from any genuine baroque association, but I'm not sure that I agree - removing the schmaltz, I think, brings it closer to the spirit of the baroque.

Indeed, the whole recording is in some ways more 'authentic' than the lumpen versions of baroque music which used to be the norm. The various sins which Red Priest have committed in creating these arrangements and performances are outlined in the booklet; consider absolution granted, at least from this listener. I just wish that those notes hadn't been printed on varying shades of orange, which makes them hard to read.

I especially enjoyed the third combination of ancient and modern, the suite which gives its title to the whole collection, Pirates of the Baroque. If I'm honest I have to admit that Couperin's copious books of Ordres for the harpsichord are best taken in small doses and become rather tedious in CD-size chunks. Howard Beach's arrangements for this recording are entertaining yet faithful to the spirit of the originals; the performances, complete with vocal renditions, are just right. On second hearing, though, these vocal interjections become a little tedious, as do the 'noises off' in Tartini's Senti lo mare (tr.24).

The two Vivaldi works go well, too, in these souped-up performances. I especially enjoyed the way in which the instruments scurry after and around one another in the Allegro of RV565 on track 20 and the balalaika-like sound in the Largo on the next track. The Concerto in G, RV433, which concludes the programme, even has a nautical connection, since its title is la Tempesta di Mare, or Storm at sea. If Red Priest decide to do a Pirates of the Baroque revisited - and why not? - they might well include the other Tempesta di Mare concerto, RV253. And why not get hold of a working version of that obsolete instrument the tromba marina - literally 'sea trumpet', but actually a huge string instrument - and record Vivaldi's concerto for that instrument, RV555?

With forward recording to match the vitality of the performances, being boarded by these pirates is a Jolly Roger of an experience. Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, used to board ships with burning fuses woven into his beard; this is the musical equivalent.

Brian Wilson 


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