There has never been a better time to sample the superior artistry of HMSC; not only have they recently started issuing recordings on their own label, Sfz, but Hyperion has also taken to re-releasing their earlier albums at budget price.
I’d encourage anybody with any interest in late Renaissance brass to seek out any of these recordings. The ensemble’s repertoire comes from a time when the cornett and trombone had skilled exponents in many parts of Europe. The HMSC players have resurrected that virtuoso tradition in spectacular fashion. Technically, there is little to fault on this disc, which considering the intonation and balance problems the instruments pose is little short of a minor miracle.
Miraculous too is the seemingly endless stream of repertoire the group continue to unearth for their recordings. The ‘grand tour’ theme of this disc takes in music from Italy, Spain and Germany. The brass ensembles of Italy and Germany in the 17th century benefited, not only from musically astute church patronage, but also from nascent music publishing industries that not only widely disseminated the music, but also contributed to its preservation into modern times.
It is a fun but tricky game trying to identify distinct national traits here. The most significant difference is in the ornamentation that the players apply. On the whole, they are quite restrained, but for the Spanish repertoire, they apply an ornamentation style that evokes the earlier Moorish influence. Restraint remains the watchword, but the performance of many of the Spanish works is in the spirit of Jordi Savall: respectful to the historical context, but still suffused with exotic Mediterranean flavours.
Given the quantity of Venetian music the group has recorded elsewhere, it is interesting that the Italian section of the disc introduces yet more unfamiliar names, and avoids both Gabriellis and Frescobaldi. Most of this music was written for specified instruments - unlike the Spanish repertoire - so there is no need for innovation in this respect. On the other hand, there is also sufficient musical diversity between the works that applying instrumentation changes merely to avoid monotony is also unnecessary. Peter Bassano is one of the sackbut players in the ensemble, and I suspect that Giovanni Bassano is an ancestor, or at least a direct relative. His contribution (Bassano snr., I mean) is a very elegant work for chamber organ and solo cornett, played with panache, agility and remarkable precision by Jeremy West.
The ‘Sonata duodecima’ by Dario Castello recently appeared on Christian Lindberg’s disc of baroque trombone music (BIS-CD 1688) and the comparison between the two readings is instructive. The most obvious difference is that the cornett parts are played for Lindberg on violins, led by Richard Tognetti. Just as significantly, the HMSC alto sackbut player, Sue Addison, has a sensitivity to the performance traditions of the 17th century that Lindberg struggles to match. She is much more conservative with her ornaments, although there are a few mordents in there. But she achieves an impressive quasi-vocal tone and articulation which is a very long way from Lindberg’s much more modern trombone timbre. A more appropriate mouthpiece is likely the most significant factor, plus the fact that she is playing with the very vocal sounding cornett duet.
Timothy Roberts, the group’s leader and arranger - described on other discs as their ‘moderator’ - performs an organ interlude in the Italian section and a harpsichord interlude at the start of the German section. Both are excellently performed and fit seamlessly into the programme, although there is little need for either in terms of the diversity of the programme. The other works in the German section are from Lutheran liturgical traditions and so are based on the chorale or chorale-fantasia model. That said, the counterpoint here is of the most straightforward kind: melody, continuo bass and occasional florid obbligato. My favourite works on the disc are the last two, both by Samuel Scheidt, which are scored for two cornetts, four sackbuts and organ continuo. That’s quite a bass-heavy combination, and while most of the music is perfectly civilised, there are one are two points where the bass sackbut, played by the incomparable Stephen Saunders, really lays into the bass notes, with rich, fruity, and deeply satisfying results.
Hyperion have an impressive back catalogue when it comes to early music, making their Helios reissue imprint an attractive proposition indeed. This disc would be worthy of unqualified recommendation at full price. At budget price it is an absolute bargain.
Giovanni BUONAMENTE (d.1642) Sonata a 6 [3:23]
Biagio MARINI (1594-1663) Sinfonia grave. La Zorzi [3:17]; Sonata a quattro tromboni [1:41]; Sonata a 6 [2:08]
Tarquinio MERULA (1594/5-1665) Chiacona [2'49]
Giovanni de MACQUE (?1548/50-1614) Seconde Stravaganze [1:42]
Giovanni BASSANO (1560/1-1617) Vestiva i colli [4:58]
Dario CASTELLO (fl.1610-1620) Sonata duodecima [7:34]
Giovanni BUONAMENTE (d.1642) Canzona a 6 [2:54]
Francisco de PEÑALOSA (c.1470-1528) O Domina sanctissima [3:15]
Anonymous - Baroque, arr. Timothy Roberts Canciones de clarines: No. 1: Entrada de clarines [0:55]; No. 2: Canción de clarín [1:04]; No. 3: Otra canción, con eco [1:28]; No. 4: Canción de clarín, muy aprisa el compás, respondiendo el eco [1:19]
Francisco Correa de ARAUXO (1584-1654) Tiento de segundo tono [4:25]
José XIMÉNEZ (1601-1672), arr. Timothy Roberts Batalla de octavo tono [4:22]
Matthias WECKMANN (?1616-1674) Toccata III [2:50]
Johann SCHEIN (1586-1630) Padoana [2'52]
Johann VIERDANCK (c.1605-1646) Sonata 31 'Als ich einmal Lust bekam' [3:52]; Sonata 28 [2:33]
Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654) Canzona super Cantionem Gallicam 'Est-ce Mars?' [5:32]; Galliarda 'La Battaglia' [2:20]
Worthy of unqualified recommendation at full price. At budget price an absolute bargain… see Full Review