The Swedish ensemble Karlsson Barock is a relatively new arrival and gave its first public concert in 2009. In the booklet its approach is described thus: "To authentically reflect an age where the majority believed in God, Satan and magic, its music must be played with fire and blood, and that is the driving force behind Karlsson Baroque".
On this debut disc we hear a mixture of well-known pieces and lesser-known stuff. The concertos by Corelli and Vivaldi belong to the most frequently performed of the baroque period, whereas Rebel and Avison are less familiar. Telemann is a household name, but the Sinfonia spirituosa
is one of his more obscure compositions.
Karlsson Barock's aim of playing with "fire and blood" has certainly been realised here. Their approach works perfectly in the two Vivaldi concertos, both from the collection L'Estro Armonico
which was printed as his op. 3 in 1711 in Amsterdam. It includes twelve concertos for strings with a variable number of solo parts. The Concerto in D
has just one solo part for violin, whereas the Concerto in d minor
has three, for two violins and cello. These parts are nicely played by members of the ensemble. Here Karlsson Barock can easily compete with the best of Italian baroque orchestras.
In Corelli this approach doesn't work so well. His concerti grossi were published in 1714, three years later than Vivaldi's op. 3, but they were written much earlier, probably 15 to 20 years before they were printed. Stylistically they are different and also more restrained and less theatrical than Vivaldi's concertos. The opening of the Concerto grosso No. 8
, a very short vivace
, is simply ugly. The following grave
is not so nice either: it includes an extreme crescendo, and the harpsichord is far too prominent. The character of the closing pastorale
doesn't come off that well. I sorely missed the elegance in this concerto written for performance on Christmas Eve. The use of an organ in the basso continuo instead of a harpsichord would have been greatly preferable. The Concerto grosso No. 10
is generally more convincing, although I tend to think that the sharp accents in the second movement are a shade exaggerated.
Jean-Féry Rebel is best-known for his suite Les Eléments
, but his Les charactères de la danse
is certainly not unknown as several baroque orchestras like to play it. It is a sequence of 14 movements in which the various dance forms of the time are displayed. The individual movements are rather short, hardly ever longer than 30 seconds, and are played attacca
. This suite is nicely played here, and fortunately the ensemble doesn't attempt to make it too dramatic. However, strictly speaking, an orchestra of this specification is not the most appropriate for this music. In French orchestral works the middle voice was split into three different parts, instead of the single viola common in Italy. I missed some of the colours of the Lullian orchestra.
Charles Avison is the least-known composer in this programme. He worked in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and played an important role in music life in the north-east of England. He was a strong advocate of Italian music, especially the work of Geminiani. The Concerto grosso No 5 in d minor
is one from a set of twelve which are based on keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. The first movement's source has not been identified as yet; the next three movements are arrangements of the sonatas K 11, 41 and 5 respectively. This is nice music and is well played here. Fairly recently a complete recording of this set was made by The Avison Ensemble (review
; with links to two other reviews).
The Telemann sinfonia is one of his least-known instrumental works. This has been recorded before, sometimes with a different title. It has been preserved in manuscript in Darmstadt as a set of parts. On the cover it is called Sonata
whereas the separate parts have the title Sinfonia
. This piece belongs to the genre of the ripieno concerto
which we also find in Vivaldi's oeuvre. Strictly speaking it is scored for two violins, viola and basso continuo. Ian Payne, in his liner-notes to the disc 'Spirituosa' of Concerto Melante (review
) states that "a trumpet part has been added for special effect: note, however, that this either doubles the first violin or provides harmonic filling throughout, and lacks any true soloistic function". I don't know whether this part can be considered ad libitum
; it has been omitted here. It is nice to have it in this form, as an alternative to Concerto Melante's recording with trumpet.
Before this I had never heard of Karlsson Barock, and I have enjoyed their first disc. It is a promising start as most performances are rather good. That said, I hope for a little more differentiation in their approach. Playing with "fire and blood" is all very well, but not all music can be played the same way. Sometimes a little more restraint is required, and one should not forget that there is also music which needs elegance and refinement. I look forward to future recordings, preferably with less common repertoire.
Johan van Veen