Friday, 30 December 2016

Mozart - Violin Concertos - Faust, Antonini

Rating: 5/5


This is a fabulous recording.  I already have several well-loved recordings of these works and only tried Isabelle Faust's recording because I loved her solo Bach so much.  I'm very glad I did, because she brings something quite special to the concertos.

Faust is a magnificent violinist whose approach is often quite austere.   Here she is less austere than light-touch, with the music often seeming to flow completely effortlessly.  There's plenty of weight and punch when needed, though, especially in some terrific cadenzas and the whole thing has a wonderful feel to it.

Il Giardino Armonico are excellent.  They are a small ensemble here, playing with a suppleness and responsiveness which brings the music completely to life, with Faust's solo violin always clear and distinct but also with a sense of belonging to the whole.  The effect is fresh and, to me, completely delightful.

With excellent recorded sound, this is a very fine release all round, and very warmly recommended.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Bach - Mass in B minor (1998) - Herreweghe

Rating: 5/5

Quite magnificent

I think this is a truly lovely performance of the B minor Mass.  There are many great recordings and for me, this stands with the best of them.

The music itself is sublime, of course.  This has been called the greatest artistic statement of any age and that's a defensible view.  Herreweghe really gets this, I think.  He takes things at measured tempi which never drag, but really give the music the spirituality and intellectual weight it deserves.  Bach's essential pulse and dancing rhythms are always there, though; the Christe eleison, for example, conveys both a serious expression of faith and a lovely dancing joy.  The depth, thought and richness of sound which Herreweghe brings here makes the whole thing a complete delight for me.  It may sound less sparklingly brilliant in places than, say, Gardiner (whose interpretation I also love) but it has a core of beauty and musicality which is profoundly involving, and Bach's deep spirituality is always present.

The recorded sound is excellent, the soloists are quite magnificent (as you'd expect from a cast including people like Veronique Gens, Andreas Scholl and Peter Kooy) and it's a great recording all round.  Very, very warmly recommended.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Victoria - Canticum Nativitatis Domini - Capella de Ministres

Rating: 2/5

Very disappointing

I'm afraid I found this very disappointing.  Neither the performance nor the recording quality is really good enough.

Victoria's music is wonderful, and there are many very fine recordings of it available.  This doesn't stand up to comparison.  The singing is adequate but unbalanced, so individual voices sometimes dominate inappropriately, some voices have too much vibrato to blend and the overall sound is rather muddy and indistinct.  As a result, rather than the sublime beauty of Victoria's music shining though, we get an indistinct, undifferentiated and woolly sound which doesn't really convey any of the meaning or spirituality in the music.

I am sorry to be so critical, but I think this is a pretty poor recording and I'll be going back to The Tallis Scholars, The Cardinall's Musick, The Orchestra Of The Renaissance and others; I can't recommend this.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Pedrini - Complete Violin Sonatas - Lindorff, Wilson

Rating: 3/5

Rather uninspiring

I'm afraid I found this a little uninspiring.  It's decent music in pretty good performances, but no more.

Pedrini is a little-known composer who turns out to have had an interesting life, spending a significant period as a court musician to the Chinese Emperor in the early 18th century.  Sadly, I didn't find all that much of interest in his music; it is perfectly listenable and quite technically challenging at times, but I don't find anything like the melodic or harmonic invention of, say, Vivaldi or Corelli and it's not in anything like the same league as Handel or Bach.

Joyce Lindorff and Nancy Wilson deal pretty well with the technical challenges of the music, but for me it never really catches fire or speaks to me emotionally.  This is partly due to the music itself, but I often find the playing a little stiff and uninspired, too.

Lindorff and Wilson deserve praise for bringing obscure music to a wider audience.  I admire the intent, but the overall result is a little lacklustre in both content and execution and I can only give this a very qualified recommendation.

Josquin - Musica Symbolica - De Labyrintho/Testolin

Rating: 5/5

A real find

I took a bit of a risk with this disc, but I'm very glad that I did. I was looking for a recording of the Missa Gaudeamus and I don't really get on with A Sei Voci's performances which left this as the only alternative I could find. Luckily, it's terrific.

The music here is, of course, outstandingly brilliant and exceptionally lovely (it is by Josquin, after all). There is the fabulous mass setting Missa Gaudeamus and five of Josquin's finest motets. It's a lovely and rewarding programme.

De Labyrintho were a new ensemble to me, and I can't understand why they are not better known. They are a small group of Italian singers, and they are excellent. Intonation, blend and balance are all impeccable, and they have a lovely fluency and feel for the text. Sopranos take top lines so pitch is high and the resultant sound is crystal clear and very beautiful (and captured in an excellent recording). Their sound reminded me a little of the Brabant Ensemble, and the quality of the performance matches the Brabant, too, which is very high praise.

I have to say that I'm not keen on the rather pretentious title of this disc, nor on the notes which are rather overblown and speculative, although there are full texts and translations. Dodgy notes or not, the music's the thing and this is a real find for me - I'm delighted with it and recommend it very highly.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Bach - Testament - Barton Pine

Rating: 4/5

Very skilful but something slightly lacking

I tried this because of  enthusiastic reviews by critics whom I greatly respect, but I'm afraid I found it slightly disappointing.

The music itself, of course, is sublime and Rachel Barton Pine plays it with superb technique.  She has obviously thought hard about it, too, and it's a very respectable performance from a very fine musician.  She doesn't try to overlay it spurious emotion or tricksy techniques, which I appreciate very much, but for me there's something a little lacking.  The great Chaconne from the D minor Partita never quite catches light or gives me any sense of taking me into the slightly strange and wonderful places to which Bach is leading us, for example.  The sprightly dancing movements don't have quite the spring in their step which I would like and the soulful, sometimes agonized slower movements lack some emotional depth, I think.

For me, this doesn't bring any of Viktoria Mullova's sinewy grace, Isabelle Faust's spare beauty or Rachel Podger's fabulous combination of warmth and intellectual depth, for example.  It's certainly not a bad recording and in many ways it is a very good one which greater musical minds than mine admire.  Personally, though, I'll be sticking to Podger, Faust, Mullova and one or two others.

Dowland - Lachrimae or Seven Tears - Phantasm, Kenny

Rating: 5/5


This is just wonderful.  I love Phantasm's recordings and I think this is among their best work – which is really saying something.

The music itself is fabulous:  Dowland's seven variations on  a lovely theme which he called "Lachrimae" (of course he did!) plus arrangements of some of his finest lute pieces.  These include well-known pieces like The Earl Of Essex Galliard and Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens with a very good, varied selection of other pieces.  It's a lovely collection, very well put together.

It's the playing which makes this so special.  Phantasm are one of the world's leading viol consorts, and the excellent Elizabeth Kenny's lute blends and complements them perfectly.  The lovely phrasing and subtlety of expression is quite remarkable, and the overall sound is just lovely.  I realise that I'm gushing rather, but I mean it; I have quite a few recordings of Lachrimae including much-loved discs by The King's Noyse and Musica Antiqua Köln, but this rather effortlessly eclipses them, I think.

Linn make their usual excellent job of recording so the sound is perfectly clear but full and warm, and it's very nicely presented with good, readable notes from Laurence Dreyfuss.  This is an absolutely terrific disc all round, and very warmly recommended.