Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Josquin - Missa de Beata virgine - Theatre of Voices, Hillier

Rating: 5/5

Still a very fine recording

Originally recorded in 1993, this remains a very fine disc. 

The programme is excellent: one of Josquin's great mass settings, interspersed with motets by Jean Mouton.  The disc opens with Mouton's best-known work, the sublime Nesciens mater, and his other pieces here are also very beautiful.  Josquin's mass is, of course, magnificent.  He was among the very greatest Renaissance composers (arguably the greatest) and this setting is a wonderful example of the power, beauty and stunning musical architecture of his work.

I love this performance; Paul Hillier is a superb interpreter of this repertoire and he brings a beautiful, full and rich sound from his ensemble.  They are technically excellent and they engage fully with what they are singing so the meaning and depth is all there.  The resonant acoustic sacrifices a little clarity of line to warmth of sound, but not enough to interfere with the music, and the overall effect is very lovely and genuinely moving in places.

Even after almost 25 years, this is still a performance which stands well among many excellent Josquin recordings since, and I can recommend it very warmly.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Abel - The Drexel Manuscript - Wagner

Rating: 5/5

An excellent recording

I like this disc very much.  I already have excellent recordings of these pieces by both Paolo Pandolfo and Susanne Heinrich; this is just as good, I think.

The programme is a collection of solo pieces by Carl Friedrich Abel, a pupil of Bach and known as the last of the great gamba masters before the cello took its place. The pieces are inventive and involving, and are really enjoyable music from lively dance-like movements to lovely arpeggiated studies and thoughtful, intense adagios. I am glad that Abel is getting a bit more attention nowadays - he deserves it.

Petr Wagner is a fine gambist and he does these pieces proud.  He is, unsurprisingly, less flamboyant and extravert than Pandolfo but perhaps a little freer than Heinrich in his approach.  His technique is excellent, he manages to allow the full beauty and interest of the music to emerge and the sound of his instrument is simply beautiful –and excellently recorded by Accent.

If I had to choose a single recording of Abel's solo gamba music it would still probably be Suzanne Heinrich, but that's just personal preference.  This is an excellent disc of lovely music, beautifully played and if you're looking for a recording of Abel, this will do you very well indeed.  Warmly recommended.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Haydn - String Quartets - Goldmund Quartet

Rating: 5/5

Very good Haydn

This is a fine disc of Haydn.  Any quartet these days faces the challenge of matching some terrific interpretations of Haydn by truly great quartets like Quatuor Mosaiques, The Lindsays and others, but the Goldmund Quartet stand up very well beside them.

My sole (minor) quibble with this disc is the programming.  I understand the almost "first to last" idea, but I have to say that although Op.1, No.1 is charming in its way, it isn't something I'd look to for repeated listening.  However, the other two quartets here are excellent.

The Goldmunds are technically excellent and they plainly get Haydn.  They bring out his humorous twinkle where appropriate, they understand that he often said serious things in a witty way and they also find the real depth in the music.  I really started to sit up and take notice of this disc when I got to the largo of Op.33 No.5, which is quite lovely; the quartet play with a beautiful, unfussy simplicity and balance, allowing the music to speak for itself.  Their phrasing is exemplary, they don't overburden the music with vibrato or overblown look-how-strongly-we're-feeling-this gestures and the result is a limpid beauty with genuine power and depth.  Other movements have a similarly appropriate touch, and the towering masterpiece which is Op.77 No.1 is done full justice.

I didn't know what to expect, but I was very impressed indeed with this disc and I will be looking out for more recordings by the Goldmund Quartet.  I can recommend this very warmly.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Bach - French Suites - Ashkenazy

Rating: 3/5

Not an interpretation for me

It seems like sacrilege to say this of such a magnificent musician, but I'm not terrifically keen on Ashkenazy's recording of the French Suites.  He is genuinely among the very greatest of pianists in huge areas of later repertoire, but to me he doesn't feel quite at home here.  I recognise that this is a personal view which is by no means shared by everyone, but for what it's worth:

Ashkenazy's technique and tone are, of course, superb and the sound he brings from his piano is wonderful, so there are some lovely moments here.  However, for me this too often lacks the firm underlying pulse and sense of dance which permeates Bach's music.  There is a good deal of rhythmic freedom, even between different lines, which can be effective but for me disrupted the cohesiveness so that at times the different contrapuntal parts failed to gel into a whole and sounded rather eerily separate from one another, and I quite frequently struggled to make sense of it.

I have a number of fabulous recordings of the French Suites including Angela Hewitt and Murray Perahia on the piano and Davitt Moroney, Christophe Rousset and Masaaki Suzuki on the harpsichord; for me Ashkenazy doesn't quite get inside the music as they do.  However, at this level of musical brilliance these things are a matter of personal taste; your taste may differ from mine in which case you may love this – and fair enough.  Personally, though, I’ll be sticking to my other, much loved recordings.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Purcell - Twelve Sonatas of Three Parts - King's Consort

Rating: 5/5

Something special

I love the King's Consort's recordings of Purcell's three- and four-part sonatas.

The music itself is wonderful, showing all Purcell's melodic gift and extraordinary harmonic invention. Although perhaps not his best-known works, these sonatas really show why Purcell is considered such a great composer, and their variety, depth and sheer inventiveness make them a constant pleasure for me.

The musicians here do them proud. Robert King is well established as a giant of this repertoire and he has assembled a small group of very fine musicians here and moulded them into a wonderfully cohesive, empathetic chamber ensemble. With people of this calibre you'd expect something pretty special and we certainly get it; the playing is effortlessly virtuosic, but also has a wonderful clarity, a sense of depth without being over-solemn, and a love for the music from all five players. They obviously enjoy playing together, and the overall result is a joy from start to finish.

I don't mean to gush, but I think this really is something rather special. It is beautifully recorded and the notes are very full, scholarly, interesting and readable. This is a terrific disc all round, in my view, and I recommend it very warmly.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Tasto Solo - Early Modern English Music 1500-1550

Rating: 5/5

An excellent disc

I think this is excellent.  I wasn't sure what to expect because I'd not heard Tasto Solo before, but they have made a first-rate and extremely enjoyable disc here.

The title is pretty self-explanatory; this is a programme of instrumental music from England in the first half of the 16th Century.  Much of it is anonymous and most of it was unknown to me, which can be a bit of a daunting prospect because such a programme can sometimes be a rather worthy and turgid affair.  This is anything but; I found the music a delight and the playing brilliant.  Tasto Solo have that kind of virtuosity which doesn't draw attention to itself but is all about bringing the music to life, which they do delightfully.  The disc is varied, enjoyable and a real pleasure from start to finish.

If you have any interest in early music, don't hesitate.  The recorded sound is excellent and it's a first-rate disc all round which I'm delighted to have discovered.  Very warmly recommended.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Bach - Violin Sonatas & Partitas - Barati

Rating: 3/5

Not a great interpretation

I'm afraid I didn't think this set was all that good.  There is nothing actively wrong with it; Krystof Barati is plainly a very capable violinist whose technique is up to the challenge of these demanding works, but as an interpretation of Bach I didn't enjoy it that much.  In the mighty chaconne from the D minor Partita, for example, it seems to me that Barati's over-vigorous attack is not a substitute for intensity of feeling.  He goes in for a lot of aggressive hammering at downbeats and there is a slightly show-offy feel to some of the quicker passages which are taken very quickly indeed.  However, there should also be mystery, spirituality and tenderness here (and throughout the Sonatas and Partitas) which I simply don't find in Barati's playing.  None of this is helped for me by a rather distant over-resonant acoustic.

The set does have its moments; the Prelude to the E major Partita, for example, skips and dances very pleasingly (although, again, the acoustic doesn't do it any favours) and there are other places where Barati brings the music to life, but overall I think this lacks much of the depth, subtlety and thoughtfulness of people like Rachel Podger, Isabelle Faust, Viktoria Mullova and others. 

Some other people don't share my view and have enjoyed this set very much, but given the great recordings which I already have, personally I can't really recommend it.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Sor - Early Works - Carter

Rating: 5/5


This is a lovely disc of wonderful music, beautifully played by William Carter.

Sor's music is very beautiful and extremely well crafted; if it had been written for piano rather than guitar it would probably be far better known and celebrated.  The great Andres Segovia was a champion of Sor's music and one can see why; it is full of melodic and harmonic invention and a real pleasure to listen to.

William Carter plays superbly, to my ears.  I am no expert on this music, but I think I know good playing when I hear it and this is fabulous.  It is technically flawless and has an empathy and fluency which makes the music really glow, I think.  The sound which Carter brings from his guitar is just wonderful – superbly recorded, as always, by Linn.

The whole thing is a huge pleasure and I can recommend it very warmly.