Sunday, 26 November 2017

Balbastre - Pieces de Clavecin, Livre I - Rousset

Rating: 5/5

An excellent release

This is yet another excellent release from Christophe Rousset.  Somewhat to my shame, I hadn't heard of Balbastre but I'm willing to try anything that Rousset records and I'm very glad I did.

Balbastre published these pieces in 1757 and they clearly show the influence of the Baroque era which was coming to its close.  They don't show anything like the contrapuntal genius of Bach, for example, or the melodic and harmonic gifts of Handel – but then very few composers' work does.  They are enjoyable, neatly turned pieces which certainly deserve to be recorded and heard.

It is Rousset's playing which really makes this a top-class disc.  He has been a magnificent harpsichordist for decades now and his experience, technique and genuine love and feeling for this music shine through, lifting it well above the ordinary.  His harpsichord (by Goujon in the early 18th Century) sounds simply wonderful, with a full, resonant depth and the whole thing is a pleasure.

In short, this is a fine release of decent music made really good by a brilliant player and a lovely instrument.  Very warmly recommended.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Jakob Lindberg - A Lute By Sixtus Rauwolf

Rating: 5/5

Another cracker from Lindberg

A new release by Jakob Lindberg is always an exciting prospect for me, and this one fully lives up to expectations.  It's an excellent, varied programme, beautifully played.

Rauwolf's instrument itself is billed as "the star" of this disc in Tim Crawford's notes.  It is a lute which was first built in the late 16th Century, probably tinkered with later and finally modified in 1715.  It has been impeccably restored to its 1715 state an the result is something rather special; it's tone and expressiveness in Lindberg's hands is quite exceptional to my (admittedly layman's) ears and the whole disc sounds simply fantastic.

The programme is made up of music "which could plausibly have formed part of the repertory of an owner (presumably German?) of the instrument at around the time of its final conversion."  It includes works by 17th-Century composers for the lute: Reusner, Dufault, Charles Mouton, Kellner and Pachelbel, plus a suite by Weiss.  It's a great programme and a pleasure to listen to, with Lindberg's interpretations being impeccable throughout.

The recording by BIS is, as always, excellent.  Some fretboard noise and breathing is audible, but it's never intrusive and I like the sense of intimacy it gives.  The notes and presentation are good, and it's a really fine release all round.  Warmly recommended.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Bach - English Suite No.2 etc. - Avdeeva

Rating: 5/5

Very good Bach playing

I was very pleasantly surprised by how good this disc is.  I confess that I approached it with a little scepticism because I have heard quite a few pianists trying to produce an "individual" interpretation of Bach with rather unhappy results, but Yulianna Avdeeva plainly "gets" Bach and this is a quality recording.

The three works here are reasonably varied but Bach's dancing pulse runs through them all.  Avdeeva catches it very well so each movement moves as it should and she has the musical intelligence to phrase and project so that of the intellectual weight and emotion comes through too. 

Yulianna Avdeeva may not have quite the dancing elegance of Angela Hewitt or Murray Perahia's wonderful grace, but I am still very impressed with this disc and I look forward to her recording more Bach.  Warmly recommended.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Bach - Cello Suites Vols 1&2 - Grigoyan (bartione guitar)

Rating: 3/5

A little disappointing

The Bach Cello Suites played on a baritone guitar is an interesting idea, but I'm afraid it doesn't work as well as it should here.  The baritone guitar with its lower tuning ought to be an ideal instrument for transcribing the Cello Suites, and in many ways it is.  The depth and remarkable sustain produce a lovely sound, although the sustain on the bass notes does make the effect a little blurred at times.  I do have two reservations, though.

Firstly, the transcriptions are pretty pedestrian.  As far as I can tell they stick very closely to Bach's original cello score, which in a way is commendable, but it doesn't make use of the guitar's ability to play and hold chords.  In really good lute or theorbo transcriptions, a little added harmony really moulds these pieces to the instrument (I'm thinking of Nigel North, Pascal Montailhet and others).  A little of this would have helped a lot.

More seriously, the interpretations don't really do justice to the music.  Slava Gigoryan is plainly a very good guitarist, but he doesn't really capture the sense of dance which runs through the Cello Suites (which are suites of dances, after all).  Just to take one example, the Courante of the Third Suite, should flow freely and flexibly, but there is a hint of stiffness about it here so that it sound a little like a formal exercise rather than a joyful dance.  I found this in a lot of places.

I'm sorry to be critical of a laudable enterprise, but for me this doesn't quite work musically.  I think there is a good recording to be made of the Cello Suites on baritone guitar, but in spite of some good aspects, this isn't really it.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Falckenhagen - Sonate di Liuto Solo - Maginley

Rating: 4/5

An enjoyable disc

This is a good disc of well-played and enjoyable music.  Falckenhagen was a contemporary of Bach and Weiss and his music makes up part of the final flowering of Baroque lute music.

Andrew Maginley is a fine lutenist who brings charm, delicacy and some foot-tapping dance rhythm to these pieces as appropriate.  It's enjoyable stuff, although I have to say that musically I don't find it as interesting or engaging as the lute music of either Bach or Weiss.  It's certainly pleasant to listen to, but I do find my attention wandering after a sonata or two.

However, even if these aren't musical masterpieces anyone with an interest in the lute (like me) will find much to enjoy in this disc.  It is well recorded and I can recommend it.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Bach - Violin Sonatas & Partitas - Kremer (1981)

Rating: 3/5

Not for me

This is Gidon Kremer's first recording of the Sonatas and Partitas from 1981.  Kremer is a very fine violinist and I like a lot of his work very much, but I'm afraid this doesn't do much for me.

These things are a matter of personal taste, of course: Kremer's technique is excellent and he brings plenty of passion to these wonderful pieces, but for me he is a bit over-attacking a lot of the time.  There is subtlety, dance and delicacy in these works as well as intensity and darkness and I could do with a bit more of the subtle, dancing and delicate sides.

Others plainly like this far better than I do and you may, too.  Personally, though, I'll be sticking to my dearly loved recordings by, among others, Rachel Podger, Viktoria Mullova and Isabelle Faust which, in their different ways, all show me far more of the fabulous range of these great works.