Sunday, 24 December 2017

Bach - Goldberg Variations - Strauf, Harders

Rating: 4/5

An enjoyable arrangement

This is an arrangement of the Goldberg Variations for two violas da gamba which I approached with some scepticism because even the great Fretwork couldn't really make the Goldbergs work on viols.  This recording does have its limitations, but it actually works better than I expected.

This was originally a set of pieces for keyboard, of course, and the two gambas are a little limited in their ability to create complex harmonies and also in their nimbleness in the really quick, light passages.  This does show in places – Variation 8, for example – but the overall sound is magnificent and much of the disc is very enjoyable.

The playing by Strauf and Harders is very good and the recorded sound really captures the full resonant beauty of the two gambas.  It may not be a classic rendition of the Goldbergs, but this is an enjoyable disc which I can recommend.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Haydn - Cello Concertos - Isserlis, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen

Rating: 5/5

Terrific stuff

This is yet another terrific recording from Steven Isserlis.  He recorded the two Haydn cello concertos with Roger Norrington in 1998 and I have owned and loved that disc for almost twenty years now.  I think this is even better.

Haydn's cello concertos are full of his trademark depth, beauty and wit.  They are also very technically demanding, but you wouldn't know it from hearing Isserlis play; he gives the music a vigour and drive which really lights up the quicker movements and both of the slow movements are simply sublime here, being full of beauty, emotion and an inner light which I can't quite put my finger on but which really makes them glow.  He has written new cadenzas, all of which are adventurous but go beautifully with Haydn's music, and the whole effect is simply fabulous to my ears. 

(I confess that I have always struggled to like CPE Bach, and the smaller works here, while being enjoyable enough, don't do much for me – but who cares?  The Haydn concertos are more than enough reason to buy this disc.)

Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen play excellently, with a supple vigour and empathy which complements Isserlis's playing beautifully.  The recorded sound is up to Hyperion's usual fine standard and Isserlis's notes are as witty and insightful as always.  It's an outstanding release all round and very warmly recommended.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Locke - The Broken Consort etc. - Wayward Sisters

Rating: 3/5

Not the instrumentation for me

This is good music which is well played, but I do have my reservations.

Locke's music (from the mid 17th-Century) is very enjoyable; it is graceful and tuneful with real melodic and harmonic interest.  It is more usually played by a viol consort with other instruments, like my dearly loved old recording by The Parley Of Instruments under Peter Holman. 

Here, the Wayward Sisters play on recorder, violin, viola da gamba or cello and theorbo or guitar.  The recorder part is generally rather dominant and the other instruments don't really provide the richness of texture which gives this music such a lovely sound.  As a result, I find it rather unsatisfying; the ensemble plays very well but for me the music doesn't really gel as it should.

Others may feel differently, because this is a perfectly legitimate way of playing The Broken Consort and there is some good musicianship here, but my own response is to return to the Parley Of Instruments, and I can only give this a very qualified recommendation.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Bach - Piano Concertos - Pires

Rating: 3/5

Hasn't aged well

Maria Joao Pires is a magnificent pianist whose recordings of Chopin's Nocturnes and Schubert's Impromptus are among my most treasured discs.  This disc of three Bach concertos, originally issued in 1976, is not in the same league as her later recordings for me.

Pires herself plays excellently; she has beautiful tone and a lovely touch.  The orchestral work is pretty stodgy, though, and lacks almost all of the suppleness and spring which informs so many more recent recordings and really brings Bach's music to light.  Tempi are generally slow and are positively funereal in some of the slower movements - which Pires deals with by introducing some rather Romantic-sounding phrasing in places, most notably in the adagio of BWV1052, for example, (which lasts over 9 minutes!).  It just doesn't really sound like Bach to me, however lovely her playing.

In short, this is a recording which has not aged well. However much I respect Maria Joao Pires and love her other recordings, I much prefer Murray Perahia or Angela Hewitt for Bach keyboard concertos on the piano. This is only OK, and I can't really recommend it.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Lutz Kirchhof - The Language of the Gods

Rating: 4/5

Not a favourite

Lutz Kirchhof has constructed a programme of French baroque lute works here which includes some well known names like de Visée and the Gaultiers along with a number of more obscure composers – to me, anyway.  It's an approach I like because it is always good to bring less well known music to light, but to me not all the music here really merits its place.  It's a personal feeling, of course, but I don't find this as consistently interesting as some collections.

Kirchhof is a fine lutenist who has been making well-received recordings for many years.  Again, this is a personal take on it, but I often find a slight stiffness in his approach which I don't find as appealing as the lucidity of lutenists like Paul O'Dette, Jakob Lindberg, Nigel North and others.  The result is that, although the disc has its fine moments and the overall sound is very enjoyable, it's not really among my favourite lute recordings.  It's certainly worth investigating by any lute enthusiast, but my recommendation is slightly qualified.