Friday, 14 December 2018

Obrecht - MIssa Grecorum etc - The Brabant Ensemble


Rating: 5/5

Review:
Another fine recording from The Brabant Ensemble

I like Obrecht’s music very much. There is a sombre beauty in it throughout which I find extremely satisfying and the Brabant Ensemble bring it out wonderfully. They are an excellent choir and, for me anyway, this is one of their finest discs. They are technically impeccable with a lovely fluency of line, a fine engagement with the text and a balance which suits the music perfectly. I find it spellbinding.

The recording is of the excellent quality we expect from Hyperion, with a lovely acoustic which allows the voices to resonate without obscuring the detail. The notes and presentation are also excellent, making this a terrific disc all round. Very warmly recommended.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Isabella d'Este - The Faces of Melancholy


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A delightful disc

This is a delightful disc of music from late 16th- and early 17th-Century English music.

Three composers are represented; two Anthony Holborne and Thomas Simpson are reasonably well known but John Adson was new to me and I am very glad to have made his acquaintance. The music throughout is very good and thoroughly enjoyable. The ensemble Isabella d’Este play it excellently, with proper zest in the lively dances and genuine feeling in the more thoughtful, emotional pieces. It’s beautifully done and very well recorded, making it a really good disc all round. Warmly recommended.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Josquin - Miserere mei - Cappella Amsterdam/Reuss


Rating: 4/5

Review:
Beautiful but lacking real depth

There is a lot to like about this Josquin recording, but for me there is something missing at its heart.

The programme is excellent – a fine selection of Josquin’s works, includingNymphes des Bois, his magnificent lament for Ockeghem, and the psalm setting for which the disc is named, Miserere mei, which I think is one of the greatest glories of the Renaissance. The singing is technically excellent, with impeccable intonation and a lovely overall sound, helped by a lower, Flemish pitch and quite a resonant acoustic. This gives a beautiful rich timbre to the music which is very seductive.

However...under that lovely sound I think the performance lacks a real engagement with the texts, with little sense to me of a depth of spirituality or emotional weight. Tempi are generally fairly quick which doesn’t help the effect, and I get a sense of nipping through the works rather than really exploring their meaning and bringing out the real depth in the music.

I do like this disc and I have no complaints about the beauty of the sound, but by comparison with some other recordings like those by The Hilliard Ensemble or Cinquecento, I find it a little shallow. This is a personal sense, of course, and you may not agree, but my recommendation is slightly qualified.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

de Visée - Robert de Visée a Versailles - Duo Baroque La Tour


Rating: 5/5

Review:
Exclellent de Visée

I like this disc very much. There are some very fine recordings of de Visée’s solo works for lute, theorbo and guitar, but these pieces, adapted from the composer’s own arrangements were new to me. They are just as good and a real delight throughout.

De Visée was a very fine composer, who was regarded as highly as Couperin, Forqueray and others at Versailles. It is easy to see why from these works; they are inventive, interesting and very enjoyable to listen to. Duo Baroque La Tour play them beautifully; the combination of the theorbo with the various flutes and recorders is extremely beguiling and the musicianship is excellent, so the music really shines. It is very well recorded and the notes are interesting and informative, so it’s a really good release all round. Warmly recommended.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Collegium Musicum of London - O Quam Gloriosum


Rating: 4/5

Review:
Very enjoyable

I like this disc very much. Collegium Musicum of London are an amateur chamber choir so they don’t have quite the polish and effortless virtuosity of some professional recordings, but they are technically very good and there is a warmth and engagement here which is very engaging.

The programme is lovely, with works by Parsons, Tallis and Byrd surrounding Victoria’s 1583 setting of the Missa Pro Defunctis, plus a very fine rendition of Guerrero’s brilliant Duo seraphim, all interspersed with some brief English organ works of the time. It works very well and makes a thoroughly enjoyable listen.

The performances are very good. Intonation is excellent, there is a good fluency of line and a real engagement with the texts so there is real life in the music throughout. Their sound is akin to a cathedral choir, with several voices to a part and a slightly distant, resonant recording and acoustic. This always means that individual parts aren’t always easy to pick out, but the overall effect is warm and very pleasing.

There are many very fine recordings now of each of these pieces, but as a programme this still feels fresh and very enjoyable and I can recommend it warmly.

(I would also recommend, if possible, going to a live performance by CmoL. They often sing in some of London’s ancient churches and they are excellent concerts. I heard them sing much of this programme in the church of Saint Bartholomew The Great earlier this year; it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening which persuaded me to buy this disc. I’m very glad it did.)

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Robert Smith & Paolo Pandolfo - The Excellency Of Hand


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A terrific disc

This is a terrific disc – as you’d expect from these two brilliant players. It consists of duets for viola da gamba from 17th-Century England by Christopher Simpson and John Jenkins, plus a single Ayre by Simon Ives. It is a delight; Simpson and Jenkins were two masters of the instrument and wrote charming and thoughtful works for it which have real musical merit, too.

Paolo Pandolfo and Robert Smith have rather different styles, in spite of Smith having been Pandolfo’s pupil, and Pandolfo’s freer, more flamboyant playing goes really well with the more sober approach taken by Smith. I think the combination is an absolute joy to listen to and the overall sound of the two gambas, excellently recorded by Resonus, is quite thrilling. (Do try listen on good speakers or headphones to get the full effect.) It’s a wonderful disc throughout; I love it and can recommend it very warmly indeed.

(I can also heartily recommend both Smith’s and Pandolfo’s recent recordings of the newly discovered Telemann Fantasias for Viola da Gamba, Phantasm’s two superb discs of Jenkins’s Consort Music and the much missed Sophie Watillon’s disc of Simpson’s The Seasons.)

Friday, 2 November 2018

Purcell - Fantasias etc - Les Voix Humaines


Rating: 4/5

Review:
Slightly plodding interpretations

I really like many of Les Voix Humaines’ recordings, especially their marvellous Sainte-Colombe series, but I don’t think this is one of their best. There are some truly excellent recordings of Purcell’s Fantazias and compared to, say, Fretwork or the excellent 2015 disc by the consort Sit Fast this feels just a little plodding. It’s not that I dislike it and there’s certainly nothing actively wrong with it, but somehow I don’t get the full sense of Purcell’s depth and remarkable musical innovation here.

This could just be me; Les Voix Humaines are excellent musicians and the recorded sound is very good, so others may get on better with this disc than I did, but personally I’ll be sticking to my other loved recordings and can only give this a rather qualified recommendation.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Haydn - Concerti per Esterhazy - Beyer, Gli Incogniti


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A very fine recording

I have enjoyed Amandine Beyer’s baroque recordings with Gli Incogniti for some years now. I am pleased to say that this Haydn disc is just as good.

Haydn’s Cello Concertos are terrific works and there is a very good interpretation by Marco Ceccato here of the C major Concerto. I have never got on nearly so well with his Violin Concerti – until now. Beyer brings exactly the right combination of serious musical weight and that knowing Haydn twinkle to make the two concerti here an absolute delight. She and her players really seem to understand that Haydn often said serious things in a witty way, and their baroque experience brings a lovely lightness of step while never losing the music’s genuine quality. It has been rather a revelation to me and I very much hope Beyer will record more in the future.

The recorded sound by Harmonia Mundi is excellent and the disc is very nicely presented with good notes. It’s a very fine disc all round and I can recommend it very warmly.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Quartom - Renaissance


Rating: 3/5

Review:
Disappointing

I was looking forward to hearing Quartom who are a new ensemble to me. They make a very lovely sound, but overall I was rather disappointed in this disc.

The programme is of motets and antiphons by Palestrina, interspersed with plainchant. It is very beautiful music, which Quartom sing with skill and impeccable intonation. However, there is very little engagement with the texts (it may be significant that no texts are provided in the booklet) and there is a sameness of tone and sound which becomes rather cloying. Sometimes it is simply inappropriate – the celebratory words Hodie Christus natus est have rather a lugubrious air, for example – but often it’s just a bit bland. The same can be said of the plainchant, which to me needed a good deal more muscularity at times.

For me this is a bit of a waste of what is plainly a talented quartet of singers, sounding more as though it is aimed at a commercial chill-out market rather than a real attempt to bring the music to life. I’m sorry to be critical, but in the end I found much of Renaissance rather bland and dull, for all it’s beauty of sound, and I can only give it a very qualified recommendation.

Bach - Six Suites for Viola Solo - Kashkashian


Rating: 5/5

Review:
An excellent recording

I really like this set. Kim Kashkashian is a terrific musician and she really makes these wonderful works shine.

I think Kashkashian manages to allow Bach to shine through here while giving her own distinctive, loving interpretations. It can be a difficult balance to strike and for me she gets it just right so that the lighter dances really dance, and movements like the amazing Sarabande from Suite No. 5 carry all the emotional and spiritual weight which Bach gives them. They are lovely interpretations.

My sole reservation is that on the viola those magnificent resonances of the cello which Bach uses to such effect are much diminished and I do think the music loses something as a result. However, the musicianship, interpretation and sound quality here are all absolutely first-class and it’s still a five-star recording for me which I can recommend very warmly.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Bach - Sonatas & Partitas - Gottfried von der Goltz


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A very fine recording

I like Gottfried von der Goltz’s solo Bach very much. There are many, many recordings of these works now but there is always room for another really fine interpretation.

It is plain that von der Goltz really gets Bach. This is unsurprising after the outstanding Bach recordings he has made as conductor of the Freiburger Barockorchester, and that depth of understanding shines through here. It is often quite hard to put my finger on, but there is an overall sense of a great balance between the composer’s and the artist’s voices, so that von der Goltz gives these wonderful works his own interpretation while never swamping Bach’s own intention. The mighty Chaconne from the D minor Partita, for example, retains all its emotional and intellectual depth while never becoming bogged down in over-seriousness. It’s a difficult line to walk, and von der Goltz gets it just right, I think, as he does throughout. His technique is impeccable, his tone is lovely and the recorded sound is excellent.

I’m not yet sure whether this will take its place among my very favourite recordings by Rachel Podger, Viktoria Mullova and Isabelle Faust, but it’s in the same league, which for me is really saying something. It’s a very fine recording indeed and warmly recommended.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Bach - Oboe Concertos and Cantatas - Löffler, Prohsaka etc.


Rating: 2/5

Review:
Not for me

I’m sorry to say that I was disappointed in this disc. I love Bach’s writing for oboe and some of his movements for oboe and soprano are just sublime, but the performances here didn’t work for me.

Xenia Löffler has a lovely tone and Anna Prohsaka’s singing is good in its way – but it’s not the right way for Bach, in my view. The oboe and orchestral playing has a slightly plodding feel about it and Prohsaka sounds as though she’s the lead in a Romantic opera, so although Bach’s music is recognisable it never comes to life and for me they miss its essential essence.

This is a personal view, of course, and others may enjoy this more than me, but even though it’s a very attractive programme, I can’t recommend it.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Dall'Abaco - Capricci a Violoncello Solo - Galligioni


Rating: 5/5

Review:
Very enjoyable

I like this disc very much. Dall’Abaco and Francesco Galligioni were both new to me so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s a disc of charm and fine musicianship.

Dall’Abaco was an older contemporary of Bach (by about ten years) but these pieces are much freer than the Cello Suites and remind me more of Abel’s pieces for viola da gamba. They aren’t works of genius, but they have real charm and interest and they are a pleasure to listen to. A whole CD at once can get a bit much, but in smaller groups they are a real pleasure.

Galligioni plays very well, with a rhythmic freedom that serves the music well. He has the technique to play some quite virtuosic passages with no sense of strain and his cello sounds lovely throughout – and is very well recorded.

This is one of those shot-in-the-dark discs which has proved a real winner for me and I can recommend it very warmly.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Bruno Helstroffer - Calling The Muse


Rating: 5/5

Review:
Fabulous

I love this disc. I really didn’t know whether I would, because mixtures of ancient and contemporary music often don’t work for me and the description and notes are rather pretentious, but the recording itself turns out to be fabulous.

Bruno Helstroffer is a very fine theorbo player. I love the sound of the theorbo, and he brings its wonderful resonances out beautifully. There is virtuosity in abundance here, but also a deep sense of the music, so he knows exactly when to cut loose and when to show restraint, and he understands the importance of “the space between the notes,” to which his background in playing blues and rock guitar must contribute considerably.

The music itself is excellent. Composers like Piccinini and Kapsberger are well known to lutenists and theorbo players and these pieces show why their reputations survive so well. Helstroffer’s own works are also excellent; I love his slightly wacky reworking of the minuet from Bach’s First Cello Suite (“Tea With Bach”), for example, and other originals show a wonderful blend of the early Baroque with often improvisatory-sounding styles which reminded me of guitarists like John Fahey, Leo Kottke, Michel Chapman and others. To cap it all, the disc concludes with the extraordinary and wonderful Vos Luths in which the instrument sounds almost like a sitar (and is probably the only recorded example of bottleneck slide on the theorbo).

I found Calling The Muse disc a delight from start to finish (with the sole exception of Dans la Chambre de mon Théorbe, a poem read in rather over-emphatic French above a Kapsberger piece). It’s enjoyable, interesting music, beautifully played and superbly recorded. Very warmly recommended.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Gombert - A la Incoronation - Odhecaton etc


Rating: 2/5

Review:
Spoiled by poor sound

I’m afraid I found this disc a disappointment. The works here are very good, with mass movements by Gombert and works by Josquin, Pipelare and others, and the singing is very decent - as far as I can tell. The problem lies in the recording, which is distant, over-resonant and very indistinct, so that what comes over is a generally amiable sound but little sense of the wonderful music here.

It’s a shame because I’m a great admirer of Gombert’s music, but this isn’t a very good recording of it and I can’t really recommend it.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Juvenis & Brumel - Il Codici di Staffarda - Daltrocanto


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A vey fine recording

I like this disc very much. I tried it because of Brumel’s mass, but it is the setting of the Requiem by Engarandus Juvenis which is the real star of the programme.

I had never heard of Juvenis, and I am slightly relieved to discover that he is largely unknown elsewhere, too. The Staffarda Codex is the only source of his work and I am very glad that Daltrocanto have taken the trouble to seek out his Requiem and record it. Sung with countertenors in the top line, it has a fine, grave resonance and it is a lovely work of genuine beauty and solemnity which captured me from the start.

Brumel’s mass A l’ombre d’ung buissonet is a much less substantial work. I love his Missa Et ecce terrae motus but have never really enjoyed much of Brumel’s other work and this doesn’t do a lot to change that. This time sopranos take the top lines which adds to a slightly insubstantial feel and for me the mass doesn’t add up to a lot.

Daltrocanto’s performance is excellent, with impeccable tuning and balance, a lovely sense of line and a beautiful, warm overall sound. It’s very nicely recorded, too, and in spite of my slight reservations about the Brumel mass, this disc is well worth it for the Juvenis Requiem alone. I can recommend it very warmly.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Ronn McFarlane - The Celtic Lute


Rating: 3/5

Review:
A little disappointing

I expected to like this far more than I actually did. I’m very keen on both the lute and on Celtic folk music, but although this disc is OK, it doesn’t do all that much for me. I find it hard to put my finger on the problem, but I think it’s a combination of what seem to me to be slightly pedestrian arrangements and a style of playing which doesn’t quite bring this wonderful music to life. I’m afraid I’m not musician enough to be more precise than that, but I do know that compared, say, to the two wonderful Celtic Viol discs by Jordi Savall and Andrew Lawrence-King this sounds rather ordinary.

I’m sorry to be critical of a good idea. This may just be a personal response so do try a few samples for yourself, but for me The Celtic Lute was a bit of a disappointment.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Bach - Harpsichord Concertos Transcribed for Mandolin - Ferella


Rating: 3/5

Review:
Not very successful transcriptions

Bach’s works often lend themselves very well to transcription but I don’t think that these transcriptions are very successful. There’s nothing wrong with them in principle and the playing throughout is very good, but the overall effect just isn’t very satisfying. For me, the mandolin can’t capture either the resonance or harmonic capabilities of the harpsichord and as a result the effect is somewhat diminished and a little empty.

Avi Avital’s disc of Bach on the mandolin avoids this to an extent by including pieces originally for violin or flute, but even in his brilliant hands the mandolin’s limitations show rather, and they are more obvious here. I’m sorry to be unenthusiastic about a disc of good performances, but this one isn’t really for me.

Friday, 20 July 2018

da Milano - A Decoration of Silence - North


Rating: 5/5

Review:
An excellent disc


This is yet another excellent disc from the great Nigel North.  It is the second in a projected series of three discs of da Milano, nicknamed "Il Divino" with some justification.

The music is lovely; a wide selection of pieces with a variety of feel and atmosphere and all full of melodic and harmonic invention.  North plays it beautifully, of course.  He is one of the world's finest lutenists and is completely at home here; I already have much-loved discs of da Milano by both Paul O'Dette and Hopkinson Smith, and this is at least their equal.  North's style and tone is perhaps a little more mellow, which for me suits this music very well.

The recorded sound is excellent and this is a very fine disc all round.  Warmly recommended.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Jakob Lindberg - Nocturnal


Rating: 5/5

Review:
An outstanding disc


Nocturnal is yet another first-rate disc from Jakob Lindberg.  He has, of course, been one of the world's greatest lutenists for many years and this is well up to his usual phenomenal standard.

Nocturnal is a collection of English lute pieces by the greats of the Elizabethan era, plus a transcription of Britten's Nocturnal After John Dowland.  Many familiar composers are featured; Dowland himself, of course, Holborne, Bacheler and others, and I was very pleased to be introduced to the music of Edward Collard.  All of it is excellent and quite beautifully played.  Lindberg has a deep understanding of this repertoire and an exquisite touch.  His instruments sound lovely and are, as always, superbly recorded by BIS.

This is, in short, an outstanding disc of wonderful music played by a true master.  Very warmly recommended.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Weiss - Suites for Lute - Junghanel


Rating: 5/5

Review:
An excellent disc


This is an excellent disc of Weiss's lute music.  There are some superb recordings of Weiss available – notably for me by Jakob Lindberg and Robert Barto – but this stands with them, I think.

Weiss, held to be the foremost lutenist of his time, was an almost exact contemporary of Bach and so his time was the last flowering of Baroque lute music. He left a huge and very distinguished legacy of compositions, which really show the true beauty and versatility of the lute. All of the music is full of melodic invention and Weiss's mastery of his instrument is clear from the richness of the harmonic structures.  Konrad Junghänel brings all of this out beautifully; he is a fine lutenist and is absolutely at home in this repertoire, so Weiss's music blossoms in his hands.  His lute sounds simply lovely and is beautifully recorded by Glossa.

You simply can't go wrong woth this disc, in my view.  It's lovely music, superbly played and recorded, and very warmly recommended.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Bach - Cello Suites - Zipperling


Rating: 2/5

Review:
Not for me


I'm afraid this recording wasn't for me.  There are certainly good things about it, but it has some serious flaws.

Rainer Zipperling is a very fine cellist; he has a lovely tone here and there is virtuosity in abundance – but therein lies some of the problem, I think.  He takes some movements at breakneck speed which certainly shows what amazing technique he has, but does Bach's music no favours at all.  For example, the wonderful Prelude to the Third Suite is played so fast that all it's beauty, including those magnificent, moving wide arpeggios, is lost in a blizzard of notes.  Even the extraordinary Sarabande from the Fifth Suite, although it is taken at a sensible tempo, lacks the real spiritual depth brought to it by, for example, Steven Isserlis or David Watkin in their superb recordings.

It is possible to take some movements quite quickly and to bring individual quirkiness to the Cello Suites while still doing them proper justice – try Anne Gastinel's delightful interpretation, for example.  I'm afraid I don’t think that Zipperling manages it, though, and although I admire his work with the excellent Camerata Colln very much, I can't recommend this solo effort.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Fuenllana & Narváez - Je veulx laysser melancolie - Costoyas


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A lovely disc


I think this is a terrific disc. 

I sometimes struggle a little with vihuela music even when played by the great Hopkinson Smith because I find the vihuela a slightly unsympathetic instrument, but here the overall sound is lovely and both the playing and music are excellent.  It's a lovely, varied selection from both Fuenllana and Narvaez, which is given real life and feeling by Dolores Costoyas.  The recored sound is truly lovely and I think it's an excellent disc all round.  Very warmly recommended.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Bach - Guitar Works Vol. 1 - Veslocki


Rating: 3/5

Review:
Not for me


Whether or not you like this disc will be a matter of personal taste.  Bach's music is wonderful, of course, and David Veslocki is a fine guitarist, but his interpretations won't be for everyone.

The chief work here is Bach's Lute Suite in E minor, BWV 996, plus a selection of movements from other works.  There is a slight air of Bach's Greatest Hits about it, but that’s fine by me.  What I find harder to take is the very romantic, almost sentimental style in which Veslocki plays.  To my surprise, I rather like the Prelude to the First Cello Suite played as though it were a gentle lullaby, but that feeling throughout the disc gets far too much for me.  Many of these movements are dances, but that gets lost much too often for my taste.

So, this isn't really a disc for me, but others with different taste may like it much more.  Certainly the musicianship is very good, so I'd recommend listening to a few samples and if you like them then the disc won't let you down.  For me, though, it's not Bach as I like to hear him so my own recommendation is very qualified.

Dowland - Lachrimae - North, Les Voix Humaines


Rating: 5/5

Review:
Terrific


This is a terrific interpretation of Dowland's Lachrimae.  It's up against some extremely stiff competition but is among the best, I think.

The music is fabulous, with arrangements for viol consort of the Lachrimae and a number of other Dowland pieces, some well known and others less so.  As a programme it works very well and never drags or becomes at all samey.  The playing is excellent, with a fairly mellow overall sound from a superb viol consort and Nigel North's brilliant lute playing.  It's a delight from start to finish, excellently recorded by ATMA.

I find it hard to choose between this and the recent outstanding release from Phantasm and Elizabeth Kenny.  Both are brilliant, with Phantasm perhaps a little more intense and tragic than Les Voix Humaines, who are a little more mellow and melancholy.  I love both and I can recommend this very warmly indeed.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Bach - Archlute works - Dunford


Rating: 5/5

Review:
Fabulous


I think this disc is a joy.  It's wonderful music, excellently played and beautifully recorded.

Thomas Dunford is an excellent lutenist; here he has made arrangements of the First Cello Suite and the mighty Chaconne from the D minor Violin Partita, and plays Bach's own lute arrangement of the Fifth Cello Suite.  It is magnificent music from start to finish and Dunford's arrangements capture the spirit of Bach's originals very well.  He also plays beautifully; there is some quite marked rubato in his phrasing in places but he never forgets that these are dances and the essential pulse of Bach is never lost.  There is plenty of depth here, too; for example, the Sarabande from the Fifth Suite has all the spiritual intensity you could wish for and the great Chaconne is quite stunning, including Dunford's fine decision to play the last, breath-holding note with no harmony or adornment whatsoever.

Dunford's theorbo has a wonderful, rich and mellow sound augmented by a resonant acoustic and superbly captured by Alpha's recording.  I have loved Pascal Monteilhet's theorbo transcriptions of the Cello Suites for many years and this is at least their equal, I would say.  It's a fabulous release and very warmly recommended.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Partite Modenesi - Cappella Estense


Rating: 2/5

Review:
Very disappointing


I'm afraid I was very disappointed in this disc.  I love the viola da gamba and was looking forward to hearing some unfamiliar music on it, but the music itself was rather uninspiring and the playing left me cold.

The disc opens with a cantata for soprano and bass viol by Alessandro Scarlatti, which is a great deal more about the soprano than the viol and, like most of Scarlatti senior's works, I find it rather dull.  Things don't pick up much with the two ricercars by Antonii which are, frankly, pretty uninspiring pieces.  Worse, the playing sounds very stiff to me – a world away from the lovely, fluent style of Susanne Heinrich, Paolo Pandolfo and many other fine players.  Even the recording doesn't really bring out the depth and resonance of the instrument.

I'm sorry to be so critical, but this disc was a real let-down for me.  Others may enjoy it more than I did, but personally I can't recommend it.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Galilei - Il primo libro d'intavolatura di liuto - Wolf


Rating: 4/5

Review:
Enjoyable and rewarding


This is an interesting and enjoyable disc of lute music from the early 17th Century.  Michelagnolo was the son of the lutenist Vincenzo Galilei (and brother of the great scientist Galileo) and was plainly a talented composer and skilled player.  His music is interesting and varied, and although perhaps not quite of the quality and innovative interest of contemporaries like Kapsberger, it is very enjoyable.

Axel Wolf plays with skill and engagement, and the recording is very good, making his instrument sound lovely.  Anyone with an interest in lute music will find this an enjoyable and rewarding disc and I can recommend it.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Mouton - Anna Requescat In Pace - Ensemble Jacques Moderne, Suhubiette


Rating: 4/5

Review:
Good, but not one of the best


Mouton was a fine composer and I was glad to discover this disc of his music; it is a decent recording, but not quite as good as I'd hoped.

The program is Mouton's lament for the death of Anne de Bretagne in 1514 and a selection of motets including his most famous, the sublime Nesciens mater.  They are performed by a variety of musicians – choir both with and without viol consort, solo voice and viols and in one case by viols alone.  It's a good idea and works reasonably well; the singers and players are all good but there is a slight emotional flatness and sameness throughout the disc in spite of the variety of arrangements.  As a result I don't engage with this as I do with the Tallis Scholars' superb Mouton disc and even Nesciens mater doesn't quite glow as it can.

I don't mean to be too critical; this is fine music which is well performed, but it's just not a disc which really moves me as the very best do.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Bach - Gamba Sonatas - Perl, Schornsheim, Santana


Rating: 3/5

Review
Not a recording for me



Much as I admire Hille Perl and love much of her work, I'm afraid I find this rendition of Bach's trio sonatas rather unengaging.

This is a set of six trio sonatas, originally composed for the organ.  They lend themselves well to transcription for other instruments as both Florilegium and especially The Purcell Quartet have shown in their excellent recordings.  I ought to find these arrangements for viola da gamba, harpsichord and lute a delight because I love the sound of the gamba and they are played by three excellent musicians, but I don't.  I can't really put my finger on why; there's a slightly meandering quality in places, the sound seems to be curiously lacking in depth and resonance…whatever it is, somehow I just lose interest.

This is a very personal response, so don't let me put you off.  Three top-quality musicians playing Bach together ought to be special and it may well be so for you, but for me this isn't one of Hille Perl's best recordings and I personally I can't really recommend it.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

de Visée - Pieces pour Théorbe & Guitare - Diaz-Latorre


Rating: 5/5

Review;
An excellent recording


I already have some dearly loved recordings of de Visée by Jose Miguel Moreno, Pascal Monteilhet and others but I was keen to try this after hearing Xavier Diaz-Latorre's excellent Stolen Roses disc – and I'm very glad I did, because it is just as good.

Latorre has chosen a fine programme of mixed pieces, intermingling the lighter sound of the Baroque guitar with the depth and resonance of the theorbo, which works extremely well.  De Visée's music is a delight throughout and he plays it with a virtuosic skill which makes it sound as though there is no real effort or skill involved.  He interprets it beautifully so that each piece has real meaning and I find the entire disc a real pleasure.

The performance is beautifully recorded, and if you have any interest in the music of this period I can recommend this very warmly – I love it.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Haydn - Divertimenti per il Pariton - Balestracci et al


Rating: 5/5

Review:
An excellent disc


I think this is an excellent disc.  Haydn wrote well over 100 baryton trios for his not-very-talented patron to play, some of which do show both the limits of the player and the reluctance of the composer.  The six trios chosen here, though, are all very good works and are beautifully played; the trio are all fine players and they really bring the music to life so that it shines with Haydn's trademark depth and wit.  The sound of the baryton is beautifully captured by the recording and the overall sound is excellent.

I have the Esterhazy Ensemble's recording of the complete Haydn baryton trios and also a very good single disc by the Netherlands Baryton Trio, but this outshines both in my view.  If you're looking for an excellently chosen and performed sample of the baryton trios, I can warmly recommend this.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Nils Mönkmeyer - Baroque


Rating: 2/5

Review:
Not for me


This is an interesting idea but for me it doesn't make a very satisfactory disc. 

The centrepiece of this programme is Bach's 5th Cello Suite. Arrangements of Bach often work very well and are very much in the composer's own idiom.  However, I don't think the addition of a continuo part to this most intense and inward-looking of the Suites works well at all here.  For me it rather trivialises the powerful spirituality of the work, and the wonderful Sarabande, especially, is robbed of much of its depth and impact.  Nor do I like the idea of having each movement played twice in succession, once with continuo and once simply transposed for solo viola; it just sounds very odd to me and I'm not wholly convinced by Mönkmeyer's solo Bach playing, either.

I'm sorry to be critical of what is an adventurous project, but it simply doesn't do it for me.  Maxim Rysanov has shown how good the Cello Suites (including the 5th) can sound on the viola, and I'll be sticking to his recording.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Tallis - Ave rosa sine spinis - The Cardinall's Musick/Carwood


Rating: 4/5

Review:
Good, but not a favourite


I love The Cardinall's Musick and their series of Byrd, Fayfax and Ludford are among my favourite discs.  For some reason, their Tallis recordings (with the exception of the marvellous Lamentations) don't have the same thrilling effect on me.

This disc is part of their eventual Complete Tallis, so it's a very mixed programme of both Latin and English settings from the well known to small obscurities.  I like this approach and it's good to have such a variety easily available.  The singing is, of course, technically excellent and their sound is as lovely as ever.  Somehow, though, the depth and spirituality isn't as strong for me as it often is in Cardinall's Musick recordings and as a result these aren't among my favourite versions.  In the Mass For Four Voices, for example, I much prefer the haunting plangency of The Hilliard Ensemble or the fuller but still quite spare recording by Magnificat.

This is entirely personal preference, of course.  It is a superbly sung and recorded disc which I'm sure many people will love.  I like it, but I can't give it an unqualified recommendation.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Tallis - Lamentations - The Cardinall's Musick/Carwood


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A very fine Lamentations


I think this is a wonderful recording of Tallis's Lamentations.  I have several versions and this is among my very favourites.

Andrew Carwood has used male voices only for the Lamentations, allowing him to pitch it quite low – a minor third below The Tallis Scholars' version, for example.  This gives the whole thing a fabulous depth and resonance of sound which I find quite thrilling throughout.  The basses descend to positively Russian depths in "Ierusalem, Ierusalem" in the first set, for example, which I find spine-tingling every time.  It's a matter of taste, of course, and there is some loss of clarity, but as a performance it's full of yearning lament and I find it deeply moving. 

The other works on the disc are a varied selection.  This is a part of what will eventually become a cycle of Tallis's Complete Works, so included here are some quite obscure liturgical settings in both English and Latin, along with fine performances of Sancte Deus, Dum transisset Sabbatum and other better-known works.  It's an interesting and enjoyable programme, but there is no doubt that for me the Lamentations is the real point of this disc.

The notes and presentation are very good and Hyperion's recorded sound is of the excellent standard we have come to expect.  It's a terrific release all round and very warmly recommended.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Bach etc. - Stolen Roses - Diaz-Latorre


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A lovely disc


This is a lovely disc of Baroque lute music.  I hadn't heard Xavier Diaz-Latorre play before and I am impressed.  He has excellent technique and plainly really gets the music of the period.

The music is by Bach, Biber, Telemann and von Westhof; all of it is very good music indeed.  The Bach suite and the great Chaconne from the Partita in D minor are the most familiar works here and Diaz-Latorre gives them real life and depth – as he does to all of the music here.  His thirteen-course lute sounds lovely and it is very well recorded, so it's a fine disc all round.  If you have any interest in the lute or in Baroque music, I can recommend this very warmly.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Boesset - Je meurs sans mourir - La Poeme Harmonique


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A lovely disc


This is a lovely disc of early 17th-Century instrumental and vocal music.  I sometimes find music of this period a bit of a challenge, but I love this disc.

Boesset was a new composer to me, but I am very glad to have made his acquaintance.  He was a court musician and composer whose work is represented here in a variety of moods and in both instrumental and vocal settings.  It is beautifully played and sung by members of La Poeme Harmonique, who are a very fine ensemble indeed.  They play with an easy virtuosity and produce a simply lovely, rich sound and the singers are uniformly excellent.  All bring genuine feeling to each piece and there is never any sense of sameness, which I do sometimes get in programmes from this period.

My suggestion is that you listen to a few samples.  If you like what you hear, don't hesitate; this is a beautiful disc, excellently performed and recorded and which I can recommend warmly.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Rameau - Les Tendres Plaintes


Rating: 3/5

Review:
Fine playing, questionable interpretation



This is an interesting idea and Sylvie Proulx plays very well, but I'm not wholly convinced by this disc, I'm afraid.

Rameau's music is very firmly French Baroque, with powerful rhythms and some intricate counterpoint in places.  Proulx is plainly a very fine guitarist who gets the counterpoint part very well indeed, making these often complex textures sound unforced even in some virtuosic passages.  However, her emphases, phrasing, use of rubato and even the tone of her guitar at times give a much later, more Romantic and more Spanish feel to these pieces so that at times I feel that I might almost be listening to Sor or even Albeniz.  It is striking that when she adopts a more harpsichord-like tone and stricter rhythm in Le Rappel des Oiseaux, I found the whole thing worked much better.

These are matters of personal taste, of course.  Rameau's music is terrific, Proulx's playing is technically excellent and the recorded sound is very good, so if this style appeals to you it's a disc which should give a lot of pleasure.  Personally, though, I can only give it a qualified recommendation.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Isaac, Senfl - Missa Carminum etc


Rating: 2/5

Review:
Spoiled by poor instrumental sound



I'm afraid that this recording, originally from 1967, has not aged well. 

The singing is actually very good, but the addition of instruments is a problem.  It's a perfectly legitimate move, based on practice in Isaac's time, but the effect here is, to my ears anyway, very unsuccessful because the recording makes the chaumes sound as though someone is playing a loud and distracting kazoo along with the male voices.  Frankly, it ruins the whole thing for me; in the brief passages when they are quiet, the performance is rather good, but then they come back in and wreck it again.

I'm sorry to have to say this because Isaac and Senfl are very under-represented in the catalogue so any recording should be very welcome – but not this one, I'm afraid.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Toys For Two - From Dowland To California


Rating: 4/5

Review:
Very enjoyable



I like this disc.  I was almost put off by the name of the duo, but I'm glad I wasn't because it's an enjoyable and imaginative collection.

These are pieces arranged for lute and triple harp, largely by English composers of the 16th and 17th centuries.  There's good stuff here from Dowland, Byrd, Holborne, Locke and others, which sounds very good in these arrangements and is well played.  What lends the programme a bit of spice, however, is the inclusion of five transcriptions of tracks by – wait for it – Led Zeppelin: Bron-Y-Aur, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Black Mountain Side, Tangerine and Going To California, all very familiar to me from my teenage years.  This could be dreadful, but in fact I think it works really well.  They are obviously modern, blues-influenced pieces, but to me they don't jar with the others and I find them very enjoyable indeed.

I'm not sure I quite buy the arguments advanced in the notes by Luca Pianca about "elements that inseparably link it [the Led Zeppelin pieces] to the musical and cultural past of the glorious Albion," but he (slightly convolutedly) asks that "the non-judgmental listener pass their judgement on the outcome of this project," and my judgement is very favourable.  This is a proper programme of well played lute music with some imaginative and very enjoyable modern inclusions which I can recommend warmly.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Josquin - The Spirit Like A Dove - Apollo5, Ingenium


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A very fine disc



I think this is a very fine disc.  The music is wonderful and it is very well sung.

The music is a parody mass based on Richafort's motet Quem dicunt homines, possibly by Josquin, and Factum est autem which is an undisputed Josquin motet.  Whatever their authorship, both are truly lovely works.

The singing is excellent, with faultless intonation, very nice balance and blend, and a  lovely fluency of line.  The singers bring out all the depth and spirituality in the text and the overall sound is lovely.  There's a resonant (but not over-resonant) acoustic which makes the basses in particular really ring, perhaps at the cost of a little distinctness of individual parts sometimes, but that's fine with me.  It's wonderfully beautiful and just a pleasure to listen to.

The notes by David Wyatt are very interesting.  He makes some very good points about the methodology used to try to authenticate works attributed to Josquin and presents a very plausible case to consider this mass as authentic.  I am not qualified to pronounce on the matter, but to my ears it's certainly good enough to have been written by him.

In short, this is a very fine release all round, which  can recommend very warmly.

Friday, 16 February 2018

de Visée - Pieces de Theorbe - Moreno


Rating: 5/5

Review:
Excellent



This is an excellent disc.  I like many of Jose Miguel Moreno's recordings very much, but this is probably my favourite.

Robert de Visée was active in the late 17th and early 18th Centuries and his music is full of very engaging baroque rhythms and counterpoint.  Many of his works are suites of dances (two of which are included here) and they are all thoroughly enjoyable while having genuine intellectual weight.

Moreno plays them superbly.  He has the excellence of technique to make this sometimes very demanding music sound quite natural, and a beautiful tone to his theorbo.  He judges the rhythmic freedom excellently, bringing shape and feeling to the music while never straying into over-romantic gestures.  It's exemplary playing, I think.

If you like the theorbo, lute music in general or just enjoyable, well-played music, don't hesitate.  This is terrific and very warmly recommended.