Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Dall'Abaco - Capricci a Violoncello Solo - Galligioni

Rating: 5/5

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Handel & Bach - Dixit Dominus, Magnificat

Rating: 5/5

An excellent disc

This is another excellent disc from Vox Luminis.  I already have several recordings of each of these works but was very happy to try interpretations by this excellent ensemble and they were well up to expectations.

The music itself is, of course wonderful.  Both Bach's setting of the Magnificat and Handel's Dixit Dominus scarcely need any praise from me because they are so well known, so enjoyable and obviously such works of genius.  Vox Luminis do them proud.  There is immense skill and virtuosity here among both singers and players, but it's worn lightly so that the music flows and coalesces completely naturally.  The balance is excellent so the overall sound is lovely (and very well recorded) and there is real emotion throughout -  often joy, but true contemplative spirituality too where appropriate.

I don't think you could do much better for either of these two great works.  This will stand alongside my old, dearly loved recordings by John Eliot Gardiner, Andrew Parrott and others and I can recommend it warmly.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Zelenka - Trio Sonatas ZWV181 - Ensemble Berlin Prag

Rating: 5/5

A gem

I have owned and loved both of the recordings of these sonatas by Heinz Holliger and his ensemble for many years.  This is as good as either, I think.

The music is terrific; it is rich, varied and even a little strange in places, but it's thoroughly enjoyable Baroque chamber music which is also very rewarding to listen to.  The playing of Ensemble Berlin Prag does it full justice.  They are under the "musical supervision" of the excellent Reinhard Goebel, whose involvement persuaded me to try this set in the first place, and the result is a delight.  They are supple and very responsive to the music, giving it full weight where it requires it but with an underlying sense of real enjoyment and a little playfulness on occasion.  It's terrific stuff and I love it.  The recorded sound is excellent and the whole effect is a pleasure from start to finish.

In short, this is a little gem of a release which I can recommend very warmly.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Beethoven - The Late Quartets - Quatuor Mosaiques

Rating: 4/5

Good, but not the Mosaiques best

Although Quatuor Mosaiques are among my very favourite quartets, I'm not wholly convinced by this set.  I think their Mozart and Haydn recordings in particular are outstanding, with a wonderful balance between formality and emotion.  Here, I'm not sure that balance is quite so well struck.  These are some of the most powerfully emotional works in the canon and the Mosaiques don't always quite get to their heart for me.

One touchstone for me in the Late Quartets is the wondrous slow movement of Op. 132, with its limpid, meditative beauty shot through with flashes of piercing joy.  Although the Mosaiques bring their characteristic technical brilliance and thoughtfulness to it, it really doesn't move me in the way that the Tacaks or Alban Berg Quartets' interpretations do (among others).  I felt this way throughout, really – it's good, but doesn't quite get there.

I am slightly better disposed toward this set than C.Wake, but I do share his reservations.  These things are a matter of personal taste at this level of musical excellence, but I can only give this set a somewhat qualified recommendation.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Bach - Cello Suites (arr. for guitar) - Hoppstock

Rating: 5/5

An excellent release

I like this disc very much.  I approached it with caution because there are now so many versions of the Cello Suites of, it has to be said, varying quality, that I wasn't sure that we needed another.  However, I found Tilman Hoppstock's guitar transcriptions engaging and genuinely original in places.

Hoppstock has chosen to record the two minor-key Suites, Nos 2 & 5, which aren't the most accessible or popular.  He has also recorded Suite No.1 which is a rather obvious choice, but to his credit has elected not to start with it and has also made an interesting transcription.  All of the transcriptions hold genuine interest, I think; he has added significant harmonies throughout, but they all work very well.  There are some very interesting deviations from what I would normally expect. For example, the wonderful Sarabande of Suite No.5 isn't the introverted, emotionally intense exploration of many cello interpretations, but to me sounds like an almost frostbitten evocation of ice.  I was sceptical about the inclusion of "Air on a G String" as a "bonus" track, but I loved the tiptoeing-cat feel of the bass line. 

Hoppstock seems to "get" Bach, so that even the occasional slightly romantic-sounding flourish seems quite appropriate and for me the spirit of Bach shines through the whole thing.  He plays excellently, sailing through the virtuosic passages with no sense of strain and the sound of his guitar is lovely.  In short, this is an excellent release which rather surprised me with its quality.  Very warmly recommended.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Dorothee Oberlinger - Recorder Concertos

Rating: 5/5

A cracking recording

This is a cracking disc of Baroque recorder concertos.  It features two by the excellent Telemann (whom I still think is a very under-rated composer), one by Graupner and one by Schultze, who is a new composer to me.  The music is all hugely enjoyable, with some genuine melodic and harmonic invention to maintain interest.

It is the playing which really makes this so good.  Oberlinger herself is a very fine player, with dazzling virtuosity in places and a touch and feel which really brings the music to life.  Reinhard Goebel is in his element here and he and the excellent Ensemble 1700 bring a lovely supple feel to the performance.  Slower movements have genuine emotion and depth while there is a real zing in some of the quicker movements which I love.

In short, this is an excellent recording by very fine musicians, which I can recommend warmly.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

German Hornsound - #hornlikes

Rating: 4/5

Well played and enjoyable

Rather to my surprise, I like this disc.  I was dubious about the overall idea and was put off by both the trendy title and the "we're-just-four-crazy-guys" cover, but I heard a little on Radio 3 and was sufficiently intrigued to try it.  I'm glad I did.

German Hornsound is a quartet of orchestral horn players; here they have each chosen pieces they like (hence the disc's title) which features in an arrangement for four horns.  The arrangements are generally very good - many are by the players themselves.  It's a good variety of forms and periods and of the well-known and more obscure.  They play very well indeed, bringing genuine feeling and depth where appropriate – rather in the way that a top-class brass band do.

I have to say that an entire disc of arrangements for horn quartet does get a bit much and I have to listen to a few pieces at a time before wanting a bit of tonal variety, but it is far better and more enjoyable than I expected and I can recommend this disc.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Bach - Cello Suites - Yang

Rating: 2/5

Not an interpretation for me

I'm afraid I don't get on at all well with Sung-Won Yang's recording of the Cello Suites.  He is plainly a fine cellist, but for me his interpretation of Bach is a long way wide of the mark.

Technically, Yang is excellent and the sound he brings from his cello is lovely.  He is recorded in a very resonant acoustic but it remains clear and distinct so the sonic effect is very beautiful.  However, I simply don’t think that he gets Bach.  As a couple of examples, the Preludes to both the First and Third suites are taken largely at breakneck speed – so much so that much the internal structure is indistinct and lost, including those magnificent, moving wide arpeggios on the Third Prelude.  They also include some pretty extreme rubato, almost skidding to a halt at the end of some phrases which I found a distraction from the music rather than an enhancement.  In the wondrous Sarabande of the Fifth Suite there is some downward portamento so pronounced and inappropriate that it made me physically wince…and so on.

Interpretation is a matter of personal taste, of course, and others may respond better to this set, but I really don’t like it.  There are many, many fine interpretations of the Cello Suites available but I'm afraid that, for me, this isn’t one of them.

(Some of my personal favourites include David Watkin's superb recent recording, Pierre Fournier, Steven Isserlis, Anne Gastinel…)