Friday, 23 November 2018

Josquin - Miserere mei - Cappella Amsterdam/Reuss

Rating: 4/5

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

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

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

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

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.