Monday, 10 June 2019

Vivaldi - Le Quattro Stagioni - Podger/Brecon Baroque

Rating: 5/5

Great stuff

I love this disc. If it hadn’t been by Rachel Podger I wouldn’t have bothered with it (yet another Four Seasons? Seriously?) but Podger always bring something special to her recordings and this is no exception.

Others have already said what makes this so good: the chamber ensemble sounds so light and supple, there are no gimmicks but the whole thing sounds fresh and really well considered, a sense of delight in the music...and so on. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what is so good about it, but it’s a genuine pleasure to listen to.

Even if you’re heartily sick of hearing the Four Seasons, this may well restore your enjoyment in what is, after all, very enjoyable music, and there is plenty more to enjoy here as well. Very warmly recommended.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Obrecht - Masses - Beauty Farm

Rating: 4/5

Very good but slightly dry

This is another good recording from Beauty Farm, although I’m not quite so keen on it as on some of their others.

This is a double CD of two major mass settings by Obrecht, Missa Fortuna desperata and Missa Maria Zart. They are both fine works which Beauty Farm sing with just four voices: countertenor, two tenors and bass. This emphasises the spare beauty of Obrecht’s music, which for me could do with just a little more richness of tone occasionally. This could just be because I have loved The Tallis Scholars’ disc of Missa Maria Zart and The Clerk’s Group’s excellent Obrecht recordings for many years so Beauty Farm’s rather bleaker sound here is quite a contrast, but I do find both masses a little bit dry.

That said, this is fine music which is very well sung and recorded. Beauty Farm (in spite of their silly name and dreadful covers) are an excellent ensemble and this is a good addition to their body of work. For me, it’s not quite as enjoyable as their excellent de la Rue release, for example, but it’s still very recommendable.

Monday, 29 April 2019

de la Rue - Masses - Beauty Farm

Rating: 5/5

An excellent recording

This is an excellent double-CD. Don’t be put off by the silly name of the ensemble or the abominably bad cover because the music is wonderful.

The set consists of four hitherto unrecorded mass settings by Pierre da la Rue: Missa Almana, Missa De Sancto Antonio, Missa Puer natus est nobis and Missa Tous les regretz. They are varied but all very fine settings as one would expect from de la Rue, who was an excellent composer. There is a spare beauty about them which I love and we owe Beauty Farm a debt of gratitude for making them available to us.

The performances are excellent. Beauty Farm sing one to a part here; they are technically impeccable, with a lovely fluency of line and genuine engagement with the text. At a lower Flemish pitch the lovely acoustic makes the overall sound extremely beautiful and this is a very rewarding recording all round which I can recommend very warmly.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Alon Sariel - Rembrandt!

Rating: 3/5


I’m rather disappointed in this disc. I generally love lute music, but this collection left me pretty cold. The music itself is nice enough and there’s nothing actively wrong with the playing, but for me it all sounds rather bland and never quite takes off. I found my attention wandering after quite a short time listening to Rembrandt!, which is never a good sign.

Others may not share my reservations and find this to their taste, but I can only give it a very qualified recommendation.

Monday, 15 April 2019

de la Rue - Requiem - Clemencic Consort

Rating: 1/5

Very disappointing

I’m afraid I don’t like this recording at all. Pierre de la Rue’s music is quite wonderful, I think, but it doesn’t get much of a chance here. Firstly, the instrumental parts are harsh and over-dominant, which already puts de la Rue’s fabulous polyphony at a disadvantage. Worse, the voices have no blend or coherence at all in a lot of the music. It is typified by the opening “Requiem” sung by a very low, rather strained and wholly unresonant bass, while other voices and instruments then pile in sounding as though none is listening to anyone else. It sounds, frankly, horrible to my ears and has absolutely none of the spiritual depth or spare beauty one would expect from de la Rue’s setting of the Requiem.

I’m sorry to be so critical, but I really can’t get on with this at all. There are very fine recordings available of de la Rue’s Requiem by Capella Pratensis, Ensemble Officium and (if you can still find it) The Clerk’s Group. My advice is to try one of them and give this a wide berth.

Bach - Cello Suites (Violin) - Podger

Rating: 5/5

A very fine recording

This is a very fine recording. I approached it with some trepidation even though I love Rachel Podger’s playing (especially of Bach) because I wasn’t at all sure that the Cello Suites would transcribe successfully for the violin. There are some moments of weakness caused by the different properties of the instrument, but there are also some very rewarding things about it.

Podger’s tempi are generally pretty brisk, which I find works very well on the violin. She has the insight and the technique to make the dances really dance, which is probably the great strength of the set as Bach’s music really comes alive in her hands. Of necessity, what the violin lacks is the depth and gravitas of the cello and the relative lack of resonance does mean that some movements don’t have the impact they would on a cello (the Sarabande of the 5th Suite is a good case in point). However, many of the other movements – especially the closing Gigues – have such a joyous zing to them that it’s a very enjoyable and rewarding set overall.

This won’t take the place of my dearly loved cello recordings by Isserlis, Watkin, Fournier, Gastinel and others, but I’m very glad to have it and I’ll certainly be listening to it often. It’s truly great music in the hands of a truly great musician and I can recommend it very warmly.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Josquin - Missa Gaudeamus, Missa l'ami Baudichon - Tallis Scholars/Phillips

Rating: 5/5

Another gem from The Tallis Scholars

You really can’t go wrong with the Tallis Scholars, especially when they sing Josquin. This, the seventh in their projected series of all Josquin’s mass settings, is well up to the stellar standard of its predecessors.

These are two very different settings; Missa L’ami Baudichon is possibly Josquin’s earlies setting, based on an extremely vulgar popular song and Missa Gaudeamus is from the mid-point of his 40-year composing career and is much more intense and architecturally complex. Both are extremely satisfying in their different ways and, of course, both are extremely lovely.

The performances are, as you would expect, technically impeccable and luminously beautiful. Peter Phillips and his ensemble have a deep understanding of Josquin and they do his genius full justice here. The sound recording is excellent and Phillips’s notes are fascinating and readable. In short, this is another outstanding disc from the Tallis Scholars and very warmly recommended.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Terra Tremuit - Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montreal/Jackson

Rating: 3/5

Rather uninspiring

I’m afraid I’m not all that keen on this recording. There’s nothing actively wrong with the performance; the singers are good and blend quite well, but in Brumel’s mighty mass especially, a real sense of depth and power is lacking. Compared to the superb recording by The Tallis Scholars for example, this sounds rather thin – and a slightly distant, disembodied-sounding recording doesn’t help.

This is a decent effort, but there are much better recordings of these works available and if you’re just looking for Brumel’s mass, I would recommend The Tallis Scholars.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Josquin - Missa Pange lingua etc - Kammerchor Josquin des Prez/Boehme

Rating: 4/5

Good but not the best

This is a good performance of this magnificent music, but not the best available. The recording by The Tallis Scholars and by Ensemble Clément Janequin are both quite stunning and this isn’t really in their league. Nonetheless there is a good selection of Josquin’s music, the choir engage well with it and their overall sound is very attractive.

If you’re just looking for a performance of the Missa Pange lingua then for my money Ensemble Clément Janequin is the one to go for, but this makes a welcome addition to my Josquin collection and I can recommend it.

Monday, 7 January 2019

de la Rue - Visions of Joy - Cappella Pratensis

Rating: 5/5

An excellent recording

This is yet another excellent recording from Cappella Pratensis. I already have much-loved recordings by both Amarcord and The Hilliard Ensemble of de la Rue’s Missa Cum iocunditate which forms the centrepiece of this disc, but I’m very glad to have this one, too.

De la Rue’s music is wonderful. He is from the so-called Forgotten Generation which followed Josquin but has been rescued from forgetfulness by a number of very fine recordings over recent years and it’s easy to see why. There is rich, expressive, skilful and very beautiful polyphony here which I find extremely moving – especially when this well sung.

Cappella Pratensis are excellent throughout. They sing from single copies of a manuscripts from Brabant’s Brotherhood of Our Illustrious Lady, of which Bosch was a member – hence the title of the disc. They are, as always, technically impeccable with a lovely fluency of line and real engagement with the text. They have quite a robust, muscular sound which I like very much and the whole thing is a pleasure to listen to.

If I had to choose one recording of the Missa Cum iocunditate it would still be Amarcord, but that’s just personal taste. This is a top-quality performance by a very fine ensemble and I can recommend it very warmly.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

de la Rue - MIssa Conceptio tua - Schola Antiqua of Chicago

Rating: 4/5

A lovely mass

I like de la Rue’s music very much and the Missa Conceptio tua is a fine work, I think. It is written at very low pitch and the basses of Schola Antiqua of Chicago in particular make a fine, thrilling sound over which the other polyphonic parts weave their magic. I love the effect, and it is worth buying the disc for this mass alone, I think.

The rest of the disc doesn’t do very much for me. It opens with a sequence of seven plainchant antiphons sung by a duet of sopranos which, frankly, all gets a bit much as a chunk and might have been better distributed among the polyphony. The closing pieces are English mediaeval carols which to my ears don’t sit well with the rest of the programme.

So, a slightly mixed disc overall, but the terrific mass setting, very well sung makes it eminently recommendable.