Saturday, 12 October 2019

Cardoso - Requiem etc. - Cupertinos/Toscano


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A very fine recording

This is a lovely recording. I have owned and loved The Tallis Scholars’ disc of Cardoso for many years; this is a different in feel but just as good, I think.

Cardoso was a late-Renaissance Portuguese composer and the complexity and overall sense of his music reflects both the period and place. It is beautiful and rich, and reflects almost the final flowering of Renaissance polyphony. Cupertinos, a Portuguese ensemble, understand the music extremely well and sing it beautifully. They are technically impeccable with a lovely blend and fluency of line. They have a fuller, more rounded sound than the Tallis Scholars with rather less laser-like precision while still preserving the distinct structure of the music but have a warmer feel which I like very much. It is beautifully recorded by Hyperion, as always.

Cupertinos are a new ensemble to me but I will be looking out for their recordings in the future. This is a very fine disc indeed and I can recommend it very warmly.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Bach - Cello Suites - Brinkmann


Rating: 3/5

Review:
Not for me

I’m afraid this isn’t an interpretation for me. Mime Yamahiro Brinkmann is plainly a fine cellist but I’m not keen on the way she plays these magnificent works.

Brinkmann’s tempi are generally slow, which in itself is fine and can be very effective. However, she also makes generous use of rubato, so that some phrases can slow almost to a standstill. I found the opening Prelude to the first Suite like walking behind someone who kept making me check my stride suddenly to avoid bumping into her. It was very disconcerting and while it’s not always so pronounced I did find the rubato pretty excessive throughout so that Bach’s essential pulse was often lost.

This is, of course, a personal view which others may not share. Certainly Brinkmann produces a very beautiful sound from her cello which is very well recorded by Arcantus but given the number of outstanding recordings of the Cello Suites by people like Pierre Fournier, Steven Isserlis, David Watkin, Anne Gastinel and others, I can’t really recommend this.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

de Févin - Missa Ave maria etc - The Brabant Ensemble/Rice


Rating: 4/5

Review:
Superb performances

This is another superbly sung and produced disc from the Brabant Ensemble, but for me the music isn’t quite as great as some of their other recordings.

de Févin was a rough contemporary of Josquin and in his excellent notes, Steven Rice describes him as “one of the most accomplished creators of sacred music around 1500.” He was also a pioneer of the parody mass and plainly an important musical figure of his time. However, “accomplished” doesn’t necessarily mean moving or deeply spiritual and although I find his music beautiful in places, it doesn’t quite speak to me a some others do – like the Brabant Ensemble’s fabulous recordings of other quite obscure composers such as Phinot and Crecquillon.

That’s not to say that this is a sub-standard disc in any way. The singing is superb: technically impeccable, perfectly balanced, fully engaged with the texts and with that luminous beauty which the Brabants so often create. The recorded sound does it full justice, the notes are full and very illuminating and the presentation is lovely. The only non- five-star thing about this disc for me is de Févin’s music itself. You may well disagree with me about this; Steven Midgley, whose judgement I respect greatly, finds it sublime, so it’s plainly a personal thing. It’s certainly a wonderful performance and I would recommend that you try it and see for yourself.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Telemann - Voyageur Virtuose - Amaryllis


Rating: 5/5

Review:
Excellent Telemann

In recent years Telemann has begun to be recognised for the genuinely great composer that he was, and this disc will serve to further that recognition. It's a cracking collection of six of his Trio Sonatas featuring flute, oboe and cello and I find it a delight.

The music is excellent. It is Baroque chamber music at its best, full of melody, harmonic invention and beautifully varied moods. Telemann's prolific output has led a lot of people to assume that he wrote reams of pleasant but ultimately uninteresting wallpaper but that really isn't the case. These sonatas show his true skill and inventiveness so that while listening to this music it is easy to see why Bach admired Telemann so greatly.

The performances really bring out all the music's qualities. Charm and grace abound, but there is also real bounce and zing in the quicker movements and genuine feeling in the slower movements. Amaryllis are a new ensemble to me and they are terrific, showing an effortless virtuosity, an obvious joy in the music and a wonderful empathy between them. It is exemplary chamber playing and a joy to listen to, very well captured in the excellent recorded sound.

I don't mean to gush, but I really do love this disc. It is in the same league for me as the Purcell Quartet's superb recordings of Bach's Trio Sonatas, which is very high praise indeed. Very warmly recommended.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Bach - The Toccatas - Esfahani


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A fabulous recording

This is a very fine recording. Mahan Esfahani is a brilliant harpsichordist and he is at his best in this repertoire, I think.

I have never found Bach’s Keyboard Toccatas to be the most approachable of his works so it says much for this disc that I find Esfahani’s interpretations thoroughly enjoyable and engaging. He has the technique to sail through the pretty extreme demands of the music and the depth of understanding to bring out the meaning of these complex works. The sound of his harpsichord is thrillingly rich and beautifully captured by Hyperion.

In short, I think this is a fabulous recording which I can recommend wholeheartedly.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Ribera - Magnificats & Motets - De Profundis/Skinner


Rating: 4/5

Review:
Very good polyphony

I hadn’t heard of Ribera but if David Skinner thinks he is worth recording I reckoned he was worth hearing. I was right.

Ribera, one of Victoria’s teachers, wrote densely textured and very skilful music which is a pleasure to listen to and sometimes very beautiful indeed. Skinner, of course, produces a fine, scholarly account of these Magnificats and motets, which he directs with empathy and a fine attention to detail.

I do have a slight reservation, which is that the choir here is large (up to 24 voices) and for me the detail can sometimes become lost. For this sort of polyphony I prefer a smaller, more intimately sized choir which to me can reveal the spirituality and beauty rather better.

That said, this is still a fine performance of very good music, excellently recorded by Hyperion. Recommended.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Axel Wolf - Friends of the Lute


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A delight

This is a cracking disc. It’s a collection of Baroque lute pieces by three of the finest composers for the instrument, all excellently played.

The music itself is a delight. Bach, Weiss and Baron were all great composers for the lute and this forms a pleasingly varied collection of solo pieces and duets with recorder and with harpsichord, all of which work excellently here. This is due to the fine playing of the excellent musicians; Wolf is a very fine lutenist, I already love Dorothee Oberlinger’s work and the others are just as good. If I have a tiny criticism it is that Wolf slightly overdoes the rubato and emphatic phrasing occasionally, but that’s personal taste – overall it’s a pleasure from start to finish. It’s beautifully recorded and I can recommend this disc very warmly.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Kapsberger - Intavolatura di chitarrone - Nordberg


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A very fine recording

I like this disc very much. There are some great recordings of Kapsberger by giants of the instrument like Paul O’Dette and Jakob Lindberg; I think this stands well beside them.

Jonas Nordberg plays on a wonderful-sounding citarrone, giving Kapsberger’s music a real depth and resonance. He is a fine player with quite a refined, delicate approach which works extremely well much of the time, although there are moments when a little more oomph and attack might help – but that’s just a personal feeling, really. Overall, it’s an excellently played and beautiful-sounding disc of very fine early Baroque music, with the top-quality recording one expects from BIS. Very warmly recommended.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Hume - Spirit of Gambo - Kirkby, Pandolfo, Labyrinto


Rating: 5/5

Review:
Still an excellent recording

I like this disc very much. You don’t get much better than Emma Kirkby and Paolo Pandolfo in this repertoire, Hume’s music is interesting and engaging and it’s a pleasure all round. There are now some more recent and very fine recordings of Hume (both Jordi Savall’s and Suzanne Heinrich’s discs are favourites of mine) but this remains up there with them and is very warmly recommended.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

de Croes - La Sonate Égarée - Barrocotout


Rating: 5/5

Review:
Very enjoyable

This is a very good recording. I hadn’t come across de Croes before but tried this because I like Barrocotout’s work and I’m very glad I did.

The music is delightful. It doesn’t have the depth of Bach or Handel, of course, but it’s skilful, quite varied and very pleasing in its effect – it reminds me a little of Heinichen in its feel. It is given a real glow by Barrocotout who play with virtuosity, charm and an obvious affection for the music. The recorded sound by Linn is, as you would expect, superb and it’s an all-round pleasure to listen to.

Even though the music may not be of the very greatest, I think this disc deserves five stars because it’s just so enjoyable to listen to. Warmly recommended.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Galilei - Intavolatura di liuto - Bailes


Rating: 5/5

Review:
Lovely music, very well played

This is a very good disc of music by Michelagnolo Galilei, with contributions from his father Vincenzo. (They were, incidentally, the brother and father respectively of the great astronomer and physicist, Galileo.) It’s lovely music, very well played.

Both the Galileis were very good composers for the lute, and what we get here is music at the cusp of the Renaissance and the early Baroque. It is inventive, often beautiful and very rewarding, and Anthony Bailes plays excellently so all these qualities are well in evidence. He is thoughtful and has the technical excellence to really make these pieces shine. The recorded sound is lovely so the disc is a pleasure from start to finish.

I am a great fan of the lute and this is a very welcome addition to my collection. Warmly recommended.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Schütz - Cantiones sacrae - Magnificat/Cave


Rating: 4/5

Review:
Excellent performance, slightly odd music

This is yet another very fine recording by Magnificat. It’s a bit of a departure from their usual Renaissance repertoire but they perform Schütz with all the skill, insight and beauty of sound of their previous discs.

I have struggled with Schütz in the past. In the notes for this disc, Gregory S. Johnson says, “The works, perfectly crafted, are composed in a learned, contrapuntal style rich in dissonance and range of expression,” and speaks of “Gesualdo-esque harmonic twists.” This pretty much sums up why I find Schütz quite a tough listen. However, these Cantiones sacrae are rather less wild and harmonically strange than some of his other work and, for me anyway, musically more approachable.

The performances are excellent. Philip Cave has assembled a fine group of singers and instrumentalists and they all plainly really get this music. The choral sound is beautiful, they engage fully with the text and there is a perfect balance between the singers and continuo players who add a lovely, subtle texture to the music. The recorded sound is outstanding – but it’s Linn, so of course it is. I still can’t say that this is my favourite repertoire, which is why I have given this disc four stars rather than five, but it’s certainly a five-star performance.

(And I'm sorry to say that when I came across Turbabor, sed non perturbabor, I wondered whether this was how Iacomus Vinculum might order his Martini…

I’ll get me coat.)

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Haydn - Piano Sonatas Vol. 8 - Bavouzet



Rating: 5/5

Review:
Excellent Haydn

This, the eighth volume of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's projected complete cycle, is an excellent disc of three of Haydn's early piano sonatas, two much more substantial late sonatas and two excellent free-standing single-movement pieces. I love Haydn's piano music; in my view it is the equal of Mozart's and deserves to be much better known. It has all of Haydn's trademark wit and joy, but also real tenderness and beauty and a depth that marks it out as genuinely great piano music. Bavouzet does it proud.

Bavouzet's admirable technique allows him to get right into the heart of the music. He articulates it very crisply and preserves the structures so essential to Haydn but uses just the right amount of rubato and subtle phrasing to convey the music's meaning and give it real character. He understands, crucially, that Haydn often said serious things in a witty way so that the depth comes through the often melodious and genial air.

With excellent recorded sound and very full notes this is a very good disc all round. This series now stands with my much-loved Brendel and Schornsheim recordings in my affections, which is high praise indeed. Very warmly recommended.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Bach - Cello Suites - Gaillard


Rating: 5/5

Review:
A fabulous recording

There are dozens of recordings of these magnificent works available; in my view this is one of the best.

Ophélie Gaillard is a superb cellist who plainly really understands Bach. She takes a fairly understated approach to the Cello Suites which works extremely well in her hands. There is a quiet authority here, with lovely phrasing which is never overdone and a wonderful fluidity so that the essential pulse of the dances beats subtly but engagingly throughout and the spirit of Bach shines through the whole thing. The sound of Gaillard’s cello is deep, rich and simply lovely and I find myself immersed in her playing.

I have a number of dearly loved recordings of the cello Suites (and quite a few less dearly loved ones, too). Ophélie Gaillard is among the loved, along with greats like Steven Isserlis, Pierre Fournier, David Watkin and Anne Gastinel. I can probably pay her no higher compliment than to place her in such company. This is, in short, a fabulous recording and very warmly recommended.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Baroque Recorder Concerti - Thorby/Sonnerie


Rating: 5/5

Review:
Terrific stuff

I think this is a terrific disc. Pamela Thorby is an astonishingly fine player and her work always leaves me open-mouthed that the recorder can be such a delightful, expressive instrument.

This is a sequence of concerti by three baroque giants, Vivaldi, Telemann and Sammartini, all of which are musically very rewarding. Thorby gives every movement genuine meaning and the playing of Monica Huggett’s Sonnerie is, as always, excellent: supple sensitive and with real zing when required. In short, the whole thing is a pleasure from start to finish and I can recommend it very warmly.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Vivaldi - Le Quattro Stagioni - Podger/Brecon Baroque


Rating: 5/5

Review:
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

Review:
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

Review:
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

Review:
Disappointing

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

Review:
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

Review:
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

Review:
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

Review:
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

Review:
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

Review:
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

Review:
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.