01_telemann_gypsyTelemann - The Baroque Gypsies

Ensemble Caprice; Matthias Maute

Analekta AN 2 9919

Telemann’s compositions were so prolific they beg the question whether he turned to other influences to help maintain his output. His own memoirs contain the answer: temporary exile led to his discovering Poland and Moravia (and their “barbaric beauty...”).

Not so barbaric that he could not be captivated by Eastern European gypsy music though. How imaginative, then, of Ensemble Caprice to intersperse works by Telemann with extracts from the 1730 Uhrovska Collection of 350 gypsy melodies.

For those rarefied souls who believe that baroque music is in some way superior to contemporary folk music, this CD will shake them. The Uhrovska Collection melodies initially overshadow their more grandiose counterparts. The rousing opening track, a Romanian traditional melody, leads the way, followed by the Uhrovskaya’s haunting instrumental C91 and Netrap zradna song.

By track 10 (out of 28) we realise how much Telemann was influenced by gypsy music. The Gypsy Sonata in D Minor and Sonata à la gitane brought the vitality of gypsy music to courtly audiences by way of conventional baroque instruments: recorder, violin and continuo. Above all, Telemann’s Gigue for solo violin leaves no-one in doubt as to its inspiration.

Telemann and the gypsies weave their way through in the order assigned by Ensemble Caprice’s artistic director Matthias Maute. The Ensemble helps us share in Telemann’s own gratitude to the gypsies: “In only a week, a composer could be inspired for an entire lifetime.” These sixty-eight minutes are all that are needed to learn why.

01_handels_harpHandel’s Harp

Maxine Eilander; Seattle Baroque

Orchestra; Stephen Stubbs

ATMA ACD2 2541


“Handel’s Harp” celebrates good fortune - Handel not only enjoyed patronage from the Duke of Chandos but the Duke also employed the talented Welsh harpist William Powell. Handel featured the harp throughout his mature career of 30 years, whether in sacred, concerto or operatic contexts. Quite a challenge for soloist Maxine Eilander.

In fact, Miss Eilander both accompanies soprano Cyndia Sieden in spirited fashion and treats us to the full range of the solo harp. She plays the slow, thoughtful Symphony from Saul, a piece which reminds us how fortunate we are when we hear music for the classical harp.

We are again treated to almost celestial music for solo harp in Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo. This is where the orchestra’s conductor Stephen Stubbs makes his presence felt. As his notes make clear, he has arranged his own version of this piece for harp because many of Handel’s opera songs were adapted by harpists and Stubbs feels that this lost art of the harpist deserves commemoration.

One almost feels that Handel was testing both harp and harpist. Handel’s harpists had to play alongside soprano voice, strings (including pizzicato), recorders, oboe, harp, viola da gamba, theorbo, bassoon, cello, flute, and mandolin. All that within the mere eight compositions presented here. Anyway, the impression should not be given that Handel’s music for harp was all austere. His Concerto in F is sprightly, fast and lively. Round off the recording with the last piece, “Hark, hark, he strikes the golden lyre” from Alexander Balus, and appreciate Handel’s good fortune.

02_hagenBernhard Joachim Hagen - Sonatas for Lute and Strings

John Schneiderman;

Elizabeth Blumenstock; William Skeen

Dorian Sono Luminus DSL-90907


Though he spent his professional life as a violinist employed by the Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, Bernhard Joachim Hagen was also a lutenist of the first order. But as this CD’s notes suggest, he may well have thought himself an anachronism by the time he died in 1787, so moribund was the lute by that time. Hagen left behind a number of works for the lute, all of which are found in a collection of manuscripts now preserved in Augsburg. This disc offers up his six sonatas for lute, violin and cello, performed by three celebrated specialists from the USA.

These are Rococo trio sonatas, with expertly balanced parts for the violin and lute and a continuo-esque line for the cello. From the cheerful and careful opening Allegro of the F major sonata through the remaining three-movement sonatas, the transparent texture and melodic delicacy of Hagen’s writing is sensitively performed. And though some of the slow movements lack musical depth, their refined delicacy is expertly expressed.

Schneiderman, Blumenstock and Skeen play with grace, poise and sensitive attention to even the smallest details, and the intimacy of this repertoire is immediately apparent here. This is a charming glimpse into the very late life of the Baroque lute, a generation after the great Silvius Leopold Weiss, and Hagen could ask for no better champions of his music.

03_mozart_donMozart - Don Giovanni

Quatuor Franz Joseph

ATMA ACD2 2559

This 2-CD set gives us a fascinating example of musical transcriptions at the end of the 18th century. Montreal’s Quatuor Franz Joseph, using period instruments, specializes in works from that era, and here they perform Mozart’s wonderful 1787 opera in an almost complete - although unfortunately anonymous - transcription for string quartet published by Simrock of Bonn around 1798.

Transcriptions of popular works were extremely common, being the only way the music could be enjoyed away from the theatre or concert salon; Don Giovanni, for instance, spawned almost 600 various arrangements in the century following its premiere.

Questions arise, of course: Is it necessary to record the whole opera? Does it work? Is it boring? Well, Yes; Yes; and No. This is a genuine 18th century work of very high quality, and there would be little point in excerpting it. There is a transparency to the sound that allows all the vocal lines to be clearly heard, and as these are cleverly woven through the score there is no sense of “melody with accompaniment”. Sure, you lose the fullness of the voices and orchestra, but the richness of the part-writing belies the number of players, and, as the excellent booklet notes point out, the arrangement seems to bring out the purely musical aspect of the work without overly affecting its dramatic qualities.

And boring? - even at over 60 minutes per disc, this outstanding performance simply flies by!

04_mendelssohnMendelssohn - Piano Concertos 1 & 2; Symphony No.5

Louis Lortie; Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec

ATMA ACD2 2617


To mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn ATMA has released a disc featuring both of his piano concertos and the Symphony No. 5 - the “Reformation”, with the Québec Symphony Orchestra and Louis Lortie, as both soloist and conductor. Lortie has come a long way since his fine debut recording of the complete Chopin Etudes on the Chandos label in 1989. Now recognized as one of the world’s foremost pianists, he is as comfortable with conducting from the keyboard as he is with performing, as this disc clearly demonstrates.

Mendelssohn composed his two piano concertos seven years apart, the first in 1830 while in Italy (completing it in Germany), and the second in England, shortly after his marriage to Cécile Jeanrenaud. While the second is perhaps more serious in tone, both have many similarities – brisk solo passages requiring considerable dexterity, lyrical slow movements, and an overall sense of fine craftsmanship. Not surprisingly, Lortie rises to the challenges admirably, and together with the OSQ, both concertos are performed with great panache. This is indeed a most conducive pairing of soloist and orchestra.

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 was completed in 1830, honouring the 300th anniversary of the Lutheran faith. Under Lortie’s competent baton, the OSQ again treats the music with the respect it deserves, achieving a grand and noble sound. While the second movement was taken at a brisker pace than I would have liked, it certainly didn’t detract from this most satisfying performance. So to all concerned - félicitations on some fine music-making!

05_de_fallaPiano Music by Manuel de Falla

Jason Cutmore

Centaur CRC 2952


Pianist Jason Cutmore displays stellar star quality as he performs the piano music of Manuel de Falla. Falla’s compositional output may be described as prolific. His style embraces a wide range of sources, both in melody and harmony, but it is always Spanish in its roots. He wrote specifically for the piano but also arranged some of his other instrumental works for the keyboard. Both genres are represented here.

Two transcriptions are exceptionally noteworthy. Originally scored for chamber orchestra, El amor brujo is technically not as demanding as the other tracks but the folksy Spanish gypsy dance qualities are glorious. From the pantomime El Sombrero de Tres Picos, the piano transcription musically evokes the anger and the frustration of the upset Miller in its guitar-like passages and tumultuous chords. Cutmore plays with a passion and understanding that is never trite.

Of the original piano works, Fantasia Baetica is breathtaking in its compositional and performance values. Originally written for Artur Rubenstein, here is a really virtuosic gem. Cutmore proves that he is a master technical wizard as he seamlessly plays with a clear vision of colour, sound and rhythm.

Jason Cutmore understands de Falla’s piano music, making this an intelligent, musical and enjoyable listening experience.

Concert note: Jason Cutmore performs music of de Falla, Soler and Poulenc for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on November 1.

06_quarringtonGarden Scene

Joel Quarrington; Andrew Burashko

Analekta AN 2 9931

This astounding new album from Canada’s premiere bass player Joel Quarrington is proof positive that the rarely-heard, husky voice of the double bass is indeed capable of the expressive cantilena we normally associate with the cello. This is partially accounted for by the fact that Quarrington tunes his double bass in perfect fifths (an octave lower than the cello) rather than the customary fourths, with a consequent enhancement of the instrument’s acoustics, but it is the sheer musicality of his playing that really wins the day. He is ideally partnered here by his long-time friend and sympathizer Andrew Burashko.

The album includes transcriptions of works by Korngold (the title track) and Henri Casadesus (a transposed version of his faux-classical Viola Concerto In the Style of J.C. Bach). Actual bass pieces include the celebrated Elegy in D major by the 19th century bass virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini and a slew of sugary bon-bons commissioned by Serge Koussevitsky from Reinhold Glière. Following this pleasant onslaught of bel canto salon music comes the real find, a powerful, world premiere recording of the remarkable Sonata for Solo Bass composed in 1971 by the prolific Soviet composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg. The first-class acoustics of the album were produced by Toronto jazz bassist Roberto Occhipinti. An extended podcast preview of this recording and related Quarrington interviews are available from Peter Jones’ web site at doublebasscast.com.

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