Sunday, March 7, 2010

From the recording studios

Some music magazines regularly give information about what is going to be released in the near future. I always like to read stuff like that because it can whet your appetite for what is to come. But this kind of information also gives reason to be critical about the choice of repertoire.

There is much talk about the crisis of the recording industry. One of the causes of this crisis is that too much repertoire is recorded too often. This probably explains why there seems to be no crisis in the recording of early music. There is so much repertoire which has never been explored yet that there is no excuse for recording the same stuff time and again. And fortunately there are ensembles and musicians who are enterprising enough to go off the beaten track.

One of them is the German conductor Hermann Max. In recent years he has recorded a number of unknown German oratorios of the late 18th and early 19th century. Last year he brought a hitherto forgotten Passion: the Große Passion by Carl Heinrich Graun, a really great work which is an important addition to the repertoire for Passiontide. The Italian keyboard player Lorenzo Ghielmi has just recorded another excellent Passion, on a Latin text, by the Neapolitan composer Francesco Feo. Both recordings will be reviewed on musica Dei donum shortly.

Also interesting are two recent recordings of music for the theatre by Haydn which is a still underrated aspect of his oeuvre. Andreas Spering recorded the marionette Singspiel Die Feuersbrunst (CPO), whereas Michi Gaigg recorded a late version of his opera L'Isola disabitata with a German text which dates from shortly after 1800 (deutsche harmonia mundi). To the same category belong the opera Le disgrazie d'Amore by Antonio Cesti (Carlo Ipata; Hyperion) as well as two oratorios by the German composer and theorist Johann Mattheson: Der liebreiche und geduldige David, and Das größte Kind (Willens; CPO).

But the habit of recording the same stuff over and over again doesn't pass the early music scene completely. In recent years I have heard and reviewed a handful of new recordings of Bach's motets. Recently I received another three. The discography contains a whole list of recordings of these works, and one wonders whether all these new performances - which I haven't heard yet - are really worthwhile, let alone indispensable, additions to the catalogue.

And then there are the Brandenburg Concertos. Recently four new versions have been released, by Trevor Pinnock, Richard Egarr, John Eliot Gardiner and Masaaki Suzuki. Trevor Pinnock's explanation for recording them once again was simple: I liked to do it. That's understandable, but performers should also ask whether the music world really needs them. And this year Concerto Köln is going to record Bach's orchestral suites - don't we have enough of those?

There is some good news, though. In one of my previous contributions I wrote about the growing interest in the music of Christoph Graupner. As he died in 1760 it is Graupner year, so we may expect some new productions with music by this German master. Hermann Max - he again - recorded Christmas cantatas which will appear later this year on CPO. Interestingly he has recorded them with one singer per part, a practice he has so far ignored in his recordings of German baroque repertoire. I am curious to see whether this is an omen of a change of mind in regard to the vocal scoring of German music.

The Austrian violinist Gunar Letzbor is also an enterprising artist. With his ensemble Ars Antiqua Austria he has recorded 10 concertos in 5 parts by Charles Mouthon who seems to be the same whose name is usually spelled as 'Mouton' and who so far is only known as a composer of lute music. Upcoming is a recording by Letzbor of the six sonatas for violin solo by the German violin virtuoso Johann Paul von Westhoff (1656-1705). That is something to look forward to, and it is surprising that it has taken so long until these brilliant pieces were recorded.

This year interesting live events can be expected, which hopefully will be recorded at some stage. Examples are Grétry's opera Andromaque in Schwetzingen and Rossini's operas La Cenerentola (Concerto Köln; Paris) and La scala di seta (Michi Gaigg; Graz). Which record company is taking the risk?

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