Saturday, November 20, 2021

Organ portraits (2)

Many years ago, in the vinyl era, Harmonia mundi released a series of recordings on historical organs, played by specialists in the field, such as Francis Chapelet and René Saorgin. Now Arnaud De Pasquale [1] is following in their footsteps, as he is given the chance to discover historical organs and make recordings of them, with appropriate repertoire. In the booklet he already whets our appetite for the second volume, which will be devoted to Mexico. The first volume includes recordings at instruments on Sicily, where - as he writes in his liner-notes - there are probably 1,500 organs, of which only about ten percent is in playing condition. One may hope that projects like this one make authorities of countries and regions realise what kind of treasures are part of their heritage and that they deserve to be preserved and, if necesary, restored. De Pasquale selected six instruments, built between 1547 and 1775-82. For his repertoire he confined himself to music by Italian composers of the 16th and 17th centuries. One may be inclined to think that later repertoire may have been more appropriate for the latest organs. However, organ building in Italy tended to be rather conservative, and there is mostly very little difference between instruments of the early 17th century and organs of the mid-18th century. Music by composers from Naples and its nearby regions takes a central place. The Italian scholar Dinko Fabris points out that there is hardly any Sicilian keyboard repertoire. Sicily and Naples were closely connected, not only geographically, but also due to the fact that for several centuries both were under Spanish rule. De Pasquale included some ensemble pieces as well as secular vocal items, considering that the organ was used for secular music as well. That is certainly right, but such music was not played in church. Setting that issue aside, this is a most exciting disc, as we get acquainted here with organs that hardly anyone may have ever heard, in repertoire that allows their specific features to be demonstrated, in stylish performances by De Pasquale. This is a series that every organ lover needs to keep an eye on. On a critical note, it is disappointing that the booklet omits details of the organs, such as their disposition, pitch and temperament.

With the next disc we stay in Italy, but move to Florence. Giovanna Riboli presents the organ in the Badia Fiorentina, an abbey and church now home to the Monastic Communities of Jerusalem situated on the Via del Proconsolo in the centre of Florence. It was completed in 1558 by Onofrio Zeffirini da Cortona (Tuscany). In 1978 the instrument was restored and returned to its original state. Its temperament is quarter comma meantone. Giovanna Riboli [2] has put together a programme of music that covers a large part of Europe; the exception is France. Obviously, the temperament of this organ reduces the repertoire: in the course of the 18th century meantone temperament gradually went out of fashion. Because of this, Riboli has confined herself to pieces from the 16th and 17th centuries. It has to be said that she has not been very adventurous in her selection: nearly all the pieces are pretty well-known. The exceptions may be those by Scheidemann and Correa de Arauxo. The various genres common in the 16th and 17th centuries are represented: toccata, fantasia, variations and transcriptions. The organ was also used in secular music, and that seems to have inspired Riboli to add a dance by Scheidemann. However, such music was certainly not played in church. Farnaby's variations on Mal Sims turn out to be a bad choice: probably due to the reverberant acoustic, the tempi are too slow, which takes away its sparkle. Generally the tempi seem rather slow. Giovanna Riboli is a fine organist and I have certainly enjoyed what is on offer here. It is just that I would have liked a less conventional selection of music and also pieces that are better suited to the acoustic of the church, also with regard to tempo.

The next disc is is devoted to a very special instrument, which is situated in the chapel of Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerød in Denmark. It dates from 1610, was built by Esaias Compenius and was originally commissioned by Duke Heinrich Julius von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel. It was to be placed in his summer residence at Hessen Castle. When the Duke died, his widow Elisabeth decided to give the instrument to her brother, King Christian IV of Denmark. In 1617 the organ was installed in the chapel. The organ has two manuals, 27 stops and 1001 pipes. The most notable aspect of the instrument is that all the pipes are made of wood, which was highly unusual. Mads Kjersgaard, in his liner-notes, points out that, considering that the manufacture of wooden pipes was nearly "virgin territory", it is a mystery how Compenius was able to produce such a magnificent organ. It is undoubtedly his masterpiece in the field of organ building. The organ can be played exclusively with wind produced by a calcant on a total of four bellows. As this organ was originally intended as a secular instrument for performance in the ducal castle, the programme recorded by Peter Waldner [3] largely focuses on secular pieces. The concept is quite original: we get a sort of biography of Christian IV, who ruled Denmark for 59 years, from 1588 to 1648, and the various stages of his life are illustrated by pieces from across Europe. Under the header 'Children', for instance, we get Giles Farnaby's A Toye. One of the king's main occupations, the hunt, is illustrated by John Bull's famous piece The King's Hunt. Kings were usually involved in wars, and that was not any different in Christian's case. It is illustrated by the Batalla by the Spanish composer José Ximénez. Most pieces do well on this organ, also thanks to the not too reverberant acoustic. Waldner is a fine player who does justice to both the organ and the music.

Most organs built in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries have considerably changed in the course of history. As they played a substantial role in the liturgy, they were adapted to the taste of the time and the requirements of liturgical music. Sometimes it is possible to restore such instruments to an earlier stage, and often this requires a considerable amount of reconstruction. The disc under review here is devoted to an instrument that has been entirely reconstructed. The image of a Phoenix rising from the ashes has to be taken litterally here, as nothing but the case of the organ at the Franciscan Holy Trinity Church in Gdansk has survived. Andrzej Szadejko [4] was responsible for the concept used to reconstruct the organ on the basis of the instrument that was built in the early 18th century and was replaced by a pneumatic organ in 1914. Only the case of that organ could be put together again. The builder of the new organ, Kristian Wegscheider, a specialist in the restoration and reconstruction of historical organs, has done a magnificent job in the Holy Trinity Church. It is a very fine instrument as is demonstrated in this recording of mainly (north) German organ music by Szadejko, who is an excellent player. It is also due to the acoustic that the organ's qualities come off so brilliantly here. This disc is the first of a promising series devoted to organs in Gdansk.

For lovers of historical organs Stralsund is a famous name because of the Stellwagen organ in the Marienkirche, one of the main historical instruments in Germany. In comparison, the organ of the St. Jakobikirche is far lesser known. It is largely a modern instrument, built by Kristian Wegscheider, who also restored and reconstructed the Stellwagen organ. The 18th-century organs in the St. Jacobikirche were taken as the starting point for the building of the new instrument, which found its place in the baroque case. The programme is a mixture of German works of the 17th and 18th centuries, from Buxtehude to Krebs. It is nice that we also get pieces by little-known masters, such as Druckenmüller, Erich and Leyding. One of the highlights is the magnificent set of variations on Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr by Daniel Magnus Gronau. We know Martin Rost [5] as an excellent organist, who has portrayed many organs on disc. He is also the incumbent organist of the Marienkirche. As he knows the new instrument very well, he is the man to demonstrate its features, and he does so very well. This organ is another masterpiece of Kristian Wegscheider.

'Bach in Lübeck' is probably not intended to portray the organs in St. Jakobi in Lübeck, but considering the importance of the instruments in relation to Bach's works selected for the recording, it seems appropriate to include this disc here. We already met the name of Stellwagen, as he was the builder of the organ in the Marienkirche in Stralsund. He is also the builder of the 'small' organ in St. Jakobi. That instrument is only called 'small' because of the large organ, but it still has three manuals and pedals, which makes it suitable for most German baroque organ music. The large organ is more of the result of a long history of adaptations, restorations and reconstruction which makes it impossible to put the name of one builder on it. Both instruments are clearly inspired by the music of the north German organ school. This had a strong influence on the young Bach, and therefore Arvid Gast [6] has selected pieces that betray that influence, such as the preludes and fugues BWV 531 and 549a as well as the Toccata BWV 566. In addition there are some pieces based on chorales, such as the Partita Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen. The pedals play an important part in this repertoire, and playing the pedals was an art that was highly developed in North Germany. It must have greatly inspired Bach, witness the brilliance of the pedal parts in many of his own organ works. Gast is a stylish interpreter, who - being the incumbent organist of St Jakobi - knows exactly how to use these instruments for a convincing interpretation of Bach's oeuvre.

For the last two discs we move south, to Regensburg in Bavaria. Roman Emilius [7] presents two organs, which are connected by the name of Frantz Jacob Späth, but in very different ways. Späth has become best-known for the invention of the tangent piano. However, he was also active as a builder of organs. He built the organs in the Oswaldkirche and in the Dreieinigkeitskirche in Regensburg. The former was finished in 1750 and has largely been preserved. The adaptations of the 1950s, with the purpose of making possible the performance of the entire baroque repertoire, have been undone later, and its south German character has been restored. Music of the north German organ school and a part of Bach's organ works cannot be performed here in a satisfactory manner. That makes it rather odd that Emilius selected several such pieces for his recording. Those don't come off that badly, but I missed the clarity of north German instruments. Pieces by Neufville, Mozart and Krebs are more convincing. However, the articulation is generally not clear enough, and the tempi are often a bit slow. I have never heard Bach's Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (BWV 659) being played so slowly.

In 1758 Späth finished the building of an organ in the Dreieinigkeitskirche. Apparently it did not satisfy and it was soon replaced; only the case and some principal pipes were preserved. In modern times Hendrik Ahrend was asked to build a new instrument in the old case. Starting point was the disposition of the instrument of the 18th century, but "without neglecting the modern needs of a church organ", as Ahrend writes in the booklet. At the reverse of this disc the organ is called a 'Bach organ', but that seems a misnomer, even setting aside that the label 'Bach organ' is rather problematic in itself. The programme includes two of Bach's most popular organ works, the Toccata and fugue BWV 565 (which is of doubtful authenticity) and the Passacaglia BWV 582. I find the performances unsatisfying: they are rather massive and lack transparency, and the tempi are too slow. In addition there are some extreme dynamic contrasts which are not in line with historical performance practice, and frequent changes of registration. A Fantasia by Froberger needs meantone temperament. Emilius also plays a suite from Mozart's Zauberflöte and Messiaen's Chants d'oiseaux from his Livre d'orgue of 1951. Given that in recordings with organ portraits the instruments are more important than the music, one may overlook the shortcomings in the interpretation, although I find in particular the second of these two discs hard to swallow. Organ lovers who are interested in the instruments themselves, may consider adding these discs to their collection anyway.

[1] Orgues de Sicile
Arnaud De Pasquale
Perrine Devillers, soprano; Sarah Dubus, Camille Frachet, cornett; Jérôme Van Waerbeke, violin; François Guerrier, organ (II)
Harmonia mundi HMM 905331 (© 2021) details

[2] The Organ of Badia Fiorentina
Giovanna Riboli
Brilliant Classics 95957 (© 2020) details

[3] Life Pictures - Scenes of the Life of King Christian IV
Peter Waldner
Tastenfreuden 8 (© 2020) details

[4] Like a Phoenix from the Ashes - An Organ Portrait
Andrzej Mikołaj Szadejko
MDG 906 2157-6 [SACD] (© 2020) details

[5] Orgel in St. Jakobi zu Stralsund
Martin Rost
Querstand VKJK 2011 (© 2020) details

[6] Bach in Lübeck
Arvid Gast
Querstand VKJK 2007 (© 2020) details

[7] The Späth Organ (1750) in St. Oswald Regensburg
Roman Emilius
TYXart TXA 19144 (© 2020) details

[8] Die neue Ahrend-Orgel Dreieinigkeitskirche Regensburg
Roman Emilius
Spektral SRL4-20185 (© 2021) details

Friday, October 15, 2021

Vivaldi con amore

Vivaldi is still one of the most frequently performed and recorded composers of the baroque era, alongside Bach and Handel, with some stiff competion from Telemann. Recently several discs with Vivaldi's music have been released. The effect of the composer's popularity it is inevitable that we often get pieces that are already available in several recordings. However, at least one of them comprises concertos that are new to the catalogue, ot at least new in the form in which they are performed.

There is nothing new about the first disc to be reviewed here. Vivaldi's oeuvre includes a little over fifty concertos and sinfonias for strings and basso continuo without any solo parts. There is no fundamental difference between the concerto - in some manuscripts called concerto ripieno - and the sinfonia. The main difference is the treatment of counterpoint. This is more elaborated in the concertos, whereas the sinfonias are generally more homophonic. Here the melody has greater importance and the two violins often play in unison. There is also a difference in keys: the sinfonias are all in major keys, whereas seventeen of the forty concertos are in the minor. These pieces have all been recorded by the ensemble L'Archicembalo, but not everyone is interested in such a comprehensive production. Enrico Onofri recorded a nice selection with the Academia Montis Regalis [1]; it is his first recording with this ensemble as its new conductor. The selection reflects the variety in this section of Vivaldi's oeuvre. Strings and basso continuo is the basic scoring, but in the Concerto alla rustica RV 151 Vivaldi added parts for two oboes. The Concerto RV 155 is a hybrid piece: the first two movements are of the concerto ripieno type, whereas the last two movements include a solo part for the violin. Another kind of hybrid concerto is RV 159, whose last movement has the traces of a concerto grosso. Most sinfonias and concertos comprise three movements, but there are exceptions. One is the above-mentioned RV 155, another the Concerto madrigalesco RV 129, which also has four movements. And then there is the Sinfonia al Santo Sepolcro RV 169, which has two movements, and is also scored for strings without the participation of any keyboard instrument. The Concerto RV 114 is notable for its opening movement in dotted rhythm, à la française, and its closing chiacona. As one will have noticed, there is a lot of variety in this programme, which is given an excellent interpretation by the Academia Montis Regalis, with fine solo contributions by Onofri himself. In some cases I could imagine a faster tempo and more marked dynamic contrasts, but I appreciate that Onofri does not try to contribute to a contest in speed and exuberance.

In addition to more than 250 solo concertos for the violin, Vivaldi wrote many concertos for other instruments, from the lute to the bassoon. As they were often written for professional players or the highly-skilled girls of the Ospedale della Pietà, many of them are no less virtuosic than those for the violin. Vivaldi also wrote concertos for two and more instruments, often in less than conventional combinations, such as two oboes and two violins. Under the title "Vivaldi con amore", the Canadian Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra [2] released a disc with specimens of the various kinds of concertos that Vivaldi's oeuvre has to offer: two concertos for solo violin and one for four violins, concertos for bassoon and for lute respectively, and two concertos for two oboes, one of them with two solo violins, preceded by the overture to the opera Ottone in villa, which also includes a solo part for the violin. This disc shows that for engaging performances one does not need Italian ensembles. The time has gone that ensembles from the Anglo-Saxon world came up with neat and clear performances, largely devoid of drama and ignoring the fundamentally theatrical nature of Vivaldi's instrumental music, although now and then such performances may still be heard. This disc definitely shows that much has changed. The ensemble, directed by the Italian-born Elisa Citterio, delivers excellent performances. Citterio herself leads the way in her interpretation of the Concerto RV 761, whose last movement is especially nice. Dominic Teresi is responsible for an exciting performance of the Concerto RV 481 for bassoon; the middle movement is particularly theatrical. The disc closes with a compelling performance of the Concerto RV 564a for two oboes and two violins, with excellent solo contributions by John Abberger, Marco Cera, Elisa Citterio and Julia Wedman. This is a very fine disc with a mixture of more or less familiar pieces and lesser-known items.

The next disc, with the ensemble Musica Antiqua Latina [3], is simply called "Vivaldi", and includes concertos and sinfonias. Nothing special, at first sight. However, the booklet includes two essays whose authors, Giovanni De Zorzi and Giordano Antonelli respectively, argue that Venice was an amalgam of different cultures, among them those of the Orient, and that this must have had an effect on the music written there. That sounds plausible, but unfortunately they fail to point out exactly in what way one can notice oriental influences in Vivaldi's music. The disc ends with the Sinfonia in b minor (RV 168), and the last movement opens with an improvisation on the Greek lyra by Antonelli (what kind of instrument he plays is not specified), which then leads to the music that Vivaldi has written. I can't take this seriously; this is a gimmick to demonstrate an influence in Vivaldi's music that the authors of the essays and the performers otherwise fail to prove. Overall the playing is alright, although I am not really enthusiastic about what is on offer here. That has also to do with the recording. Apparently to compensate for the reverberation of the venue where the recording took place (which is clearly audible at the end of movements), the miking is rather close. The two cello concertos are particularly unsatisfying: the sound of the cello gets right in your face, as it has been placed in front of the ensemble. I sometimes had the impression that the cello's solo part had been recorded in a different room. This has nothing to do with the role of the solo instrument as primus inter pares in Vivaldi's music (or in baroque solo concertos in general, for that matter). The part for transverse flute in the Concerto RV 96 is played at the recorder, but that is not mentioned in the track-list or the list of performers. I can't see this disc as a substantial contribution to the Vivaldi discography.

Vivaldi composed many violin concertos for his own use. However, he also had some virtuosic performers at the Ospedale del Pietà, and one of them was a real star, Anna Maria. As was customary, the orphans who were taken in and received a (musical) education, were known only with their forename, given to them when they entered. Anna Maria left a partbook which includes 31 concertos, most of them by Vivaldi. They comprise only the solo part and sometimes the bass. A number of these concertos are known from other sources, but some are not, and this means that they can only be performed through reconstruction. Michael Talbot, in his liner-notes to the Glossa recording by Modo Antiquo under the direction of Federico Maria Sardelli [4], explains how such reconstructions are possible, despite the scarcity of the material. One reason is that Vivaldi often reused material from previous compositions, slightly or more rigorously reworked. Moreover, there are certain patterns in his oeuvre which help the editor of reconstructions. The fact that some concertos include an organ part is not an additional problem, but in fact makes the reconstruction easier because of Vivaldi's habit of making the two instruments move in parallels or imitate each other. Even so, reconstructions of this kind are inevitably speculative, and unless the original concertos are found, we cannot be sure that these reconstructions are in accordance with what Vivaldi intended. In the end, it is the result that counts, and these reconstructed versions make an excellent impression and can be considered substantial additions to Vivaldi's oeuvre. The concertos for violin and organ are definitely the most interesting as to date we knew only a handful of pieces in this scoring. RV 774 and 775 were known, but only incomplete, whereas RV 808, as the number in the Ryom catalogue suggests, was not established as an authentic Vivaldi work until recently. With Federico Guglielmo we have an accomplished performer, who has a vast experience in Vivaldi's music; with his ensemble L'Arte dell'Arco he recorded a large number of discs with Vivaldi's music for Brilliant Classics. Roberto Loreggian is an excellent keyboard player, as he shows here once again. I had only wished they had used a larger organ with a broader palette of colours.

There has been quite some fuss about Nicola Benedetti's [5] forays in the world of baroque music, as I learnt from a search at the internet for her credentials. She has made a good career with later repertoire, and that may explain why I had never heard of her. At first, I was sceptical as I have encountered too often performers who jump the bandwagon of what seems to be selling well. However, Benedetti seems to be sincere: she has sought the advice of the Italian harpsichordist and conductor Andrea Marcon, and in her ensemble she collected some respected performers from the period instrument scene. Although she plays a modernized violin, I learnt from several sources that she uses gut strings and plays a baroque bow. That is also how it sounds, and overall I am quite happy with the way Benedetti plays Vivaldi. She does not entirely focus on the virtuosic aspects, but also pays much attention to the lyrical and expressive side of Vivaldi's concertos. She exercises restraint in her insertation of cadenzas, in that she does not use them to show off by making them too long or too virtuosic. The fact that, as a kind of 'encore', she adds an andante from another concerto, rather than a virtuosic fast movement, supports my impression of someone who takes the music seriously and does not use it for her own good. This disc, although unfortunately rather short, is a welcome addition to the discography, and I sincerely hope that Nicola Benedetti is willing to further explore the world of baroque violin music. How about some Tartini?

The concertos for the recorder and the flautino are among Vivaldi's most popular works. That has undoubtedly to do with their quality, but also with the fact that the number of baroque solo concertos for the recorder seems to be rather limited. There are fewer to choose from, certainly in comparison with what is availble for the transverse flute or the oboe. Many recorder players of name have recorded some or all of them, and Giovanni Antonini [6] is certainly a performer of that category. Given that he has been around for quite some time - Il Giardino Armonico was founded in 1985 - it is rather surprising that only now he has recorded Vivaldi's concertos. I have read some reviews of this disc which were all full of praise for Antonini's performances. His virtuosity and imagination are certainly impressive, and if there are still some who think that the recorder is not an instrument for virtuosic playing, this disc proves them wrong. However, I feel that Antonini focusses too much on technical virtuosity. In too many concertos, he did not make me enjoy the music. I am not saying that he uses them to show off, but to my taste he goes too far in emphasizing these concertos' - and his own - brilliance. In the largo of the Concerto in C (RV 443) he just does not add embellishments, he almost rewrites what Vivaldi has written down, comparable with the bad habit of some opera singers to rewrite, as it were, arias in the dacapo. The Concerto in F (RV 442), which closes the disc, is the most enjoyable piece of the entire programme, as here he keeps it relatively quiet. I should add that Il Giardino Armonico also falls for the temptation to try too hard to be different from the competition, a habit of quite some Italian ensembles. If I want to really enjoy Vivaldi's recorder concertos, I am turning to another disc.

[1] Concerti particolari
Academia Montis Regalis/Enrico Onofri, violin
Passacaille PAS 1100 (© 2021) details

[2] "Vivaldi con Amore"
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra/Elisa Citterio
tafelmusik TMK 1039CD (© 2019) details

[3] "Vivaldi"
Musica Antiqua Latina/Giordano Antonelli, cello
deutsche harmonia mundi 19439846222 (© 2021) details

[4] "Lost Concertos for Anna Maria"
Federico Guglielmo, violin; Roberto Loreggian, organ; Modo Antiquo/Federico Maria Sardelli
Glossa GCD 924601 (© 2020) details

[5] "Baroque"
Benedetti Baroque Orchestra/Nicola Benedetti, violin
Decca 485 1891 (© 2021) details

[6] "Concerti per flauto"
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini, recorder
Alpha 364 (© 2020) details

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Bach and the violin

There is probably no greater challenge for violinists than the interpretation of the six sonatas and partitas for solo violin by Johann Sebastian Bach. It is like climbing Mount Everest. It is extremely difficult and not everyone gets there. Nowadays a historical instrument or in any case an interpretation according to the principles of historical performance practice is almost a prerequisite for a convincing performance. The career of the exceptional violinist Thomas Zehetmair [1] is particularly revealing. He has always felt just as comfortable in the baroque repertoire as in contemporary music. His curiosity guarantees that he gets to the bottom of every work. The focus is not on his own abilities, but always on the music. It resulted in his studying these works with Nikolaus Harnoncourt in the early days of his career when he played in the Concentus musicus Wien. This resulted in a recording, at that time still on a modern violin and with a modern bow. This was reissued a few years ago and is still of great importance. For those who are skeptical of historical instruments, it may serve as a bridge between 'new' and 'old'. In 2019, ECM released a new recording of these works from 2016, and this time Zehetmair turned to period instruments. He plays two different baroque violins and two baroque bows. His starting point has not changed in comparison to the first recording: his interpretation is based on the principle of 'music as speech', as Harnoncourt once pithily summed up the character of baroque music in the title of a book. This is expressed here in the treatment of phrasing and articulation as well as dynamics and tempo. It is notable that Zehetmair allows himself more freedom in these matters today. In doing so, he does not deviate from the principles of historical performance practice. He has internalized them and can now bring in his own views. After all, it is one of the characteristics of historical performance practice that one's own personality may be part of it and that one may adapt the interpretation to the circumstances. This explains the differences between the many recordings that are available. Which one to prefer is ultimately a matter of taste. I like this new interpretation by Zehetmair very much. Technically, his playing is impressive. It is amazing how in some of the movements he plays at high speed, the articulation remains very clear and he also manages to dynamically differentiate between good and bad notes. Dynamic shading is also carefully dosed, for example in the ciaccona from the Partita No. 2. It starts out very powerful, but then there are quieter passages. This movement is an example of one in a relatively brisk tempo (12'29"). Others are the fugue and the presto from the Sonata No. 1 and the concluding allegro from the Sonata No. 2. But even then Zehetmair varies the tempo: the allegro from the second sonata is not as fast as the fugue of the first. It is also nice - and this can also be interpreted as a sign of internalization - that he plays ornaments in repeats. As one may know, this is a matter of debate among interpreters and scholars. However, one doesn't need to fully agree with every decision in order to regard this interpretation as a monument of Bach interpretation. I personally prefer strong restraint in this matter, but that does not prevent me from putting this recording at the top of my list of favourite recordings of these works. Another which is high at my list is the one by Amandine Beyer (ZigZag Territoires, 2011). I would also like to mention Gunar Letzbor (PanClassics, 2013/2014), who has something special to offer in that you can hear what the player himself is hearing while playing. It is something one needs to get used to, but it is very revealing and intriguing, and Letzbor is obviously a superb performer.

The second recording of the sonatas and partitas is quite different. I hesitated whether to review it at all because we are dealing here with a compromise between traditional and historical performance practice. Such compromises are not uncommon, and they are seldom convincing. Tomás Cotik's interpretation [2] is no exception. He plays a modern violin in modern tuning (a = 440 Hz). He does not use gut strings, but rather synthetic strings that produce a slightly milder sound. It is hardly noticeable, because Cotik's tone is unplesantly penetrating, compared to the sound of the baroque violins that Zehetmair plays. Cotik does play with a baroque bow, but that makes little sense if the violin is from a different aesthetic tradition. 'Music as speech' is not the foundation of this performance, because Cotik often plays legato and there is little difference between good and bad notes. His tempos are often a little faster than Zehetmair's: for the ciaccona of the second partita he only needs 10'55" (vs 12'29"), but his fast movements sound hasty and therefore superficial. In the allegro of the second sonata he largely omits dynamic contrasts. The preceding andante is then again too slow: he takes it for an adagio. Where Zehetmair's playing always breathes, even at the fastest tempos, the listener gets breathless with Cotik. It's all too much of the same. I was often bored listening to it. That’s a bad sign.

Plamena Nikitassova and Peter Waldner [3] have recorded a mixed programme in which the two major cycles are represented. They play three of the six sonatas for harpsichord and violin (Nos. 3, 4 and 6); in addition Nikitassova plays the Sonata No. 3 for solo violin and Waldner the Adagio BWV 968, which is an arrangement of the first movement of the sonata. The aim of this production was not primarily to present works by Bach; after all, there are many recordings of these pieces. The focus is on the instruments they use. Plamena Nikitassova plays a Stainer violin owned by the Tiroler Landesmuseums Ferdinandeum in Innsbruck. Stainer violins were played in Central Germany in Bach's time, and he may have owned such a violin himself. The harpsichord is a copy of an instrument by Johann Heinrich Harraß, made by Jürgen Ammer. There are no details about this instrument in the booklet, but in several works I noted the use of a 16' register, for instance in the Adagio BWV 968. The existence of instruments with a 16' register in Bach's time is documented. The question is when and in what kind of music it was used and whether Bach used it himself, but that may be impossible to answer. The performer's personal taste also plays a role. In any case, I am not very enthusiastic about interpretations in which this register is used. That doesn't compromise my generally positive assessment of this production. These two excellent musicians bring convincing interpretations. Plamena Nikitassova's performance of Sonata No. 3 is very good; her tempi are somewhat more moderate than Zehetmair's, and I rate his realisation of the double stopping a little higher, but both performances are based on the same principles. This comes also to the fore in the three sonatas for harpsichord and violin, which are performed in a speechlike manner. with a clear articulation and appropriate dynamic differentiation. The problem, however, is the balance between the instruments, which is too much in favour of the violin. It is rather odd that a harpsichord with a 16' register struggles to hold its own against the violin.

The sonatas for harpsichord and violin (BWV 1014-1019) are among the most frequently performed and recorded chamber music works by Bach. Several recordings have come onto the market in recent years. Most of them have nothing special to offer, and it is regrettable that the performers don't turn to less common repertoire. However, one recent recording is different from almost any other. Freddy Eichelberger and Odile Edouard [4] wanted to celebrate a collaboration of thirty years with a new recording. They have often performed repertoire from the 17th century, but Bach has always been a thread through the careers of both musicians. And so the idea came about to record the sonatas for harpsichord and violin. Eichelberger is first and foremost an organist, so it was an obvious choice to play the harpsichord part on the organ. There is no historical argument for this decision. It seems highly unlikely that Bach ever did so himself. That does not mean that these sonatas cannot be performed this way. In the baroque era composers and performers were pretty pragmatic in choosing instruments. Ultimately, it's the result that matters. The booklet rightly points out that the balance between the harpsichord and the violin is problematic. I can confirm that on the basis of several recordings, including the one just mentiioned. Too often the violin dominates, whereas both instruments are treated on equal footing by Bach. In a performance with organ, there is little chance that it will dominate. However, here it is rather the other way around. There are some moments when the organ overshadows the violin. There are no such problems in the two sonatas for violin and basso continuo (BWV 1021 and 1023); there the organ plays a more modest role. Eichelberger has selected three organs that suit Bach's style. He also plays some organ works in between the sonatas. Despite the critical remarks, I recommend this set of discs to Bach lovers, because it offers an opportunity to hear these pieces in a different way. Eichelberger and Edouard deliver good performance, but I would have liked stronger dynamic contrasts in the violin part.

The last disc then focusses on the sonatas for violin and basso continuo. Several such sonatas are attributed to Bach, but only two are considered authentic: BWV 1021 in G and BWV 1023 in e minor. La Divina Armonia [5] - Mayumi Hirasaki (violin), Anna Camporini (cello) and Lorenzo Ghielmi (harpsichord) - has recorded both sonatas and the Sonata in c minor (BWV 1024), which is of doubtful authenticity and whose composer could not yet be established with any amount of certainty. The fourth work is the Sonata for harpsichord and violin BWV 1022, which has its origin in a trio sonata by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, that in turn is derived from the sonata BWV 1021. The program is expanded with two harpsichord works, which also have their origins in violin works: the Sonata in d minor (BWV 964) - an arrangement of the Sonata No. 2 for violin solo - and the Adagio in G (BWV 968), which was originally conceived as the first movement of the Sonata No. 3 for violin solo. The result is a programme of strong coherence and at the same time variety in scoring. From these artists one expects first class performances and that is exactly what we get here. The balance between the instruments is exactly right. Mayumi Hirasaki plays beautifully and dynamically differentiated, both in the contrast between good and bad notes and on long notes. Ghielmi delivers speechlike performances of the harpsichord works. The choice of tempi is also convincing; the andante of the Sonata BWV 964, for example, is played at a nice walking tempo and not like an adagio. Everything is right here.

[1] "The Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo"
Thomas Zehetmair, violin
ECM New Series 2551/52 (2 CDs) (© 2019) details

[2] "Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo"
Tomás Cotik, violin
Centaur CRC 3755/3756 (2 CDs) (© 2019) details

[3] "Sonaten"
Plamena Nikitassova, violin; Peter Waldner, harpsichord
Musikmuseum CD13045 (© 2020) details

[4] "Trios pour clavier et violon"
Freddy Eichelberger, organ; Odile Edouard, violin
L'Encelade ECL 1704 (3 CDs) (© 2020) details

[5] "Sonatas for violin and basso continuo"
La Divina Armonia
Passacaille PAS 1077 (© 2020) details

Friday, August 27, 2021

Songs for voice and fortepiano, 1790-1860

One voice and one instrument - that was the main form of (secular) music making in the western world for many centuries. During the Middle Ages trouvères and troubadours sang their own songs, accompanying themselves on a plucked or strung instrument. In the course of time, the roles of singer and accompanist were increasingly separated, as the former mostly sung songs which were composed by someone else and required an interpretation. The accompaying instrument during the renaissance was mostly a plucked instrument, such as the lute, and after the birth of the style we call 'baroque' a chordal instrument, which played a figured bass, sometimes with an added string bass. In the classical period the accompaniment started to be written out for a keyboard instrument: a harpsichord or a fortepiano. The latter was the common accompaniment of singers of songs in the romantic period. In addition, some composers wrote songs for voice and guitar, and sometimes pianoforte parts were transcribed for guitar in the interest of those who could not afford a fortepiano.

Songs for voice and keyboard were written across Europe during the classical and romantic periods, but for some reason German songs have received so much interest that the whole genre is known as the Klavierlied. If we look at the discography we find out that German songs dominate the landscape of this genre. Hardly any singer of songs with pianoforte accompaniment can avoid the songs of the likes of Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Wolf, to mention just the best-known. However, even the German repertoire has more to offer than the songs of these four, as we will see later. In this blog I would like to review some recent recordings of German songs, among them some almost entirely unknown.

The first disc is devoted to a composer who contributed to all genres of his time, but whose songs are among the least-known parts of his output: Joseph Haydn [1]. Ironically, those of his songs which are his best-known, are all written on English texts, and were composed during his second stay in England in 1794/95. Here he met Anne Hunter, in whom he found a personality who was well versed in musical matters, but was also a gifted poet. At least seven, possibly eight of the twelve Original Canzonettas, which Haydn published in 1794 and 1795 respecitively, are settings of texts from her pen. Not only were these of considerably better quality than the German texts that Haydn had set previously, his settings also document a development towards a more independent keyboard part. In his early songs, the accompaniment had some traces of the baroque basso continuo practice, but in the English canzonettas voice and keyboard are much more equal partners. The keyboard part is also more closely connected to the text, in that it illustrates elements in it. These features explain why these songs are taken seriously, even by those singers who mostly focus on later repertoire. Cornelia Horak and Richard Fuller recorded the twelve canzonettas, and two separate songs, also on texts by Anne Hunter: The Spirit's song and O Tuneful Voice. Ms Horak has a voice that is well suited to this repertoire, which she uses with differentiation, and because of that the character of each song comes off pretty well. It is nice that she does not hesitate to add ornamentation. This is mostly well jusged; only in The Sailor's Song I believe she goes too far; her performance of this song is too operatic. Her English pronunciation seems alright. Richard Fuller delivers colourful performances of the keyboard part. It is disappointing that he opted for an instrument with Viennese action. Haydn undoubtedly had an English fortepiano in mind, when he composed these songs.

Whereas the English songs by Haydn can be heard now and then in recitals and are availble in a number of recordings, few music lovers (if any) may have heard songs by his contemporary Franz Xaver Sterkel (1750-1817) [2]. Even the man himself is a largely unknown quantity. It is due to the J.F.X. Sterkel Gesellschaft Aschaffenburg e.V. that he is receiving more attention these days, which has resulted in several recordings of orchestral and chamber music. Aschaffenburg was the town where Sterkel spent the last stage of his life; there he was active as court music director and Kapellmeister from 1810 onwards, until he was sent into retirement, when the town became part of Bavaria. Before that Sterkel had worked in Mainz and in Regensburg. He may be almost entirely forgotten in our time, but during his life he was famous as a keyboard virtuoso, who impressed the young Beethoven. Among his more than 700 compositions are around four hundred songs on German and Italian texts. In addition to songs for solo voice, he wrote duets, trios and quartets. One of the duets closes the disc released by Coviello Classics. It includes fourteen German songs for solo voice and pianoforte, alternately sung by Julla von Landsberg and Jan Kobow. In addition we hear two pieces on Italian texts, among them an arietta to the accompaniment of pianoforte or guitar. Moreover, Sylvia Ackermann plays one of Sterkel's piano pieces, the Fantasia Op. 45. She opted for a tangent piano; unfortunately, the booklet omits any details about this instrument as well as about the guitar, which is involved in some of the songs (played by Thomas Höhne). To what extent this is based on indications by the composer also remains a mystery; only in the case of the Italian arietta it is explicitly mentioned. Given the quality of these songs, there is every reason to welcome the release of this disc. Not only can Sterkel be considered "the herald of Franz Schubert within the field of the German lied", as Joachim Fischer states in his liner-notes, but his songs can hold their ground on their own merits. Julia von Landsberg and Jan Kobow are their ideal interpreters, who have found exactly the right approach to these songs. The accompaniment by Sylvia Ackermann and Thomas Höhne is stylistically entirely convincing. It is to be hoped that more of Sterkel's oeuvre, including his songs, will be recorded. Singers should investigate his songs, which are a valuable addition to the repertoire of the Klavierlied.

It is remarkable that only a small part of the large number of songs from the pen of Franz Schubert (1797-1828) is available on disc in performances with fortepiano accompaniment. The large song cycles have been recorded a number of times, but otherwise there is a big backlog. This situation is all the more surprising, given that Schubert's songs enjoy great popularity and are performed across the world at the concert platform. Unfortunately, those singers who are exponents of historical performance practice, also largely focus on the main song cycles. From that perspective, there is every reason to welcome the disc by the Austrian tenor Daniel Johannsen, accompanied by Christoph Hammer at the fortepiano [3]. They recorded seventeen songs; I have not been able to discover a specific theme, and it remains a mystery to what criteria the songs have been selected. The texts which Schubert has set, cover a wide range of subjects, but obviously those subjects which were the favourites of romantic poets, are well represented: night and darkness, the wood, fall and winter, stars and moon, death, tomb and graveyard. Such songs are often of a rather intimate character - loudness is less appropriate here. Especially in such songs Johannsen is hard to surpass. He gives the impression to sing just for himself; the listener is allowed to eavesdrop. Among his strengths are his fine diction and his excellent treatment of the text - not surprising, given his experience in baroque repertoire, for instance in Bach's cantatas and Passions. He also effectively colours his voice in order to single out particular elements in the text. Christoph Hammer is more than an accompanist; he is Johannsen's equal partner at the fortepiano. He plays a Graf piano of around 1827, from which he draws the most gorgeous sounds and whose dynamic capabilities he fully explores, all in the interest of text expression. Voice and fortepiano blend perfectly; during the recording, the interpreters were sitting next to each other, as was common in Schubert's time. The translation of this disc's title is "unequalled songs". Unequalled are also these performances. Can we hope for more?

The three large cycles are among Schubert's most famous works. Far lesser known are the small cycles, consisting of three or four songs. The main exceptions are those which were published as cycles, for instance the Drei Gesänge des Harfners aus 'Wilhelm Meister' (D 478). There are several reasons why some cycles are not known as such. Schubert often composed such songs at differemt times and only put them together at a later date. As the songs were printed in the old complete edition in chronological order, their connection was entirely lost. That is also due to the fact that some cycles include settings of texts by different poets. And even if Schubert set texts by the same poet, the latter did not always conceived them as a cycle. Markus Schäfer and Zvi Meniker recorded six cycles [4]; at the end of this review one finds a link to a site with the track-list. Among the cycles are the Vier Refrain-Lieder Op. 95. Some of these are good examples of the interpretative approach of the two artists. They have been inspired by the way Schubert's songs were interpreted by the tenor Johann Michael Vogl, who was a great admirer of Schubert and performed many of his songs. He was generous in his addition of ornamentation, and his performances were rather theatrical, which is no wonder, given that he had made a career in opera. The songs Op. 95 are ideally suited to such an interpretation. The artists, in the liner-notes, assume that this kind of interpretation does not find universal approval. That would be not any different from Vogl's own time: his performances strongly divided the lovers of Schubert's songs. Whatever one may think of this approach: it is at least very interesting to hear Schubert's songs this way, and it is a token of courage and the willingness to leave the well-trodden paths that Schäfer and Meniker present these songs in a way which is quite different from what the lovers of Schubert's songs are used to. In this way, these performances could hardly be more 'authentic'. The choice of fortepiano - a copy of a Graf of 1819 - fits the approach of Schubert's songs. Schäfer has a very clear voice, which is perfectly suited to 19th-century songs. His diction and articulation are immaculate, and allow the listener to understand every single word, without looking at the texts in the booklet. Even so, it is a shame that it omits one stanza in each of two songs from the Op. 95 cycle. In Schäfer's performance, each distinction in the text is effectively communicated to the listener. Meniker delivers colourful and dynamically differentiated performances of the piano parts. From the angle of repertoire and of interpretation, this disc is a major addition to the Schubert discography and is not to be missed by lovers of Schubert's songs.

Robert Schumann (1810-1856) discovered the genre of the Klavierlied rather late in his career. He wrote his first songs in 1840, but then he could hardly stop. 130 of his around 150 songs date from this year. For Knut Schoch and Mathias Weber, this was the reason to focus on this year, as the title of their disc indicates [5]. In 1840, Schumann wrote two major cycles: the Liederkreis Op. 39, on texts by Joseph von Eichendorff, and Dichterliebe Op. 48, on poems by Heinrich Heine. These cycles are very well-known and are available in many recordings. However, there are probably very few, in which the singer is accompanied on a historical piano. Mathias Weber plays two different Érard pianos, from 1840 and 1847 respectively. That is not the only noticeable aspect of this recording, though. The Liederkreis is followed by Der frohe Wandersmann, a song which Schumann temporarily intended to open the cycle. And then Dichterliebe is performed here in its original version. Heines cycle included twenty poems, which Schumann all set. However, as such a long cycle was expensive to print, he could not find a publisher. A printed edition was only possible after the cycle was reduced to sixteen songs and revised. This original version seems to have been hardly recorded, which makes it all the more regrettable that the booklet omits the lyrics. On the internet I could not find the lyrics of this version. Because of that it is hard to assess Schoch's interpretation and the way he treats the text. On the basis of his performance of the Liederkreis - whose texts are available on the internet and in the booklets of other recordings - I dare to say that 'interpretation' is the wrong word to describe his performance. I don't like his voice very much; I have heard him in some recordings of baroque repertoire, and most of the time he falls short of what is needed. Here he sings the texts, and that is about it. The meaning of the text does hardly come off; basically everything does sound the same way. With the means of articulation and colouring of the voice much more could have been made of these songs. Whether an Érard piano is the most obvious choice is impossible for me to decide. Fact is that Robert and Clara Schumann, during their time in Leipzig, often visited the Tröndlin workshop and that Clara loved to play one of his instruments. Tröndlin pianos link up with the tradition of Viennese piano building and produce a speechlike sound.

The piano built in 1841 by Franz Rausch, which is played by Eric Zivian at the second Schumann disc reviewed here [6], is a product of that same tradition. This recording also includes the Liederkreis Op. 29, as well as the Liederkreis Op. 24, on poems by Heinrich Heine. This disc also has something special: between these two cycles, Kyle Stegall and Eric Zivian perform five songs by Clara Schumann (1819-1896). Her oeuvre receives little attention, and that certainly goes for her songs. That is very unjustified: these songs are fine pieces which should be better known. Their inclusion on this disc is most welcome. Stegall delivers entirely idiomatic interpretations, which show that he masters the German language; he also is responsible for the English translations of the lyrics in the booklet. His pronunciation, diction and articulation are impeccable. Unlike Schoch, Stegall comes up with an interpretation and treats the texts with differentiation, according to their meaning. Both Schoch and Stegall use more vibrato than is justified, but thanks to Stegall's captivating interpretation, in his case it is less disturbing. Eric Zivian is the excellent partner at the beautiful Rausch piano.

As I already stated, only a small part of Schubert's songs are available in recordings with fortepiano accompaniment. However, all his songs are represented on disc, usually with an accompaniment of a modern concert grand. That is more than can be said about the songs of other composers of the 19th century. Schubert was one of the main composers of songs, but certainly not the only one. Many of his colleagues only a few specialists have heard of, and some of them are represented on the last disc to be reviewed here. Franz Vitzthum included a few songs by Schubert in his recital [7], but most of the songs are by little-known composers, such as Charlotte Bender, Johann Friedrich Hugo van Dalberg, Johann Vesque von Püttlingen and Josephine Caroline Lang. Also included are a song by Mendelssohn and two by his teacher Carl Friedrich Zelter, one of the better-known on this disc. And then we have two songs by Anselm Hüttenbrenner, a close friend of Schubert, who composed a series of variations on a theme from Hüttenbrenner's pen; these are played by Katharina Olivia Brand on the fortepiano in alternation with the songs. This disc is not only interesting in that it sheds light on forgotten composers, but also because it includes some settings of texts which were also known from the oeuvre of more famous masters. An example is An den Frieden by Dalberg; under this title he set the same text by Goethe as Schubert under the title of Wandrers Nachtlied. The booklet includes all the lyrics - unfortunately without English translations - as well as comprehensive information about the composers and their historical context. In the case of an interpretation by a male alto one cannot avoid the issue of authenticity. Vitzthum is not the first representative of this voice type who makes a foray into the field of romantic songs. One of the first was Paul Esswood, who recorded songs by Schumann (Hungaroton, 1989). It is good that this type of voice is now generally accepted and is not treated as an 'early music peculiarity' anymore. That said, the aim of historical performance practice is to come as close as possible to the intentions of the composer and the performance habits of his time. From that perspective it is hard to argue in favour of a male alto in performances of songs written in a time in which that type of voice did not exist anymore. That does not compromise in any way my appreciation of this disc. Vitzthum is an excellent singer, who does know how to communicate the text and its content to an audience. He does a fine job here. Katharina Olivia Brand plays a copy of a Graf piano of 1826, which is the perfect choice for this repertoire and whose features are explored to the full in the interest of an expressive interpretation. This disc offers a view into a fascinating world that is hardly explored as yet.

[1] FJ Haydn: "Britain's Glory - Joseph Haydn Canzonettas"
Cornelia Horak, soprano; Richard Fuller, fortepiano
Gramola 99212 (© 2020) details

[2] Sterkel: "Liebesbothen"
Julla von Landsberg, soprano; Jan Kobow, tenor; Sylvia Ackermann, fortepiano; Thomas Höhne, guitar
Coviello Classics COV 91809 (© 2018) details

[3] Schubert: "Lieder ohnegleichen"
Daniel Johannsen, tenor; Christoph Hammer, fortepiano
Spektral SRL4-18170 (© 2019) details

[4] Schubert: "The Small Song Cycles"
Markus Schäfer, tenor; Zvi Meniker, fortepiano
Passacaille PAS 1084 (© 2021) details

[5] Schumann: "1840 - Zyklen und Lieder"
Knut Schoch, tenor; Mathias Weber, fortepiano
Ambitus amb 95620 (© 2021) details

[6] Robert & Clara Schumann: "Myrtle & Rose - Songs by Clara and Robert Schumann"
Kyle Stegall, tenor; Eric Zivian, fortepiano
AVIE AV2407 (© 2019) details

[7] "Nachthimmel - Lieder von Schubert, Bender, Dalbert"
Franz Vitzthum, alto; Katharina Olivia Brand, fortepiano
Christophorus CHR 77452 (© 2021) details

Friday, August 13, 2021

The Italian keyboard in the 18th century

If one thinks of Italian music of the 18th century, genres like opera, oratorio and chamber cantata in the realm of vocal music spring to mind, and concertos for one or several solo instruments as well as chamber music with regard to instrumental music. In comparison, not that much keyboard music is known, except the sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. However, he worked for most of his life outside Italy, in Portugal and Spain. One may add the name of Giovanni Benedetto Platti, but he made a career in Germany. One of the main composers of keyboard music was Baldassare Galuppi, but it would be an exaggeration to say that this part of his output is well-known. Not that many recordings of his keyboard music are available. We owe it to Brilliant Classics that in recent years quite a number of discs have been released, which allowed the lover of keyboard music to become acquainted with the works of composers only a few may have ever heard of. Most of that repertoire has been recorded by Italian performers, who are in the best position to assess the importance of the various composers and their music, and have access to the sources, as not all of the music is available in modern editions. In this weblog I would like to give my impressions on some recent productions from Brilliant Classics.

The best-known composer is probably Pietro Domenico Paradies (1706/07-1791) [1], also known as Paradisi, who was born in Naples. We know very little about his musical education. Throughout his career he attempted to establish himself as a composer of music for the theatre, but he largely failed in this department. His operas met little enthusiasm, and Charles Burney assessed his arias rather negatively. However, he was full of praise for his skills as a composer of keyboard music and keyboard teacher. His 12 sonatas for keyboard were published in London in 1754, where Paradies had settled in 1746. Apparently, his sonatas were received enthusiastically, as they were reprinted five times between 1765 and 1790. Today they belong among the better-known compositions by late baroque Italian composers (even though they were written after his departure from Italy). That is probably due to the fact that they show strong similarities with the sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. In addition, they include traces of the style known as Sturm und Drang. Overall, they are products of the galant idiom, which was ruling across Europe in the mid-18th century. All the sonatas comprise two movements in a fast (allegro, vivace) or moderate (moderato, andante) tempo. Some have the character of a toccata. They include quite some differences, which makes it not hard to listen to them at a stretch (although they are not meant to be savoured that way). Whereas Anna Paridiso recorded the first ten sonatas on three different instruments, Alessandro Simonetti confined himself to the harpsichord, which is the most obvious option from a historical perspective. He plays the copy of a 1638 Ruckers. It is impossible to say which kind of instrument Paradies may have had at his disposal while composing these sonatas, but considering the dissemination of Ruckers harpsichords across Europe, this seems a good choice. The contrasts between and within the sonatas come off well here, for instance due to a convincing choice of tempi. Only two sonatas include dynamic indications, which on a harpsichord can only be realised by shifting from one manual to the other. Simonetti also emphasises specific passages elsewhere by alternating between the manuals, and that seems appropriate. Those who would like to have a complete recording of these compelling sonatas, should consider this production.

Carlo Antonio Campioni (1720-1788) [2] is definitely an unknown quantity. As far as I have been able to check, only one piece of chamber music from his pen is available on disc. He was of French origin and settled in Tuscany in central Italy. He, himself an excellent violinist, was in close contact with Giuseppe Tartini. Around 1752 he became maestro de cappella at Livorno Cathedral, and from 1763 until his death he worked in the same capacity in the service of the Grand Duke of Florence. It is notable that he was very interested in 'early music'; he owned a large collection of early music, in particular renaissance madrigals. His compositions found a good reception. The six harpsichord sonatas op. 4B, which were printed in Paris and in London, bear witness to that. They are of different constitution: four comprise two movements, the other two come with three. They comprise some baroque traces, such as the giga as second movement of the Sonata No. 1. The first movement of the third sonata consists entirely of arpeggios, a typical baroque procedure. Its last movement is called 'La Caccia', and here the harpsichord imitates the sound of hunting horns. The sixth sonata takes a special place in the collection as it includes a violin part. Sonatas for keyboard with a melody instrument were quite popular at the time. These melody parts were often ad libitum, which means that they can be omitted. That is not the case here: the violin has an obbligato part. Campioni's sonatas are well written and entertaining, and therefore this recording is a substantial addition to the discography. Simone Stella deserves praise for this discovery and for his engaging and lively interpretation. Valerio Losito is the excellent violinist in the sixth sonata. This disc is a most pleasant acquaintance with Carlo Antonio Campioni.

The next production is devoted to a composer, who is even lesser known than Campioni. The latter has at least an entry in New Grove, but Ignazio Spergher (1734-1808) [3] is not even mentioned. He was born in Treviso and worked there all his life, as organist, singing and keyboard teacher and as composer. The Brilliant Classics production does not comprise his complete keyboard oeuvre, but rather a selection. It includes the six sonatas Op. 1, printed in 1786, as well as the sonatas Op. 6 from 1778. In addition we get some sonatas and other pieces which have been preserved in manuscript. The twelve printed sonatas consist of three movements. The last sonata from the Op. 6 has remained incomplete: the second set breaks off halfway, and the third is absent. Most of the pieces in manuscript comprise just one movement with different titles, such as rondo, andantino or allegro. The last disc ends with a Pastorale. As one may expect, the latter piece is played at the organ. In all the other pieces the choice of keyboard is left to the interpreter, although the liner-notes give the impression that some pieces are intended for the organ. That seems possible but is hard to prove. Fact is that the sonatas Op. 1 are not intended for liturgical use, which makes it possible to perform them on harpsichord. Chiara Minali decided to play the Op. 1 sonatas and the pieces in manuscript at the organ, whereas in the sonatas Op. 6 she plays the harpsichord. The option of a fortepiano - not out of the question given the time of publication - is not even discussed in the liner-notes. These could have been more informative. As was common at the time, most of the thematic material is allocated to the right hand, whereas the left hand has a merely accompanying role. Part of that are Alberti and drum basses. For that reason one should probably not listem to these sonatas at a stretch. They are just a bit too uniform. However, if played in the right doses, there is certainly much to enjoy. Chiara Minali plays an organ of 1903; however, it largely dates from 1845. At first sight that seems a less than appropriate instrument, given the year it was built, but we should not overlook that Italian organ building at that time was fairly traditional, even conservative, and the instrument produces a sound which is considerably older than the year of its creation may suggest. It certainly suits Spergher's music. The harpsichord is a copy of a Giusti of 1681. In her performances at the harpsichord I find Minali too straightforward and a little one-dimensional. Rubato and a differentiated treatment of tempo would have made these performances much more engaging. In comparison, Minali's perforrmances at the organ make a better impression, as here we have the advantage of a more varied palette of colours. However, those who are interested in keyboard music of the late 18th century, should seriously consider this production.

With Giovanni Battista Grazioli (1746-1828) [4] we move to Venice. He was born in Bogliaco, but moved to Venice early in his career, where he worked as organist at St Mark's. He composed a large amount of sacred music as well as music for the stage. He left three collections of music for keyboard, with the opus numbers 1 to 3. The Opus 3 comprises sonatas for keyboard with accompaniment of violin; these are omitted in the recording by Chiara Minali. Each of the other two collections, printed in Venice in 1780, consists of six sonatas in three movements, largely in the order fast - slow - fast. They are written in the then common galant idiom; the right hand dominates and the left hand is reduced to an accompanying role, playing the common figures, such as Alberti and drum basses. Minali plays a copy of a Ruckers harpsichord of 1638, which may seem a rather odd choice, considering the time of composing. An 18th-century Italian instrument would have been a more logical option. Minali added two pieces to these two sets of sonatas, a Tema e Variazioni and a Pastorale, which have been preserved in manuscript. For the Pastorale, she turns to the organ, the same instrument she plays in the Spergher recording. As this is the only organ piece and the other items are all perforned at the harpsichord, the listener is advised to dose these pieces and not listen to these discs at a stretch. My reservations with regard to the performances of Spergher's sonatas go for this production as well. That said, the recording of Grazioli's keynoard works is certainly justified, as he is part of an aspect of Italian music history that is little known.

Lastly another composer, of whom only very few may have ever heard: Ferdinando Gasparo Turrini (1745-1820) [5]. He was born in Salò at the Lake Garda, which at that time was part of the Republic of Venice. In 1766 he settled in Padua, where he worked as organist at a church, and then moved to Brescia, where he was active mainly as a teacher. In 1773 he lost his eyesight; since then he dictated his compositions to his pupils. It seems that he left a relatively large and versatile oeuvre of vocal and instrumental music, but little of that is known. The sonatas recorded by Michele Barchi also appear on disc for the first time. It concerns two collections of six sonatas each. One was dedicated to the Genuese patrician Carlo Spinola; the printed edition omits the year of publication, but it is assumed that it dates from 1779. All the sonatas comprise two movements; only the sixth, in the unusual key of D flat, has three. The other set was dedicated to Vincenzo Fini, a Venetian nobleman; it has been preserved in a hand-written score. The titles of movements in this collection are rather unusual, such as lento ed affettuoso, il Basso sempre legato - trio: presto con disperazione and adagio pensiero or adagio ad imitazione del Violuncello. These fit the character of his music, since this is rather unconventional. Turrini's original ideas are quite surprising. It has been noted that there are some similarities between these sonatas and those by the young Beethoven. That is certainly not without foundation, and now and then one is also reminded of Haydn. However, assuming that Turrini knew the music of both of them, there is no imitation here. In comparison with his contemporaries Spergher and Grazioli, Turrini is by far the most original and creative. The sonatas are technically demanding; especially many fast movements require great technical skills. Barchi has them at his disposal in abundance; his performances are impressive, both technically and musically. He has opted for a performance at the harpsichord, which certainly seems legitimate for the sonatas of 1779. In the sonatas in manuscript I probably would have preferred the fortepiano; that way the similarities with Haydn and Beethoven may have become even more obvious. It would be interesting if another keyboard player would record them on the fortepiano, as these sonatas deserve to be much better known. For lovers of keyboard music this set of discs is undoubtedly a great and important addition to their collection. I sincerely hope that more works by Turrini will be brought to light, as he certainly had an unusually creative spirit.

[1] Pietro Domenico Paradies (1707-1791)
"Complete Sonatas for Harpsichord"
Alessandro Simonetto, harpsichord
Brilliant Classics 95867 (2 CDs) (© 2020) details

[2] Carlo Antonio Campioni (1720-1788)
"6 Harpsichord Sonatas Op. 4B"
Simone Stella, harpsichord
Brilliant Classics 95997 (© 2021) details

[3] Ignazio Spergher (1734-1808)
"Organ and Harpsichord Music"
Chiara Minali, harpsichord, organ
Brilliant Classics 95834 (3 CDs) (© 2019) details

[4] Giovanni Battista Grazioli (1746-1828)
"12 Harpsichord Sonatas Opp. 1 & 2"
Chiara Minali, harpsichord, organ
Brilliant Classics 95935 (2 CDs) (© 2020) details

[5] Ferdinando Gasparo Turrini (1745-1820)
"12 Sonatas for Harpsichord"
Michele Barchi, harpsichord
Brilliant Classics 95522 (2 CDs) (© 2019) details

Friday, July 30, 2021

Bach arranged

When in the 19th century the music of Johann Sebastian Bach was rediscovered, it was usually arranged in order to be performed. This was partly inevitable, as some of the instruments Bach required were not available anymore, such as the harpsichord and the viola da gamba. It was the aim of the historical performance movement to perform music according to the intentions of the composers and with the instruments they had in mind. At first, its representatives were rather sceptical about any arrangement of what had been written down, but with time they started to recognize that this was common practice at the time. Bach himself had paved the way in that he arranged instrumental concertos by Italian comtemporaries for harpsichord or organ, as well as pieces of his own pen. Among the latter are the works he composed for a single instrument: the violin and the cello. His pupil Johann Friedrich Agricola stated: "The composer himself often played them on the clavichord, adding as much in the nature of harmony as he found necessary." His own transcriptions that have been preserved, show how he proceeded. The best example is the Sonata BWV 964, which is a transcription of the Sonata BWV 1003 for violin solo. This practice has encouraged Gustav Leonhardt, one of the pioneers of historical performance practice, to arrange Bach's solo works for violin and cello himself. He was always rather modest about these attempts: he once stated that Bach certainly would have forgiven him his attempts to arrange his music, but whether he would have agreed with the way he had done it, was an entirely different matter. It is telling that he never arranged the Sonata BWV 1003, which has been preserved in Bach's own transcription. After all, who would be so audacious to think that he would be able to emulate Bach's own arrangement, let alone surpass it? In 2017, his pupil Siebe Henstra edited Leonhardt's transcriptions, which were then published by Bärenreiter. The Italian harpsichordist Roberto Loreggian [1] has recorded the complete transcriptions: five of the six works for solo violin (except the opening movement of BWV 1005, which is available in Bach's own transcription BWV 968), the cello suites 4 to 6, the allemande from the Partita BWV 1013 for transverse flute and the sarabande from the Suite BWV 997 for lute. This edition is a rich source for keyboard players, not in the first place to perform them in concerts, but rather to study them, learning from them how one could proceed. In the liner-notes Federico Lanzelotti explains in detail what exactly Leonhardt has done, and how he arranged these pieces in such a way that they turned into full-blooded keyboard works. It should be noted, though, that for Leonhardt the practice of arranging was a 'work in progress', as he regularly 'corrected' his transcriptions. As much as one may appreciate Loreggian's recording, they are a bit problematic. First, as Leonhardt's own recordings are still available, one is inclined to turn to them if one wants to know how they should sound. And many lovers of his playing may still have a vivid memory of his performances. In comparsion, Loreggian is no competition. He is a fine player and I have heard very good recordings of his, but here he is rather disappointing. His playing is often a bit awkward. The rhythmic flexibility and the typical 'swing' in Leonhardt's playing, which often made it hard to keep your feet still, is missing here. The chords are also often a bit ponderous. I would advise anyone, who would like to add Leonhardt's transcriptions to his collection, to purchase the master's own recordings.

Whereas Leonhardt's transcriptions are founded on Bach's own practice, Annegret Siedel and Ute Gremmel-Geuchen [2] take a bit more freedom in their approach to the transcription practice. A number of pieces are played on organ and violin, a combination we don't find in Bach's oeuvre, but which was very common in northern Germany. They play one of the trio sonatas (No. 4, BWV 528) and some chorale arrangements. The programme opens and closes with two of Bach's own arrangements of concertos by Italian composers, in which Annegret Siedel participates in the slow movements. In the concerto after Vivaldi BWV 596, she plays the original violin part, whereas in the Concerto BWV 974 after an oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello, she plays Bach's ornamented solo part. The two artists also play separately. Ute Gremmel-Geuchen plays Alfred Bertholet's arrangement of seven sections from the motet Jesu, meine Freude, including some of the dicta (quotations from the Bible), which Bach added to the chorale stanzas. This is one of the most remarkable pieces, alongside Annegret Siedel's performance of the Toccata BWV 565, transposed from d minor to a minor. There are strong doubts about the authenticity of this piece. It is also questionable whether it was first conceived for organ. Some scholars assume it may have been written for the violin in the first place, and if that is correct, Bach may be the composer after all. Siedel is not the first who plays it on the violin; Jaap Schröder also recorded it. It works quite well on the violin, and this is definitely one of the highlights of this disc. Overall, this is a rather good demonstration of the practice of arrangement and transcription, even though some of the arrangements have no predecessors in Bach's own oeuvre. The playing of the two artists is excellent.

In the case of Bach, it is often not that simple to distinguish between arrangement and reconstruction. The Toccata BWV 565 just mentioned is a good example. If it is played on the violin, is that an arrangement or rather a reconstruction of how it may have been intended in the first place? The next disc offers another example. Enrico Gatti [3] plays the Partita in a minor (BWV 1013) for transverse flute on the violin, transposed to g minor. This work may also have been intended for the violin: the first movement does give the performer hardly any time to breathe, and this work has been preserved in a copy, which also includes the sonatas and partitas for violin solo. If the flute version is indeed a later arrangement, that would fit into the general picture of Bach's chamber music, as many of the sonatas that we know and that are performed and recorded regularly, are in fact arrangements of earlier compositions for different scorings. 'Cross-dressing Bach', the recording by Gatti and the harpsichordist Rinaldo Alessandrini, opens and closes with two of the three sonatas for harpsichord and viola da gamba. The first (not included here) was originally conceived for two flutes and basso continuo. The Sonata BWV 1028 exists in a version for two violins and basso continuo, whereas the Sonata BWV 1029 bears the traces of a concerto and may be a reduction of such a work. Alessandrini plays Bach's own Sonata BWV 964 mentioned above. The rest of the programme consists of the Trio BWV 583 for organ and an original work for harpsichord and violin, the Fugue BWV 1026. For lovers of Bach's music, this disc is highly recommendable, as it offers different perspectives on some of his best-known works. Both the arrangements and/or reconstructions are pretty convincing, and they are played very well. I only had liked stronger dynamic contrasts in Gatti's playing.

The disc with the title 'The Melancholic Bach' most definitely offers no reconstructions. Bach liked to play the viola, but he did not compose any solo concertos or sonatas for it. Its main role is that of playing an obbligato part in some cantatas and taking some of the main parts in the Brandenburg Concertos 3 and 6. The programme that Emilio Moreno and Aarón Zapico [4] have recorded, comprises mainly organ works, such as chorale arrangements from the Orgelbüchlein. In his chorale arrangements, Bach often used the form of a trio, and pieces for two manuals and pedal are often very suitable to be adapted to a combination of a harpsichord and a melody instrument. Bach himself arranged his organ works for several combinations of instruments, and from that perspective this approach is entirely legitimate. Whether the result is musically satisfying is an entirely different matter. In several cases, it is, but there are also pieces where the viola has little profile and is overshadowed by the harpsichord. This disc does not offer a really new perspective. It seems to me that it is mainly of interest for those who have a special liking of the viola (or play the instrument themselves). The quality of the playing of the two artists leaves nothing to be desired.

The next disc also features the viola, but here the word 'arrangement' strictly speaking misses the point; one could argue that a recording of Bach's sonatas for harpsichord and viola da gamba [5] on the viola should not be reviewed under the title 'Bach arranged'. All three sonatas are played in the original key; no transposition was needed. In 17th- century German music, parts for violas and for viole da gamba were often interchangeable, and composers of the generation after Bach mostly considered viola and viola da gamba as alternatives. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, for instance, composed a sonata for viola or viola da gamba (Wq 88). As I mentioned before, Bach liked to play the viola himself, and as the first two of his 'gamba sonatas' are known in various versions, there is no objection whatsoever to a performance on the viola. And certainly even less so, when they are played so well as by Marie Stockmarr Becker, with Ilaria Macedonio as her congenial partner. Together they present outstanding accounts, which bring these sonatas into blossom. One probably has to get used to the different sound of the viola, and the balance between the two instruments, which seems to favour the viola a little. However, this disc is a valuable addition to the Bach discography. Lovers of Bach and lovers of the viola will both greatly enjoy this disc, which unfortunately is a little short in playing time (45').

The suites for cello solo have been arranged frequently, not only for harpsichord, but also for the viola da gamba and the violin, and Frans Brüggen once recorded three of them on the recorder. The catalogue also includes several recordings of transcriptions for the lute or the theorbo, among them those of Nigel North, Pascal Monteilhet and Hopkinson Smith. For this kind of arrangements one can also find justification in Bach's own oeuvre: he transcribed the fifth suite for the lute (BWV 995). Alberto Crugnola [6] has recorded the suites 1, 2 and 4, transcribing them to more appropriate keys (C major, a minor and B flat major respectively). He tried to imagine how Adam Falckenhagen, one of his favourite composers, may have done it. Whereas a transcription for harpsichord forces the arranger to add harmony, the lutenist can focus on things where his instrument requires adaptations, especially in the realm of phrasing, articulation and dynamics. After all, these suites should sound like true lute pieces. Crugnola does entirely succeed in this matter. He delivers a speech-like performance; the dynamics are nicely differentiated and the dance rhyrthms come off perfectly. With this disc he offers a very nice interpretation of these three suites. It is to be hoped that hen will have the opportunity to record the remaining three in due course.

The last disc includes arrangements which are probably most alien to the world of Bach. The Cellini Consort [7] is a consort of three viols - the kind of ensemble which was common in the 16th century, and held its ground only in a few regions in the 17th century, mainly England and the Habsburg court in Vienna. Elsewhere music for such an ensemble was sporadically written. However, although the viola da gamba was gradually overshadowed by the cello in the course of the 18th century, in the music by the likes of Bach and Telemann it plays quite a prominent role. That said, only in two pieces Bach included parts for two viole da gamba: the Actus Tragicus (BWV 106) and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6. The Cellini Consort is certainly not the first of its kind to turn to Bach for an extension of its repertoire. Other viol consorts - and also recorder consorts, for that matter - have done the same, and often they turn to the organ works. Because of the importance of counterpoint in these works, and the many long lines included in them, they are perfectly suited to be performed by a consort of instruments of the same family. The line-up of such ensembles only emphasizes the equal importance of all the musical parts. The Cellini Consort plays five organ works, among them Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten (BWV 691), which closes this disc, just as the disc by Moreno and Zapico. In addition, the consort plays the French Suite No. 5 and the Italian Concerto, both originally intended for the harpsichord. These transcriptions are less convincing: the way the sound of the harpsichord is produced is much more different from that of a consort of viols than in the case of the organ. In the French Suite the performance on viols goes at the cost of transparency, whereas in the Italian Concerto I miss the 'attack' of the harpsichord. It may well be the fact that this piece is written in the Italian style which makes it a less suitable item for a performance by a consort of viols. Obviously, the 'gamba sonata' BWV 1028 comes off best, alongside the organ pieces. Whether one finds these arrangements convincing or not, the playing of the Cellini Consort is excellent, and lovers of the viola da gamba and of consort music will certainly enjoy this recording.

[1] "Violin Sonatas & Partitas, Cello Suites - Transcribed for harpsichord by Gustav Leonhardt"
Roberto Loreggian, harpsichord
Brilliant Classics 95757 (3 CDs) (© 2018) details

[2] "© J.S. Bach" (Arrangements for violin & organ)
Annegret Siedel, violin; Ute Gremmel-Geuchen, organ
Aeolus AE11281 (© 2020) details

[3] "Cross-dressing Bach - Chamber rarities and alternative versions"
Enrico Gatti, violin; Rinaldo Alessandrini, harpsichord
Glossa GCD 921210 (© 2018) details

[4] "The Melancholic Bach - Music for viola da braccio & harpsichord"
Emilio Moreno, viola; Aarón Zapico, harpsichord
Glossa GCD 920316 (© 2019) details

[5] "Sonatas for viola (da gamba) and harpsichord BWV 1027-1029"
Ilaria Macedonio, harpsichord; Marie Stockmarr Becker, viola
Channel Classics CCS 43721 (© 2021) details

[6] "Für die Prinzessin" (For the Princess) - Suites BWV 1007, 1008 & 1010
Alberto Crugnola, lute
NovAntiqua NA51 ([2020]) details

[7] "Wo soll ich fliehen hin - Transcriptions for Viol Trio"
Cellini Consort
Ramée RAM 1911 (© 2019) details

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Between 'art' and tradition (2)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote the first weblog on music between 'art' and tradition, which focused on music from the continent, from the Middle Ages to our time. In this weblog, I return to this subject, but now with music from the British isles, and some from Scandinavia. For some reasons there seems to be a connection between the two in musical matters.

The British ensemble Wilde Roses [1] released a disc under the title "Woven". It comprises a collection of anonymous pieces from the British isles, including early specimens of traditional music. The programme is a mixture of vocal and instrumental items, and includes both secular and sacred pieces. One of the latter is the carol Deo gracias Anglia, whereas The Willow Song is a secular piece. The disc closes with four pieces from The English Dancing Master, which dates from the second half of the 17th century. This indicates that we get here music from very different times, which explains the stylistic differences. As the items are not ordered chronologically, the listener is torn between the Middle Ages and the time that the Renaissance in England came to its close. I find that rather unsatisfying, but others may have a different experience. Other aspects are more problematic. Almost all pieces are arranged, and the result is not always convincing. Little is left, for instance, of the character of The Willow Song. Some pieces are newly written and don't fit that well into the programme. The interpretation is rather inconsistent: on the one hand the performers use historical pronunciation, which is very praiseworthy. On the other hand, they make use of a nyckelharpa, an instrument which belongs in the tradition of Scandinavia, but whose use in England is highly debatable. The programme of this disc is quite interesting, but the way it has been realised and the performances are disappointing.

With the second disc we enter better-known territory. Clare Wilkinson, Veronika Skuplik, Hille Perl and Andreas Arend [2] perform a programme which includes pieces by well-known composers, such as Henry Purcell, John Blow and Christopher Simpson. Again, the items date from different periods, but there the distance in time is less extreme. Most of the pieces date from the period of around 1600 to the early 18th century, which means that both the renaissance and baroque periods are represented. Far less known - at least outside the British isles - are the traditional items. More than the previous disc, this recording moves between 'art' and tradition. However, the programme is rather inconsistent, in that the connection between the two is rather loose or even absent (unlike that on the disc by the ensemble Prisma, which I reviewed in the previous weblog). It is a mystery to me, what may be the connection between the two violin sonatas by Henry Eccles and Godfrey Finger respectively on the one hand and the traditional songs on the other. As in so many recordings of traditional music, many pueces have been arranged. That is inevitable, especially as traditional tunes are monophonic. Moreover, arrangement is one of the features of traditional music. Unfortunately, here the arrangements include elements which are stylistically at odds with the tenor of this programme. Moreover, several pieces of 'art' music are also arranged. It was a pretty bad idea to add instrumental parts to some of the lute songs included here, such as Robert Johnson's Have you seen the white lily grow. Out of this wood, a text from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, is sung here to the Italian tune known as La Monica and in England as The Queen's Alman, but the text does not really fit the tune too well. The performers are fine artists, but this recording leaves me rather unsatisfied. As one may expect, the pieces of 'art' music that are performed as they were intended by the composers, come off best by far.

The third disc connects traditional music from Britain and Scandinavia. The common subject is midsummer, which is celebrated in both parts of Europe. Considering the character of the programme I was hesitating whether I would review this disc. However, the Quadriga Consort [3] calls itself an 'early music band' and therefore music lovers may expect 'early music'. A look at its website shows that this ensemble has a special interest in traditional music and often performs repertoire on the brink of traditional and 'art' music. As they are from Austria it is remarkable that they give much attention to music from the British isles; two of their discs are devoted to English Christmas music, and they also recorded traditional music from Scotland. As far as I can tell, their performances are pretty idiomatic, which is quite an achievement. That said, the present disc can hardly be considered 'early music'. Only in some cases the liner-notes indicate when a piece has come into existence; I assume that the date of 'composition' is often not known. Fact is that a number of pieces are from the 19th or 20th centuries; one Swedish piece is Idas sommarvisa, a setting of words by Astrid Lindgren used for a movie of 1973. Given the nature of the programme, one wonders why early music instruments such as recorders, viola da gamba and basse de violon are used. Most pieces are arranged, and six items are settings of traditional texts by the ensemble's director, Nikolaus Newerkla. This disc is probably mainly of interest to those who have a special liking of traditional music. Pieces of 'art' music are entirely absent. The singing and playing leave nothing to be desired.

With The Poker Club Band [4] and its disc, called "Tulluchgorum", we return safely to the 18th century, which saw the emergence of a lively interest in music that was characteristic of a particular country or region. It was the time of the Enlightenment, and part of its philosophy embraced a wish to increase knowledge and an emphasis on the importance of learning. At the same time, 'naturalness' was greatly appreciated, and this resulted in an idealization of life at the countryside and its music. Some composers showed interest in traditional music, and Joseph Haydn, one of Europe's most famous composers, took up the challenge of writing accompaniments for keyboard, violin and cello to traditional tunes from Scotland. However, some Scottish musicians considered these arrangements too sophisticated and too far away from what Scottish music was about. This inspired the harpist Masako Art to put together a programme of Haydn's arrangements and some original Scottish songs and perform it in the manner of a 'historical crossover'. The members of the ensemble play period instruments, among them a guitar and a harp, and James Graham, a seasoned singer of traditional music, takes care of the songs. In between we hear some instrumental pieces, all inspired by Haydn. Art's idea has resulted in a most interesting and highly entertaining programme, excellently executed by singer and instrumentalists. It will not only appeal to lovers of tradional music, but also to Haydn fans.

[1] Woven
Wilde Roses
Rubicon RCD1061 (© 2020) details

[2] Ballads within a dream
Clare Wilkinson (soprano), Veronika Skuplik (violin), Hille Perl (viola da gamba), Andreas Arend (theorbo)
deutsche harmonia mundi 19075982082 (© 2020) details

[3] Midsummer - Traditional songs and dance tunes from Scandinavia and Britain
Quadriga Consort
deutsche harmonia mundi 19439858972 (© 2021) details

[4] Tullochgorum - Franz Joseph Haydn: Scottish Songs
The Poker Club Band/Masako Art
BIS 2471 [SACD] (© 2019) details