Freshness of springtime sounds

     There has been a continuing spate of superb early music recordings this spring. As always, this is a rich and competitive genre with long term growth potential. Among the best: Tomás Luis de Victoria: Requiem 1605, and 26 other sacred choral works, The Sixteen/Harry Christophers, Coro 16089.

     2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Tomás Luis de Victoria. This remarkable Spaniard, perhaps the most outstanding composer of his time, epitomized the emotion and fervor of Renaissance Europe. The long established tradition of devotion to the Virgin Mary resulted in his exquisite Marian motets and the glorious Missa Alma Redemptoris Mater. The performances find a clearly spiritual power by layering voices into clouds of sound which reverberate with the colors of sunlight. The subtle nuances of acoustic voicing when tracking long decrescendos, is stunning. Essential for audiophiles.

         From the Russell Collection in Edinburgh, John Kitchen, harpsichord, Delphian 3 single CDs. British scholar-musician John Kitchen’s absorbing survey of historical instruments in the great collections housed in Scotland’s oldest concert hall, dating from 1763, is a totally classical music equivalent of Masterpiece Theatre.

     One disc one, Kitchen plays music by Louis Couperin (the less well-known Couperin), Anon, Haydn, John Blow, Froberger, Bach, Pasquini, William Byrd, Frescobaldi, Scarlatti and even Felix Mendelssohn. Each composer’s music is expertly played on a different instrument in the collection, and each is played with noticeable variations of emotive energy and rhythmic freedom.

     On disc two, Kitchen plays music by Handel, Tomkins, Blow, Purcell JCF Bach, Rossi, Graupner et al. on harpsichord, chamber organ, spinet, virginal, clavichord and square piano. On disc three, Kitchen plays transcriptions of Handel overtures on a classic 1755 harpsichord by Jacob Kirckman, built during the apex of English harpsichord building.

     Heinrich Schuetz: Matthew’s Passion, Ars Nova Copenhagen, Paul Hillier, DaCapo 8.226094. Schuetz’s immense narrative comes starkly to life in an austere Danish performance that seems to be commenting on the 21st century in terms of its musical integrity. It’s very much like the musical equivalent of three-dimensional chess, motion happening on intersecting vertical lines rather than on straight lines. The sound is astounding. The stare of the cover image, Karl Schmidt-Rotluff’s St. Matthaeus (1912), is hard to avoid.

     Johann Friedrich Meister (ca. 1638-1697): Il giardino del piacere, Musica Antiqua Köln Berlin Classics. Out of the closet comes a newly discovered recording from Musica Antiqua Köln, the legendary ensemble led by Reinhard Goebel which made more than 30 recordings for DG/Archiv and helped revolutionize both the early music scene and the classical music industry. The ensemble was dissolved in 2006, after 30 fruitful years.

     The treasure is a 2004 tape in the West German Radio archives of trio sonatas by a thoroughly remote predecessor of Bach. His music is fresh and feline, small gems, just the thing to cheer off the last vestiges of winter to get ready for the return of sunny California.

     Jean-Philippe Rameau (tr. Hesse): Les Surprises de l’Amour, Monique Zanetti: soprano/Stephan MacLeod: bass-baritone/Ensemble A Deux Violes Esgales Alpha. These contemporary transcriptions of Rameau’s gentle, somewhat removed ode cum opera to decadent France (Madame de Pommpadour played two roles–both heroines–at the premiere in in Versailles in 1748) is just the thing to transcribe for two lutes and harpsichord. This may be a surprise to those who know only his Hollywoodish big operas, music so gentle and sighing.

     Hess the transcriber was a virtuoso viol player, also and bizarrely simultaneously a pupil of both Marin Marais (of Tous les matins du monde fame) and his rival Forqueray. Hess achieved this feat by resorting to a false name–until he  was exposed during a musical “joust” organized by the two masters, both vaunting the qualities of their outstanding pupil!

     Bach: Concertos with Diverse Instruments,Vol. 5, Café Zimmermann/Pablo Valetti, concertmaster, Alpha. In Bach’s time there were no permanent orchestras. Café Zimmermann has brilliantly recreated the spirit of these orchestras, stipulating that each musician (recruited from among the best on the European baroque scene) fully express themselves as an individual among equals. The result is a sort of bustling virtuosity in which no nook or cranny of Bach’s genius goes unexplored. It could run an aerobic workout. 

     The penultimate (meaning one more’s to come) installment in this outstanding series is also the first recording of Café Zimmermann in such a large formation, and the result is some really big Bach. The repertoire is outstanding: Orchestral Suite No. 3 (with the lovely Air), Harpsichord Concerto in F minor, Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 (with lots of violas and viols) and Concerto for 3 Harpsichords in D minor.

     Forma Antiqva: Concerto Zapico, Aarón Zapico: harpsichord, organ/Pablo Zapico: baroque guitar/Daniel Zapico: theorbo, Music by Domenico Scarlatti, Roncalli, Kapsberger, Anon, Murcia, Ximenez, De Nebre, Ortiz and Valente, Winter & Winter.

     The three brothers that make up Forma Antiqva were inspired to take the family name for their ensemble by Francesca Caccini, called La Cecchina. This strong-willed and enterprising woman, began her musical career in the 17th century under the family banner, Concerto Caccini, with her father, stepmother, sister and brother. Sounds like a remake of Trapeze.

     The music is slightly distracted by lingerings over moments of particular beauty with bass presence of unexpected size and shape. If you can imagine it, Concerto Zapico’s intent is to make the basso continuo in their midst the main protagonist. If that’s their thing, objective accomplished: There’s definitely something antic going on in their hay.

By Laurence Vittes

Published by on May 2011. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Marketplace Guide, Two Sisters Bookmart. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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