Notes and Editorial Reviews
FLIGHTS OF FANTASY: Early Italian Chamber Music
Monica Huggett, cond; Irish Baroque O Ch Sol (period instruments)
AVIE AV2202 (78:53)
Sonata decimaquarta à 4. Sonata Seconda. Sonata decimal sesta.
Sonata à 6.
Passacaglio à 4.
Harmonia Artificiosa Partia VI.
Sonata à 5.
Sonata à 5.
Early Italian Chamber Music
, says it all. This collection of largely mid 17th-century music demonstrates that theatrical audacity, contrapuntal mastery, and seemingly inexhaustible gift for interesting melody that so many composer-musicians of the Italian States produced for their noble and churchly patrons. The Biber may be the odd man out here, but its inclusion is understandable. As a demonstration piece for early Baroque violinists it can hardly be bettered in context.
Last year I reviewed a release of very similar content by the Ensemble Clematis (Ricercar 285), which evidently regarded this kind of material as “Very Serious Music—meaning that it must be played slowly, with metrical regularity, little dynamic contrast, and almost no figures. It doesn’t help that spotlighted violinist Stéphanie de Failly has a wiry, unpleasant tone, nor that the ensemble’s director, Leonardo Garciá-Alarcón, chooses to accompany most selections from the portative organ, with lengthy, dark chords.”
Nothing could be further from the approach adopted by Monica Huggett and her Irish Baroque Orchestra. Continuo is always firm, organ or bowed instruments supplying a harmonic underpinning, and with a good use where appropriate of strummed chords on harp and theorbo that inflect and accent the rhythm. String tone is neither velvety from a richly reverberant acoustic, nor thin and undernourished, but attractively broad and perfectly even. Both fast and slow vibratos are applied sparingly for color, with secure intonation and transparency between all voices making both fugal movements (such as the one that leads off Cavalli’s Sonata à 6) and vertically harmonized ones (Marini’s Passacaglio à 4) a joy to hear—rather than an exercise in waiting for the next careless near-pitch to fall. Tempos are varied, while avoiding the extremes of sluggishness and manic display for display’s sake. Technically proficient violin solos, such as those featured throughout Biber’s
Harmonia Artificiosa Partia VI
, are tossed off without a hitch; slower ones boast a welcome degree of inflected tonal panache. The one cut of keyboard music included here, Frescobaldi’s Canzona terza, is treated with an appropriately greater degree of rhythmic flexibility that centers on cadences, note density, and harmonic shifts.
If you haven’t guessed by now, this release is very successful. It captures both the letter and spirit of this vivacious, demonstrative music. Engineering is good, too, with a good balance within sections, and between the
and soloists. This is also one of the few early orchestral recordings where the continuo makes itself heard as well as felt. Throw in a truly generous album length, as well; in short, buy it.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Canzon (sonata) ŕ 6 by Pier Francesco Cavalli
Venue: St. Peter's Church, Drogheda
Length: 5 Minutes 29 Secs.
Be the first to review this title