Notes and Editorial Reviews
A CAVALIER’S TOUR
Concerto Grosso Berlin
BERLIN CLASSICS 30042BC (77:43)
Overture in g.
Rondeau à 7 in C.
Sonata in C for Two Cellos.
Concerto in C for Oboe and Two Violins.
Concerto in a for
Concerto in D for Two Violins and Bassoon.
SInfonia in D.
“Alexander’s Feast” Concerto Grosso.
Castor et Pollux
: Tristes apprêts páles flambeaux
To its credit, the theme behind this album—that of a wealthy, young man taking the Grand Tour in Europe, probably in the 1720s—is quickly abandoned in bassoonist Thomas Rink’s liner notes. It wouldn’t do, as some of this music is earlier, and some of it later by a decade or more. A secondary theme Rink promotes, linking all the composers to Handel, doesn’t work either, but it’s a slighter better fit. Roman did imitate Handel, after all, and de Fesch played in his orchestra in 1746, though the Concerto on this album is much earlier and owes a great deal to Vivaldi. However, Rameau only possessed a few of Handel’s scores, and Fux apparently had little or no interest in him.
What we have on this album instead is simply a grab bag of Baroque works: concertos, sonatas, sinfonias, overture suites, and a French air, representing various musical traditions at work over a roughly 50-year period in Western and Central Europe. It’s an interesting selection for the most part, with three claimed recording premieres (Roman, Corrette, de Fesch). Among the highlights are Roman’s Overture—in three movements; an Italian proto-symphony—and Fux’s very French
Rondeau à 7
, a more graceful performance than either Goodman/Brandenburg Consort on Helios 55020, or Harnoncourt/Vienna Concentus Musicus, currently on Apex 4604492. Telemann’s curious concerto, with its bassoon switching between soloist and continuo playing, is stylistically all over the place, with Vivaldi, the nascent
, and a Polish folk influence assuming places at the table.
Of Vivaldi and his pair of imitators here, Avondano and de Fesch, it’s the last-named who offers the most interesting work. The
largo e spicato
central movement of his Concerto for Three Violins contrasts dotted orchestral textures with flowing violin lines, while in the finale the three soloists trade off thematic material, and regularly interrupt the ripieno’s proceedings.
This is the leaderless Concerto Grosso Berlin’s first album, though they’re not a new group on the early-music scene. Founded in 1995 by five of their number, they’re a flexibly sized ensemble that performs 17th- and 18th-century music on period and period copy instruments. Their stylistic approach is a hybrid. On the one hand, they favor very fast and very slow tempos, much in the manner of Il Giardino Armonico and similar groups. Textures are clear, and phrasing is broad, but unlike Il Giardino Armonico, they do this without any accentuation, either to emphasize rhythms, or for thematic structure. The Fux serves as an example, with an excellent violin soloist who plays far too reticently, especially when contrasted with the likes of Andrew Manze and Robert Mealy. Curiously, the two cellists in the Corrette Sonata are a lot more expressive. Whether this is an example of different leaders for different works, or a perceived dichotomy between music for public and private enjoyment, I can’t say, but the Corrette is more the exception than the rule.
The use of lute and harpsichord as individual continuo instruments in the slow movement of the Roman is a poetic and scholarly choice, and filling out the rests with brief, stylish improvisations makes good sense. On the other hand, it’s curious hearing very German sounding winds in the Rameau, and a soprano soloist who sings well, but with little feeling for the French language. The sound is a mix, too: good for the orchestra overall, but better balanced for some of the soloists (the violins, oboe) than for others who are sometimes difficult to hear (bassoon, cello, soprano).
This is a reasonably good album, but it accumulates enough negatives that if it were a recording instead of standard Baroque classics, I’d make a series of other recommendations. As it is, there are certainly better versions of the Handel out there, notably Pinnock/English Concert (Archiv 415291); and the full
Castor et Pollux
is to be preferred, especially in the stylish Christie/Les Arts Florissants (Harmonia Mundi 901435) version. For the rest, if you’re interested in any of these works, there’s little competition, and the Fux is worth it.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Rondeau à 7 by Johann Joseph Fux
Concerto Grosso Berlin
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