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CLASSICAL  December 2009

CLASSICAL December 2009

Subject:

Best of 2009

From:

Bert Bailey <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 28 Dec 2009 16:07:40 -0800

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text/plain

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I strayed from my main interest in 'classical' about three or four
years ago now, and veered toward post-bop jazz from the 1950s onward. 
That began with needing to hear a CD of rediscovered live recordings by
Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, and from there I went on to Art Blakey
and his considerable progeny, and a few detours to Steve Lacy, Dexter
Gordon, Andrew Hill (who studied under Hindemith, btw), Ari Brown, Woody
Shaw, Joe Henderson, Archie Shepp, Billy Harper and a few other notables.
I'd sometimes revisit a few classical favourites (Martinu, Holmboe,
Bach, Walton, Rozsa) but have now been firmly drawn back, not so much
to my usual wilds of contemporary composers as to the orderliness of
late Baroque.  Three Buxtehude trio releases by Naxos drew me in, along
with the harpsichord wonders of Seixas and a few volumes of the Naxos
series of Scarlatti sonatas.  Plenty has also been in the trio sonata
genre, which is more or less new to me.

Anyway, to cut this short, an MCML round-up of the year's musical
discoveries might be timely; I'm going to venture there in hopes others
may follow.

Here, in sum, are some of my best late Baroque 'discoveries' for 2009:

* Seixas, Carlos (1704 - 1742) Works for Harpsichord, Vol 1 Naxos
8.557459: Most pleasing late Baroque find of the year; my review was
distributed on MCML earlier this month.  It's a pity the series seems
to have stalled.  But if more people buy copies of Volume 1, maybe they'll
see it's worth continuing the series.  Seixas definitely deserves more
attention.

* Locatelli, Pietro (d.  1764): 10 Sonatas Op.8.  (The Locatelli Trio
{Elizabeth Wallfisch, violin; Richard Tunnicliffe, cello; Paul Nicholson,
harpsichord} w.Rachel Isserlis, 2nd violin.  2 CDs -- T.t.: 115'35' -
Hyperion CDD 22057) This, by contrast, is my most surprising late Baroque
discovery.  All highly melodic, with most impressive harmonies.  Wallfisch
is a greater artist than I'd realized, or maybe she just excels in this
material.  The interplays are sometimes jaw-dropping; also, there's more
than a smattering of the gratuitously florid, or at least Wallfisch
brings that out.  I even imagine Locatelli as something of a Paganini
of his day, yet with plenty of form or discipline.  I realize that these
are scholars who know their historically-informed-performance onions so
this will require revising my notion of the late Baroque.  For those who
don't know: though Italian, Locatelli spent his mature years in Holland.
Unless I'm projecting it, this more north-European dimension shows in
the clean or tight forms, the overall lucidity of these compositions'
interweaving lines: well-controlled passion, not quite as rough-and-tumble
as I'd expected.  Four of the ten sonatas, by the way, involve a quartet:
a second violin, along with the usual cello and keyboard - and the
harmonies get even more exciting.  Maybe not quite as transfixing as
Bach, yet he's not that far off.  Sound-wise, the recording is exemplary.

* Mascitti, Michele (c.1664-1760): Sonatas for 3 Instruments Op.1 #'s 7
& 9 and Op.4 #'s 9-14.  {Ensemble 'Benedetto Marcello': violins, cello
& harpsichord.  Nuova Era CD 7279} Trios again.  Not of the highest
order, but there's plenty of enjoyment here.  The thematic developments
can be oddly brief, but there are some lovely rondos and fugues, and the
slower movements have considerable elegance.  One minor grumble: I know
I've been losing my hearing in certain registers, but am not sure if
that accounts for why I can hardly make out the harpsichord on this
recording.  Still, though an obscure composer, this CD is an easy
recommendation.

* Boismortier, Joseph Bodin (d.  1755): Concerti for Five Flutes Op.15,
#'s 1-6.  {The Soloists of Concert Spirituel.  Tt: 49'35'} Naxos 8.553639
'Glad to get my hands on my own copy of this, which has long been my
favourite Boismortier recording -- more than his compositions combining
the flute with other wind instruments, strings, etc.  Really an inspired
set of works for solo flutes; and ditto for the recording.  Up there
with Martinu in use of winds to express sheer joy.  This instrumental
configuration requires very special talents to overcome the challenges
of monotony of sound or repetitiveness of themes, but Boismortier via
this particular group pulls it off impressively.

* Blasco de Nebra, Manuel: Sonatas, Op.1 #'s 1, 2 & 5; Sonatas III, V
& VI; Pastorelas I, IV & VI. {Carole Cerasi, harpsichord & fortepiano.
T.t.: 76'21' Metronome MET CD 1064} Was not pleased to see the artist's
name emblazoned large above the composer's, but I've enjoyed this music
nonetheless.  It's quirky, and not truly Baroque according to my yardstick
that sets JS Bach's death in 1750 as the end of the late period; Blasco
de Nebra was born in that year.  Still, there's something quintessentially
post-Scarlatti and baroque-like about this, which presents his works via
either harpsichord or fortepiano.  A second peculiarity is that Cerasi
often plays the pieces as if against the notion of 'flow.' There's
something stiff, hesitant and deliberately elaborate or intricate-sounding
about either the music per se or her approach to it.  Sort of a Thelonious
Monk for the 18th century, including abrupt halts and pregnant spaces.
I like it, and some of it I like a lot, but on these two counts it is
decidedly a 'smelly cheese' fondness and qualified recommendation.  (I
see Naxos has a 3-vol series of his sonatas.  I may yet get around to
them, although they're played on the conventional pianoforte.)

* Marcello, Benedetto (d 1739): Six Sonatas for Cello and Continuo.
{Anthony **Pleeth**, cello.  Richard Webb, cello continuo.  Christopher
Hogwood, harpsichord.  T.t.: 43'11'} Despite Hogwood's presence, the
continuo is often provided by the second cello.  Traditional fare --
compared, say, to Locatelli -- from the world of Corelli, Albinoni and
Vivaldi.  Rich in counterpoint, dissonance and well-shaped melodic lines,
it's finely balanced music throughout, although sometimes a bit chilly
or impersonal.  Pleeth's treatment of slow movements sometimes often
strikes me as more solemn than elegant or graceful; I'd like to hear a
less refined approach.  Not especially a recording one's likely to get
passionate about, but it's certainly top-drawer music and Marcello's
another interesting period 'discovery.'

* Vivaldi, The Complete Sonatas for Cello & Continuo {L'Ecole d'Orphee
Ensemble: Susan Sheppard, cello; Lucy Carolan, harpsichord; Jane Coe,
cello continuo.  Astoria CD 99001/2 - 2 CDs} Have just begun to gain
acquaintance with this, but it strikes me as another set of strong
repertoire, even if the reverberant recording quality (...or is it
the playing?) isn't as lucid as the Locatelli.  Though it's early
for a thumbs-down, I suspect other versions might be worth pursuing.

Am now looking forward to hearing Wallfisch with her group Convivium
playing Leclair, after borrowing from my library an exquisite Chandos
CD of his violin sonatas (Simon Standage with Nicholas Parle on harpsichord).
Talk about musical felicity, this is full of gorgeous, very memorable
tunes.  It's already begun to dispel or correct my previous prejudice
that French baroque, as against Italian, might be a touch effete.

Comments and corrections welcome.

An important tangent: thanks and congratulations to Dave Lampson for his
years-long work keeping up this MCMList.

Happy holidays!

Bert Bailey, in Ottawa

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