- Wieland Kuijken in Australia
- The Score
- Saraband Music
- CD reviews
- Jupiter - The Music of Jean Baptiste Forqueray
- Thomas Tallis. - The Complete Works, Vol. 9: Instrumental Music and Songs
- Corrette - Les délices de la solitude
- Harmonia célestis
- Telemann: the virtuoso godfather
- L'ange Marais - Piéces á trois violes
- Viols on the web
- More on temperament!
- Consort workshops in Sydney
- Brooke's Odyssey Part 2
- Miriam Morris in New Zealand
- Concerts in Canberra and Sydney
- Backgammon's Christmas Concert
- Pan Pacific Viola da Gamba gathering
Jupiter - The Music of Jean Baptiste Forqueray
Charivari Agréable Simfonie - SIGCD008 (available from Signum Records)
On this CD, the core members of the regular Charivari Agréable ensemble, Kah-Ming Ng (harpsichord), Susanne Heinrich (pardessus de viole), and Lynda Sayce (theorbo) are joined by Oliver Weber (violin), Rachel Stott (viola), Susanna Pell (basse de viole) and Gareth Deats (cello) to form the Simfonie. The content of this CD is immediately interesting as being orchestral transcriptions of Jean-Baptiste Forqueray's Piéces de viole (1747) – an attribution to Forqueray the younger (rather than his father Antoine) which may raise a few eyebrows. It is pleasing to see Lucy Robinson's long-held and well-supported contention that the authorship of these famous Piéces belongs to the son being sponsored and promoted with this CD. Robinson's liner notes on the Forquerays are informative, with many anecdotes including Jean-Baptiste's incarceration in prison at a jealous Antoine's behest!
It is refreshing to hear these well known Piéces de viole interpreted in a new light, orchestrated for the typically French configuration of five parts for an ensemble including instruments from both the viol and violin family. Led by Heinrich on the pardessus, it is a treat to hear this instrument in such a prominent role and is lovely to hear the individual timbres of violin and pardessus weave around one another in these well-known melodies. Most prominent through this recording is the explicit drama and grandeur that was always implied in the original viol works – as if the effects Forqueray imagined and strove to achieve on the viol alone are here fully realized. The arrangements (done by Ng and Heinrich) are highly imaginative, rich in differing colours and textures and are generally very effective, utilising possibilities of instrumentation to the full.
The original organization of the suites has been broken up into five Divertissements, opening with a majestic Jupiter, with a theme played in unison by all instruments and wild explosions of thunder and lightening. La Silva is a sweet duet between pardessus and violin where the innate (and sometimes difficult to reconcile) differences between the two instruments are exploited as an advantage – occasionally I felt this movement could have possessed a little more elegance. Chaconne La Buisson is given a fullness and joyfulness that verges on bucolic and delightfully concludes the first Divertissement. The second Divertissement features the upper strings with La Bouron achieving a scintillating brilliance difficult (if not impossible) to accomplish on the viol alone. In contrast the bass viol and lower sonorities are featured in the third Divertissement with La Clément, La Sainscy and a particularly beautiful Sarabande La d'aubonne which is left its original setting for bass viol - all the more striking for the sudden change of colour. The final Divertissement opens with a buoyant La Tronchin that well utilises all string colours from bright pardessus to the noble timbre of the bass viol. La Angrave contrasts some deliciously light phrases from violin and pardessus with cutting and dramatic tuttis performed with great verve, while La Du Vaucel is for bass viols and theorbo alone and is taken at a daring slow tempo that works just gorgeously. Chaconne Le Morangis concludes the CD in an arrangement for the group's core members, and provides a brooding yet lilting end that features bass viol, harpsichord and theorbo in turn.
The performances on this recording are typically assured and imaginative for this ensemble, with all instrumentalists producing a fine sound that is very well integrated as a group whenever required, despite the mixture of string families. The quality of the recording is clear, close and personal, with a good balance between instruments. One can imagine being seated in a grand chamber in Versailles while this music is performed in homage to the magnificence of the king. Yet again.
Thomas Tallis. - The Complete Works, Vol. 9: Instrumental Music and Songs
Charivari Agréable, Linda Sayce, Laurence Cummings, Stephen Taylor, Andrew Benson-Wilson, Chapelle du Roi. Signum, SIGCD042.(available from Signum Records)
This is the final offering in this project of recording all of Tallis's works, which appears to have taken some years to complete. For example, tracks 16-18 of Disc 1 were recorded in 1999, as were three of the four tracks of the bonus CD, which contains four tracks which would not fit into an earlier volume, and some of which carry some doubt about their authenticity. But other tracks were recorded in 2004.
Volume 9 contains the viol consort music, as well as items for lute, virginals, organ and voice. On disc 1, 24 tracks are by Tallis, with the final offering being Ye sacred muses by William Byrd, a posthumous tribute to Tallis. One feature of this volume is that some items are recorded in two versions, or in the case of Felix namque, three, namely for lute, virginals and on the bonus disc, organ.
Charivari Agréable open the main CD with five tracks of viol consorts. Two In nomines are familiar to me from Fretwork's CDs, and here are done ample justice with the consort's mellow, rounded tone, excellent ensemble and true English style. A tiny note at the end of the English section of the sleeve notes says that the second In nomine is ``played here with an additional voice part that was created in Tallis's lifetime by an unknown hand. while not authentic, it provides an enrichment to the texture which in performance we found worked well.''
The other consort pieces played on viols are A Solfing Song, Salvator Mundi and a Fantasia, and all make for most enjoyable listening. This is followed by Felix namque II, played on solo lute by Linda Sayce. She has written a separate sleeve note on this piece, which she says is ``a direct transcription of the keyboard original, transposed down a tone, and shorn of its introduction and coda, but otherwise faithful in every detail. However, the density of the writing, the large range, and especially the metrical complexity, all make the work spectacularly ill-suited to the lute.'' It is a piece lasting over 12 minutes, which I found difficult to listen to, and it sounds very much like an academic exercise. However, Ms Sayce does it as much justice as she can, which is a great deal. But it was a relief when Felix namque I followed on virginals, being the first of twelve tracks of keyboard music played variously on virginals or harpsichord by Laurence Cummings, and the last three on organ by Andrew Benson-Wilson. I found Cummings' rendition of Felix namque competent, but less satisfying than I expected. The music did not help, because after an almost lyrical introduction, it became another academic exercise which lasted nearly 11 minutes. The shorter pieces which followed were all thoughtfully performed, and mostly more entertaining than Felix namque. Of the organ pieces, the first two were very short, and the third, a Lesson, was longer but another of Tallis's more academic pieces.
After all the keyboard music comes four tracks of songs with Linda Sayce accompanying counter-tenor Stephen Taylor. These are simple and expressive renditions of some lovely songs. At the end, Charivari Agréable returns to accompany Stephen Taylor in Byrd's tribute to Tallis, and a few tracks before, in When shall my sorrowful sighling slack. For me, these were some of the loveliest tracks on the CD. However, the tracklist wrongly notes track 20 as being accompanied by lute instead of by the viols.
The way this CD is programmed highlights the differences between large-scale projects which document a composer's work, and one-off CDs which are designed for listening and entertainment. Compare this to a Fretwork CD, and the various combinations of instruments would be alternated nicely, giving contrast of keys, texture and timbre. While in no way unpleasant listening (apart from the drier pieces), keeping all of the music for consort, then keyboard, then voice together makes it excellent for studying the works of Tallis, but less suitable for casual listening.
The sleeve notes amount to thirty pages, but again suffer from this being a long-term project. John Milsom's notes (plus Linda Sayce's short appendix) are in English, German and French. Added are vocal texts and a section at the end on the performers. But with so many tracks, most pieces are glossed over pretty quickly. It is all pretty standard, but the section on the instruments played only covers the keyboard instruments and the lute. Not a word about what Charivari Agréable uses, nor the names of the individuals who make up that group. On the tracklist at the back, the performers are noted by letters, so you have to keep referring to p. 28 of the notes to see the list.
Volume 9 is good value, with Disc 1 coming in at 75 minutes and 15 seconds, and the bonus disc taking 26 minutes, 44 seconds. The cover picture is mostly obscured by the text but appears to be a photo of carvings of angels from a Renaissance church. Another point where information is lacking.
To have a record of all of Tallis's music, and in particular his instrumental music and songs is very valuable. I have not listened to the previous 8 volumes, but if they are of similar standard, then this project is valuable indeed. And these are excellent works from their time, but I can't help feeling that unless you are seriously studying this music, there could be other recordings which will give you more fun than this if you are only looking for listening pleasure
Corrette - Les délices de la solitude
Les Voix Humaines ATMA Baroque ACD2 2307 (available from Amazon)
With a charming cover for lovers of cats, this CD devoted to the music of Corrette gathers together the whimsically named les délices de la solitude (six sonates for `cello, viol or bassoon with continuo Op. 20) and the concerto Le phénix for four bass instruments and continuo. Joined by bassoonists Kate van Orden and Mathieu Lussier, Les Voix Humaines manage to give an extraordinary degree of vivacity and variety to Corrette's music which can, let's face it, be somewhat uninspiring if not dull in less creative hands. Much of this CD's success springs from Susie Napper's imaginative arrangements which vary the instrumentation between two and seven players, creating a diverse and unusual palette of colours for the listener.
Each sonate is given a different instrumentation: Sonate I for two viols, Sonate II two `celli, Sonate III two bassoons solo, Sonate IV one bassoon, Sonate V shared between two viols, `cello and bassoon and Sonate VI two viols solo. The continuo group is also highly varied, ranging from just `cello and theorbo to bassoon/cello, double-bass, theorbo and harpsichord. Collectively, the effect is very refreshing as each sonate has its own unique timbre. The order of the sonates is also rearranged (V, VI, IV, II, III, I) is a way that makes them flow in a more interesting and balanced way as a whole, and it is difficult to imagine a more successful way in which these works may be presented. There could not be a better opener than the exhilarating Preludio of Sonate V, followed by the contrast of two viols solo in the delightfully performed Allegro Moderato from Sonate VI which moves to one bassoon with continuo in Sonate IV, immediately perking up the listener's ears.
In addition to the interest given to the collection by Napper's arrangements, the best of Corrette shines through in movements like the Bruits de chasse in Sonate IV and the final Allegro of Sonate II. The ladies of Les Voix Humaines perform with the fine ensemble ravishing sounds that we have come to expect from them and are ably joined by van Orden and Lussier. Intonation from the bassoons is consistently accurate, and if we hear some clicking from the keys in Sonate III, it is unavoidable and a part of the faithful sound reproduction of a well-recorded CD with excellent acoustic presence and life-like detail.
Even artists of this calibre could not work miracles with the musically lacklustre Le Phénix, but this should not deter the lover of French music from adding this unusual little gem to their collection.
Telemann: the virtuoso godfather
These two recent (2004 and 2006 respectively) releases from Charivari Agréable canvass some of the Italian sonata repertoire of the seventeenth century and works by Telemann and his godsons Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach and Georg Philipp Kress. The core Charivari Agréable grouping of Kah-Ming Ng (keyboards) and Susanne Heinrich (viols) is joined by Jamie Savan (cornetto), Oliver Webber (viola) and Lynda Sayce (chittarone, lute and guitar) for Harmonia célestis and Rachel Moss (flute) and Reiko Ichise (viols) for the Telemann disc.
Harmonia célestis is a wonderful collection of small ensemble sonatas from seventeenth-century Italy with some well-known works (such as the Cima trio sonata from the Concerti ecclesiastici and the Cavalli canzon from Musiche sacre) balancing works and, in some cases, composers, I did not know (for example, Terzi's contraponto on Vestiva i colli, for which I knew neither composer nor work – and a fine work it is, too, not to mention beautifully played). The CD contains several works on ground basses, including two longish tracks where several works are blended to produce a pastiche chaconne and pastiche bergasmasca. The recording is characterised by the usual Charivari Agréable attention to sensitive scoring: bowed strings, three of the viol family and three of the violin family, are joined at various times by two keyboards, four plucked strings and two cornetts (including a beautiful Delmas mute cornett). It is particularly engaging that a cornett is used for some of the upper parts in these sonatas – as the cornett gains more proficient exponents, this is becoming more common that hearing a recorder and violin, two violins or some other combination in these works, for which a cornett was surely always intended. Both CDs are also characterised by attention to detail in the continuo parts, both in terms of scoring and execution.
The effect of the whole recording is one of quite persuasive suavity, and the sound is rather like that obtained by another group I am very fond of, Jean Tubery's La Fenice. Unlike the various La Fenice recordings, however, I found Charivari's approach to these sonatas a little too safe – there's no aggressive articulation from the cornett (such as Jean Tubery himself would use) and no grand gestures. The context for this music is one of grander gestures than these performers allow, and I would have preferred as great a concentration on the sweetness of the sound as an exaggeration of some of the more capricious elements of this music.
I found some of the same issues in the Telemann disc, which also compares interestingly with Les voix humaines' disc of Telemann, where the featured soloist is Barthold Kujiken. Two works are in common, the Quadro in G major (TWV43:G12) and the Quadro in G major (TWV43:G10), and Charivari's disc is filled out with the solo sonata for gamba (TWV40:1) and works by Kress and C.P.E. Bach, while Les voix humaines' is a Telemann-only disc, where the quadri are complemented by some of the canonical sonatas (played by the two viols) and fantaisies for solo flute. Charivari's disc meets Telemann's culture on its own terms by giving C.P.E. Bach's arioso for violin and cembalo and Kress's trio for transverse flute and viola d'amore to a viol with wonderful success.
Charivari's disc is immaculately played and imaginatively programmed – I particularly enjoyed C.P.E. Bach's odd fantasia on Jesu meines Lebens Leben and the Kress works, while slighter than the Telemann, were interesting if even just from a context-setting perspective. Rachel Moss's flute is, however, a little characterless next to Barthold Kujiken's, and many of the interpretations seem more prepared to play up the conventionality of Telemann's music in particular than to dwell on the eccentricities it shares with Kress and Bach: this willingness to engage with the odd side of Telemann is a real strength of Les Voix Humaines' recording (and, indeed their playing) and make what would otherwise be uneventful eighteenth-century chamber music into something more.
But this is mere quibbling. These are really stunning CDs and, from where I sit, it seems Charivari can do no wrong.
L'ange Marais - Piéces á trois violes
with Wieland Kuijken and Les Voix Humaines ATMA ACD22374 (available from CDUniverse)
This is a fascinating CD giving much food for thought. As one would expect with such a line-up, this is a recording of consistently superb standards in terms of the gamba playing. The sound is beautiful, produced in such a way to give all the detail of articulation together with lovely natural resonance.
For me the highlight of the recording is the Tombeau pour Monsieur de Lully played by Wieland. As I told him during his recent visit to Australia, I have never heard such beautiful gamba playing. His sound has a richness and beauty and he plays a depth of feeling and understanding of the French genre that, for me is unsurpassed. It was doubly interesting to return to the recording after a day of observing Wieland's master classes in Melbourne where we had the privilege of the master's insights and teaching of Piéces de viole.
Les Voix Humaines are a duo of great empathy born of a long and fruitful partnership. They have produced many CD's of an unfailingly high standard, and, whilst Wieland's solo playing is a benchmark to aspire to, Susie Napper and Margaret Little might be seen in a similar light as a duo. The fascinating aspect of this particular recording is how the collaboration works. If I have one quibble about Les Voix Humaines, it is their tendency to dwell on the minutiae of phrasing and gesture sometimes to the detriment of the direction and larger structure of the music. This is certainly not the case in this CD. Wieland's playing on the other hand can sound deceptively simple and is always direct and rhythmical with freedom generating within the pulse of the music. The mix of the three players, well supported by Nigel North, theorbo and Eric Milnes, harpsichord, the gamba players is compatible and ultimately satisfying.
A must for all gamba players!