Yo Adrian!

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on January 28, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

Marvelous madrigals in the old style

The Flemish composer Adrian Willaert (1490-1562) deserves wider recognition. A student of Jean Mouton, he made his name as a singer in the service of Cardinal Ippolito I d’Este and reached the height of his career as maestro di cappella at San Marco in Venice. Willaert was one of the key figures in the ascendency of 16th century Venetian music and his students included such luminaries as Ciprian de Rore and Andrea Gabrieli. Many of Willaert’s sacred works were ground breakers in the development of music for double choir, so it’s no surprise that what Willaert we have on recordings is mostly sacred music.

But wait, there’s more! Willaert also composed chansons and madrigals and it’s his collection of Musica Nova madrigals that we have on this excellent recording by Singer Pur. Written around 1540, the Musica Nova collection is comprised of 25 madrigals that are scored for four to seven voices and are set to texts by Petrarch. This is serious music and showcase Willaert’s remarkably expressive style. Willaert’s writing is subtle and filled with delicate shifts in color and rhythm that draw the listener in. This is dense music and its subtleties require careful attention. They also require careful attention from the singers and that’s what makes these winning performances.

Singer Pur, haven't heard a bad recording from them yet

Singer Pur, a German group comprised of a soprano, three tenors, baritone, bass (the male singers were all choir boys in the Regensburger Domspatzen) and, for this recording, a guest countertenor sing brilliantly. I’ve become a big fan of the ensemble since I first heard their Factor Orbis (Ars Musici 232226) a terrific program of Renaissance sacred music. This music must be sung with precision and Singer Pur consistently delivers the goods with performances that are highly musical and technically polished. Take these madrigals in small servings because they are rich indeed, but the rewards are enormous. If there is any justice this recording will catapult this ensemble to greater recognition and set them on a path that explores more of the lesser-known madrigalists. For that matter, I hope they also take a shot at Willaert’s marvelous motets too.

Best of 2009

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

Lots of early music recordings came my way in 2009. Here are my favorites for the year.

CD of the year

More Divine Than Human, Music from the Eton Choirbook
The Choir of Christ Church, Oxford
Stephen Darlington, director
(Avie Records)
This is how the Eton Choirbook was intended to be heard.

J. S.Bach: Orchestral Suites for a Young Prince
Ensemble Sonnerie
Monica Huggett, violin and director
(Avie Records)
Refreshing new takes on old favorites.

J. S. Bach: Preludi ai corali
Quartetto Italiano di Viole da Gamba; Tölzer Knabenchor
(Winter & Winter GmbH)
Gorgeous strings blending with treble choir.

G.F. Handel: Clori, Tirsi e Fileno
Roberta Invernizzi, Yetzabel Arias Fernández, sopranos; Romina Basso, alto
La Risonanza
Fabio Bonizzoni, director
(Glossa Music)
The newest release in the brilliantly performed complete Handel cantata series.

Nicola Popora: Arias
Karina Gauvin, soprano
Il Complesso Barocco
Alan Curtis, director
(ATMA Classique)
Perhaps this is the recording that finally puts Gauvin at the top of the soprano heap.

Salomone Rossi: The Song of Solomon and Instrumental Music
Profeti Della Quinta
Ensemble Muscadin
(Pan Classics)
It’s about time an ensemble finally made a truly excellent recording of Rossi’s sacred music.

Alessandro Scarlatti: Messa per il santissimo natale
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi: Messa di s. emidio

Concerto Italiano
Rinaldo Alessandrini, director
Two major additions to the repertoire and nobody performs this music better than Alessandrini and crew.

Song of Songs
Stile Antico
(Harmonia Mundi)
All the buzz about Stile Antico is true—reminds of the records the Tallis Scholars used to make before all of their recordings started to sound the same.

Georg Philipp Telemann: Telemann and the Baroque Gypsies
Ensemble Caprice
Matthias Maute, recorder and director
Sensational performances by Maute and company in a lively program.

200 Years of Music at Versailles
Various artists
(Centre Musical de Baroque de Versailles)
A miraculous collection. Would have liked some music by the great clavecinists, but easily the greatest survey of the French Baroque available.

Haydn at the Hayden

Posted in News with tags , , , , on December 15, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

"One of these days, bang, zoom, right to the moon!"

How many Haydn operas do you know? How many Haydn operas have you ever seen on stage? If you are in New York you are going to have a rare opportunity to answer yes to both questions when The Gotham Chamber Opera presents Haydn’s comic opera Il mondo della luna (The World on the Moon). The unusual venue for the performances (five are scheduled during January 19 – 28th, 2010) is the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, American Museum of Natural History.

The Hayden Planetarium? Here’s what the press release says about the production, “For the first time ever, the Hayden Planetarium will be transformed into an intimate opera house using a 180-degree dome and projections courtesy of NASA. Taking advantage of breakthroughs in laser and light technology, Il mondo della luna will fuse live opera and stargazing, immersing the audience in a completely new kind of theatrical event – an out-of-this-world experience for opera lovers, science buffs, and theatergoers alike.”

The production is directed by Diane Paulus, whose brilliant modern-dress setting of Monteverdi’s L’orfeo was one of the high points of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Monteverdi opera cycle a few years ago, so this should be a gem of a production.

For more information and tickets, be sure to visit Gotham Chamber Opera.

The Italian Green Mountain Boy

Posted in News with tags , , , on December 3, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

2010 marks the 400th anniversary of Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespro della beata Vergine, the most spectacularly beautiful collection of hymns, psalms and setting of the Magnificat ever written. (For those keeping score, Monteverdi actually wrote two settings of the Magnificat that can be used in the Vespers).

The Vespro della beata Vergine is probably my favorite work in the repertoire and I pay homage with this blog’s name. Monteverdi is a touchstone composer for me. I’ve written about his operas in Time Out New York, will be writing a feature about the Vespers in an upcoming issue of Early Music America magazine, and even managed to visit his tomb in the Basilica S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice.

You have to search a bit to find it

As you can tell, Monteverdi is my boy so I don’t recommend performances or recordings of his music lightly. Attention must be paid to the cleverly named Green Mountain Project, (if you speak Italian you’ll know that Monteverdi translates to “Green Mountain”), a collective of “A” list early music specialists who will be presenting what may will be the first performance of the Vespro della beata Vergine in the anniversary year. If you are in the New York city area, I strongly recommend attending.

Full details can be found at

Where’s Papa?

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on November 23, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

"Papa" Haydn

I adore Haydn—“Papa” Haydn, as Mrs. Nettles, my high school music teacher, taught me. I always thought it would be cool to have Haydn as my papa. We’d go down to the park throw the ball around and then he’d head home and write a string quartet. Parent-teacher-night? No problem, Haydn would meet with my music teacher and then show her a thing or two about sonata form. Many of my “sophisticated” music friends take Haydn for granted. I guess his music isn’t ugly enough. That’s pretty much how they feel about Vivaldi, too—I guess it has something to do with them being prolific. As if writing more means less. The flipside is true for me though: I wish Elliott Carter was half as prolific as he is.

It’s fitting that one of the final recordings of the Haydn anniversary year (the 200th anniversary of his 1809 death) is Die Schöpfung (The Creation), one of Haydn’s last works. René Jacobs, the RIAS Kammerchor and Freiburger Barockorchester with soprano Julia Kleiter, tenor Maximilian Schmitt and baritone Johannes Weisser do the honors on a new recording for Harmonia Mundi.

Haydn’s Inspiration

At the end of 1791, Haydn attended the Handel Commemoration in Westminster Abbey and heard the master’s works performed on a large scale. Haydn heard Handel done in the big English style, with hundreds of performers on stage, and was floored. His Italian biographer, Giuseppe Carpani wrote, “Haydn confessed to me that when he heard the music of Hendl [sic] in London, he was struck as if he had been put back to the beginning of his studies and had known nothing up to that moment. He meditated on every note and drew from those most learned scores the essence of true musical grandeur.”

The Baron van Swieten and The Creation

Enter the Baron Gottfried van Swieten. He was the guiding spirit of the Gesellschaft der Associirten Cavaliere, an association of noble music lovers who organized concerts of large-scale choral works in Vienna. So yes, Handel’s works were played in Haydn’s Vienna (sung in German), but were frequently re-orchestrated by Mozart and contemporaries to bring them up the standards of late 18th century orchestration. Mozart’s wrong-headed mash of Messiah is the classic example—has a great composer ever committed a hate crime to equal this? Swieten had been nudging Haydn to write an English oratorio (even before Haydn’s journey to England) in the “spirit and manner of Handel.”

Thoughts of an English-style oratorio had been swirling in Haydn’s head since 1794, when he began an oratorio based on a 17th century treatise proclaiming England’s natural right to sea sovereignty (that cries out for a musical treatment, doesn’t it?). The English impresario Johann Peter Salomon, was also thinking about a Haydn English oratorio, and it was Salomon who obtained the libretto for The Creation, probably at the end of Haydn’s second visit to England. Papa brought the libretto back with him from England and showed it to Swieten. Swieten adapted it (he said he wanted to “clothe the English poem in German garb”) and kept pushing Haydn to write the oratorio.

Much of Swieten’s text is an adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the epic poem that became known in Germany in the latter part of the 18th century. The libretto also contains bits from the book of Genesis. As Haydn worked on the piece (from autumn of 1796 to early 1798). Papa and Swieten had lots of back and forth about the work, and the baron even had individual numbers played for him by a small orchestra. Apparently, Haydn frequently bowed to the baron’s suggestions. I guess my poor papa, a lifelong Esterházy servant, was conditioned to nod “yes” to the wealthy.

Haydn Triumphant

The Creation premiered at the Palais Schwarzenberg on April 30, 1798, with Haydn conducting before an audience of wealthy folk who were given tickets by the Gesellschaft der Associirten Cavaliere. It was such a success that two more performances were added. The general public got to hear the work several months later, and once the score was published it was played all over Europe. The Creation was premiered in America by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society in 1819.

The Creation is sublime—one of my favorite works in the choral repertoire. Every drop of Haydn’s skill as an orchestral master are on display in the vivid tone painting that depicts everything from the chaos before creation, to flashes of lightning, to descriptions of all kinds of wildlife—including slithering worms! The vocal writing is direct and lyrical and the choral writing is suitably grand. I leave it to the journalist Joseph Richter (a contemporary of Haydn) to sum up the appeal of the work: “What I really liked is that [the work] is written in high style, and yet I could understand it.”

René Jacobs

René Jacobs’ Haydn

The Creation joins two other superb Haydn recordings conducted by René Jacobs on the Harmonia Mundi label: The Seasons and the Symphonies Nos. 91 and 92. I was licking my lips in anticipation of this recording of The Creation. Was the salivatory experience fulfilled? Mostly yes, but there are also some fumbles. First the good stuff. Despite the fact that there’s been some bitching from the anti-period-instrument camp about the Freiburger Barockorchester and their string sound (will the strident fatwah about lack of vibrato ever end, because nobody really cares anymore), I love their crisp articulation and verve. Wind and brass playing? Stunning. There is spice and warmth throughout, and the ensemble nails Haydn’s Disneyesque special effects. The choral singing of the RIAS Kammerchor is spot-on clear and energy pulses through every phrase they sing. While the vocal soloists don’t quite stand up to the roster of artists who have recorded the work before, which includes (just naming some of the noteworthy sopranos) Elly Ameling, Gundula Janowitz, Lucia Popp and Emma Kirkby, they are all fresh-voiced and technically secure.

There are some missteps, however. As on Jacobs’ Idomeneo recording, fortepianist Sebastian Wienand’s incessant mugging and silly improvisations during secco recitatives are getting on my nerves in a big way. The keyboard noodling that made the recitatives on Jacobs’ recordings of Mozart’s Così and Nozze fun don’t make sense here—The Creation is not a drama giocoso, so basta Sebastian! The biggest negative is scale. I quote the liner notes that speak of the Handelian model, “Haydn later considered that large forces were indispensable for effective performance of his Creation.” We don’t have that here. The string ensemble is small, and while winds and brass are two and three on a part, the sound is not grand. It’s not altogether a bad thing because there is a lovely transparency, but there is no denying that the performance lacks grandeur. Is that enough to sink the project? Not in the least. This is a low-fat performance, delicious in many ways, but it’s not the Cecil B. DeMille version of The Creation.

Here’s bit of the documentary DVD that comes with the recording:

Vivaldi violin concertos you need to know

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

Vivaldi: Concerti per Le Solennità
Giuliano Carmignola, violin and conductor
Sonatori  de la Gioiosa Marca

It’s one of the great paradoxes that the recording industry is probably most responsible for boosting Antonio Vivaldi’s reputation while, at the same time, cutting it down. How? Pioneering record labels like Hyperion (the complete sacred music) and Naïve (the Vivaldi collection) have done tremendous service by resurrecting Vivaldi rarities. But the road to Hell is frequently paved with good intentions. Record labels have the habit of grouping all of the L’estro armonico or Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione concertos (12 in each collection) in neatly packaged 2-CD sets that result in some listeners smugly nodding in agreement with Igor Stravinsky’s bitchy comment that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto 400 times. Vivaldi’s concertos were published together but not intended to be performed in one serving. You wouldn’t eat an entire box of bonbons in one sitting would you? Why listen to 12 concertos in a row?

Stravinsky in Venice, he should have been dunked in a canal

This stunning recording by violinist conductor Giuliano Carmignola and Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca does tremendous service to Vivaldi by presenting six of his lesser-known violin concertos for solemn occasions. The solemn occasions were the various religious festivals celebrated between 1712 to 1735 in various churches in and around the Veneto. The concertos are filled with some of Vivaldi’s most innovative writing. There are two concertos for the Feast of the Assumption where Vivaldi splits the ensemble into two choirs, the only time the composer attempted this. There’s martial pomp in the “Grosso Mogul” concerto and a lovely pastoral tone in the concerto “per il Santo Natale.”

Carmignola, just the man to shut Stravinsky up

The performances of Carmignola are revelatory. More than Fabio Biondi or Andrew Manze or any baroque fiddler on the scene, Carmignola knows how to fire things up—check out the whispery fine bow work in the opening Allegro of the concerto “S. Antonio in Padua”—but also play sweetly—like in the poignant Grave of the D major Assumption concerto. Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca provide full-blooded but always sensitive accompaniment and the sound quality provided by the consistently excellent Divox engineers is audiophile quality.

Salamone Rossi, Hebreo

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2009 by Craig Zeichner
Pages from Rossi's Hashirim Asher Lishlomo

Pages from Rossi's Hashirim Asher Lishlomo

As Don Harrán points out in his fascinating book Salamone Rossi, Jewish Musician in Late Renaissance Mantua, “There were Jewish musicians before Salamone Rossi, but Rossi was the first to leave an indelible imprint on European music history as a composer.”

I first encountered Rossi’s music when I was marketing director for the PGM Recordings record label. Gabe Weiner, the label’s late and lamented founder, produced two recordings of selections from Rossi’s Hashirím ashér lishlomó (The Song of Solomon). The works were sung by the New York Baroque, a pick-up group of mostly New York-based singers under the direction of Eric Milnes. We marketed the records in every conceivable place, from Jewish newspapers to such magazines as Tikkun and Reform Judaism. The recordings were huge successes and were some of the biggest sellers by an indie record label. We also took a fair amount of heat from purists who were outraged that women’s voices were employed on the recording. Can’t please everybody I guess.

Wish I could have found a larger image!

Wish I could have found a larger image!

Rossi (c.1570-c.1630) was born in Mantua and was employed as a freelance composer and performer at the Gonzaga court. Jewish musicians in Mantua were frequently employed as performers at weddings, feasts and other occasions. Some of Rossi’s contemporaries in Mantua were Giaches de Wert, Ludovico Viadana, and Claudio Monteverdi and Rossi knew their music well. It’s entirely likely that Monteverdi and Rossi knew each other since both were violinists and both were employed at court.

Typical for his day, Rossi wrote Italian-texted madrigals and canzonettas, but it’s his instrumental and sacred music that are the focus of an excellent new recording by the Galilee-based vocal ensemble Profeti della Quinta and the instrumental ensemble Muscadin on the Pan Classics record label.

This is the one to get

This is the one to get

I wasn’t very familiar with Rossi’s instrumental works and there’s a healthy sampling of his revolutionary trio sonatas (a form which he pretty much invented) on this recording. Rossi’s trio sonatas are scored for two upper voices and continuo and even though he designates the upper voices as violins on the title pages of these works, the ensemble Muscadin adds recorder and cornett to the mix, so the upper voices are combinations of a wind instrument with violin or two wind instruments—it’s a nice effect and really underscores the flash and fire in the music. There are some beautiful moments here. The eloquent violin playing of Leila Schayegh finds an expressive foil in Corina Marti’s recorder in the Sonata seconda from Rossi’s 3rd book of sonatas (1622). I love the sound of the cornett and the ensemble’s Josué Meléndez Peláez shines when paired with Marti in the Sinfonia seconda from that same 3rd book. Intelligent and tasteful continuo work is heard throughout.

Orthodoxy prohibited polyphonic music in the synagogue but there was a liberal movement who yearned to bring music in praise of God to the service, following the example of King Solomon’s First Temple. The movement was led by the dedicatee of the published edition of Rossi’s Hashirím ashér lishlomó, the wealthy and progressive Moses Sullam, and the colorful and influential Rabbi Leon da Modena (who wrote the preface to the edition). The music was in all likelihood intended for use in the home, weddings and the synagogue where it would be sung by a male ensemble.

Here’s Profeti della Quinta singing Rossi’s Al Naharot Bavel:

Since any resemblance to the popular secular styles of the day would be a problem, so Rossi adopts the stile antico for these sacred gems. Rossi takes a Palestrina-like care in setting text, so every word is comprehensible and there is little repetition of material. One interesting bit: Hebrew text is read from right to left, so Rossi had to reverse the word order so that the individual words still read right to left while the words are set under the notes in the usual left to right fashion!

 The performances by Profeti della Quinta are revelations. Here’s the precision and tonal beauty that this music deserves and it makes this CD the essential Rossi recording to add to your collection. I only hope Profeti Della Quinta go on to record more Rossi.

The CD is available everywhere or directly from Qualiton Imports. Since you are spending money, you should also pick up Don Harrán’s book:


and while you are book shopping, try to find Leon da Modena’s fascinating The Autobiography of a Seventeenth-Century Venetian Rabbi:


It’s good to be the King!

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2009 by Craig Zeichner
A king-sized collection

A king-sized collection

Baroque royalty had big appetites, but there were none bigger than those of the four French Baroque kings, Louis XIII to Louis XVI. They indulged in feasts of all types, including musical ones. This 20-CD collection of music spanning 1600 to 1800 features the music these big-wig kings would have enjoyed at court, chapel and theater. This marvelous boxed set, which commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Centre de Musique de Versailles, certainly brings to mind Mel Brooks’ King Louis in History of the World: Part I, who declared, “It’s good to be the king!”

The superbly produced box divides the repertoire into four broad categories: The Secrets of Versailles at the Time of Louis XIII; The “Pleasures” of Versailles During the Reign of Louis XIV; Refinement at Versailles Under Louis XV; The Twilight of Versailles Under Louis XVI.

Louis XIII

Louis XIII

Space doesn’t permit a detailed review of each disc, but there are plenty of treasures. I’m not a big fan of the air de cour, but the subtle beauties of music by Antoine Boesset and Robert Ballard receive sensitive and marvelously nuanced performances by soprano Monique Zanetti and lutenist Claire Antonini; they’re found on the CD devoted to music from the salons of the early French Baroque.

A big wig with Louis XIV underneath

A big wig with Louis XIV underneath

For my taste, things really get rolling during the reign of Louis XIV. There’s a CD of music by Jean-Baptist Lully, including excerpts from his opera Amadis featuring the splendid soprano Véronique Gens. Another CD offers more Lully, plus excerpts from operas by André Cardinal Destouches, Marin Marais, Pascal Colasse and my favorite composer of the period, Marc-Antoine Charpentier. They feature the sensational young mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac

Stéphanie d’Oustrac

Fans of instrumental music didn’t go hungry during the reign of Louis XIV (only the peasants did). There is a delightful CD that focuses on the chamber music of François Couperin, performed by Les Folies françoises, and sets of Symphonies pour les Soupers du Roi by Michel-Richard De Lalande and played by Musica Florea. While the performances don’t match the polished accounts by Jordi Savall’s Hesperion XX and Le Concert Des Nations recorded on Alia Vox, they are still plenty good.

There are three CDs dedicated to the sacred music that was heard at the court chapel and the parish churches. Grands motets by Lully, Henry Du Mont and Henry Desmarest sit alongside petit motets by Couperin and Charpentier. The performances are the best you will ever hear in this repertoire, and feature William Christie leading Les Arts Florissants (in a recording licensed from Warner France), Hervé Niquet directing Le Concert Spirituel (a recording licensed from Glossa) and stunning live performances by the Ricercar Consort. The mix of live recordings and carefully selected licensed performances are one of the many things that make this big box unique (although for seasoned collectors of this repertoire there might be some duplication).

William Christie, the king of the French Baroque

William Christie, the king of the French Baroque

A more refined style took hold during the reign of Louis XV, and one of the chief masters of the new sound was Jean-Philippe Rameau. Rameau is well-represented on a CD of excerpts from his Hippolyte et Aricie (licensed from a Universal studio recording), with Gens singing and Marc Minkowski conducting Les Musiciens du Louvre, and live selections from Les Fêtes d’Hébé, Hippolyte (again) and Zoroastre with the ever-present Gens and Les Talens Lyriques under Christophe Rousset.

Véronique Gens, she sings like a goddess too!

Véronique Gens, she sings like a goddess too!

It was good to be the king, indeed, and there are a few works that pay homage to His Majesty. Zélindor, roi des Sylpes, a one-act opera-ballet by François Rebel and François Francoeur in praise of Louis XV, is given a fetching performance by some fine vocalists and the ensemble Ausonia. The favors of Madame de Pompadour were also enjoyed by the king. She commissioned a number of works for her theater and even appeared in many of them. One of them is the delightful divertissement Ègine, by the little-known composer François Colin De Blamont, performed by vocalists and the instrumentalists of Les Nouveaux Caractères.

Louis XV

Louis XV

The sacred music of the time of Louis XV is represented with two CDs that feature such composers as Jean-Joseph De Mondonville and Rameau. Mondonville was a master of the concerted style (massed voices and orchestra), and the performance of his motet Dominus regnavit by Christie’s Les Arts Florissants is thrilling. The excitement Christie and company bring to the Mondonville is matched by the refined elegance that marks their performance of Rameau’s In convertendo.

Louis XVI with his head still attached

Louis XVI with his head still attached

The music of Louis XVI’s illustrious predecessors is better known than the works from his reign. And yet, in some ways I think the music from the reign of Louis XVI is the most fascinating in the set. There’s an absolutely stunning CD of music by the Italian composers Antonio Sacchini and Niccolo Piccinni, performed by the glorious soprano Roberta Invernizzi accompanied by Antonio Florio’s Cappella della Pietà de’Turchini. Invernizzi is in splendid voice and is the model of elegant vocalism in the Mozartean “Je ne vous quitte point” from Sacchini’s Oedipe à Colone, and blows the roof off the joint with a virtuoso showcase in “Son regina e son amante” from Piccinni’s Didone abbandonata.

A singer I adore, Roberta Invernizzi

A singer I adore, Roberta Invernizzi

A CD of arias and orchestral music from French opera is another gem of the set. Here’s the dawn of Romanticism, with highly dramatic music by the rarely heard Rodolphe Kreutzer, Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny and the slightly better-known François-Joseph Gossec and André Ernest Modeste Grétry. Remember the name Pierre-Yves Pruvot: he’s the muscular-voiced baritone who makes a huge impression in arias from operas by these composers. I want to hear this guy sing Don Giovanni some day!

The remaining CDs are also quite good if not life-changing. Symphonies by Gossec, Simon Leduc and Henri-Joseph Rigel receive performances by Le Cercle de l’Harmonie under the direction of Jérémie Rhorer that are better than the music deserves, and you can’t help but be delighted by the energy and drive of the ensemble. The always superb fortepianist Andreas Staier plays a recital featuring music by Claude-Bénigne Balbastre, Hyacinthe Jadin and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. There are some virtuoso turns here, especially in Mozart’s Variations on “Lison dormait.” I was bored with some too-precious chamber music by François Devienne, Pierre Vachon, Giuseppe Maria Cambini and Luigi Boccherini. Perhaps the best was saved for last—a CD devoted to sacred music by Gossec, François Giroust, and Rigel. Check out the Gossec motet for some superb vocal writing!

 The set comes with a thick booklet that, oh wonder of wonders, includes complete texts, translations and essays that are actually worth reading. One small complaint: the booklet provides a link to a website where there are supposed to be composer biographies, but alas, they are not to be found.

This is an essential set for anyone interested in the Baroque, and offers performances that are as state-of-the-art as anything currently out there. A magnificent achievement all around!



Mr. Brooks has his say

Porpora has his day

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on October 1, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

Gauvin Porpora

Nicola Porpora
Karina Gauvin
Il Complesso Barocco
Alan Curtis
(ATMA Classique)

To many modern listeners the Neapolitan composer Nicola Porpora is mostly remembered for being one of Handel’s rivals for supremacy on the London stage. Anti-Handel factions formed The Opera of the Nobility, a company whose purpose was to bring down the Royal Academy of Music (Handel’s company) and Porpora was their chief composer. Despite the fact that Porpora wrote five operas, an oratorio and other works, the company failed and Porpora left London.

The London affair is only part of Porpora’s story because he was a major talent and a widely respected composer of his day. He wrote over 50 operas, taught the singers Farinelli and Cafarelli as well as the composer Hasse. He was Kapellmeister at the Dresden court and while at Dresden took on a young man named Franz Joseph Haydn as his valet, pupil and accompanist.

While there have not been many complete recordings of Porpora’s operas—even the seminal Neapolitan Baroque series on Naïve hasn’t touched him—this disc by Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin with Alan Curtis leading Il Complesso Barocco fills a huge gap. I think Gauvin is one of the most exciting singers on the scene and while she is quite familiar to fans of early music (check out her Handel and French Baroque recital albums on ATMA Classique); this recording should have enough appeal to put her on the radar of anyone who enjoys glorious singing.

Glorious it is. Porpora’s music is rich with twisting vocal lines, highly dramatic recitatives and melody aplenty, it is very Baroque indeed. I can find no fault with anything Gauvin sings here. She is blessed with a bountiful voice that lacks nothing in warmth or clarity and she handles the treacherous fioritura with ease. When needed she can summon plenty of brightness too, but it’s not an Emma Kirkby-styled English soprano glow, think of something more Mediterranean. Curtis and company are superb accompanists and even get to take a solo turn in the Overture to Porpora’s Arianna. This is fattening music so I would suggest enjoying it in small sips, perhaps a few arias at a time, and you will be well pleased. I was.

Check in for my post about Shannon Mercer and Suzie LeBlanc, two more Canadian singers who have won my heart.

Here’s a look at the Porpora recording sessions.

The Classical Keyboard in Boston

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2009 by Craig Zeichner


I strongly recommend a series of recitals by the always excellent fortepianist Sylvia Berry. Berry will be playing a series of recitals in the Boston area during October. 

A specialist in late 18th– and early 19th-century Viennese music, she has quickly become a favorite in Boston and beyond not only for her exciting performances, but for her engaging commentary about the music and the instruments she plays. Benjamin Dunham of Early Music America stated of a recent solo appearance: “… [she] revealed a poetic sensibility and a willingness to draw listeners in with spaces to pause and reflect. These qualities contrasted nicely with up-tempo movements, which were handled with verve,” while her work in Opera Boston’s production of La clemenza di Tito led Lloyd Schwartz to write in the Boston Phoenix, “Special applause for continuo fortepianist Sylvia Berry, [who played] as if she were one of the actors.”


October 1st at the Boston Athenaeum
Music for keyboard, four-hands
Sylvia Berry and Shuann Chai, harpsichord
Johann Christian Bach: Sonata in C major, Op. 15
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sonata in B-flat major, K. 358
Muzio Clementi: Sonata in C major, Op. 6

October 11th at Taylor House
Master and Heir Apparent: Music of Haydn and Beethoven
Sylvia Berry, fortepiano
Franz Joseph Haydn: Sonata in E-flat, Hob. XVI: 52 (1794/95)
Adagio in G major, Hob. XV: 22 (1794)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2, “Tempest” (1801/02)
Selections from Seven Bagatelles, Op. 33 (1802)

October 18th at First Parish, Cohasset
Master and Heir Apparent: Music of Haydn and Beethoven
Sylvia Berry, fortepiano
Franz Joseph Haydn: Sonata in E-flat, Hob. XVI: 52 (1794/95)
Adagio in G major, Hob. XV: 22 (1794)
Sonata in B minor, Hob. XVI: 32 (1776)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2, “Tempest” (1801/02)
Selections from Seven Bagatelles, Op. 33 (1802)

October 24th at Clark University
Haydn at the Keyboard: Four Sonatas from Four Decades, A lecture recital by Sylvia Berry
Sylvia Berry, harpsichord and fortepiano
Franz Joseph Haydn: Sonata in E major Hob. XVI:13 (before 1766)
Sonata in B minor Hob XVI:32 (1776)
Sonata in B-flat major Hob. XVI:41 (1782/84)
Sonata in C major Hob. XVI:50 (1794/95)

For more information: http://www.sylviaberry.org/cgi-bin/concerts2.pl