Archive for Eric Milnes

Best of 2010

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

It’s been a pretty good year for early music recordings with self-produced projects and indie label releases rising to the top of the class. Two New York-based ensembles won glory this year and recordings on the ATMA Classique label proved that Montréal is an early music capitol city. Here’s some of the best, what were your favorites?

Claude-Bénigne Balbastre: Music for Harpsichord
Elizabeth Farr, harpsichord

Farr plays a big Keith Hill harpsichord with two buff stops and makes a great case for this music which balances wit with tenderness.

I Mercanti Di Venezia

La Bande Montréal
Eric Milnes, director
(ATMA Classique)

This is a superb recording of music by Jewish composers in Italy. It’s performed by an ensemble of A-list players from the city which has supplanted Boston as the epicenter of North American early music.

Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine
Green Mountain Project
Jolle Greenleaf and Scott Metcalfe, directors
(Green Mountain Project)

This was one of the most inspiring stories of the year, a recording by a handful of super-dedicated musicians who mounted a production of the Vespers to celebrate the work’s 400th anniversary. They performed the work on January 3rd, in what was probably the first performance of the Vespers in the anniversary year. By the way, it’s one of the very best recordings of the Vespers out there.

You can order directly from the Green Mountain Project and proceeds will help these folks repeat the performance on January 2, 2011.

O Praise the Lord, Restoration Music from Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey Choir
James O’Donnell, director

Hyperion’s ongoing series with the Westminster Abbey Choir has been uniformly superb. This one has music by John Blow, Henry Purcell and some lesser-known Restoration composers.

Peter Philips: Cantiones Sacrae 1612

Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge
Richard Marlow, conductor

The Cantiones Sacrae are scored for five voices and glow with spiritual fervor and melodic beauty. The excellent Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge under the direction of Richard Marlow are marvelous.

Rosso, Italian Baroque Arias

Patricia Petibon, soprano
Venice Baroque Orchestra
Andrea Marcon, director

Petibon is ideal in these high-flying showpieces by Handel, Scarlatti, Porpora and others.

Johann Hermann Schein: Opella Nova
Michel Laplénie, director
(Editions Hortus)

Schein was one of the first German Protestant composers to assimilate the Italian style and write vocal concertos based on German chorale tunes—that’s a tasty blend! The French ensemble Sagittarius is superb and I hope they continue to record more of Schein’s music.

Senza Continuo
Margaret Little, viola da gamba
(ATMA Classique)

When I reviewed this one earlier this year I wrote, “I’ve never heard a bad recording involving viola da gambist Margaret Little.” I stand by the statement, this recording of works by English, French and Italian composers is essential listening.

John Sheppard: Media vita
Stile Antico
(Harmonia Mundi)

Audiences and critics have been tripping over themselves dishing out praise for this excellent ensemble and the truth is Stile Antico delivers as promised. Their vocal blend and tonal quality are brilliant, the clarity of their singing is top-flight.

Tudor City
New York Polyphony

While the Stile Antico love-fest/press blitz was rolling along, you might have missed Tudor City. I hope you didn’t, because this is a superb album, the best recording of early vocal music of the year. Worcester Fragments, Eton Choirbook music, Dunstable, Byrd, Tallis, Tye and Smith all sit together so well and the performances are stunners.

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: