Archive for Harmonia Mundi

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
(Naxos)

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)

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
(Chandos)

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
(DG)

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

Johann Hermann Schein: Opella Nova
Sagittarius
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
(Avie)

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.

Antonio Florio’s Cappella della Pietà de’ Turchini on Glossa

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on September 2, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

Rave all you want about Harmonia Mundi, I think the best early music label is Glossa. They have fantastic artists, interesting repertoire, superior engineering and gorgeous packaging. The artist roster is about to get better with the addition of the superb Naples-based Cappella della Pietà de’ Turchini. Their recordings of obscure Neapolitan baroque music were mainstays of the Naive label, but Naive stepped away from the Neapolitan project and decided to shift their energies to recording every note that Vivaldi wrote. That’s not a bad thing but I sure missed those Cappella della Pietà de’ Turchini recordings. Here’s the news.

To learn more about the Cappella della Pietà de’ Turchini, visit them at their website.

Here’s the ensemble in an excerpt from Cristoforo Caresana’s marvelous Christmas cantata

Johann Hermann Schein

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

Johann Hermann Schein

Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630) has been overshadowed by his friends and colleagues Heinrich Schütz (1585-160) and Gottfried Scheidt (1593-1661). Schütz was the best of them and he’s well-represented on recordings, but according to Arkivmusic.com, (the definitive CD retail site), there are only 67 recordings of Schein’s music currently available.

Thankfully, this new recording by the French ensemble Sagittarius and their director Michel Laplénie will do much for Schein’s reputation. Sagittarius, an ensemble whose recordings of Charles Levens’ music I’ve written about in the defunct Goldberg Early Music magazine, have just released an outstanding new recording of selections from Schein’s Opella Nova and Fontana d’Israel (Hortus 075).

The newest from Sagittarius

There are two volumes of Opella Nova concertos for voices and instruments. The first volume was published in 1618 and the second, less stylistically conservative collection, in 1626. 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! There are some fine works in the collection. “Aus tiefer Not” (from Psalm 129) is powerfully cast for soprano, tenor and continuo. “O Jesu Christie, Gottes Sohn” for soprano, solo violin and continuo and “Erbarm dich” for solo tenor and the same instrumental forces. The performances are all terrific. I was impressed with the sensitive playing of violinist Johannes Prahmsohler and sopranos Dagmar Saskova and Sophie Pattey really shine in a gorgeous setting of “Von Himmel hoch.” Best of all was “Komm heiliger Geist.” This is a marvelously melodic work that receives a perfect performance with tenor Olivier Fichet singing from the church gallery (the record was made at St-Etienne-de-Baïgorry Church in the French Basque country) while the two sopranos sing the chorale melody in the nave. Lovely!

Fontana d’Israel, published in 1623, has enjoyed a good life on recordings. Manfred Cordes and Weser Renaissance have recorded the complete collection for CPO (999959) and it’s quite good. Apparently Philippe Herreweghe has done the same for Harmonia Mundi, but since I never heard the recording I can’t speak of the performance. What we have on the Sagittarius disc is excellent. Fontana d’Israel showcases Schein’s assimilation of the Italian style and his gift for wedding it to German traditions. Set to Old Testament texts, Schein’s five voice gems are highly expressive and very well crafted. There are some daring things happening throughout. “Wende dich, Herr, und sei mir gnädig”opens with some pained chromaticism depicting sorrow before shifting gears and bursting out in full-voiced joy. “Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn” has a terrific echo effect while “Zion spricht; der Herr hat mich verlassen” makes a great case for Schein’s gift for text-setting.

Sagittarius has a pretty extensive discography and I wish I was able to round up some of their other recordings, but this Schein disc is a great way to become acquainted with a first-rate ensemble and I strongly recommend it.

Visit Sagittarius at their

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
(Naïve)
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
(Analekta)
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.

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:

Playlist

Posted in Playlist with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

English violin concertos

 

English Classical Violin Concertos
Elizabeth Wallfisch
The Parley Of Instruments
Peter Holman
(Hyperion)

 

 

 

 

 

Manchincourt

 

Manchicourt: Sacred Music, Volume I
The Choir of the Church of the Advent
Edith Ho
(Arsis)

 

 

 

 

 

Idomeneo_cover_thumb[2]

 

Mozart: Idomeneo
Croft, Fink, Im, Pendatchanska
Freiburger Barockorchester
René Jacobs
(Harmonia Mundi)

 

 

 

 

Schutz

 

Schütz: Symphoniae Sacrae III
Cantus Cölln
Concerto Palatino
Konrad Junghänel
(Harmonia Mundi)

 

 

 

 

 

Vivaldi

 

Vivaldi: Gloria
Sara Mingardo
Concerto Italiano
Rinaldo Alessandrini
(Naïve)

 

 

 

 

Recordings by Karl Richter and the Munich Bach Orchestra were the Bach recordings that I enjoyed the most in the 70s. I was even fortunate to hear Richter  perform some Handel organ concertos at a Mostly Mozart Festival concert back in the day when tickets to the Festival were affordable. Here’s some Richter:

With the Munich Bach Orchestra in a Handel Organ Concerto:

And now for something completely different. Not historically informed Arne, but when it’s the magnificent Sarah Connolly singing who cares?

Baroque Gold of El Dorado

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2009 by Craig Zeichner
Bolivian art from the 18th century

Bolivian art from the 18th century

I know it’s politically incorrect to suggest anything good came of the arrival of Europeans in Latin America. Yes, the conquistadors were rapacious churls who subjugated the natives and yes, they did commit barbaric acts. As is usually the case, missionaries followed hard on the heels of the European soldiers who arrived in Latin America. And yes, the natives were not necessarily looking for a new religion. (And yes, their old religion included human sacrifice.) But…

Bad conquistador!

Bad conquistador!

One of the best things that Franciscan, Dominican and Jesuit missionaries shared with the native populace was music. According to the great musicologist Robert Stevenson, Hernando Cortez (Cortez the Killer for you Neil Young fans) had a band of Spanish minstrels traveling along with his army to entertain himself and his soldiers. Speaking of Stevenson, if you want to learn anything about the music of Latin America, read his Music in the Aztec and Inca Territory.

In 1609 it was primarily Jesuits who established the first settlements or “reductions” in what was then Paraguay and now includes Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, and Brazil. Music was one of the subtle tools the Jesuits used to convert the natives.

For over a century and a half the Jesuits lived and worked with native peoples, and both groups shared cultures and music. Jesuit successes threatened the economic boom that the slave trade brought to Europe, so the Jesuits were eventually expelled from Latin America by order of King Carlos III. This was one of the subjects of the magnificent film The Mission.

An actor portraying a good Jesuit and oboist

An actor portraying a good Jesuit and oboist

The music that was played in the Jesuit missions represents a spectacular cultural fusion. Missionaries came from all over Europe, with Spaniards and Italians dominating. The music followed the European Renaissance and Baroque styles—mostly polyphonic Masses and Psalm settings. But here’s the really good bit: European composers added native colors and rhythms to the long-established liturgical forms. And then native composers (educated by missionaries) picked up the European forms and merged them with their own music.

The recordings

I’ve been crazy for this music for over a decade and have collected dozens of recordings. It offers the best of all worlds: luscious Italianate melodies wed to some of the most driving rhythms you will hear this side of the Fania All-Stars. A uniquely Latin sound colors the music. It’s present in the spicy instrumentation, which frequently includes guitars, bandolas, harps and a battery of exotic percussion. The native mix is combined with many instruments found in European baroque music, such as trumpets, recorders, oboes and bassoon, as well as the standard continuo instruments like the harpsichord and organ.  If you are setting out to explore this music, here are some of the recordings you must have:

Spain in the New World

Spain in the New World
Hesperus
(Koch)

Spanish songs and instrumental music are performed by the late Scott Reiss, Tina Chancey and company on this recording. The disc Includes songs by the Canichanas Indians of Bolivia and showcases the impact native rhythms made on old  Spanish forms.

 

New World Symphonies

New World Symphonies
Ex Cathedra
(Hyperion)
This is probably the best one-CD collection of the music – as a matter of fact the disc’s subtitle is From Araujo to Zipoli: an A to Z of Latin American Baroque – and features top-notch performances of music by the key composers of the genre. The centerpiece of this recording on the Hyperion label is the Missa Ego flos campi by the most well-known of all the New World composers, Juan Gutiérrez Padilla (1590-1664).

At any rate, villancicos and motets by other composers of the period are interspersed between movements of the mass. It’s a spectacular recording and one of my favorites. Ex Cathedra have two more discs of this music on Hyperion: Moon, sun & all things (CDA67524) and Fire Burning in Snow (CDA67600). Get them all and thank me later.

Mexico Barroco

Padilla: Maitines de Navidad 1652
Angelicum de Puebla
(Urtext Digital Classics)
Speaking of Padilla, the Mexican Urtext label has released several excellent recordings of his music in their ongoing Mexico Barocco series. My favorite in the series is Maitines de Navidad 1652, a collection of villancicos for Christmas. Very simply stated, a villancico is a song form that was born in Spain. When the form took root in Latin America it embraced rustic themes and pastoral imagery. Some of the most exciting music in Mexico are the rhythmically charged villancicos for Christmas by Padilla. One down side to the Urtext recordings, the texts are in Spanish only but the music is so infectious it really doesn’t matter.

Missa Mexicana

Missa Mexicana
The Harp Consort
(Harmonia Mundi)
While I’m on the subject of Padilla and Mexico, another essential recording is the Harp Consort’s superb Missa Mexicana. Here’s the Missa Ego flos campi again but this time with some gorgeous dance music and villancicos interspersed between the mass movements. The performances by Andrew Lawrence-King’s Harp Consort are brilliant.

 

The Great Garrido

No musician has done more for this music than the Argentine director of Ensemble Elyma, Gabriel Garrido. Garrido has an impressive discography on the French label K617. K617 recordings can sometimes be frustrating because they rarely provide English translations to the obscure texts of much of this music. No matter, you can’t go wrong with any of the recordings Garrido has made with his excellent Ensemble Elyma. If pressed, I would say you should hunt down these five essential recordings:

Lima La Plata

 Lima – La Plata
Music by Araujo, Zipoli, Velasco and Salazar

 

 

 

 

san_ignacio

Domenico Zipoli: Vespres De San Ignacio

 

 

 

 

royale_audience

Musique Baroque a la Royale Audience de Charcas

 

 

 

velasco_cd

Torrejón y Velasco: Musique á la Cité des Rois

 

 

 

 

Perou

L’Or & L’Argent du haut – Pérou

 

 

 

 

 

The best way to go, if you can find the recordings, are two big boxed K617 sets Musiques Sacrées Missionnaires, Volumes I & II. The specially priced boxes contain most of the Garrido recordings mentioned above along with music from the missions in Québec and Montréal as well as complete discs devoted to music by Domenico Zipoli.

Missionnaires

Here’s a villancico by Juan de Araujo performed by Garrido and his ensemble, the image is static but the music will have you jumping

Please let me know what you think about your explorations of this glorious music. I have dozens more recording recommendations if you are interested.