Mstation Classical Reviews

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Mon, 20 Dec 2004

Renaissance Organ Music

Herbert Tachezi at the organs of the Stiftskirche, Ossiach and the
Hofkirche, Innsbruck

Michelangelo Rossi (1601/2-1656)	Toccata Sesta in G Giovanni Gabrieli
(c.1555-1612)		Canzon francese in E Girolamo Frescobaldi
(1583-1643)	Partite undecima sopra liAria Tarquinio Merula
(1594/5-1665)		Capriccio cromatico in D Girolamo
Frescobaldi				Toccata per liElevatione Canzon terza in G
Tom.s de Santa Maria (? n 1570)		8 fantasies in the 8 church modes
EnrIquez de Valderr.bano (mid C16th)	Fantasia primero grado Antonio
de CabezUn (1510-1566)	Diferencias sobre el canto Llano Luis de Mil.n
(c.1500-c.1561)	Pavana and Galliarda Claudio Merulo
(1533-1604)	Toccata Vincenzo Pellegrini (? n 1631)	Canzona per
organo iLa Serpentinai Michael Praetorius (c.1570-1621)	Hymn: iO Lux
beata Trinitasi Paul Hofhaimer (1459-1537)	Recordare Johannes Kotter
(c.1485-1541)	Salve Regina Christian Erbach (c.1571-1635)	Ricercar
secundi toni

Recorded in the Stiftskirches, Ossiach (tracks 1-6) and the Hofkirche,
Innsbruck (tracks 7-15) in 1968, 1980 and 1981 Apex 2564-60446-2

Apex have cobbled this recital disc together from various sessions
recorded by the notable Austrian organist Herbert Tachezi. The title of
Renaissance Organ Music is accurate insofar as the music dates from a
period covering the 15th, 16th and early 17th centuries, but is somewhat
wilful in that this view of the renaissance centres almost exclusively
on developments in keyboard music in southern Europe n with the
exception of the last two tracks all the composers represented are
Italian or Iberian. Anybody unfamiliar with organ developments buying
such a disc cold is going to find the diet lacking in variety as the
greatest developments in organ building occurred in the northern lands.
Not to be found here the great pedal reeds of the 16th century Germanic
or Netherlandish instruments n this is all music on a much smaller scale
performed on instruments that have no lack of character, but perhaps do
lack something in the variety of sounds available. There is an abundance
of very bright principles, even brighter mixtures and some attractively
chiffy flutes, but a prevalence towards 8i and 4i combinations of
principals, and whole works played on a 4i flute does become monotonous.
Only a couple of very pungent reeds in the Pavana and Galliarda by Luis
de Mil.n and a characterful krummhorn that appears briefly at the
beginning of the Kotter Salve Regina relieve the soundscape.

That having been said, Herbert Tachezi is a stylistically engaging
champion of this repertoire. His playing sparkles with virtuosity and
the dexterity with which he brings out the lines of counterpoint on
instruments without pedals is impressive. Witness the tortuous lines of
the Capriccio cromatico by Tarquinio Merula, or the delightfully
rhythmic chuffing of the Vincenzo Pellegrini Canzona iLa Serpentinai.
These pieces of technical panache contrast with moments of serenity and
contemplation as found for example in the Frescobaldi Toccata per
liElevatione, a central point of the Roman Mass that was often
accompanied by ethereal music.

It can be argued that the programme is not as varied as it could be, and
indeed the very bright, almost strident sound of the organs becomes
wearing after a while. On the other hand there is detail in the
execution, which provides new facets on repeat visits, even if the
repertoire is fairly limited in its variety of styles. It must be borne
in mind, of course, that southern European organ building and playing in
the 17th century developed along completely independent lines to, and
for different functions from, that of the better known North European
schools represented by Sweelinck or Buxtehude, and which lead ultimately
to Bach. However, certain crossing points do emerge; variations on
popular tunes being one. Frescobaldiis Partite undecima sopra liAria di
Monicha bears immediate comparison with the Ballo del Gran Duca of
Sweelinck and shows no less a level of invention.

The instruments on which Tachezi plays are presumably examples of 16th
century organ building, but the accompanying notes to the disc are scant
in information about the instruments, to say the least. In fact they are
only named in the tiniest of letters on the back of the CD case. This is
a distinct oversight, particularly given that the information about the
composers that is given in the body of the booklet is hardly detailed or
useful in understanding the music.

As a recital disc of early, southern European organ music, there is much
to admire in Tacheziis performance, and at Apexis super-budget price
this disc can be considered good value. For the general purpose
listener, however, there is a lack of variety of sound and given that
many listeners expect something of the sense of grandeur in their organ
music, this somewhat variety-lacking collection of small-scale pieces is
probably more recommendable for fans of Tachezi, or for serious organ
music collectors only.

(c) 2004 Peter Wells

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Mozart, Cosi fan tutte

Teatro alla Scala
Riccardo Muti
DVD, Opus Arte

I must take one of these music DVD's along to the Bang and
Olufsen shop one day and plonk it on their most expensive system
to see what the sound is like -- a lush production like this
deserves a fair trial. Actually, I think the editor should
organise one for a hardware trial. Yes, he really should.
(Ed: I suppose I could say that the cars we test are more
expensive but this is a case of flying pigs, I think.)

Anyway, this La Scala production brought to us by Opus Arte is
of their usual high standard. No funny fellows being played
with avante garde productions (which almost never stand up to
camera closeups even though they might look passable in the

There is a full libretto in the program notes, and of course,
being a DVD, you can do things like turn the subtitles on or
off. This particular production was originally recorded for
television by RAI in 1989.
(Count K)

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Monteverdi, The Sacred Music 3

The King's Consort, Robert King
LP, Hyperion

People will think we pull a salary from Hyperion as I don't
think we've uttered a bad word about any release that has
gone over our desks. Alas, it's not the case but we do get
the listening pleasure.

This disc is the third in the series of Claudio Monteverdi's
sacred music. Most of it was published beteen 1615 and 1651
and relates to his work at St. Mark's in Venice. 

Most of these items are motets and not part of the liturgy
of the Catholic church. In the seventeenth century, as it
says in the extended notes and libretti, such motets were
often sung at Elevation and Communion or between psalms
at Vespers. 

I must now find out whether very "high" Catholic churches
do this today. 
(Count K) 

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The Kirov celebrates Nijinsky

DVD, Arthaus Musik

Vaslav Nijinsky was born in Kiev in 1889. Later, in Paris under
Diaghilev, he was part of the sensation their ballet created.
He grew to be a legend in his own lifetime, which is even
more remarkable when you consider that he suffered from
schizophrenia and spent almost thirty years of his life in
various hospitals. He died in London in 1950.

Here we have ballet from Sheherazade, Le Spectre de la Rose,
The Polovtsian Dances, and Firebird. performed by the Kirov
at the Theatre Musical de Paris - Chatelet.

Ballet is a bit of a natural for DVD. Listening to opera is fine
but listening to ballet without vision rather misses the point
I think.
(Count K)

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Handel, Deborah

Barockorchester Frankfurt
Junge Kantorei
Joachim Carlos Martini
with Elisabeth Scholl, Natacha Ducret, Lawrence Zazzo, Ewa Wolak,
Knut Scchoch, Jelle Draijer

This is the second of Handel's oratorios. It was first aired in 1733
with a hundred performers of which twenty five were singers. This was
a difficult time for Handel as the Prince of Wales had recently started
a rival opera company which had lured away some of his top singers.

Deborah wasn't to prove his salvation but he did do well with later
oratorios such as Athalia. This isn't one that music scholars have 
favoured as Handel's habit of borrowing from himself led to this one
being called a 'pastichio' (pastiche!). 

For the rest of us, this has all Handel's usual mixture of grace and
grandeur and this performance over three CDs is a very nice one. We've
all heard versions of Handel where it sounded as if the musicians were
somewhat tired and disinterested but this one is not like that at all.

As an aside, Handel's house, at 25 Brook Street close to Bond Street,
in London is now open to visitors after a refurbishment.

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Christmas 04

A Christmas Present from Polyphony
Polyphony with City of London Sinfonia
Stephen Layton
LP, Hyperion

A treat for non-commercial carol lovers here: an assortment
that does include well-known carols such as Silent Night,
and Away in a Manger, but mostly consists of less-known 
Christmas carols. These include O Morgenstern, The Sussex 
Mummer's Carol, Shepherd's Pipe Carol, and quite a few
others. Polyphony have a nice, rich sound and it is well

Bath Abbey Girl's Choir sings Christmas Carols
Marcus Sealy, Ruth Faber, Peter King
LP, Priory 

This is especially nice when the girls hit the descants
and high notes generally. There is quite a range here,
twenty-four tracks, which include both well-known
and lesser-known carols. It was nicely recorded by
Neil Collier, who runs Priory and who talked to us, here
at Mstation, a couple of years ago. You can find him on the
music page.

The Naxos Book of Carols
recorded at St Jude on the hill, Hampstead
LP, Naxos

I'm going to mention this release of last year's again
because it was so nice.
(Count K)

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Bach, JS, Keyboard Works

Angela Hewitt - piano

Fantasia and Fugue in a minor BWV904
Aria Variata 'alla Maniera Italiana' BWV989
Sonata in D major BWV963
Partie in A major BWV832
Suite in f minor BWV823
Adagio in G major BWV968
Fugue in C major BWV953
Jesu, meine Zuversicht BWV728
Wer nur den lieben Gott laesst walten BWV691
Fantasia and Fugue in a minor BWV944

Recorded in Henry Wood Hall, London on 3-5 February 2004
Hyperion CDA67499

Although she has become somewhat ubiquitous in recent years, one cannot
help but admire Angela Hewitt. She has suffered from massive
over-exposure (BBC radio 3 being a real culprit in this - if it's Bach,
it's Angela) and yet retains integrity as an artist that most who
achieve such exposure loose. Hyperion is onto another winner with this
disc, the last in Angela's series of Bach keyboard works on this label.
There is a particularly interesting aspect to this disc as it presents a
selection of the "best of the rest" of J S Bach's works for keyboard.
Thus the obvious inclusions are missing leaving a repertoire that is at
once fascinating and less well known.

Hewitt's performances are always well reasoned and beautifully crafted,
her technique being allied to an impeccable sense of musicianship, which
enables her to present complex music ideas with apparent ease of
clarity. The grandeur inherent in the opening a minor fantasia and the
solemnity of the following complex fugue show this balance well. The
tempo chosen for the fugue is conservative, but Hewitt makes so much of
the individual lines that the feeling of movement is always present.

The Aria Variata 'alla Maniera Italiana' BWV989 is not a frequently
performed work, and yet it shows clear familial relationships with the
larger and better-known Goldberg variations. Hewitt's performance covers
almost the same breadth of vision and expression as would be possible in
the larger set. Also of great moment in this disc is the performance of
the suite in f minor BWV823. This noble work, although only three
movements long (a sublime two subject Prelude, and extended Sarabande en
Rondeau and a Gigue) provides one of the truly momentous highlights. The
Sarabande is performed with a grandeur and scope that compliments the
almost austere purity of the prelude. Throughout, Hewitt's distinctively
clear touch and careful articulation are everywhere in evidence. This is
superb playing of Bach at the piano.

If there is a criticism of Hewitt's performances (and it is debatable
whether one is needed) it could be the lack of rhetorical flourish in
the playing. This harks back to the old piano/harpsichord debate for the
performance of Bach's keyboard music, but the harpsichordists of recent
generations have made much of the ideas of musical rhetoric - of
stylised flourish and maximum contrast. All of this is there in Bach's
music without a doubt - rhetoric was the standard language of the 18th
century musician - but it could be argued that Hewitt's performances
tend towards the goal of beauty of sound and line above the possibility
of expression on different levels. In this disc the variety of the
programme negates the chance of any sense of monotony, but one wonders
how well this same highly polished, but always rather similarly
beautiful, sound would fare in a programme of, say, the 48 or the French

As it stands, this particular disc, with its wide variety of material,
excellent recording and matchlessly flawless piano sound from Hewitt,
has to come in as a strongly and easily recommendable release. Here is
67 minutes of beautiful playing, wonderfully well captured, and one
can't really ask for more than that.
((c) 2004 Peter Wells)

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Philip Glass, Symphonies 2 and 3

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop
LP, Naxos

It seems extraordinary that a society that could produce, nurture,
and give some success to Philip Glass might also be the same
place that voted in the neandrathal personage of George W. Bush as
president. Personally I'm not at all sure that he's real at all.
He seems more like a cobbled together series of images to serve
as a front for venality. You heard it here first -- the moon landings
and now the actual president! Alright, enough of that lunacy but
I suppose it is useful to remind ourselves of the USA of Philip
Glass and that not all Americans see justice at the wrong end of
a gun, just as not all Iraqis are murderous vermin who torture
and kill middle-aged female charity workers. 

Philip Glass is much loved for his symphonic music and also
for theme music such as for the cult film Koyaanasquatsi (which I've most
likely spelt wrong). Symphony No. 2 was commisioned by the Brooklyn
Academy of Music and was first performed there in 1994. 

The Third Symphony followed in the next year and was commisioned by
the Wurth Foundation for the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and they
performed it first in Kunzelsau, Germany.

It's easy to see why Philip Glass is valued. The hypnotic swirls
of these pieces, while not being as spacey as the film music, are
human brain freindly in that look-at-me pedagogy is left out in
favour of skill and craft with orchestral textures.
(Count K)

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Berlioz, Les Troyens

Choeur di Theatre du Chatelet
Monteverdi Choir
Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique
Sir John Eliot Gardiner
3 DVD's, BBC Opus Arte

But wait there's more! That's hardly an appropriatre marketing
come-on for classical DVD's but it certainly seems appropriate
here. To start with there's the awesome volume of 3 DVD's and
in addition to the performance itself, we have a cast gallery,
a synopsis, a documentary, and interviews with the main production
protagonists. In addition to all of that, it has "true surround
sound" as well as superior quality sound and vision. 

Les Troyens (The Trojans) is generally regarded as representing
pretty much all that Berlioz ever learnt. It has ballet and
divertisments as well as the opera itself. The form might have
thoughts of the Baroque but it is only the form. Berlioz was
a Romantic through and through. In poetry, Shakespeare was his
ideal, and in music, Beethoven. He was extremely inventive and
even got his friend, Adolphe Sax, to build new instruments for
his pieces.

This opera came about through his friendship with Liszt and was
completed after a little blackmail from Liszt's mistress, Princess
Carolyn Sayn-Wittgenstein, in 1858. Unfortunately, it is such a
major (and expensive to produce) opera, that it was not
performed in full until 1890 in Karlsruhe, and it is only now
that it is entering the opera house repertoire.

The staging won a prize in 2003 from the Syndicat du Critique
Musicale ... which means it's a modern staging. Sompe people
will like that more than others, but it is a very worthwhile
production of something you're unlikely to see outside the
world centers for opera.
(Count K)

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