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Fri, 29 Feb 2008

Handel Arias

I haven't had a listen to good old Mr. Handel for a little while so, with the usual disclaimer that I find collections a bit obnoxious, I looked forward to listening to DG's Archiv Produktion release of Magdalena Kozena's Handel Arias with the Venice Baroque Orchestra.

The first point was that I hadn't heard or heard of the Venice Orchestra before. People will tell you that Venice is just as beautiful and mysterious as everyone else says but that decent music, in a church or elsewhere, was very hard to come by. By the sound of this disc I'd say there was at least a little - if they're ever at home. I've planned for some years to be decadent in a pallazo by a canal so perhaps I'll make an extra effort to go now even if I've missed the best of the decadence by two hundred years or so.

The mezzo, Magdalena Kozena, is worth a listen as well - just as well - I suppose there are people who buy vocal music for the backing, but I've never heard of anyone doing this. Anyway, her style is not quite as delicate as I prefer but she does have power, clarity, and versatility and she handles Handel (sorry, couldn't resist) with aplomb and believability. It is possible, though, that I'm being unfair, or at the least, leaping to conclusions about the qualities of her voice. Have you ever taken a violin or voice CD out and about to audition speaker/amplifier combinations? That experience can be truly eye-popping - the amount of difference, particularly in the highs and high-mids is huge even between items of similar price. I listened to this CD on decent but unspectacular headphones.

A little later, after listening to the Kozena CD, and completely by accident, I happened to hear the German tenor, Johann Kaufmann singing some Romantic songs while accompanied by a pianist. It was a smallish room and there was no amplification and so the purity of the sound was unsullied. This is the way to go of course, the real thing. But it's not always handy or possible to fit a tenor or a mezzo in the back of your car along with the necessary instrumentation. (Baron K)

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Tue, 05 Feb 2008

Boxed Baroque

I hope you had a pleasant Christmas and that 2008 treats you well. I usually spend Christmas in rural France and this year was no exception, as you might have gathered from my last column. Alas, France is going the Roundhead way - no more liesurely cigar with coffee after dinner in a restaurant or cafe, and more pertinently for this column, the non-drinking, non-smoking jogger, Sarkozy (a business Roundhead's wet dream if ever there was), is seen as a great threat by the many musical organisations that receive government help. I'm familiar with the arguement that if culture can't live commercially, it should be left to die and as you might guess, I take a loftier view and disagree. For one thing, mass "culture" is so gut-cringingly awful, and so bought-and-paid-for that there has to be some escape. I'm sure that support of these people lowers the national mental health bill.

Of course these things usually don't die completely. There are many performance societies in places like the USA where they play to friends and family and have a very nice time doing so. Look up your local ones (the web is the best place to look and church noticeboards can be helpful too) and see what's going on why not?

All of this is by way of introduction to a 20 CD boxset I just found. It's from Warners and is dedicated to French baroque - tous les genres! - as they exclaim: opera, divertisments, sacred, grand motet, ballet, and more! The players are star-studded and the composers are who you'd expect plus some names not many would recognise. The set is called 200 ans de Musique a Versailles - 200 years of music at Versailles. (Baron K)

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