, June 2011
The music to be heard on Italian Recorder Music is, for the most part, rather sober, often possessed of a melancholy dignity. The opening pieces by Tarquinio Merula have a limpidity that sets a pattern for what follows—it is a real treat to hear the polyphonic conversations of this music with such a degree of clarity. The four pieces by Giovanni Maria Trabaci are especially lovely, less thickly-textured than, for example, the canzone by Guami, and nicely varied in tempo. Elsewhere the four items by Frescobaldi are full of subtle touches and not without their unexpected twists and turns. The sensitive performance of three pieces by Claudio Merula bring to a close an attractive programme, a programme which is beautifully served by the purity of tone and perfection of intonation which the Loeki Quartet bring to their performance and by a fine recorded sound.
Concerti di Flauti unites the Loeki Quartet with Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music in a programme of baroque concerti, mixing the music of major figures such as Vivaldi and Telemann with that of a lesser-known figure such as Johann Christian Schickhardt. Schickhardt was a much-travelled oboist and player of the recorder; although German in origin he worked extensively in the Netherlands and Scandinavia, as well as in Hamburg, Weimar and Cöthen. His two concerti heard here make it clear that he knew his way around the instrument very well, but are in no way remarkable or especially individual. As so often, it is to Telemann that the listener can turn in confident—and rewarded—expectation of real quality. His two concerti are works of the highest craftsmanship and graced with at least a few moments of inspiration. The opening movement of the A minor concerto (‘gravement’) is a thing of considerable beauty and the same concerto’s closing movement is a model of charm and elegance, played here with winning vivacity. In the B flat concerto (whose four movements are marked grave-vivace-tendrement-gayement) there is nothing that disappoints and much that engages the mind and the ears very satisfactorily. RV585 is hardly major-league Vivaldi, but its three brief movements make very pleasant listening. Again the recorded sound is good.
Baroque Recorder Music is a misnomer in any strict sense. Little of this music was originally written with the recorder—let alone a quartet of recorders—specifically in mind though some, such as the thoroughly attractive sonata by Boismortier were written for transverse flutes. What we have includes two organ works by J.S. Bach (BWV 50 and 537), a set of keyboard variations by Sweelinck and consort music by Locke and Purcell. And two contrapuncti from the Art of Fugue. But transcriptions such as these, and the attitude that underlies them are perfectly ‘Baroque’ in spirit, in tune with the habits of the period. And they are all played beautifully. At times, indeed, there are clear bonuses, given the clarity with which contrapuntal lines are delineated, with just enough variety of tone to help that clarity but not so much as to rob the results of unity. There is a great deal to enjoy here on a disc full of subtle touches and perceptive music-making.
The joy of transcription runs wild on the last of these four discs! There can’t have been too many CDs of any kind which found house-room for both Erroll Garner and Johann Christian Bach, Rimsky-Korsakov and Charlie Parker, Henry Mancini and Beethoven. And fewer still on which the only instruments to be heard were members of the recorder family! I wonder what Pepys would have made of it. There’s no need to take any of the pieces here too solemnly; relax into them and there’s much to enjoy. Parker would, I hope and believe, have loved Paul Leenhouts arrangement of Scrapple from the Apple; I am less sure what Beethoven would have thought of the same arranger’s version of Für Elise as a Piazzollan tango! I wonder if Bach would have been as amused as I am by the “crazily fast”—Daniël Brüggen’s phrase—performance of the Allegro from Bach’s third Brandenburg? Lennon and McCartney’s Michelle works delightfully. There’s plenty of wit and verve everywhere on the disc—surely only the most mean-spirited of musical puritans who find much to disapprove of here though it isn’t a disc one would choose to listen too often, if only so as not to spoil some of the surprises!
This Newton box has a interesting retrospective note on the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet by Daniël Brüggen—at one point he observes that “everything had to be selected, tested, arranged and orchestrated; we occasionally looked with envy at string quartets! We, however, could switch roles in ways that they couldn’t: each of us could play the bass part in a certain piece and the top part in another”. Brüggen’s note makes clear the sheer fun that the members of the ALSQ had in the first half of the quartet’s existence; the remarkable thing is how much of that fun leaps off these CDs, even when more than a little of the music is quite sombre in mood.