American Record Guide
, January 2010
Schornsheim performs on harpsichord, fortepiano, and organ. In 1982 Wisconsin-born violinist Utiger left the US for Europe to specialize in historical performance practice and in 1995 founded this group (16 members with 2-2-2-1-1 strings).
I’d swear that the harpsichord and organ (without pedals) used here are capable of dynamic swells and decrescendos because of the way Schornsheim juxtaposes styles, holds notes for different lengths, and turns a phrase. (They aren’t.) Her articulation is simply amazing, yet it never interferes with the lyricism of a melody line.
Schornsheim’s tangy organ starts each note with a tiny spike, as if a celeste were wired into the instrument—yet she maintains that lyrical flow. Her fortepiano has an almost baritone quality, yet in her hands the sound is bright and sparkling as in Concerto 4, where she makes Mikhail Pletnev on Virgin sound studied and at a loss as to what to do with the music.
So many of these works could come across with a plodding pulse because the music itself is not interesting; but her exquisite rubato, caressed phrases, and liquid lines transform them. She gives such uplift, sweep, and bite to her harpsichord style that it’s the opposite of “two skeletons copulating” (to quote Thomas Beecham). In the Largo Cantabile of 3 she actually croons the line like Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland used to do.
Then there’s the orchestra! What tangy brass, pungent timpani, and instrumental colors it has. For example, in Concerto 11 (the familiar one in D) the bassoon or French horns doubling with strings are clearly audible and really brighten the textures. Or in 8 (with organ) the orchestra supplies the pedal with its tone quality, as the brass keeps the colors bright and the pulse lively and danceable. The orchestra’s keen articulation and clear dynamic contrasts underpin Utiger’s playful ability to tease Haydn’s humor out of these works.
And that’s no mean feat, given that most of these concertos would be utterly boring in lesser hands. What makes them come alive here is the total ensemble between Schornsheim and Utiger—not just togetherness in terms of pacing and balance but especially in terms of their style. The words “tangy, pungent, uplifted, sweeping, spiky, exquisite, bright, sparkling, playful, and teasing” pervade the notes I took while listening, and they don’t begin to describe these artists’ florid yet caressing way with the slow movements. For example, in the Adagio Cantabile of 4 Utiger elongates the opening half-notes, giving her quicker tempo the illusion of being dreamy and relaxed.
Concertos 1, 8, and 10 are performed on organ; 2, 3 and 5 on harpsichord; 4 and 11 on fortepiano. The warm, embracing, resonant, and perfectly balanced engineering is as stunning as the performances. This is an example of inferior music so brilliantly played that you’ll never tire of it.