December 12, 2013


Vivaldi: Concerti for Two Violins and Strings, Volume I—RV 523, 510, 509, 517, 515 and 508. Dmitry Sinkovsky and Riccardo Minasi, violins; Il Pomo d’Oro. Naïve. $16.99.

Christoph Graupner: Orchestral Suites. Finnish Baroque Orchestra conducted by Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch. Ondine. $16.99.

Haydn: Lord Nelson Mass; Symphony No. 102. Mary Wilson, soprano; Abigail Fischer, mezzo-soprano; Keith Jameson, tenor; Kevin Deas, bass-baritone; Boston Baroque conducted by Martin Pearlman. Linn Records. $22.99 (SACD).

     One of the best ongoing series of Baroque music releases currently available is the Vivaldi Edition from Naïve, which has now chalked up a highly impressive 56 volumes. The most recent of those tackles some of the Red Priest’s most attractive concertos, but ones that are not performed particularly often: those for two violins. Vivaldi demanded as much virtuosity from the second soloist as he did from the first – presumably he played one part or the other – and as a result, these concertos feature more-demanding pyrotechnics than do most of the single-violin ones. Dmitry Sinkovsky and Riccardo Minasi play the six on this disc with real flair, but all with a sure sense of Baroque style that prevents them from overdoing the technical elements to the detriment of the works’ musicality. What is particularly interesting about this CD is that four of these six concertos are in minor keys – a surprise, since listeners are accustomed to hearing Vivaldi concertos mostly in the major, with the minor being exceptional and all the more interesting as a result. The fact is that all four of the minor-key works here are distinguished and quite interesting: RV 523, in A minor, RV 510 and 509, both in C minor, and RV 517, in G minor. In all cases, the minor keys lend the works warmth to go with Vivaldi’s usual sure-handed formal approach and fine sense of balance between the two soloists and between them and the ensemble. The remaining two concertos, RV 515 in E-flat and RV 508 in C, are of course brighter and have a more forthright feel to them, and they too show excellent balance between the soloists as well as Vivaldi’s always-sure-handed approach to accompaniment. There are about 30 two-violin concertos in all, including optional variants of ones that also exist for other solo combinations, and Sinkovsky and Minasi – with the top-notch backing of Il Pomo d’Oro – seem certain to produce both idiomatic and highly listenable versions of all of them.

     Vivaldi’s near-contemporary, Christoph Graupner (1683-1760), is far less known than the Italian master, but he too produced a considerable amount of very fine music utilizing multiple instrumental combinations, as is exceptionally clear from a splendid Ondine recording of three of his suites. One of these is for transverse flute, viola d’amore, chalumeau, strings and cembalo; one uses viola d’amore, bassoon, strings and cembalo; and one calls for transverse flute, viola d’amore, two chalumeaus, baroque horn, strings and cembalo. The Finnish Baroque Orchestra under Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch does a really first-rate job with this music, playing it with verve and spirit that make the Baroque era not only come alive but also sound genuinely lively. The soloists are uniformly excellent and sound quite comfortable with their instruments: Petra Aminoff on transverse flute, Tindaro Capuano and Asko Heiskanen on chalumeaus, Krzysztof Stencel on baroque horn, Jani Sunnarborg on bassoon, and Kaakinen-Pilch playing viola d’amore. The form of Graupner’s suites is a familiar one, with a succession of dance movements in the same style favored by Telemann. But Graupner, a harpsichordist, had his own ideas about instrumental balance and the interaction among soloists, and as a result his suites have a sound all their own. Long languishing in obscurity because of legal wrangling that dates to the 18th century, Graupner’s works are gradually becoming better known, and on the evidence of this really excellent CD, they most assuredly deserve to be.

     Haydn’s works are quite well known already, of course, and he is a Classical rather than Baroque composer – but the involvement of Boston Baroque with his music shows some ways in which these two musical eras have more in common than listeners may realize. They did, after all, overlap! Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass (formally known as Missa in Angustiis or “Mass in Troubled Times”), is scored by an accident of economic history only for strings, trumpets, timpani and organ: the wind players had been laid off. This dark-hued Mass is one of the composer’s greatest works – some say the greatest. And although it is a preeminently Classical-era work, strongly influenced by Haydn’s experiences with the “London” symphonies that he had completed several years earlier, it is also a work that draws distinctly on Baroque traditions while looking ahead (largely through its anguished first movement, the Kyrie) toward the Romantic era. A substantial work in every way, with unusually virtuosic writing for the soprano and bass soloists, this Mass moves from despair to acceptance, from terror to joy, with a sureness of construction and certainty of belief worthy of Bach. Boston Baroque under Martin Pearlman handles the Mass with beautiful balance between voices and orchestra – Haydn by this time was giving the instruments a really significant role in his vocal works – and all the soloists rise to the occasion wonderfully throughout, producing a post-Baroque choral work thoroughly informed by Baroque sensibilities that it reinterprets for its own time and, in doing so, for later times as well, including ours. And coupling the Mass, which dates to 1798, with Symphony No. 102, from 1794, is a wonderful decision, since the dynamics and orchestral balance that Haydn refined so brilliantly in his final symphonies became foundational for his last six Mass settings, including the Lord Nelson Mass. Hearing the sacred and secular works juxtaposed shows very clearly in just how many ways they are the products of similar thinking – and yet in how many ways they differ in their approaches and effects. The Baroque has in a very real sense been rediscovered by performers and audiences in recent decades, and recordings like this Linn Records SACD of Haydn show just how lively and alive that rediscovery has been – and with how much power and wonder the Baroque era has continued to speak to the 20th and 21st centuries.

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