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"Grand Tour - Baroque Road Trip"

Myrsini Margariti, sopranoa; Elisabeth Champollion, recorderb
New Dutch Academy
Dir: Simon Murphy

rec: March & Oct 2016, The Hague, Raad van State (Gotische Zaal)
Pentatone - PTC 5186 668 (© 2017) (78'39")
Liner-notes: E; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat (BWV 1051); George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Alcina (HWV 34) (Tornami a vagheggiar)a; Alessandro (HWV 21) (Brilla nell'arma)a; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Concerto for viola, strings and bc in G (TWV 51,G9)c; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto for flautino, strings and bc in C (RV 443)b; Concerto for lute, two violins and bc in D (RV 93)d; Unico VAN WASSENAER (1692-1766): Concerto Armonico No. 1 in G

Peter Tabori, oboe; Rachael Beasley, Sonoko Asabuki, Eva Saladin, Emma Williams, Christine Verdon, Paula Pérez Romero, Fumiko Morie, violin; Simon Murphy (soloc), Annegret Meder, viola; Nicholas Milne, Ivanka Neeleman, viola da gamba; Aleksandra Renska, Bartosz Kokosza, cello; Susanne Herre, violone; Benoît Vanden Bemden, violone, double bass; Clemens van der Feen, double bass; Karl Nyhlin, gallichon (solod, guitar; Mariangiola Martello, Yoshi Kazama, harpsichord

The title of this disc refers to a historical phenomenon of the 17th and 18th centuries, the grand tour, a trip which young men of the higher echelons of society undertook to broaden their horizon. Some of these trips resulted in journals or letters, which give us much information about society and the arts in a specific part of Europe. Italy, and especially Venice, were almost always part of such a trip. The present programme is a kind of musical journey across Europe somewhere in the second quarter of the 18th century. It is also a personal document of Simon Murphy, the director of the New Dutch Academy. He has chosen some of his personal favourites, which he plays with his colleagues and friends from the ensemble, but also some external soloists he admires and enjoyes cooperating with. That is reflected by the booklet, which tells us about his connection to the music and the artists rather than about the music itself.

The main composers of the late baroque era are represented: Bach, Handel, Telemann and Vivaldi. The odd man out is Unico van Wassenaer, the Dutch aristocrat who composed the six Concerti armonici which for a long time were attributed to either Pergolesi or Ricciotti. One could consider him the representative of a special breed of composers: aristocrats who were active as composers and called themselves dilettanti as being engaged in the manual task of composition was not appropriate for a member of the aristocracy.

The programme comprises a series of highlights from the first half of the 18th century. The flip side is that we hear only familiar pieces which every lover of baroque music has in his collection, probably with the exception of Van Wassenaer's concerto. As far as the other pieces are concerned, Telemann's Concerto in G for viola, strings and basso continuo is likely the least well-known piece. Concertos for this instrument are not often played in concerts or on disc. It is a typical Telemann concerto, with four movements based on the model of Corelli's trio sonatas, rather than the three-movement form of the Vivaldian concerto, which his colleague Bach preferred. The latter is represented by the last of the Brandenburg Concertos, which in themselves are quite unique in their diversity in texture and scoring. The sixth is a good example: the scoring for two violas, two viole da gamba, cello and basso continuo is rather unusual.

Today Vivaldi is one of the most frequently performed and recorded composers. The Concerto in C for flautino belongs among his most popular pieces, partly because the number of solo concertos for the recorder is rather limited. An instrument which shares the latter's fate is the lute; Vivaldi's Concerto in D is one of the few solo concertos for this instrument. However, it is in fact a concerto da camera: the lute is accompanied by two violins, which points in the direction of a performance with one instrument per part. Here the full string body seems to take part, which I find rather unconvincing. The present recording is certainly different from other performances in that the solo part is played on the gallichon, a type of bass lute.

In this European concert Handel could not be omitted; he was probably the most 'European' composer of the first half of the 18th century. Born in Germany, thoroughly educated in the Italian style on his own grand tour which brought him in Rome, Florence and Venice, and then settling in England, he contributed to one of the main genres of vocal music: opera. The programme includes arias from two of his operas. Oddly enough the names of these are not mentioned in the track-list, only in the liner-notes. It makes sense that the genre of the opera is included here; there is little chance that those who undertook a grand tour never watched and heard an opera performance.

Considering that most of the music on this disc is fairly familiar, one wonders who is going to purchase such a disc. The New Dutch Academy, as good as it is, certainly is not one of the best-known ensembles in the early music scene. The performances, however, make the disc well worth investigation. Overall these are excellent. Among the highlights is the slow movement from Vivaldi's lute concerto which is played with great sensitivity by Karl Nyhlin. I admire Elisabeth Champallion's art of ornamentation in Vivaldi's recorder concerto. Myrsini Margariti has the perfect voice for baroque opera; she adds quite some ornamentation, but always within the boundaries of what is historically tenable. However, she should have reduced her vibrato, which is really too much. I was a little surprised by the tempi of the sixth Brandenburg Concerto. The opening movement has no tempo indication and is played in a pretty slow tempo. However, the last movement is an allegro, but one wouldn't guess. The New Dutch Academy's fast movements are between 90 and 120 seconds slower than recent recordings, for instance by the Freiburger Barockorchester and Concerto Köln.

In short, this is a nice disc which every lover of baroque music will enjoy, despite the rather unadventurous programming.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Elisabeth Champollion
Myrsini Margariti
New Dutch Academy

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