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Christmas Concerto

Adrian Shepherd

This compact disc offers an anthology of 17th and 18th century works for baroque orchestra (total time 68 minutes):
Arcangelo Corelli
(1653-1713): Concerto Grosso in G minor Opus 6, No.8 (the "Christmas Concerto")
Carlo Farina
(1600-1640): Pavane in A minor
Alfonso Ferrabosco II
(1575-1628): Pavane No.4 (from 6 lessons a 2)
Erasmus Widmann
(1572-1634): Canzona, Galliard and Intrada
Antonio Vivaldi
(1678-1741): Sinfonia in G Major, RV 149
George Frideric Handel
(1685-1759): Sinfonia to Part 3 of Solomon ("Arrival of the Queen of Sheba")
Johann Sebastian Bach
(1685-1750): Air from Orchestral Suite No.3 in D major, BWV 1068
Johann Pachelbel
(1653-1706): Canon in D major
Johann Christoph Pepusch
(1667-1752): Kammersinfonie in D minor

It is immediately apparent that this disc is a medley of 'light classical' pieces, including established favourites (Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, "Air on the G string" and Pachelbel's Canon) thus appealing to the broad market of Classic FM listeners. At the same time it introduces the listener to lesser known, indeed some rarely performed, but no less delightful pieces by early and mid-Baroque composers resident in Italy, Germany and England. As such it is a splendid example of its genre. The disc's general title "Christmas Concerto" is derived from the famous pastorale last movement of Corelli's Concerto in G minor; otherwise there is no specifically Yuletide theme about these pieces. Nevertheless this disc will make a charming Christmas present - no doubt the title was chosen with eye to that market.

In some respects these are a heterogeneous collection of pieces, but also make a pleasing sequence on the ear with their variety of mood and atmosphere - from the dark sombre tones of the pavanes by Farina and Ferrabosco to the bright and breezy pieces by Vivaldi and Handel. It would appear the sequencing has been chosen with some care: Farina's Pavane in A minor introduces a funereal atmosphere after the lightness of the Corelli concerto, which then darkens still further into F minor for the Pavane No.4 by Ferrabosco. By contrast the lightness and energy of Vivaldi's Sinfonia in G could be imagined by the listener (who so chooses) to be followed by a few moments silence in G minor, before embarking upon the driving moto perpetuo of the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba in the major key of the same key signature. This last is played with much energetic gusto, but mercifully not at the mad frenetic pace sometimes encountered in modern performances.

All the pieces are played by a modern string chamber orchestra, with no attempt to simulate the timbre of period instruments, even in those pieces intended for 17th Century viols. However, the playing is of a high order of delicacy and sensitivity in authentic style. The harpsichord continuo is audible in the 18th Century concertos - but only just. Some listeners may consider this a blessing in a modern instruments performance, whilst others may find it an irritating departure from authenticity.

The overbearing dominance of Handel in the musical life of London in the mid 1700s tended then, and ever since, to put his contemporaries into undeserved deep shade. Accordingly it is pleasing to have the miscellany on this disc devoted to Pepusch's particularly splendid Chamber Symphony in D minor in the sonata da chiesa form, with broad slow movements introducing each of the bright Allegro movements.

Overall a most agreeable disc. 

Humphrey Smith

Reviews from previous months

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