Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Orchestral Suite No 3 in D, BWV1068 [18:38]
Tomaso Giovanni ALBINONI (1671-1751)
Concerto in d minor, Op.9/2: Adagio [5:21]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto, for flautino (piccolo), strings and continuo in C, RV443 [11:51]
Tomaso Giovanni ALBINONI
Adagio for violin and strings in g minor [2:02]
Alessandro MARCELLO (1686-1739)
Concerto for oboe and orchestra in d minor [9:38]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN
Concerto for 2 transverse flutes and Strings: Grave [4:02]
Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and continuo in D [4:42]
Improvised Variations on Greensleeves, for lute [1:48]
Chaconne (Curtain tune from Timon of Athens), for harpsichord in g minor, ZT680 [4:43]
George Frideric HANDEL
Solomon, oratorio, HWV 67 No. 27, Arrival of the Queen of Sheba [3:13]
Tomaso Giovanni ALBINONI
Oboe Concerto in d minor: Adagio (transcribed for 2 violins and continuo) [3:59]
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini
rec. January - February 2001, Chiesa di San Giorgio, Morbio Inferiore, Switzerland. DDD
DAS ALTE WERK 2564 642238 [70:23]
This is a straight reissue, with a more attractive cover and at reduced cost (target price £5.06), of a recording formerly available as Teldec 8573-85557-2, in which form it was reviewed by Kirk McElhearn in 2002. NB: some dealers still have the original full-price CD for sale, either as their sole offering or alongside the reissue.
My reaction is much the same as Kirk’s: while this set of crowd-pleasers might make an attractive Christmas present for someone with little knowledge of baroque music, perhaps a fan of Classic FM’s presentation of single movements, there’s little to attract even those with a small collection of the music of the period. The opening work, Bach’s Orchestral Suite No.3, is the most substantial item here and while it’s complete and receives a good performance, one that makes the Overture on the older Teldec recording from Nikolaus Harnoncourt (below) sound sedate and even a bit arthritic, though honours are about even in the rest of the work, collectors with any serious intention of getting to know JSB’s music are likely to want a recording of all four Suites.
Il Giardino Armonico have recorded a fine version of the Brandenburg Concertos (2564698123, 2 CDs for around £10) but not, to the best of my knowledge, a complete set of the Suites. There are, however, plenty of good recordings of the complete set to choose from, including Bach Collegium Japan under Masaaki Suzuki (BIS-SACD-1431or BIS-CD-1721/22, 3 CDs for the price of 2 with the Brandenburgs). You might also consider the super-bargain Warner Teldec USB set of all JS Bach’s extant music which includes the Harnoncourt recording of the Suites - but hurry, it’s a limited edition and stocks are diminishing. (2564661127, equivalent to 153 CDs for around £130: Recording of the Month - review).
Similarly, while the Adagio from Albinoni’s Op.9/2 receives as heartfelt a performance as any, it craves at least to be completed with the concluding Allegro. If you enjoy the performance as much as I expect, you’ll want at least some of Albinoni’s other oboe concertos, in which case you’ll be well advised to go for his collected concertos for oboe and strings, Op.7 and Op.9, performed by Anthony Robson and Catherine Latham with Collegium Musicum 90 and Simon Standage on Chandos CHAN0792, three CDs at a special price (See Download News 2013/4).
Vivaldi’s very attractive little flautino concerto, RV443, comes complete and in an attractive performance. For once I prefer to hear the work on its own - a whole set of these concertos is a bit same-y - but those who are looking for a complete set of Vivaldi’s concertos for flautino or flauto dolce should consider Dan Laurin with the Bach Collegium Japan on BIS-CD-865.
The mention of the organ as featuring on track 10 in Kirk McElhearn’s review - no doubt that was what the original track listing said - may have misled prospective purchasers into thinking this the notorious ‘Albinoni Adagio’, which is not the work of Albinoni at all but a confection produced by a 20th-century musicologist, Giazotto, who ‘discovered’ the original and then conveniently lost it. What we have is actually a short - all too short - movement from a violin concerto.
The Marcello oboe concerto which follows is played whole but it, too, is likely to make you want more of the same, perhaps on a budget Hyperion Helios release (CDH55034) where it’s performed by Nicholas Daniel and the Peterborough String Orchestra alongside music by Vivaldi, Albinoni (Op.9/2 again) and others. With that recording available for even less than the Telefunken reissue, you may think it a better introduction to this repertoire.
The Telemann on track 14 is again a single slow movement from a concerto for two flutes that begs to be heard complete. Teldec don’t give the TWV number for identification or even the key but there’s a wealth of recordings of Telemann’s concertos for one or more flutes.
If there’s one piece of baroque music that you are likely to have, it’s the ubiquitous Pachelbel Canon - there even is a CD entitled Pachelbel’s Greatest Hit, containing multiple arrangements of the music, complete with the other kind of can(n)on on the cover (RCA GD60712 or 82876553072). At least the performance here (tracks 15-16) is straight, with none of the hype that is sometimes involved. No gimmicks about cannon on the cover, either - this whole series is graced by contemporary still-life paintings, in this case by Jean Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755).
Greensleeves makes a brief appearance in an improvisation for archlute, though it’s much earlier than all the other music here and not baroque at all. I suppose it was included so that the following piece, Purcell’s Chaconne in g minor, which receives a strong performance, would not be the only English music to be included.
Adopted Englishman Handel is represented next by - what else in a popular programme? - The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. There are umpteen versions of this in the catalogue, of which my favourite would be Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert (DG E4472792, with Fireworks Music, etc.) but this stylish and lively performance runs that and other top-flight versions pretty close.
The preponderance of slow, reflective music on this album makes it appropriate that it should end with another Albinoni Adagio, this time a transcription for two violins and continuo of an oboe concerto. The earlier release apparently ascribed the transcription to Bach, but the new booklet drops that ascription. Bach did transcribe some of Albinoni’s Op.1 sonatas but I can’t find any transcription for two violins and continuo in the BWV catalogue.
The recording is bright throughout, matching the somewhat emphatic style of the performances, but not over-bright and the notes in the booklet, though printed in minuscule font are informative.
Predictably the original release received high praise of ‘the only baroque CD you’ll ever need’ variety - five stars all round from happy purchasers on Amazon, though I see that one disgruntled person labelled it ‘utter rubbish’ and castigated the performance of the Bach Suite in particular as sounding inebriated and too much ornamented in the French style. Without wishing to get too deeply into that argument, I’ll simply point out that the Ouverture-Suites of Telemann and Bach are based on a French model* and as for the tempi, which I thought just right, Kirk McElhearn was surprised to find them rather measured by contrast with Il Giardino’s recording of the Brandenburgs.
* ‘French style does … pervade all four suites … In fact, the Orchestral Suites belong to a … tradition, in which the emphasis was less on the regular dances of the classical German keyboard suite than on the Galanterien of the French.’ (Boyd, M, The Master Musicians: Bach, London: Dent, 1983, 1990, p.84)
I’ve been a bit sniffy about the target audience for this CD but I imagine that there will be plenty more potential purchasers willing to give it a 5-star rating. Many of them will be the same people who buy recital CDs from star operatic singers but baulk at purchasing a complete opera or even a single-CD set of extracts. I’d like to encourage them to buy a complete opera or a complete recording of Bach’s Orchestral Suites, but if they are happy as they are, they can at least be assured of the quality of the performances on this Teldec reissue.