Friday, 4 November 2016

CD Reviews - November 2016

The Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips, are now on their sixth disc of Masses by Josquin des Prés (c.1440-1521).  There are question marks over the authenticity of both the masses on this current disc, the Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass) and the Missa Une mousse de Biscaye, although Phillips argues Josquin’s case well in his detailed notes.  The reason for the inclusion of dice at various points in the score of the MIssa Di Dadi is uncertain, with some connection between the numbers on the dice and the note lengths of the cantus firmus, but not entirely consistent.  The appearance of something so secular seems unusual, but gambling was very popular in Milan at the time, where Josquin wrote the mass – was this Josquin’s joke, or a nod to a wealthy patron?  The composition uses a  ‘cantus firmus’ – a tune often drawn from other sources (on this occasion a chanson by Robert Morton) around which composition is based – and this is placed in the tenor part, at different speeds (hence the dice connection). The Missa Une mousse de Biscaye draws on a secular song, with French and Basque text, and the title means ‘A lass from Biscay’.  So two examples of Josquin taking secular material as the basis for his Mass settings, the latter potentially Josquin’s earliest setting.  Both the masses here are in just four parts, and The Tallis Scholars are pared down to just eight voices, with some sections being sung by solo voices.  As ever, the blended sound is pure and even, but the simpler structure of just four parts, and a maximum of eight singers makes for a plainer, clearer sound than sometimes their larger forces produce.  These are beautiful performances, and highlights include the Crucifixus in the Missa Di dadi, with its low, falling sequential lines at ‘simul adoratur’, building to an emphatic Amen.  This is followed by a gloriously reverent Sanctus.  In the Missa Une mousse de Biscaye, there is more rhythmic motion, and the melody is passed around the parts, creating a more fluid feel.  The settings are lower, without high soaring soprano lines, and the combined voices here create a beautifully rich blend.  Highly recommended. 

The Brodsky Quartet have returned with their second recording of Brahms with Chandos, this time pairing the String Quartet, Op. 51 No. 1 with the great Piano Quintet, Op. 34, for which they are joined by the Ukrainian pianist Natacha Kudritskaya.  Much has been written about how Brahms struggled to follow on from Beethoven in particular in relation to his symphonic output, but similar self-doubt applied to his writing for the string quartet, and it took him until 1873, aged 40 to publish his first two, the Op. 51 set.  He only composed one more string quartet, favouring instead other chamber genres such as quintets and sextets, of which the Piano Quintet is certainly up there as one of his chamber masterpieces.  The String Quartet, Op. 51 No. 1 is, however, a fine work, with Brahms in his tragic, C minor mode.  The second movement Romanze is particularly beautiful, and the Brodsky Quartet excels here with their warm tone.  Their outer movements could have more dramatic edge and drive, but they never fail to produce a beautiful sound, and their blend is flawless.  The Piano Quintet is mammoth, and began life as a string quintet, and then as a sonata for two pianos, before he settled on its final scoring.  The first movement is full of weighty turbulence, building right from the bare unison opening to its dramatic conclusion.  The slow movement is mostly calm, with occasional undercurrents of disturbed cross rhythms disturbing the stability.  The unsettling mood continues in the Scherzo, and the Finale’s anxious slow opening develops into a dramatically passionate conclusion.  Once again, the Brodskys produce a wonderfully blended sound, and the balance with Kudritskaya is sensitive, although I would have liked a little more power from the piano at times.  Overall, these are strong performances, full of warmth and body.  

Baroque violin specialist Johannes Pramsohler returns with his Ensemble Diderot with another great discovery, the Trio Sonatas of one Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville (c.1711-1772).  The French composer was a highly renowned composer in his day, although not generally remembered today.  His Trio Sonatas, Op. 2 are beautiful examples of the genre, with an artful combination of the French and Italian styles of the time.  Each in four movements, there are graceful opening adagios, lively fugues, followed by graceful slow movements, topped off with lively rapid finales.  The instrumentation is of particular interest here.  Pramsohler argues convincingly that Mondonville specially intended that some of the second violin parts could be played by a flute, keeping these parts free of double stops and placing them generally higher than the first violin part.  However, he only did this is some of the sonatas, not all, so the argument is that Mondonville wasn’t just taking the common pragmatic and economic line to expand his market, but actually specifically thought about the scoring for flute in some of the sonatas.  To this end, The Ensemble Diderot plays Sonatas 3 and 5 with violin (Pramsohler) and flute (Kristen Huebner), and the rest with two violins, Roldán Bernabé taking the second violin part.  The ‘third’ part of the trio, the continuo is provided by cellist Gulrim Choi and Philippe Grisvard on harpsichord.  These are delightful sonatas, and despite Mondonville’s slight over fondness for long chains of sequential writing, there is nevertheless much variety in the relatively constrained structure.  So, for example, the fugue of No. 4 is spiky and angular, whereas the fugue in No. 2 has a much more of a focus on running lines passed between the two violin parts.  And in the finales, he contrasts a running, racing presto in No. 1 with a dancing allegro in three to close No. 2.  As ever, the Ensemble Diderot play with great precision and energy, and the blending of the two violin parts weaving in and out of each other is particularly impressive.  The change to flute and violin provides a welcome change of texture, and Huebner is suitably sprightly to match Pramsohler in the opening duet allegro to No. 5.  But the absolute highlight for me is the very first movement of No. 1, with wonderfully delicate trilling passed back and forth between the two violins, Pramsohler and Bernabé playing with exquisite perfection here.  This world premiere recording is a welcome addition to the Ensemble Diderot’s impressive and growing catalogue.

No comments:

Post a Comment