Thursday, 14 February 2019

CD Reviews - February 2019

Violinist Johannes Pramsohler is back with more unexplored treasures, highlighting virtuoso violin concertos by Johann Jakob Kress (c.1685-1738), the court concertmaster at Darmstadt.  Four out of the five works here are receiving world premiere recordings, and Pramsohler is joined by the Darmstädter Barocksolisten.  Interestingly, they perform on modern instruments, thereby challenging the idea that Baroque music should now only be the territory of period-instrument groups.  Their attention to historically performed detail and articulation is certainly striking. The disc opens with a wonderful Concerto by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), with Pramsohler and the players joined by Manfred Bocksweiger on solo trumpet.  Possibly written for Kress to perform, the bright trumpet is matched by a scintillating high register violin part, and a delightful central Adagio is followed by a joyous Allegro finale, with watery running lines cascading from the solo violin.  There are two Kress Concerti on the disc. No. 1 has a beautifully touching, arioso Adagio, with staccato orchestral accompaniment, and a dancing Allegro to finish, and No. 6 has a stately slow introduction with delicate writing for the violin. Its Adagio is mournful, with sustained, unusual harmonic shifts, and the Allegro is a light dance.  The other two works here call for three trumpets in addition to the lighter orchestral forces, and this provides a great contrast.  The Concerto by Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758) contrasts a birdlike solo violin part against the full orchestra, with minor key interjections from trumpets and oboes.  There’s a skip in the step of the walking bass line in the Andante, and the Allegro is celebratory and virtuosic, with bright trumpet fanfares.  The disc concludes with a lively Ouverture (Orchestral Suite) by Johann Samuel Endler (1694-1762).  Its eight movements include plenty of highly virtuosic solo violin displays, often punctuated by punchy rhythmic accompaniment from the orchestra.  Yet there are lighter moments too, with a simple stately dance for strings alone (Fantasie) and a delicate, delightful oboe/violin dialogue in the Passepied.  This is a disc full of delights, and Pramsohler is clearly in his element.  His brightness of tone and lightening touch is matched by great energy and vivid articulation from the Darmstadt players.  Highly recommended.

The Telling specialise in staged performances and ‘concert-theatre’ pieces to bring the ballads, poetry and story-telling of the Middle Ages to life. They will be familiar to many in Brighton, as they have performed regularly in the Brighton Early Music Festival, and one of their members, Clare Norburn was  co-founder and until recently Co-Director of the festival.  Together with fellow singer Ariane Prüssner, and medieval harp player and singer Leah Stuttard, the three have recorded a collection of striking works under the title Gardens of Delight, exploring the use of flowers as imagery and inspiration in medieval song.  They take us on a trip around Europe, through Spain, France, England, Italy and Germany, and also through time, with music spanning the 11th to 15th centuries.  Norburn has a bright, bell-like soprano voice, contrasted beautifully by Prüssner’s rich, deeper tones.  This is particularly evident in the opening traditional Sephardic song, La rosa enflorese, with Prüssner’s haunting voice, full of sadness, followed by Norburn’s yearning tones, all supported by Stuttard with an atmospheric, light harp accompaniment.  The works range from the florid and virtuosic, wandering lines of O rosa bella by Johannes Ciconia (1370-1412), to the unexpectedly passionate anonymous German song Der Winter will hin weichen, and the disc concludes with Hildegard von Bingen’s (1098-1179) passionately ecstatic Ave generosa (with Norburn’s voice souring aloft), followed by a closing Procession.  There are delicate solo works performed beautifully by Stuttard on the harp, as well as richly blended three part singing from them all in Ther is no rose of swych virtu, which may be a familiar tune to some.  Roses and lilies, and their symbolism associated with the Virgin Mary, figure large, but even gladioli make an appearance in one song.  This is a glorious selection of music, performed with clear devotion and the ability to communicate the varied emotions of this fascinating repertoire. Well worth exploring.

(Edited versions of these reviews first appeared in GScene, February 2019)