I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Stravaganze Napoleatane

Stravaganze The British ensemble London Baroque broke ranks several years ago with their long affiliation with Harmonia Mundi, and now have most recently recorded for BIS. This recording documents Italian music with a collaboration with Dan Laurin on recorder(s). Represented on the album's 29 tracks is: * Mancini, * Corelli, * Sarri, * Scarlatti, * Barbella, * Gallo, and * Ravenscroft So, the recording is a type of traveler's sampler, not too different from an earlier release by Il Giardino Armonico, which interestingly enough, covered some of the same music. The opening work by Francesco Mancini is in my favorite key of G minor for two violins, recorder, and basso continuo. LB uses an organ which is a fitting keyboard instrument, I think, for recorder (air and more air), and lends a dark tone to the music. The fast tempos are indeed taken fast, which reminds me that LB hasn't always followed their national trends of politeness. Their playing lacks that certain dynamic contrast that's often heard with better Italian players today, but the playing from the violins is strong, decisive, and virtuosic. When Laurin comes in we gain a better picture of the ensemble's acoustic, one that evidently has a lot of vertical space. It may be slightly more wet than my ideal, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say that this music was performed in reverbrant spaces like this one. The second sonata by Mancini features the recorder straight away, with plenty of opportunity for ornaments to take focus away from the melody. Laurin shows taste in his execution of the first movement. It's ornamented, but done with appropriate good choices. The short movement by Corelli is a fuga con un soggetto solo in D major. I am not sure from where it comes, but it's quite obviously Corelli to my ear. This piece could have used a drier acoustic, to be sure, so that each player could better articulate their lines. What we're left with is a beautiful wash of sound, but individual voices are difficult to pull apart. Lauren takes command, really, in the opening of the sonata in A minor by Domenico Sarri. Again, he's tasteful about ornaments. I'd probably wager that Maurice Steger might have been a little more extrovert given the same piece, and there's a place for every interpretive style. Laurin's is squarely in the middle - neither too conservative nor too extrovert. IGA fans will immediately recognized Sarri's first allegro. LB takes this one faster, which is daring (again) for the acoustical space in which they performed. Here the Italians better LB simply due to the violins: they've spoiled us with their ability to contrast the dynamics within the phrase. LB seems more "all loud" or "all soft," and if they are adding dynamic contrasts to their playing, it's lost in the wash of reverb. Domenico Scarlatti's father wrote a set of sonatas/concertos for recorder and small ensemble. I've loved #9, recorded here, both in the rendition by IGA and also Camerata Köln. This 5-movement work is well-done here, but again, they fight the acoustic at times.
The work by Barbella is forgettable, I suppose, but is played well. The light piece by Gallo in three movements reminds me of Corelli, as does the first allegro in the piece by Ravenscroft. Ravenscroft's piece is simply a little more well-wrought, but interestingly doesn't include recorder. Interesting, I think, that they recorded it here; one of the violin lines could have been picked up by Laurin. In the end, this recording is a well-done attempt at taking the listener on a musical journey to baroque Naples. I am not sure it ever rises to the level of a "stravaganza," however, based on the performing style of LB with Dan Laurin. That's not to say there is one bad note on the recording. Some pieces were new to me, and that's why I value the recording. But the acoustical space captured here probably hurts the players more than helps them, as does the comparison of the works to the players from Il Giardino Armonico, whose playing style I ultimately find more arresting. That said, there is real value in hearing different interpretations and being able to compare and contrast them as both an intellectual and aesthetic exercise. This may not be my first recording of this repertoire to obtain, but then again, it's still earned a valued place in my collection.

Barto performing Weiss

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