For all the charges of unacceptable schematicism levelled at Vivaldi and his kind, Monica Huggett, as supremely imaginative as well as technically and stylistically accomplished an exponent of the baroque violin as any, demonstrates clearly that this music benefits from the guiding hand of a charismatic interpreter: her delivery of Vivaldi’s exuberant, even manic, inspiration is never less than involving and, in the slow movements, never less than touching.
Naxos intend to record Vivaldi’s entire orchestral corpus, and Raphael Wallfisch’s integral four-disc survey of the 27 cello concertos inaugurates this visionary, though plainly Herculean undertaking. Soloist and orchestra employ modern instruments; director Nicholas Kraemer contends that authentic protocols can be ably met by contemporary ensembles and, in articulation, style and ornamentation, these pristine, engaging readings have little to fear from period practitioners. Wallfisch’s pointed, erudite and spirited playing is supported with enlightened restraint by the CLS, directed from either harpsichord or chamber organ by Kraemer, whose sensitive continuo team merits high praise throughout. Without exception, these Concertos adopt an orthodox fast-slow-fast three-movement format. Wallfisch, dutifully observant in matters of textual fidelity, plays outer movements with verve, energy and lucidity, such that high-register passagework, an omnipresent feature of these works, is enunciated with the pin-sharp focus of Canaletto’s images of 18th-century Venice, which adorn the covers of these issues.
Formed by members of the Britten Sinfonia, the Britten Oboe Quartet makes its debut on disc with a collection dedicated to the memory of Janet Craxton, who died in 1981, at the age of 52. She was a prominent figure in British contemporary music in the 60s and 70s and one of the founding members of the London Sinfonietta. She was also a distinguished teacher whose pupils included the quartet’s oboist, Nicholas Daniel.
Bassist Nick Greenwood is best-known today for his fiery work with Arthur Brown in his own 1968-69 heyday. Moving on, in 1972, Greenwood chose to record a solo album, and to that end brought together a crack band of sessionmen. Even for its time the resulting Cold Cuts set was way out there, a mighty slab of psychedelia-laced prog rock that soared into musical recesses seldom explored. Besides showcasing Greenwood's superb bass skills, fans are also surprisingly treated to his vocals – surprising, because Greenwood was not previously known as a singer…
Left turns don't get much sharper than this one. Bitches features guest vocal appearances from Esperanza Spalding, N'dambi, Saunders Sermons, Cassandra Wilson, and Chinah Blac. Nicholas Payton does the rest – not just the trumpet, but all of the instrumentation, all of the songwriting, and most of the vocals. Those who have followed Payton's career as a jazz musician with no interest in left-field R&B of the previous several years – including but not limited to Sa-Ra, the Foreign Exchange, Dвm-Funk, and Bugz in the Attic – will be thrown.
The Russian composer Elena Langer, now resident in Britain, draws on influences from her native country (Shostakovich, especially in the chamber orchestration of these songs), from Britain (from Britten to Thomas Adès), and from continental Europe. As a song composer she is able to convey lightness even when dealing with serious material such as the title song cycle setting poems by Lee Harwood (most of the songs on the album are in English). These songs subtly depict love triangles, some of them with both straight and gay elements. Even better are the genuinely playful pieces.
Atalanta (HWV 35) is a pastoral opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel composed in 1736. It is based upon the mythological female athlete, Atalanta, the libretto (which is in Italian) being derived from the book La Caccia in Etolia by Belisario Valeriani. The identity of the librettist is not known. Handel composed it for the London celebrations of the marriage in 1736 of Frederick, Prince of Wales, eldest son of King George II, to Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. The first performance took place on 12 May 1736 in the Covent Garden Theatre. It closed with a spectacular display of fireworks, which was highly popular with the royal family and the London audience, and the opera and fireworks display were revived a number of times in the year of its first performance.
L'opera fu composta nel 1712 e andò in scena per la prima volta il 22 novembre dello stesso anno, sotto la direzione del compositore stesso, al Her Majesty's Theatre di Londra. L'accoglienza fu generalmente negativa, probabilmente a causa delle elevate aspettative che il pubblico nutriva in seguito al successo dell'opera Rinaldo. Un commentatore riporta che "la scenografia rappresentava unicamente l'Arcadia, i costumi erano vecchi e l'opera breve". I ruoli di Mirtillo e Silvio furono interpretati dai castrati Valeriano Pellegrini e Valentino Urbani. L'ouverture è in sei movimenti appare eccessivamente ampia per quei tempi: è verosimile pensare che fosse stata scritta come una suite orchestrale distinta dall'opera.
McGegan's recording is of considerable documentary interest in that a separate section at the conclusion of each of the three parts of Messiah - there are three discs accordingly - is reserved for the many alternative versions of arias, accompanied recitatives and choruses which Handel himself used or at least approved in performances during the 1740s and 1750s. In this way, the booklet explains, the listener can select which version of the work he/she wants to listen to at any given time. About six versions are possible from the 18 alternative tracks provided on the three CDs. By following a table printed in the back of the booklet (a few minutes' mental gymnastics are initially required) you can programme your CD player to replace particular arias with others.