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Passionate, lyrical baroque flute concertos from Kuijken

The Grand Mogul – Virtuosic Baroque Flute Concertos

Barthold Kuijken (baroque flute), Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra

For his latest release on the Naxos label, the Belgian flautist and recorder player Barthold Kuijken is performing with the period instrument ensemble Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra. The CD contains works by Vivaldi, Pergolesi, Leclair, Blavet and Telemann thus providing the listener with a varied programme of lyrical, baroque flute concertos from Italy, Germany and France.

I have one or more performances of these works, with the exception of Flute Concerto in A minor by Blavet, in my collection already. The CD opens with Vivaldi’s Concerto Il Gran Mogul for flute, strings & continuo in D minor, RV431a from which the CD gets part of its title. This delightful piece appears on Florilegium’s excellent Sacred works for soprano & concertos on Channel Classics and on The French Connection 2 from La Serenissima with Katy Bircher playing the flute. Pergolesi’s  Flute Concerto in G major represents one of the few examples of Pergolesi’s instrumental compositions—if, indeed, Pergolesi wrote the work; musical scholarship is uncertain about its origin. This work is familiar to me through a recording by James Galway, with I Solisti Veneti and Claudio Scimone, has a style and structure that is very similar to those works that he wrote for the operatic stage. Leclair’s Flute Concerto Op. 7 No. 3 in C major is known to me in its version for the violin on a bright and delicate recording by Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante. Telemann’s light and amiable Concerto TWV 51:D1 in D major for flute, strings & b.c. has been recorded by Karl Kaiser in a sunny performance with La Stagione Frankfurt and Michael Schneider. Michel Blavet (1700–1768) was the principal flautist in the Paris Opéraand was better known as a high-rank performer than as a composer. Nonetheless Blavet endowed French flute music with the mature and virtuoso character that enabled flautists to vie with Leclair and other great French violinists of the period. It is a pleasant enough work in which the first and last movements, which are written in a purely Italian style, flank a couple of French Gavottes.

This release is to be welcomed not merely for its variety, which enabled me to happily listen to the entire CD in one setting, but also for the quality of the playing of Barthold Kuijken, who must surely be the best of baroque flautists, and the exuberant performance of the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra. These are fine performances that benefit from Barthold Kuijken’s assiduous study of the music of these five composers and they provide entertainment and enlightenment in equal measure. I have no hesitation in recommending this release to anyone with an interest in baroque music not merely aficionados of the baroque flute. Combine all of these factors with a sympathetic recording and this makes the CD a clear choice for our bargain of the month award.

iClassical rating:

Petrenko’s first release with the BPO shows a complete grasp of a masterwork

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 ‘Pathétique’, Op. 74

Berliner Philharmoniker, Kirill Petrenko (conductor)

I’m sure that David Mellor would have something to say about the length of Kirill Petrenko’s first release with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra which lasts a little short of three quarters of an hour. However my perspective is somewhat different¹ and I would hesitate to question the value of a recording and performance of such a high standard.

If you look for maximum emotional impact in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique this may not be the recording for you; look instead to either Mravinsky or more recently Currentzis for real intensity. What you get on this version is a great clarity. Having listened to this I feel that I know so much more about the inner detail of the work – who needs to sit with a score! Listen, for example, to the first movement where Petrenko holds the movement’s many rhythmic strands together perfectly whilst detailing the inner lines. The second movement is less dance-like than is usual and one feels there is a sense of subtlety about the playing. The third movement is uniquely thought through and conveys a sense of joviality. In the finale one cannot escape the sense of despair present in this movement but somehow in Petrenko’s hands it is rather dignified (though the muted horns certainly snarl) and it feels somewhat less suicidal than in many performances.

Overall this is a carefully thought out performance that shows a strong understanding of the overall structure of the piece and illuminates the work to an extent that I have not previously encountered. Remarkably this release is a combination of two consecutive live performances and the results achieved by the engineers are truly outstanding. It comes in the Berlin Philharmonic’s customary coffee table style and contains some interesting notes on Petrenko’s interpretation written by Malte Krasting. I have no hesitation in making this our CD of the Month and point out that it would make a fine contrast alongside Teodor Currentzis’ recent  Musicaeterna release.

This first outing on disc certainly bodes well for future offerings from the Berlin Philharmonic with Kirill Petrenko at the helm and I, for one, can hardly wait.

iClassical rating:

¹ I once purchased Kleiber’s famous recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 on a full priced CD that was considerably shorter than the offering being considered here.

Rossini’s ‘Il barbiere di Siviglia’ – Work No. 97 in our collection

Gioachino Rossini (29.02.1792 – 13.11.1868) was an Italian composer who gained fame chiefly for his thirty-nine operas; the most popular of which is Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville). He also wrote many songs, some chamber music, including his six delightful string sonatas, piano pieces, and some sacred music including the Stabat Mater and the Petite Messe solennelle.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is frequently performed in opera houses around the world and there are currently nearly thirty versions currently available on CD and over twenty video versions available on either DVD or Blu-Ray disc. The Barber of Seville is an opera buffa in two acts by Gioachino Rossini with an Italian libretto by Cesare Sterbini. The plot centres around the beautiful Rosina who is kept all but prisoner by her guardian Bartolo. But when Count Almaviva falls in love with Rosina from afar, he enlists the help of cunning barber Figaro to help him outwit Bartolo. A comic battle of wills ensues, but will love or greed be triumphant? You must listen to the opera to find out!

Verdi considered Il barbiere di Siviglia to be the greatest operatic comedy – a perfect marriage of wit, energy and exhilarating musical invention. Rossini’s score fizzes with virtuosic brilliance, combining bravura solo arias, set to some of the composer’s best-loved melodies, with breath-taking, intricate ensembles, weaving together the story’s many strands into glittering musical and dramatic harmony.

Fortunately there is a 3 CD set issued by Naxos, at bargain price, and conducted by Will Humburg that in many respects is the equal or in some cases superior to all of the other versions available. We would strongly urge you to try this version.

If you wish to watch the opera as well as listen to it then we can recommend a dramatic version captured at London’s Royal Opera House with an unbeatable cast in a sparkling, colourful production. In this production Joyce DiDonato sings an astonishing Rosina from a wheelchair after breaking her ankle on the opening night. This works surprisingly well; as DiDonato wrote ‘being trapped in the wheelchair was a quite literal way of demonstrating Rosina’s frustration and huge desire to break free’.

 View the other works in our collection.

Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 – Work No. 96 in our collection

Johannes Brahms (07.05.1833 – 03.04.1897) was a German composer and pianist and is considered to be one of the leading composers in the romantic period. He was born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, though he spent most of his career in Vienna, Austria. His most popular works include four symphonies, the Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80, two piano concertos, Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 and his Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77.

Both of Brahms’s piano concertos are gargantuan works. His Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 was composed some 22 years after his first piano concerto. Brahms began work on the piece in 1878 and completed it in 1881 while in Pressbaum near Vienna. He dedicated his second piano concerto to his teacher, Eduard Marxsen.  The work received its first performance in Budapest on 9 November 1881, with Brahms as soloist with the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. At nearly fifty minutes in duration, this concerto lasts longer than any other major Romantic piano concerto by quite some stretch.

Brahms was a master at writing music for the piano and as this four-movement concerto demonstrates, he was able to blend beauty with fire and tenderness with drama. In this expansive work Brahms takes his time to unveil his musical themes and ideas before we reach  the well-known thrilling, energetic finale. However this popular finale produces even greater enjoyment when heard as the culmination of that which precedes it.

If you have only ever heard the finale do set aside the time to listen to the entire work and in a wonderful performance such as that by Nelson Freire with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly you will be richly rewarded!

View the other works in our collection.