Agricola was praised by his contemporaries for the bizarre turn of his inspiration, and his music likened to quicksilver. By the standards of the period this is a highly unusual turn of phrase, but remains spot-on. The Ferrara Ensemble anthology, the first ever devoted to the composer, focused on the secular music, both instrumental and vocal, precisely the area covered by Michael Posch and Ensemble Unicorn in this most satisfying disc. Where there's duplication (surprisingly little, in fact) the performances compare with those of the Ferrara Ensemble, although the style of singing is very different. The voices are more up front and less inflected, perhaps the better to match the high instruments with which they're sometimes doubled. But the tensile quality of Agricola's lines comes through none the less, as does the miraculous inventiveness and charm of his music. Further, much of what's new to the catalogue really is indispensible, for example Agricola's most famous song, Allez, regretz. Unicorn keeps its improvisations and excursions to a minimum, and the music is the better for it. It really is a must-have.
Possibly, like me, the first time you may ever have met the name of Forqueray was when you first discovered the ‘Pièces de Clavecin en concerts’ by Rameau. In those chamber works, enlargements of solo harpsichord pieces, Rameau invariably pays tribute to some of his most interesting contemporaries.
Henri Renaud was a Parisian jazz pianist in the 1940s and '50s who never lost his French touch. Outgoing, charming and a delightful composer, he was a natural point person for American musicians on tour in Paris in need of local sidemen, venues and recording opportunities. In addition to recording in the early 1950s in Paris with Bobby Jaspar, the Belgian saxophonist and flutist, Renaud recorded with Sandy Mosse, Nat Peck, Lee Konitz, Gigi Gryce, Tony Ortega, Art Farmer, Clifford Brown and many others American jazz greats. In early 1954, Renaud was in New York briefly to record with American jazz musicians for the French Swing label, a subsidiary of France's Vogue Records. For the balance of the 1950s, Renaud recorded steadily as the leader of a trio or small orchestra, writing a wide range of beautifully composed songs rich in melody and mood. In 1964, he began a long second career as head of CBS France. Renaud died in 2002.
Anyone with even a passing interest in the sultry, enigmatic and sensual music of Sorabji needs to have this set. It is a most thoroughly engrossing anthology from a brilliant pianist who is a veteran in Sorabji terms. He has lived with and reflected on this music for approaching forty years. Time and again while listening to this set I was struck by his loving attention to detailing, voicings and speeds. The music communicates Sorabji's striving after transcending the limitations of keyboard, of mechanical action and of the pedestrianly objective.
Obsessive in gambling and in love, the soldier Hermann is the protagonist of Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame, based on a story by Pushkin. He is smitten with the aristocratic Lisa and fixated on learning the winning secret of ‘the three cards’ from her grandmother, the Countess, played by iconic contralto Ewa Podles. This opulent production from Barcelona’s Liceu captures St Petersburg in the era of Catherine the Great, while the house’s Music Director Michael Boden conducts a large and impressive cast.