The English, historical-instrument, Baroque ensemble La Serenissima (the term was a nickname for the city of Venice) has specialized in somewhat scholarly recordings that nevertheless retain considerable general appeal, and the group does it again with this release. The program offers some lesser-known composers, and some lesser-known pieces by famous composers like the tiny and fascinating Concerto alla rustica for two oboes, bassoon, strings, and continuo, RV 151. What ties the program together formally is that it covers a range of Italian cities that were becoming cultural centers as they declined in political power: not only Venice (Vivaldi, Albinoni, Caldara), but also Padua (Tartini), Bologna (Torelli), and Rome (Corelli). There are several works by composers known only for one or two big hits, and these are especially rewarding. Sample the opening movement of Tartini's Violin Concerto E major, DS 51, with its unusual phrase construction and daringly chromatic cadenza passage: it has the exotic quality for which Tartini became famous, but it does not rely on sheer virtuosity. That work is played by leader Adrian Chandler himself, but he also chooses pieces for a large variety of other solo instruments: the Italian Baroque was about more than the violin. Each work on the album has something to recommend it, and collectively the performances may make up the best album of 2017 whose booklet includes footnotes.
Albinoni might be described as a specialist in the medium of the Concerto a cinque, of which he composed 54, published at intervals during almost half his productive life. The first six appeared in his Op 2 (1700), together with six sonatas from which they inherited some structural features, and were followed in 1707 by the 12 of Op 5. They were 'halfway houses' on the road to the violin concerto per se as we know it – and as Vivaldi established it four years later.Virtuoso passages for a solo violin appear only en passant in flanking movements and 'symmetrically' in the Adagios of Nos 3, 6, 9 and 12. Each Concerto is in three-movement form and all the finales are fugal, as they are in the Op 2, though in their simplicity they sound rather like rondos.
Vivaldi's sacred music is not so famous as that of his contemporaries Bach and Handel, so this is a bargain opportunity to catch up. You might think Vivaldi's playful, virtuoso Italianate character and Catholic context would produce radically different music, but in George Guest's urgent readings, the mixture of restrainedly exultant choruses and austerely beautiful arias are near-identical to Bach.
Parrott's decision to perform this selection of Vivaldi's sacred music with sopranos and altos shows how the all-female forces of La Pietà might have coped with tenor and bass lines. Delectable performances in superior sound.— BBC Music Magazine
The Belgian early music group Vox Luminis has made several wonderful recordings of lesser-known Baroque repertory. They cultivate a distinctive sound with ten or 15 singers (here there are ten) and a small instrumental group, diverging completely from the general Italianate-operatic trend toward brisk tempos, sharp accents, and dramatic conceptions. Here they take on two very familiar works and meet the challenge of creating unique interpretations. Even in the splendid Bach Magnificat in D major, BWV 243 (sample one of the big choruses, perhaps "Fecit potentiam"), they are smooth and even delicate. The sound is all the more impressive in that leader Lionel Meunier does not really conduct; he sings in the choir itself. Yet the carefully burnished sound is extremely coherent. The effect is to deliver a personal aspect even to these highly public works. In this kind of reading there is the necessity for the performers to deliver text intelligibility and for the instrumentalists to deliver balance, and all succeed nicely, as do Alpha Classics' engineers, working in a pair of churches (Belgian for the Handel, Dutch for the Bach). This is a beautifully rendered representation of standard repertory that draws you into entirely new ways of looking at the music.
Widely considered as one of the leading exponents in early music, Emma Kirkby is renowned for her purity of production, clarity of diction and extraordinary degree of vocal control. From this release it is obvious that Emma Kirkby's artistic vigour and sense of discovery are undiminished. Alongside her incomparable performances of well-loved works such as Bach's cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, she uses the esteem in which she is held by musicians and audiences alike to champion long-forgotten repertory such as William Hayes's The Passions. Emma is accompanied by Cantillation and the Orchestra of the Antipodes conducted by Antony Walker.