This is yet another addition to the Collegium Musicum 90's superb series of Telemann recordings. Their tone is suitably mellow, much more attuned to the baroque sensibility than any other period instruments orchestra I can think of. The works here are totally engaging. The chalumeau is a predecessor of the clarinet. It makes a woody, somewhat recorder-like sound, and, on this showing, has a limited amount of versatility.
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.
The Scarlatti family is one of many musical dynasties in music history. Only two of its number are still well-known today: Alessandro and his son Domenico. Alessandro was born in Palermo as the second son of Pietro Scarlata - the family name in its original form - who was active as a tenor. During his career Alessandro lived and worked in several cities: Rome, Naples and Venice. At a young age he was already a famous and much sought-after composer. His younger brother Francesco – almost forgotten today - was less lucky. He was appointed as violinist at the royal court in Naples in 1684, but returned to Palermo in 1691, and stayed there for about 24 years. He tried to find appointments at the courts of Vienna and Naples, but failed. In 1719 he travelled to London, where he participated in public concerts. In 1733 he went to Dublin, where he seems to have died in 1741 or soon after. Domenico suffered tribulations too. It was only after the death of his father that he felt completely free to follow his own path, although he had left Italy five years earlier, in 1720.