One thing is certain in this uncertain world – you can trust Ashley Hutchings to do interesting things with various areas of British folk and rock music. In the case of the Albion Dance Band, under its various names, the focus was on mutating traditional English dance and folk music, which led to escapades involving traditional tunes, Morris dancers, double drummers, dance callers, Philip Pickett's entire collection of medieval instruments, and serious rock guitar front lines that tend to leap onto the hay cart and start blazing away. The Prospect Before Us is particularly unusual, even for Hutchings and the Albions – a number of the tracks were recorded live in the studio, complete with dancing by the Albion Morris Men, an effort that resulted in some especially raucous moments: the bonus version of "Merry Sherwood Rangers" is far more staid than the live rendition that made it to the original version of this album. An essential purchase, we think.
For her first collaboration with the period ensemble Il Giardino Armonico, violinist Isabelle Faust performs the five Violin Concertos of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, along with three shorter concertante works. This is an extraordinary set, for the historically informed performances, the polished sound of the group, the almost palpable presence of the players, which Harmonia Mundi has captured with superior engineering, and for the unrepressed joy in the music. Faust is the center of attention, naturally, and her refined and expressive playing immediately pulls the listener in. These are far from the most demanding concertos in the repertoire, so Faust is less concerned with technical execution than with conveying the pure feeling of the music, which is delightfully buoyant and uplifting. Under the direction of Giovanni Antonini, the group provides warm and sparkling accompaniment that gives Faust all the support she needs, but there's no doubt that she sets the emotional tone for these exquisite recordings. Highly recommended, especially for devotees of Classical style at its finest.