“[These suites] have rarely been recorded or promoted by harpsichordists during the most recent revival of interest in ‘early music.’” I realize that Richard Egarr is entitled to his own opinions—his liner notes on an earlier release, for example, likened the humor in Purcell’s harpsichord music to that of the wonderful old 1950s BBC comedy The Goon Show —but he’s not entitled to his own facts. Christopher Brodersen pointed out in a 2011 review of these works featuring Laurence Cummings ( Fanfare 34:5) that ArkivMusic listed nine complete sets played on the harpsichord, with several others on the piano. I find some of the suites have considerably more recordings than that, in 2014: 26 for the Suite in A Major, 28 for the Suite in D Minor, 25 for the Suite in E Minor, 47 for the Suite in E Major. If such numbers reflect rare recordings, I have to wonder what Egarr would consider a moderate number, let alone a frequent one.
The 18th century saw an explosion of symphonies (over 18,000 composed in just 60 years, by one estimate). ‘Birth of the Symphony: Handel to Haydn' surveys some of the diverse works which were central to the genre as we know it today. The recording begins with Handel's Sinfonia from Saul, an example of the oratorio sinfonia which supplied models for the early symphony's scoring. Works from the avant-garde Mannheim composers Stamitz and Richter demonstrate the new sonic possibilities of the form, with which Mozart also engages in his very first attempt at the symphony. The recording ends with an example of a mature classical symphony, Haydn's 'La passione'.
Andrew Manze has been called "the Grappelli of the Baroque violin" because of the improvisatory liveliness of his approach; however, he can just as easily change personalities. Sometimes he pads along with sinewy grace like a panther ready to spring (the Preludio to BWV 1023, for example), sometimes he goes for a much more relaxed cantabile line, and sometimes he plays with a sparkling and infectious sense of fun (Presto, BWV 1021).
Corelli's Op. 5 Violin Sonatas have always been admired by chamber music fans; there are a couple of good recordings of them already available. But this new one by Baroque specialist and virtuoso Andrew Manze and harpsichordist Richard Egarr presents the sonatas in such a bright, exciting, and improvisatory light that they seem brand new. During the composer's lifetime, these sonatas were widely played and tremendously influential; there's a good chance that it was assumed that virtuosi took what was written on the page as a starting point for embellishing and sheer showing off.
Steven Isserlis and Richard Egarr here assemble all the viola da gamba sonatas written by three composers born in the propitious year of 1685: one each by Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, and three by JS Bach. Isserlis plays them on the gamba’s modern cousin, the cello, and the microphone loves his playing, picking up all the nuances and scampering asides from his soft-spoken instrument which can sometimes get lost in big concert halls. Egarr on harpsichord matches Isserlis’s eloquence and rambunctious energy all the way. The dreamy, airy slow movement of Bach’s Sonata in G minor brings telling use of vibrato as Isserlis circles around Egarr, his playing at once idiomatic and soulful. An extra cellist reinforces the bass line in the Handel and Scarlatti, in which the composers give the harpsichordist only a framework; Egarr’s imaginative realisations ensure that even when Scarlatti is at his most repetitive, he is never dull.