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Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2016

K O B Y L A R Z

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M A R T

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p h o t o g r a p h y the composer’s two anniversaries in 1994 and 2004! Of all his music, it is surely the Mystery (or Rosary) Sonatas – 15 sonatas for violin and continuo, each representing an episode from the lives of Jesus and Mary corresponding to the sacred devotional ‘mysteries’ of the Rosary, with a solo passacaglia to finish – that not only provide the most stimulating listening but also the most fascinating insights into his way of thinking. Indeed, one could go further and claim them as one of the most profound and coherent instrumental cycles of the entire Baroque period. Approaches among players differ on a scale from seeking out all the descriptive detail they can find to relying more on the subliminal effects of the music’s symbolic and rhetorical gestures and constant scordature (each of the sonatas requires a different tuning system for the violin). All the successful ones, however, draw power from their depth of personal response, which is surely as it should be. This, after all, is music by a composer for whom the violin was a natural means of expression, a part of his being.

Of the new recordings of the Rosaries, perhaps the most keenly anticipated will be that by Rachel Podger, ever a glorious example of someone who lives life through her violin. Yet although her booklet-note makes clear that she appreciates how the violin is made literally to ‘suffer’ through the dark retunings associated with Jesus’s death, she also states that she sees her own role as that of evangelist. This may, I suppose, be why her performances (in which she is joined by lutenist David Miller and keyboard player Marcin S ´ wia˛tkiewicz) are less directly involving than might have been expected. Of course she can play with grace and beauty – at the opening of ‘The Carrying of the Cross’, for instance, in the smooth Canzona of ‘The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin’ and throughout the Passacaglia (not a new recording, by the way, but taken from her ‘Guardian Angel’ solo disc – 11/13). There are also many subtleties of articulation and timing, almost as if there are words and pauses lying behind the notes, though sometimes these develop into lingerings that stretch the boundaries of continuity. Those used to Podger’s habitual natural exuberance may well find this recording surprisingly inward, even cool. Lindsay Kemp

Lawes The Royal Consort. Three Consorts to the Organ Phantasm with Elizabeth Kenny theo Emily Ashton tenor viol Daniel Hyde org Linn F b Í CKD470 (144’ • DDD/DSD)

William Lawes’s 10 Royal Consort sets (or suites) were probably composed for the Caroline court during the 1630s. Unswerving royalist loyalty cost him his life at the Siege of Chester in 1645, but not before he had made six-part rearrangements for two violins, bass viols and theorbos. This later version has an eminent discography but Phantasm instead present the first complete recording of the original pieces for four-part viol consort and theorbo. Performer-scholar Laurence Dreyfus begins his 14-page booklet essay in bold fashion: ‘One mustn’t mince words. To put it frankly, this is one of the greatest collections of ensemble dance music ever composed.’ He argues that Lawes’s sets are on a par with Bach’s Orchestral Suites and Rameau’s ballet music but criticises that the later expanded versions ‘offer a clear case of how artists can spoil their work by an excess of fussing’.

Phantasm’s playing brims with imaginative fantasy and dance-like momentum, although from time to time Lawes’s unpredictable liberties with irregular phrase lengths would not have suited actual dancers (eg an Aire and Corant at the core of Set No 7). Every shift in imitative contrapuntal detail, rhythmical emphasis and melodic direction serves a conversational discourse between the pair of treble viols (Dreyfus and Emilia Benjamin) and the tenor and bass viols (Jonathan Manson, Mikko Perkola and Markku Luolajan-Mikkola); Elizabeth Kenny’s theorbo continuo realisations are a model of tasteful clarity. Concise individual pieces often display rare sophistication, such as the seemingly floating Paven that begins No 9 and a song-like Galliard in No 2. A vividly accentuated ‘Morriss’ folk dance follows hot on the heels of an elegant Corant (No 6) without any hint of formulaic articulation. Strong doses of Jacobean melancholy are abundant in a few longer pieces such as the Paven in D minor that starts No 2; this is one of several pavans that quotes from Dowland’s Lacrimae but the inclusion of an extra short set for four-part viols dating from earlier in Lawes’s career suggests that Dowland’s influence cast a subtler shadow later on. A pleasing broadening of textures is injected into this beguiling survey by the additional tenor violist Emily Ashton and organist Daniel Hyde in some denser six-part sets that could not be squeezed on to Phantasm’s 2012 recording of Lawes’s

Consorts to the Organ (2/13). David Vickers Selected comparisons (six-part versions with violins): Purcell Qt (11/95) (CHAN) CHAN0584 Voix Humaines (9/12) (ATMA) ACD2 2373

Vivaldi The Four Seasons, Op 8 Nos 1-4a. Concertos for Violin ‘in tromba marina’a – RV221; RV311. Bassoon Concertosb – RV496; RV501 b Peter Whelan bn La Serenissima / Adrian Chandler avn Avie F AV2344 (74’ • DDD)

To celebrate its 21st birthday, one of the world’s leading exponents of the music of Vivaldi and his contemporaries has finally recorded a work that has rarely been out of its repertoire since this fine period instrument band’s inception. In doing so, La Serenissima, whose previous recordings have likewise rarely been out of the Gramophone Awards shortlists, gives us a Four Seasons for all seasons.

The group’s founder and violinist/ director Adrian Chandler is not only steeped in the musical language of Baroque Italy, both vocal and instrumental; he is also fully conversant with its humanist wellsprings. Vivaldi’s sonnets and consequent programmatic signposting throughout the score are thus filtered through a more nuanced rhetorical vision that is more stage than page. The result is an intensely dramatic account that will add new spice to what has for many listeners perhaps come to resemble a dreary domestic relationship. Take, for example, the spacious birdsong, surging waters and thumping rustic dances of ‘Spring’; the languid heat and raging storms finding echoes in the cuckoo’s urgent call and the goldfinch’s stratospheric sweetness in ‘Summer’; the drunkard’s erratic progress mirrored in the hunters’ ebullience and the hunted’s tragic flight in ‘Autumn’; and the elements’ implacable indifference in ‘Winter’.

All – and this also goes for two superb bassoon concertos featuring the outstanding Peter Whelan and the two concertos for the three-stringed violin ‘in tromba marina’ – are realised in vivid colours through the agency not of gimmicky extremes of tempo and overly percussive effects but through an intelligent, imaginative approach to bowing, articulation and ornamentation across the board that both binds and differentiates. Despite having not yet recorded The Four Seasons, Rachel Podger is for my money the only Vivaldian who can challenge Chandler at the moment. Then again, they say geniuses often appear in pairs. William Yeoman

6 GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2016

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