Dom Tyler bns Ben Goldscheider, Angela Barnes, James Pillai, Fabian van de Geest hns David Stark db Orchid F ORC100150 (58’ • DDD)
‘Glorious and grand, magnificent and sublime’, ran a contemporary verdict on Mozart’s Gran Partita, music that both crowns and transcends the 18th-century tradition of wind-band music. In later centuries this sumptuous banquet of a piece inspired wind serenades by Dvo∑ák, Richard Strauss (his two late sonatinas) and others. Most recently, British composer and clarinettist Mark Simpson was commissioned by the Britten Sinfonia to create a short partner work to the Gran Partita, using the same forces of 12 winds plus double bass.
Simpson only added the title Geysir – the Icelandic word for ‘geyser’ – at the suggestion of the dedicatee, Simon Holt. But it encapsulates a work that begins in tense, threatened stillness, then builds slowly to a shattering eruption before subsiding in luminous mystery. The ‘bubbling’ clarinets in Variation 5 of Mozart’s penultimate movement provided the cue for the subterranean murmurings of Geysir’s opening but Simpson’s seething, pulsating musical landscape, embracing violent extremes of texture, register and dynamics, exploits the ensemble’s potential in ways undreamt of by Mozart. Using the four horns far more lavishly, Simpson’s sound world veers between the darkly lurid, the garish and (at the close) the ethereal. At the volcanic climax, oboe and clarinet shriek acridly high above swirling flurries of sound, ‘like an old-fashioned kettle at a furious boil’, as Benjamin Poore puts it in his illuminating note.
Simpson sums up Geysir, with some understatement, as ‘a flurry of colour and harmonic shifts’. His elite players, led by oboist Nicholas Daniel and the composer himself, do him proud, in a performance of risk-taking virtuosity, recorded in the ideal ambience of Saffron Hall. They are just as convincing in the more companionable world of the Gran Partita, a work that, on disc at least, rarely fails to elicit the best in its players. With crisp rhythms and pointed accents they bring out the martial background of the opening Allegro. Both Minuets are bright and bouncy, their contrasting Trios well characterised (I loved the prominence gramophone.co.uk gramophone.co.uk
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of the smoky basset-horn in the first Trio of the first Minuet); and the variations are delightfully vivid, from the frisky buffo banter of Var 1 to the keening oboe over undulating clarinets and bassethorns in Var 5.
In their superb recent recording, the wind soloists of the Concertgebouw (BIS, 1/21) bring a more operatic expressiveness, and an undercurrent of disturbance, to the famous Adagio. But in their slightly cooler way Daniel, Simpson and basset-hornist Oliver Pashley are hardly less persuasive, dovetailing seamlessly and floating Mozart’s long melodic spans across the bar lines. In a teeming catalogue, this new Gran Partita more than holds its own. But the clinching factor for many will be Mark Simpson’s companion piece: a tour de force of wind colour and carefully controlled tension that makes an immediate impact and reveals more and more on repeated hearings. Richard Wigmore (February 2021)
Telemann ‘La querelleuse’ Concerto a 4, TWV43:a3. Fantasias – No 3, TWV40:4; No 11, TWV40:12; No 12, TWV40:25. Ouverture-Suite, ‘La querelleuse’, TWV55:G8. Trio Sonatas, TWV42 – a1; E4; g9. Die Zufriedenheit, TWV20:29 The Counterpoints with Kristen Witmer sop Robert de Bree ob Alon Portal db Etcetera F KTC1652 (69’ • DDD)
This debut disc is, hands down, some of the best recorded
Telemann out there, and I am ready to go fist to fist with anyone who disagrees. The Counterpoints, joined by three ‘friends’ for the tracks with larger forces such as the wonderful cantata Die Zufriedenheit, bring an entirely fresh yet sensitive approach to Telemann’s solo and chamber music. Indeed, the disc teems with what must surely be the sounds of four people who simply love making music together: there is something wonderfully coherent and cohesive about their ensemble-playing.
Certainly, this can be attributed to education: the four musicians of The Counterpoints are united in the Dutch schooling of period performance, and all studied at some point at the Royal Conservatoire of The Hague. But there seems to be something beyond this too. Their sound abounds with youthful optimism, charged throughout with an intelligence and gestural integrity to Telemann’s notation that is not once acerbically applied. Any blemishes that I ascribe here are thus merely the traces of sheer pleasure I have had in being able to listen to this disc on unbridled repeat this month.
The structure, which alternates between Telemann’s chamber music and solo Fantasia movements (much like the recent release from Elephant House Quartet – Pentatone, 12/19), though not particularly unique, is well coordinated. Though all four musicians contribute stunning solo performances, Thomas Triesschijn’s Fantasia on recorder, an arrangement of the G major for solo flute, warrants particular praise. Triesschijn’s sound is beguiling, real edge-of-your-seat, ears-wide-open stuff. The short-lived Adagio is utterly tantalising (and at this point, praise must also go to the crack team of sound engineers and producers for exceptional quality throughout). Most delightful is the group’s ability to plunge head-deep into a myriad of affective sound worlds with the slippery mystery of a criminal in the night. In the space of a bar line, we are taken from galant gaiety to penetrating gravity. In the central Largo of the Trio Sonata in G minor, TWV42:g9, Triesschijn’s arpeggiation possesses the quality attributed to mercy by Shakespeare’s Portia – ‘It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven’ – or, as in the opening Affettuoso of the Trio Sonata in A minor, TWV42:a1, we can almost smell the storm on the horizon.
The Counterpoints draw out the sensuous in Telemann’s music, all the while with superb intonation and flairful phrasing. Violinist Matthea de Muynck makes a sumptuous sound on her Amati reconstruction, though her trills in some movements, such as the A minor Grave, are somewhat set on default mode (Triesschijn’s ornamentation in this movement is also slightly saccharine). Would Etcetera Records have engineered a booklet that contained the notes without their falling out upon opening, this would be an almost faultless object. Mark Seow (June 2020)
‘Proust, le concert retrouvé’ ‘A Concert at the Ritz during the Belle Époque’ Chopin Prelude, Op 28 No 15 F Couperin Les barricades mystérieuses Fauré Violin Sonata No 1, Op 15a. Après un rêve, Op 7 No 1a. Berceuse, Op 16a. Nocturne No 6, Op 63 Hahn À Chlorisa. L’heure exquisea Schumann Des Abends, Op 12
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