Monday 19 November 2018

The English Concert in Baroque concertos

The English Concert - Signum Classics
Dall'Abaco, Porpora, Marcello, Tartini, Telemann; The English Concert, Harry Bicket; Signum Classics  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 November 2018 
Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Stylishly engaging performances of five contrasting baroque concertos with the English concert in celebratory mood

The English Concert is celebrating its 45th birthday and it is perhaps an indication of the way that interest in Baroque music has developed and widened that the ensemble's new disc on Signum Classics is a set of concertos that you may never have heard of, by Dall'Abaco, Porpora, Marcello, Tartini and Telemann.

The orchestras for which these works were written were amongt the elite in Europe and concertos such as the ones on this disc were designed not so much for star visitors as to show off the talents of the senior orchestral personnel.

And that is the aim of this disc, so we have five principals from the orchestra Nadja Zwiener and Tuomo Suni (violin), Alfonso Leal del Ojo (viola), Joseph Crouch (violoncello) and Katharina Spreckelsen (oboe), with the English Concert directed by its artistic director, Harry Bicket in Evaristo Felice Dall'Abaco's Concerto a piu instrumenti in D major Op.5 No.5, Nicolo Porpora's Cello Concerto in G major, Alessandro Marcello's Oboe Concerto in D minor, Giuseppe Tartini's Violin Concerto in B minor D.125 and Georg Philipp Telemann's Viola Concerto in G major TWV 51.69.

When Verona born Evaristo Felice Dall'Abaco was taken on as a cellist in the court orchestra of Maximilian Emmanuel, Elector of Bavaira, he probably thought his career was made. But a few weeks after he joined, Max Emmanuel was on the losing side at the battle of Blenheim! Dall'Abaco eventual settled in the Low Countries though 10 years later he was able to return to Max Emmanuel's reconstituted court till his retirement.

This mixed backgroun cross fertilises Dalll'Abaco's music with French and Dutch influences mixed in with his native Italian style in this highly engaging concerto for multiple instruments (two violins and cello, Nadja Zwiener, Tuomo Suni, Joseph Crouch), where we move between a sort of concerto grosso form to different solo instruments moving in and out of focus. We open with an Allegro in a sort of Corellian style, but then move into more French territory whilst the lively final movement is highly rustic.

Neapolitan composer Nicolo Porpora is rather better known, though more as the teacher of the castrato Farinelli than as a composer. Here we have a cello concerto (soloist Joseph Crouch) where we can almost imagine the cello as a solo tenor. There is a highly elegant Amoroso with the solo line including plenty of ornament, in a very vocal manner. There follows a lively Allegro and then a Largo which really gives the cello a chance to sing, before a very perky finale which you could easily imagine as an aria in an opera.

Alessandro Marcello's Oboe Concerto is the best known work on the disc. Coming from an aristocratic family in Venice, there was no question of Marcello being a full-time musician but this concerto has remained a perennial. Katharina Spreckelsen plays with elegance and lovely nutty tone, singing beautifully in the middle movement and demonstrating lively dexterity in the finale.

Giuseppe Tartini was a lelglendary violinist himself and here we have one of his own violin concertos, designed to show off the soloist (Nadja Zwiener) in the best possible light.  The engaging first movement gives plenty of moments for the solo to shine, but the whole is delightfully characterful, whilst in the second movement we have one of Tartini's trademark lyrical melodies, here actually assigned words 'Lascia ch'io dica addio'. All rounded off with a perky finale.

The prolific nature of Telemann's talent has made it difficult for his music to get a good hold on the modern imagination, there is just so much of it. Again his style had a degree of cross fertilisation and this viola concerto from 1712 has French elements in it. The relatively unusual nature of the solo instrument has ensure that the concerto has stayed on the fringes of the repertoire.

Here Alfonso Leal del Ojo plays with lovely rich tone in the stylish opening slow movement, which is followed by a perky Allegro. The second slow movement lets Leal del Ojo show the instrument's tender side with Telemann's minimal orchestration allowing the dusky colours to shine.  We finish with another, yet very different, lively movement.

As you might expect the playing on this disc is full of character and there is certainly none of that 'Baroque wallpaper' feeling. Instead we have five very different and very engaging concertos in wonderfully characterful performances.

Evaristo Felice Dall'Abaco (1675-1742) Concerto a piu instrumenti in D major Op.5 No.5
Nicolo Porpora (1686-1768) Cello Concerto in G major
Alessandro Marcello (1673-1747) Oboe Concerto in D minor
Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) Violin Concerto in B minor D.125
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) Viola Concerto in G major TWV 51.69.
Nadja Zwiener (violin)
Tuomo Suni (violin)
Alfonso Leal del Ojo (viola)
Joseph Crouch (violoncello)
Katharina Spreckelsen (oboe)
The English Concert
Harry Bicket
Recorded at St Silas the Martyr, 6-9 November 2017

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  • Rare Tchaikovsky and Smyth: an earlier version of the piano concerto and Smyth's large-scale mass at the Barbican  (★★★★) - concert review
  • Elgar, Finzi, Parry, Walton from a different angle: arrangements for brass septet  (★★★★) - CD review
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  • Late genius and two sextets: Strauss, Haydn and Brahms at Conway Hall  (★★★½)  - concert review
  • Iconic but flawed: La Bayadère the Royal Ballet  - ballet review
  • Reformation Remainers: Musicians, zealots and loyalists in Tudor England at BREMF - concert review
  • In Remembrance - choral discs commemorating the centenary of the Armistice  - CD review
  • Spirito: Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka in bel canto scenes (★★★★½) - CD review
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