Friday 27 November 2020

Ohrwurm: recorder player Tabea Debus delightful debut recital on Delphian

Ohrwurm; Tabea Debus, Jonathan Rees, Alex McCartney

; Tabea Debus, Jonathan Rees, Alex McCartney, Delphian Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 November 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Toe-tapping, ear-grabbing music from the 17th and 18th centuries, with a couple of extras, in an engaging recital by recorder player Tabea Debus

I have always found articles which begin something like 'If you enjoyed Mozart's Requiem then try ....', rather annoying. However, on the basis that you enjoyed tenor Ed Lyon's delightful disc on Delphian, 17th century playlist, [see my review] then I can highly recommend recorder player Tabea Debus' disc Ohrwurm, also on Delphian, a delightful compilation of toe-tapping tunes (ear-worms) from the 17th and 18th centuries, but also some more recent sports with a pair of works by Freya Waley-Cohen and by Gareth Moorcraft. She is joined on the disc by Jonathan Rees (viola da gamba) and Alex McCartney (theorbo and guitar).

I first encountered Tabea Debus when she was a young artist at the Handel House Museum (now Handel & Hendrix), and she has been a young artist with St John's Smith Square and with the City Music Foundation. Since 2018 she has been represented by YCAT (Young Classical Artists Trust), and this disc is the first fruits of a new collaboration between YCAT and Delphian.

The disc casts its net quite widely.

The opening Ciaconna, arranged by Debus and McCartney, is after Antonio Bertalli, Tarquinio Merula, and Claudio Monteverdi. And after that we get music by Germans (Handel), Italians (Pietro Castrucci, Alessandro Marcello (with ornaments by Bach), Arcangelo Corelli, Andrea Falconierei), Frenchmen (Marin Marais, Pierre-Francisque Carroubel), a Spaniard (Antonio Soler), Englishmen (Henry Purcell, John Dowland), plus a Scots folk-tune arranged by an Italian composer, Francesco Geminiani for an English collection, and a couple of anons, not forgetting the two contemporary pieces. In all there are 20 tracks, of which six have an element of arrangement credited to with Debus or McCartney (or both). For some, it is clear Debus simply plays the solo vocal or instrumental line, but for other pieces a more complex and free approach is taken. Even their take on 'Lascia ch'io pianga' from Handel's Rinaldo transfers the melody to the viola da gamba at one point. Whilst Soler's Fandango begins with a striking guitar improvisation from McCartney that seems to take us from the 21st century to 18th century Spain.

Recording session of Ohrwurm - Tabea Debus, Alex McCartney, Jonathan Rees - Delphian Records
Recording session for Ohrwurm - Jonathan Rees, Alex McCartney, Tabea Debus - Delphian Records
(Photo William Campbell-Gibson)

In all, Debus plays seven different instruments on the disc, both modern and Baroque-style, soprano and alto. We are clearly told what instrument is used for each piece, but it would have been nice to know why as well. Instead, Debus and Mark Seow's booklet article concentrates on the musical felicities of these pieces.

And there are many indeed. A number of the pieces are in the English divisions on a ground style, a regular moving bass with progressively complex variations. Debus has the ability to play the complex divisions with effortless grace, making us both appreciate the music and enjoy her virtuosity. Other works are of the slower kind, yet just as insistent in their ear-worm-ness. 

Freya Waley-Cohen's Caffeine for unaccompanied soprano recorder was written for Debus in 2019, commissioned by Listenpony. Waley-Cohen structures the piece like a Baroque rondo with a folk-ish inspired repeating melody, but all done at a slightly demented speed (too much coffee perhaps), making a delightfully crazy result. Gareth Moorcraft's Diaries of the Early Worm, also written for Tabea Debus, for solo alto recorder, is described as using fragments from medieval troubadour songs to create a sort of demented history of an ear-worm, from creation to dissolution. The result is spiking and rather manic, certainly very striking though I am not sure if it was an ear-worm.

Recording session of Ohrwurm - Tabea Debus, Alex McCartney, Jonathan Rees - Delphian Records
Recording session for Ohrwurm - Tabea Debus, Alex McCartney, Jonathan Rees - Delphian Records
(Photo William Campbell-Gibson)

We have, I would hope, gone well beyond the stage that any mention of the recorder generates groans and memories of schools concerts, but I am not sure that the instrument has reached the level of an automatic 'Oh, goody' when a new recording of Baroque music for recorder is mentioned. Hopefully, this disc should go a long way to remedying that lack. Debus' engagingly virtuosic performances are supported and partnered by Jonathan Rees and Alex McCartney, and this is very much group music making with each instrument playing its role, with solo spots in various pieces for each. And they seem to be having a great deal of fun, and it shows.

This disc will certainly put a smile on your face, but it will do far more than. Thanks to an intelligently planned programme, with a good mix of style, eras and musical types, this makes for an engaging 70 minutes listening. And if you listen blind, I guarantee you will be itching to look to see who wrote what.

Ciaconna (After Bertali, Merula & Monteverdi)
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) - Rinaldo, HWV 7b: Lascia ch'io pianga
Pietro Castrucci (1679-1752) - Violin Sonata in D Minor, Op. 1 No. 10 (Excerpts)
Alessandro Marcello (1673-1747) - Oboe Concerto in D Minor (Arr. A. McCartney) II. Adagio
Marin Marais (1656-1728) - Les folies d'Espagne (Arr. T. Debus)
anon - Vuestros ojos tienen d'amor
Freya Waley-Cohen - (born 1989) - Caffeine
Antonio Soler (1729-1783) - Fandango in D Minor, R. 146 (Arr. T. Debus)
Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) - Violin Sonata in G Minor, Op. 5 No. 5: V. Gigue
Andrea Falconieri (1585-1656) - La suave melodia
anon - Une jeune fillette (Arr. for T. Debus)
Pierre-Francisque Carrouobel (1556-1611/15) - Spagnoletta
anon - When Daphne Did from Phoebus Fly (Arr. for T. Debus)
Henry Purcell (1659-1695) - King Arthur, Z. 628: Fairest Isle
John Dowland (1563-1626) - Can She Excuse My Wrongs, P. 42
trad. (Scots Folk Tune) - Auld Bob Morrice (arr. Francesco Geminiani 1749)
George Frideric Handel - Siroe, re di Persia, HWV 24: Jig
Gareth Moorcraft (born 1990) - Diaries of the Early Worm
anon (14th century) - Lamento di Tristano - La rotta 

Tabea Debus (recorders)
Jonathan Rees (viola da gamba)
Alex McCartney (theorbo & guitar)
Recorded on 12-13 February 2020 at Broughton St Mary's Parish Church, Edinburgh
DELPHIAN 1CD [70.28]

Available from Amazon, from Hive.

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