Prefatory remarks

I felt that it was about time I wrote something about music, although being no more than an amateur listener, I’m not sure what I can say about the subject beyond some fairly superficial observations. Perhaps I should say nothing, but listening to music is a major pastime of mine, and it was about time this was reflected here. At best, this section is likely to evolve slowly and in a fairly haphazard fashion.

I would like to write reviews, but as I’m neither a composer nor a performer, I’m not sure what I can say. Reviews often seem to be exercises in pretentiousness, but as I said above, my observations would be superficial because I lack the knowledge and understanding to be able to judge a piece of music. There are a few exceptions such as Couperin’s Nouveaux Concerts (1977) played by Heinz Holliger et al. on modern instruments, which sounds so wrong. I have my doubts about the Linde-Consort’s Trio Sonatas by Bach and Handel, and I suspect Danses Danseryes by Musica Antiqua, which is my oldest CD, is probably also early music played on modern instruments.

I seriously regret buying Bach’s Harpsichord Works played by Christophe Rousset, who, in my view, butchers them (and worse than that, I only got four short pieces that I didn’t already have).

I’m at best lukewarm about Pamela Thorby’s Linn albums, Garden of Early Delights and The Nightingale and the Butterfly, especially the former, which sound a little Renaissance Fayre to me and appear to lack the gravitas I like in my early music. Part of the problem may be instrumentation, which just doesn’t suit the music (e.g. Castello’s “Sonata seconda a sopran solo” from Libro II; and worse, Fontana’s “Sonata Sesta”, which is gratingly shrill on the recorder; try Ensemble Sonnerie’s [Erato] 1995 version with the violin). Basically, to my ears, there’s too much sopranino recorder for this to be pleasant. The Attaignant [sic] Consort do a much better, more mellow version of “Frais et Gaillard” with similar instrumentation.

Nor will I buy anything by Fretwork. I once read a review of some album of theirs, which was not com­pli­mentary, and having heard samples of what they do, I can’t help but agree even though I read the review more years ago than I can recall.

Viol music is often bland even if I did go through a phase of buying works by Couperin, Marais and Forqueray, which all sound like 17th- or 18th-century lift muzak. It should be soothing in the same way that 16th-century polyphony is soothing, but instead, it’s more like a fantasia with nothing the mind can grasp. In this category belongs Bach’s Cello Suites (I have albums by Tunnicliffe and Watkin), which all sound the same, which is Bach’s fault, and not that the gallant gentlemen who have assayed such works.

Lute music by Weiss is just as bland for want of some catchy tune. He may have been a better lutenist than Bach, but Bach had the much better melodies for lute.

Domenico Scarlatti’s harpsichord music is best sampled, and having an album or two of the best, most di­s­tinct pieces is quite enough to give an excellent sense of his entire repertoire. I have Vol. 2 of Pieter-Jan Belder’s epic series of Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas, which I got for a very reasonable price, but that taught me that I need no more of the stuff.

While music from Brilliant Classics is cheapish, I often wonder about the quality, especially of the more prolific performers. Ditto Naxos, who manage to keep the cost of their albums as unnaturally low just as dhm keeps the cost unnaturally high. I also wonder about The Sixteen, who also seem to churn it out, and the Tallis Scholars, although they have the excuse of having been around for a very long time.


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