La Bella Minuta: Florid Songs for Cornetto around 1600

La Bella Minuta: Florid Songs for Cornetto around 1600, Passacaille 979, March 2011.

Bruce Dickey, cornetto
Liuwe Tamminga, organ
Claudia Pasetto, viola da gamba
Leonardo Bortolotto, viola da gamba
Alberto Rasi, viola da gamba
Maria Christine Cleary, harp
Recorded in the Church of Santa Barbara, Mantova with the Antegnati organ (1565)
A=466 (temperatures caused the effective pitch to be A=462)
Quarter-comma mean-tone temperament

The title of this recording “La Bella Minuta,” refers to advice given by the famous cornettist, Girolamo Dalla Casa in 1584. Concerning the playing of the cornetto, he wrote “…let everyone strive to make a nice sound, lovely articulations, and beautiful divisions [la bella minuta], and to imitate the human voice as much as possible.” This is fine advice to be sure. Given the choice to select “La Bella Minuta” from it, one might expect this recording to be a showcase of the technical virtuosity of Bruce Dickey, indeed, perhaps to a series of rapid-fire passage. Nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, Bruce Dickey pays heed to the entirety of dalla Casa’s admonishment. His sound is nice and his articulations lovely. In fact the articulations are certainly clear yet always subtle. The divisions (minute) are first, beautiful and second, amazing. This is crucial. Clearly Dickey has virtuosity to display and does so. Yet, it is the music which prevails. His fabulous technique serves to enhance and not dominate the music. The final result is the imitation of the human voice in all ways. He clearly sings beautifully, phrases with grace, and the passages are always performed in the vocal style.

There are numerous composers represented: Ippolito (Tartaglino), Ascanio Mayone, Gioseffo Guami, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Josquin des Prez, Giovanni Maria Trabaci, Antonio Brunelli, Luzzasco Luzzaschi, Cipriano de Rore, and Bartolomeo Barbarino. They offer a great variety of styles. Dickey is joined on some by pieces by organ and others by a consort of viols and harp. The combination of these pieces with the variety of accompanimental sounds results in a recording which one can enjoy and appreciate with multiple listenings. It is both pleasurable and instructive. One hears and learns something new with each repeated hearing.
Examples in the variety of pieces could be shown in the differences between the Quanti mercenarij of Palestrina and Guami’s La Brillantina. The former is a serene, calm (almost timeless) work of austere beauty. To be sure, there are passage, but one remembers the seemingly endless long phrases which Dickey plays with great care. His endurance certainly should be applauded along with his artistry on this work! Compare that with Guami’s La Brillantina. It is certainly brilliant in all ways, most assuredly in several extended rapid-fire passages which Dickey plays effortlessly yet thrillingly.

He uses two cornetti for this recording: a three-piece straight cornetto made by Henri Gohin of Paris, which he used on works by Ippolito, Josquin, Brunelli, Luzzaschi, and Barbarino, and a curved cornetto made by Matthew Jennejohn of Montreal, Quebec for the remainder of the works.
In conclusion, this is a superb recording. It satisfies on so many levels. It instructs, inspires, and finally is simply a beautiful offering.

-- James Miller

Quickstep: Brass Band Music of the American Civil War

Coates Brass Band, Quickstep: Brass Band Music of the American Civil War. Featuring the Music of Thomas Coates. MSR Classics MS 1422.  Recorded. August 11-13, 2011.

Coates Brass Band: Douglas Hedwig, Music Director and Conductor. Eb Cornets: Jeff Stockham (Hall & Quinby, Boston, 1866), Brian Kanner (Hall & Quinby, Boston, 1865), Michael Jones (W.Seefeldt, Philadelphia, c. 1870), Bb Cornets: Robert High (Hall & Quinby, Boston, 1861), Patrick O’Connell (Boston Musical Instrument Manufactory “Band Size”, c. 1870), Eb Alto Horns: Lenore Turner (Quinby Bros., Boston, 1872), Dickson Rothwell (Martin, Pollman & Co. New York, c. 1870), William Green (unsigned, c. 1870), Bb Tenor Horns: Steven Lundahl, (Hall & Quinby, Boston, c. 1868), Kyle Russell, (CA Zoebisch & Sons, New York, 1867), Bb Baritone Horn and Bb Bass: Barry Bocanner, (Kummer & Schetelich, Baltimore, c. 1860), Michael O’Connor, (EG Wright, Boston, c. 1865), Eb Bass Tuba: Roy Coates (CA Zoebisch & Sons, New York, 1867), Snare Drum: Daniel Gonzalez, (Edward Brown, Albany, NY, c. 1865), Bass Drum & Cymbals: Robert Sacks, (Blodgett & Brandford, Buffalo, NY c. 1858-63.) All original mouthpieces, c. 1855-1870.

One of the many positive aspects of the early music movement has been the exploration, performance, and recording of little-known repertoire that represents a part of the cultural heritage of a particular nation, or more often than not, small regions of a particular country. Recordings made during the past couple of decades have resulted in the presentation of little known music of regions of France, Germany, Italy, England, the Scandinavian countries as well as other countries. This is often music that has never made it into the standard music textbooks and we are all the richer for those endeavors. This recent CD is a fine effort by an American ensemble to expose a little-known part of the American musical heritage. Ten out of the nineteen marches, waltzes, hymns, 2-steps, and, of course, quicksteps are by the composer Thomas Coates (1803/10 – 1895).

In his informative CD notes, Michael O’Connor presents what little information is known of Coates, who in the pre and post American Civil War periods was an important and accomplished musician. His many accomplishments have been faded by time. O’Connor explains that he was likely born in Easton, Pennsylvania, ran away from home at the age of 10 to join a circus band and ultimately drew the attention of the famous musician Allen Dodsworth. Coates’s musical skills were called upon when, at the start of the Civil War, he joined the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Coates continued to compose and direct brass bands in Easton until his death in 1895. Shortly after the city erected a monument to him, proclaiming him “The Father of Band Music in America.”

Michael O’Connor compiled and edited the music on this recording from numerous Civil War period band archives, including one Confederate band library (which speaks to the popularity of Coates’s music). Also represented on this finely played CD are works of the period by William Tanzer, George Goodwin, Henry Bishop, A. Kurrick, Philip Phile, B.F. Porter, and Ignaz Pleyel. The Coates Brass Band, under the able direction of Douglas Hedwig, played with enthusiasm and delicate ensemble work. Of particular note was the wonderful Eb cornet playing of Jeff Stockham. The ensemble managed to tame these notoriously difficult 19th century instruments. We are indebted to the members of the Coates Brass Band for this fine historically informed recording of a little-known slice of the American musical heritage.

-- Jeffrey Nussbaum

Volny Hostiou, Le Serpent Imaginaire

Volny Hostiou, Le Serpent Imaginaire, Hybrid Music (H1827), Recorded 23-29 July, 2011.

With Fançois Ménissier, organ; Eva Godard, cornetti; Thomas van Essen, baryton

With this solo recording, Volny Hostiou joins the ranks a small band of word-class serpentists active today. He is not only a great virtuoso on his instrument, but a noted scholar as well. While little specific solo repertoire exists, Hostiou has created an interesting program based on our knowledge of the traditional role of the serpent and serpentists ability to be great improvisers. So this CD program consists of an “imaginary solo repertoire” for bass and tenor serpents from the Renaissance to the mid-seventeenth Century. As Hostiou explains in his excellent CD notes, “the serpents plays, in turn, the role of singer, voices of keyboard pieces.”

Volny Hostiou plays on a copy of an original anonymous serpent housed in the Musée de la Musique in Paris (E.2204) made by Wetterberger. He is joined by the spectacular organist, François Ménissier playing on a Renaissance style instrument, cornettist Eva Godard (playing instruments by John McCann and Serge Delmas) and Thomas van Essen on baryton. There are 23 cuts on this recording and most are arrangements. Of course, most impressive is Hostiou’s brilliant virtuosic playing on the florid division lines on works such as the recercadas by Diego Ortiz (1510-1570), pieces by Francisco Correade Arauxo (1583-1654), trio Fantasies by Eustache Du Caurroy (1549-1609), a lovely Frescobaldi ricercar, and Giovanni Bassano’s Ancor che col partire. Of particular note was Hostiou’s virtuosity on Sonata sopra la Monica by Ph. Friedrich Boeddecker (1607-1683). He plays these works with the fluidity and grace more commonly associated with the cornetto. Eva Godard has a number of moments to shine and shine she does, displaying a beautiful dark tone and florid, light articulations on works by Francisco Correa de Arauxo and Eustache Du Caurroy.

Virtuosity in the flashy fast note aspect of the term is not all that is on display on this recording. True to an important aspect of the serpent and cornett tradition is that of supporting the vocal line doubling or playing a cantus firmus. Both Godard and Hostiou  play these supportive lines with great sensitivity on works by Louis Couperin (1626-1661), Jehan Titelouze (1563-1633) and Carrea de Arauxo. At times the serpent creates a haunting tonal color that, while blending beautifully with the ensemble, sounds like an additional organ stop. The performers are true virtuosos and sensitive musicians. This is a must have CD for anyone interested in Renaissance music or listeners who want to hear the serpent at its finest.

-- Jeffrey Nussbaum

Raggin’ at Greenfield Village by River Raisin Ragtime Revue

River Raisin Ragtime Revue. Raggin’ at Greenfield Village. Recorded June 4-5, 2011.

William Pemberton, tuba and director; William King, clarinet; Catherine McMichael, piano; Rod McDonald, banjo; Clark Irwin and Kiri Tollaksen, cornet; Saura Wyman Pemberton, flute; Barbara Sturgis-Everett and Priscilla Johnson, violin; George Thompson, trombone; Alison Badger, cello; Andre Dowell, percussion; Susan Schreiber, viola.

The River Raisin Ragtime Revue under the direction of tuba player William Pemberton, has produced a wonderful recording of 21 arrangements that span the period from pre-jazz music right through to compositions of some of the truly great in jazz. It is fascinating to hear the early works that just hint at jazz but are still firmly entrenched in late nineteenth-century dance music. Works that fit this category include “Mississippi Rag: Two-Step” (1897) by W.H. Krell, “Virginia Diggins” (1915) by Tom Turpin, “Walkin’ the Dog: Fox Trot” (1916) by Brooks and Shrigley, and “Selections from Clorindy” (1899) by Will Marion Cook. Rags from the end of the nineteenth century and first decade of the twentieth century have their own solidly identifiable quality which also have one foot in the dance and march world but hint at the new music that is soon to come.

An early work that more than just hints at the jazz style is “Castle House Rag” (1914) by James Reese Europe. Gunther Schuller wrote a spectacular arrangement of this work and the rhythmic vitality of the piece is very much in the spirit of jazz. It is interesting to note how early some of the works of the great stride piano players were composed. Stride piano, of course, is distinguished from rag-time in a number of ways, most importantly in that stride was typically improvised or, at least not notated like ragtime was. Lucky Roberts’s “Pork and Beans” (1913) and James P. Johnson’s classic “Carolina Shout” (1918) are examples of two early pieces that are clearly jazz but written at a time when the new jazz style was still not yet fully developed. We tend to regard stride piano as a style of the 1920s and 1930s, and it clearly was, but history is never as clear cut as the history books might indicate. The first two decades of the twentieth century were a period of intense change as well as one active with a wide range of musical styles. “Carolina Shout” (1918), Jelly Roll Morton’s “Original Jelly Roll Blues” (1915), Scott Joplin’s “Gladiolus Rag,” and “Virginia Diggins” (1915) by Wilbur Sweatman are four compositions all written within a few years of each other that represent wildly divergent styles.

The arrangements of those four tunes are wonderfully performed by the River Raisin Ragtime Revue, as are all the cuts on this fascinating recording. Of special note is Clark Irwin’s cornet playing, particularly on the Kit Johnson arrangement of Fats Waller’s “Black and Blue” (1929) and a wonderful arrangement by Chuck Israel of the “Potato Head Blues” (1927). This CD beautifully demonstrates the different styles of popular music during a short period of time at the beginning of the last century. While the styles are diverse, they all share a common thread of being part of the jazz tradition or one of the roots that would soon develop into that art form.

-- Jeffrey Nussbaum

Le Concert Brise: Cantatas and Sonatas by Buxtehude

Dietrich Buxtehude: Cantatas Et Sonatas
Le Concert Brise: William Dongois, cornett and director; Dagmar Saskova, soprano; Christine Moran, violin; Stefan Legee, sackbut; Benjamin Parrot, theorbo; Katherine Bauml, dulcian; Karsten Lohff, harpsichord; Hadrian Jourdain, organ
Accent Records (2010), ACC 24240

A=415 Hz meantone 1/5 temperament

There is great diversity offered in the music of Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) on this recording. The vocal works explore joy, pathos, penitence, longing and praise. The instrumental works explore many styles and a surprising variety in harmony and colors. All are performed with superb technique and polish. Of particular interest is the wide range of rhythms and styles employed in the instrumental responses to the vocal lines of Quemadmodum desiderat cervus (BuxWV 92). These are performed with a perfect mixture of joy, refinement and abandon and compliment the wonderful work of soprano Dagmar Saskova.

Throughout the recording, the work of Stefan Legee on sackbut must be commended. He demonstrates his facility over a great range with very agile technique and great refinement in phrasing. Indeed, he is a perfect match for cornettist William Dongois.
It is hard to know where to begin when describing the work of Dongois. His overall concept of the recording and interpretation and direction of each work results in performances which are both perfectly executed in a technical way, but also are full of charm and emotion. All phrases are shaped with care and refinement. There is great contrast in affects, tempi, dynamics, and articulation. The artistry of Dongois on the cornetto remains unquestioned. His mastery over the instrument is shown in both his wonderful technical virtuosity, but also in the warmth of his sound and expression. Of particular note is his performance on the cornetto muto in “Muss der Tod den auch entbinden.” Words are not equal to the haunting beauty which he creates.

This is a recording which must be heard. The music has much to offer. One never tires of it with repeated hearings. Le Concert Brise under William Dongois is fabulous in every way.

-- James Miller

Style fantastique by Le Concert Brise


Le Concert Brise, Style fantastique, with William Dongois, cornetto, Carpe Diem Records (CD 16280), 2010.

Recorded Live October 28-31, 2009 in the Musee d’art et d’histoire de Neuchatel, Switzerland; straight cornetti at 440 Hz and 520 Hz after German original by Henri Gohin.

The title of this recording sums it up: this is indeed a fantastic recording. The liner notes written by William Dongois provide an excellent backdrop for one to appreciate properly the style fantastique. The works by Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi-Mealli included on the recording follow in the virtuosic style of Girolamo Fontana and Dario Castello. However, his virtuosic demands begin where the other composers have finished.

William Dongois negotiates the countless roller-coaster-like passages with complete control, elegance, and élan. The works are varied in style and affect. Indeed, while countless treacherous technical passages abound, each sonata contains lovely lyrical sections. These in turn vary in affect: some whimsical, some with pathos, some with simply pure beauty. Dongois addresses each in a special way, but always with charm, artfully-shaped phrases, and heart.

The three works by Johann Jakob Froberger included on the recording are solo vehicles for keyboardist Carsten Lohff and lutenist Eric Bellocq. These compositions are less technical than those of Pandolfi-Mealli and in that sense provide the record with balance. Still, they are style fantastique. Included are dance suites, a beautiful lamentation over the death of Ferdinand III, and freely composed fantasies. It is evident that great thought and preparation was devoted to these performances. They give one pause for thought and at the same time, they dazzle.

If this were not enough, one must take note of a very important aspect of this recording: It was recorded live in three performances over four days. In and of itself, this is a noble and “honest” approach. What are the results? The performance of Le Conncert Brise is astonishing and exciting. Theirs is not a reserved approach. There is great emotion in all of the playing. Indeed, Dongois dazzles one with numerous high velocity breathtaking technical passages tossed off with great excitement, some of which ascend to high C and D, which he negotiates with great refinement. In the end, this recording has the perfection one has come to expect from products of a recording studio, but is also filled with the excitement and warmth only possible from a live performance. On every level this is an excellent and inspiring recording. It cannot be recommended too highly.

-- James Miller

Ricercare del Cornetto Solo by Michael Collver

Ricercare del Cornetto Solo: Unaccompanied works by Virgiliano, Bismantova, Bassano & Biber
Michael Collver, cornetto, and Frances Conover Fitch, organ
Available as a CD (Fauve Sounds 102), or included with editions of all works performed in the new “222 Chopbusters for the Cornetto” (available from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) Recorded in A=440 Hz. on August, 2010

Over the past three decades there have been countless recordings featuring the cornetto. It is represented in large scale works such as Monteverdi’s Vespers (1610), the majestic Venetian repertoire together with sackbuts, and in many impressive accompanied solo works. Yet, the most fundamental and at the same time most demanding category of the repertoire has been neglected: the ricercar.

Published as pedagogical studies together with numerous examples of cadential ornamentation, these works were not only the technique-mastering etudes of the day, in many cases they are solid pieces of music which, if performed well, give great pleasure to both performer and listener. They are indeed an art form.
Michael Collver is the first to offer a recording devoted to many of these works. It is hard to imagine a better work than the “Bismantova Preludio” to begin this recording. Within a few seconds the listener is captivated by Collver’s rich sound, command of the instrument and refined phrasing. His sound is complex, like a fine cabernet, and always singing. Collver is equally accomplished as a counter-tenor. His recording “Planctus” (2006) attests to this and is well-worth having for it is immensely evident that his approach to this music is vocally inspired. Nor can there be any doubt of his technical virtuosity, which is particularly special on Bassano’s “Ricercata settima and prima.”

Perhaps the greatest challenge to this repertoire is in shaping phrases. For the most part bar lines were not employed and elisions of phrases are frequent. The performer must find different ways to build and shape phrases with each encounter. The true test of the artist is to find a way (ricercare = to seek) to make sense of all of it, and to do this one must become immersed in the genre. There is no one perfect way to interpret ricercare; the artistry of the performer will determine whether or not they come off pedantically or as worthy works of wonder. Michael Collver’s interpretations rise to the level of art and open the door for the listener to hear just some of the possibilities which exist.

Included on the recording are Bassano’s diminutions on “Anchor che col partire” and dalla Casa’s diminutions on “Frais et galliarde,” which are sensitively supported by Francis Conover Fitch on organ. Nothing, however, adequately prepares the listener for the final track, Biber’s “Passacaglia” (originally for violin, here arranged by Collver). This is a monumental work matched by a monumental performance. It is some ten minutes in length and is full of mood swings, passionate lyrical playing and positively spectacular technical playing. One must hear it numerous times to take it all in.

Practitioners of early music owe a great thanks to Collver for presenting this recording not only because it is the first of its kind, but because it is so masterful and virtuosic. It is both a guide and inspiration.

-- James Miller

Ensemble La Fenice 20th Anniversary DVD

Ensemble La Fenice 20th Anniversary DVD

See for purchasing information or email Marianne Berthet

Cornettist Jean Tubery has been leading Ensemble La Fenice since its founding in 1990. Now to celebrate their 20th anniversary, they have put out a DVD of six performances of 16th- and 17th-century repertoire from live concerts ranging from 2004 to 2010. The performances are what we have come to expect of La Fenice, namely spectacular. The DVD starts off with Bendinelli’s “Andata in trionfo” showing a procession of extra-long straight trumpets bouncing up and down, but still the trumpeters manage to play without a missed note. “Laudate Pueri” from Monteverdi’s Vespers is not a particular brass showcase, but does demonstrate the great range of repertoire with which La Fenice engages. Tubery is nothing less than stunning in his performance of the Rognoni divisions on Palestrina’s “Pulchra es amica mea.” He here takes an interesting approach to performance, playing the division while the large ensemble and choir perform the original motet. His approach was a first for this reviewer, who is more used to hearing the division pieces played as instrumental solos with continuo accompaniment. The result of Tubery’s approach was very musically satisfying. As a bonus, cornett students get a fine opportunity to closely examine Jean Tubery’s slight left side embouchure and finger technique on this cut.  Bassani’s “In calligine umbrosa” is also given a lovely reading. The last piece, with Jean Tubery conducting as he did in all the works, was a spirited playing of “Celebrate this festival King Arthur first music Queen Mary’s funerals” by Henry Purcell. Most impressive was the florid trumpet lines beautifully played, but unfortunately on a vented instrument. While this DVD is a promotional item and not commercially available, arrangements could be made to obtain a copy by contacting La Fenice via their website or by contacting La Fenice’s manager, Pierre Cattoni (see links above).

-- Jeffrey Nussbaum