Recordings

Raggin’ at Greenfield Village by River Raisin Ragtime Revue

River Raisin Ragtime Revue. Raggin’ at Greenfield Village. www.ragtimeband.org 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 www.ensemblelafenice.com 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

Recoding Review of Serikon's Along Uncharted Routes

Serikon, dir. Daniel Stighäll, Along Uncharted Routes: Improvisation over Standards from the Renaissance, (Footprint Records, FRCD 056), Recorded 15-16 May 2009 and 26-26 November 2010.

It is ironic that the modern impression of sixteenth-century diminution practice has been so formed by a number of pieces given as examples in didactic treatises by figures such as Diego Ortiz, Girolamo dalla Casa, and Francesco Rognoni, among others. While these works do indeed give a compelling sense of the vocabulary of florid ornamentation so characteristic of late sixteenth-century Italian music, as fully notated works they come freighted with a degree of fixity that veils what is arguably the essence of the practice: improvisation. In the veiling we often seem to lose sight of the dynamic of spontaneity, as the “division piece” becomes a florid, fixed composition to be negotiated by the player or singer, rather than a dynamic process through which compositions are enlivened and graced. As the title implies, in Along Uncharted Routes, the superb Swedish ensemble Serikon takes a different path, offering performances of the same sort of pieces that Ortiz, dalla Casa, and Rognoni enshrined as examples—“Susane un jour,” “Anchor che col partire,” etc.—but with improvised diminutions. Of course, the recording medium itself introduces an unavoidable degree of irony, for with repeated hearings the renditions take on a certain fixity, as with written examples, but significantly, the improvisational element is easily discerned nonetheless, and is very gratifying. This seems especially evident in the wonderful version of “Susane un jour,” where the embellishment from within the ensemble by mute cornett and trombone had the effect of creating an easy fluidity and flavorful seasoning rather than attempting to steal the show with long-rehearsed, musical pyrotechnics.

Additionally, Along Uncharted Routes shows a wide range of approaches that an ensemble can take in rendering diminution pieces. Here there are examples of a sung melody with polyphonic voices played and embellished, an ornamented upper voice played to the accompaniment of lower instrumental parts, and keyboard and plucked string reductions of the polyphony with the upper voice ornamented. The more successful route seems to be where individual polyphonic lines are preserved, rather than reduced on a non-sustaining instrument. The preservation of the inner lines seems not only to offer a functional counterweight to the floridity of the ornamental line, but also keeps the harmonies clear, as the theorist Vicentino reminds: “To avoid losing harmony in composition while singers display a refined talent for diminuition, it is a good idea to have such diminution accompanied by instruments that play the composition accurately, without diminution. For harmony cannot be lost through diminution if the instrument holds the consonances for their full value” (trans. Anne Smith).

The ensemble is an engaging one that understands the synergy of collaboration. Yet individually there is also much to savor. The beautiful cornett playing by William Dongois is wonderfully vowel-rich, with gracefully contoured phrasing and an exceedingly gratifying low register. Daniel Stighäll’s trombone playing is both as sensitive as it is agile. The main focus of the recording is the improvisational rendition of standard works. But for good measure, the ensemble has also included a few composed division pieces—Notari’s “Ben qui si mostra” (Cipriano da Rore) and Francesco Rognoni’s “Pulchra es” (Palestrina)—as well as a modern work for tenor sackbut by Aron Hidman.

If Serikon’s musical routes are “uncharted,” we might in the future all hope they become more frequently traveled paths, and for that particular journey the members of Serikon will continue to prove wonderfully congenial traveling companions. Buon viaggio!

-- Steven Plank
 

Bach: Easter Oratorio, by S Kuijken and J-F Madeuf

Johann Sebastian Bach
Easter Oritorio, BWV 249
Le Petite Bande
cond. Sigiswald Kuijken
Recorded 4/2009
Academiezcal Sint-Truiden, Belgium
Accent Records ACC 25313
 

Le Petite Band is involved in a Bach Cantata project which has them recording one cantata for each Sunday as well as the high feasts of the liturgical year. If the present recording is any indication of what shall follow in the series, I heartily recommend them in advance to our Historic Brass Society members and, really, to all interested in the music of Bach.

The trumpet players on this recording are Jean-Francois Madeuf, Jean-Charles Denis, and Graham Nicholson. They are playing natural (unvented) trumpets made by Graham Nicholson (after Ehe), and Egger BL #1 mouthpieces (which are similar to the mouthpiece found with the Bull trumpet, further see Eric Halfpenny, Galpin Society Journal 20 [1967], 76-88). Their playing is superb; a complete delight. I am impressed by the smoothness of articulation, the perfect blending of timbre, the refined phrasing, and excellent intonation. On the last category, special recognition should go to Jean-Charles Denis for his lovely sustained 11th partial in the Chorus “Kommt, eilet und laufet.”

Sigiswald Kuijken’s approach to this music, outlined in the liner notes, emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the text: for what it says, for how Bach is setting it musically, and for such elements as rhyme and rhythm as being important elements which help form the rhetoric. Additionally he discusses the use of da spalla performance practice used for the violincello piccolo. His performance on that instrument for the obbligato of the aria “Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ” in Cantata 6 is very light and refined which allows the listener to better hear the interplay of text and counterpoint.

In adhering to the now-accepted practice of using one vocalist per part and minimal numbers of instrumentalists, Kuijken presents Bach with a lightness and transparency which allows the genius of the counterpoint and text to be revealed to the listener. Madeuf and his trumpet section play with complete mastery of the natural trumpet and in so doing, help elevate this performance to greatness, demonstrating that it is not only possible to perform Bach’s trumpet parts on the truly natural trumpet, but that it is preferable to do so.

This recording project of Bach cantatas by Sigiswald Kuijken and Le Petite Bande on Accent Records is deserving of our highest attention.

-- James Miller
Editor's note: Le Petit Band's recoding of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos has also been reviewed by the HBS.

Brandenburg Concertos by S Kuijken and J-F Madeuf

J.S. Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos
Sigiswald Kuijken and La Petite Bande
Jean-François Madeuf, trumpet and horn; Pierre-Yves Madeuf, horn
A=415Hz, recorded October 2009
Accent Records, ACC 24224

With so many high-quality historically-informed recordings, one might think that there is little reason to re-record Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. While that might be true for some, staunch brass purists know that there has never been a recording of the Second Brandenburg using a natural trumpet without any modernization to assist with tuning. No recording, that is, until the present 2009 recording by La Petite Bande with Sigiswald Kuijken conducting (Jean-François Madeuf on trumpet). Kuijken’s recording of the set wears its agenda plainly on its sleeve (pardon the pun): to be the first “no compromises” historical recording of the six works and to do so with artistic and listenable results.

The ramifications of a true no-compromise approach to these works are manifold, and some of them have nothing to do with the trumpet. Kuijken and his players hold themselves to this standard with commendable zeal. First, he feels compelled to play Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 with only one player per part (including the accompanimental/orchestral parts). Noting that conductors have long accepted that Concertos Nos. 3-6 have been performed in this way, he states that he can see no reason for approaching the first two works of the set any differently. The debate over the forces at Bach’s disposal has raged for decades (especially regarding multiple singers in Bach’s choral music) and will doubtless never be resolved to everyone’s complete satisfaction. The present reviewer is of the opinion that the few surviving sources do not require Kuijken’s hard-line stance for these works, but neither do they refute the possibility that Bach used one player per part. Second, Kuijken feels the need to use the violoncello da spalla (a “shoulder cello” upon which he has elsewhere recorded Bach’s cello suites) as his cello of choice, citing recent research that this instrument, rather than the “normal” cello, was what Bach normally indicated with his generic term “violoncello.” I am not in an informed enough position to evaluate the merits of this approach, but concede Kuijken’s point that the result is a continuo section that is “very transparent and yet solid support” for the ensemble. Admittedly, I probably would not have noticed any difference had he omitted the reference in his liner notes.

The most daunting impediment to a true no-compromise recording of the Brandenburg Concertos is, of course, the remarkable solo trumpet part in Concerto No. 2, BWV 1047. The increasing number of “historically-informed” performances of this work have one commonality: the use of vents (extra holes) to tune the natural trumpet’s 11th and 13th partials. Many also make a variety of hidden compromises in lead-pipes, mouthpieces, and bell shapes. Jean-François Madeuf, the HBS’s 2009 Christopher Monk Awardee, meets this challenge head-on. Playing a faithfully reproduced unvented early eighteenth-century J.W. Haas trumpet and an unnamed “conscientious copy of the period mouthpieces,” Madeuf performs commendably and virtuosically. I doubt that any 1720s trumpeter could have played the piece any better than Madeuf does on this recording, and few modern-day trumpeters could equal Madeuf’s feat given the same equipment restrictions. The recording includes the quirks typical of any unvented natural trumpet recording, most audibly the occasionally out-of-tune 11th and 13th partials. Madeuf’s ability to bend these pitches into tune has minimized the tuning problem to a remarkable extent. Another noticeable result is the trumpet’s somewhat foggy sound in its highest register (above the 14th partial). This too is part of the instrument’s sound when playing without the clarity provided by nodal holes. In Madeuf’s case, the fogginess is unduly accentuated by the crisp playing produced by Kuijken’s one performer to a part policy. In spite of this mountain of technical difficulties, Madeuf’s playing is superb.

As might be expected given the laws of physics, these same problems appear on the recording of Concerto No. 1, BWV 1046, where Madeuf’s horn playing, and that of his brother Pierre-Yves Madeuf, is quite good nevertheless. Here the brothers have opted not to use hand-stopping whatsoever. This makes for a more raucous, rustic sound on the whole, but also highlights the difficulties of tuning unvented horns. Perhaps they would have been better served to stop some of the sections when necessary (surely this would not have violated their strict approach?), particularly towards the end of the first movement (~3:00) where both horns play out-of-tune partials simultaneously. Of course, if Bach’s horns did not hand-stop either, then the results would have been the same as on this recording, but it seems highly unlikely that 1720s horn players did not use the technique as needed.

While technical accomplishment is nice, the goal any recording must be something that is artistic and enjoyable to hear. Having played an unvented natural trumpet for many years, I am not squeamish in the least about the tuning problems created by the unaltered harmonic series. I find Madeuf’s playing excellent in its artistry, regardless of technical considerations. For the purposes of teaching and as a means to understanding how the natural trumpet “really sounded” when played competently, owing this recording is a no-brainer. On the other hand, the casual listener accustomed to vented or otherwise modernized Baroque trumpets will probably prefer a different recording for daily listening. Regardless of preference, the technical decisions made by these performers have ensured that the recording is as close as we may ever come to hearing the Brandenburg Concertos as Bach might have heard them c. 1720.

-- Bryan Proksch, McNeese State University

Editor's note: Le Petit Band's recoding of Bach's Easter Oratorio has also been reviewed by the HBS.