AKA, Music for a Royal Wedding. Ensemble 1700 Lund. CPO 777 589-2.
What is this music? According to the booklet note, "During former times a long ceremony of festive character in joyful anticipation of the imminent consummation of the marriage was held at royal weddings prior to the retirement of the royal bride and groom to the intimacy of their bedchambers. Such ceremonies called for a musical frame to go along with them." The Drottningholm Music (or Music for a Royal Wedding) by Swedish Baroque composer Johan Helmich Roman (1694-1758) fulfilled this calling, his writing the piece for the wedding of Princess Lovisa Ulrika and Duke Adolf Fredrik at Drottningholm Palace in 1744.
The music itself divides into twenty-five brief sections, generally alternating fast and slow movements: dances, minuets, marches, processionals, and the like, lasting in total a little over an hour. Although some of it seems quite solemn for so festive an occasion as a wedding, maybe even a little sad, most of it is joyous and happy enough. There are even a few movements that remind one of Roman's contemporary, George Frideric Handel, especially the series of Allegros starting at track twenty that predate Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks by several years yet sound remarkably like it.
Is Roman's Music for a Royal Wedding a great musical composition? I doubt it, and after the first fifteen or twenty minutes, it does all tend to sound alike. Perhaps that's not a fair assessment, however, as the eighteenth-century listener would probably not have heard the music in a single, continuous performance but in different phases for various parts of the wedding ceremony. Perhaps that is how one might best listen to the music today, in fact. I am no purist, so I would not have a problem choosing seven or eight favorite selections from among the twenty-five and programming my CD player to create a personal suite from the album.
Now, who are the Ensemble 1700? They are a period-instruments orchestra, about twenty players strong, formed in 2005 by oboists Per Bengtsson and Lars Henriksson, lead by harpsichordist Goran Karlsson, and based in Lund, Sweden. They are a stylish group who play with a good deal of devotion to the music. If they don't always seem as flamboyant or outgoing as some other period-instruments bands, they more than make up for it with their ensemble precision and individual virtuosity. By the time they have finished, you will have to admit they've made a grand and eloquent noise.
As most of us have heard so often from the CPO label, the sonics are warm and resonant without being in the least bit soft or fuzzy, and they come through sounding detailed and clean without being hard or edgy. There is also a fine stereo spread involved and reasonably good midrange transparency, as we might expect from a small ensemble. There is not, however, a lot of air around separate instruments nor much sparkle at the high end. In addition, I would have appreciated hearing a greater dynamic range from the group. Nevertheless, these are minor quibbles in sound that is otherwise smooth and agreeable to the ear, despite the period instruments on display.
About the Author
I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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