Air: A Baroque Journey (CD review)

Daniel Hope, violin; soloists from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. DG B0013993-02.

Violinist Daniel Hope and soloists from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe offer up a deliciously prepared and expertly executed selection of diverse Baroque music. The idea, says Hope in the booklet note, is to show how music from different composers and different styles is really all connected, with each of the dozen or so Baroque composers lending a little something to the others to create their unique sounds.

Hope also says the album is a way of showing off one of his favorite qualities of the violin, its "air" or ability to mimic the human voice. Hope chose all of the selections on the disc for their songlike characteristics, melodies he can play "airily," in a filmy, translucent, breezy style.

Certainly, the pieces he includes in the program demonstrate diversity, range, influence, and air, and they come to us not only from four cornerstones of Baroque music making--Bach, Handel, Pachelbel, and Telemann--but also a handful of lesser-known composers--Falconieri, Ortiz, Marini, Matteis, Westhoff, Geminiani, Valente, and Leclair. Meaning that most listeners will instantly recognize some of the music and perhaps not recognize much of the rest. Whatever the case, the disc includes some fine music, if somewhat fragmented despite Hope's desire to demonstrate their linked associations.

Let me give you a few instances: Things begin with the Ciaccona of Andrea Falconieri (1585-1656), which starts out very gently and gets more animated as it goes along, with a strong, if repetitious, forward pulse. In itself, it's a fine, demonstrative way for Hope to launch the program. Hope follows that with Handel's familiar Sarabanda, a serious piece that makes a good contrast to the Falconieri work, with Hope providing a mournful, soulful violin sound even when the music lightens up.

Following the Handel, we get the lively Ricercata segunda by Diego Ortiz (1510-1570) and then another piece by Falconieri, this time a sweet, smooth tune called, appropriately, La suave melodia.

Often, the music lifts off in flights of fancy, but mostly it remains in the lilting, yearning confines of the here and now. The little Violin Concerto in A minor by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) is a good example, parts of it deeply expressive and other parts most playful. Hope then elects to follow the Telemann with a piece by Johann Paul von Westhoff ((1656-1705) called Imitazione delle campano that is really quite modern in its tone and structure. And so on.

After a variation on Greensleeves (anon.) and several more pieces by Westhoff, Hope concludes the album with Bach's Air from the BWV 1068 Overture. What better way to end an album devoted to violin "airs" than with the most-celebrated air of them all?

As to DG's sound, it is oddly soft, veiled, and somewhat distant for so small a group of players. Nevertheless, the engineers properly integrate Hope's violin into the context of the ensemble, and the instruments themselves appear well balanced within the acoustic setting. Perhaps Hope and the audio engineers intended the low-key quality of the audio to complement the music. It is doubtless a warm, relaxing sound rather than anything one might play as demo material.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first 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 use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa