Vivaldi & Friends (CD review)

La Folia (Madness) & other concertos. Jeannette Sorrell, Apollo's Fire Baroque Orchestra. Avie AV2211.

Harpsichordist and conductor Jeanette Sorrell formed the period-instruments orchestra Apollo's Fire in 1992 in order to create a new baroque orchestra in Cleveland. As the booklet note observes, "Sorrell envisioned an ensemble dedicated to the baroque ideal that music should evoke the various Affekts or passions in the listeners. Apollo's Fire, named after the classical god of music and the sun, is a collection of creative artists who share Sorrell's passion for drama and rhetoric."

Certainly, in this collection of baroque and modern music there is no want of creativity or drama, starting with an Iberian dance number by Vivaldi, followed by several transcriptions, and concluding with a recent partial tango, of all things. So, it's a diversified program, one that may be intriguing to some listeners or gimmicky to others. One cannot, however, say it's ordinary.

Things start out with the Concerto grosso, La Folia, arranged by Jeannette Sorrell after Vivaldi's Sonata Op. 1, No. 12. It's the aforementioned Iberian dance, with Moorish influences, a popular form all over Europe in the composer's day. Sorrell's arrangement allows all thirty or so of the players in Apollo's Fire to join in the fun. Despite the music being lively, Sorrell never takes it too fast, keeping it, as is her wont, to a moderate tempo. Nevertheless, the interpretation shows plenty of vitality and kicks off the album in fine style.

Next, we get Vivaldi's Concerto in B minor for Four Violins, Op. 3, No. 10, RV 580. Later in the program we'll hear Bach's transcription of it for four harpsichords. Here, however, we get to enjoy the interplay among the four string instruments.

After that comes Vivaldi's Summer Concerto from The Four Seasons in an arrangement by Sorrell that replaces the solo violin with her at solo harpsichord. Apparently, it was a widespread practice in the baroque period to transcribe string works for keyboard presentations. Whatever, the result is unique and worthy of a listen. Insofar as the reading goes, though, it seems fairly traditional, with a strong third-movement Presto that brings the music to a rousing close.

Vivaldi's Concerto in G minor for Two Cellos, RV 531 follows, exhibiting good color and several exotic interludes. Then Sorrell offers the Bach treatment of Vivaldi's Concerto for Four Violins, this time done up for four harpsichords. So, it's Vivaldi via Bach, and you'll hear a little of each composer in the music. The accomplished Apollo's Fire performers make both of the pieces seem entirely different (use your remote to switch back and forth).

The program ends with a modern work, the Tango Concerto in D minor for Two Violas da Gamba by Rene Schiffer (aka Rene Duchiffre, b. 1961), which closes with a tango. Why a modern tango, a purely twentieth-century genre, to end the piece? Well, why not? Schiffer writes that it's "because of the dance's signature elements of rhythmic simplicity and harmonic ostinato, which are also characteristic of many baroque dance forms, including the follia." Fair enough. Anyway, Sorrell and her group bring off this faux-baroque music as playfully as the rest of the album. Besides, Schiffer is the ensemble's principal cellist, so why not give him a shot.

The producers recorded all of the tracks in St. Paul's Church, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, with the first track done live in 2008. It may be live, but it doesn't really sound it, with only occasional minor noises from the audience. Not too closely miked, the acoustic provides ample space, definition, and air for the instruments to breathe.

The other items, done in 2000 and presumably not recorded live, to my ears sound cleaner than the first track, with a slightly more-resonant ambience to the hall and a more-realistic presence all the way around. While there is not too much depth of field here, one can hardly complain about the clarity of the sonics. No disappointments.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

Mission Statement

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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa