Locatelli: Concerti Grossi, Op. 1 (CD review)

Elizabeth Wallfisch and Nicholas Kraemer, The Raglan Baroque Players. Hyperion Dyad CDD22066 (2-disc set).

The problem these days with most composers of the Baroque period (roughly from 1600-1750) is that the bulk of them pale in the shadow of a popular few like Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi in particular, with Albinoni, Corelli, Monteverdi, Purcell, Pachelbel, Rameau, Scarlatti, Telemann, and occasional others bringing up the rear. In fact, by the late eighteenth century Baroque composers in general had fallen out of favor with the public, and it would not be until well into the twentieth century that musicians and musical scholars rediscovered many of them.

So, where does that leave the Italian Baroque composer and violinist Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764)? I'd say "rediscovered," thanks to people like Maestro Nicholas Kraemer and his Raglan Baroque Players on the present recording. (The Raglan Players got their name from a former patron, Fitzroy Somerset, the 5th Lord Raglan, and the Players made several recordings, mainly for Hyperion, during a twenty-odd-year partnership during the Seventies, Eighties, and early Nineties.) The ensemble perform with a great deal of finesse yet maintain a lively style, with Mr. Kraemer conducting from harpsichord and organ and Elizabeth Wallfisch doing the lead violin parts.

Anyway, about Locatelli: Scholars don't know a lot about him, except that he began studying in Rome around 1711, where he debuted as a composer, publishing the Concerti Grossi, Op. 1 in 1721. They were probably among his first published works, and they continue to remain among his most popular. The Op. 1 Concerti appear to owe much to Arcangelo Corelli, already an established composer and violinist when Locatelli was just beginning his career. Concerto No. 8, for instance, ending with the Christmas Pastorale, seems especially reminiscent of Corelli's famous work.

The trouble with all this is minor at best: mainly, a little goes a long way. With twelve Concerto Grossi in this two-disc set, each with between three and seven brief movements, listened to all at once they can begin to take on a sameness that may become wearying. But that's what CD players are for; you can program favorite pieces for playback during a single listening session. At least, once you've decided what your favorites are. (For a single-disc, best-of collection of Op. 1 Concerto Grossi, you might consider Gottfried von der Goltz and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra on Harmonia Mundi.)

As for Mr. Kraemer, Ms. Wallfisch, and the Raglan band, they do their best to keep things moving along at a brisk yet elegant pace. However, one might feel that the ensemble's historically informed tempos and phrasing can at times rob the music of some of its more lyrical qualities. In other words, it isn't always as graceful as it could be.

I liked the first Concerto Grosso because it sets the tone for the rest of the pieces in the set. The tempos remain well judged throughout, energetic without being tiring. Some of the slow movements could perhaps have been a tad slower and used a bit more sentiment, but it is of no serious significance. Ms. Wallfisch's playing is sprightly and alert, and the ensemble project a radiant and pleasingly stylish refinement.

The second concerto grosso seems more sedate than the first one, but that's probably what Locatelli wanted. No complaints here. No. 3 shows a Vivaldi influence, much to its advantage. It is among my favorites of the bunch. No. 4 appears more varied than most of the others and shows more invention than one might expect.

And so it goes, with No. 8 a highlight of the set, thanks largely to that influence of Corelli, who was undoubtedly Locatelli's inspiration. But for that matter, all the concerti grossi on the album are entertaining. If you enjoy Baroque music, the performances and sound shouldn't disappoint.

Engineer Antony Howell and producer Martin Compton recorded the music in June and September 1994, and Hyperion rereleased the set in 2014 as part of their Dyad series, offering two discs for the price of one. The sound is nicely resonant without clouding much detail, the smallish numbers of players involved in each concerto helping with the definition as well. There's a modestly wide stereo spread, a fair sense of air around the instruments, and a smooth, warm glow around everything. It's a good, natural sound, pleasing to the ear and reasonably realistic to the occasion.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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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 Jon 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 simpleminded, 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 Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. 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 cell phone. 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.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa