Haydn: Sinfonia concertante (CD review)

Also, Mozart: Oboe Concerto in C major; Bassoon Concerto in B flat major. Jonathan Cohen, Arcangelo. Hyperion CDA68090.

What is Arcangelo? According to their Web site, "Arcangelo is one of the world's leading ensembles bringing together exceptional musicians who excel on both historical and modern instruments, under the direction of founder and artistic director & conductor Jonathan Cohen.

"Its players believe that the collaboration required in chamber music, whether working in duos or as a chamber orchestra, is the highest expression of what it means to make music. Setting it apart from other ensembles, all performers are committed to this chamber ideal and as such Arcangelo attracts an outstanding calibre of performers who already have flourishing solo and chamber music careers. These are performers of dazzling technical ability, but they also have a passion for faithful interpretation that goes far beyond historical understanding.

"Formed in 2010, Arcangelo has exploded onto the musical scene with verve and energy and has since enjoyed numerous invitations to appear at major festivals and concert halls in Europe and America."

The first and only other time I encountered Maestro Cohen and Arcangelo, they were providing the accompaniment for violinist Vilda Frang on an excellent album of Mozart violin concertos. It was a pleasure at the time hearing them play, and it's an equal pleasure listening to them here.

On the present album, Arcangelo play three selections, one from Haydn and two from Mozart, all from approximately the same period, the late eighteenth century. The first item is the Sinfonia concertante in B flat major by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), a piece he wrote in 1792. A sinfonia concertante is kind of a mix of symphony and concerto, this one featuring a violin (Ilya Gringolts), cello (Nicolas Altstaedt), oboe (Alfredo Bernardini), and bassoon (Peter Whelan).

Jonathan Cohen
The playing of Arcangelo appears silky smooth, every phrase, every note, every nuance gliding effortlessly from one to another. And since this is Haydn, we can expect a plenitude of charming tunes strung together in a seemingly unending display of delightful music making. Arcangelo do Haydn justice with a reasonably lively, always graceful and elegant performance. I should also single out the soloists for their commendably gentle yet virtuosic work. Everything about the production displays a glistening polish that is most enjoyable. They go on to create a lovely Andante and a most-spirited conclusion.

Next, we get the Oboe Concerto in C major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), a piece he wrote in 1777. The featured player is Alfredo Bernardini, oboe. The two Mozart works are both equally felicitous, and Arcangelo perform them with refinement and finesse, Mr. Bernardini playing a mean oboe.

The program concludes with Mozart's Bassoon Concerto in B flat major, written in 1774. It features Peter Whelan, bassoon. Again the ease of Arcangelo's playing perfectly enhances the mellow nature of the oboe, as the ensemble also seem well attuned to the concerto's sense of fun in the opening movement. In the middle Andante, Mr. Whelan's oboe plangently voices an operatic voice, a touch of melancholy present but not overpowering. The finale seems a tad too formal to me, but I suppose it's in keeping with the cultured nature of the rest of Arcangelo's approach.

Producer Adrian Peacock and engineer David Hinitt recorded the music at St. Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London in February 2012, November 2013, and April 2014. Ultrasmooth sound marks the key feature of this release, complementing the ultrasmooth performances. Not that there isn't a good deal of detail, too, but the smoothness seems paramount. There is also a wide stereo spread, a fairly good dynamic response, and a pleasantly enveloping ambient bloom. It makes for a big, satisfying sound.


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

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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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa