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).
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: