Concerti Virtuosi (CD review)

Music of Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Locatelli, Fasch, and Leo. Jeanne Lamon, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Analekta AN 2 9815.

The Canadian period-instrument ensemble Tafelmusik is one of today's leading early music orchestras, the group as refined yet as exciting playing historical instruments as, say, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields is playing modern instruments. The only trouble is finding enough good Baroque music to make the ensemble worth hearing, which is perhaps why they have reached out as far as the early Romantic period in their performances.

In any case, I know it sounds a bit harsh of me to criticize Baroque music, and it probably says more about me and my attitudes toward music than anything else. The fact is, I'm in a minority. The music of the Baroque and Classical periods make up the biggest part of the air time on most classical radio stations; it's that popular. Apparently, radio listeners love it as a sort of background music to whatever else they're doing during the day or night: driving or working or reading the newspaper. Perhaps I'm being unfair suggesting that Baroque music takes less concentration to enjoy than other types of music, but there is a fairly static quality about most of it that makes it akin to radio's "easy listening."

In any case, the Baroque music on this 2005 release from Tafelmusik comprises various concerti, a term that the booklet note explains got its meaning in part from the Latin word concertare, meaning "to contend, dispute, debate," and from the Italian, meaning "to agree, arrange, get together." The definitions would seem to be contradictory, and in a way so is the music, with the trio sections contending against yet blending with the rest of the orchestra.

All of the works on the disc come from the early seventeenth century, the composers being the ever-popular Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach, and George Friedrich Handel, of course; the lesser-known Pietro Locatelli and Johann Friedrich Fasch; and the least-known Leonardo Leo. What they all have in common is that their concerti sound pretty much alike to the uninformed ear. Count me among those; I doubt that I could identify any single snippet of music from any of these works two minutes after listening to them. While I know that makes me sound like Barbarian, I nevertheless enjoyed every minute of every note.

Jeanne Lamon
What's on the disc? Vivaldi's Concerto in A Minor for Two Oboes and Strings and his Concerto in E Minor for Four Violins; Leo's Concerto in D Minor for Violoncello; Bach's Concerto for Oboe D'amore in G Major; Locatelli's Concerto Grosso in D Major; Fasch's Concerto in C Minor for Bassoon, Two Oboes, and Strings; and Handel's Concerto Grosso in A Minor.

Jeanne Lamon and her Tafelmusik ensemble make the music come alive, all the while sounding as graceful and elegant as any orchestra you'll find. It's no wonder Tafelmusik has become one of the leading period-instrument bands in the world. Along with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, among others, they perform with a lively yet moderate style, never overemphasizing the period qualities of their playing and always allowing the tempos, phrasing, bowing, and various nuances to serve the music and not spotlight the players.

The sonics are typical of what the Tafelmusik players have been doing since switching to their own Analekta label some years ago. The recording sounds smooth, rich, wide ranging, vivid, and alive, without appearing in any way spectacular. The sonics are not bright, hard, or edgy as so many period-instrument recordings can sound; nor are the sonics as clear, open, and transparent as a few audiophile discs can be. The sound is simply natural and pleasant, never drawing attention to itself. The recording places the music above all else, which is as it should be.

With over seventy records to their credit, if any group can help a listener appreciate Baroque music, it's Tafelmusik.


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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa