Albinoni: 12 Concertos, Op. 9 (CD review)

Andrew Manze, violin; Frank de Bruine and Alfredo Bernardini, oboes; Christopher Hogwood, The Academy of Ancient Music. Decca 289 458 129-2 (2-disc set).

At last count the number of classical works I had never heard before stood at approximately 932, 876,562.3. After listening to this two-disc set of Albinoni concertos from Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, that number is effectively reduced by twelve. I can sleep easier.

For those of you who, like me, recognize Albinoni's name largely from the Adagio in G-minor for organ and strings, famously reconstructed by Remo Giazotto but bearing little relationship to Albinoni's actual hand, these concertos from Hogwood may come as a surprise. Albinoni was a contemporary of Vivaldi, but while the latter is a household name, people play and recognize rather little of Albinoni's output nowadays. More's the pity; Albinoni's work shows sparkle and invention.

Christopher Hogwood
Hearing these concertos for the first time, I cannot pretend to be able to identify them in the future. As a whole, though, they would seem to epitomize the "Age of Reason," the first half of the eighteenth century in which Albinoni wrote them. There is an order and precision about them that is at once calculated and scintillating.

Even more so than Vivaldi, who was much more the showman, Albinoni's concertos appear more subdued, more distanced, yet still glistening with vitality. At least that's how Christopher Hogwood, his soloists, and the Academy players present them on period instruments and using historically informed performance practices. Most important, Hogwood takes them at relatively lively but modest tempos, never hurrying the music as so many period groups do. I was most taken by Nos. 2, 7, and 12 for their vivacious spirit, and Nos. 2 and 7 in particular for their lovely slow movements.

Decca's sound has its merits, as well. The engineers recorded it at a reasonably moderate distance for a realistic home-listening experience, offering an image that is set back from the speakers and not spread too far across them. Nevertheless, the timbre seems slightly bright and hard to me and somewhat lacking at the bottom end. I would have preferred to hear a more resonant mid bass to justify the ensemble's perceived location in my living room. Still, the performances and sound are of good quality, and for anyone even remotely curious about Baroque music the set makes an intelligent purchase decision.

JJP

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


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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