The World of Compact Discs

By Paterson, Anthony | Contemporary Review, December 1998 | Go to article overview

The World of Compact Discs


Paterson, Anthony, Contemporary Review


Hyperion has brought us the most spectacular and sonorous recording of recent months, two compact discs which recreate one of the great annual ceremonies that drew visitors to Venice from all over Europe. Lo Sposalizio (CDA 67048) gives us the sounds and music of 'The Wedding of Venice to the Sea' as it was celebrated about 1600. We follow the procession across the Lagoon where the Doge would drop the golden ring into the water and then hear the Mass as celebrated in San Nicolo. Most of the music is by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrielli. This recording also has numerous drum rolls and trumpets interspersed with short pieces of instrumental music. It concludes with a recording of all the bells of Venice ringing out in jubilation. This tremendous undertaking - involving much scholarly research - is the work of Robert King and the King's Consort and draws on such talents as James Bowman as counter tenor. This is surely a unique production and can only be appreciated by a careful listening.

It is difficult to believe that any of Mozart's works still remain virtually unknown yet such has been the fate of most of his songs. Mozart Songs from HYPERION (CDA 66989) is an all British production with the pianist, Roger Vignoles, accompanying the soprano, Joan Rodgers, and the tenor, John Mark Ainsley, in twenty-five, mainly short songs, drawing on texts by various poets. While these are not lieder of a Schubertian dimension, they do show Mozart's endless talent even in slight works like Komm, liebe Zither where a lovesick youth confides his secret to his zither. This well done disc - with excellent texts and translations - enhances our knowledge of Mozart.

Handel's Let the Bright Seraphim achieved renewed popularity when it was sung at the 1981 Royal Wedding. It provides the title for a delightful disc from CARLTON that combines the sound of the trumpet with the rich soprano voice of Jeni Beri (3036601182). Here we have songs and arias by Handel and Purcell interspersed with orchestral music by Handel, Corelli and Scarlatti. The texts are often suitably patriotic such as this from Purcell's Don Quixote of 1694:

Genius of England and from thy present bower of bliss, Arise and spread thy wings. Guard, guard from foes the British state, That on whose smile doth wait the uncertain happy fate Of monarchies and kings.

The trumpet - appropriately an eighteenth century English type - unites the disc and one only has to say that the trumpeter is Crispian Steele-Perkins to know that this is music-making of the highest quality.

Handel is of course a composer identified with the Christmas season as many people regard listening to Messiah as almost a religious obligation It is easy to forget that Handel is not an English, but a German composer. Handel in Hamburg from HYPERION (CDA 67053) recalls his early triumphs as a teenager in the North German port where he first came to fame. Here we have the Parley of Instruments under Peter Holman performing instrumental music from various Handel operas such as Almira and Rodrigo first produced in Hamburg. This recording has been careful to reproduce the authentic 'French sound' produced by orchestras in Handel's time. The violin technique of Elizabeth Wallfisch is particularly outstanding on this disc. Once again Hyperion have brought to light forgotten masterpieces. Indeed this is the first recording of the Suite from Florindo and Daphne.

Only a few years after Handel left Hamburg, J. S. Bach started working on the collection of piano pieces known as The Well-Tempered Clavier which have remained central to the keyboard tradition and exerted tremendous influence on later composers such as Beethoven or Gounod. The latter even helped himself to one of the preludes. Though some listeners will always prefer the sound of the harpsichord, we have had over the years numerous editions by distinguished pianists such as Edwin Fischer and Wanda Landowska (the latter on the harpsichord) and we now have two more notable versions. …

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