Drawn from the Gaveau-Érard-Pleyel Archives now maintained by the AXA Insurance Group in France, this beautifully produced two-volume set about the history of the Érard piano and harp represents a rich lode of information not only for those interested in these instruments, but also for all who want to learn about the role of music within the context of European culture of the last two centuries.
Over the last decade, New York Polyphony has developed a world-class reputation for stellar musicianship and programming dedicated to both early and contemporary music. On their sixth album, Roma Æterna, the singers — countertenor Geoffrey Williams, tenor Steven Caldicott Wilson, baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert, and bass Craig Phillips — break with their own tradition and return to the past, focusing for the first time exclusively on early music.
It may have been surprising to see Mahan Esfahani follow up his imaginative debut with something as overdone as J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations (198 listings on ArchivMusic.com as of Sept. 2016). Although Esfahani’s take on this set of 30 variations on a plaintive aria doesn’t overflow with revelations, it does show off his brilliant technique — and as a result, there are some spectacular passages to be savored.
These are vibrant interpretations with a full-blooded orchestral texture and plenty of forward motion, and the solos are characterized by the artist’s customary imagination in phrasing. The engineering presents a well-delineated sound stage throughout, and careful miking picks up the pianist’s playing-along in opening tuttis, a nice combination of intimacy and grandeur.
The Lives of George Frideric Handel more than accomplishes its goals. Well-written, richly documented, and colorfully presented, David Hunter’s unique spin on what we know about Handel, or thought we knew, is a valuable addition to the early-music library.
The usual objective in such projects by period ensembles is to peel away layers of interpretive accretions laid on by conductors and modern orchestras to reveal what Beethoven originally had in mind. Not, of course, “what Beethoven heard,” for his deafness had advanced to the point where he could only discern faint sounds at the Ninth’s unveiling at the Kärtnertor Theatre in Vienna on May 7, 1824. The composer was onstage to set tempos, but the conducting duties were covered by others.
The album centers on the lute as both an heir to tradition and a living, breathing instrument. It features Ronn McFarlane (lute), Brian Kay (vocals and komuz, a fretless stringed instrument), Willard Morris (colascione, a relative of the bass lute), and Mattias Rucht (percussion).
In "La Mascarade,” the Norwegian theorbo player and baroque guitarist Rolf Lislevand gives us a personal statement that mixes not only two composers but also two instruments: theorbo for the music of Robert de Visée (mostly taken from the 1699 Vaudry de Saizenay manuscript) and baroque guitar for the music of Francesco Corbetta.