Corelli: Concerto grosso, “Christmas Concerto,” Op. 6,, no. 8
Jeanne Lamon, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
Nicholas McGegan, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
With Tafelmusik there’s more than just the obvious going on because rhythms, harmonies, and tone colors pop right out of the accompaniment. Even the slow movements have a buoyant, rocking lilt. Phrases have emphasis and breathe with life. And there are neat “concerto grosso” contrasts between the full ensemble and the trio soloists. The Minuet positively dances, and the “Christmas” movement is so happy it’d bring smiles to a mother and child in the most miserable manger. (Also, Rochester’s Paul O’Dette provides the archlute continuo.) Resonant, warm, bright, clear engineering too.
McGegan’s San Francisco group is also spry and upbeat, light on its toes rather than its heels. The “concerto grosso” aspects, while not as pronounced (the orchestra is smaller than Tafelmusik), is very lovely and stylish. Each section moves so nicely, and the sound is smooth, warm, and perfectly balanced. Only the final “Christmas” movement seems a bit too fast for sentiment. McGegan offers comfort; with Tafelmusik, get out your dancing shoes!
WebTips: Both of these albums come with only one CD (often you have to buy a 2-CD package with all 12 concertos in Opus 6). Tafelmusik chooses their favorite concertos; McGegan offers the last six. Don’t be confused by the labels. “Deutsche Harmonia Mundi” is a now-expired label, some of whose holdings are licensed by BMG (now the parent of RCA and Sony Classical). Tafelmusik’s album is available on Amazon for less than $1. “Harmonia Mundi” is a French label very much alive in the US. McGegan’s recording is available both in its original release and a re-release.
Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (1974 recording)
This recording on modern instruments incorporates plenty of expression and contrasts along with a beautiful sound.
WebTips: Marriner has made numerous recordings on several labels. This one surfaces on some of them. In searching online, some websites will list the recording year. Also, this four-minute work most often winds up on albums with a hodge-podge of composers and performers. Lots of luck in choosing! De gustibus . . . .
Bach: Suite No. 2, BWV 1067
Ton Koopman, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (CD) and Image Entertainment (DVD)
No other recording begins to compare to this one (recorded 1987, released 1988). The soloists are incomparable as they dovetail with one another, swirling on their toes and keeping the full ensemble from ever being plodding. The style is toe-tapping buoyant, rhythms are incisive with a leading edge that keeps the flow upbeat. The Rondeau prances, and the soloists keep the Polonaise bright and eminently graceful. And flutist Wilbert Hazelzet’s phrasing makes the concluding Badinerie seem so effortless that the music simply floats. Yes, the playing here is virtuosic, but the feeling is comforting. The same is true in all four Orchestral Suites in this collection.
WebTips: This is not this same as the group’s very disappointing 1997 recording available on the Erato label. The Deutsche Harmonia Mundi label no longer exists; some of its recordings are licensed by BMG (see Corelli WebTips above). I can’t find the CD online, but the intrepid may find the DVD. I found it available only by going to Amazon, clicking on “Music,” and entering “image entertainment bach;” it was the last of 12 entries.
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1, “Winter Dreams”
Vaclav Smetacek, Prague Symphony
This 1961 recording is the one against which I still measure all others. The symphony is shot through with Russian folk songs. It’s full of kick, lilt, melancholy, and dance. Smetacek laces each movement together perfectly, picking you up at the beginning and not letting you go till the end. Here is style incarnate as he gives each movement individual character; the crown is the final movement, after which your blood pressure will definitely be elevated.