Giuseppe Torelli: The Original Brandenburg Concertos
Signum Classics SIGCD157
BBC Radio 3 'CD Review'
Exquisite pioneering music. The director Kah-Ming Ng has thought a lot about realizing the score attractively with a variety of instrumentation with the addition of oboes, recorders etc – these are particularly successful and very well played. Charivari Agréable are as persuasive advocate for this music as you are likely to find. Very open and very generous playing.
Andrew MacGregor & Jonathan Freeman-Attwood
Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709) spent much of his career working in Bologna's Basilica of San Petronio, where instrumental music in Italy reached a new golden age during the 17th century. However, for a few years (1696-1701) the illustrious orchestra was temporarily disbanded for financial reasons, and TOreli sought his livelihood north of the Alps. His 12 Concerti musicali, Op 6, here called by Charivari Agreable the "Original Brandenburg Concertos", were published in 1698 and dedicated to Electress Sophie Charlotte of Brandenburg (the sister of the future George I of Britain, and also patron of Corelli and the philosopher Leibniz). Torelli, an acclaimed cellist and violinist, also found employment at the court of Georg Friedrich II, the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach (neither of these were members of the same branch of the family as Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt, to whom Bach gave the Brandenburg Concertos in 1721).
Charivari Agreable's accomplished performances prove that Torelli's music doesn't deserve to remain neglected. The Oxford-based ensemble has a distinctly international make-up, and expertly conjures the appropriate tautness, melancholic depth, athleticism and amiableness of the mostly short movements. For example, Concert No 5 has well judged contrasts between slower melancholic moments and oboe-driven colourful fast sections. The opening of No 10 is played rapturously by violinists Bojan Cicic and Linda Hannah-Andersson. Editorial woodwind parts, such as a pair of recorders in No 7, bring delightful variety to music that was published for only strings and continuo. Kah-Ming Ng claims that Torelli might have done much the same at Ansbach, and praises that the collection is "the most historically significant concerto publication" before Vivaldi's L'estro armonico (1711) and Corelli's Op 6 (1714). On the evidence of these emphatic performances, he might be right.
What an absurd title for a very attractive disc. Giuseppe Torelli was an innovative violinist and composer of the later 17th century in Italy, and pushed the chamber music of his day towards fully fledged orchestral style. JS Bach certainly knew his music, and transcribed one piece. But even though Torelli's Op 6 is dedicated to the Electress of Brandenburg, there is no link with Bach's celebrated concertos. Torelli's Concerti musicali a quattro are among the first to set a solo violin against strings; stylistically, they lead to Corelli and Handel rather than Bach. The excellent playing by this Oxford-based group is plangent and expressive, quite hard-edged, and added wind give an extra lift to the textures.
Sir Nicholas Kenyon
Composed for Sophie Charlotte, Electress of Brandenburg, Giuseppe Torelli's Opus 6 'Concerti Musicali' is among the most graceful of late 17th-century concertos. The instrumentation is sophisticated, pairing recorders in dialogue in the C major Concerto, though Torelli's oboes and bassoon seem almost incidental to the strings in the E minor Concerto. Known to have influenced Bach, a pre-echo of both sets of Handel's 'Concerti Grossi' is evident in Charivari Agréable's sweet-toned, understated performance.
The Sunday Times
Despite its enticing title, this recording doesn't uncover anything new, but presents Giuseppe Torelli's Opus 6, the collection of 12 concertos the composer dedicated to Sophie Charlotte, Electress of Brandenburg, in 1698. They are historically significant pieces, important early examples of a form, the concerto grosso, that contrasts solo groups or individuals with the whole ensemble. The concertos make constantly pleasing listening, particularly when enhanced by the wind instruments — oboes, recorder, bassoon. Kah-Ming Ng and the accomplished Charivari Agréable give warm, sweet-toned performances.
CD-Tipp der Woche | 14.03.2009
Brandenburgische Konzerte von Giuseppe Torelli
Das lautmalerische Wort "Charivari" kommt ursprünglich aus dem Französischen und bedeutet: buntes Durcheinander, Tumult, Katzenmusik - und das Einstimmen des Orchesters vor Beginn einer Aufführung. Ein britisches Ensemble hat sich den sinnträchtigen Namen "angenehmer Tumult" - "Charivari Agréable" gegeben. Und das aus gutem Grund, denn die Spezialisten für Alte Musik behandeln die Musik der Barockzeit durchaus zwanglos, präsentieren sie mit Ecken und Kanten und viel Begeisterung.
17 CDs hat das Ensemble in den letzten 15 Jahren veröffentlicht, viele davon preisgekrönt, in unterscheidlichen Besetzungen und mit einfallsreichen Programmen, die von der Renaissance bis zur Frühklassik quer durch Europa reichen: von England nach Spanien über Frankreich bis nach Deutschland und Italien. Die aktuelle CD des Ensembles steht ganz im Zeichen des Italieners Giuseppe Torelli, dessen Todestag sich kürzlich im Februar zum 300. Mal jährte.
Solovioline erstmals im Mittelpunkt
Giuseppe Torelli ist heute vor allem mit seinen Trompetenkonzerten präsent, aber viel bedeutender ist sein Verdienst als Erfinder des Violinkonzertes. Torelli hat als erster die dreisätzige Form eingeführt - mit zwei schnellen Ecksätzen und einem längeren langsamen Mittelsatz. Genau dieser neuen Gattung schenkte Torelli in seinem op. 6 alle Aufmerksamkeit. Drei der zwölf Konzerte zu vier Stimmen rücken die Solovioline erstmals in den Mittelpunkt.
1698 wurde der Zyklus in Augsburg gedruckt. Torelli war gerade über Wien nach Deutschland gereist und hatte eine Stelle als Konzertmeister im Orchester des Markgrafen von Brandenburg und Ansbach angetreten. Sein Antrittswerk - das Opus 6 - widmete Torelli der Brandenburgischen Kurfürstin Sophie Charlotte. Torellis Brandenburgische Konzerte sind gut 20 Jahre vor dem gleichnamigen, weitaus berühmteren Zyklus von Bach entstanden, aber zwischen beiden Zyklen gibt es keinerlei Verbindung. Das britische Ensemble "Charivari Agréable" zeigt in seiner Einspielung, wieviel Innovation in Torellis Musik steckt, mit einfallsreichen Modulationen beziehungsweise Tonartwechseln.
Spürbarer Geist der Barockzeit
Die Musiker von "Charivari Agréable" haben den Geist der Barockzeit spürbar in sich aufgesogen. Mit markigem Ton und wendigem Spiel beweisen sie Kompetenz, Mut und Leidenschaft, so wie einst Torelli, der seiner Zeit in verschiedener Hinsicht voraus war, wie manch umfangreiches Eingangsthema zeigt.
"Charivari Agréable" hat die Originalklangpraxis bereichert. Sie begann einst beim forschenden Quellenstudium, reichte über die notentexttreue Aufführung und ist nun bei einer kreativen und damit auch freieren Spielpraxis angekommen. Im Umfeld der traditionsreichen Oxford-University hat das Ensemble ein eigenes Profil entwickeln können. Die frisch und beseelt gespielten Torelli-Aufnahmen machen gespannt auf Live-Auftritte, damit "Charivari Agréable" in Deutschland kein Geheimtipp mehr bleibt.
Giuseppe Torelli was renowned in his lifetime as a performer, a highly accomplished string player, in the northern Italian towns of Verona (his birthplace) and Bologna. Indeed, the composer partly forged a Bolognese style of playing, which spread to other cities in Europe when the orchestra there was disbanded in 1696.
A year later Torelli was in Berlin, where he attempted to find favour - or even a court position - with the same family (although a different branch) to which Bach later dedicated his Brandenburg Concertos. Although unsuccessful, that was probably a blessing in disguise for Torelli: the stifling routine in Prussia would surely have depressed the volatile Torelli. Indeed, a few years later Handel had to find a way out of a similar circumstance there.
The prominence of the hoped-for patron, however, meant that the composer of the dozen Concerti Musicali a Quattro, Op. 6 was celebrated (at least for the first two decades of the eighteenth century) beyond an otherwise relatively obscure slot that the rest of his output might otherwise have reserved for him despite the fact that Torelli is often celebrated for his role in developing the concerto grosso.
The works themselves are helped by being well-suited to performance in a variety of milieus from domestic chamber concerts to more public 'concert' performances; concerts were by those years established and increasing in popularity.
Although not scored for so varied a palette of instruments as Bach's concertos, these are lively and inspiring pieces. There are innovations, too: concertos 6, 10 and 12 are the first in history to specify a part for a solo violin. Charivari Agréable has followed such dispositions as stipulated by Torelli to the letter; although they have also allowed ornamentation which they believe would have been consistent with the forces available to the composer in his position at Ansbach at the time of their composition.
These concertos are unlikely to be staples of many people's collections: this is their only recording in the catalogue. But they are of such freshness, lightness and understated beauty that the accomplishment of Ng (whose first degree is in civil engineering!) and his forces is a significant one. Their playing comes not only from an affectionate attachment to the idiom, but also from a deep understanding of the particular ways in which it has been utilised to convey surprise, delight, uplift and pathos.
The way the second two movements of the fourth concerto [tr.s13,14], for example, take no hostages to convention, and the woodwind weave uncompromising and original colours at innovative tempi in the middle movements of the fifth [tr.s16,17] exemplify this exciting and very pleasing approach by Charivari Agréable. Each movement presents something different from the last.
The lightness of touch and generosity of interpretative depth employed by Charivari Agréable, though, ensure that we enjoy the concertos for their own sake as well as noting any kind of historical significance. The period instruments on which they play have sonorous and broad sounds with as much depth as body.
The expressiveness of the string playing in the eighth [tr.s24-27], for instance - particularly when set against the mellow woodwind, again - is typical of such tight focus. No movement in these dozen works lasts more than three minutes. So structure, development and almost perfect phrasing have been emphasised. The result is something very… agreeable.
In short, the ensemble's blend of technical prowess and perception into the way the themes and textures work to produce something novel yet touching makes this a CD to be taken very seriously.
The presentation is up to Signum's usual standard: there is a lengthy and informative essay on the background to the composition of the Concerti Musicali; the recorded sound is close and clean. All in all these concerti have more than curiosity value. Enjoy them in their own right.
The Charivari performances are more than agréable; in fact, they're first-rate. Their leader, Bojan Cici?, fully deserves the separate billing which he receives for his performances of the solo items, never over-stepping the mark to make the violin too prominent. He is ably partnered by Linda Hannah-Anderson in No.10. The recording is good throughout, close but not over-close, and well balanced. I'd have liked to hear more of the continuo, but that's a criticism which I find myself levelling at about every recent baroque music recording. Kah-Ming Ng's notes are detailed and informative and, thanks apparently to Dr Glyn Redworth, free from over-use of purple prose. This is a distinguished addition to the Signum catalogue - not quite in the same league as their monumental recordings of all Tallis's music, but not far removed. The title of the collection and the striking cover on which it's displayed will doubtless attract many impulse buyers. I don't think that they'll have much cause for disappointment when they hear what they've purchased.
Bayern 4 Klassik
Charivari Agreable spielt erfrischend inspiriert und kreativ, mit einem erdnahen Klang. Man merkt den Musikern die genaue Kenntnis dieser Musik an, sie greifen einerseits zurück auf eine profunde musikhistorische Forschung, vertrauen auf der anderen Seite ganz auf ihre charimatischen Spielfreude.
All Music Guide http://www.dilettantemusic.com/reviews/editorial/torelli-original-brandenburg-concertos
The "original Brandenburg concertos" subtitle of this release means less than it seems to suggest; the works have nothing to do with Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, which didn't even have that name until many years after the fact. The connection is that Torelli's concertos here were dedicated, in 1698, to Sophie Charlotte, Electress of Brandenburg-Ansbach and eventually the leader honored by the Charlottenburg castle in Berlin. Bach's concertos were dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg, member of another branch of the Prussian ruling line. The big news here is not the Brandenburg connection but the entirely fresh performances of Torelli's Op. 6 concertos. This set of 12 pieces (rounded out here by a short sonata à quattro) was a key development in the emergence of the concerto grosso as a genre; some of them can be played with one instrument to a part, but the Concerto in D minor, Op. 6, No. 10 (tracks 31-34), contains passages specifically marked as solos. Often these pieces seem rather shapeless in performance, but the historical-performance group Charivari Agréable makes a daring move here, and it pays off: relying on the rather thin evidence that Torelli would have had an opera orchestra available at the time, and on what they call "our deep immersion in the historical performance practice of the period," they double some of the string lines with recorder, oboe, or bassoon. This works like a charm, and it's a bit hard to figure out why; the effect is a little mysterious. It is not done with the intent of creating a symphonic effect. Instead, the doublings are subtle, used mostly to emphasize the interior lines that are drowned out by a phalanx of glittering violins. The entire texture takes on a density that hasn't been heard in these works before, and the very precise, lively lines forged by keyboardist and director Kah-Ming Ng make the music into something kaleidoscopic instead of shapeless. Ng in his booklet notes (in English only) states "the hope that Torelli's inventive inner-part writing might be better heard, his melodic genius more appreciated, and his full stature as a protagonist in the pantheon of concerto composers vindicated at last." These aims are startlingly realized.
International Record Review
With such an intriguing title, here's a recording which is going to attract a lot of attention. The mere mention of 'Brandenburg' has a strong Pavlovian effect, conjuring up complex textures, colourful instrumentation and Bachian genius. It's going to be a great disappointment then. That's the trouble with raising expectations too high.
Yet behind the crafty marketing it's a different story. The music here is well worth our attention, as long as we approach it in the right way with a proper sense of its original context. The 12 concertos of Torelli's Concerti musicali were published in 1698 and so belong to the earliest stage in the development of the concerto. It was an historically important publication, pre-dating both Vivaldi's Op. 3 L'estro armonico of 1711 (which effectively defined the solo, ritornello concerto) and Corelli's influential Op. 6, published in 1714 (which effectively defined the concerto grosso). Compared with Vivaldi's and Corelli's publications the concertos of Torelli's Op. 6 were ultimately less influential and individual in style. However, now that we've actually got the chance to hear these early works, their subtle charms are quite persuasive. Short-breathed they may be — Concerto No. 5 in G minor lasts just over three minutes — but they speak a different language from either Corelli or Vivaldi, which is most refreshing. The novelties have yet to turn to clichés, and it seems very daring when (for the first time in the history of the concerto) Torelli indicates that certain passages in three of the concertos should be played by a solo violin (and a pair of them in No. 10). Heavens, where could such sensuous innovations lead?
So what does the director of Charivari Agréable — Kah-Ming Ng — mean when he calls these 'The Original Brandenburg Concertos'? Well, they were the first set of concertos dedicated to the powerful Brandenburg dynasty — in this case, Sophie Charlotte, the Electress of Brandenburg, grandmother of Frederick the Great and the sister-in-law of Bach's dedicatee, Christian Ludwig. She was a formidable but cultivated lady whose attention was also courted by Corelli (who dedicated his celebrated Op. 5 Violin Sonatas to her), and she could count on no less an intellectual than Gottfried Leibniz as a close friend.
Compared with Bach, Torelli made much more of an effort. Johann Sebastian merely revised six earlier works which were selected for their musical quality, not their practicality. Christian Ludwig's modest musical establishment could never have been expected either to have the variety of instruments nor the players with the virtuoso abilities to tackle Bach's offerings. Torelli's works, though, were ideal for Sophie Charlotte's musical Kapelle. Scored simply for strings and continuo they made demands on neither technique nor concentration. Perhaps these really should be thought of as the true Brandenburgs after all. In the end, of course, both sets of concertos failed to net their composers employment at the court of Brandenburg-Prussia, which was probably just as well, since by all accounts it was a rather stifling environment … servants (and that included musicians) were expected to know their place.
There's a pleasing sparkle to these performances; it's as if the members of Charivari Agréable have pretended not to know anything about music after 1700 and have therefore been able to capture something of the original freshness of these works. There's intimacy too: this definitely sounds like a chamber ensemble writ large rather than a chamber orchestra downsizing. Ng also has a little bit of unexpected colour up his sleeve. He argues convincingly for the addition of wind instruments ad libitum — such practices were widespread at the time — and so oboes, bassoon and recorders enrich the textures from time to time.
In summary, this is a rewarding glimpse of the early history of the concerto, explained in wonderfully Baroque booklet notes by Ng. No masterpieces, but bags of potential.
G. Torelli opus 6 concerti
CHARIVARI AGRÉABLE directed by Kah-Ming Ng
Violin solo: Bojan Cicic (BC)
Violin: Bojan Cicic (leader), Oliver Sändig (OS), Hazel Brooks (HzB), Camilla Scarlett, Linda Hannah-Andersson (LA), Richard Wade, Veronique Matarasso,
Viola: Rachel Stott (RS), Heather Birt (HB), Hazel Brooks Violoncello: Gareth Deats (GD) Viola da gamba: Ibi Aziz (IA) Violone: Elizabeth Harré
Oboe: Mark Baigent, Jane Downer, Nicholas Benda;
Recorder: Jane Downer, Mark Baigent;
Bassoon: Michael Brain
Theorbo & baroque guitar: Jørgen Skogmo,
Chamber organ: David Bannister, Kah-Ming Ng (KM)
Harpsichord: Kah-Ming Ng