Harmonia Caelestis

Signum Classics SIGCD049

Musical Opinion

This is the tenth record Charivari Agréable has made for Signum and like its predecessors this one combines joyful playing with didactic intent. As Kah-Ming Ng, the group's keyboard player explains in the disc booklet, the aim this time is to show how the cornett often complemented and substituted for the violin. The recording expresses the group's robust views about instrumentation, arrangement and even pastiche; the disc includes two suites collating fragments by various composers. Charivari Agréable makes a convincing argument that the cornett was a respected solo instrument well beyond its traditionally assigned Golden Age of the first half of the 17th-century. That argument is eloquently put by Jamie Savan's cornett playing. The creamy texture of his sound is equally at home in a

toe-tapping Masque by Gregorio Strozzi, the virtuosic flourishes of Cavalli's Canzon à 3 and the cantabile demands of Bassano's Diminutions on Palestrina's Veni veni, dilecte mi - an extraordinary piece worth resurrecting by anyone.

But praise goes, too, to the inventiveness and harmonic sense of the regular ensemble members. Stradella's Sinfonia No 22, which is comett-less, still grabs attention with its weird and wonderful textures. The taut ensemble and enthusiasm conveyed by the players must widen the market for early music.  Philip Sommerich

The Sunday Times

The scholar-performer Kah-Ming Ng, who plays keyboard continuo here, locates these works in the “overlap of repertory for the cornett and the violin”. At the dawn of the baroque age, both instruments were seen as substitutes for the human voice; and hearing the gorgeous sounds on this disc, one can imagine why. In instrumental music, cornetts and violins were more or less interchangeable, and often effectively contrasted or paired in the same piece, as here in a Sonata a tre by Cima (1610) and a Canzon a tre by Cavalli (1656). These works, with others by little-known figures such as Strozzi, Pollarolo and Farina, make for a recital of ornate, inventive delights, to which are added Ng's clever pastiches of ciaccone and bergamasche. Stephen Pettitt

Radio Brandenburg Berlin, das Kultur Radio


CD Recommendation ★★★★★ Großartig [trans. splendid, marvellous]

BBC Music Magazine,  Music to chase the clouds away…

Don't be put off — behind the title from a musicology Festschrift and mail-order heritage catalogue cover lurks an outstanding disc. It's not easy to concoct a 60-minute non-stop listen from 17th-century Italian chamber music — but I shouldn't have been surprised that Charivari Agréable makes it such a breeze: ever since signing to Signum some years back it has been planning and playing some peerless programmes.

The subtitle, 'A Ray of Sunshine Piercing the Shadows', was contemporary French polymath Mersenne's verdict on Charivari's guest star, the cornett. As a diehard fellow-fancier, I've rarely heard mellifluous swing to match cornettist Jamie Savan's. In the accompanying booklet keyboard player Kah-Ming Ng makes a persuasive case for the novel combos. Ng's superbly strutting style in a 1620s Polaccha by Picchi had me dreaming of Hessian boots and a pelisse. And his ingenious medleys on popular grounds of the period give a new slant to 'fusion' — though this is no short-order snack but a feast, with substantial servings from Stradella and Cavalli proving they weren't solely vocal geniuses. Sound is a little distant and coloured but this is a recital to shaft any shadow.

Nick Morgan

Oxford Today

For music-making joyfully alive you can rely on Oxford's Charivari Agréable, whose fabulous back-catalogue increases by two CDs yearly. The latest, Harmonia Caelestis (SIGCD049) is as good as anything they've done. The disc is built round the contrasting sounds of violin and cornett, that extraordinary leather-clad marriage of brass mouthpiece and woodwind tube, which generates curiously vocal inflections. It's conventionally played with similar instruments, but ever-inquisitive, Charivari follow an Italian recommendation of 1628 to mix it with strings.

This soundworld alone would recommend the disc, but as usual Charivari cleverly ring changes in texture. Here's a guitar chaconne imitating the gait of a 'true Spanish capon' (perhaps a castrato singer?) and there is Picchi's Ballo alla Polacha, a stomping dance performed with wild flair on the harpsichord, with the other instruments joining the fray for a final whirl. The group's philosophy, of treating the written remains of early music with the known freedoms of early musicians, brings two dance medleys. The Bergamascas include several tunes well-known from Respighi's C20 orchestral makeovers: hearing them here is like hearing agreat 'unplugged' version of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.

Graham Topping

The Telegraph

The title might not give the clearest idea of the contents of this delectable programme of 17th-century Italian chamber music featuring cornett and violin, but the combination certainly proves to be a partnership made in heaven.

The cornett's lustrous, golden tone – described by one contemporary writer as “a ray of sunshine piercing the shadows” – coupled with its clarity and agility in virtuoso passagework make it easy to understand why it was esteemed as one of those instruments that most closely mimicked the sound of the human voice.

These qualities are heard to especial advantage in Giovanni Bassano's arrangement of a Palestrina motet, where each long, slow cantabile line gradually develops into an exuberant efflorescence of ornamentation, and in Giovanni Paolo Cima's spirited trio sonata, whose playful imitative writing proves that anything the violin can do, the cornett can follow with equal panache.

Charivari Agréable's sparkling performances make for irresistibly enjoyable listening; their cornettist Jamie Savan's superb technique and truly singing tone do indeed produce a glorious ray of musical sunshine.

Elizabeth Roche

Early Music Review

The continuo group Charivari Agréable is joined by Jamie Savan – another of the fine clutch of young British cornettists and Oliver Webber (violin) to illustrate a range of 17th-century Italian music. Jamie Savan has an airy lightness and easy facility which rests well on the ears, and Oliver Webber is a sparky violinist. In a couple of pieces the violin's duet partner is Charivari's regular violist, Susanne Heinrich. The Stradella Sinfonia is a fine example of this, building a mix of tension and easy conversation between the two, and a very successful tonal match. Two of the pieces are pastiches by Kah-Ming Ng. The Ciaccona in particular visits new realms—which are well worth visiting—and stands as a new piece as much as a pastiche. The continue in some of the more standard repertoire can be a litde monochrome – I wish that a little more of the playfulness and inventiveness in the best of the performance had leaked into the standard fare, particularly in a programme whose subtitle includes the words caprice and conceit. However, these are small quibbles and I would heartily commend the disc to anyone interested in this repertoire.

Stephen Cassidy


Strozzi: Mascara; Pollarolo: Toccata; Stradella: Sinfonia; Farina: Balletto, Sinfonia; Cima: Sonata; Piccinini: Chiaconna; Cavalli: Canzon; Mussi: Canzona l'Amaltea; Terzi: Contraponto; Picchi: Ballo alla Polacha; Bassano: Diminuzioni; and: Ciaccona mosaica & Bergamasca mosaica

Jamie Savan - cornetts; Oliver Webber - violin; Susanne Heinrich - viols; Lynda Sayce - theorbo & lute; Kah-Ming Ng - harpsichord & chamber organ