Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A strong program for strings and guitar

I've sometimes thought of certain composers as soldiers of fortune, but always in a metaphorical way. Antoine de Lhoyer (1768 - 1852) was literally both. He was an "elite member of Gardes du Corps du Roi, a Knight of the Order of St John and a Knight of the Order of St Louis", as Wikipedia tells us, though I have no idea how impressive that actually is. I wouldn't place him in an elite category as a composer, but he seems to have been quite a virtuoso on the guitar. Based on the evidence of the work included on this very good disc, the first recording by the Basel-based Chamber Orchestra I TEMPI, Lhoyer had a way with melody, and he writes a light and transparent orchestral accompaniment to allow his sometimes virtuosic solo part to shine through. For some reason, though, Lhoyer only wrote two movements in his Guitar Concerto. It seems to be standard practice to insert the Adagio movement from his A major Duo concertante, with one of the guitars discarded. Here it fits well, though I prefer Lhoyer's original version (all three of his Duos are worth listening to). The main competition for this version of the Concerto is a 2004 Naive disc, with guitarist Philippe Spinosi and the Ensemble Matheus conducted by his brother Jean-Christophe. I prefer the new disc for its stronger string sound and clearer, more focussed recording, and for guitarist Stephan Schmidt's excellent playing.

The competition for the remaining pieces on the disc - the Dvorak E minor and Elgar Serenades - is much, much stronger.  In an old Parlophone disc Charles Mackerras and the English Chamber Orchestra present the Dvorak as a perfect Watteau painting, ripe with youthful verve and nostalgic sorrow, and always perfectly beautiful. Gevorg Gharabekyan gets a more than competent performance from his young musicians, but the final layer is missing. Gharabekyan rushes through all three movements of the Elgar; this is excellent playing, but I'd rather hear Barbirolli's more serious, more romantic (though sedately romantic, to be sure) version with the Sinfonia of London, which is just this side of self-indulgent. Again, this is on an even older Parlophone disc, which I once had on LP. Parlophone wasn't just for the Beatles, you know!

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