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CD of the Week – Voyages-Reisen

By (December 5, 2012) No Comment

Voyages-Reisen: Music for viola da gamba

My friends who produce and present breakfast programmes on classical radio in different countrties share a common dilemma. Play anything too fast or loud, like the march of the Toreadors from Carmen, and the sleep-fuddled audience will switch to talk radio. Play slow and too soft – Barber’s Adagio – and they’ll fall back asleep. So breakfast radio ends up with reams of unnamed Haydn symphonies interspersed with middle-of-road classics by also-ran French composers of the 19th century, a murky start to a dull day.

Well, here’s a remedy for breakfast. The viola da gamba is an ancestor of the modern cello, only with six strings instead of four. Its resonance stirs remote connections. Played by the Austrian virtuoso Jakob David Rattinger, it offers both gentle awakening and enough of a brain charge to make you explore both sides of the French-German border in the age just before enlightenment. Rattinger, who broke onto record with a stunning survey of the 17th Frenchman Marin Marais (featured in the film Tous les Matins du Monde), takes pieces of Telemann, J. S Bach and Carl Friedrich Abel from the German side and matches them with the lesser-known Forqueray, d’Hervelois and and Demachy.

The accents are varied, but the compelling voice is that of the instrument, evoking a civilisation we can barely imagine in sounds that make us want to get up and grab the day. Rattinger’s narrative playing could hardly be bettered, and the ever compelling Marais closes the album with a riveting Badinage.

Three Schubert CDs

Complete symphonies

Mark Minkowski’s early-instrument box with Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble feels organic in brown-rice ways that some may find deterrent. The tempi are very bright, but there’s always a faint asperity to the string tone that feels more hair-shirty than necessary. The numbering is also odd, adhering to an academic correctness that makes the Great C major symphony 8th rather than 9th in the sequence.

4th and 5th symphonies

Faster than Minkowski but on the modern instruments of the SWR Stuttgart orchestra, Roger Norrington puts Schubert back where he belongs – on the dance floor. Quick or slow, every rhythm is strictly on the spot and irresistibly infectious. You may not be able to sit through this without taking a twirl.

C-major quintet

The quartet with an extra cello has a star-strewn recorded history, but it has been a while since a performance as gutsy as this has come along, The Takacs Quartet, augmented by Ralph Kirschbaum, tackle the ambiguities of the late masterpiece with rare clarity and profound sympathy.