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As far as the trombone playing is concerned, these discs generally meet the criterion. The slow movements are mostly excellent. The trombone's lustrous sonority brings out all their rhetorical formality and solemnity; even the slighter movements of Corelli achieve some nobility [listen -- Corelli track 5, 0:00-1:12]. The fast movements, unfortunately, do not always fare so well, even at the rather sedate tempi chosen. They can sound strained, and sometimes inadvertently comical, as the trombone labours to keep up with the music.

A separate credibility issue arises from the imbalance between trombone and the other instruments. The brief programme notes for the Bach disc correctly note that, 'the sonatas recorded here present three distinct voices between the trombone and the keyboardist's right and left hands,' but in the mix the harpsichord is masked by an uneccesarily prominent melody line [listen -- Bach, track 2, 0:00-1:01]. That, of course, seriously misrepresents the musical content. Corelli's music is more melody-led but still needs its bass line and the harmonic 'fill' provided by the harpsichord. The bass line is strengthened by the double bass player (an octave below the original bass line) but the engineer has again favoured the trombonist to the extent that his partners are even quieter in relation to the trombone than they would be in performance [listen -- Corelli, track 23, 1:34-2:28].

This is the more disappointing because it is so unnecessary. Two kinds of solution are possible. The easy fix -- musically appropriate, if perhaps unrealistic -- would have been to lift the harpsichord and bass in the recording process. The better solution lies with the performers. Chamber organ is an historically defensible substitute for harpsichord in all this music and would immediately improve the balance of the ensemble. Replacing the double bass by cello or bassoon, historically more usual than double bass, would similarly improve the balance.

Archangelo Corelli: Solo Chamber Sonatas Op 5. Mike Hall, alto trombone; Rebecca Bell, harpsichord; Larry Rice, double bass. © 2006 James Michael Hall

These discs are presented as explorations of unfamiliar territory. Hall and his expeditioners have returned with valuable discoveries but more remains to be learned. As souvenirs of the voyage they will interest armchair travellers and other potential explorers, especially brass players, but it is difficult to recommend them to the general listener.

Copyright © 25 October 2006 Malcolm Tattersall, Townsville, Australia


J S Bach: The Gamba Sonatas

KUCS7989 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE 42'55" 2006 James Michael Hall

Mike Hall, alto trombone; Rebecca Bell, harpsichord

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Sonata in G BWV1027 (Adagio; Allegro ma non tanto; Andante; Allegro moderato); Sonata in D BWV1028 (1; 2; Andante; Allegro); Sonata in G minor BWV1029 (Vivace; Adagio; Allegro)


Corelli Solo Chamber Sonatas Opus 5

KUCS1207 DDD Stereo FIRST RELEASE 69'39" 2004 James Michael Hall

Mike Hall, alto trombone; Rebecca Bell, harpsichord; Larry Rice, double bass

Archangelo Corelli (1653-1713): Sonata No 7 in D minor (Preludio; Corrente; Sarabanda; Giga); Sonata No 8 in E minor (Preludio; Allemanda; Sarabanda; Giga); Sonata No 9 in A (Preludio; Giga; Adagio; Tempo di Gavotta); Sonata No 10 in F (Preludio; Allemanda; Sarabanda; Gavotta; Giga); Sonata No 11 in E (Preludio; Allegro; Adagio; Vivace; Gavotta); Sonata No 12 in D minor - 'Follia' variations


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Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller