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Baroque music
for cello -
recommended by

'An exemplary CD ...'

Angela East - Baroque Cello Illuminations. © 2009 Red Priest Recordings

A big hand for Angela East who reveals the quality of music students slaved over, and later (stifling a yawn) thoughtlessly decried, as 'cheapjack' work for beginner cellists and violinists.

In Angela's own words, 'The pieces on this CD have been brought together because they are commonly taught to cello students during the early years of their training. Few artists have considered recording these works as they remember them to be rather simple. Played with imagination, in baroque style and with a baroque cello however, these pieces assume a completely different dimension'.

It's a canny enterprise, and East, along with companion baroque cellist Ruth Alford and harpsichordist Howard Beach, perform this consistently pleasurable programme with audible skill, rollicking musicianship and irresistible insouciance from start to finish.

East began cello lessons at four, and at fourteen was awarded the Arts Council's prestigious Suggia Award to study with Muriel Taylor. Subsequently she attended the Royal Academy of Music and studied with Derek Simpson and later André Navarra. In 1979 she was inspired by the new early music movement and became co-principal cello with the English Baroque Soloists under Sir John Eliot Gardiner.

She has played as continuo player and soloist with many of the foremost baroque orchestras in London and was with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Simon Rattle in the first performance on original instruments at Glyndebourne. In 1997 East became a member of baroque group Red Priest. She has performed many times on radio and television, including Open University programmes, and has appeared on over two hundred CDs.

Ruth Alford, continuo cellist, is in constant demand by (among numerous others) Revolutionary Drawing Room, Fiori Musicali and Florilegium.

The best-known composers represented here are arguably Bach, Vivaldi and Couperin.

Others include Henry Eccles (1670-1742), an Englishman who played in the court of King Louis XIV. While in Paris (1720) he published Twelve Solos for the Violin (in two books), including the Sonata No 11 in G minor, an old 'war horse' transcribed here for baroque trio. (Note that the volume in which it is included contains four outright acts of plagiarism of works by a Corelli pupil, Giuseppe Valentini, 1681-1753. The second movement 'Corrente' was borrowed from Op 10 No 4 by Bonporti, 1672-1749.)

Listen -- Eccles: Largo (Sonata No 11)
(track 1, 2:02-2:57) © 2009 Red Priest Recordings

The opening 'Largo' is particularly moving and sets the tone for much of what follows with Ms Alford's continuo cello a welcome feature. Eccles' (!) lively borrowed (Bonporti) 'Corrente' is perhaps most familiar, indeed I recall wading though it as a novice violinist though never with the joyousness evinced by East and her companions. The following 'Adagio' is all too brief and leads to a forty two second romp ('Presto') designed, one might suppose, to keep the rookie violinist/cellist 'gasping for breath'.

Willem de Fesch (1687-1761) was a virtuoso Dutch violone player and composer; a pupil of Karel Rosier, Vice-Kapellmeister at Bonn. He worked in Amsterdam between 1710 and 1725 and in the years 1725-1731 served as Kapellmeister at Antwerp Cathedral. Thereafter he moved to London where he gave concerts and played the violone in Handel's orchestra.

Each of these career moves is believed to have resulted from a dispute reflecting his (quote) 'temperamental, mean and slovenly nature'. Maybe his reportedly 'prickly manner' can be heard in the abrupt 'Allemande'.

Listen -- Willem de Fesch: Allemande (Op 8 No 3)
(track 6, 2:13-3:12) © 2009 Red Priest Recordings

His Sonata in D minor, Op 8 No 3 (1733), one of twelve, is found in a sixteen page Schott Music publication (HL.49001545) and it turns up on YouTube with the German team Dorothea Andreae (baroque cello) and Theorbe, Vihuela and Generalbass player, Siegfried Andreae (guitar).

Track 9, an unmistakeable Vivaldian 'Largo', has a Venetian repose for which 'The Red Priest' is justly renowned. It prefaces Sonata No 5 in E minor, RV40, representing the Italian Baroque to perfection and splendidly performed.

Les Goûts-Réunis', tracks 13-17, are items (published 1724) from a collection of concerts by François Couperin (1668-1733). These embody two distinct national styles of composition, the French and the Italian, both of which influenced music throughout Europe during the eighteenth century.

The calming opening Prelude is notable for its lyricism, while the following Sicilienne has a concomitant lilt. Track 15, La Tromba, begins and ends with harmonics and resembles the style of a hunter's chase. The two-minute 'Plainte' mood derives from its pervading drone and East's five-part Couperin selection ends with Air de Diable, a somewhat more playful vignette than the title suggests.

Listen -- Couperin: Air de Diable (Les Goûts Réunis)
(track 17, 1:00-1:31) © 2009 Red Priest Recordings

(The best-known sicilienne may be Fritz Kreisler's; the start of his Sicilienne and Rigaudon of 1910, falsely attributed to French violinist and composer François Francœur, 1698-1787.)

Tracks 18 to 21, the four movement Sonata In G For Cello And Piano (first published in Paris, 1748), was once attributed to Giovanni Battista Sammartini (c1698-1775), however scholars now credit it to the French cellist and composer Martin Berteau (1709-71), one of the founders of the French cello tradition.

Whatever its provenance, here is a work of superior harmonic ingenuity; the opening Allegro has a structural order, complete with vestigial cadenza, that is immediately compelling. Even more surprising it is thematically linked to the Grave (track 19). Following the bustling virtuosic second Allegro, Sammartini / Berteau catch us off guard with a further surprise -- a stately Rondo amoroso ending with a solo whistler.

Listen -- Sammartini: Rondo amoroso (Op 1a No 3)
(track 21, 3:19-4:01) © 2009 Red Priest Recordings

Several elements of the early concerto style may be recognized within the work as a whole.

In concluding, East presents J S Bach's Suite No 1 in G (BWV 1007) for solo cello. Her fascinating musical excursion is akin to traversing a moderately wooded landscape rather than heading into densely forested tracts. In Bach's justly familiar Prelude, taken at a subdued tempo, Ms East interpolates an accelerated episode, just while we're unprepared.

Listen -- J S Bach: Prelude (BWV 1007)
(track 22, 2:58-3:49) © 2009 Red Priest Recordings

Throughout the entire sonata East phrases with greater informed latitude of tempo than is customary in most modern performance. It certainly focuses the attention in a rewarding fashion.

The emphases, stresses, and attack in this Courante are especially noteworthy as is the lightweight yet brusque final Gigue -- a winning solo performance by any yardstick.

An exemplary CD -- great sound, corker music, smashing performances.

Copyright © 4 November 2009 Howard Smith,
Masterton, New Zealand












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