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Best Recordings of 2015 (#6)

Time for a review of classical CDs that were outstanding in 2014 . My lists for the previous years: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, (2011 – “Almost”), 2010, (2010 – “Almost”), 2009, (2009 – “Almost”), 2008, (2008 - "Almost") 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

# 6 - New Release

W.F.Bach, Harpsichord Concertos & Sinfonias, Il Convito, Maude Gratton (harpsichord, director), Mirare

available at Amazon
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Harpsichord Concertos & Sinfonias

Il Convito / Maude Gratton (harpsichord, director)

This is a staggeringly terrific collection of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach harpsichord concertos and sinfonias that sheds all nonsense prejudice one might quite understandably have about galant style works. The Il Convito ensemble and director-soloist Maude Gratton play with such panache, there’s not a second’s time to question if this music is anything but great. It doesn’t sound like it sits uncomfortably between styles with which we are familiar, it simply rocks. The instrument, a Philippe Humeau copy of a 1770 Jean-Henry Silbermann harpsichord, adds to the stormy-silvery impression.

In accounts that one may have read, “Bad Willy F.B” is depicted as a capricious, frittering man, unsuccessfully trying to escape his father’s shadow. It’s bound to be inaccurate to some degree, but there’ll be truth to it, too. Just look at his excellent portrait by Friedrich Georg Weitsch (on Wikipedia), which shows a flamboyantly rakish W.F., wearing a hat with such a coy attitude, you can see the feather in that cap, although it’s not even depicted. Now compare that to Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of the youngest Bach son, Johann Christian, which is equally excellent and couldn’t be more different, with the serious, collected, confident young man shown. It makes the stories of W.F. as a socially maladroit, wildly talented virtuoso and reluctant pioneer of free-lance musicianship quite believable. Well, the point is I’ll plop this one into the player many, many more times, because maladroit or not, the early and late compositions on this disc alike light my fire for Johann Sebastian’s boy. The liner notes are very enjoyable and well translated from French into English and German.

# 6 – Reissue

G.F.Handel, Saul, soloists, Concerto Köln, René Jacobs, Harmonia Mundi

available at Amazon
George Frederic Handel, Saul
R.Joshua, E.Bell, L.Zazzo, J.Ovenden, G.Saks
Concerto Köln / René Jacobs
(Harmonia Mundi)

Harmonia Mundi’s Heritage line explores their rich, stupendous back catalogue and brings forth super-slim little boxes filled with gems like this Saul—arguably Handel’s most rocking oratorio and with massive instrumentation—performed by René Jacobs and Concerto Köln. When it came out in 2005, it made the Best-of-the-Year list even after Paul McCreesh’s exciting recording (Archiv) did so the year before. Jacobs’ is just a little bit fresher yet and infused with even more vitality and fits on two CDs, which are brimming with the very best Handel ever had to offer. A stunner that will make you forget all about that “Messiah”. 

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