Recent reviews of AAM recordings can be found here. For more reviews, visit individual recordings in Recordings.
Monday 27 October 2014
JS Bach — Orchestral Suites
In this recording, the Academy of Ancient Music is scaled down to just one instrument per part, to create a sharp, sparkling and unencumbered reading. With the ensemble still mourning the death of Christopher Hogwood, there could be no better tribute to their founder than this excellent new recording under the baton of his successor, Richard Egarr. Egarr's approach allows each instrument to be heard and shine through, and for the brilliance of Bach's writing to be exposed and enjoyed afresh.
Monday 20 October 2014
Here is some of the most familiar of all baroque music, recorded umpteen times, but this muscular, robust, fiery intuitive playing makes it sound totally fresh. Take the rendition of Air on the G string: the violin melody is plain-speaking and unfussy, Egarr's harpsichord accompaniment bluesy and the strings so gritty and real-sounding you could hold the sound in your hand.
THE BIG ISSUE
The news of the death of Christopher Hogwood comes just as the orchestra he founded, the Academy of Ancient Music, releases a fine new set of Bach’s Orchestral Suites with his successor, Richard Egarr, repeating the one-to-a-part approach he adopted for their Harmonia Mundi Brandenburg set. The sound is consequently less expansive than other recordings but the rewards are glorious, with Egarr at the harpsichord driving the delightfully clean and springy rhythms, every detail sharply defined, each separate timbre there for us to enjoy. This intimate chamber approach allows the trumpets in Suites Nos.3 and 4 to glow rather than blast, and the exceptional flute of Rachel Brown to shine in all its woody-toned charm in Suite No.2. Highly recommended.
JS Bach — St John Passion
"The chuntering orchestral disquiet and smooth choral lines of Egarr's reading give it a sympathetic, aching kind of tragedy that contrasts with those readings that focus more on the sharp, stabbing agony of the cross - as if the emphasis is more on feeling the wider compassionate message of the Passion than on immediate reaction to the horror story of Christ's trial and suffering ... In short, this is a St John with a distinct character of its own."
GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2014
"Following concert performances last year, the Academy of Ancient Music and a small choral ensemble singing four to a part have recorded the 1724 version of the St John Passion, which Bach would later revise and elaborate. As we now expect of period instrument performances, the tempi are mostly brisk, the instrumental playing clean and energetic but not forced. James Gilchrist as the Evangelist is an incisive and emotional storyteller, capitalising on the drama of the Easter story. Matthew Rose and Ashley Riches are well matched as Jesus and Pilatus, with Elizabeth Watts, Sarah Connolly, Andrew Kennedy and Christopher Purves completing a top lineup of soloists. If you want a scaled-down, intimate version of this work – the absence of a big choral sound will not suit all tastes – this is recommended."
Birth of the symphony: Handel to Haydn
"This enjoyable bird's-eye view of the symphony's mid-18th-century development confirms that the famous names are justly celebrated. Franz Xaver Richter's Grande Simphonie in C and Johann Stamitz's Sinfonia in D are striking in their Mannheim energy, but fade as soon as heard, whereas the Sinfonia from Handel's Saul and, still more, Haydn's F minor "La passione" (played here both crisply and expressively) do not. But the great discovery is Mozart's first symphony, K16, written in Chelsea in 1764, when he was eight years old — a work hinting at the inventiveness and playfulness, the richness of texture, that are to come."
THE SUNDAY TIMES
"Crisp, spirited, full of imaginative detail with fizzing harpsichord contributions from the AAM's Music Director, Richard Egarr. Spanning Handel to Haydn, it traces the enthusiasm for a new form – the symphony – among 18th-century composers. I listened "blind". Each example sounded more engaging, more deeply expressive, than the last. Suddenly we seemed to have arrived. The work which spoke so clearly was Haydn's Symphony No 49 in F minor, "La passione". Since Haydn has always been considered the father of the symphony, the disc had done its job well."
"Another day, another orchestra own-label. But wait, because this is something special, a carefully planned programme going from the Sinfonia of Handel's Saul via Richter, Stamitz and Mozart's first symphony to reach Sturm und Drang Haydn; this is much more than an academic exercise. Egarr draws vibrant, vividly characterised performances from his players, and the recording is excellent: the ambitious roster of forthcoming releases, including the Bach Passions with stellar casts, should be worth waiting for. FIVE STARS."
CLASSICAL MUSIC MAGAZINE
Christopher Gibbons — Motets, anthems, fantasias and voluntaries
"Son of Orlando, Christopher Gibbons lived through Cromwell’s slapdown of church music, and posterity has ignored him. This Academy of Ancient Music selection of his anthems, organ voluntaries and string fantasias (none recorded before) is a personal crusade by Richard Egarr and shows what we’ve been missing: harmonic twists and word-painting almost as daring as Gesualdo’s; lilting refrains that suggest Monteverdi; quicksilver mood changes. The organ pieces, knotted with ornamentation, are perhaps the sort that appeal only to organists but the string music is deftly and expressively played." FOUR STARS
"These pieces have been extracted by Richard Egarr from libraries in Oxford and London, and none has been recorded before. Egarr describes him as the "missing link between the pre-Commonwealth world of Williams Lawes and the Restoration baroquerie of Henry Purcell", and the beautifully played and sung sequence he has devised for the Academy of Ancient Music and its Choir alternates anthems and motets with organ voluntaries (performed by Egarr) and fantasias for two violins, bass viol and organ. The instrumental pieces are wonderfully imaginative, but it's the choral works that stand out with their startling modulations and expressively charged vocal lines. The finest of them starts the disc: the eight-part Not Unto Us, with its building layers of counterpoint, seems to open out into a musical space so vast it's hard to believe the whole anthem lasts fewer than five minutes." FOUR STARS; CD OF THE WEEK
"Unlike his renowned father Orlando, Christopher Gibbons (1615-76) was until recently little more than a footnote in musical history — his output barely noticed, still less researched and performed. We owe Egarr our thanks for this sampler — a selection of gently expressive choral anthems, organ works and instrumental fantasias that establish him as a far-from-negligible precursor of Blow and Purcell." THREE STARS
"Newly recorded by Richard Egarr, his Verse Anthems are a bridge between those of his famous father, Orlando Gibbons, and his famous pupil, John Blow. AAM's vocal consort is distinctly hoary but the instrumental playing – of two Fantasy-suites for violins, bass viol and organ, and a flamboyant selection of Organ Voluntaries – is divine." FOUR STARS
Handel — Messiah (Hogwood)
25th greatest recording of all time - BBC Music Magazine"Stodge no more. In Christopher Hogwood's hands, Messiah was no longer a ponderous and portentous work, but something tightly sprung and which demanded your attention. The period instrument specialist was spring-cleaning well-loved pieces even as his pioneering contemporary Roger Norrington had barely launched the London Classical Players."
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE
Handel — Trio Sonatas Opp.2 & 5
“The interplay between the AAM is Baroque chamber-playing of the very highest order: sincerely conversational, emotive and finely nuanced. Egarr and Crouch are an outstanding continuo team, providing attentive yet uncluttered support to the two upper instruments. Brown and Beznosiuk play together with touching eloquence.”
“The subtleties and nuances of the playing, coupled with the sheer variety of Handel’s fertile imagination, never pales during over two hours of continuous listening. These are outstanding accounts with impeccable intonation and consistently warm tone at every dynamic level, and excellent balance across a wide stereo spectrum.”
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE
Handel — Solo Sonatas Op.1
“A delightful double-disc set. Minus bowed bass, Egarr's harpsichord accompaniment is free and expressive. The soloists slide easily from austerity to opulence, and Brown's dewy-toned recorder is enchanting.”
“The soloists here are stylish and imaginative. Decorations are a delight in slow movements; the Adagio from No. 8 (oboe) is positively dripping with them. The playing is highly expressive; Rachel Brown opens the Largo of No. 9, the weightiest of all the sonatas, with heart-rending pathos. Fast movements are so technically secure that they retain a sense of spaciousness, though there are sparkling moments of virtuosity.”
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE
Handel — Organ Concertos Op.7
“The ultimate raspberry to anyone who says baroque music is predictable. Soloist Richard Egarr gleefully bites into the gamiest and most raucous registrations, contrasting what sounds like a supernaturally possessed carousel organ with the Academy of Ancient Music's searing strings, plump bassoons and sensual oboes.”
“A pleasure throughout. None of the other recordings I have heard of these pieces are as creative as Egarr is with the instrument's registers. The echo effects and contrapuntal dialogues that abound in them rivet your ear with their character and wit. No listener who likes Baroque music is surprised when the Academy of Ancient Music plays well, but they really outdo themselves here.”
JS Bach — Brandenburg Concertos
“I'm here to tell you that the new Egarr-AAM Brandenburgs really blow. In a good way. They blow centuries of library dust off these pieces, and they blow fantastic horn and trumpet lines. Egarr & Co. are in it to win it. Whew. The first disc had hardly played 10 seconds when I was grabbing for the remote control to play again the most amazing horn parts I have ever heard—wild, outdoorsy, jazzy, almost bebop horn parts. As the six concertos unfolded, there was no sense of letdown, just continuing pleasant surprises.”
“This new recording, one-to-a-part, seems from a different world, not just in terms of improved technical command of period instruments — the excellent soloists here include violinists Pavlo Beznosiuk and Rodolfo Richter, flautist Rachel Brown and trumpeter David Blackadder — but also in terms of the interpretative imprint put on it by its director/harpsichordist, Richard Egarr.”