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The Critic's Chair series ended in March 2015.

The Critic's Chair for 20 April 2014

Dianne James explores three recent recordings this week. The Bartolozzi Trio have released their fourth volume of Haydn Piano Trios, and harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has grouped together CPE Bach's six keyboard sonatas dedicated to the Duke of Württemberg. Also, The Sixteen under the direction of Harry Christophers have issued their first volume of Bach's Lutheran Mass cycle.

Haydn: Piano Trios Vol 4Haydn Piano Trios Bartolozzi
Bartolozzi Trio
(Naxos 8.573128)

There’s some lovely playing of some exceptionally fine music on this new disc of Haydn Piano Trios, and those of you with an appetite for exploring unjustly neglected repertoire will find plenty of interest here. The recording quality is excellent, and the price is right too. Both string players have considerable experience in period performance and this yields dividends in the performances preserved on this new Naxos disc.

There’s a lovely clarity in the string sound cultivated by these two players that suits this repertoire very well. I also appreciated the sparing use of vibrato. The two players listen carefully to one another too, and as a result they achieve an admirable match in their sound and vibrato.

CPE BACH: WWurttembergürttemberg Sonatas
Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord)
(Hyperion CDA 67995)

Mahan Esfahani’s stylishly virtuosic playing has caught the attention of an audience wider than the usual early music devotees. Several things stood out for me the more I listened to Esfahani’s performances. The first is the way he’s able to follow and make sense of the constantly changing moods expressed within individual movements.  I also appreciated the way he’s able to grasp quickly the underlying Affekt or character of a movement.

His powerfully assured playing underscores the value and worth of this music, and this strong advocacy in turn, quickly captured my attention, and kept me interested throughout the 70 minutes or so of music on the disc. It’s worth setting aside some time to explore this music – Esfahani is an excellent guide.

BACH: Lutheran Masses VoBach Lutheran Masses Sixteenl 1
The Sixteen Choir and Orch/Harry Christophers
(CORO 16115)

The distinctive feature of The Sixteen’s new recordings of these Lutheran Masses is the decision to include the Cantata which Bach has used as the source of much of the musical material in these masses. This enables listeners to hear the original versions of some of these movements, and then to trace the way these are used in the Masses.

I first got to know these works from Phillipe Herreweghe’s recordings on Virgin of the early 1990s,and as much as I like the first of these new recordings of the Lutheran Masses by The Sixteen, I won’t be doing away with Herreweghe’s ones quite yet. I’ve really enjoyed acquainting myself with the first volume of The Sixteen’s Lutheran Mass cycle though and will be looking out for the second volume as it becomes available here.