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Bergen Barokk: Suite Life

Bergen Barokk: Suite Life

Lawo Classics  LWC1096

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Excerpts from various Suites composed by Philidor, Marais, Hotteterre, Chedeville, Couperin.

Bergen Barokk


Elegant conversation, music, painting, fencing and dance - acts performed with "sprezzatura" (nonchalance) - were aristocrats true test. Dance Ball, where the entire aristocracy participated in costly costumes and masks with references to classic-mythical figures, got a unique position in the French court. Dance The characteristic standard shapes widened. The entire French repertoire from this era, both instrumental and vocal music (sacred music included), is steeped in dance music's rhythm patterns.

The Sun King's court musicians composed obliging within strict style conventions, yet with a personal touch. Marais, Couperin, view, de la Barre and members of Hotteterre- and Philidor-families were among the best and most prolific musicians in the last years of the king's reign.

The suites in this recording are taken from some of the many great note releases in Paris in the early 1700s. The releases, which were released "avec Privilege du Roy" (royal prerogative), reflecting ball, concerts, opera and ballet performances at the court and was well received by a bourgeoisie filled with admiration for the luxurious and exalted hoffliv.

Bergen Barokk was established in 1994 and is today among the leading early music ensembles. On this recording we hear Frode Thorsen on the recorder, Hans Knut Sveen on harpsichord, Thomas Boysen and Thor-Harald Johnsen on lutt- and guitar instruments and Markku Luolajan-Mikkola on viola da gamba. The musicians also play in solo and duo constellations and creates a soundscape ranging from light strict-strum to Sonoran bass timbre.

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Review by John Miller - July 4, 2016

These days, there are fewer recordings of Baroque music dominated by wind instruments, than by the later Baroque, where string ensembles were more popular. Bergen Barokk and LAWO on this SACD offers us a rich menu of suites, most of it from musical publications from Paris of the early 1700s.

LAWO's joke title, 'Suite Life', is echoed by the splendid still-life photograph of Baroque kitchen food on the Digipak's title page, while others decorate double-pages of the booklet. Apricots are depicted at the front on the painting, and they are echoed by the glowing apricot colour of the disc's top surface. A quote from Baldasarre Castiliglione's 'The Book of the Courtier,1528' tells us about the important of Music. In the foreword of the booklet, Baldasarre insists that scholarly, yet elegant conversation, music, painting, fencing and dance (the Arts) should all be performed with a certain 'Sprezzatura' (nonchalance). This quality is evidently what the musicians of Bergen Barokk are striving for.

For those listeners who have not encountered this ensemble before, they specialise in early and late music from the European Baroque. Their groups vary in personnel size and number of period instruments, deployed appropriately for the programme in hand. In this case, there are four recorders in the usual sizes (Tenor, Soprano, Treble in F and a Treble in F at A=392, played as an E-instrument), Viola da Gamba, two Baroque guitars, Theorbo and a Harpsichord copied after Ruckers). Overall tuning for the ensemble is A' 414Hz. Bergen Barokk has recorded for Simax Classics, BIS, Toccato Classics and LAWO. Currently, they are working on a project to record the complete 'Harmonischer Gortes-Dienst', 72 cantatas by Telemann, which has been highly praised.

For this album, Bergen Barokk have concocted four Suites in French aristocratic style, arranging the dance movements composed by writers such as Anne Philigor, Michel De La Barre, Robert de Visée, Marin Marais and others less familiar. Each Suite is in key type, such as G major/G Minor, A major/A Minor etc, while the fourth (and longest) Suite is the last, in E minor. Track 1 is an Ouverture, where the several recorders make their self known in their "hooty" sounds, some of which are very close to wooden Baroque Flutes. Each instrument has a solo or two, all through the Suites.

Of the deeper instruments, the Viola da Gamba has rich melodies in its upper ranges, and gruff, dark resinous sounds for the bass. In one dance, the Gamba also provides copy of a low drone, over which the Recorders intone tunes of the farm-yard - a very fashionable style amongst the aristocratic listeners. The guitars make stirring contributions to the finale of the disc (a splendid Chaconne in G by Michel De La Barre) which uses all the instruments in an un-hackneyed and brilliantly executed conclusion. Summarising, here are many fine melodies amongst the selected movements, with colourful instrumentation, toe-tapping in the faster dances, and beautifully expression in the slow movements. All this was most entertaining to my ears. Listening to a long list of short pieces can be wearing, but here my attention was held to the end.

Much of the enjoyment of this album lies in its recording. Lawo is noted for its use of recording venues in the Norwegian hinterland, rather just around Oslo. For this album, a small country church in the parish of Vaksdal, in Hoderland, north of Stavanger, was chosen. Its quite small size is just right for the Bergen Barokk's size as outlined above, offering a calm reverberation (soft decay about 4-5 seconds) which aides each instrument's overtones. Thus, realistic instrumental timbres are realistically presented. This is particularly noted in the sweetly tinkling upper range of the Harpsichord and the different tonal characters in the playing ranges of the Gamba and Theorbo. Overall, the sound stage is wide; one can hear the instruments just beyond either L and R front speakers, but with 5.0 reproduction, a realistic combination of musicians and acoustic place the listener fairly close to the ensemble.

Lawo's artistically appropriate of the presentation, with helpful comments on the music and data on the main musicians, is a very tempting collection of earlier Baroque woodwind/strings Suites. Recommended with pleasure.

Copyright © 2016 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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