"In 17th-century Italy the cornett and the violin were in competition as to which of the two was the most expressive instrument. In the first half of the century the winner was the cornett, as it was better suited to imitate the human voice than the violin. The cornett was often used - mostly in combination with sackbuts - to support singers, but also as a substitute for the human voice, in particular in sacred music. But these two instruments were also often used together, and many compositions were written for either cornett or violin. And then there were pieces to be played ’con ogni sorti stromenti’, with all kinds of instruments, which leaves the choice to the performer. And even without an addition like that, composers were often very flexible as far as instrumentation is concerned. Many pieces written for a specific instrument can be played on other instruments as well. The ensemble Charivari Agréable aims at bringing to life the variety in performance practice of music of the 17th century. The programme on this disc is representative of their programmes, both in concert and in recordings. Features of the ensemble’s performances are improvisation, adaptation and arrangement, all with respect for what we know about the performance practice of the 17th century. The art of improvisation isn’t only reflected in the ornamentation in the pieces played here, but also in the choice of compositions: in particular the diminutions on madrigals and motets are examples of the kind of improvisation practice in the early 17th century. Examples of the practice of adaptation are to be found here in pieces for lute and keyboard, which are treated as compositions for an ensemble of instruments. In regard to arrangement, this ensemble goes as far as composing new pieces on the basis of existing compositions. On this disc we find two examples of such pieces, called ’pastiches’ of ciaconas and bergamascas by several composers. The ciacona and the bergamasca belonged to the most popular forms of the 17th century. These pastiches are the least satisfactory parts of this recording, as they lack inner coherence because of the differences between the compositions on which they are based. Otherwise this is a most enjoyable disc, containing a mixture of lesser-known pieces, and pretty well-known ones played in a rather unconventional manner. Every player of the ensemble is a virtuoso on his or her instrument and the ensemble playing is immaculate and full of vigour. As the repertoire never fails to fascinate because of its sheer beauty and brilliance, this is definitely a disc worth listening to."
Johan van Veen
Rating: **** "Very Good"
"This new album by Charivari Agreable focuses on instrumental music from the fascinating opening decades of the Italian Baroque. Devices such as ornamentation of the bass line of dances and favourite pieces, together with traditional counterpoint, are combined with contrasting moods and tempos more usually associated with madrigals, as well as forms such as the early trio sonata. The fact that each member of the ensemble plays more than one instrument permits multiple sound combinations. In this recording, knowledge of historic performance techniques is applied while also bearing in mind the tastes of modern-day audiences. The creativity of the continuo, the freely added passaggi and the diversity of instruments selected for each piece immediately capture one¹s attention. In its use of colour, the ensemble has succeeded in striking a balance between smooth homogeneity and a brilliant variety of timbres. The variety of genres encompasses the charming balli and the more austere canzone, agile variations and tightly structured symphonies, in which the cornett, the two bowed instruments, the keyboard (organ or harpsichord) and the plucked string instruments contribute, as the evocative subtitle of the album suggests, to the impression of "a ray of sunshine piercing the shadows".
Goldberg Magazine - August 2005
"...An outstandingly enjoyable disc."
The Viola da Gamba Society Newsletter - April 2005
"The continuo group Charivari Agréable is joined by Jamie Savan – another of the fine clutch of young British cornettists and Oliver Webber (violin) to illustrate a range of 17th-century Italian music. Jamie Savan has an airy lightness and easy facility which rests well on the ears, and Oliver Webber is a sparky violinist. In a couple of pieces the violin’s duet partner is Charivari’s regular violist, Susanne Heinrich. The Stradella Sinfonia is a fine example of this, building a mix of tension and easy conversation between the two, and a very successful tonal match. Two of the pieces are pastiches by Kah-Ming Ng. The Ciaccona in particular visits new realms—which are well worth visiting—and stands as a new piece as much as a pastiche. The continue in some of the more standard repertoire can be a little monochrome – I wish that a little more of the playfulness and inventiveness in the best of the performance had leaked into the standard fare, particularly in a programme whose subtitle includes the words caprice and conceit. However, these are small quibbles and I would heartily commend the disc to anyone interested in this repertoire."
Early Music Review - February 2005
"The title might not give the clearest idea of the contents of this delectable programme of 17th-century Italian chamber music featuring cornett and violin, but the combination certainly proves to be a partnership made in heaven.
The cornett’s lustrous, golden tone described by one contemporary writer as ³a ray of sunshine piercing the shadows² coupled with its clarity and agility in virtuoso passagework make it easy to understand why it was esteemed as one of those instruments that most closely mimicked the sound of the human voice.
These qualities are heard to especial advantage in Giovanni Bassano¹s arrangement of a Palestrina motet, where each long, slow cantabile line gradually develops into an exuberant efflorescence of ornamentation, and in Giovanni Paolo Cima’s spirited trio sonata, whose playful imitative writing proves that anything the violin can do, the cornett can follow with equal panache.
Charivari Agréable¹s sparkling performances make for irresistibly enjoyable listening; their cornettist Jamie Savan¹s superb technique and truly singing tone do indeed produce a glorious ray of musical sunshine."
The Daily Telegraph - 7 February 2005
"Don’t be put off - behind the title from a musicology Festschrift and mail-order heritage catalogue cover lurks an outstanding disc. It’s not easy to concoct a 60-minute non-stop listen from 17th-century Italian chamber music - but I shouldn’t have been surprised that Charivari Agréable makes it such a breeze: ever since signing to Signum some years back it has been planning and playing some peerless programmes
The subtitle, ’Ray of Sunshine Piercing the Shadows’, was contemporary French polymath Mersenne’s verdict on Charivari’s guest star, the cornet. As a diehard fellow-fancier, I¹ve rarely heard mellifluous swing to match cornettist Jamie Savan’s. In the accompanying booklet keyboard player Kah-Ming Ng makes a persuasive case for the novel combos. Ng’s superbly strutting style in a 1620s Polaccha by Picchi had me dreaming of Hessian boots and a pelisse. And his ingenious medleys on popular grounds of the period give a new slant to ’fusion’ - though this is no short-order snack but a feast, with substantial servings from Stradella and Cavalli proving they weren¹t solely vocal geniuses. Sound is a little distant and coloured but this is a recital to shaft any shadow."
BBC Music Magazine - March 2005
"Cornett playing that came as a breath of fresh air to me this week. That was A Mascara Sonata by 17th century Neapolitan Gregorio Strozzi: a masque played and danced by several Neapolitan knights in the Royal Palace. It’s one of a number of arrangements Charivari Agréable have made to extend the reach and repertoire of the cornett, and it’s a delightful disc. Jamie Savan is the cornett-ist, and he makes a wonderful sound. How apt is that subtitle: ‘A Ray of sunshine piercing the shadows’…the CD’s called ‘Harmonia Caelestis’, and it’s from Signum Classics."
BBC 3 CD Radio Review
"Fans of the scampering cornett are going to love this CD as Jamie Savan and Charivari Agréable take us on a conducted tour of some of the most sparkling showpieces written in Renaissance Italy. There is music by familiar composers such as Stradella, Bassano, Strozzi and Cavalli, while less familiar names such as Picchi, Pollarolo and Piccini also come up. The latter is represented by a rather funky Chaconne, although I notice that it is reconstructed and arranged by Linda Sayce - I hope most of the chromatic idiosyncrasies and cross rhythms are Piccini rather than Sayce! The playing is of a very high order throughout with lovely transparent textures and some terrific cornetting by Jamie Savan, who combines a radiant tone with extremely nimble fingerwork. A very attractive CD."
D James Ross
Early Music Scotland - December 2005
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