"With such an intriguing title, here’s a recording which is going to attract a lot of attention. The mere mention of ‘Brandenburg’ has a strong Pavlovian effect, conjuring up complex textures, colourful instrumentation and Bachian genius. It’s going to be a great disappointment then. That’s the trouble with raising expectations too high.
Yet behind the crafty marketing it’s a different story. The music here is well worth our attention, as long as we approach it in the right way with a proper sense of its original context. The 12 concertos of Torelli’s Concerti musicali were published in 1698 and so belong to the earliest stage in the development of the concerto. It was an historically important publication, pre-dating both Vivaldi’s Op. 3 L’estro armonico of 1711 (which effectively defined the solo, ritornello concerto) and Corelli’s influential Op. 6, published in 1714 (which effectively defined the concerto grosso). Compared with Vivaldi’s and Corelli’s publications the concertos of Torelli’s Op. 6 were ultimately less influential and individual in style. However, now that we’ve actually got the chance to hear these early works, their subtle charms are quite persuasive. Short-breathed they may be — Concerto No. 5 in G minor lasts just over three minutes — but they speak a different language from either Corelli or Vivaldi, which is most refreshing. The novelties have yet to turn to clichés, and it seems very daring when (for the first time in the history of the concerto) Torelli indicates that certain passages in three of the concertos should be played by a solo violin (and a pair of them in No. 10). Heavens, where could such sensuous innovations lead?
So what does the director of Charivari Agréable — Kah-Ming Ng — mean when he calls these ‘The Original Brandenburg Concertos’? Well, they were the first set of concertos dedicated to the powerful Brandenburg dynasty — in this case, Sophie Charlotte, the Electress of Brandenburg, grandmother of Frederick the Great and the sister-in-law of Bach’s dedicatee, Christian Ludwig. She was a formidable but cultivated lady whose attention was also courted by Corelli (who dedicated his celebrated Op. 5 Violin Sonatas to her), and she could count on no less an intellectual than Gottfried Leibniz as a close friend.
Compared with Bach, Torelli made much more of an effort. Johann Sebastian merely revised six earlier works which were selected for their musical quality, not their practicality. Christian Ludwig’s modest musical establishment could never have been expected either to have the variety of instruments nor the players with the virtuoso abilities to tackle Bach’s offerings. Torelli’s works, though, were ideal for Sophie Charlotte’s musical Kapelle. Scored simply for strings and continuo they made demands on neither technique nor concentration. Perhaps these really should be thought of as the true Brandenburgs after all. In the end, of course, both sets of concertos failed to net their composers employment at the court of Brandenburg-Prussia, which was probably just as well, since by all accounts it was a rather stifling environment … servants (and that included musicians) were expected to know their place.
There’s a pleasing sparkle to these performances; it’s as if the members of Charivari Agréable have pretended not to know anything about music after 1700 and have therefore been able to capture something of the original freshness of these works. There’s intimacy too: this definitely sounds like a chamber ensemble writ large rather than a chamber orchestra downsizing. Ng also has a little bit of unexpected colour up his sleeve. He argues convincingly for the addition of wind instruments ad libitum — such practices were widespread at the time — and so oboes, bassoon and recorders enrich the textures from time to time.
In summary, this is a rewarding glimpse of the early history of the concerto, explained in wonderfully Baroque booklet notes by Ng. No masterpieces, but bags of potential."
Internationa; Record Review - April 2009
"The entire texture takes on a density that hasn’t been heard in these works before, and the very precise, lively lines forged by keyboardist and director Kah-Ming Ng make the music into something kaleidoscopic instead of shapeless."
All Music Guide (USA)
"Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709) spent much of his career working in Bologna’s Basilica of San Petronio, where instrumental music in Italy reached a new golden age during the 17th century.However, for a few years (1696-1701) the illustrious orchestra was temporarily disbanded for financial reasons, and TOreli sought his livelihood north of the Alps. His 12 Concerti musicali, Op 6, here called by Charivari Agreable the "Original Brandenburg Concertos", were published in 1698 and dedicated to Electress Sophie Charlotte of Brandenburg (the sister of the future Goerge I of Britain, and also patron of Corelli and the philosopher Leibniz). Torelli, an acclaimed cellist and violinist, also found employment at the court of Georg Frierich II, the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach (neither of these were members of the same branch of the famikly as Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt, to whom Bach gave the Brandenburg Concertos in 1721).
Charivari Agreable’s accomplished performances prove that Torelli’s music doesn’t deserve to remain neglected. The Oxford-based ensemble has a distinctly international make-up, and expertly conjures the appropriate tautness, melancholic depth, athleticism and amiableness of the mosty short movements. For example, Concert No 5 has well judged contrasts between slower melancholic moments and oboe-driven colourful fast sections. The opening of No 10 is played rapturously by violinists Bojan Cicic and Linda Hannah-Andersson. Editorial woodwind parts, suh as a pai of recorders in No 7, bring delightful variety to music that was published for only strings and continuo.
Kah-Ming Ng claims that Torelli might have done much the same at Ansbach, and praises that the collection is "the most historically significant concerto publication" before Vivaldi’s L’estro armonio (1711) and Corelli’s Op 6 (1714). On the evidence of these emphatic performances, he might be right."
Gramophone - June 2009
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