Conductor and pianist James Levine is one of the powerhouse figures of the classical music scene today. As a child he undertook both piano and violin; he was so accomplished on the violin that at the age of ten he played Mendelssohn's second violin concerto at a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra youth concert. He studied piano at various summer music festivals before enrolling at New York's Juilliard School, where he took conducting courses with Jean Morel and continued piano studies with Rosina Lhevinne.
French composers of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries delighted in adorning their pieces with foreign, in particular, Italian, elements, often calling attention to them in the titles. Among the most subtle transalpine stylists was Francois Couperin, who was refining the ‘French style’ and publishing his legacy in the form of harpsichord and chamber music. His contemporary, Marin Marais, contributed his own subtle essay in the exotic, a “Suitte d’un gout etranger” published in his Fourth Book of Pieces de une et a trois viole (1717), nearly 30 years after his First Book (the epitome of French viol playing) had appeared.
Michael d'Abo first rose to prominence in British rock through his assumption of a most unenviable task, succeeding Paul Jones as lead singer in Manfred Mann – the group's own record label, EMI, was so persuaded of the unlikelihood that anyone could replace him, that they dropped the band from the roster. He proved up to the challenge, however, and across the four decades since, has remained a busy and well-known musical figure, in rock and in music in general.
This 68-minute program–a compilation of recordings made by Jordi Savall, Montserrat Figueras & Co. during the years 1976 and 2008 (including several selections originally released on dhm and Virgin Classics)–proved one of those purely pleasurable, effortlessly rewarding listening sessions that only rarely come along. We don't often review compilations drawn from multiple recordings made in different venues and over many years–they're so often programmatically disjointed and sonically varied; but in this case it doesn't matter. The music is compatible stylistically and these performers are so consistent in the quality and care and vitality of their performances that, well, what's 30 years or so?