John Eliot Gardiner has proved himself a doughty champion of the later French Baroque, cultivating credible performing methods and unearthing undeservedly neglected repertoire. These nine CDs offer both rich musical rewards and an insight into developing approaches to interpretation. The earliest repertoire in the set is the volume of Francois Couperin's 'apotheoses' of Lully and Corelli, a sensual and programmatic feast in which this charmingly didactic composer attempts to reconcile the best of French and Italian taste.
Sylvain Cambreling is one of the leading French operatic conductors. He is known for his often startling innovations in many opera productions: in a performance of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro at the 2001 Salzburg Festival he employed a synthesizer to deliver recitative accompaniments, and at a performance of Janácek's Katya Kabanova, he used some of the composer's songs as transitional material between acts.
Robert Shaw's reading of the B Minor Mass is, in one sense at least, just what one would expect: sober and purposeful, beautifully shaped (Shaw is a master architect), it centers on the chorus. Like all of Shaw's choruses, the Atlanta group has that trademark richness of body and blend, and it sings with utter unanimity as though it were one great voice. Shaw opts for marginally broader tempos than those found in most period-instrument performances but is nowhere near as glacial as some interpreters.
With its endless, droning minor-key riff and mumbled vocals, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is arguably the most notorious song of the acid rock era. According to legend, the group was so stoned when they recorded the track that they could neither pronounce the title "In the Garden of Eden" or end the track, so it rambles on for a full 17 minutes, which to some listeners sounds like eternity. But that's the essence of its appeal – it's the epitome of heavy psychedelic excess, encapsulating the most indulgent tendencies of the era. Iron Butterfly never matched the warped excesses of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," either on their debut album of the same name or the rest of their catalog…
This disc, well recorded in 1979, contains the 3 Romances written for the oboe and piano plus other titles, all of which can be found in other instrumentations. The playing of all of these works, all of which are gentle in concept, is sublime and well suited to Holliger's smooth style of oboe playing. The Evening Song is a gentle piece transcribed for oboe and piano by Joachim. The Adagio and Allegro will be familiar to several in its version for horn and piano.
Kronos is a musical institution over 40 years in existence, championing and commissioning contemporary, even avant-garde and multimedia, classical compositions but the quartet started slow, in a period of experimentation when classical, rock, and jazz began to explore each other's domain. The Turtle Island Quartet, founded in 1985, shares similar roots, and the chamber jazz group Oregon, founded in 1971, also skirts Third Steam with their bass, guitar, oboe, and percussion.
Involving, as it does, three master musicians and a fine chamber orchestra this was never likely to be be other than rewarding. It may not correspond with the ways of playing Mozart at the beginning of the twenty-first century which are fashionable at the beginning of the twenty-first century, but it has virtues – such as high intelligence, sympathy, certainty of purpose, grace, alertness of interplay – which transcend questions of performance practice. Looking at the names of the pianists above, we might be surprised by the presence of Sir Georg Solti, so used are we to thinking of him as a conductor. But the young Solti appeared in public as a pianist from the age of twelve and went on to study piano in Budapest, with Dohnányi and Bartok.