The Compact Collection  

Rob Cowan on the week's best CD releases
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

My first choice this week is a must for parents eager to win their kids over to the cause of quality "old" music. And there's nothing like a peppery dose of Telemann to counter the all-pervasive auto-baroque, meaning reams of similar-sounding repertoire played by similar-sounding bands. Enter La Bizarre, the cover title on a wacky Harmonia Mundi programme where the Berlin Academy for Old Music relish every startling trick in Telemann's very substantial book. Take "La Bizarre" itself, an "Overture" in G, with its zany syncopations (first movement) and accelerating "Nightingale" finale. Or the recently discovered A Major Violin Concerto, which takes its cue from the common frog: give it half a minute and a whole community is croaking away, conjured with realism by a mass of fiddles. The party piece, though, is Telemann's vivid take on travel, his Overture "Les Nations". You can gallop away with the Turks, bumping into some unexpected harmonies, and on to the haughty Swiss, or the proud Portuguese. But the most amazing movement is "Muscovites", where basses, lute, cellos and violins chime in imitation of the Kremlin bells. Play it to most people, and the reaction would almost certainly be "20th century, or later", such is Telemann's originality, and the playing makes the point with a vengeance.

Another musical child-magnet is provided by Nonesuch and the ever-resourceful Gidon Kremer, whose Kremerata Baltica is truly an ensemble that plays as one. After Mozart starts with a First Recording, Alexander Raskatov's Five Minutes in the Life of W A M, where the spirit of innocence is just occasionally spoiled by a maverick "modern" gesture, either from Kremer himself or from irregularities in the almost-authentic accompaniment.

Next, W A M himself enters with the trimly tailored pomp of his Serenata Notturna, lean and muscular under Kremer's direction. Eine kleine Nachtmusik is pert and punchy; Leopold Mozart's Toy Symphony earns itself some laughs with aurally tickling toys; and Schnittke's sensitive soundscape for two violins based on Mozart fragments is typically thought-provoking. Not as much, though, as the poetic centrepiece, The Messenger, that Valentin Silvestrov conjured up as a tribute to his late wife. The computer-generated sighing of distant winds shrouds a Mozartean stream of consciousness, like a grieving music-lover alone on a mountaintop. Again, the presence of a story of sorts will help focus a young mind, though there's equally compelling reportage of Silvestrov's more "absolute" side in ECM's leggiero, pesante, in which the composer himself adds a touching Hymne 2001 as a piano postlude. The programme (it's the first in a series) – a cello sonata, three Postludia and the First String Quartet – is shared between the pianist Silke Avenhaus and members of the Rosamunde Quartet. The mood is mostly tranquil, journeying gradually from dusk to dawn, or at least from doubt to some measure of hope.

Telemann, 'La Bizarre', Akademie für Alter Musik, Berlin Harmonia Mundi HMC 901744

'After Mozart', Kremerata Baltica, Gidon Kremer, Nonesuch 7559-79633-2

Silvestrov, 'leggiero, pesante', Silke Avenhaus, Valentin Silvestrov, Rosamunde Quartet ECM 1776

Comments