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Classical - Released October 19, 2018 | VIVAT
British soprano Carolyn Sampson has long been known as a fine Handel specialist, and anticipation has awaited her recordings of the composer's early Italian cantatas, written in Rome at the end of the 1700s. It's everything that could be desired, and then some. The cantatas had some connection with a short-lived ban on opera in the Papal States, and plenty of muscular singers, female and male, have recorded them as little operatic scenes. Yet that is not quite what they are: they were written for aristocratic homes, not opera houses, and they were chamber music, not opera. Several have a pastoral flavor, with arias that hit Sampson's creamy sweet spot. Sample "Pien di nuovo e bel diletto," from the fairly rare Tra le fiamme, HWV 170, for a taste. Sampson is ideally accompanied in this regard by Robert King and the King's Consort, playing a superb small consort of historical instruments or copies of them; the group is quiet but not at all inexpressive, and the entire performance has the feeling of something Handel himself might have heard. Of course, when things get more athletic and operatic in the final Agrippina condotta a morire, HWV 110, Sampson and King shift into a higher gear, and it's easy to imagine as a concert finale in a Roman house. The Vivat label's sound from the Alpheton studio in New Maltings is ideal, and the whole package is highly recommended, even for those who feel their collections already have a strong complement of Sampson.
Classical - Released June 1, 2013 | VIVAT
The listener wanting a recording of Beethoven's first group of string quartets, published together as Op. 18, has dozens of choices, but this group of three by Britain's ever-changing Allegri String Quartet lies toward one extreme of the range. Whereas many ensembles stress the places where Beethoven begins to push against the boundaries of the Classical style he inherited from Haydn and Mozart, the Allegri takes a different tack: its readings are balanced, homogeneous, and startlingly quiet. Sharp expressions are smoothed out rather than highlighted, and the quartet's playing aims at a kind of static quality that is very unusual in this music. Straightforward tunes, of which there are plenty in these pieces, are very gracefully rendered, and the overall effect is almost hypnotic. It can be very beautiful, but there's the nagging feeling that Beethoven, used to a very different bow and string sound, would have found it a bit odd. This is especially true of the String Quartet in C minor, Op. 18/4, which is generally played in such a way as to stress its links to Beethoven's later works in that key. Sample the opening movement of the String Quartet in D major, Op. 18/3, actually Beethoven's first published quartet, for the full effect, and if you like it, proceed. The crystalline acoustics of Britain's Menuhin Hall are in perfect sync with the players' musical intentions.