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The Bach Players are distinctive for their stylish playing, their imaginative programme ideas and for the eye- catching designs of their packaging. This new release, whose title, is – coincidentally – an apposite companion to the disc of sonatas by Johann Michael Nicolai and others played by Passamezzo Moderno and reviewed in these pages. Both albums include sonatas by Marini, Schmelzer and Weckmann, but while Passamezzo Moderno fields two violins in each work, the Bach Players have chosen works that call for a wider variety of instrumental colours, including solo harpsichord toccatas by Froberger and Weckmann.

The least familiar items are a Sonata for violin, cornettino, sackbut, dulcian and continuo and a Canzon for cornetto, sackbut and continuo by Giovanni Valentini. The Baroque period is liberally seasoned with Valentinis – most unrelate to one another. This one hailed from Venice but travelled to Vienna where he became Kappellmeister to the Habsburg court. Giovanni was a prolific composer and if these modest pieces are anything to go by we should look forward to hearing more of him. The episodic Sonata is introduced by each instrument in turn: dulcian, violin, sackbut and cornettino, then proceeds with dialogue interspersed with lively solos. The disparate character of the instrumental colours is wonderfully well captured by the recorded sound and this is a rewarding feature throughout the programme. Together these pieces, along with the remainder of the disc, provide a celebration of the Italian-born ‘stylo fantastico’, where strict contrapuntal discipline jostles with compositional freedom and where bold, cutting edge harmonic ideas and colour contrasts play their part. It reached a peak in late 17th-century Germany with Froberger, Schmelzer and Weckmann providing striking examples. Altogether a splendid release. blooming immediately and lustrously onto long notes in the Gloria. Meanwhile, Mary Bevan’s Poppea – breathier, excitable and febrile – recalls Scarabelli’s high tessitura.

Handel at Vauxhall is a more programmatic disc, a nod to the standard form the Vauxhall evening concerts took on after the popular addition of singers in 1745, of 16 pieces in two acts every evening, eight instrumental and eight vocal. There isn’t quite that plentitude of works on this single disc, of course, but it’s a varied programme, including items from Acis and Galatea and L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato along with Thomas Arne’s pastoral Colin and Phoebe and a concerto for strings by John Hebden. Sophie and Benjamin Bevan are again featured, along with Eleanor Dennis, Kirsty Hopkins, Charles MacDougall and Greg Tassell, as well as the redoubtable Daniel Moult at the organ, whose improvisation in the style of John Worgan and Handel is highly impressive. MacDougall comes across particularly convincingly as a ‘Vauxhall Gardens’ singer. The use of a bird whistler to recreate the organ with integral carillon known to have accompanied ‘Hush, ye pretty warbling choir’ on the occasion of a visit of the Prince of Wales raises a chuckle in light of our current Prince of Wales’s championing of the Great British songbird.

Nicholas Anderson Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing