Archiv Productions was founded in Germany in 1945 as a subsidiary label of Deutsche Grammophon. It’s purpose was to record older music in performances authentic to the periods covered. DG has already issued a box of CDs that was an overview of Archiv’s entire history. Now they have a new box which focuses in on the label’s stereo analogue recordings, made between 1959 and 1981. I think they’ve done a splendid job at hitting all the highlights. Karl Richter’s Bach recordings are represented by one of the cantatas and the Magnificat. Richter recorded around 75 of the cantatas and his approach was admired for its vigor, precision, and strength. August Wenzinger recorded Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks using a large wind band without strings, the way Handel originally wrote it for the first performance. Trevor Pinnock’s recording of the Bach Orchestral Suites, one of the first of many that Pinnock made for Archiv is here, as is Telemann’s Der Getreue Music-Meister.
Remarkable recordings by Charles Mackerrs, Simon Preston, and Helmut Walcha are all here along with many surprises, all pleasant ones. Archiv producers not only took great care with the arts and repertory for the label but also with the recorded sound. Every CD in this magnificent set is state-of-the-art for its day and most still hold that title up to present time. Each disc is in a cardboard sleeve that duplicates, on a smaller scale, the original vinyl album art work. You can see that in the beginning, it was the cream colored, plain sleeves that were all alike except of the artists and compositions. The label later went to silver with color inserts alternating with full color bordered in silver. They are all beautifully reproduced for this set. There’s an informative booklet delineating the entire series, complete with period photographs of the artists.
There’s not a clunker in this elegant set; it should be a much demanded gift item for the holiday season coming up in six months. But it is so appealing that if you bought it now, you’d probably want to keep it yourself.
I’ve been reviewing recordings for a long time so remember what are now classic recordings when they were new. The great ones gave me the instant feeling that I’d be hearing them around for many years to come. I recently got that electric feel from a new recording of the Dvorak violin concerto, played by Thomas Albertus Irnberger with the Prague Philharmonie conducted by Petr Altrichter on the Gramola label. The concerto was written just after the jubilant Slavonic Dances and shares some of the folk elements and all of the enthusiasm that went into their composition.
Irnberger plays with unrelenting propulsion resulting in the music always moving forward. There’s never a dead spot. So sure is his technique that he can do anything he wants with it, opting for explosive, precise spontaneity and joy. The first movement has heroic purpose, the second one romance, and the third, boundless energy and good spirits. The orchestra seems an extension of the soloist; this is no mere accompaniment, it’s a collaboration. Also on the disc are exuberant performances of the Romance for Violin and Orchestra and the Violin Sonatina in G, where Irnberger is partnered by first rate pianist, Pavel Kaspar. The format is a Hybrid SACD disc and the sound has wonderful, warm presence. I don’t intend to dump my recordings of the concerto by Edith Peinemann, Nathan Milstein, and Issac Stern, rather I will add this one to that list, which is where it belongs, near the top. Classics on Line list the release on MP3m where you can also listen to samples. Amazon.com has the disc.
Les Concert des Nations was formed in 1989 by Catalan conductor and viola da gamba virtuoso Jordi Savall. It has established itself as one of the finest ensembles playing early music on period instruments and formed an alliance with the AliaVox label for which it has made numerous recordings. The latest partners with the La Capella Reial de Catalunya chorus and various soloists to present two Magnificats, one by Bach and the other by Vivaldi. Each choral work is preceded by a concerto by the same composer, specifically Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto No. 1 in D Minor and Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Violins, Viola da Gamba and Continuo, RV 610. The choral works are live recordings performed at La Chappelle Royale du Chateau Versaillrs with its warm, reverberant acoustics.
Both Magnificats receive superb high energy performances with Savall choosing just right tempos throughout. The high point for me was the “Et misericordia” from the Bach, in which countertenor Damien Guillon and tenor David Munerloh produce sounds that can only be described as “sublime.” Good as the choral performances are, it is the definitive playing of the Bach harpsichord concerto that is the best on the disc. Soloist Pierre Hantai dazzles with his amazing technique but also moves one almost to tears with the beauty of his phrasing in the slower movement. The recording balance is perfect and the orchestra musicians seem totally inspired by Hantai’s playing. There is no better recording of this concerto on disc. The SACD sound throughout is spacious yet detailed. The disc is hybrid so has a CD layer, which is good but a little cramped when compared to the SACD. As icing on the cake, AliaVox has included a DVD disc with HD video images of the performers and a high quality PCM soundtrack, and provided its usual sumptuous artwork and pages from the original music manuscripts in a 206-page booklet.