Harmonia Mundi: Classical Express

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi: Classical Express

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Harmonia Mundi’s Classical Express label mostly consists of original-instrument performances, though VIVALDI’s Four Seasons arranged for five recorders hardly falls into this category (HCX 3957153).

Its slight charm is best in small doses, even with the beautifully phrased playing of Marion Verbruggen and the Flanders Recorder Quartet. I wish that sense of style had strayed over into the BACH violin sonatas from Elizabeth Blumenstock and John Butt (HCX 3957084), which are efficient but on the dogged side.

No such complaints about a lithe selection from HANDEL’s Messiah under Nicholas McGegan, with the radiant Lorraine Hunt Lieberson among the soloists, and some fleet-footed singing from the UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus (HCX 3957120).

On the other side of the coin from Handel’s professionalism is a collection of EARLY AMERICAN CHORAL MUSIC (HCX 3957128), where the composers are mostly enthusiastic amateurs, unafraid of the odd rough corner.

William Billings is the most familiar name, but Abraham Wood’s Brevity is an unpolished little gem, and Paul Hillier and His Majestie’s Clerkes are aptly forthright in their delivery.

There’s a similar uncomplicated joy on a disc of ITALIAN RENAISSANCE DANCES from The King’s Noyse and lutenist Paul O’Dette (HCX 3957127), with highlights from those great entertainers Banchieri, Vecchi and Anon.

Moving to a later period, the Mozartean Players beguile with three of MOZART’s works (HCX 3957033): Steven Lubin on a fine fortepiano is joined by Stanley Ritchie and Myron Lutzke in chamber-playing of the most natural and integrated kind.

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That sort of music-making also comes from MUSIC FROM ASTON MAGNA in the Schubert Octet (HCX 3957049): there may be the odd patch of dodgy intonation, but these are players with happy faces.