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The Best of Baroque Music

The first half of the eighteenth century saw the culminationof a musical synthesis between elements predominant in three major musicalcountries in Europe. From Italy came, above all, song, from France dance andfrom Germany the more academic procedures that could weld these into awhole. 

Instrumental music had developed notably in the seventeenthcentury, as forms that were to predominate were developed. The later part ofthe century brought the career of the South German organist Johann Pachelbel(1653-1706), a prolific composer who had drawn much from his experience ofItalian music. Pachelbel served as an organist in Erfurt, where he hadconnections with the Bach family and taught Johann Sebastian Bach's elderbrother, Johann Christoph, with whom the former lived after the early death ofhis parents. Pachelbel was able to spend his final years as organist at StSebald's in his native Nuremberg. While his other work may be known principallyto organists, his Canon and Gigue, an ingenious composition originally forthree violins and continuo, has enjoyed very wide popularity, appearing in avariety of arrangements [10].

The Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) spent hislater life in Rome, where he established himself as a violinist and composer,serving there the Catholic Swedish Queen Christina, Cardinal Pamphili andCardinal Ottoboni. Contemporaries and later composers were strongly influenced,in particular, by his Concerti grossi, orchestral compositions in which a smallgroup of solo players (two violins and continuo in Corelli's work) arecontrasted with the full string orchestra. His so-called Christmas Concerto,designed for performance on Christmas Eve, includes a pastoral movementsuggesting the shepherds at Bethlehem in a musical form that was much imitated [5].

Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759) had met Corelli in Romeduring the earlier years of the eighteenth century. Born in Halle, he hadworked first at the opera in Hamburg, before travelling to Italy. Recruited asdirector of music to the court at Hanover, he soon found a way to move toLondon, where he was at first primarily occupied in the provision of Italianopera. Handel's melodic facility and the form his musical language took suggesta different balance in the developing baroque synthesis. Nevertheless Corelli,leading an orchestra for Handel in Italy, claimed he could not grasp thelatter's 'French' style.  Whilecontinuing an intermittent connection with Italian opera, by 1740 Handel hadfound a new musical compromise in a new form, that of English oratorio. Thepresent collection is introduced by the familiar Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,an instrumental movement from the oratorio Solomon, first heard at CoventGarden in 1749 [1]. Equally familiar is the Largo from Handel's 1738 operaSerse, originally an aria in which Xerxes is overheard expressing hisadmiration for the plant life around him [7].

With a contemporary reputation that rivalled that of Bach,Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) was from 1721 until his death established inHamburg as director of music for the five principal city churches. He wrote avast quantity of church music, and an equal amount of secular music, much of itdesigned for amateur players. His compositions include a number of orchestralsuites or overtures, including sets of dance movements, examples of the nowfashionable 'mixed taste' of the period. His so-called Darmstadt Overturesbelong to an early part of his career, when he was employed in Frankfurt amMain, and were written for the court at Darmstadt. Movement titles indicate thecharacter of the music, as in the Harlequinade included here [12].  Another example of Telemann's lightnessof touch is heard in his Recorder Suite, with its characteristic Frenchmovements, of which two are here included [14] & [15].

Telemann had studied at Leipzig University, where heestablished the Collegium musicum. In later years the direction of thisinstrumental ensemble was taken over by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), whohad moved to Leipzig in 1723 as Cantor at the Choir-School of St Thomas. Bachhad served as an organist, principally at Weimar, before becoming director ofcourt music to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen in 1717. After 1723 he remainedin Leipzig until his death. Much of his instrumental music originated duringhis years at Cothen, including the first and fourth of his four orchestralsuites. French Bourrees from the Orchestral Suite No.4 are here included [8].The second and third suites belong to Bach's years in Leipzig. Orchestral SuiteNo.2, scored for solo flute and strings, has been dated to the late 1730s. Itsbest-known movement remains the playful Badinerie [3]. From Orchestral SuiteNo.3, dated approximately to 1729-1731, comes the Air, known popularly as Airon the G string, from an arrangement for that string of the violin by theGerman violinist August Wilhelmj [2].

Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos take their name from thecomposer's 1721 dedication of them to the Margrave of Brandenburg, and werewritten principally at Cothen, although the third and sixth have beenconjecturally dated to the composer's earlier years in Weimar.  Brandenburg Concerto No.2 is scored forsolo trumpet, recorder, oboe and violin, with the strings and harpsichord ofthe orchestra. In the third movement the solo instruments enter one after theother, led by the trumpet 6. Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 is scored for soloviolin and two recorders, with strings and harpsichord. In the opening Allegro,the recorders are heard first, one echoing the other, as the lively movement unwinds[17].

The Cothen court musical establishment provided scope forthe composition of instrumental music. From Bach's time there are three violinconcertos surviving in their original form, including the fine Concerto for twoviolins. The slow movement is one of particular beauty, the two solo violins indialogue above the gently lilting rhythm of the bass-line in the orchestra [4].In Leipzig Bach arranged a number of his earlier concertos as concertos forsolo harpsichord or harpsichords. His Harpsichord Concerto in F minor derivedits outer movements from an oboe concerto that is now lost and its slowmovement, here included, from a church cantata. Accompanied by plucked strings,the solo harpsichord offers a fine melody, gently elaborated [13].

Bach owed much to Vivaldi and other composers in Venice,where the solo concerto had developed. He made his own solo harpsichordarrangement of the Oboe Concerto by Alessandro Marcello (1684-1750), a Venetiannobleman and dilettante. The slow movement of the Oboe Concerto is hereincluded ^. Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751) also made his prolific career as acomposer in Venice. His compositions include a number of fine oboe concertos,from one of which an Adagio is included 9. His name is best known, however, foran Adagio attributed to him by its true composer Remo Giazotto, who offered itas an elaboration of a fragment by Albinoni [18].

The most important of the Venetian composers of the firsthalf of the eighteenth century was Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), priest,virtuoso violinist and opera director, who for much of his life was involvedwith one of the institutions in Venice for the education of orphaned orindigent girls, an establishment with the strongest musical traditions. It wasprincipally for the Ospedale della Piet?á that he wrote concerto after concerto,many of them for the violin, but including a number for other instruments.Although his Flautino Concertos have sometimes been played on other soloinstruments, they were originally designed for the tiny sopranino recorder. Theslow movements,
Disc: 1
Adagio in G minor
1 Solomon: Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
2 Orchestral Suite No. 3: Air
3 Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor: Badinerie
4 Concerto in D minor for Two Violins: Largo ma non
5 Pastorale
6 Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major: Allegro (II
7 Serse: Largo
8 Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D major: Bouree I/II
9 Oboe Concerto in D minor, Op. 9, No. 2: Adagio
10 Canon and Gigue
11 Flautino Concerto in C major, RV 443: Largo
12 Harlequinade
13 Harpsichord Concerto in F minor: Largo
14 Recorder Suite in A minor: Rejouissance
15 Recorder Suite in A minor: Passepied I/II
16 Oboe Concerto in D minor: Adagio
17 Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major: Allegro
18 Adagio in G minor
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