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GRAMOPHONE (08/2021)
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Reviewer: Mark Seow

There is some lovely playing on offer here from Van Diemen’s Band conducted by Martin Gester; the only problem is that I’ve heard much lovelier elsewhere. Take Concerto No 2 in B flat, which opens the album. The vibrancy of the opening chords dissipates as the concertino-playing – raggedy and not particularly in tune – fails to retain sparkle. Then the Largo, which should be unctuous, flowing mystery, is unfortunately extremely ordinary (though Jasu Moisio’s oboe is honeyed and enticingly thin in sound in that typically French way of playing). In the Allegro that follows, a fugue, I think that this is Handelplaying at its most inane, but I’m mistaken. The following Tempo di minuetto is trapped between the mundane and the twee; Gester’s interpretation lacks the necessary elegance or cheekiness to get this music off its page. This middle-ish kind of playing – good, but not great – is somewhat the flavour of the whole.

Yet sometimes Van Diemen’s Band strike gold. The second-movement Allegro from Concerto No 3 in G is the first thing that we get on this album resembling drama. Georgia Browne on flute is a sophisticated soloist, and the understated shimmer in her sound seems to be infectious as the strings are on much better form here. The liveliness of the argument is compelling. Or try the Largo from Concerto No 1 in B flat: tender, unravelling arioso, the unexpected timbral variation of an orchestra tickled by theorbo – more playing like this please.

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