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GRAMOPHONE (12/2022)
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Reviewer :
Mark Seow


The excellent booklet notes tell us that there is ‘no extant record’ of what works were specifically performed at the Bach-Abel concerts in London, but that the works recorded here ‘may have been heard’ in the 17-year-long series alongside larger ensemble pieces. Unfortunately, many of the pieces do not sit well together in terms of a coherent album. The solo preludes for bass viol by Carl Friedrich Abel stick out most, and the Prelude in D after the Rondeau by Johann Christian Bach is particularly jarring. A much more convincing sequence would skip out Abel’s D minor Prelude entirely and move from the (fabulous) Harpsichord Quintet by Johann Samuel Schröter to the (equally fabulous) violin movement from his Op 7. And while I understand the logic for Haydn’s ‘I love my love in secret’ as a final gathering-together of the different musical voices featured on the album – a kind of encore or curtain-call hurrah – it does not work cogently after Bach’s Tempo di minuetto. Clearly, variety was an attraction of the original Bach-Abel concerts: here the melange is a bit too incongruous for my taste.

However (and this is a very big however), the individual performances here from Les Ombres are fantastic. Many special sound worlds are captured, and the gorgeously malleable flute of Sylvain Sartre contributes much to this. As does the stunning playing by Justin Taylor – and so it is a supreme shame that the booklet does not tell us the specific pianoforte that he is playing on. Take Taylor’s elegantly mournful playing in the Allegro ma non troppo of Schröter’s Op 7: the piano’s action guides many of the musical decisions of rubato or balancing. The Scots songs by Haydn are a nice addition, too, but again quite distracting in terms of an overall musical journey. Mezzo-soprano Fiona McGown wonderfully captures the sadness of John Lowe’s text ‘Mary’s Dream’ but it’s far too slow a performance – well, not an issue of tempo per se, but rather that there is a lack of forward-thinking breath to carry us through the fairly static structure.

The opening movement, an Allegro moderato, of Abel’s Quartet in G stands out as spectacular playing. The accompanimental playing by violinist Théotime Langlois de Swarte brims with vitality, and in terms of dazzling sprightliness, Sartre gives him more than a run for his money. The central Largo from Schröter’s Harpsichord Quintet in C is the other highlight: de Swarte purrs while Taylor’s right hand glistens in seductive sway above.



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