on 14 July 2011
Andrew Manze was described by the San Francisco Examiner as 'The first modern superstar of the baroque violin'.
True enough: and he is much more than that! A Cambridge-educated classical scholar, polymath, musicologist, conductor: and he's also a brilliantly engaging writer [among today's practical musicians, only Graham Johnson is in the same league]. I have long cherished his Bach concertos, and his Handel sonatas with his regular partner, Richard Egarr on the harpsichord. They are among the most played discs in my collection. This bargain box gathers together five CDs from the 3-dozen or so he has recorded for Harmonia Mundi and presents them as a conspectus of his work: The Art of the Violin.
The first two discs are devoted to the twelve marvellous sonatas for violin and harpsichord by Archelgelo Corelli, and the third reproduces much of a programme given by Vivaldi in Venice for the Prince of Poland on 21 March 1740, and includes his last compositions. This is a wonderfully imaginative way of presenting this most appealing music. The fourth CD is devoted to the extrordinary music of that neglected and still virtually unknown French Court composer, J-F Rebel [1666-1747], a pupil of Lully, brother-in-law of Delelande, colleague of Couperin and Forqueray. In a note, Andrew Manze explains that the three instruments [he and Egarr are joined by Jaap ter Linden on gamba] have been tuned down to French Baroque pitch [A=392Hz], "for a month of concerts, allowing the instruments to relax and help seduce their players into abstaining from from any frightening or monstrous 'avalanches'" before the recordings were made. It is just this sort of attention to detail which helps elevate Manze's art to a higher plane.
The fifth disc contains the 3rd, 4th and 5th of Mozart's violin concertos, written at the age of 19: and it is this which may come as something of a shock to those accustomed to hearing Menhuin, Oistrakh and other more recent globe-trotting star fiddlers in these works. All extant manuscripts have been studied to arrive at an accurate text: but, more than that, the performance style reveals them as a triptych of freshly-cleaned old masters, which persuade us to overcome any prejudices we may have acquired about how they ought to sound.
As usual, Harmonia Mundi's production values are of the highest: and Manze's programme notes - by turns erudite, witty and at times even funny - enhance the pleasure to be obtained from this marvellous collection. May it win more friends for this exceptional music, and admirers for the skill and musicianship of the players.