Concerti Curiosi


“This curious conglomeration of concertos is a celebration of contrasts”. Thus begins Kah-Ming Ng’s introduction to this collection of works from the 18th century. Although none of the composers featured may be familiar, each work has been picked for it’s fine technical skill and illuminating sound, taking inspiration from the 18th century definition of ‘curious” as being ‘rare, excellent and fine’. Includes works by Paradis, Reichenauer, Berlin, Pepusch, Hertel, Croft and Baldassari.

Charivari Agréable have established themselves as one of the UKs leading early music ensembles – in 2010 they collaborated with The King’s Singers on an album of Pachelbel’s Vespers, currently their best-selling album on Signum, after it featured heavily on BBC Radio 3.
“For those who know Pachelbel only through the Canon, this disc will be revelatory … Each piece is beautifully served by the ensemble.”
The Sunday Times


What people are saying

"The title of the ensemble and their new disc are both pertinent, it’s an agreeable collection full of curiosities … Ng’s notes do a decent job of describing the impact of Vivaldi and his fellow Italians on the music scene in England" Andrew McGregor ­– BBC Radio 3, CD Review, April 2011
"The highlight is Pietro Domenico Paradies’ aptly-titled "A Favourite Concerto", a delightful harpsichord piece that affords the ensemble’s director Kah-Ming Ng full rein to display his keyboard prowess." The Independent
"This is a disc for adventurous music-lovers who like to extend their horizon and are not satisfied with listening to the same masterpieces over and over again. Charivari Agréable deserve our congratulations with this 20th volume in their impressive discography. May many more follow." MusicWeb International

Charivari Agréable

Release date:28th Mar 2011
Order code:SIGCD249
Barcode: 635212024928

Concerti Curiosi is the twentieth CD from the wonderful period instrument group Charivari Agreable. The ensemble was formed at the University of Oxford in 1993 and has been described as "one of the classiest Baroque bands" and "one of the most versatile early music groups around" by the British press. Three of the seven selections on this stylishly played program involve the trumpet and the cornett. This reviewer will focus on those works; but one should be assured that the rest of the CD is excellently played and worthy of attention as well. Johan Daniel Berlin came to the cornett through an apprenticeship with a Copenhagen town musician. Berlin dealt with the cornett in his I 744 Musikalske Elementer, which discusses instrumental technique. Pietro Baldassari is associated with the great Bolognese tradition of wind playing at San Petronio. Both the Berlin Sinfonia and the Baldassari Sonata receive excellent treatment on this recording from Jamie Savan, whose brilliant sound is well attuned to the solo role that those works require. Savan plays a straight cornett made by Henri Gohin, based on an eighteenth-century original. Johann Wilhelm Hertel is a somewhat more familiar name to trumpeters. Simon Desbrulais handles the natural trumpet, made by Stephen Keavy after Johann Wilhelm Haas, with great style and assurance. His performance of the Hertel Concerto is thoughtfully conceived and admirably executed. Concerti Curiosi is well worth a listen and Charivari Agreable is certainly a group to watch. 

Journal of the International Trumpet Guild, Vol. 36, No. 4, Lee J. Weimer, March 2011

Certainly Agréable, but the music itself is not particularly curious. The disc is an apt reminder that great composers (Vivaldi here) have always had a constellation of supporters and disciples whose names have often disappeared for centuries and for some of them their music is only now being revived for enjoyment and reappraisal.

This is a collection of concertos for various instruments, played stylishly by a good group of early music free lancers, if not always with highest virtuosity. Most winning for me were the oboe of Geoffrey Coates and Jamie Savan’s cornett. None of the composers is markedly individual though.

Mr Ng’s commentary (how do you pronounce his name??) is extensive and scholarly, placing each of these composers whose names have become better known than their actual music; a lively scene rather like pop music today.

We have been Charivari Agréable loyalists since their early days. e.g. 17th Century English Music at South Bank.

Peter Grahame Woolf

The Independent

Concerti Curiosi builds on the popularity of Charivari Agréable’s recent recording of "Pachelbel’s Vespers", the period ensemble here turning its attention to assembling a range of concerti by lesser-known composers of the Baroque era.

The highlight is Pietro Domenico Paradies’ aptly-titled "A Favourite Concerto", a delightful harpsichord piece that affords the ensemble’s director Kah-Ming Ng full rein to display his keyboard prowess. Soloist Jamie Savan is similarly dazzling on the two cornett concerti, by Pietro Baldassari and polymath Johan Daniel Berlin, of which the latter’s "Sinfonia à 5" offers an intriguing blending of the cornett’s neat, upright tone with the droney textures of strings and harpsichord.

Andy Gill

The Times, April 2011

As its name suggests, this is a real cabinet of curiosities – rarely heard but charming concerti by the smaller stars of the baroque firmament, played with energy and flair by the multi-talented soloists of the Oxford-ased Charivari Agréable (or “pleasant tumult”). Composer Pietro Domenico Paradies’ “A Favourite Concerto” provides a fine vehicle for director Kah-Ming Ng to impress at the harpsichord, but it is Jamie Savan’s cool, straight tone on the cornett that stands out, both in Pietro Baldassari’s Sonata for cornett and strings and in Johan Daniel Berlin’s Sinfonia à 5.

Stephen Pritchard

Andrew McGregor ­– BBC Radio 3, CD Review, April 2011

The title of the ensemble and their new disc are both pertinent, it’s an agreeable collection full of curiosities … Ng’s notes do a decent job of describing the impact of Vivaldi and his fellow Italians on the music scene in England

WDR 3, May 2011

Brimming with the warmth of British excellence – pleasant, crystal clear and decorous – Concerti Curiosi is a programme selected with great forethought, comprising cleverly ordered treasures of baroque and early classical concertos, each in its own distinct style. Soloists and ensemble merge into a musical unity, and so it should be: playing concertos not by pitting one against the rest, but in harmonious cohesion. As Kah-Ming Ng plays his runs with elegance and a lightness of touch, Charivari Agréable accompanies with delicacy and precise intonation.

Ganz viel warme britische Gediegenheit: angenehm, transparent, dezent. Sorgsam ausgewählte, klug angeordnete Reihe kostbaren Barock- und Frühklassische Konzerten, von denen jeder seinen ganz eigenen Stil besitz. Solisten und ensemble verschmelzen zu einer musikalischen Einheit und konzertieren nicht als einer gegen alle sondern als harmonisches Miteinander. KM Ng spielt seine Läufe elegant und leicht; zart und präzis intoniert Charivari Agreable ihre Begleitfiguren.

Gramophone, July 2011

A cornett and a cornucopia of concerto curiosities from Charlvarl Agreable

It is hard to know which came first – title or concept – but it is clear that what we have here is not just several 18th-century concertante works probably making first appearances on disc but also an unusual range of scorings that gives the young soloists of Charivari Agréable chances to shine.

I cannot remember encountering a cornett concerto before but here are two, both from well after the instrument had fallen out of fashion. Johan Daniel Berlin’s Sinfonia sounds almost like a trumpet concerto in Jamie Savan’s outgoing performance but Pietro Baldassari’s Sonata has smoother contours, ably matched by Savan’s effortless line.

Johan Wilhelm Hertel’s genuine trumpet concerto has been recorded by a number of "modern" players; despite Simon Desbruslais’s smart assurance in the outer movements, he struggles to get his natural instrument to match the strings’ sober melancholy in the Sturm und Drang-ish Largo. A Sonata by William Croft for two pairs of violins has a darker 17th-century feel to it, while a perky Vivaldian concerto by Johann Christoph Pepusch described as being for four violins is more for one plus three ripienists. Also Vivaldian is Anton Reichenauer’s Oboe Concerto (a fruity if sometimes ungainly sound from Geoffrey Coates), while Pietro Domenico Paradies’s harpsichord concerto speaks with a Scarlattian-English accent reminiscent of Arne.

If in general the performances do not quite have the punchy and vigorous ensemble of other modern-day Baroque orchestras, no one could fault this ensemble for taste or stylishness. The recorded sound mixes bloom and transparency perfectly, and if Charivari prefer to emphasise the intimacy of their playing at the expense of sonic energy, that presumably is their choice. Perhaps none of these concerto rarities will set the pulse racing but, lovingly unearthed by this enterprising little orchestra, they do indeed provide much to interest the curious-at-heart.

Lindsay Kemp

MusicWeb International

The ensemble Charivari Agréable was founded in 1993. Since then it has made recordings on a regular basis. A feature of its discography is that its director, Kah-Ming Ng, avoids the well-trodden paths. No Brandenburg Concertos, no Handel concerti grossi or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. He rather turns his attention to psalm settings by English composers of the 17th century, songs and dances from the Hispanic Baroque or "Music for Gainsborough by his contemporaries". All these recordings contain rare music which is seldom heard and often never recorded before. That makes the ensemble take a special place in the early music scene.

It is only fitting that their 20th disc is devoted to "concerti curiosi". All these pieces are rare indeed and for various reasons. Some composers are not very familiar, like Johan Daniel Berlin, Pietro Baldassari and Johann Anton Reichenauer who doesn’t even have an entry in New Grove. Some compositions are curious because of the uncommon scoring. That is certainly the case with the two compositions for four violins, and even more so with the two in which the cornett plays a solo role.

The cornett was a common instrument in the 16th century, and often participated in performances of sacred music, either supporting or replacing singers. In the early 17th century it was used as a solo instrument in sonatas and canzonas, and was highly celebrated for being a close imitation of the human voice. From the mid-17th century it gradually fell into disuse. In the 18th century hardly any composer wrote music for the cornett. One of the last composers who made use of it was Johann Sebastian Bach in some of his cantatas. It still remained a part of the ensembles of the Stadtpfeifer in Germany and comparable ensembles in Italy. The most famous of the latter was the Concerto Palatino of Bologna which was active until 1779. Even so it is quite remarkable that Pietro Baldassari composed a Sonata for cornett and strings, one of two for this scoring. The form of a piece for solo cornett and strings is quite rare. Over the years I can’t remember having ever heard a composition like it. It should be noted that the terms concerto, sinfonia and sonata are to a large extent interchangeable. Therefore Johan Daniel Berlin’s Sinfonia No. 2 à 5 for cornett and strings is not different in the treatment of the cornett. Berlin was of German birth, but spent most of his life in Norway. He was not only involved in music, but also acted as an inventor. Most of his music is lost, amongst which is a concerto for an instrument called cembalo da gamba verticale. In the writing of his Sinfonia he may have been inspired by the Stadtpfeifer he met in Copenhagen, where he stayed for seven years. These pieces by Baldassari and Berlin are musically quite good and an interesting addition to the repertoire for cornett players. They are given fine performances by Jamie Savan.

Whereas the cornett became obsolete the trumpet was given an increasingly important role. Originally it was used for military and ceremonial purposes. That role was reflected in a way in the 17th century, when trumpets were used in music of a military character or in sacred music written to celebrate military victories. Settings of the Te Deum, but also of the Magnificat, often included parts for one or more trumpets. With the emergence of the concerto in the early 18th century the trumpet was given a solo role by some composers. The fact that the number of concertos is limited is probably due to a lack of skilled players. This can be put down in particular to the fact that the trumpet had no finger holes and was hard to play in tune. Two composers of the German baroque nevertheless gave the trumpet special attention by writing several solo concertos: Johann Wilhelm Hertel and Johann Melchior Molter. Hertel’s trumpet concertos belong to the best-known part of his oeuvre. They were written for the court of Schwerin, where the trumpet virtuoso Johann Georg Hoese was working. Their popularity among modern trumpeters can be easily explained, for instance by the Concerto No. 3 in D. The music is attractive, but also technically demanding for the soloist. Simon Desbruslais’s performance leaves nothing to be desired: it is musically compelling and technically very impressive.

Compositions for four violins not as rare as concertos for the cornett. They were mostly written in Italy, and the former German ensemble Musica antiqua Köln once devoted a complete disc to such pieces (Archiv). In this respect the four concertos for four solo violins without accompaniment by Telemann also deserve to be mentioned. In those pieces the various violins get solo passages, whereas the others accompany. William Croft’s Sonata for four violins and bc follows the same procedure, although Croft adds a part for the basso continuo. One probably wouldn’t expect such a piece from Croft, in particular as it is written in a purely Italian style. The Concerto for four violins in a minor by Johann Christoph Pepusch is different in various respects. The four violins are not treated on an equal footing as they are in Croft’s sonata. One of the violins gets a solo role whereas the others furnish accompaniment. Pepusch has also added a part for a viola, and that makes this concerto more like a ‘conventional’ solo concerto in Vivaldian style.

The influence of Vivaldi is traceable in all concertos on this disc. It was in particular his opus 3, L’Estro armonico, which was printed in 1711, which had a lasting influence on composers all over Europe. This opus also included several concertos for four violins, and these could well have inspired the likes of Croft and Pepusch to write for this scoring too. Of all composers on this disc Johann Anton Reichenauer seems to have had the most direct access to Vivaldi’s music. He was at the service of the Bohemian count Wenzel von Morzin, who was the dedicatee of Vivaldi’s op. 8. Reichenauer’s Concerto à 5 in F is scored for oboe, strings and bc. The first movement begins with a passage in which the oboe plays colla parte with the first violin. Here Geoffrey Coates’ oboe blends beautifully with the strings. In the adagio he can show his lyrical qualities.

Pietro Domenico Paradies was one of the many composers from the continent who settled in London in the first quarter of the 18th century. He composed several operas which were performed in the Haymarket Theatre in London. But he was mainly admired for his keyboard music. A set of 12 sonatas was printed in London in 1754 and found wide dissemination. They received praise from Leopold Mozart who urged his daughter Nannerl to study them. Two concertos for keyboard and strings are known from his pen. The Concerto in B flat was printed around 1768; the solo part can be played on harpsichord or organ. Although the concerto is in three movements like all pieces on this disc, the first movement consists of two sections, vivace e staccato and allegretto. In the first section we only hear the strings, in the second the keyboard comes in. Kah-Ming Ng gives a lively account of the solo part.

I have greatly enjoyed this disc and this is very much down to the original repertoire and the playing of the soloists. The performances of the tutti by the strings could have been a bit more colourful and dynamically differentiated. The violins are at their best in the two concertos for four violins. The recording is excellent and so are the liner-notes by Kah-Ming Ng. It is a shame that the track- list is somewhat inaccurate: neither keys – I have tried to add them as far as possible – nor the exact scoring are given.

This is a disc for adventurous music-lovers who like to extend their horizon and are not satisfied with listening to the same masterpieces over and over again. Charivari Agréable deserve our congratulations with this 20th volume in their impressive discography. May many more follow.

Johan van Veen

International Record Review, July 2011

‘Concerti Curiosi’ is Charivari Agréable’s twentieth CD and on it we find this highly flexible ensemble in fairly conventional disposition as a small period- instrument orchestra playing works from the late Baroque and early Classical periods. The featured compositions, however, are anything but conventional. There are no big-name composers here, though most readers will have heard of William Croft (1678-1727) and Johann Pepusch (1727-89), the former for his Purcellian choral music and the latter for his involvement with John Gay in the (in my view) tiresome but ever-popular pastiche The Beaaar’s Opera. Early keyboard aificionados may know some of the 1754 sonatas of Pietro Domenico Paradies (1707-91) and Mozart lovers might recall that Leopold instructed Nannerl to practise the sonatas of Paradisi (sic) and J. C. Bach most diligently. The prolific Johann Wilhelm Hertcl (1727-89) pops up on disc occasionally: usually some of his works for oboe or trumpet. We latterly have learnt more about the Vivaldi-influenced Czech composer Anton Reichenauer (1694- 1730), thanks to a Supraphon recording devoted to him, well reviewed in April 2011.

With Pietro Baldassari (c1683-after 1768) we enter seriously obscure territory. Charivari’s founder/ director, Kah-Ming Ng, tells us in his comprehensive and entertaining notes that he was for over half a century a maestro di capella in Bologna and wrote mostly in the strict polyphonic style. Finally, we arrive at an almost completely forgotten composer unearthed by Dr Ng: Johan Daniel Berlin (1714-87). Berlin was a Gcrman-born wind player and organist who worked in Norway and who is the composer of the most ‘curioso’ work on the disc.

The work by Paradies was published in 1768, probably long after it was written, as ‘a favourite concerto for the organ or harpsichord’. Its hybrid post-Scarlatti, early Classical idiom is indeed curious, but very engaging, and Ng plays the solo harpsichord with verve and wit. Croft and Pepusch are each represented by works described as being for four violins; but they are really quite different. Pepusch’s concerto is in fact a solo concerto, steeped in early eighteenth-century Italian idiom, in which Charivari Agreable proves to be as proficient as in all the other styles it has mastered. The solo violin part is played with passion and drive by Persephone Gibbs. The Croft Sonata is more old-fashioned, drawing on the late seventeenth-century sonatas for two pairs of treble instruments by composers such as Finger and Keller. The violinists of Charivari really excel in this small but beautifully crafted work. Hertel’s Trumpet Concerto, which, like the Paradies, straddles Baroque and rococo styles, features the usual heroic solo writing in the outer movements and some affectingly slow and tender music in the Largo (which is even harder to play on natural trumpet). Both moods are admirably conveyed by Simon Desbruslais, who, interestingly, is both a trumpeter and a scholar specializing in Paul Hindemith. Another excellent soloist is the oboist Geoffrey Coates, whose warm, flexible tone has a lovely burnished quality in the very Vivaldian concerto by Reichenauer, which, happily, does not duplicate a work on the recent Supraphon recording.

The two works most justifying the disc’s title are those by Baldassari and Berlin, for they are mid-to-later eighteenth-century works written for cornett, the heyday of which was about I00 years earlier. To hear this quintessentially early and high-Baroque instrument playing in such proto-Ciassical style is amazing. It is akin to encountering a Romantic composer from the 1860s choosing to write a full-scale concerto for harpsichord. Both Baldassari and Berlin obviously knew a wind player who could still play virtuosic music on the old instrument, rather than simply accompanying chorales along with trombones, which had become its lot by the eighteenth century (and well into the nineteenth in Germany). It is a great shame there were not more of them, for in this style of music the cornett sounds like a more refined natural trumpet without the tuning problems. I can recommend playing the Berlin Sinfonia in particular to Baroque music fans and watch them slowly realize, with some incredulity, what the solo instrument is. Jamie Savan, one of England’s finest young cornettists, is privileged to play these two extraordinary works and does so superbly.

Ng tells us that Berlin’s interest in obscure instruments extended even beyond the cornett, as he also wrote a concerto for ‘cembalo da gamba verticale’. Let’s hope that there is a sequel to this musical cabinet of curiosities, so we can all find out what on earth such a thing might be.

Andrew O’Connor

  1. A favourite concerto for the organ or harpsichord – Vivace e staccato – Allegretto – Pietro Domenico Paradies (1707-1791) –
  2. – Adagio – –
  3. – Allegretto – –
  4. Concerto ? 5 for oboe – Allegro – Anton Reichenauer (1694-1730) –
  5. – Adagio – –
  6. – Allegro – –
  7. Sinfonia ? 5 for cornett – Allegro – Johan Daniel Berlin (1714-1787) –
  8. – Largo – –
  9. – Allegro – –
  10. Concerto for four violins – Allegro – Johann Christoph Pepusch (1667-1752) –
  11. – Largo – –
  12. – Vivace – –
  13. Concerto no. 3 for trumpet – Allegro ma non troppo – Johann Wilhelm Hertel (1727-1789) –
  14. – Largo – –
  15. – Vivace – –
  16. Sonata for four violins and continuo [PG, BS, OS, HH, IA] – Allegro – William Croft (1678-1727) –
  17. – Adagio – –
  18. – Allegro – –
  19. Sonata for cornett and strings – Allegro – Pietro Baldassari (c.1683-after 1768) –
  20. – Grave – –
  21. – Allegro – –