Harmonia Caelestis


 Signum Classics is delighted to present Charivari  Agreable’s tenth disc: Caprice and Conceit in Seicento Italy.

This disc explores the overlap of repertory for the cornett and the violin (occasioned by their frequent interchangeability), and in the marriage of both instruments. Of the two, the cornett’s particular appeal, according to Girolamo Dalla Casa (1584), lies in its tonal similarity to the human voice, an attribute poetically likened by Marin Mersenne (1636) to ‘a brilliant ray of sunshine piercing the shadows’.

The juxtaposition of wind and strings is most vividly enhanced by the pairing of a violin with a cornett in small-scale vocal and instrumental works. The most beautiful is arguably the sonata by Cima, one of the earliest trio sonatas.

It is hoped that our conceit of re-lighting the cornett’s gleam will find favour among those who delight in the capriciousness of the music of the Seicento.




What people are saying

‘terrific virtuosic stuff’ on Farina

Classic FM, 21st January 2005

    "an outstanding disc… this is a recital to shaft any shadow"

BBC Music Magazine


      "this delectable programme of 17th-century Italian chamber music … the cornett’s lustrous, golden tone … Charivari Agréable¹s sparkling performances"

Daily Telegraph

        "A ray of sunshine piercing the shadows’ – which is the subtitle for a delightful new disc from Charivari Agréable, who say they’re ‘trying to re-light the cornett’s gleam"

CD Review, BBC Radio 3

Charivari Agrèable

Release date:5th Jan 2005
Order code:SIGCD049
Barcode: 635212004920

Early Music Scotland

Fans of the scampering cornett are going to love this CD as Jamie Savan and Charivari Agréable take us on a conducted tour of some of the most sparkling showpieces written in Renaissance Italy. There is music by familiar composers such as Stradella, Bassano, Strozzi and Cavalli, while less familiar names such as Picchi, Pollarolo and Piccini also come up. The latter is represented by a rather funky Chaconne, although I notice that it is reconstructed and arranged by Linda Sayce – I hope most of the chromatic idiosyncrasies and cross rhythms are Piccini rather than Sayce! The playing is of a very high order throughout with lovely transparent textures and some terrific cornetting by Jamie Savan, who combines a radiant tone with extremely nimble fingerwork. A very attractive CD.

D James Ross

 American Record Guide

The booklet tells us the goal of this program: "to expand the repertory of the cornett", the wind instrument that was displaced by the violin in the latter part of the 17th Century. The musicians of the Charivari Agréable use both cornetto and violin in music that requires the spark of virtuosity more than the timbre of any specific instrument. 

All five players play virtuoso solo parts. (They are members of the third modern "generation" of early music players – their teachers include Bruce Dickey, Nigel North, Wieland Kuijken, and other leaders of the second generation.) For example, the bass viol in Terzi’s improvisatory ‘Contraponto’ is a tour de force of diminutions using the instrument’s full range. The echo in Mussi’s ‘Canzona in Ecco’ is played on a treble viol, and Picchi’s dashing keyboard dance ‘Ballo alla Polacha’ is arranged by harpsichordist Kah-Ming Ng to include elaborations for treble viol and baroque guitar above and below the keyboard. 

All players are active scholars who do research and write about the music they play. Reconstructions and arrangements are done by the players. The most extreme examples are Ciaccona Mosaica and Bergamesca Mosaica, pastiches of works by five and six 17th Century composers – Frescobaldi, Pasquini, Mercula, and Montiverdi. On the first hearing, these "new" pieces come across as fascinating and clever; but on repeated hearing, they do not stand up to the level of "real" compositions. I can imagine how well the mosaics would work in concert, but they are not as good on CD. There is a certain indulgent excess in repetition and added sound layers, and transitions are not always as smooth as they could be. This is my only reservation about this extremely fine program. There is an ease and power in the playing that is engaging and eloquent. Charivari Agréable’s complete command of the style is a pleasure to hear. Collectively the five players use 14 instruments, tempos are well chosen, and the program includes pieces such as Bassano’s diminutions on Palestrina’s ‘Veni, Veni Dilecte Mi’ motet, where long lines are beautifully sustained and restrained in a different type of virtuosity.

C Moore


Goldberg, Vol xxxv 

This new album by Charivari Agreable focuses on instrumental music from the fascinating opening decades of the Italian Baroque. Devices such as ornamentation of the bass line of dances and favourite pieces, together with traditional counterpoint, are combined with contrasting moods and tempos more usually associated with madrigals, as well as forms such as the early trio sonata. The fact that each member of the ensemble plays more than one instrument permits multiple sound combinations. In this recording, knowledge of historic performance techniques is applied while also bearing in mind the tastes of modern-day audiences. The creativity of the continuo, the freely added passaggi and the diversity of instruments selected for each piece immediately capture one¹s attention. In its use of colour, the ensemble has succeeded in striking a balance between smooth homogeneity and a brilliant variety of timbres. The variety of genres encompasses the charming balli and the more austere canzone, agile variations and tightly structured symphonies, in which the cornett, the two bowed instruments, the keyboard (organ or harpsichord) and the plucked string instruments contribute, as the evocative subtitle of the album suggests, to the impression of "a ray of sunshine piercing the shadows".


Luis Gasser

 CD Review, BBC Radio 3

Cornett playing that came as a breath of fresh air to me this week. That was A Mascara Sonata by 17th century Neapolitan Gregorio Strozzi: a masque played and danced by several Neapolitan knights in the Royal Palace. It’s one of a number of arrangements Charivari Agréable have made to extend the reach and repertoire of the cornett, and it’s a delightful disc. Jamie Savan is the cornett-ist, and he makes a wonderful sound. How apt is that subtitle: ‘A Ray of sunshine piercing the shadows’…the CD’s called ‘Harmonia Caelestis’, and it’s from Signum Classics.

 The Viola da Gamba Society Newsletter 

No 129 

Signum has become one of the most significant small labels for early music on the British recording circuit, issuing recordings by Chapelle du roi as well as Musica Antiqua of London and Charivari Agréable. The arrival of two new recordings is a noteworthy event.

Charivari Agréable link their items musically, picking up the theme of the virtuoso Italian fantasias and divisions from the 17th century. They continue their practise of adding one or two favoured guests to their ensemble for the recording project: this time the cornettist Jamie Savan and violinist Oliver Webber. The cornett playing is a delight, flexible and clear, truly a "ray of light" (Mersenne) and every bit a match for the impeccable, light and reflective yet passionate performances by the other players. The pieces glow, as the performers bring a warmth of sound that goes beyond the naturally greater resonance of the later instruments: the recording is more ambient and supportive, the tempi purposeful but spacious. Oliver Webber¹s equal tension gut stringing is very persuasive on this recording, and makes a valuable practical contribution to this debate.

The overlap between cornett and violin in this repertory is explored through dialogue between the two instruments; this is extended into exchanges and musical conversations between violin and bass viol, echo pieces (cornett/violin, violin/treble viol), and even dialogue between the different registers of the bass viol itself in Susanne Heinrich¹s serenely musical and measured performance of the contrapunto sopra Vestiva i colli by Terzi. I could have happily listened to more of this style and standard of playing.

An outstandingly enjoyable disc.

Andrew Fowler

 BBC Music Magazine

Don’t be put off – behind the title from a musicology Festschrift and mail-order heritage catalogue cover lurks an outstanding disc. It’s not easy to concoct a 60-minute non-stop listen from 17th-century Italian chamber music – but I shouldn’t have been surprised that Charivari Agréable makes it such a breeze: ever since signing to Signum some years back it has been planning and playing some peerless programmes

The subtitle, ‘Ray of Sunshine Piercing the Shadows’, was contemporary French polymath Mersenne’s verdict on Charivari’s guest star, the cornet. As a diehard fellow-fancier, I¹ve rarely heard mellifluous swing to match cornettist Jamie Savan’s. In the accompanying booklet keyboard player Kah-Ming Ng makes a persuasive case for the novel combos. Ng’s superbly strutting style in a 1620s Polaccha by Picchi had me dreaming of Hessian boots and a pelisse. And his ingenious medleys on popular grounds of the period give a new slant to ‘fusion’ – though this is no short-order snack but a feast, with substantial servings from Stradella and Cavalli proving they weren¹t solely vocal geniuses. Sound is a little distant and coloured but this is a recital to shaft any shadow

Nick Morgan

 Early Music Review

The continuo group Charivari Agréable is joined by Jamie Savan – another of the fine clutch of young British cornettists and Oliver Webber (violin) to illustrate a range of 17th-century Italian music. Jamie Savan has an airy lightness and easy facility which rests well on the ears, and Oliver Webber is a sparky violinist. In a couple of pieces the violin’s duet partner is Charivari’s regular violist, Susanne Heinrich. The Stradella Sinfonia is a fine example of this, building a mix of tension and easy conversation between the two, and a very successful tonal match. Two of the pieces are pastiches by Kah-Ming Ng. The Ciaccona in particular visits new realms—which are well worth visiting—and stands as a new piece as much as a pastiche. The continue in some of the more standard repertoire can be a little monochrome – I wish that a little more of the playfulness and inventiveness in the best of the performance had leaked into the standard fare, particularly in a programme whose subtitle includes the words caprice and conceit. However, these are small quibbles and I would heartily commend the disc to anyone interested in this repertoire.

Stephen Cassidy

 Oxford Today, Hilary Term 2005

For music-making joyfully alive you can rely on Oxford’s Charivari Agréable, whose fabulous back-catalogue increases by two CDs yearly. The latest,Harmonia Caelestis is as good as anything they’ve done. The disc is built round the contrasting sounds of violin and cornett, that extraordinary leather-clad marriage of brass mouthpiece and woodwind tube, which generates curiously vocal inflections. It’s conventionally played with similar instruments, but ever-inquisitive, Charivari follow an Italian recommendation of 1628 to mix it with strings. This sound world alone would recommend the disc, but as usual Charivari cleverly ring changes in texture. Here’s a guitar chaconne imitating the gait of a ‘true Spanish capon’ (perhaps a castrato singer?) and there is Picchi’s Ballo alla Polacha, a stomping dance performed with wild flair on the harpsichord, with the other instruments joining the fray for a final whirl. The group’s philosophy, of treating the written remains of early music with the known freedoms of early musicians, brings two dance medleys. The Bergamascas include several tunes well-known from Respighi’s C20 orchestral makeovers: hearing them here is like hearing a great ‘unplugged’ version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.


In 17th-century Italy the cornett and the violin were in competition as to which of the two was the most expressive instrument. In the first half of the century the winner was the cornett, as it was better suited to imitate the human voice than the violin. The cornett was often used – mostly in combination with sackbuts – to support singers, but also as a substitute for the human voice, in particular in sacred music. But these two instruments were also often used together, and many compositions were written for either cornett or violin. And then there were pieces to be played ‘con ogni sorti stromenti’, with all kinds of instruments, which leaves the choice to the performer. And even without an addition like that, composers were often very flexible as far as instrumentation is concerned. Many pieces written for a specific instrument can be played on other instruments as well. The ensemble Charivari Agréable aims at bringing to life the variety in performance practice of music of the 17th century. The programme on this disc is representative of their programmes, both in concert and in recordings. Features of the ensemble’s performances are improvisation, adaptation and arrangement, all with respect for what we know about the performance practice of the 17th century. The art of improvisation isn’t only reflected in the ornamentation in the pieces played here, but also in the choice of compositions: in particular the diminutions on madrigals and motets are examples of the kind of improvisation practice in the early 17th century. Examples of the practice of adaptation are to be found here in pieces for lute and keyboard, which are treated as compositions for an ensemble of instruments. In regard to arrangement, this ensemble goes as far as composing new pieces on the basis of existing compositions. On this disc we find two examples of such pieces, called ‘pastiches’ of ciaconas and bergamascas by several composers. The ciacona and the bergamasca belonged to the most popular forms of the 17th century. These pastiches are the least satisfactory parts of this recording, as they lack inner coherence because of the differences between the compositions on which they are based. Otherwise this is a most enjoyable disc, containing a mixture of lesser-known pieces, and pretty well-known ones played in a rather unconventional manner. Every player of the ensemble is a virtuoso on his or her instrument and the ensemble playing is immaculate and full of vigour. As the repertoire never fails to fascinate because of its sheer beauty and brilliance, this is definitely a disc worth listening to.


Johan van Veen

 The Daily Telegraph

The title might not give the clearest idea of the contents of this delectable programme of 17th-century Italian chamber music featuring cornett and violin, but the combination certainly proves to be a partnership made in heaven.

The cornett’s lustrous, golden tone described by one contemporary writer as "a ray of sunshine piercing the shadows" coupled with its clarity and agility in virtuoso passagework make it easy to understand why it was esteemed as one of those instruments that most closely mimicked the sound of the human voice.

These qualities are heard to especial advantage in Giovanni Bassano’s arrangement of a Palestrina motet, where each long, slow cantabile line gradually develops into an exuberant efflorescence of ornamentation, and in Giovanni Paolo Cima’s spirited trio sonata, whose playful imitative writing proves that anything the violin can do, the cornett can follow with equal panache.

Charivari Agréable¹s sparkling performances make for irresistibly enjoyable listening; their cornettist Jamie Savan¹s superb technique and truly singing tone do indeed produce a glorious ray of musical sunshine.

Elizabeth Roche

The Sunday Times, 16 January 2005

The scholar-performer Kah-Ming Ng, who plays keyboard continuo here, locates these works in the "overlap of repertory for the cornett and the violin". At the dawn of the baroque age, both instruments were seen as subsitutes for the human voice; and hearing the gorgeous sounds on this disc, one can imagine why. In instrumental music, cornetts and violins were more or less interchangeable, and often effectively contrasted or paired in the same piece, as here in a Sonata a tre by Cima (1610) and a Canzon a Tre by Cavalli (1656). These works, with others by little-known figures, such as Strozzi, Pollarolo and Farina, make for a recital of ornate, inventive delights, to which are added Ng’s clever pastiches of ciaccone and bergamasche.


  1. Mascara – Strozzi – 2.11
  2. Ciaccona mosaica – Various composers – 5.49
  3. Toccata – Pollarolo – 1.39
  4. Sinfonia – Stradella – 8.15
  5. Balletto – Farina – 2.30
  6. Sonata – Cima – 3.25
  7. Chiaccona – Piccinini – 4.00
  8. Canzon – Cavalli – 6.01
  9. Canzon l’amaltea – Mussi – 3.32
  10. Sinfonia – Farina – 1.43
  11. Contraponto – Terzi – 5.39
  12. Ballo alla Polacha – Picchi – 4.54
  13. Diminuzioni – Bassano – 4.22
  14. Bergamasca mosaica – Various composers – 6.00