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Fanfare Magazine: 39:2 (11-12/2015) 
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Challenge Classics

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"Warmly recommended"

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Reviewer: Barry Brenesal

This recording of the Sonatae wasn’t unexpected. Gunar Letzbor has been working his way through 17th-century scores from the courts of the Holy Roman Empire, seeking music that is extroverted and sometimes ceremonial in character. To these works he and his ensemble bring great vigor, a commanding technique, and a willingness to arrange the music in a way that emphasizes its rhythmic propulsiveness.

Of the other versions I have of these works, that featuring Roy Goodman and The Parley of Instruments (Helios 55041) is closest in respect to Letzbor’s sound world. Both play at A=415. Both also make much of the music’s dynamic rhythms through the addition of instruments that emphasize these: added timpani in the case of Goodman, a positive organ and a repeated martellato attacks from the strings in Letzbor. (The latter is nearly a trademark with the Ars Antiqua Austria, and occurs frequently in faster movements on many of their recordings, such as Mouton’s 10 Concerti à 5 on Challenge Classics 72336.) Letzbor also uses the organ as a thematic doubling instrument, as in the opening section of the Sonata IV à 5. Goodman prefers faster tempos all around. Letzbor is certainly not lethargic, and by preserving a greater variety of tempos sometimes tricks the ear into believing his fast ones are faster than Goodman’s. Goodman’s sound is lighter and more transparent, while Letzbor’s aural environment rises from the bass, with a more reverberant acoustic that doesn’t compromise crispness.

A third recording featuring the Purcell Quartet is available on Chandos 591. At A=440 the sound is higher, and the acoustic is significantly dryer than either Letzbor or Goodman. It is overall slower as well than either, and characterized by great clarity (especially from the trumpets) and a lack of any theatrical element. The phrasing is very much by-the-bar, and proceeds without any sudden shifts of tempo. It is the kind of sober performance that was once considered imperative in this kind of music, only to have given way over time to others, especially the one under review, that provide considerably more “face.” For my tastes, Letzbor and Ars Antiqua Austria are clearly stacking the deck with their effects, but there’s no denying the energy, technique, and stageworthiness of the result. Warmly recommended.



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