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GRAMOPHONE ( 04/ 2019)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

If you are familiar with any of the music of Johan Helmich Roman, it is probably his Drottningholmsmusiken that you have heard. That set of orchestral pieces, written to fall undemandingly on the ears of the guests at a Swedish royal wedding in 1744, has been recorded a number of times, most recently by Ensemble 1700 Lund under Göran Karlsson (CPO, 12/10), and parts of it are apparently still in use at Swedish weddings today. Less well known is his music for a banquet thrown in Stockholm 16 years earlier by the Russian envoy Count Golovin in honour of the coronation of Tsar Peter II, and for which he managed to secure the services of the Swedish court orchestra under Roman (its director), who also brought with him no fewer than 45 specially composed pieces of background music. Although a recording of some of them appeared in 1986, this is the first of the complete score.

Not that the score is complete in every sense; it is a score, but it has no indications of instrumentation or tempo. Dan Laurin finds his own intuitive solutions, varying the colours as much as possible within the combinations provided by Höör Barock’s 12-strong line-up of recorders, oboes, bassoon, strings, harpsichord, guitar and mandora – even the harpsichord and mandora get solo movements.

There’s no point in making great claims for the pieces themselves, most of which are under three minutes. They are certainly lively and well made, and there is a galant modernity to some of them that can permit us to think of Roman as more than just ‘the Swedish Handel’, but they are intentionally not the sort to take you on a journey. Laurin has convincingly grouped them into little suitelets but in truth they could be played in any number or order, start anywhere and finish anywhere, and it would make no great difference. If you want some baroque entertainment while throwing a dinner party, or perhaps driving in your car, they could be just the thing, especially as the performances are so well executed, stylish and sunny.

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