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Harmonia Mundi

Code-barres / Barcode : 3149020940808


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Reviewer: Mark Seow

The slim slices of ‘bread’ that sandwich this debut album from Ground Floor (which, as much as I try to get used to it, is a weird name for an ensemble) are outstanding. An unfamiliar version of the Lachrime – that familiar tune after John Dowland, here by Johann Schop – opens the album in eerie evocation. Violinist Alice Julien-Laferrière sketches out divisions with the fragility of a morning cobweb, emerging from this tracery only for brief moments of pungent, gravity-defying chromaticism.

It is an enticing opening that promises so much. Unfortunately, standards are not quite matched until the final track: a set of divisions on a ground by John Banister from John Playford’s The Division Violin (1684). Julien-Laferrière is again quite superb: her sound is gorgeously imbued with a sense of searching. The sprightly never tips over into the jaunty; hers is an interpretation well balanced in lightness and intelligence. And this delightful movement is perhaps where the name Ground Floor is most inadequate; it conveys something so prosaic, ubiquitous in solidity and function. But this is musicmaking of architectural and decorative splendour. Cellist Elena Andreyev is engaging, deft in adapting and steering the flow of narrative energy. Most wonderful are their plucked continuo partners: consistently inventive and subtle in blossom – sometimes barely there, other times very much so (Pierre Gallon’s profusion of imitative semiquavers on the harpsichord is inspiring) – and all together this is something entirely mesmerising.

These two movements of microcosmic wonder are, however, unmet on a larger scale. The album as a whole is out of kilter and feels, strangely, much longer than it actually is. I’m not certain whether the Suite in D minor by Gottfried Finger has much to offer, particularly against the superior compositions of Nicola Matteis. There are some movements steeped in character – the Burlesca from Matteis’s Suite in B flat and the Gavotte from the Suite in A minor are particularly playful, and the Prelude to Matteis’s Suite in D minor is teasing in ephemeral magic – but these are outnumbered by much unexciting playing. Were the speckles of brilliance the standard of the whole, sandwiched by the finery described above, we would have something special indeed.

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