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GRAMOPHONE (11/2023)
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Reviewer :
 Mark Seow

Buxtehude’s Op 1. There is already fierce competition from Arcangelo, a recording that Lindsay Kemp enjoyed as much as I do – LK rightly noting the masterly ‘taste and precision’ of violinist Sophie Gent and gambist Jonathan Manson. There’s plenty to admire here, too, as Ensemble Spinoza capture much of the beauty and strangeness of Buxtehude’s writing.


Their interpretation of Sonata No 4 in B flat, for example, is naively cheerful. Violinist Noémy Gagnon-Lafrenais’s sound is wonderfully sweet, and she is quick to articulate the music’s everchanging rhetoric. Gambist Margaret Little responds with real style: her phrases, despite the awkward ‘upside down’ bowing of the viola da gamba – something particularly noticeable here in its dialogue with violin – are superbly shaped. Together, sometimes the daydreaming leans too close to wishy-washy, but on the whole I appreciate the optimism.


There are admittedly signs that Ensemble Spinoza are a relatively new ensemble and this is their first recording together. Take the second variation of the Arioso in Sonata No 2 in G. Gagnon-Lafrenais and Little are not quite uniform in the amount of inégal they use (ironic, I know). It’s not so much the untogetherness that bothers me but more the distraction this unalignment causes; like a crease in a chiffon dress, stealing attention from its silhouette, these moments distract the ear from what would otherwise be entirely elegant. I also desire more contrast and extremes. The album’s overarching sound world is sweetness, and while this is lovely, it becomes stultifying. Sonata No 6 in D minor requires desolation, desperation even, and the closest we get here is melancholy.

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