A mediocre early music program, by today's standards
Russ | Richmond, VA | 10/01/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"There is no shortage of recordings from excellent early music ensembles these days. But this remastered recording, dating from 1963, was probably a bit of rarity back in the day. This program features the music heard at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, most notably the compositions of Heinrich Isaac (c. 1450-1517). The scoring here primarily consists of a string ensemble with occasional recorder accompaniment, although the ensemble is augmented with the addition of a chorus, early trombones (they are not called sackbuts in the program) and/or percussion on certain selections.
First, the Concentus Musicus Wien plays the music well. All the notes are in the right place and the ensemble is nicely balanced. Particularly nice is the "Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen" (Track 6). My other two personal favorites on this disc are "Sancti spiritus assit nobis gratia" (Track 11), which is especially lovely, and the organ piece Tandernaken (Track 21), which includes a part for the early keyboard instrument called a regal, which is one of the most interesting sounding instruments I have heard (although some may be put off by its bizarre sound).
So then, why not a top rating for this release? Perhaps, I am being a bit unfair, but I am comparing this recording to modern recordings of similar works. Today, we know far more about early music than what we did in 1963, and today most early music ensembles realize the importance of creating a program where variety is emphasized and a bit of interpretation is not only acceptable, but required for an authentic Early Music experience. Several of the works on this release have a sameness about them that makes some of them rather forgettable. Even the quicker pieces; which I am certain were included to enliven this program; seem a little dull, with their constant dynamics and rat-a-tat-tat drum playing (ex: Track 12). Finally, despite the remastering of the original recording, it still sounds a little fuzzy in comparison to modern early music recordings, which are often audiophile quality.
In conclusion, this release can be recommended to those specifically interested in the music of Heinrich Isaac. Others with a more general interest in early music from the region should acquire Hesperion XXI's Carlos V which features the music performed in the court of that Holy Roman Emperor (on the Alia Vox label), or the Naxos release Sacred and Secular Music from Renaissance Germany both of which feature highly varied programs of excellently recorded and played early music.
Superb performances of music by a neglected genius
Sator | Sydney, Australia | 05/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The music here centres around that of Heinrich Isaac, a sorely neglected contemporary of Josquin Deprez, who was the court composer to the Holy Roman Empire of Maximilian I - the most important musical position in Europe in its day.
This is a performance that makes me sorely wish Harnoncourt had stayed in the early music field rather than flouncing off into playing mainstream 19th century music with more glamorous ensembles. Almost every performance of familiar works sounds almost exactly how I imagined it ought to sound in my mind. "Innsbruck ich muss dich lassen" is for example particulary memorably played and this performance is a powerful reminder why this work has remained popular in German speaking countries to this day, five centuries after its composition. Harnoncourt has always had a deep personal affinity to music with a strong association to his Austrian homeland and this clearly extends back as far as Isaac in the 15th century.
This is a very welcome re-addition to the Isaac discography beautifully remastered in 24/96 sounds from original tapes making it sound like it was only just recorded yesterday. Very highly recommended!"