The Four Nations Ensemble has been getting at the emotional core of music on period instruments for over thirty years now, and their recent two-CD set, WCRB's CD of the Week, is a treasury they hope you’ll use in your car or your living room, or “any place you need a dose of Locatelli, Couperin, and Bach.”
It used to be that the record store around the corner was a musical temptation for hours of browsing. Now that it’s all but gone, the wonderful period-instrument players of the Four Nations Ensemble have created a new way of delivering their performances. Their online “magazine” comes free to subscribers in monthly installments: a YouTube performance along with a set of program notes that dive into the roots of the music, describing the nature and quality of every piece with compelling vocabulary and narrative. This new recording is offered as a kind of gift, a taste of their new online project, which they call a Concise Dictionary of Music.
It opens with a flute sonata by Johann Gottlieb Graun, played with such warmth and perfect balance that flutist Charles Brink seems to hover above it. The Ensemble approaches it like a stroll through a garden, with occasional breaks in its leisurely bliss for “flights of imagination and virtuosity.”
Andrew Appel is the Director of Four Nations, and he plays the harpsichord with soul. He’s chosen solo pieces here by Gerog Böhm, Johann Casper Ferdinand Fischer, and François Couperin. The Fischer Passacaglia (track 13) has huge importance to him – he heard it first in 1965 on a recording by Wanda Landowska. That experience, he says, turned him into a harpsichordist, and you can hear that the chills of emotion he felt then are still motivating him today.
Loretta O’Sullivan coaxes a gorgeous, singing voice from her cello in Boismortier’s G Major Sonata. The third movement (CD 2, track 14) is exquisitely phrased, returning like a magnet to a low drone that gives way to a delicate dance that breathes and smiles in its pastoral setting.
French-Canadian Violinist Olivier Brault is sensational, too, in Mondonville’s 4th Sonata and Bach’s 6th Sonata, with Appel doing all the right things to bring the music beyond the dance and into a beautiful world of possibilities.
This 2-CD set is a new baroque collection with a personal sound and evocative descriptions to make the journey even richer.
Here’s a taste: