Review by: Jens F. Laurson
Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 10
Christina Pluhar, whom a Spiegel magazine article once dubbed “The Domina of Early Music”, has made a name for herself with funky and very contemporary performances of ancient music—performances that tend to be divisive within the early music world and even among her admirers. Several 10/10 reviews on Classicstoday.com (Robert Levine), dotted with a “CD From Hell” review (also Robert Levine), speak to her ability to scratch an itch and itch a scratch.
The 2018 recording Himmelsmusik (Music of the Spheres) is a wide step toward (but not into) conventional territory, away from the most recent Classicstoday-reviewed album, that above-mentioned CD From Hell, the gloriously bizarre Purcell-goes-Jazz “Music for a While” from 2014. It’s back to the trademark intensity of the L’Arpeggiata ensemble’s playing and the hand-picked cast of singers, centrally featuring, again, the stupendous, standard-setting countertenor Philippe Jaroussky. The band—cornetto, theorbo, sackbut, baroque string section, baroque harp, et al.—plays with its usual lively spunk. It remains the standard to prove wrong all those antediluvian curmudgeons who think early is a dry affair.
In Himmelsmusik, Pluhar & Co. explore a selection of the most beautiful laments from early to high baroque times. Apart from the famous stylistic bookends Heinrich Schütz and Johann Sebastian Bach, the composers (or at least the works) are largely unknown, which makes their exquisite beauty an even more touching surprise. From the opening with Johann Theile’s Lullaby “In Festo Navitatis Christo” via Christian Ritter’s “O amantissime sponse”, to Johann Rudolf Ahle’s “Bleib bei uns, den es will Abend werden”, Pluhar taps into gem after gem, extolling their virtues in zany but never sentimental ways. As a result, every song has a timeless notion to it; only Bach’s concluding “Komm’ süßer Tod” from the Schemelli songbook sounds disorientingly ancient.
Between the purity of Jaroussky’s voice and that of Céline Scheen—as intense as reduced grape must and selectively vibrato-rich on emphases—this is a searing cracker of an early music recording. As an extra-musical bonus: The presentation and generous booklet with full texts is a joy to behold. Even the pictures (Michael Novak) of the artists are actually interesting and not boring stock-photography portraits or Marco Borggreve glossies.
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Recording Details:Album Title: Himmelsmusik
Works by Johann Theile, J.C.Bach, Crato Bütner, Christian Ritter, Heinrich Schütz, Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, Franz Tunder, Johann Rudolf Ahle, Antonio Bertali, & J. S. Bach
- Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor); Céline Scheen (soprano)
L’Arpeggiata, Christina Pluhar
- Erato - 0190295634001