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Audiophile Audition

Audiophile Audition May 18, 2011
Steven Ritter

"
Outstanding disc — and equally outstanding production, with superb surround sound and a bright glossy sheen to the sonics. (...)The Helsinki Baroque Orchestra holds its own with any period band I can think of, and all of the soloists are first-rate in every way.
"

Just when you think you have heard it all…well, you haven’t!

Agrell (1701-65) is somewhat of an enigma in the history of musical Sweden; an essentially Italian style composer writing music in Germany for much of his life, his often high-ranking connections with the powers that be (like King Friedrich the First’s brother) served for some intermittent periods of financial security and even widespread fame (Vivaldi himself conducted the Sinfonia in E-Flat at a municipal theater in Amsterdam) but never seemed to be either long-lasting or far-reaching. The debts he incurred were not paid off by the family until 1806, and the last twelve years of his life seem shrouded in mystery as he dissolved into the dust in relative obscurity.

The eminent Charles Burney, English critic and snob extraordinaire, took pains to inform readers that Agrell rarely rose above the mediocre, but Burney was notoriously wrong about many composers of his time. One needs only to listen to the phenomenal Violin Concerto to realize that Agrell at his best was considerably good, and his early classicist modeling on the Italian avant-garde provided a bit of future-peaking in his native Sweden, which was then about 100 years off the modern road musically-speaking.

The works on this outstanding disc—and equally outstanding production, with superb surround sound and a bright glossy sheen to the sonics—cover the entire spectrum of Agrell’s life from the early days in Uppsala as a student, to the service of Maximilian of Hesse-Kassel, to the final years in Nuremberg, aptly divided up in the notes to this production. None of the music here is ever less than engaging—those who only like J.C. Bach will love this—and the greatest pieces, like the aforementioned Violin Concerto, the Double Concerto, and the A-major Sinfonia, are wonderful examples of the best Swedish art of the period. The now-14-year-old Helsinki Baroque Orchestra holds its own with any period band I can think of, and all of the soloists are first-rate in every way.

-- Steven Ritter

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