One of the peaks of the Academy of St. Martins’ audiophile run for the Decca group in the 60s and 70s was their stunning recording for Argo of Michael Haydn’s Concerto for Organ or Harpsichord and Viola P. 55. Featuring Simon Preston (on harpsichord) and Stephen Shingles, and conducted by the Great Audiophile Conductor himself, Neville Marriner, it ranked alongside the Academy’s recordings of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for dynamic impact, startling presence, timbral beauty and instrumental textures so real you could almost reach out and touch them. Such recordings were the perfect instruments with which to test your system, or show it off to friends.
The Academy’s magnificence in this rarely-recorded but definite masterpiece of the Classical era was soon challenged, and nearly equaled, by a Philips recording played by organist Daniel Chorzempa (playing one one of the “Haydn organs in Eisenstadt,” at the Bergkirche), the great violist Bruno Giuranna and the German Bach Soloists conducted by Helmut Winschermann. The sound differed from Argo’s in having more ambience and less definition, but there was a substantial gain in instrumental colors which made it a strong contender.
Oddly enough, neither recording has been reissued on compact disc, making this new recording, from the Soloists of Perugia, an absolutely indispensable purchase for lovers of great-sounding music and Michael Haydn, or both. And since the recording, made by the crack Camerata team of Hiroshi Isaka and Yasuhisa Takashima in the Complesso Museale di Santa Croce in the town of Umbertide, set in the beautiful Umbrian countryside, is a masterpiece of understated realism (with only some oddly shifting balance perspectives in the last movement to complain about), this release also becomes indispensable to all serious audiophiles.
The performance of the Concerto, as well as of charming concertos for flute and violin, is meltingly gracious in the current authentic performance practice manner, less bold than Marriner and less endearingly clunky than Winschermann. Luca Ranieri is not a world-class violist in the class of the magnificent Giuranna, but holds his own with the very pretty, occasional calliope-like sounds made by Claudio Brizi and his clever organ and harpsichord titanium-driven combo contraption. This new Camerata recording does not make the reissue of those old analog delights any less urgent, but at least it makes the wait more bearable.
– Laurence Vittes