There is hidden treasure here. Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel (1690-1749) has long lain in the shadow of Bach and Telemann, but if there is any justice this recording of his setting of one of the popular passion texts of the early 18th century will go far toward effecting long overdue recognition. Composed in 1725, it follows in the wake of a number of other versions of the poetry of Barthold Heinrich Brockes, most notably that of Handel, whose comparitively second-rate work pales into near insignificance when set beside the power and vivid immediacy of Stölzel's great drama.
Countertenor Andreas Scholl's new CD is devoted to little-known, late-17th- and early-18th-century cantatas whose subject matter is Arcadia, a real region in Greece, but more frequently evoked as an idyllic place filled with innocent, simple shepherds and shepherdesses. Scholl employs a more operatic tone and attitude than we're accustomed to from countertenors. Not only does he use vibrato and "lean" on the voice, but he dips down, as in the final moments of a cantata by Marcello, into a deep, dark baritone range. The effect is dramatic and apt. Elsewhere his tone is just gorgeous and always expressive, he pays attention to the text of these works and captures the theatrical moment in each. The last movement of a work by Francesco Gasparini is excitingly acrobatic. The Accademia Byzantina is a remarkable "backup" group and they get to play some purely orchestral works as well. This disc is a knockout; enjoy it.–Robert Levine
Andreas Vollenweider's Grammy-winning effort is dominated by the Swiss musician's electrically modified harp. Its distinctive sound runs throughout the album, supported by the usual tinkering synthesizer effects and light percussion. After an extended introductory interlude, the title track zips into a vaguely Caribbean-styled rhythm. "Water Moon" features a different, more organic harp sound; it's mixed with the windy tones of a flute, suggesting ghostly moonshafts lancing through falling rain. Vollenweider plays the harp strings off of guitar strings on the surprisingly twangy (for new age, anyway) "Drown in Pale Light." The composer weaves the album's instrumentals together with a goody bag of pan-ethnic influences; the album's margins are full of these little touches that nevertheless make a big difference. Down to the Moon will appeal to anyone looking for music that's as interesting as it is soothing.