The close of 1949 is a rich era for french jazz lovers. One after the other, Sidney Bechet, Buck Clayton, Louis Armstrong, Willie "The Lion" Smith and Coleman Hawkins tour de France. After years of privacy, ther's lots to be heard again. The one everybody is expecting is obviously Louis Armstrong, who had been in Europe the year before, and whose reputation reaches further than the circle of the happy few. At salle Pleyel, on November 3, the "King of Jazz" plays with the same sextet as the year before, with the exception of Cozy Cole on drums, who replaces Big Sid Catlett.
Queen Christina of Sweden was a lavish patron of music in her own kingdom - initially she mainly extended her patronage to French musicians but from 1652 it was largely Italian musicians whom she brought to her court in Stockholm. Having secretly converted to Catholicism, Christina abdicated in June of 1654 and almost immediately left Sweden - most of her valuable library had been smuggled out earlier - and made her way to Rome, her journey there seeming at times to be effectively a series of triumphal processions; there’s a fine account of all these events in Veronica Buckley’s Christina. Once established in Rome - where her arrival was greeted by special musical performances in the Palazzo Barberini, the Palazzo Pamphili and elsewhere - she soon became one of the city’s most active patrons of literature and music. In his entry on Christiana in Grove, John Bergsagel lists some of the musicians associated with her: Alessandro Scarlatti, Marazoli, Francesco Bianchi, Pasqualini, Alessandro Melani and Pasquini. Christina’s is the presence which haunts, as it were, this very interesting new CD from the Ensemble Vocale e Strumentale, Il Concerto d’Arianna.
A solid bop-based pianist, Eddie Higgins has never become a major name, but he has been well-respected by his fellow musicians for decades…
Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747) was a gifted cellist and a rival of Handel's; he wrote more than 30 operas and 300 cantatas. I approached this "serenata a tre" with trepidation, fearing something coy and intermezzo-like; in fact, it's simply beautiful. The not-riveting plot concerns soprano nymph Cloris' refusal of love for countertenor shepherd Tirsi, and her subsequent turnaround. Baritone Fileno, a satyr, loves her but convinces her that love is cruel because he is jealous of her love for Tirsi. In the end, Fileno vows vengeance and departs, and the lovers unite, praising fidelity and love. Bononcini manages to capture truly felt moments of love, anger, warmth, happiness, and heartbreak with minimal forces–just a few strings, all played stunningly (as usual) by Ensemble 415–and fine melodies. The prominent, delicately played theorbe in the opening sinfonia is a hint of niceties to come; a solo violin winds around Cloris' "Tortorella inamorata" and adds to its meaning. Throughout, Bononcini shows himself a master at setting words to suitable music for the deeper significance of both. The entire work is both moving and charming–and doesn't have an inelegant moment.