Johannes Somary began making a national name for himself with recordings of Handel opera and Baroque choral works in the 60s. Although he has a wider repertoire, people still know him primarily as a Baroque specialist. This is a bit of a shame, since historically-informed practice has just about taken over Baroque performance.
Somary approaches all these works in a typically 60s fashion: that is, modern instruments, but less of them. The performances are respectable, but little more. I myself miss the clarity of Pinnock or Gardiner (historically-informed) on the one hand, or of Claudio Scimone (modern instruments) on the other. The texture of Amor Artis strikes me as too heavy. You can't really hear subsidiary lines. In other words, there are solid musical reasons for the dominance of the historic-practice crowd. It's not just a matter of texture, but the really talented interpreters of this music tended to veer in that direction – not all of them, but quite a few. Baroque music is above all a dance, and very few musicians swing as well as Trevor Pinnock.
Yuval Waldman, soloing in the Vivaldi, takes the easy path of brilliance. Since most professional violinists have the fingers to play these works, there's nothing substantive to distinguish him from thirty others. We find neither the rethinking of Simon Standage or Gil Shaham nor the ensemble sensitivity of Piero Toso.
The Bach goes substantially better. Again, the ripieno is just too thick, and it damages Bach more than Vivaldi, since Bach's subsidiary lines are more interesting. Waldman again acts like a soloist, as if the oboist were a bit player. However, the performance gets a considerable boost from oboist Virginia Brewer, who shapes her phrases lovingly and never forgets that she belongs to an ensemble. Her playing is the high point of the disc.
All in all, I have trouble imagining whom this disc would attract. The main work, the Vivaldi, competes both with violinist superstars (many of whom have recorded the work more than once) as well as with the budget labels and the Baroque specialist groups. The disc just doesn't have enough to inspire a huzzah.
Copyright © 1996, Steve Schwartz