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Concerti Bizarri

Irish Baroque Orchestra, Monica Huggett (conductor) Detailed performer information
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Recording details: September 2015
St Peter's Church, Drogheda, Ireland
Produced by Philip Hobbs
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: May 2016
Total duration: 73 minutes 40 seconds

A debut Linn recording from the expert Irish Baroque Orchestra features a dazzling array of concertos for 'bizarre' instrumental combinations (flute d'amore, oboe d'amore and viola d'amore anyone?). The album is a showcase for the exceptional talent within the ranks of the orchestra, and casts incandescent light on extraordinary compositions by Vivaldi (of course), Telemann, Fasch, Graupner and Heinichen.

A 24-bit 192 kHz studio master for this album is available from the Linn Records website.




'Virtuosic razzle-dazzle … deliciously alert, spirited, and free from affectation, its clarity is beautifully matched by the recording. No wonder Irish eyes are smiling!' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The playing is lovely, with great poise from Huggett and standout charismatic bassoon playing from Peter Whelan' (The Observer)» More

'Barockkonzerte in sehr unterschiedlichen Besetzungen spielt das ‘Irish Baroque Orchestra' auf dieser CD. Es ist ein sehr abwechslungsreiches Programm mit vielen verschiedenen Farben, das es den Solisten erlaubt, ihr Talent unter Beweis zu stellen. Und dennoch bleiben sie fest ins Ensemble eingebunden, dessen Klang angenehm homogen und lebendig ist. Da wird viel Spiellust vermittelt und bei allem energischem Musizieren wird das Ästhetische der Musik nicht vernachlässigt. Es ist diese Verbindung von Drive und Feinfühligkeit, die dieses brillante Programm so besonders macht' (Pizzicato, Luxembourg)

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Johann Friedrich Fasch was as important a composer as Johann Sebastian Bach in his day, maybe more so as he is an important link between the Baroque and the Classical styles. One of his teachers was Christoph Graupner and he was a good friend of Georg Philipp Telemann. When the three of them, in turn, withdrew their job applications for Kantor of Leipzig’s Thomasschule, it was Bach who was appointed: ‘Since the best could not be obtained, a mediocre candidate would have to be accepted.’

Fasch had studied at the Thomasschule and it was in Leipzig where he got to know Antonio Vivaldi’s concerto writing. In 1722 he was appointed Kapellmeister at Zerbst where he remained for the rest of his life, writing church cantatas and music for court occasions. His music was widely performed, reaching Vienna and Prague. Many of his concertos, noted for their great originality, were performed by Johann Georg Pisendel, the Kapellmeister at the Hofkapelle in Dresden.

Fasch was a prolific composer. Johann David Heinichen performed some of his liturgical music in the Dresden court chapel and Telemann performed a cycle of his cantatas in Hamburg in 1733. Much of the instrumental music survives, but many of Fasch’s vocal works (9 cantata cycles, at least 14 masses and 4 operas) appear to be lost.

The three movement pattern of the Concerto for flute and oboe in B minor follows the regular Italian concerto example, well known from so many of Vivaldi’s concertos. The ritornello sections (recurring refrains) of the outer movements contrast with independent episodes for the soloists. Those lively movements in duple time enfold the short F sharp minor slow movement which allows the oboist to gather his breath.

Telemann was probably the most famous and one of the most prolific composers of his time. He was an astute businessman, overseeing the publication of many of his and other composers’ works. From 1721 until his death, he was Kantor of Hamburg’s Johanneum Lateinschule and musical director of the city’s five main churches. In the following decades his music was all too often dismissed as merely fashionable and somehow of a lesser standard when compared to Bach’s. In truth they’re quite different: chalk and cheese.

Telemann rarely used the three-movement Italian concerto form and the Concerto for two violins and bassoon in D major, a four-movement work (each movement in D major), is certainly representative of his favoured approach. A lilting first movement introduces the duetting violins and the prominent repeated notes and scales of the accompanying bassoon. Very soon the roles are reversed and this introductory movement gives way to a lively and well developed fugal movement (with no tempo marking in the surviving manuscript score). The ‘Adagio’ moves gently, caressingly, with lovely transparent textures, while the bassoon is permitted only one real solo moment towards its close. The good-natured finale then marches along with confidence, filled with imitation and some lovely textures for low violin and bassoon. The surviving source is a manuscript score found in Darmstadt and dated c1740, where it was likely performed by Graupner and his orchestral personnel. Principal bassoonist Peter Whelan describes the concerto as ‘a real oddity with the bassoon being the only wind instrument on stage. Mostly it stays out of the way of the two solo violins but occasionally the bassoon gives them a run for their money, even trying to imitate pizzicato in the slow movement.’

Heinichen, a contemporary of Bach, was, like his friend Fasch, educated at the Thomasschule. He trained as a law student, but before long, music took over his life. After writing some operas for Leipzig, he moved to Venice where he wrote operas for the Teatro San Angelo Theatre and met Vivaldi and other influential composers. In 1712 he was in Rome where he gave lessons to the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen, later Bach’s patron.

In 1717 Heinichen was appointed Kapellmeister to the court at Dresden and remained there for the rest of his short life. He was also a renowned theorist, publishing an important treatise on the continuo bass; Charles Burney in his A General History of Music, Vol. 3 (1789), described Heinichen as ‘so voluminous and excellent a theorist, that he has been called of late years, the Rameau of Germany’.

The surviving score of Heinichen’s Concerto for oboe in G minor was in the hands of Graupner, underlining the amazing circle of friends and colleagues which connects so many of these works. The Concerto was probably written for the fine Dresden court orchestra. The opening movement is full of irrepressible Vivaldian-energy. The slow movement has a very special sound world and the finale’s confident searching definitely refreshes the parts that other composers don’t always reach. Oboist Andreas Helm points to some of the bizarre moments in this Concerto:

The first movement [in 3/4] is characterized by a very powerful and insistent theme, which after the introduction is presented pianissimo, with all strings in unison. The expression mark pp is rarely used in the eighteenth century, but Heinichen uses it quite frequently in this particular Concerto; for the players it results in a lot of dynamic contrast and different colours. The solo oboe part is quite virtuosic. When the music explores the major tonalities, the solo part becomes much fresher and more joyful. The whole first movement delights in quick affect and character changes.
The [D minor] second movement is marked pizzicato, a technical instruction which doesn’t say anything about the character or tempo. It’s definitely the bizarre part of the concerto: the oboe part and the bass are written in 3/2, while the strings are written in 3/4. The musicians see very different pictures: the oboe and bass players see long lines, something rather slow; the rest of the ensemble sees something very busy. Bringing out this contrast between the two parts is the biggest demand. It is definitely a very beautiful atmosphere and rarely found in other pieces (Vivaldi is probably the composer who uses this sound more often than anyone else, for example, in his Four Seasons).
The third movement is in 2/4 and goes back to G minor. Its harmonic structure and phrasing reminds one very much of the Venetian master, Vivaldi. Of course Vivaldi was very famous in Germany at the time and many of his works were played in Dresden, especially when the great violinist Pisendel performed with the Dresden court orchestra. There is one exceptional place which comes as a surprise. Everything is moving along normally, then suddenly the oboe starts a descending chromatic line, with only the first violin accompanying. Then, after three bars it goes back to normal. Bizarre!

Graupner was another student of the Thomasschule. He was a good friend of Telemann and studied law for two years at Leipzig University before he escaped the Swedish forces under Charles XII. Graupner moved to Hamburg where he worked as a successful opera composer until 1710 when he was appointed vice-Kapellmeister for Ernst Ludwig, the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, succeeding to the Kapellmeister role in 1712, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Graupner’s output included more operas up until 1719 when the Darmstadt musical forces were reduced in size. Alongside some eight operas, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians lists his prolific output as ‘1,418 church cantatas, 24 secular cantatas, 113 symphonies, about 50 concertos, 86 overture-suites, 36 sonatas for instrumental combinations and a substantial body of keyboard music.’

Peter Whelan writes:

I’m really excited to be playing this C major Bassoon Concerto by Graupner, a composer who in his day was valued as highly as Bach or Telemann. It’s an extremely virtuosic work and was probably written for the same bassoonist for whom Vivaldi, Zelenka and Fasch wrote similarly challenging works. All of them wrote rapid-fire repeated notes, huge leaps and expressive cantabile slow movements to suit the style of this still unidentified performer. Graupner’s Concerto is particularly quirky and great fun to play. I’ve decided to use a copy of an instrument by a Leipzig maker from 1720. It’s an instrument which would have been known to Bach and probably also at the court at Darmstadt where Graupner worked and where an autograph manuscript score of this Concerto survives.

The G major Chamber Concerto by Fasch likely dates from the 1720s, making it contemporary with many of Vivaldi’s twenty or so chamber concertos. These are works in which the contrasting tutti passages, normally played by the full body of strings (the ripieno), is taken by all of the solo instruments instead—here so well demonstrated in the third movement. Fasch’s surviving autograph score lists the instrumentation as two hautbois du silve, two violas, two bassoni and cembalo. The word ‘bassono’ replaces a scratched-out designated instrument, the chalcedon, a type of bass lute.

Fasch ordered ‘Waldhautbois’ for the Zerbst court from Leipzig in 1722 and that is believed to be the first written reference to the oboe da caccia and likely to be the same as the hautbois du silve required for this Concerto (though possibly an instrument pitched a semitone lower than the ‘normal’ oboe da caccia). Bach used the oboe da caccia extensively across the years 1723–27 in his Leipzig cantatas, Passions and Christmas Oratorio.

Fasch’s mellow and sonorous scoring, without a ‘soprano’ instrument, lends a very special flavour to this four movement Concerto. Its first two movements are particularly relaxed as the pairs of instruments caress their phrases. The ‘Allegro’ delights in contrasts between its ritornello tutti statement and the contrasting solo passages. The finale is a pair of gracious minuets; the second, in E minor providing a relief from G major, is the filling, sandwiched between the two statements of the first minuet.

Vivaldi was the most influential Italian composer of the time and he laid the foundations for the mature Baroque concerto. Through his regular use of ritornello form and the standardizing of a three movement shape, he established the template which was used by so many others.

Out of his some 500 concertos, around 40 are double concertos for two instruments—though only one survives for two cellos. The G minor Concerto was probably written in the 1720s for the Ospedale della Pietá in Venice where il prete rosso (called ‘the red priest’ because of the colour of his hair), had been maestro di violin since 1703. The Ospedale was one of four famous foundations in Venice which educated orphan girls, some of whom were trained as musicians. And what musicians they must have been, judging by the technical demands Vivaldi made of them. Think of them as you listen to the hectic, driven first movement, the relaxed trio sonata texture of the slow movement and then the exciting sprung rhythms of the finale.

In 1752 the German flautist and composer Johann Joachim Quantz wrote:

Solo work on this instrument [the cello] is by no means a simple matter. Players wishing to distinguish themselves on the violoncello must be equipped by nature with long fingers and have strong tendons in order to be able to stretch their fingers wide apart. But if these necessary qualities are found in combination with good teaching methods, very many beautiful sounds can be produced on this instrument.

Upon reading that, cellists Sarah McMahon and Jonathan Byers both laughed:

Being rather on the small side, neither of us are equipped with particularly long digits. However we were lucky enough to have both studied with the same teachers at London’s Royal Academy of Music, in particular the late Jenny Ward Clarke, who shared with us her wonderful teaching methods and cello playing secrets. As we both make up part of the IBO continuo team, it’s a joy to step out from the world of basslines and have the soloist spotlight shone upon us for this most fascinating of double concertos.

Vivaldi was right to use the somewhat dark key of G minor for this work, as it really brings out a certain deep, troubled character that the sound of two duelling (or quite often harmonious) cellos can achieve.

Violinist Huw Daniel discusses the Graupner Concerto and the importance of the viola d’amore:

Graupner seems to have enjoyed writing for the more unusual and exotic instruments. He wrote many pieces for the viola d’amore: 18 concertos and overtures, and 13 cantatas include parts for the instrument. The viola d’amore is usually a 6- or 7-stringed instrument most often with an additional six or seven sympathetic strings. The strings and sympathetic strings are usually tuned to the key of the piece to maximize resonance and to facilitate chords. Many composers, like Vivaldi, make use of the technical possibilities of the d’amore, using chords for example. Others, like Graupner in this G major Concerto, or Bach’s use of a pair of violas d’amore in the John Passion for example (in ‘Betrachte, meine Seel’ and ‘Erwäge, wie sein blutgefärbter Rücken’), did not. Presumably in these latter cases it was the exotic, mellow sound of the d’amore that attracted the composer to the instrument.
I’m playing a 7-stringed instrument for this Concerto in which the viola d’amore takes several roles: often in equal dialogue with the other two solo instruments; sometimes providing a bassline for the flute and oboe, creating a trio sonata texture; and, in the tutti sections, sometimes playing along with the middle parts of the orchestra.

Flautist Lisa Beznosiuk has different challenges:

A player of historical flutes is familiar with the tricky and sometimes frustrating business of finding and choosing an appropriate instrument for the music they play. There is much information available from contemporary documents such as paintings, inventories, letters, etc. Armed with this information, the flautist might choose to play music by Rameau on a flute by Hotteterre or Naust, music by Bach on a Denner and so on, until the choice becomes straightforward with Boehm’s invention of the standard modern silver flute in the mid-nineteenth century. However, in the case of the elusive flute d’amore, there are no obvious answers to the questions ‘What is it?’ and, more pertinently, ‘Why play it?’ Unlike the oboe d’amore, so beloved of Bach, there is very little repertoire for the flute d’amore and there are few examples of original instruments for today’s makers to copy. Quantz who wrote the most significant book about the flute in the eighteenth century devotes just one sentence to this ‘uncommon’ instrument.
Most of the pieces which specify flute d’amore are written by Graupner and seem to be intended for instruments in B, sometimes in C and, very occasionally, in B flat; these are several inches longer than the standard Baroque traverso. In most cases this means that the instrument puts the music into a key which is more sonorous and easier to play. So one sensible explanation for the existence of such a flute would be to assist the beginner or amateur play pieces in difficult keys. However, this isn’t necessarily so in this Concerto, which is in the easy and straightforward key of G major, a favourite with traverso players. Having spent some time researching and trying instruments—almost requiring the services of an osteopath in the process—I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t find anything more suitable for this concerto than my usual ebony traverso.

Andreas Helm, relishes the beautiful sound and atmosphere of the d’amore instruments in this Concerto.

They all have a much softer, sweeter colour than their ‘normal’ versions. This makes solo playing of course a little bit more difficult because, as a player, you have to invest quite a lot of energy to make the sound carry.
This Graupner concerto is fascinating. The first movement is recitativo-like for the solo instruments at the beginning, while the strings and the bassoon have short chords throughout much of the movement. The jolly second movement features the viola d’amore much more than the wind instruments. It’s fast but doesn’t sound very virtuosic, because the colour of the solo instruments is never bright. The third movement is similar to the first, with strings and bassoon only playing chords while the three solo instruments are in dialogue with each other. But this time they are written in beautiful melodic lines. Again, it’s the dark, smooth colour of the solos which makes the emotion so special—absolutely beautiful. The viola d’amore is in its element playing gentle quaver accompaniment, carrying the two winds. The last movement finally gives the orchestra something more difficult to play. Incredibly energetic beginning, lots of activity in the lombardic rhythms. And after the introduction the solos come in with a totally different character, as if nothing has happened before. The whole movement lives from the contrast between relaxed solos and powerful tuttis: definitely fun to listen to.

David Byers © 2016

The idea for this Concerti Bizarri programme has been floating around in my head for a few years now, from when I put together a programme of mixed instrumental concertos combined with a suite by Georg Philipp Telemann called La Bizarre. I like the idea because it gives the Irish Baroque Orchestra the opportunity to use many of its orchestral players as soloists. The IBO is crammed full of wonderful musicians and they can fully inhabit the role of soloist in every way: technically, musically and charismatically. The IBO really has some of the greatest players around today.

In the last two centuries we have become accustomed to soloists coming from outside the orchestra. There are legendary violin soloists such as Joseph Joachim, Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz. James Galway has had an enormous career as a flute soloist; at the present time, Yo-Yo Ma or Lang Lang can fill a hall virtually anywhere in the world. In the eighteenth century most soloists came from the orchestra in which they regularly played. The principal orchestral players would be expected to get up and play a solo and would relish the challenge.

Five of the concertos are for multiple instruments, a genre which—Beethoven’s Triple and Brahms’ Double aside—more or less disappeared in the nineteenth century. These pieces look backwards to the concerti grossi of Arcangelo Corelli, but the texture is much more interesting because of the use of unusual instruments in unique combinations. One of the most beautiful amalgamations is Christoph Graupner’s Triple Concerto for flute d’amore, oboe d’amore and viola d’amore, which produces an exquisite blend of colours.

Alongside the Double Cello Concerto by Antonio Vivaldi, the flavour of the other concertos could be described as ‘Vivaldi in German style’. There are many themes and passages which could come from a Vivaldi concerto, but the structure is more complicated, and there are more changes of character within a single movement as there were more references to Polish, gypsy and folk elements in eighteenth-century German music. Telemann was a master at incorporating gypsy elements into his compositions, but in fact almost all of these concertos have gypsy episodes.

All of the composers on this recording were born in the 1680s (well, Vivaldi was born in 1678), but some lived longer than others. Johann Friedrich Fasch was the youngest and his Concerto for two oboes da caccia, two violas, two bassoons and continuo in G major, which is actually a septet, had already left the Baroque era behind. This is rococo, and you can hear pre-echoes of Mozart.

What I love about this music is the sheer beauty of the sound world, all the luscious colours and deep sonorities: it’s the audio equivalent of eating the best chocolate mousse!

Monica Huggett © 2016

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