Ensemble Marsyas - Edinburgh 1742 - The Arts Desk

The Edinburgh Musical Society lasted from 1728 to 1797, an organisation where well-heeled male residents could celebrate their interest in European art music. Possessed of sufficient wealth to have built its own concert hall, in 1735 the society recruited the services of the Italian baroque composer Francesco Barsanti, then active in England as a teacher, arranger and copyist. He evidently enjoyed his period in Edinburgh, marrying a Scot before returning to London seven years later. This superb disc celebrates Barsanti’s Scottish period, pairing his music with works by his one-time collaborator, Handel. There's also a fair bit of horn playing: the five Concerti grossi included here feature juicy, idiomatic horn parts, often accompanied by pounding timpani. They're delectable pieces, snappily performed by Peter Whelan’s Ensemble Marsyas. The faster movements’ urgency never sounds forced, and the impression received is one of dance-like exuberance. Movements like the tiny “Allegro” in Op. 3 No. 1 fizz with energy, and Alec Frank-Gemmill and Joseph Walters relish the flamboyant horn writing. As a curio, the disc includes four tiny Barsanti arrangements of traditional tunes, each one a charming meeting between the Italian baroque and Scottish folk music. The Handel items are equally winning, notably a spectacular, horn-rich aria from the opera Alcina (superbly sung by Emilie Renard) and a tiny horn concerto arranged from two movements of the Water Music. A tiny military march features a sonorous bassoon bassline, presumably played by an uncredited Whelan. Glorious stuff – historically interesting and musically stimulating. Linn’s sound is spectacularly vivid.

The Arts Desk
23 September 2017