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 Favourites, Gifts for... Baroque and Early Music fans

Early music giftsWith highlights from 2018's early music releases, excellent box sets and collections, and books about everything from ancient Greek music to the works of JS Bach, we've selected some perfect presents for lovers of medieval, Renaissance and baroque music.

Outstanding 2018 Releases

Jakub Józef Orliński (countertenor), Il pomo d’oro, Maxim Emelyanychev

With an earthier, more open sound than his Warner Classics stable-mate Philippe Jaroussky, this young Polish countertenor emerges as a distinctive personality on this collection of sacred baroque arias – the evenness and naturalness of his singing may well win over those who are usually allergic to this voice-type, and Il Pomo d’Oro offer him terrific support throughout, particularly in the three works by Nicola Fago.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC, Hi-Res+ FLAC

Katherine Watson (soprano), Tim Mead (countertenor), Reinoud Van Mechelen (tenor) & André Morsch (baritone), Les Arts Florissants, William Christie

William Christie and Les Arts Florissants treat Bach's Mass in B Minor with elegant simplicity in an intimate, chamber-music-like interpretation which is refreshingly non-interventionist: the overall impression is of the music simply being given space to unfold in all its glory.

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Isabelle Faust (violin) & Kristian Bezuidenhout (harpsichord)

These scrupulously prepared and researched accounts wear their intelligence lightly: vibrato and rubato are both applied with taste and discretion, but Faust is never afraid to let the music dance, and her synergy with Bezuidenhout (placed forward in the balance, to great effect) equals that with Alexander Melnikov on her recent recording of the Franck sonata.

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Vox Luminis & Ensemble Masques, Lionel Meunier

Lionel Meunier's award-winning choir Vox Luminis and Olivier Fortin's early music instrumentalists Ensemble Masques join forces to bring to life a musical tradition famed in historical legend - the famous 'Abendmusik' concerts, organised by Buxtehude, that in the early 18th century so attracted the young JS Bach that he walked the length of Germany to hear one. Now we too can hear a recreation of one of those concerts, featuring a glorious smörgåsbord of Buxtehude’s sacred and secular works.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo), Ensemble Matheus, Jean-Christophe Spinosi

Nearly two decades after her first Vivaldi album (which won a Grammy and sold almost three quarters of a million copies), Bartoli returns to the music of the ‘Red Priest’. Her latest recording features a selection of arias from operas including Argippo, Orlando furioso, Ottone in villa and Catone in Utica.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Bart Jacobs (organ), Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier

Choral winner at this year's BBC Music Magazine Awards, and a finalist at the 2018 Gramophone Awards, this searching and artistically rewarding recording from Vox Luminis and Lionel Meunier explores Lutheran liturgical repertory. Comprising compositions specific to the Lutheran liturgy and a selection of motets arranged according to the liturgical calendar by a range of composers including Martin Luther, Praetorius, Schütz and Schein.

Available Format: 2 CDs

Stéphane Degout (baritone), Pygmalion, Raphaël Pichon

This terrific road to hell is paved with more than mere good intentions: Degout is a born tragedien, stirring up pity and terror in every phrase and singing with the same sonorous authority and immediacy that made his Chorèbe on John Nelsons’s recent Les Troyens such a resounding triumph. Rameau and Gluck both sound startlingly modern in the hands of Pichon and his musicians, shot through with anticipations of Berlioz and even Wagner.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Ian Bostridge (tenor), Dunedin Consort, John Butt

Augmented by the Polish Radio Choir, this full-blooded reading of Handel’s great hymn to the patron saint of music plays out on a larger scale than we’re perhaps used to from Butt and his Dunedin forces, to powerful and frequently moving effect: there’s a sardonic glint behind Bostridge’s apparent paeon to the bellicose effects of martial music, whilst Sampson provides balm with a beautifully fluid account of ‘What passion cannot music raise and quell!’.

Available Format: CD

Award-winning ensemble Stile Antico perform Victoria's Tenebrae Responsories, which are taken from a larger collection of polyphonic music written for Holy Week. Selected as one of Gramophone's Editor's Choices, they said: 'This has to be Stile Antico’s best album to date: it’s certainly their most gripping and, as ever with this ensemble, the vocal sound is sumptuous throughout'.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Rachel Podger (violin), Brecon Baroque

Rachel Podger's new recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons has received praise across the board for its fresh approach to this well-known work. 'Podger’s approach is considerably more fine-boned than most, which is as much down to the choices about phrasing, tempi and articulation as it is to the forces deployed... This is The Seasons as chamber-music rather than virtuoso war-horse, and the synergy between Podger and her tiny band is matchless' (Katherine Cooper, Presto Classical).

Available Formats: SACD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Adrian Chandler (violin/director), La Serenissima

Critically-acclaimed baroque band La Serenissima continue their exploration of Vivaldi's works, with a collection of lively double concertos featuring horns, oboes, bassoon, violin and cello in various combinations (and all topped off by a glorious concerto grosso bringing the whole team together); director Adrian Chandler shows us once again why his ensemble just can't stop winning awards.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

New Box Sets and Collections

20th anniversary edition

The French ensemble celebrate their twentieth birthday with this 16-CD collection of music by members of the Bach family, Vivaldi, Marais, Lully, Michel Corrette, Pierre de la Garde, and Charles Avison, including the complete Brandenburg Concertos, the Goldberg Variations, and Der Frühling - an all-CPE Bach recital with tenor Rupert Charlesworth from 2016, which was described as ‘dynamic, precise and beguiling’ by Gramophone.

Available Formats: 16 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Hesperion XX & Ricercare-Ensemble, Jordi Savall, Michel Piguet

An 11-CD collection spanning five centuries of Spanish music (1200-1700) and bringing together some of Savall’s most vital and innovative recordings, including Cansós de Trobairitz (1978), Llibre Vermell de Montserrat (1979), Canciones y danzas de España (1989), and El barroco español (1998).

Available Format: 11 CDs

Whilst the majority of the collections released for The King’s Singers’ fiftieth birthday this year have celebrated the group’s diversity in terms of repertoire, this 8-CD box shines the spotlight on their achievements in the field of Renaissance music; Lassus gets two discs to himself, and there are also whistle-stop tours through the evolution of the madrigal in Italy, England, France and Spain.

Available Formats: 8 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Books about Early Music

This book offers a fundamental reworking of the history of Greek music from the classical period to Roman times. It explains anew the development of ancient melodic notation, embedding it in a context of professional music-making, in a musical culture determined mainly by the dominant instruments, the lyre and the aulos.

Available Format: Book

From the emergence of plainsong to the end of the fourteenth century, this companion covers all the key aspects of medieval music. Rather than presenting merely a chronological view of the history of medieval music, the volume instead focuses on technical and cultural aspects of the subject, covering repertory, styles and techniques alongside issues such as liturgy and reception. A must-have guide for anyone with an interest in listening to and understanding medieval music.

Available Format: Book

In this concise, highly readable introduction to the topic of Early Music, Thomas Forrest Kelly frames chapters on the forms, techniques and repertories of the medieval, Renaissance and baroque periods, with discussion of why old music has been and should be revived, as well as a short history of early music revivals.

Available Format: Book

David Hiley

Designed to guide students through this key topic, David Hiley describes the church services in which chant is performed, takes the reader through the church year, explains what texts were used and describes the buildings in which it was sung. The history of chant is traced from its beginnings in the early centuries of Christianity, through the Middle Ages to revisions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the restoration in the nineteenth and twentieth. An indispensable guide.

Available Format: Book

A revealing look at the world of early music performance. Bernard D. Sherman speaks to many of early music's leading practitioners, including Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Roger Norrington, Peter Phipps and Anner Bylsma, about their passion for historically informed performance and how it shapes their work. From medieval plainchant to Brahms's orchestral works, Inside Early Music takes readers behind the scenes to provide a masterful portrait of early music's controversies, challenges, and rewards.

Available Format: Book

In this remarkable book, Sir John Eliot Gardiner distils the fruits of a lifetime's immersion in the music of one of the most unfathomable composers in the history of music. He describes in wonderful detail how Bach worked, and how his music achieves its effects, taking us as deeply into Bach's works and mind as perhaps words can.

Available Format: Book

This volume of Taruksin's definitive history of Western music begins with the invention of musical notation more than a thousand years ago. It then travels through centuries of musical invention, shedding light on topics such as Gregorian chant, the liturgical dramas of Hildegard of Bingen, the growth of the music printing business, the literary revolution and the English madrigal, and the operas of Monteverdi. Laced with brilliant observations, memorable analyses and a panoramic sense of the interactions between history, culture, politics and music, Taruskin offers an unmatched narrative account of the evolution of Western classical music.

Available Format: Book

This stimulating guide will help students and their teachers to achieve stylish performances of music of the Baroque period. Individual chapters from leading experts focus on historical background, notation and interpretation, and sources and editions, presenting the latest thinking on performance in a clear, helpful and practical way.

Available Format: Book