"BAROQUE FAVORITES"  (See review for repertory)
Tafelmusik Baroque Orch/Jean Lamon, cond.
The Helicon Ensemble/Albert Fuller, cond.

REFERENCE REC. RR 2101 (2 CDs) (B) (AD/HDCD) TT:  47:19 & 56:47

On "two CDs for the price of one," to celebrate its silver anniversary in the disc business, Reference Recordings has HDCD-remastered two marvelous analog releases from 1982 and 1986, respectively, newly packaged as "Baroque Favorites." Which many are. The earlier one, originally published as "Popular Masterworks of the Baroque" on RR-13, was recorded by Tafelmusik of Toronto under the direction of Jean Lamon. It includes Handel's ever-seductive Entrance of the Queen of Sheba from Solomon, plus selections from Suite No. 1" of Water Musick (jauntily played, bless Tafelmusik); a perky version of the Pachelbel Canon with its companion Gigue; incidental music by Purcell for Abdelazar, or The Moor's Revenge; Bach's Air on the G-String from Orchestral Suite No. 3; Vivaldi's "La notte" Concerto for recorder, bassoon and strings from Op. 10, and a Suite from Book III of Telemann's Tafelmusik. The remastering fairly glistens, while performances continue to be one and all captivating (that said, let it be noted, by one indifferent to much of the Baroque wallpaper rediscovered during the 20th century, and usually put off by "original instrument" ensembles).

The second disc (formerly RR-23, issued as "Bach/Vivaldi") stars Albert Fuller's superb Helicon Ensemble, recorded in the John Harms Center at Englewood, NJ, in music by the Red Priest of Venice and Bach der Vater. We have Vivaldi's Sinfonia in C (RV 116), G-minor Trio Sonata (RV 73, otherwise Op. 1/1), and E-flat Concerto for Two Violins (RV 515). From the sire of the Bach Dynasty, who admired (and cribbed from) Vivaldi, Mr. Fuller plays the C-major Prelude from Book I of Das wohltemperirte Klavier, while the rest of Helicon address themselves to the Trio Sonata in C (BWV 1037, although reputedly by his pupil Johann Gottlieb Goldberg), and the evergreen Concerto in D minor for Two Violins and Strings (BWV 1043).

Helicon inhabits (or inhabited in 1986) a rarified world with Tafelmusik, and their performances of more substantial music remain treasurable. "Professor" Keith Johnson's recordings have been digitally transferred by Paul Stubblebine and Producer J. Tamblyn Henderson, Jr. with maximal fidelity and no evidence of digital "glare" or other silicontagions. Total-timing for both discs is 1 hour, 44 minutes, and 6 seconds—a Mercedes-limo bargain given the musical contents, impeccable presentation, and sheer luxury of Ref/Rec's HDCD sound. Go buy, if you haven't the originals—or even if you have.

R.D. (Aug 2002)