Albums that bypass the well-known repertoire always deserve attention. The Irish Baroque Orchestras The Hibernian Muse (Linn), with the vocal group Sestina, is formed around music played at festivals in the early 18th century, one celebrating the centenary of Trinity College Dublin, the other celebrating Queen Anne’s birthday. The ensemble, led by Peter Whelan, won an Olivier Award earlier this year for their stylish production of Vivaldi’s bajazet at the Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House.
Their skill and power, with lively vocals by Sestina and soloists, is reflected here in the music of Henry Purcell and the Hungarian composer Johann Sigismund Cousser (1660-1727). Purcell’s collaborator on his opera Dido and Aeneas was the poet Nahum Tate, a Dubliner who later became a poet laureate. their ode Great parent, greetings!, full of puns, solos, duets, choruses and a beautiful “symphony”, is a highlight. Cousser’s “serenata” for Queen Anne, The Universal Applause of Mount Parnassusis a captivating novelty, with Lillibulero played on solo lute a wistful bonus.
The Georgian born pianist Mariam Batsashvilic was a BBC Radio 3 New Generation performer from 2017-19. This gave the British public the chance to hear her, live or on broadcast, at the start of her career. Still in her twenties, she continues to exhibit that blend of virtuoso brilliance and sensitive insight that defines her playing. In Romantic Piano Masters (Warner Classics), she includes the lesser known (César Franck’s Prelude, Fugue et Variation, Op 18, transcribed by H Bauer) with the composer who has been a constant for her until now: Franz Liszt. Batsashvili keeps enough in reserve in his transcription of Wagner’s Liebestod Tristan and Isoldedelivered with control and a visionary serenity.
All in all, this excellent game, the program is carefully constructed. Among her choice of operatic transcriptions she has included one of Liszt’s great pianist rival, Sigismond Thalberg: the Grand Caprice on motifs from Bellini’s the sleepwalker. A great showpiece that must have annoyed Liszt, Batsashvili plays it with charm and ease, as if to say: if you can play the notes, there is no need for a duel.