Souvenirs d'Italie: Mr Harrach's Musical Diaries
Maurice Steger’s latest album draws on the manuscript library of Count von Harrach, an elderly musical and recorder-minded Austrian diplomat who used a six-year posting in Naples to gather a treasure trove of high-quality, expertly curated Italian music. Add Maurice Steger’s own curating prowess and what we have here is a feast of stylistic, colouristic and emotional musical worlds, from the sunny grace of Sammartini’s F major Concerto and Caldara’s lilting Ciaccona a 3, with its cheerfully strumming Baroque guitar, to the long lyrical lines and dulcimer colour of Fiorenza’s A minor Sonata. In true Steger style, the accompanying booklet’s list of employed recorder sizes and models is also as long as your arm, although the only mid-work switch is between two F2 sopraninos (after Bressan and Denner) for Montanari’s B flat major Concerto.
On to the performances themselves, and it must be said that some of them probably hold the potential to get the goat of straighter-laced recorder aficionados, given that as usual Steger has taken virtuoso showmanship to its apotheosis; for your amusement try listening to the outer movements of Hasse’s Cantata per flauto – here an uber presto pyrotechnical tour de force of coloratura – alongside Tabea Debus’s still-allegro readings that come in at a whole minute longer (TYXArt). Likewise, its central Adagio sees him right in there from the off with his ornamentations where others might have begun with an initial no-frills statement.
But that’s the thing; Steger is never dull, and while he may go for maximum velocity and more-is-more ornamentation, his attack and articulation are always varied, repeats are never the same and there’s warmth and thought behind his every note, regardless of its speed. It’s also heart-warming to behold the clear pleasure he takes in his zinging accompanying ensemble, going so far as to afford each of their instruments the same loving documentation as for his own recorders in the notes. Harpsichordist Naoki Kitaya also gets a pint-size but delightful solo spot with Leo’s Toccata in C major.
In short, it’s another Steger cracker of a recording. Well worth seeking out.