Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor
Rebecca Miller, Conductor
Clever, enjoyable, without dogma

Gramophone, in a generally positive review, ends by wondering why, “for some reason”, conductor Rebecca Miller chooses a harpsichord continuo for the No. 59 but not the No. 52 or 53. That question sums up a lot: about Gramophone and Miller. It is a perfectly sensible choice, not driven by the dogma of “all or nothing” that pervades much of the continuo debate. The No. 59 is a substantially earlier work than the other two. Its textures are thinner. A continuo works. Not so much in the No. 52 or 53 as, for example, Sigiswald Kuijken’s problematic account of the 52 shows.

Miller’s approach to this album is intellectual but non-dogmatic. It is not just the continuo that is taken on a case-by-case basis. Another example is that the observance of repeats varies: while individual instances may be questioned there is clearly reason behind each decision.

Miller starts the album with the earliest, the No. 59, in a very high-octane performance from the 8-6-4-4-2 Royal Northern Sinfonia. All repeats are observed but it still comes in at only a shade over 20 minutes. There are some interesting details, including occasional fiddling with the anacrusis of the first movement’s principal theme. The second movement’s A-minor opening is taken staccatissimo (Fischer and Fey do the same), setting up for a contrast with the lyrical C-major section that follows (in this section, the melody is played legato and even with a shade of vibrato). I have only one minor criticism of the slow movement: the ridiculous horn fanfare—a classic Haydn joke—in bar 115 is underplayed. Miller also takes a novel approach to the minuet and trio, playing them at considerably different tempi.

Overall, the energy brought to the 59 puts it ahead of the Dorati and Fischer versions. It’s also better quality than Fey’s (with his absurd first movement), more listenable than Hogwood’s, and not pointlessly idiosyncratic like Harnoncourt’s. So this 59 could well be top of the pile.

As mentioned above, the harpsichord gets burned for the No. 52, and justifiably so: the bassoon/double bass part is very active, leaving a continuo with little to fill in. Nonetheless, I don’t think this lives up to the standard of the 59. Fortissimo passages in the first movement are somewhat underpowered: there is not quite as much as I would hope for in the way of “Sturm”. And I do question the observance of all repeats in the first movement: the development repeat dilutes the effect of the final five bars (which, on their second run, are played rather tepidly). The slow movement is then (sensibly, in my view, considering its length) played without repeats. On another note, observant listeners will notice the clever ornamentation in the well-paced minuet and trio.

In the No. 52, Adam Fischer and Bruno Weil, despite their overly fast minuets, are my preference: there is considerably more “Sturm” in their outer movements. Nonetheless, Miller rates highly against others. Hogwood and Dorati are both sluggish in the opening movement (never mind Hogwood’s interminable Andante), and Kuijken’s harpsichord is just far too prominent.

This review is already long enough without me droning on about the No. 53, but it may also be the best on record. The second movement is very good—shout out to the bassoonist—and both versions of the finale (with an appropriate break in the recording) are offered.

Very close to five stars.

A S Chalmers,
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