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Elinor Frey, Fiorè Complete Cello Sonatas & 17th Century Italian Arias

09-03-2017 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 93

Elinor Frey, Fiorè Complete Cello Sonatas

Anyone with any level of appreciation for great cello performance should check out Elinor Frey at once; an immensely talented and virtuosic player, she's also a seriously gifted researcher and scholar of all things cello, with a special appreciation for the Baroque period. Although she plays both modern and period instruments, it's pretty clear that her true love lies with the Baroque, and she's especially keen on promoting the works of lesser- and barely-known composers of the period. And while that's not to imply that the music is any less deserving of a modern audience, for whatever reason, she seems to have made it her mission to restore these nearly-forgotten masters to their rightful place in the pantheon of Baroque performance.

I had the great pleasure to review Elinor's 2013 release La Voce Del Violoncello (Passacaille Records code 993), which comprehensively surveyed the works of a range of obscure Italian cellist-composers. Click HERE to read my review of that remarkable recording; you'll also get additional biographical information about Ms. Frey, her education, and her level of scholarly achievements that should impress just about anyone (I was definitely impressed!). This new album, which also appears on the Passacaille Records imprint, compiles the complete cello sonatas by the seventeenth-century Italian composer Angelo Maria Fiorè, as well as Italian arias and other pieces from the same period. While most of the arias are sung, in a few instances, Elinor Frey's violoncello offers the vocal. And the list of accompanists here reads like a "Who's Who" of Baroque performance: on the Fiorè sonatas, Elinor is accompanied by the redoubtable Lorenzo Ghielmi on harpsichord. They are joined on the remaining arias by world-class soprano Suzie LeBlanc, and estimable lutenist Esteban La Rotta rounds out the corps on theorbo.

While the cello and Elinor Frey's impassioned and idiomatic playing are definitely the focus here, she selflessly shares the spotlight, and her program allows all the performers ample room to display their mastery of the Baroque. Tracks 3 and 10, for example, both "Allemandes" by Carlo Ignazio Monza, are unaccompanied performances joyously rendered by harpsichordist Lorenzo Ghielmi. And when Suzie LeBlanc's amazing and mesmerizing voice takes the stage, almost everyone else steps into the background! As with my previous experiences with Elinor Frey, much of the music that appears here rings with a familiarity that almost defies logic—it's really hard to fathom how these truly remarkable and enjoyable works aren't part of the standard repertory: they should be played—and often!

A bit of a snafu…

When Elinor first let me know that her new album would soon be available, of course, I jumped at the chance to take a listen. But a lot had happened in between our last experiences together; I'd moved a couple of times, finally into my new home—but there was a bit of a mix-up in my address forwarding with the post office. The Fiorè disc ended up getting shipped to my brother's house up in Lake Arrowhead (yes, the infamous Dungeon), and while only about an hour away, I was much too wrapped up in everything going on at the new place to get there straightaway. After about a week, I suddenly realized that all of Elinor's works were available on Tidal, including the new Fiorè disc! I'd no sooner began having a serious listen over a period of days, when lightning struck the new house, killing all computer equipment (blew right through all levels of protection!), my preamp and one of my mono amps. That, along with the sudden insistence from my needy wife that I provide her with some intense landscaping brawn now-now-now, seriously delayed this review for a period of about six weeks.

Listening Results

I ripped the CD I received from Elinor using dB Poweramp as a 16-bit, 44.1 uncompressed FLAC file, which was then loaded to my new, current PC music server; replay is through either JPLAY or the brand new Sonore UltraRendu network streamer (review forthcoming). The music signal from either source is then sent via USB to the new PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC (review also forthcoming!!)—or if listening via Tidal, through the AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC to the Stellar GCD's analog inputs. Via either of the three sources, the sound is exemplary: this album, as with any of my experiences with Belgian label Passacaille's recording team, is a model of well recorded chamber music. Though I give the nod ultimately to the UltraRendu, this music sounded superb on anything I played it through.

Recorded in the Brenta, Italy church of Santuario della Beata Vergine delle Grazie, this album offers a remarkable illusion of real players in a very real acoustic—once again, my hat is off the the recordists at Passacaille. My new listening space at my new place has almost triple the cubic area of my previous one, and that allows the Zu Audio Omens to really sing in a way like never before; I could easily never leave the listening position—it's that good. The recording perspective is close-up, but you still get a really good sense of the hall space as well. In terms of 44.1, CD-quality sound, it doesn't get much better, and the PS Audio Gain Cell DAC has that nack of lending superb sound to all sources, regardless of their provenance—but CD-based sources sound especially good through it.

Elinor Frey is a remarkable talent, and she surrounds herself with players that accentuate every nuance of music that ought to be heard, and often. The intense level of her scholarly research into the obscure is wondrous to behold, and the results are impossible to resist! Take a look at her biography on her web page—the list of her educational and professional achievements and fellowships is staggering, and her ability to translate all that into music that is both enlightening and enjoyable is darn-near unsurpassed. Very highly recommended! And you don't even have to wait for the disc to arrive via the web, you can listen to it in glorious uncompressed sound on Tidal. And while you're there, check out the rest of her catalog!

Elinor Frey


Passacaille Records


All images courtesy of Elinor Frey