Various Artists

The Jane Austen Companion

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The Jane Austen Companion, a compilation from Nimbus, consists of music from the era of Jane Austen, composed between roughly 1760 and 1820. Some of it may have been what Austen heard at concerts attended during visits to her brothers in London or when her family lived in Bath. The mixture of composers on the album is made up of those who lived or occasionally worked in London, such as Mendelssohn, Haydn, and J.C. Bach, plus English composer Boyce and a few other contemporary, continental composers. Most of the music is single movements from symphonies or concertos and it's almost all slow or moderately paced, pleasant-sounding music without much emotional tension. Without a greater variety of music, the album as a whole brings to mind garden strolls and walks around assembly halls, which are certainly appropriate to Austen's work, but not really what it is known for. The only selections that are lively enough to hint at the wittiness of Austen's writing are an Allegro from Boyce's Symphony No. 1 and a brief Vivace from his Symphony No. 2. The Menuet from Haydn's Surprise Symphony is included, rather than the "surprise" Andante movement. Some of Handel's Fireworks or Water Music, always popular in England, even in Austen's day, with more brass instruments, would have broken up the textural and timbral dimensions of the album. There is a consistently high level of performance among the diverse ensembles in the collection, from the Hanover Band to the English String Orchestra to the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, and the reliability of the sound quality is much better than what's found in most compilations. This album won't work if you're looking for something that reflects not only the era, but the essence of Jane Austen, but it will work if you're just looking to chillout with her.

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