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"Ciacconas, Canzonas & Sonatas - Violin Music from the collection 'Partiturbuch Ludwig' (1662)"

Harmonie Universelle
Dir: Florian Deuter

rec: May 24 - 28, 2010, Brühl, Christuskirche
Accent - ACC 24274 (© 2012) (75'24")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

anon: Canzona a 4 (No. 86)abehij; Canzona a 4 (No. 91)abcehij; Canzona a 5 (No. 89)abcehij; Ciaccona a 3 (No. 63)abghi; Sonata a 6 (No. 97)abcdehij; Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669): Ciaccona (No. 3)ahij; Sonata a 5 (No. 98)abdeghij; Sonata a 6 (No. 101)abcdehij; CLEMENTIS (?): Sonata a 4 (No. 84)abghij; Johann Michael NICOLAI (1629-1685): Sonata a 6 (No. 103)abcdehij; Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (1623-1680): La bella Pastora (No. 41)abhij; Sonata Tubicinium (No. 106)abcdefhij

Florian Deutera, Monica Waismanb, violin; Joseph Tanc, Evan Fewd, David Gliddene, Laura Johnsonf, viola; Heidi Gröger, viola da gambag; Dane Roberts, violoneh; Michael Dücker, lute, guitari; Philippe Grisvard, harpsichord, organj

The music for strings which was written in the German-speaking lands in the 17th century belongs to the most brilliant and often most spectacular which the baroque era has produced. The composers were very receptive towards the influences which came from across the Alps, and combined the virtuosity of violin playing with the German tradition of counterpoint. This mixture of styles is reflected by the music which is brought together in the programme of this disc.

The twelve compositions which Florian Deuter selected for this recording are all from one source, the so-called Partiturbuch Ludwig. It is a collection of 107 pieces, which the musician and writer Jacob Ludwig (1623-1698) sent to Duke August of Brunswick and his wife Sophie Elisabeth to celebrate the former's 83rd birthday on 10 April 1662. It is not known where he found these pieces; it is possible that he had close contacts to various aristocratic courts and could use items in their musical archives. In some cases he was not sure about the identity of the composer. That explains that five pieces are anonymous; they are referred to as incerti in the track-list. The identity of Clementis is also a mystery; no composer with this surname is known. Deuter suggests it could be the German composer Clemens Thieme (1631-1668). The scoring varies from one violin and bc - Bertali, Ciaccona - to eight parts. The largest scoring in the present programme is used in the last item, Schmelzer's Sonata Tibicinum, whose six parts are divided into two choirs.

One of the remarkable aspects of German music of the 17th century is the important role of the lower strings, here the violas. Pieces for two violins and four violas are no exception; in several pieces on this disc three violas are participating. The Sonata a 6 by Nicolai which opens the programme even includes solo passages for the violone. This sonata begins with an episode for the violas playing a sequence of chords. Then the violins enter with virtuosic figurations. This division of roles returns in several other sonatas. However, there are also pieces in which the violas also play figurations, for instance in the Sonata a 6 (No. 101) by Antonio Bertali. In the anonymous Canzona a 4 (No. 91) the violins and violas are involved in a dialogue. The juxtaposition of high and low strings is a feature of many instrumental pieces of the 17th century. The Sonata a 4 by Clementis is another case; here it is the violins versus the viola da gamba. Bertali's Sonata a 5 (No. 98) is notable for its difference in character between the first and the second half. In the former the first violin is dominating the proceedings. It is only in the second half that this sonata turns into a real ensemble piece.

Many pieces written in 17th-century Germany and Austria had an illustrative character. The famous violinist Johann Jacob Walther, for instance, liked to imitate other instruments or animals on his instrument. Even when the title doesn't indicate so, some pieces suggest a kind of musical depiction. The anonymous Sonata a 6 (No. 97) begins with a repeated chordal figure by the whole ensemble which returns several times and suggests a kind of battle scene. Notable is the end of this piece: the solo violin repeats the opening figure all on its own, lastly even without the basso continuo. Schmelzer is a composer who wrote several pieces of a theatrical nature. Several of them were included in a recent release by the Freiburger BarockConsort. The Sonata Tubicinum certainly belongs to this category. La bella Pastora is a series of sometimes virtuosic variations for two violins and bc.

In the first paragraph I referred to the fact that the Italian violinistic virtuosity and the German contrapuntal tradition come together in this repertoire. The former aspect is most clearly demonstrated in the Ciaccona by Bertali, who was Italian by birth, but worked for many years as Kapellmeister at the Habsburg court in Vienna. This piece is rather well-known, but here we hear it in a different version: in the Partiturbuch Ludwig the piece ends with a virtuosic nine-bar cadenza which is absent in other sources. The inclusion of music by Bertali and Schmelzer in one programme makes much sense as it is likely that the latter was a pupil of the Italian master at the imperial court.

Harmonie Universelle is a strong and eloquent advocate of this repertoire. The word 'advocate' can be taken almost litterally here, because the music is performed as if it was an advocate's speech. Florian Deuter was once a member of Reinhard Goebel's Musica antiqua Köln, and that is reflected in the way the music is played here. It is appropriate that Goebel wrote the liner-notes to this recording. The solo episodes are brilliantly played by Deuter and Monica Waisman, the ensemble is equally impressive. The majestic character of the tutti episodes comes off well, but at the same time there is enough transparency to allow the various lines to make themselves heard.

This is fascinating repertoire, and what is on offer here is just the tip of the iceberg. One can only hope that more recordings will follow.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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