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"My precious manuscript - Fantastic Sonatas from England to Germany"

La Sainte Folie Fantastique

rec: Sept 24 - 27, 2012, Pindray, Saint-Pardoux
Alpha - 191 (© 2013) (67'01")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover & track-list

anon: Daphnec; Fortuneb (Manchester lyra viol book); Sonata in A (Durham MS mus D2, No. 24); Sonata in d minor (Durham MS mus D2, No. 27); Sonata and suite in a minor; What if a dayb (Manchester lyra viol book); Dietrich BECKER (1623-1679): Sonata in D (Durham MS mus D2, No. 25); William BRADE (1560-1630): Coral, violino solo e basso; Henry BUTLER (?-1652): Aria in e minor (Durham MS mus D2, No. 20); Sonata in G (Durham MS mus D2, No. 20); Sonata in g minor (Durham MS mus D2, No. 28) (attr); John JENKINS (1592-1678): Aria in A; Courante in a minor (Durham MS mus D2, No. 17); Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (1595-1663): Courant e variatio contrapunctc; Mascarada e variatioc; Dietrich STEFFKINS (?-1673): Allemandaa; Preludioa; William YOUNG (c1610-1662): Sonata in d minor (Durham MS mus D2, No. 21)

Jerôme Van Waerbeke, violin; Lucile Boulanger, viola da gamba (soloa); Thomas Dunford, archlute (solob); Arnaud de Pasquale, harpsichord (soloc), organ

The title of this disc refers to a manuscript which is precious indeed. It is known as MS mus D2 and is preserved in the library of Durham Cathedral, in the north-east of England. It has an interesting history which sheds light on musical connections across Europe in the 17th century. Its first owner was Frederic William Steffkins, the eldest son of Dietrich Steffkins - also known as Stoeffken - who was a celebrated viola da gamba player from Germany. He settled in 1628 in England where he entered the service of the royal family. Shortly before the Civil War he returned to the Continent where he played in several cities, such as The Hague and Hamburg. He returned to England after the Restoration and remained here until his death.

The second owner was Sir John St Barbe, who - as so many aristocrats of his time - was an avid player of the viola da gamba. He was a student of Christopher Simpson, one of England's greatest gamba virtuosos. The third owner was Philip Falle, prebendary of Durham Cathedral, who in 1722 left it to the cathedral library.

The fact that the first owner was a son of a German viol player explains that the collection includes music by German composers. Whether it was put together in its present form right from the start is hard to say. There are strong indications that the partbooks were copied between 1675 and 1680. The collection also includes music by English composers. John Jenkins is especially well represented, which can be explained from the personal friendship between Steffkins and Jenkins.

There are three partbooks, each with pieces in a different scoring. The first 13 compositions are for two violins and bc, the entries 32 to 44 are for two viols and bc, and in between are 16 pieces for violin, viola da gamba and bc. This section is the core of the present programme which is extended with pieces from other sources. These not only further document the musical connections between England and (northern) Germany, but also offer the various members of the ensemble the opportunity to play solos.

The first item, the Sonata and suite in a minor, is certainly of German origin, although the composer is not known. The form of a sonata followed by a suite was especially practised by Dietrich Becker, whose Sonata in D closes the programme. One wonders whether he could also be the author of this work. It has been preserved in the library of Uppsala which includes large numbers of German 17th-century music. The sonata by Becker is a typical exponent of the stylus phantasticus which is a feature of the North-German style in instrumental and keyboard music. It includes six sections of a contrasting nature, with solo passages for both the violin and the viol. Another anonymous piece is the Sonata in A which includes brilliant passages for the violin and ends with a chaconne.

William Young and William Brade are two composers who went to the continent to look for employment. Young was a virtuoso of the viola da gamba and widely admired. He probably left England for religious reasons and entered the service of Archduke Ferdinand Karl in Innsbruck in 1652 at the latest. His music is a unique combination of English, German/Austrian and Italian influences. William Brade left England around 1590 and settled in Hamburg. He worked at several places in Germany and at the court in Copenhagen. It is likely that Steffkin was a member of the viol consort which was led by Brade when they both worked at the court in Copenhagen in 1622. Surprisingly Brade is represented here by a piece for solo violin, according to Louis Delpech in his liner-notes, "the first English piece ever written for solo violin". The title suggests that it is a series of variations on a chorale. I have not been able to identify the melody, and the liner-notes give no information about it either. Brade makes use here of the alla bastarda technique in which the violin frequently moves up and down through its tessitura.

Henry Butler is another English composer who went abroad, this time to Spain. He enjoyed a great reputation and was mentioned by colleagues in England, France and Italy. We know only 20 pieces which can be attributed to him with any certainty. Among them are three sonatas for violin, viola da gamba and bc. In another manuscript from Durham the Sonata in g minor is attributed to Giuseppe Zamponi (1600/10-1662), an Italian composer who for a number of years worked in Brussels. In contrast to other music by Butler this piece omits any double stopping. That is different in the Sonata in G which has passages with double and triple stopping. The Aria in e minor is added to this sonata, but played here independently.

Obviously this programme could not be without some music by Steffkins himself. The Preludium and Allemande are written for viola da gamba solo played the lyra viol way, as it was called. This was certainly not an exclusively English practice, but it was there more widespread than anywhere else. It is probably an example of the German composer embracing the English style. The keyboard pieces show that the English virginalists had strong influence on the continent, especially thanks to Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. Daphne - three variations on the English song When Daphne from fair Phoebus did fly - is the most striking example.

This highly captivating programme is performed with great dedication. The performers deliver strongly rhetorical and gestural interpretations which lend these pieces a pronounced theatrical character. The tempi are well chosen, and allow the contrasts within the various pieces to come off to maximum effect. In the solo pieces the various members of the ensemble show their considerable technical skills. The liner-notes are informative, but the English translation is pretty bad.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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La Sainte Folie Fantastique

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