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"Rariora & Marginalia"

The Rare Fruits Council

rec: March 2001, Brunenthal, Austria, Abtei
Astrée - E 8840 (66'28")

anon: Contrapunct sopra la Baßigaglos (Variations on the chorale 'Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern'; Antonio Bertali: Chiacona; Giovanni Battista Bovicelli: Diminutions on 'Io son ferito ahi lasso' (G.P. da Palestrina); Philipp Friedrich Böddecker: Sonata in d minor; Sonata sopra La Monica; Georg Muffat: Sonata per violino solo; Johann Paul von Westhoff: Sonata 'La Guerra'

Manfredo Kraemer, violin; Josep Borrás, dulcian; Balász Máté, cello; Eduardo Egüez, theorbo, guitar; Alessandro de Marchi, harpsichord, organ

There are people who think that the music of the 19th and 20th centuries is much more complicated and technically demanding than the music of the previous century - perhaps with some exceptions, like Johann Sebastian Bach or some masters of the renaissance. And in regard to violin technique, the name of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber is often referred to as someone whose music displays an extraordinary amount of virtuosity.
But this recording impressively shows that there were many other composers who wrote complex works which demand highly sophisticated technique. Most of the names on this CD are little known, and some of the works recorded here don’t get the attention they deserve; they hardly appear in concert programmes and on CD.

A selection of pieces like this could easily result in a hotchpotch of styles without any inner coherence. Fortunately that is not the case here. The programme has been put together intelligently. All the pieces are by composers from Italy or from Austria and Germany who were strongly influenced by the Italian style. They are also connected by their rhetorical character, which implies that these works are not mere 'showpieces'. Nevertheless, they are all technically demanding. This can be explained by the fact that most composers have written these pieces for their 'own' instrument, probably even to be played by themselves. The fact that in the Sonata 'La Monica' by Böddecker the dulcian plays first fiddle and this part is very virtuoso reflects the composer's own mastery of the instrument.

These works may not be mere 'showpieces', that doesn't mean they didn't surprise the audience which heard them. Johann Paul von Westhoff is a good example. The French king Louis XIV nicknamed this Sonata 'La Guerra'. When he heard the passage which is written in the concitato style - which we know, for example, from Monteverdi's Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda - he was totally astonished and asked Von Westhoff to repeat that passage several times. Hence this passage got the description ‘La guerra cosi nominata di sua maestà’. The fact that Louis XIV obviously wasn't aware of the stile concitato shows that in the second half of the 17th century it was already something of the past. The fact that Von Westhoff used it, on the other hand, is an indication that German music was firmly rooted in the Italian style, and that the rhetorical character of the stile concitato was something which appealed to German composers. Another indication of the roots in the Italian music of the early 17th century is the Sonata 'La Monica by Böddecker, which is basically nothing but a set of diminutions, so well-known from composers like Dalla Casa and Bassano. Another one is Bovicelli, also represented here.

Anybody who knows the music of Biber will recognize characteristics of his music in some of the compositions recorded here. One of them is the frequent and quick alternation of slow and fast passages. In the Sonata in d minor by Böddecker, for instance, there are no less than eight tempo indications; in Von Westhoff’s Sonata La Guerra ten.
Another feature is the double stopping which is used in almost every piece here: the exception is Muffat’s Sonata per violino sol, a piece which also differs from the others in that it is a representative of the goûts réunis. Muffat studied both in Paris and Rome, and attempted to unite the French and Italian styles with the German.

Something which Biber seemingly wasn’t terribly interested in is quite prominent here: the use of a popular or sacred song as starting point for a set of variations. Palestrina’s madrigal Io son ferito ahi lasso was a popular subject for diminutions like those of Bovicelli recorded here. They were actually written for the cornetto, and although they certainly can be played on the violin, in my opinion they do sound better and more idiomatic on the cornetto. Böddecker took another popular Italian song to compose variations: La Monica, a secular song which Frescobaldi, for instance, used as cantus firmus for one of his masses. Böddecker’s Sonata sopra La Monica contains a virtuoso part for the dulcian, which is hardly different in character from a violin part. Its many short notes and brilliant passages are extremely demanding, reflecting the skills on the instrument of the composer. The violin mostly takes a back seat by just playing the melody, whereas the dulcian plays diminutions.

Another extraordinary example of a variation work is the anonymous Contrapunct sopra la Baßigaglos d’Altr, a strange title which isn’t explained in the booklet. It is a series of variations on the popular Lutheran chorale melody of Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern. It is attributed to Nicolaus Adam Strungk, who was another great virtuoso on the violin, whose works were loved and studied by Johann Sebastian Bach. He once met Corelli and impressed him so much that the Italian said: "Sir, if I’m called Arcangelo, you should be called Arcidiavolo".

The CD ends with a Chiacona by Antonio Bertali, who had a strong influence on composers for the violin in central Europe. The chaconne was a much loved form of composition in the baroque, and this is a fine and in many ways extraordinary specimen of the genre. It is exceptionally long – the theme is repeated 159 times! – and remarkable for its frequent modulations.

This is a remarkable recording because of the programme, but also because of the performance. Manfredo Kraemer has resisted the temptation to use this music to ‘show off’. He certainly shows his own virtuosity in a very impressive way, but never it is a purpose in itself. He uses his technical skills to reveal the content of every piece. He displays a clear understanding of the rhetorical character of the pieces he has chosen, for example in the articulation and use of dynamics and his differentiation in colouring. The fact that he has been a member of Musica antiqua Köln has probably a lot to do with that.
Josep Borrás also shows his technical abilities in Böddecker’s Sonata sopra La Monica and in the concluding Chiacona by Bertali. This last work is brilliantly realised, not only by Kraemer, but also by the other players who realise the basso continuo in such a way that the whole work is clearly structured and gets an incredible rhythmic ‘drive’.

Whether the use of bells at the end of the anonymous variations on Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern is something asked for in the score isn’t told in the booklet. Is it too harsh to say that it is a little kitschy? I could have done without it.

Anyway, I recommend this recording very strongly. Music and performance are of utmost importance.

Johan van Veen (© 2003)

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