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Johann Friedrich MEISTER (c1638 - 1697): Il giardino del piacere

Ensemble Diderot

rec: June 21 - 24, 2015, Potsdam, Orangerie Neuer Garten (Palmensaal)
Audax Records - ADX 13705 (© 2016) (66'45")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I/Jap
Cover & track-list

La Musica I in G; La Musica III in A; La Musica VII in F; La Musica VIII in B flat; La Musica IX in g minor; La Musica XII in E flat [12:10]

Sources: Il giardino del piacere, overo Raccolta de diversi fiori musicali, come sonate, fughe, imitationi, ciaccone, passagaglie, allemande, correnti &c. con 2. violini, violoncello o violone ed il continuo per cembalo, 1695

Johannes Pramsohler, Roldán Bernabé, violin; Gulrim Choi, cello; Philippe Grisvard, harpsichord

Johann Friedrich Meister is one of those German composers who has become known through one recording of some of his music. In 2004 Reinhard Goebel and his ensemble Musica antiqua Köln recorded six trio sonatas from Meister's collection Il giardino del piacere for the German radio channel WDR 3. When in 2006 the ensemble was disbanded Goebel took the initiative to make those recordings available to a wider audience. It resulted in the release of these six sonatas on Berlin Classics. The present disc includes the remaining sonatas from the same collection. The Ensemble Diderot has close ties to Reinhard Goebel: its leader, Johannes Pramsohler, plays one of Goebel's violins. It is also Goebel who has written the liner-notes.

Not that much is known about Meister. It is assumed that he was born around 1638, but that cannot confirmed, and there is also a suggestion that he may have been born in 1655. What is known is that Meister was recruited by the Hanoverian Kapellmeister Nicolaus Adam Strungk in January 1677 as music director of the court chapel of Duke Ferdinand Albrecht I of Brunswick-Lüneburg at Schloss Bevern. Soon he was involved in a conflict between the Duke and his musicians, and as a result was imprisoned. He escaped and entered the service of Bishop August Friedrich of Lübeck, who had his residence in Eutin. In 1683 he became organist of the Marienkirche in Flensburg where he also was responsible for the composition of sacred vocal music. All his compositions in this category have been preserved in the Bokemeyer-Sammlung, one of the major sources of German music from the decades around 1700 which is now in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek.

Il giardino del piacere comprises twelve pieces which are entitled La Musica, followed by a number in Italian: prima, seconda, terza and so on. It is only the first part of every piece which has the title of sonata, and each sonata is divided into a number of sections of contrasting tempo and character. The sonata is then followed by a various number of movements, often with the names of dances in Italian: sarabanda, gavotta, corrente; only menuet and gigue are in French. Because of this division into two sections these pieces can be called sonata-suites, just like the six pieces which are included in Hortus Musicus which the Hamburg organist and composer Johann Adam Reincken published in 1688. It seems likely, as Goebel suggests, that this collection was one of the sources of inspiration for Meister and that he wanted to surpass his model. That could explain that Meister included twelve sonata-suites in his set instead of Reincken's six. The titles are also very much alike. Reincken's title page refers to "Sonaten, Allemanden, Couranten, Sar[a]banden et Giguen" and Meister's to "sonate, fughe, imitationi, ciaccone, passagaglie, allemande, correnti &c". There is another thing that they have in common. Various German composers had written instrumental pieces for two instruments and bc but mostly with the scoring for violin and viola da gamba. Both Reincken and Meister opted for the scoring which was common in Italy: two violins.

Although the basic structure is the same, the various 'sonatas' differ in the choice and order of the movements. Four of the six pieces recorded here have a fugue as their second movement. La Musica I has a canon in unisono instead, with the tempo indication allegro. The second movement of La Musica XII is a passacaglia; two other sonatas - II and X, both recorder by Goebel - also include a movement on a basso ostinato, another passacaglia (X) and a ciaconna (II). The slow movements are quite expressive, such as the adagio which opens La Musica I. The sudden shift from allegro to adagio lends the penultimate movement from La Musica IX a quite dramatic character. La Musica VII opens with a movement in two sections (vivace - allegro) which includes chromatic ascending figures. This sonata's fugue and the ensuing adagio are connected by what seems a harpsichord improvisation. Every piece includes a menuet; these menuets are French in name but have little in common with the rather elegant menuets as they would become so fashionable in the next century. The addition allegro e forte to the menuets in four of these six sonatas is telling.

These compelling pieces receive an ideal performance from the Ensemble Diderot. Not only are there personal ties between the ensemble and its leader, Johannes Pramsohler, and Reinhard Goebel, in its interpretation and its way of playing it shows the spirit of the latter's former ensemble Musica antiqua Köln. The performances are based on a thorough knowledge of rhetorics which is especially important in German baroque music. This results in a clear articulation, marked dynamic accents which emphasize the difference between good and bad notes and make the dance rhythms clearly recognizable. These are truly gestural and speech-like performances which make this music breathe.

If you have the Berlin Classics disc in your collection this recording offers the opportunity to complete the set of twelve sonatas by Johann Friedrich Meister. If you don't the present disc will certainly make you look for the previous disc which should still be available. I hope that one day we will also get to know his vocal music. If that part of his output is nearly as good as these instrumental works we should be in for a treat.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Diderot

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