musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Music at the court in Dresden

[I] "The Dresden Album"
Ensemble Diderot
rec: August 20 - 23, 2013, Paris, Auditorium Marcel Landowski
Audax Records - ADX 13701 (© 2014) (63'11")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758): Sonata for 2 violins and bc in D (FWV N,D4); Johann Joseph FUX (1660-1741): Sonata for 2 violins and bc in A (K 340); George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759) (attr): Sonata for 2 violins and bc in E (HWV 394); Sonata for 2 violins and bc in g minor (HWV 393); Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Sonata for 2 violins and bc in Es flat (TWV 42,Es1) [1]; František Ignác TUMA (1704-1774): Sonata for 2 violins and bc in c minor

Sources: [1] Georg Philipp Telemann, Musique de table, 1733

Johannes Pramsohler, Varoujan Doneyan, violin; Gulrim Choi, viola da gamba; Philippe Grisvard, harpsichord

[II] "Music in Dresden in the times of Augustus II the Strong"
Martyna Pastuszka, violin; Krzysztof Firlus, viola da gambaa; Marcin Swiatkiewicz, harpsichord
rec: June 13 - 15, 2013, Bielsko-Biala, [State Music School]
Dux - 0968 (© 2013) (61'01")
Liner-notes: E/P
Cover & track-list

Felippo BENNA (?-c1750): Sonata for violin and bc in f minora; Johann David HEINICHEN (1683-1729): Sonata for violin and bc in D; Johann Friedrich SCHREYFOGEL (?-?): Sonata I for violin and bc in d minor; Sonata II for violin and bc in D (attr)a; Sonata III for violin and bc in F (attr); Sonata IV for violin and bc in g minor (attr); Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768): Sonata for violin and bc in A, op. 1,7; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Sonata for violin and bc in g minor (RV 26)

[III] Johann David HEINICHEN (1683 - 1729): "Unpublished Dresden Sonatas"
Ensemble Sans Souci
rec: July 22 - 24, 2013, Settimo di Pescantina (VR), Villa Bertoldi
Stradivarius - Str 15001 (© 2014) (74'26")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

Sonata for bassoon and bc in F; Sonata for oboe and bc in g minor (S 265); Sonata for 2 oboes and bc in c minor (S 259); Sonata for 2 oboes and bc in F (S 256); Sonata for 2 oboes and bc in G (S 252); Sonata for 2 oboes and bc in B flat; Sonata for 2 oboes, bassoon and bc in B flat (S 257)

Giuseppe Nalin, Nicolò Dotti, oboe; Paolo Tognon, bassoon; Massimiliano Varusio, cello, viola da gamba; Michele Gallo, double bass; Fabiano Merlante, theorbo, archlute, guitar; Marco Vincenzi, harpsichord

One of the main music centres in Germany in the first half of the 18th century was Dresden. Its court chapel had an illustrious history which goes back to the mid-16th century when Dresden embraced the Reformation. It was in its prime when Heinrich Schütz was Kapellmeister. It had always brilliant musicians and composers in its ranks, such as the violinists Carlo Farina, Johann Jacob Walther and Johann Paul von Westhoff and the organist Matthias Weckmann. A second flourishing period started with the accession of Elector Friedrich August I of Saxony (1670–1733) who in 1697 converted to the Catholic faith in order to acquire the Polish crown; since then he was known as August 'the Strong'.

The three discs which are reviewed here don't include any piece by Johann Georg Pisendel, the most brilliant violinist of his time in Germany, but he plays a significant role in the background as Reinhard Goebel explains in his liner-notes to the recording of the Ensemble Diderot. In 1712 he became a member of the court chapel and soon started to travel across Europe, mostly in the retinue of Crown Prince Friedrich August II during his grand tour. He visited Paris where he met Jean-Féry Rebel and François Couperin, and in Venice he became acquainted with the likes of Albinoni and Vivaldi. Both gave him some of their violin sonatas as presents. Officially he studied with Vivaldi, but the Italian master considered him his friend and musically his match rather than his pupil. Pisendel not only took with him the music which was given to him, he also actively collected pieces for the court chapel and during his whole career he copied music which came into his hands. Today the fruits of his labour are preserved in the so-called Schrank II (cupboard No. 2) in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek. It includes a large amount of music by composers who were for some time officially connected to the court in Dresden, but also by composers who sent pieces to the court. Italian music takes a specially important place, among them pieces by Vivaldi, which is the direct result of Pisendel's stay in Venice which kindled his interest in the Italian style.

The music recorded on these discs bear witness to that influence, also in the compositions by non-Italian masters. The Italian style is embedded in the German tradition one of whose features is the importance of counterpoint. That comes especially to the fore in the trio sonatas which were recorded by the Ensemble Diderot. The programme opens and closes with sonatas by Handel which may seem rather strange. However, Handel visited Dresden in 1719 at the occasion of the marriage of Friedrich August II and Maria Josepha, eldest daughter of the Habsburg emperor Joseph I. Cupboard II includes several orchestral scores by Handel, especially overtures from his operas and early versions of his concerti grossi op. 3. The authenticity of the two sonatas played here is questioned, especially because they don't sound very much like Handel and in the rest of his oeuvre there are hardly any reminiscences of these pieces. Goebel argues that the music written for Dresden was not allowed to be copied. That seems hardly a convincing argument: Handel surely didn't need to copy what he had written himself in order to reuse some of the thematic material. The question whether these sonatas are indeed by Handel will probably never be definitively answered.

Another composer who was present in 1719 in Dresden was Telemann, a personal friend of Handel and of Pisendel. The latter was one of those who subscribed to Telemann's Musique de table. That is the reason the Sonata in E flat from the first Production is included here. Johann Friedrich Fasch was one of the most respected composers of his time, and regularly wrote music for the court in Dresden. Cupboard II includes a considerable number of pieces from his pen, among them the Sonata in D (FWV N,D4) which includes an especially expressive affettuoso. The Sonata in A (K 340) by Fux was included in the collection through Johann Joachim Quantz who had entered the chapel in 1716 and went to Vienna the next year to study counterpoint with Fux. He may also have been responsible for the inclusion of the Sonata in c minor by Tuma, another pupil of Fux. This work was used for liturgical purposes.

Pisendel was very much a representative of the goût réuni which was dominant in Germany. Goebel suggests that he didn't like modern fashions, such as the style of Giuseppe Tartini. That could explain that at least the compositions on this disc are all dominated by counterpoint, and that includes the sonata by Telemann - himself a composer who always embraced new trends - and Handel, who is not immediately associated with counterpoint. But Handel would not be Handel if he was not willing to adapt his style to what was required. He must have been very well aware of the dominating taste in Dresden.

The Ensemble Diderot was founded in 2009 and this is their debut disc. A very fine disc it is, as the playing is excellent, and does ample justice to the style of the repertoire. It is fitting that Reinhard Goebel wrote the liner-notes, not only because he has an intimate knowledge of music life in Dresden in Pisendel's time, but also because the ensemble plays in the style we know from his former ensemble Musica antiqua Köln, although the sound is a little less penetrating. The main thing is that rhetorics and Affekt which were so much feature of the German style, are the leading principles here.

The second disc is a most interesting complement to "The Dresden Album". Here Martyna Pastuszka, member of the renowned orchestra Arte dei Suonatori, presents sonatas for violin and basso continuo from the Dresden court, all but one part of the same Schrank II. It seems very likely that this programme reflects the kind of music Pisendel used to play, probably privately or in intimate performances at court. However, it is also quite possible that such sonatas were used as study material by members of the court chapel as Goebel suggests. The programme fittingly opens with a sonata by Vivaldi, one of Pisendel's favourite composers. It is a brilliant piece, just like the Sonata in A, op. 1,7 by Veracini, the only work in the programme which is not from Cupboard II. Veracini is included as he dedicated his first twelve violin sonatas to Prince August Friedrich (not the op. 1 set) and was a member of the court chapel from 1717 to 1719 and again from 1722 to 1723.

The most intriguing part of the programme are the sonatas by a composer with the name of Johann Friedrich Schreyfogel. It seems that nothing is known about him. He has no entry in New Grove, the track-list doesn't give the years of his birth and death and in her liner-notes Martyna Pastuszka concludes from his sonatas that he must have been a violinist, but even that is not an established fact. The sonatas are from a set of six; the first mentions Schreyfogel as the composer, but the sonatas II to IV are anonymous. However, Ms Pastuszka believes that they are also from his pen, considering the stylistic similarities. They are Italian in style; the Sonata IV includes indications which suggest that it is an attempt to emulate the French style. It doesn't sound very French to my ears, but that is probably due to the fact that at this time the French style was already mixed with Italian elements. Felippo Benna is another composer we know nothing about; he also has no entry in New Grove.

Whoever the composers of these sonatas may have been this is really good stuff and well worth being performed and recorded. It adds to our knowledge of the rich music culture at the court in Dresden under August the Strong. Martyna Pastuszka delivers excellent performances, very much in the style we know from Arte dei Suonatori: energetic and with much theatrical flair. It is nice that most sonatas are performed here with harpsichord alone; the viola da gamba participates in only two sonatas. A string bass is not always needed as this disc shows.

The last of the sonatas from the set by Schreyfogel is from the pen of Johann David Heinichen. He was Kapellmeister in Dresden from 1717 until his death. At first he did not plan to make a career in music. Born in Krössuln near Weissenfels he entered the Thomasschule in Leipzig where he received keyboard lessons from Johann Kuhnau, the then Thomaskantor. He was asked to become his assistant, but then decided to study law and after finishing his studies went to Weissenfels to start a practice as a lawyer. However, Johann Philipp Krieger, Kapellmeister at the court in Weissenfels, asked him to compose music for festive occasions at the court. That was the start of his musical career. He returned to Leipzig, composed some operas and played in the Collegium Musicum under the direction of Telemann. During a stay in Venice he became acquainted with some of the most famous Italian masters, such as Vivaldi and Lotti. He returned to Germany in 1716 and entered the court chapel in Dresden.

The last disc is entirely devoted to music for oboe and bassoon from Heinichen's pen. At the time the oboe was a relatively new instrument to Germany. It had been developed in France in the mid-17th century; the court employed an ensemble called grande écurie which comprised mostly oboes. It was due to the attraction of everything French that the art of oboe making and playing disseminated across Europe. Before the end of the century it made its appearance in many countries, including Italy and Germany. Oboes figured prominently in music written for the court in Dresden. One can think here of the six sonatas by Zelenka which date from the early 1720s. Heinichen composed a number of concertos with significant oboe parts and sonatas for oboe with various other instruments, such as the violin.

All but one of the sonatas selected by the Ensemble Sans Souci are recorded here for the first time; the exception is the Sonata in g minor for oboe and bc. We know the names of the star oboists in Dresden: Johann Christian Richter and the French-born François Le Riche. Telemann dedicated his Kleine Cammer-Musik to them. Heinichen's sonatas give a good impression of their great skills. These sonatas are technically demanding but their importance goes beyond that. There is quite some expression in the slow movements and the fast movements have considerable swing. Heinichen explores the combination of two oboes for some harmonic peculiarities. The bassoon parts could have been written with the skills of Johann Gottfried Böhme in mind.

These pieces are played here as sonatas for oboe(s) and bc; there is no indication that some sonatas were originally scored for other instruments. The IMSLP site has the Sonata in F (S 256) from Schrank II which mentions transverse flute and violin as the scoring for the two melody parts. As not every sonata is available from that source I can't check whether other sonatas are also originally scored for other instruments.

The Ensemble Sans Souci delivers zestful performances with the fast movements coming off best. There is no lack of expression in the slow movements, but here the playing of especially Giuseppe Nalin is not as fluent as one would like. There he produces a sound which seems a bit stressed. I would have preferred a more relaxed sound, but also a more differentiated and sometimes more subtle approach. There are, I think, better players of the baroque oboe around and I hope some of them will turn to these sonatas. For the time being we should enjoy this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Diderot
Ensemble Sans Souci
Martyna Pastuszka

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