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CD reviews

"Stylus phantasticus"

Bell'Arte Salzburg
Dir: Annegret Siedel

rec: June 17 - 19, 2009, Berlin, Siemensvilla
Berlin Classics - 0016572BC (© 2009) (67'31")

Thomas BALTZAR (c1630-1663): Praeludium for violin in Ga [3]; Dietrich BECKER (1623-1679): Sonata for 2 violins, viola da gamba and bc in Dabcde; Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Sonata for violin, viola da gamba and bc in B flat, op. 1,4 (BuxWV 255)acd [5]; Sonata for 2 violins, viola da gamba and bc in C (BuxWV 266)abcde; Caspar FÖRSTER (1616-1673): Sonata La Sidon for 2 violins, viola da gamba and bc in Fabcd; Johann Adam REINCKEN (1643-1722): Partita I for 2 violins and bc in a minorabcd [4]; Johann SCHOP (c1590-1667): Sine titulo for violin and bc in d minoracd [2]; Samuel Peter SIDON (?-after 1701): Sonata for violin and bc in Gacd; Nicolaus Adam STRUNGK (1640-1700): Sonata for 2 violins, viola da gamba and organ in d minorabce; Johann VIERDANCK (c1605-1646): Sonata for 2 violins in d minorab [1]; Matthias WECKMANN (1618-1674): Canzon for keyboard in d minord

(Sources: [1] Johann Vierdanck, Ander Theil, darinnen begriffen etliche Capricci, Canzoni und Sonaten, 1641; [2] 't Uitnement Kabinet, 1646; [3] The Division Violin, 1684; [4] Johann Adam Reincken, Hortus musicus, 1688; [5] Dietrich Buxtehude, VII Suonate, 1694?)

Annegret Seidela, Ulrike Titzeb, violin; Matthias Müller, viola da gambac; Zvi Meniker, harpsichordd; Margit Schultheiss, organe

This disc is devoted to music written in the stylus phantasticus which had its origins in Italy in the early 17th century and was transported to Germany. In the second half of the 17th century it found its peak in Northern Germany, in the music of Dietrich Buxtehude and other composers of his time.

The ensemble Bell'Arte Salzburg has selected an interesting programme of pieces which reflect this style. Two of them are by Buxtehude, which is understandable but also a little disappointing as his chamber music is often performed and recorded. The same is true for the Partita I in a minor by Johann Adam Reincken, from his collection Hortus Musicus. This particular partita, the first of the six in this collection, is by far the best-known as it was arranged for harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach. The other partitas are mostly neglected which is totally unjustified. The other pieces in the programme are far less known. I had never heard of Samuel Peter Sidon, but searching on the internet I found another disc with a sonata by him. But otherwise he is the great unknown on this disc.

Both sonatas by Buxtehude are well suited to demonstrate the features of the stylus phantasticus. Among them are technical virtuosity, which reveals itself, for instance, in the frequent use of double stopping. One of the most important elements is the succession of strongly contrasting short sections. Their character can vary from improvisatory passages in the form of a toccata or a recitative to dances, fugues or ground basses like passacaglia and chaconne. This makes these pieces sometimes look like a mosaic, but the composers still keep the various elements together. And then there is the element of harmony. A number of pieces include passages with sometimes very strong dissonances, in particular in the sections with an improvisatory character.

There is some nice variety in character and scoring of the works in the programme. In most pieces the viola da gamba has an independent part, which is characteristic of the music in Northern Germany. Some sonatas are for one violin, others for two. There are also a couple of pieces for violins without basso continuo. The Praeludium in G by Thomas Baltzar is for violin solo. Baltzar had been educated in Lübeck, worked in Sweden for a while and went to England in 1655 where he surprised his audience with his virtuosity on the violin, an instrument which was relatively new to the English public. In 1661 he became a member of the King's Private Musick.

Johann Vierdanck was born from a Saxonian-Thuringian family and started his career as a choirboy in Dresden under Heinrich Schütz. He worked in Güstrow, Lübeck and Copenhagen and ended his career as an organist in Stralsund. He was one of the first in Germany to follow the example of the Italian trio sonata and also was influenced by the Italian violin virtuoso Carlo Farina who lived and worked in Dresden. His Sonata in d minor is scored for two violins without basso continuo and makes use of canon and imitation and towards the end the piece develops into three parts as the violins are using double stopping. A number of dissonances pass by in the process.

Johann Schop was also a virtuoso on the violin. He was leader of the Ratsmusik in Hamburg. His piece for violin and bc on this disc is referred to as sine titulo. This is the title it is given in 't Uitnement Kabinet, a collection of pieces for amateurs printed in Amsterdam in two volumes in 1646 and 1649. It shows that amateurs were assumed to be really skilled in those days because this piece is anything but simple stuff. As leader of the Ratsmusik Schop was succeeded in 1667 by Dietrich Becker, who in 1668 was appointed Kapellmeister of the city. The scoring of his Sonata in D is for two violins, viola da gamba and bc, which is quite usual in his oeuvre. He often combined Italian and French elements (as shown in the recording of Musica Poetica), but here it is the influence of Italian music which is notable. There are a number of modulations before the original key returns.

When Becker died in 1679 his successor as leader of the Ratsmusik was Nicolaus Adam Strungk. His fame resulted in being appointed Vice-Kapellmeister in 1688 and Kapellmeister in 1693 of the court in Dresden. In his Sonata in d minor the organ does more than just play the basso continuo as the three strings play over a chord sequence of the organ.

Samuel Peter Sidon's Sonata in G is preserved in the library of the University of Uppsala - as so many pieces from Northern Germany. He was considered a candidate to succeed Johann Schop but Dietrich Becker was chosen instead. This sonata is a virtuosic and ingenious piece which in the manuscript are followed by a number of dances. These have been left out here. Evidence of his reputation is the sonata Johann Kaspar Förster dedicated to him. He knew Sidon when the both were playing in the court orchestra in Copenhagen. The Sonata in F begins with a fugue which returns at the end after, among others, a second fugue and passages in the form of a recitative and an aria respectively.

The Canzon in d minor by Matthias Weckmann is written for the harpsichord and consists of two fugues; after the second the first returns. Weckmann was appointed organist of the Jacobikirche in Hamburg and founded a collegium musicum in 1660.

The ensemble Bell'Arte Salzburg has made a number of recordings with music for strings from Germany and Austria, and the players are experts in this repertoire. Technically their playing is impressive and leaves nothing to be desired. The interpreations are generally good as well, but sometimes I find them a bit too restrained. I think the contrasts are not fully explored and dynamically the performances are on the modest side. Also some more breathing spaces now and then, for instance before an important note or chord, would make the interpretations just a little more exciting and more theatrical.

Despite this reservation in regard to the interpretation and also to the inclusion of some well-known pieces I don't hesitate to recommend this disc. This repertoire is very interesting and musically captivating and the programme shows that there is still a lot to discover in the instrumental repertoire from Nothern Germany.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Bell'Arte Salzburg

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