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"Sounds from the King's Chamber"

Duo Kirchhof

rec: June 2011, Weilburg
Centaur - CRC 3229 (© 2012) (64'29")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Carl Friedrich ABEL (1723-1787): Adagio in d minor (WKO 209)a; Allegro in d minor (WKO 207)a; Moderato in d minor (WKO 208)a; Adam FALCKENHAGEN (1697-1761): Sonata V in Fb; Gottfried MEUSEL (1688-1728): Concerto in Cab; Concerto in Dab; Concerto in Fab; Silvius Leopold WEISS (1686-1750: Fantasy in c minorb; Prelude in c minorb

Martina Kirchhof, viola da gambaa; Lutz Kirchhof, luteb

The title of this disc reveals the character of its programme and the approach of the artists. The composers who are represented were all connected to a court. Their music was written for the entertainment of their royal or aristocratic employers. In his liner-notes Lutz Kirchhof mentions that one shouldn't get the impression that the chambers in palaces and castles were very small. "The size of the space had to accommodate a chamber orchestra but also to allow for sufficient distance between the servants and the nobility". However, he adds that the historical circumstances are often ignored in modern performance practice. "The modern 'chamber singer', who seeks to present a great voice, would presumably have been relegated to the position of 'open air singer' and allowed to perform during one of the courtly outdoor events".

The artists have tried to recreate the atmosphere in the palaces and castles of the 18th century. "Therefore we subjugate ourselves to our listeners and suggest to them that they cultivate a fine but pleasurable experience according to the model of courtly listening and set their stereo equipment at a level that is moderate and not too loud". That is a sensible advice, but unfortunately the recording doesn't make things so easy. The lute pieces are recorded at a high volume and one needs to turn down his equipment considerably. The ensuing pieces for lute and viola da gamba then are too quiet, and at first one gets the impression that they are recorded in mono. This inconsistency in the recording is a little blot on this recording.

Artistically there is no reason at all to complain. The programme is quite interesting, especially since three pieces have been recorded here for the first time. Gottfried Meusel has no entry in New Grove, and the only information about him is what Kirchhof writes in the booklet. He first worked at court of Zeitzisch and, following its dissolution, entered the service of the Countess Von Bollheim in Nuremberg. He died at the age of 41 following a fall from a horse. Kirchhof doesn't give any details about these three concertos; I would like to know what exactly the scoring is. I assume that they are played as they were conceived. The lute and the viola da gamba are equal partners. They usually play together, but there are also passages in which one of them plays alone. They have some theatrical traits, for instance the Concerto in F. The opening allegro from the Concerto in D has an ABA structure; the B part is in a slower tempo, creating a nice contrast within this movement.

The rest of the programme includes pieces for either lute or viola da gamba solo. Silvius Leopold Weiss was the most famous lutenist of his time, who for most of his life was at the service of the court in Dresden. He regularly travelled around and had several pupils. The Prelude in c minor has strong improvisatory traits, whereas the following Fantasia is in binary form and ends with a fugue. His contemporary Adam Falckenhagen was also active as a lute teacher, which didn't prevent him from taking lessons from Weiss. He worked at several courts, among them that of Bayreuth where he was appointed in 1734 and stayed until his death. His employer was Princess Wilhelmine of Prussia, the sister of Frederick the Great and an avid and skilled player of the lute herself. The Sonata V in F is a quite brilliant and technically demanding piece, especially the opening largo.

Carl Friedrich Abel was one of the greatest viola da gamba players of his time, the son of Christian Ferdinand Abel, himself a gambist and colleague of Johann Sebastian Bach in Cöthen. Carl Friedrich also was a part of the court chapel in Dresden, but left the city in 1757/58 during its destruction by Frederick the Great. He settled in London where he continued his career as a gambist and organised the famous Bach-Abel concerts with Johann Christian Bach. He was appointed chamber musician to Queen Charlotte in about 1764, a position he held until his death. From Abel a considerable number of pieces for viola da gamba solo have been preserved, partly collected in the so-called Drexel-manuscript. They reflect his own great skills as a performing artist. The three pieces played here are listed as a suite, but formally they don't belong together. Especially the piece without a title has some improvisatory traits. As so often the catalogue numbers are not given. The order of the tree pieces is: WKO 208, 209, 207.

Lutz and Martina Kirchhof deliver fine performances. The former's playing can be quite powerful; that seems appropriate considering the character of the pieces he has selected. Abel's solo pieces are more intimate in character, and Martina Kirchhof's performance suites their character well. The concertos by Meusel are interesting and musically compelling additions to the repertoire. The Kirchhof's are enthusiastic and engaging advocates of these concertos. I don't know if more compositions by Meusel are known. If so, a recording would be welcome.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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