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"Upon a Ground"

Tabea Debus, recorder; Lea Rahel Bader, cello; Kohei Ota, theorbo, guitar; Johannes Lang, harpsichord; Jan Croonenbroeck, organ

rec: July 30 - August 2, 2012, Neustadt-Mandelsloh, St. Osdag-Kirche
Classicclips - CLCL 124 (© 2012) (77'32")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & liner-notes

anon: Durham Ground; Francesco BARSANTI (1690-1772): Sonata V for recorder and bc in F, op. 1,5 [7]; Paolo Benedetto BELLINZANI (1690-1757): Sonata for recorder and bc in d minor, op. 3,12 [6]; Michel BLAVET (1700-1768): Sonata II for transverse flute and bc in b minor, op. 3,2 [8]; Louis-Antoine DORNEL (c1685-1765): Suite for transverse flute and bc No. 1 in G [5]; Gottfried (Godfrey) FINGER (1660?-1730): A Division on a Ground by Mr. Finger (arr. Michael Schneider) [3]; Michel de LA BARRE (1675-1745): Sonata for transverse flute and bc in G 'L'Inconnuë' (chaconne) [4]; Giovanni Antonio PANDOLFI MEALLI (1629-after 1679): Sonata IV for violin and bc in D, op. 3,4 'La Castella' [2]; Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): A New Ground for harpsichord [recorder, harpsichord] in e minor (Z T682); Francesco ROGNONI TAEGGIO (fl c1600): Vestiva i colli (after Palestrina) [1];

Sources: [1] Francesco Rognoni Taeggio, Selva de varii passaggi secondo l'uso moderno, 1620; [2] Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli, Sonate à Violino solo, op. 3, 1660; [3] John Walsh (ed), The Division Flute, 1706; [4] Michel de La Barre, Deuxième Livre de Pièces pour la Flûte Traversière, avec la Basse Continuë, 1710>sup>2; [5] Louis-Antoine Dornel, Sonates a violon seul et suites pour la flûte traversière avec la basse, op. 2, 1711; [6] Paolo Benedetto Bellinzani, Sonate a flauto solo con cembalo, e violoncello, op. 3, 1720; [7] Francesco Barsanti, Sonatas or solos for a flute with a thorough bass for the harpsichord or bass violin, op. 1, 1724; [8] Michel Blavet, Troisième livre de sonates pour la flûte traversière, avec la basse, 1740

One of the most popular forms in the baroque era is the ground bass, or basso ostinato. In New Grove its character is explained: "A melody, usually in the bass and hence often called a ground bass (basso ostinato in Italian), recurring many times in succession, accompanied by continuous variation in the upper parts. The term 'ground' may refer to the bass melody itself, to an entire musical scheme including the harmonies and upper voices, to the process of repetition in general, or to a composition in which it occurs." In her liner-notes Tabea Debus points out the interesting contrast between "the rigour of the repetition on the one hand and the demands of the interpretive freedom and unfolding virtuosity on the other". The ground brings two aspects of the baroque style together: formal organization and improvisation. It is exactly this contrast which makes many compositions based on a basso ostinato so exciting.

One of the nice aspects of this disc is that the performers have generally avoided the best-known specimens of the genre which appear on many discs. It is often Italian and English music which is played, but here we hear a number of French pieces. The Italian compositions are from the pen of lesser-known masters, and that goes especially for Paolo Benedetto Bellinzani. Two things need to be added: various pieces are not intended for the recorder, but for the violin (Pandolfi Mealli) or the transverse flute (Blavet, La Barre). As composers were mostly rather pragmatic in their approach to scoring and often suggested alternative scorings themselves, there is no fundamental objection against playing them on the recorder. The other issue is that Ms Debus includes the form of a minuet with variations. The Sonata in F by Barsanti and the Sonata II by Blavet end with such a menuet. Strictly speaking this cannot be counted as a ground.

Vestiva i colli by Francesco Rognoni Taeggio is an early example of a piece on a ground; it belongs to the genre of the diminutions which was one of the most popular genres around 1600. Divisions on a ground were especially popular in England, and written for either viola da gamba or recorder. The names of various collections published during the 17th century bear witness to that. The programme opens with A Division on a Ground by Mr. Finger, which was included in a collection called The Division Flute. The "Mr. Finger" refers to Gottfried (or Godfrey) Finger, of Bohemian origin and an a professional gambist. He settled in England where he was active as a composer for the theatre. Another piece by an English composer is the so-called Durham Ground. It is based on the first eight bars of the sarabande from the Sonata op. 5,7 by Corelli. Its composer is not known and the piece was originally scored for violin. It must have been written in the late 17th or early 18th century. At that time Corelli's music was very popular in England and played everywhere by amateurs and professionals.

Some of the most renowned bassi ostinati from the baroque era are represented. The pieces by Dornel and La Barre include a chaconne, in Pandolfi Mealli's sonata we find a passacaglia and Bellinzani's sonata ends with a follia. The programme ends with one of the most famous grounds, A New Ground in e minor by Henry Purcell. It is telling that this piece, originally for harpsichord, played here in a modest scoring of recorder and harpsichord, has been chosen to bring the programme to a close. Because of the virtuosity of many grounds it is tempting to show off, but that is avoided here. The artists also shun special effects to make the music more interesting or more appealing. They rightly seem to believe that this music is good enough in itself and doesn't need any tricks. Tabea Debus and her colleagues concentrate on a lively and colourful interpretation of the pieces they have chosen. They play with much temperament, and there is no moment that their concentration ebbs away. Some tempi are very fast, but never sound rushed and are not at the expense of a good articulation. The ornaments are stylish and well-balanced.

The booklet includes words of praise from the renowned German recorder player Dorothee Oberlinger who refers to the "thrilling musicality" of Tabea Debus. That characterisation applies to the whole ensemble. They have produced an exciting and impressive disc with some of the best recorder and ensemble playing I have heard recently.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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