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"Le Voyage d'Allemagne"

Emmanuelle Guigues, viola da gamba

rec: Sept 9 - 12, 2013, Pressignac-Vicq (Dordogne), Église de Vicq
L'Encelade - ECL 1404 (© 2015) (62'29")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Suite for cello No. 5 in c minor (BWV 1011) (transposed to d minor) (allemande; courante; sarabande; gavotte I/II; gigue); Johann SCHENCK (1660-1712): Sonata V in e minor, op. 9,5; Sonata VI in a minor, op. 9,6; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Sonata in D (TWV 40,1)

Sources: Johann Schenck, L'echo du Danube, op. 9, 1704; Georg Philipp Telemann, Der getreue Music-Meister, 1728/29

In the renaissance the viola da gamba was almost exclusively used as a consort instrument. The Spanish composer Diego Ortiz (c1510-c1570) was one of the first who composed pieces for solo viol. The 17th century saw an increase in the composition of solo music, for instance by Christopher Simpson in England, Johann Schenck in the Netherlands and André Maugars and Nicolas Hotman in France. Maugars had worked in London in the service of James I. He was one of those players of and composers for the viol who was influenced by the English tradition of viol playing.

The present disc is called 'The Voyage to Germany' as it seeks to document the English influence through English-born composers who settled at the continent, partly due to the political upheavals in the first half of the 17th century. William Brade exported English consort music to northern Germany, Henry Butler settled in Spain and William Young in Austria. That said, it is not that easy to point out exactly what the English influence might have been. It is probably more the very fact of playing the viol as a solo instrument, comparable to the violin, rather than the English style which inspired someone like Johann Schenck, the only 17th-century composer in the programme.

Little is known about his early years. Although it is mostly assumed that he was born in 1660 in Amsterdam, that cannot be documented with absolute certainty. We also don't know who his teacher was. It could have been Carolus Hacquart, a gambist and composer who was born in the Spanish Netherlands, but settled in Amsterdam in the early 1670s. What we do know, however, is that Schenck played a key role in music life in Amsterdam. He composed what is considered the first opera in the northern Netherlands, and wrote a number of songs on Dutch texts. In 1697 Schenck moved to Düsseldorf, where he became Kammermusikus at the court of the Elector Palatinate Johann Wilhelm. The court poet stated: "No one has ever played this instrument in a more delicate way". Here Schenck wrote the music which was published in two collections which were printed in 1702 and 1704 respectively. In the latter year L'echo du Danube came from the press as Schenck's op. 9. It was written in Neuburg - the patrimonal estate of Johann Wilhelm - and dedicated to Baron Adam de Diamantstein, the superintendent of the Neuburg court music. Neuburg is close to the Danube which explains the title of the collection. This is virtuosic music for solo gamba, and the most Italian in style of Schenck's compositions. It is far beyond the capabilities of amateurs.

This collection comprises six sonatas which consist of a number of movements of contrasting tempo and character. Stylistically they show a strong influence of Italian violin music, and especially the stylus phantasticus which is the hallmark of the Italian music from the early 17th century. The last two sonatas are for viola da gamba without basso continuo. The Sonata VI in a minor has seven movements some of which are divided into various contrasting sections. The Sonata V in e minor includes two dances: gavotta and giga. The virtuosity of these sonatas comes to the fore in the use of double stopping and the exploration of the full tessitura. The Sonata VI opens with an adagio which includes a figure which moves from the upper end to the very bottom of the viol's range within a couple of bars. Several movements include expressive gestures, in particular Seufzer.

Georg Philipp Telemann composed music for virtually every instrument in vogue in his time. The viola da gamba is well represented in his oeuvre, in orchestral as well as in chamber music. Among the latter are twelve fantasias for viola da gamba solo which for a long time were thought to be lost, as Emmanuelle Guigues writes in her liner-notes. At the time of writing (November 2015) she apparently did not know that these pieces had been rediscovered. That is a little suprising as a recording of these fantasias by her German colleague Thomas Fritzsch has already been released (a review will be published here in due course). The Sonata in D was printed in his Der getreue Music-Meister, a series of periodicals with music which was published in 1728-29. It is a specimen of the mixed style which Telemann preferred. The structure is modelled after the Italian sonata da chiesa. The third movement is especially notable as it has the form of a recitative and arioso.

The disc closes with Johann Sebastian Bach. His only known compositions for the viola da gamba are the three sonatas with obbligato harpsichord BWV 1027 to 1029. Emmanuelle Guiges has chosen the fifth of the six suites for cello solo which she has transcribed for her instrument and transposed from c minor to d minor. "The deeper C minor character we might have lost by doing this is more than compensated for by the viol's timbre, as well as by the pitch used for this recording: A-405 Hz". The suite sounds very well on the viola da gamba. It is quite odd, though, that it opens with the allemande. Guigues refers to the prélude but this is not included. This is not explained in the booklet. On the label's site I read this: "The choice of a transcription of a suite by Bach (1685-1750) for cello is the culmination of a major project upon which Emmanuelle Guigues first embarked with an album devoted to the composer - released ten years ago now - and which presented the prelude to the Fifth Suite, which is now completed on this album." However, this can not justify the prelude's omission here, not even if the purchaser is expected to own the previous disc. There was plenty of time on this disc to include it. This is a major blot on this production. Guigues plays well but some movements are too slow: that goes for the allemande and also the two gavottes. As a result the dance rhythms don't come off to maximum effect; especially the gavottes are rather ponderous and stiff.

Fortunately the rest of the programme is much better. Telemann and Schenk are beautifully played. In the former the third movement has the right amount of rhythmic freedom which a recitative needs and in Schenck the contrasts between the movements or sections are nicely executed.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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