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Johann ULICH (1677 - 1742): "Flauto con Cembalo"

Lux Borea

rec: Nov 2010, Moscow, Russian State Academy of Choir Art
Euridice - EUCD 63 (© 2011) (67'45")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Sonata I in Cabc; Sonata II in Fabc; Sonata III in g minorabc; Sonata IV in B flatabc; Sonata V in d minorabc; Sonata VI in Gabc; Sonata con Suite in Fc; [Suite in G]c

Source: VI Sonaten à flauto con cembalo, 1716

Paul Wåhlberg, recordera; Pavel Serbin, cellob; Andreas Edlund, harpsichordc

It is common opinion that recorder players struggle with the lack of repertoire for their instrument. No wonder they often turn to arrangements of music which was originally composed for other instruments, like the transverse flute or the violin. As this was common practice in the baroque era there is no objection to them doing so. But they should also try to find repertoire which so far has remained unknown. Over the years I have heard various recordings of recorder sonatas which hitherto had never appeared on disc. That is also the case here: even the name of Johann Ulich was completely unknown to me.

He is not even mentioned in New Grove. Therefore I have no more information than what is revealed in the liner-notes. He was born in 1677 in Wittenberg; his father worked there as organist and Kantor. He studied at Wittenberg University and acted as a substitute for his father for some time. In 1708 he moved to Zerbst, where he became organist at the St. Bartholomäi-Kirche and instrumentalist at the court. He remained here until his death. In 1722 Johann Friedrich Fasch was appointed Kapellmeister at the court and this way became Ulich's colleague. The latter composed music for special occasions and in his capacity as organist he was also responsible for the musical education of the princely family and the boys in the chapel choir.

Very little of Ulich's musical output has been preserved. Most of it is in the library of the Mariengymnasium in Jever. In 1667 this principality had come into the hands of the house of Anhalt-Zerbst. In 1720 Prince Johann August of Zerbst appointed his cousin Johann Ludwig II. as reeve of Jever. Johann Ludwig's music library which he brought with him to Jever contained a number of compositions by Ulich. His oeuvre includes nine keyboard pieces, three secular cantatas and a set of six sonatas for recorder and bc which was printed in 1716 in Cöthen.

These sonatas were apparently first and foremost composed for musical entertainment at court. It seems that the above-mentioned Johann Ludwig's abilities as a performer were respectable. It is notable that Ulich dedicated his sonatas to "the musical amateurs for their divertissement". As these sonatas contain passages of considerable virtuosity this dedication only confirms that amateurs of those days were often highly-skilled.

These sonatas largely follow the model of the Italian sonata da chiesa, but some also contain dances as were part of the sonata da camera. The number of movements varies from four (Sonata IV in B flat) to nine (Sonata VI in G). The Sonata I in C opens with a movement in three sections: vivace - un poco adagio - vivace. The first vivace consists of only a couple of bars. Some movements follow each other without interruption, creating sudden contrasts of tempi. The Sonata IV in b flat ends with an 'air', which is in fact an aria with variations.

The sonatas are full of good ideas and interesting thematic material, often quite surprising and original. Rhythmically they are engaging as well, and that is emphasized by the playing of the interpreters who set strong dynamic accents. Pavel Serbin and Andreas Edlund expose the rhythmic pulse brilliantly. Paul Wåhlberg produces a beautiful tone and plays with great sensitivity. He convincingly brings out the expression in some of the slow movements. These sonatas are very diverting, as was Ulich's aim.

Two of Ulich's keyboard works are added to the programme. They are less remarkable but nice to listen to. Good examples are the intrada and the air from the Suite in G. Andreas Edlund plays these suites very well.

To sum up: this is a surprising package, which deserves the attention of anyone who likes the recorder. Recorder players should add these sonatas to their repertoire. The performers are advocates every composer can only dream about.

N.B. The recorder sonatas were found in a Russian archive. The story of this discovery is told here.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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