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"Sonate, Battaglie & Lamento - Chamber music from the Collection of the Olmütz Bishop Karl von Liechtenstein-Castelcorn"

Dir: Daniel Deuter
rec: Jan 2008, Cologne-Delbrück, Pauluskirche
PanClassics - PC 10206 (© 2008) (79'40")

anon: Aria Adagio in D; anon, attr Johann Caspar KERLL: Sonata in F; Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669): Sonata a 2 in e minor; Sonata a 3 in d minor; Johann FISCHER (1646-1716): Balletto à 4 (Sonatina - Allemanda - Menuet & Menuet 2 - Bourrée - sarabande in c minor); Johann Caspar KERLL (1627-1693): Canzona a 3 in G; Sonata a 3 in g minor; Alessandro POGLIETTI (?-1683): Sonata a 2 in D; Sonata a 2 in d minor; Sonata a 3 in C; Sonata a 4 in D; Sonata a 4 in g minor; Philipp Jacob RITTLER (c1639-1690): Sonata in g minor; Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (1620/30-1680): Sonata Lamentevole in B flat

Daniel Deuter, violin, violino piccolo; Margret Baumgartl, violin, viola; Heike Johanna Lindner, alto viol, bass viol; Matthias Müller, violone; Johanna Seitz, harp; Markus Märkl, harpsichord, organ

In the second half of the 17th century the German-speaking regions were a centre of violin playing in Europe. Several composers working in that region belong to the most virtuosic of their time, like Johann Jacob Walther, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer and Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. Only one of these, Schmelzer, is represented in the programme recorded by CordArte. Instead of the inevitable Biber we get music by composers who are less well-known and whose works are not often performed and recorded. The pieces on this disc are all part of one of the most important sources of music from the German-speaking regions in the 17th century. It is the collection which was brought together between 1664 and 1695 by the Bishop of Olmütz (nowadays Olomouc in the eastern part of the Czech Republic), Karl von Leichtenstein-Castelkorn. It contains more than 1400 compositions, among them 225 sonatas and 236 ballets. What makes this collection all the more valuable is the fact that a considerable number of pieces are dated and annotated with indications of performance practice. It also contains an inventory of musical instruments and their makers.

The bishops of Olmütz had their residence in Kremsier (nowadays Kromeríž). In 1643 the city was destroyed by Swedish troops. In 1664 Karl von Liechtenstein-Castelcorn took up office, rebuilt the palace and the city and founded a chapel of high quality. The bishop attracted performers and composers like the trumpeter Vejvanovský and the violinist Biber. Philipp Jacob Rittler was chaplain for four years and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer provided the bishop's chapel with the newest music composed for the imperial court in Vienna. There Alessandro Poglietti was organist, and he also handed over some of his own works to the bishop.

The music recorded on this disc gives some idea about the quality of the compositions in the bishop's collection as well as the standard of playing of his court chapel. Both are just astonishing. The disc opens and closes with sonatas by Johann Caspar Kerll. He studied with Carissimi and is mainly known for his keyboard works which show a strong influence of Frescobaldi and Froberger. Very little ensemble music by Kerll has come down to us; whether he has written more is not known. But what we have is of high quality: both sonatas are consisting of a sequence of short sections, contrasting in tempo and metre. They are written for two violins, viola da gamba and bc. Both authentic sonatas contain some solo sections for the viola da gamba. A Sonata in F with the same scoring is anonymous, but could be written by Kerll as well. Here it is the violins which play the main role, and there is a good amount of harmonic tension between the two violin parts.

Poglietti was mainly known as a composer of keyboard music and in this capacity he was an important link between Frescobaldi and composers of later generations. In his keyboard music we find many imitations of instruments, bird and battles. According to New Grove he composed also eight instrumental sonatas and many balletti. Five sonatas are played here, and two of them - the Sonata a 3 in C and the Sonata a 4 in D - contain battaglias, although there is no specific reference to them. The Sonata a 2 in D makes use of chromaticism in the second section; in the Sonata a 2 in d minor there is a nice variety between more brilliant and expressive and more lighthearted sections.

A contemporary of Poglietti, also of Italian birth, was Antonio Bertali. He was a brilliant violinist and in 1649 he succeeded Giovanni Valentini as Kapellmeister at the imperial court in Vienna, for which he composed a number of operas. Just one sonata for violin and bc by Bertali has been preserved which is played here (Sonata a 2 in e minor); in particular this piece is evidence of his virtuosity as a performer as it contains double stopping. In addition CordArte plays the Sonata a 3 in d minor, which is scored for two violins, viola da gamba and bc, as so often with sonatas of this kind consisting of a sequence of slow and fast sections.

Unlike Poglietti and Bertali Philipp Jacob Rittler was directly employed by Karl von Liechtenstein-Castelcorn. Although he acted as conductor of performances in the cathedral he was also a violinist, and apparently a very skilled one, as some of his sonatas contain virtuosic solo sections. Many of his sonatas have up to four viola parts; the Sonata in d minor recorded here just one, with violin, bass viol and bc.

The last composer in this programme is Johann Fischer who was born in Augsburg and received his first music lessons there. He later went to Stuttgart to study with Samuel Capricornus. He was also violinist, and one of the pioneers of the scordatura technique. That is reflected in the pieces here which are scored for violino piccolo discordato, (normally tuned) violin, bass viol and bc. In particular the sarabande is a highly expressive piece.

Lastly an anonymous piece, Aria Adagio in D, written for viola da gamba and bc. It is an aria with variations of increasing virtuosity and ends with a very short slow section.

This kind of repertoire was often played by the ensemble Musica antiqua Köln, which was disbanded a couple of years ago. Its founder and director, Reinhard Goebel, wrote the programme notes for this recording, which gives some interesting background to the programme as a whole but doesn't tell anything about the various pieces. The leader of CordArte, Daniel Deuter, also has been a member of Musica antiqua Köln, and that is clearly discernible in the style of playing. He and his colleagues have ample opportunities to show their own astonishing and impressive virtuosity. But these performances are much more than that. The technique is used to reveal the expressive character of the music in the programme. If there is any recording to show the brilliant quality and the strongly rhetorical and 'affective' character of this repertoire, it is CordArte.

In my view this is one of the best recordings of the last couple of years. I have listened from beginning to end without ever wandering away. The interpretation is enthralling, overwhelming and incisive. This is definitely one of the recordings of the year.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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