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"Flemish Baroque Treasures Unveiled"

Utopiaa; Euterpe Baroque Consort
Dir: Bart Rodyns

rec: Sept 26 - 27, 2015 & Jan 25, 2016, Antwerp, AMUZ
Phaedra - PH92093 (53'54")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/N; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Christoffel DRYMANS (1738-1797): Lamentatio prima in coena Dominia; Willem Gommaar KENNIS (1717-1789): Magnificata; Salve Reginaa; Sonata for violin and bc in G, op. 3,6b; Sonata for 2 violins and bc in B flat, op. 2,1; Te Deuma

[Utopia] Griet De Geyter, Alice Foccroulle, soprano; Bart Uvyn, alto; Adriaan De Koster, tenor; Lieven Termont, baritone; Bart Vandewege, bass
[EBC] Maia Silberstein (solob), Martine Beernaert, violin; Tine Van Parys, cello; Lode Leire, double bass; Bart Rodyns, harpsichord, organ

During the 15th and 16th centuries musical life in Europe was dominated by representatives of the so-called Franco-Flemish school. Composers from the region which is now Belgium and the northern part of France, were active across Europe in the chapels of courts and churches as singers, music masters and composers of sacred music. This golden era was followed by a period of decline during the 17th century. Various musicians from the region looked for employment elsewhere and it was mostly music from France and Italy that was performed. Partly due to the region's economic recovery things started to look a bit brighter in the 18th century. Several composers of that time are known, such as the members of the Loeillet family, father and son Fiocco (the father being of Italian birth), several members of the Boutmy family - a dynasty of keyboard players - and Pieter Van Maldere. However, very few of their compositions are available on disc. That also goes for the two composers who are represented on the present disc.

I don't know how many pieces from the pen of Willem Gommaar Kennis have ever been recorded; ArkivMusic doesn't even include his name in its list of composers. He was born in Lier, near Antwerp. He received music lessons from his father and sang as a choirboy in the St Gummarus Church in his hometown. Here he also entered the orchestra as a violinist at the age of eleven. In 1742 he was appointed chapel master at the same church. Two years later he was appointed in the same position at St Peter's in Antwerp. Here he stayed until his death. Kennis was best known for his skills as a violinist. He was a virtuosic player, which comes to the fore in his instrumental music. I vaguely remember having heard some specimens of that part of his oeuvre before, but I certainly have never heard any of his vocal music. The vocal works on the present disc are world premier recordings.

Only eight vocal compositions from his pen are known; three of them are included here. The disc opens with a setting of the Salve Regina which dates from 1746 and is scored for five voices, two violins, cello and bc. It is divided into five sections. The first and the last two are for the tutti. Whereas in the first and last Kennis makes use of counterpoint, the very short fourth section is entirely homophonic. The second is a solo for the soprano; the coloratura attests to the influence of opera. The third section begins as a solo for the tenor, but closes with a tutti episode. In line with tradition the Magnificat is an alternatim composition; Kennis set the even verses for five voices and bc. It includes some notable text expression, in particular on the words "fecit potentiam". The third piece is a setting of the Te Deum for four voices, singing tutti and solo, and bc. This work is largely homophonic.

Kennis' instrumental output is considerably larger. He published four collections of trio sonatas, which were printed in Brussels, Leuven and Paris. Three collections of duets for two violins and one for violin and cello came from the press in Liège, Paris and London. Lastly his work-list includes two sets of sonatas for violin and bc, six sinfonias for strings and six string quartets. The Sonata in B flat is part of a long tradition of chamber music modelled after Corelli, based on counterpoint. However, in its sequence of movements Kennis follows the fashion of the mid-18th century: andante, allegro, allegro assai. That is also the case in the Sonata in G: andante assai, allegro, aria. The last movement is a theme with variations. In this piece we get a glimpse of Kennis' virtuosity as a violinist. Several movements include a cadenza; I assume these were written out by the composer.

The name of Christoffel Drymans was completely unknown to me; he has no entry in New Grove. He was born in Leuven, where he studied at the University and was ordained as a priest. Here he also obtained his first job as a chapel master. Later he moved to Lier where the music academy flourished under his direction. Only six vocal compositions by Drymans are extant, among them a set of Lamentations for Holy Week. From this set we hear the first for Maundy Thursday. In line with tradition each verse is preceded by a letter from the Hebrew alphabet. The vocalises on these letters are rather short. In its structure Drymans follows the model of the French Leçons de Ténèbres, but his setting is rather Italian in style, albeit much less sophisticated and more straightforward than comparable pieces from, for instance, Naples. This is certainly no music which will shock the music world.

The same can be said about Kennis' vocal works. That doesn't mean that they are not worth being performed and recorded. These pieces are nice to listen to and receive pretty much ideal performances here. The instrumental works are fine additions to the repertoire; especially this part of Kennis's oeuvre deserves a thorough examination and exploration. The Euterpe Baroque Consort delivers outstanding performances.

The booklet leaves something to be desired. More information about the music would have been welcome. In addition, the lyrics are not complete: the Heth - Factae sunt section from the Lamentations is omitted as are all the Hebrew letters. Translations of the Latin texts are omitted, but can easily be found on the internet.

This disc is well worth being investigated, despite the rather short playing time.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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