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"Fürchtet euch nicht: Bassoons & bombards - Music from the German Baroque"

Julie Roset, sopranoa; Paulin Bündgen, altob
Vox Luminis (Lionel Meunier)c; Syntagma Amici

rec: Sept 2018, Gedinne (B), Église Notre Damec; Oct 2019 & June 2020, Centeilles (F), Église Notre Dame
Ricercar - RIC 420 (© 2020) (67'28")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; no lyrics
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Rudolf AHLE (1625-1673): Fürchtet euch nichtc; anon: Sonata I; Sonata II; Sonata a 8, 4 Viole e 4 Fagotti; Philipp Friedrich BÖDDECKER (1615-1683): Sonata sopra La Monica, fagotto solo; Philipp Friedrich BUCHNER (1614-1669): Sonata VIII; Johann ROSENMÜLLER (1619-1684): Sonata VII a 4 in d minor [3]; Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654): Alamande 16 a 4 [1]; Padouan 3 a 4 [1]; Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630): Hosianna dem Sohne Davidc; Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672): In lectulo meo per noctes - Invenerunt me custodes civitatis (SWV 272 & 273)ab [2]; Daniel SPEER (1636-1707): Sonata 2 [4]; Johann THEILE (1646-1724): Sonate Basson solo; Johann VIERDANCK (1605-1646): Canzon No. 30

[1] Samuel Scheidt, Paduana, galliarda, courante, alemande, intrada, canzonetto, ut vocant, in gratiam musices studiosorum, potissimum violistarum, 1621; [2] Heinrich Schütz, Symphoniae Sacrae I, 1629; [3] Johann Rosenmüller, Sonate a 2, 3, 4 è 5 stromenti, da arco & altri, 1682; [4] Daniel Speer, Grund-richtiger ... Unterricht der Musicalischen Kunst, 1687

[VL] Zsuzsi Tóth, Stefanie True, Victoria Cassano, soprano; Jan Kullmann, alto; Philippe Froeliger, Robert Buckland, Olivier Berten, tenor; Sebastian Myrus, Lionel Meunier, bass; Bart Jacobs, organ
[SA] Elsa Frank, Francis Mercet, Adrien Reboisson, Stéphane Tamby, Krzystof Lewandowski, Jérémie Papasergio, bombard, bassoon; Danican Papasergio, violin, viola; Xavier Sichel, viola; Josèphe Cottet, viola, viola da spalla; Manon Papasergio, bass violin, viola da gamba; Gabriel Rignol, theorbo; Yoann Moulin, harpsichord, organ

This disc brings together two instruments which are usually associated with different periods in music history. The bombard is commonly used in music of the Renaissance, whereas we know the bassoon first and foremost as an instrument used for the performance of the basso continuo in the baroque period. Some composers of the 18th century wrote sonatas and concertos for it, and in the early 17th century it was one of the instruments for which Italian composers wrote virtuosic solo parts, for instance Dario Castello in his Sonate concertate. The bombard was a consort instrument, which existed in different pitches. Whereas most music lovers are well aware of that, the fact that the same goes for the bassoon - also known as dulcian - is far less known. In the programme that Syntagma Amici put together, these two instruments come together in music from 17th-century Germany.

The name of the ensemble is derived from the title of an important book by the German composer Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum, which includes indispensable information about the instruments and performance practice of his time. It is notable that he refers to French and English names for the bombard: houtbois and hoboyen respectively. This indicates that this instrument of the renaissance turned to the oboe in the baroque era.

The title of this disc suggests that the programme is about vocal music, but in fact it includes just four vocal items. That may be the reason that the booklet omits the lyrics of these pieces. This is very unlike Ricercar's habits, and is regrettable. One of the vocal works opens the programme: Hosianna dem Sohn David by Johann Hermann Schein is a piece for Christmastide, scored for six voices (SSTTBB), three of which are bombards, partly playing colla voce. Two further vocal pieces are taken from the first collection of Symphoniae Sacrae by Heinrich Schütz. In In lectulo per noctes and Invenerunt me custodes civitatis, the two solo voices (SA) are accompanied by three low instruments and basso continuo; Schütz offers dulcians (bassoons) and viole da gamba as alternatives. Here we have the opportunity to hear two tenor bassoons, alongside the more common bass bassoon. These three also participate in the last piece in the programme, Fürchtet euch nicht by Johann Rudolf Ahle, again a piece for Christmastide. The role of the angel, announcing Jesus's birth to Mary, is scored for soprano, and there are also two choirs, of angels and shepherds respectively (SSST/ATTB). Here the three bassoons mentioned are joined by an alto bassoon.

A considerable part of instrumental music of the early 17th century written in Germany, still roots in the Renaissance. That goes, for instance, for the collections which Samuel Scheidt published under the title of Ludi Musici. The second includes pieces for low-pitched instruments, but as this collection has survived incomplete, these are impossible to be performed. In order to demonstrate the role of lower instruments, the performers have selected Padouan 3 and Alamande 16 from the first part and transposed them for a performance with four bassoons, from alto to quint bass. The latter takes the role of an instrument that Praetorius mentions with the name of Doppel Fagott and Fagott grande. It also participates in the anonymous Sonata a 8, for 4 Viole (here played on three violas and bass violin) and 4 Fagotti.

The programme also includes some anonymous sonatas which are performed with a set of bombards, from alto to quart bass (Sonata I, Sonata II). In Johann Vierdanck's Canzon 30, the upper parts are played on recorders, whereas the lower parts are shared by bass bombard and bass bassoon. Johann Rosenmüller's Sonata VII à 4 is performed in a 'broken consort' formation: recorder, violin, bass viol and bassoon. Whereas in most pieces the highest-pitched bomnbard is the alto, in the Sonata VIII by Philipp Friedrich Buchner, the upper part is played on a soprano bombard. However, this piece was originally scored for violin and bassoon; the soprano bombard takes the violin part, the bass bombard that of the bassoon. The Sonata 2 by Daniel Speer is performed by a viola di fagotto and bassoon. Jérôme Lejeune, in his liner-notes, explains: "A viola di fagotto is another of the rare and unusual musical instruments recorded here: this is actually the well-known viola da spalla, a smaller version of the cello that was played on the shoulder like the violin and the viola. Its highly individual timbre resembles that of the bassoon, hence its name". I had never made this association before, but hearing it in the context of this programme, it makes sense. In this sonata is plays the part of a bassoon.

Lastly, as I wrote above, the bassoon developed into a solo instrument, and was given sometimes virtuosic solo parts. That is demonstrated here with two sonatas, the Sonata sopra La Monica by Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, in which also a violin participates, and the Sonata Basson solo attributed to Johann Theile. They give some idea of the skills of the players of the time.

Although in some recordings, specific pieces may be performed with the kind of instruments demonstrated here, they are not played and recorded frequently. From that perspective, this disc is of great importance. It is part of several recordings by the Ricercar label, dedicated to the discovery and exploration of particular instruments and their repertoire, as Jérôme Lejeune states in the booklet. However, this disc is also of musical interest. The music is of excellent quality, and several of the pieces included here are little-known. With Vox Luminis, the performers have engaged a top-class vocal group, which is a specialist in German music of the 17th century. This results in fully idiomatic and incisive performances of the two larger-scale vocal items. Julie Roset and Paulin Bündgen have shown their capabilities in this kind of repertoire in previous recordings, and they deliver very fine performances of the two pieces by Schütz.

The fact that this disc is not only interesting, but musically compelling and often even outright exciting is due to the instruments, which in the hands and mouths of the members of Syntagma Amici produce a gorgeous sound. The technical virtuosity in the solo pieces is breathtaking. There is every reason to hope that Syntagma Amici will continue the exploration of the repertoire for early wind instruments. The collaboration with the singers in this programme is exemplary, and makes one long for more of this kind.

In short, this is a superb disc which invites to repeated listening. Just a warning: it can be addictive.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Vox Luminis

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