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"Klingende Thüringer Residenzen" (The sound of Thuringian residences)

Capella Jenensis
Dir: Gertrud Ohse

rec: Jan 5 - 8, 2022, Weimar, Jakobskirche
Rondeau - ROP6255 (© 2023) (78'18")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Adam DRESE (1620-1701): Capriccio - Courant - Sarabande - Ballet for 2 treble viols and bc [1]; Sonata for violin, viola da gamba and bc in a minor; Philipp Heinrich ERLEBACH (1657-1714): Sonata I for violin, viola da gamba and bc in D [3]; Christian HERWICH (1609-1663): Allemande for viola da gamba (38r); Courante for viola da gamba (20r); Ruggiero for viola da gamba and bc; Sarabande for viola da gamba (74r); Johann Philipp KRIEGER (1649-1725): Sonata IV for violin, viola da gamba and bc in F [2]; August KÜHNEL (1645-1700): Aria solo for viola da gamba and bc in G 'Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut' [4]; Johann Michael NICOLAI (1629-1685): Sonata for violin, viola da gamba and bc in a minor; Sonata for 2 violins and bc in a minor (attr); Andreas OSWALD (1634-1665): Sonata IX à 3 for 2 violins, viola da gamba and bc in G

Sources: [1] Adam Drese, Erster Theil etlicher neuen Balletten, Capriccien, Couranten und Sarabanden, mit 1. 2. und 3. Violen sampt dem General Bass gesetzt, 1645; [2] Johann Philipp Krieger, XII Sonate a doi, op. 2, 1693; [3] Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, VI Sonate à Violino & Viola da Gamba col suo Basso Continuo, 1694; [4] August Kühnel, Sonate ò Partite ad una ò due Viole da Gamba con il Basso Continuo, 1698

Claudia Mende, Andrea Schmidt, violin; Gertrud Ohse, treble viol, bass viol; Tillmann Steinhöfel, treble viol, bass viol, violone; Petra Burmann, theorbo, guitar; Daniel Trumbull, harpsichord, organ

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the area we now know as Germany was part of the Holy Roman Empire, but divided in many political entities, ruled by a prince. Each of them had its own court and musical establishment. This explains the astonishing size of musical repertoire that has come down to us from that time. And that is not all: a large part of what was written, has been lost.

The disc under review offers a survey of the instrumental music written during the second half of the 17th century in Thuringia. "The focus of this CD is on the time when the many different court [chapels] in the principalities of Saxony-Weimar, Saxony-Eisenach, Saxony-Gotha, Saxony-Meiningen, Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, Schwarzburg-Arnstadt, and the Reuss residence of Greiz were in fruitful exchange with each other and received artistic inspiration from Italy, France, and England". Given this list of courts, it cannot surprise that so many composers were active in this region. That is also due to the fact that much music was needed: it was not something for special occasions, but a fixed part of daily life.

The music selected for this recording is taken from several important collections, among which the so-called Partiturbuch Ludwig and the Düben-Sammlung. The former comprises instrumental music by composers from the German-speaking world, whereas the latter consists of vocal and instrumental music from across Europe. In the compositions by German composers of this period, different influences come together. Since the early 17th century, the Italian stylus phantasticus had conquered Germany. In the course of the century composers also became acquainted with the French style. These two influences were embedded into the German tradition of counterpoint. The music performed here attests to the blending of these three elements.

Philipp Heinrich Erlebach was one of its earliest representatives. The VI Sonate a Violino e Viola da gamba col suo basso continuo, which were printed in Nuremberg in 1694, bear witness to that. Apparently Erlebach wanted them to be considered Italian by nature. His name was italianized at the title-page, and he apologised for the fact that - due to time pressure during the printing process - "some mistakes contrary to the Italian dialect slipped into the titles in which, in stead of Allemande, Courante, Saraband, Variatio and Gigue, should have appeared Allamanda, Corrente, Sarabanda e Variata and Giga". The sequence of movements in the Sonata I attests to the goûts reünis in these sonatas: the first two, called adagio - allegro and affettuoso, are followed by four dances. The result is a mixture of sonata and suite.

The same is the case with the Sonata in a minor, attributed to Johann Michael Nicolai. He was probably born in Ulrichshalben, near Weimar. We know nothing about his musical education. Before 1655 he was a member of the chapel of Duke Julius Heinrich of Saxe-Lauenburg, and during this time he - according to his own testimony - regularly performed at the court of Margrave Christian Ernst of Brandenburg-Bayreuth. He dedicated his first volume of instrumental music to the Margrave. At the time of publication he was already a member of the chapel of the court in Stuttgart. There he played the violone, alongside other instruments. The Sonata in a minor is scored for two viole da gamba and basso continuo. It opens with an adagio, followed by an allegro; it then continues with three dances: allemande, courante and sarabande. It is attributed to Nicolai for stylistic reasons, and for its proximity in the collection from which it is taken, to better-known sonatas for three viole da gamba by Nicolai. From the Partiturbuch Ludwig the Sonata in a minor for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo is taken. This was a very common scoring in Germany: both Erlebach's VI Sonate and many of Dieterich Buxtehude's sonatas are written for this combination of instruments.

The programme also includes a sonata for this scoring by Johann Philipp Krieger. (The track-list erroneously mentions Johann Krieger, his younger brother.) He was educated at the keyboard and at an early age he already showed extraordinary skills. As a teenager he went to Copenhagen to study with Caspar Förster. After his return he entered the service of Margrave Christian Ernst of Bayreuth. When the latter became involved in the war against France, Krieger was allowed to travel to Italy. There he studied with Johann Rosenmüller in Venice and later went to Rome to study with Bernardo Pasquini. After his return he went to Vienna and played for Emperor Leopold I, who ennobled him. In 1677 he was appointed organist in Halle at the court of Duke August of Saxony-Weissenfels. When the latter died in 1680, he was appointed Hofkapellmeister by his successor, Johann Adolph I. In 1688 he published a collection of twelve sonatas for two violins and basso continuo, followed in 1693 by a set of twelve sonatas for violin and viola da gamba.

Another specimen of this scoring is the Sonata in a minor by Adam Drese. He was a member of a Thuringian musical dynasty and educated as a gambist. He worked at the court of Saxe-Weimar, studied with Heinrich Schütz and was Kapellmeister at the court of Schwarzburg-Arnstadt from 1678 until his death. The largest part of his oeuvre is lost. In 1645 he published a collection of dances for one to three viole da gamba and basso continuo. Four of them are included here, played on two treble viols.

The fact that many sonatas by German composers were scored for violin and viola da gamba attests to the importance of the latter instrument in Germany. It was included in instrumental and sacred vocal works. The largest part of the music for viola da gamba that is performed today, is from the pen of French composers. In comparison German music for this instrument is not that well-known. It is nice that in this programme it plays a substantial role. The largest piece is also the most brilliant one, and a highlight in German music for the viol: August Kühnel's variations on Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut. He spent his youth in Güstrow, at that time an important musical centre in northern Germany. He served at various courts, such as Zeitz, Dresden, Darmstadt and Kassel. In 1665 he went to Paris to study, and two stays in London, in 1682 and 1685, are documented. How much Kühnel has written is not known. Only one collection with fourteen sonatas or suites for one or two viole da gamba and basso continuo have been preserved. They were printed in 1698 when he was in the service of Landgrave Carl von Hessen-Kassel. The variations open with an exposition of the chorale melody, which is followed by nine increasingly virtuosic variations.

Tho two least-known composers in the programme are Andreas Oswald and Christian Herwich. Oswald was from Weimar and the son of a court organist. Between 1642 and 1630 the family was in Eisenach, but then returned to Weimar; at that time the above-mentioned Adam Drese was Kapellmeister at the court of Saxe-Weimar. In 1662 the court was dissolved and Oswald went again to Eisenach, where he died three years later, just 30 years of age. The Sonata in G, again taken from the Partiturbuch Ludwig, is for two violins, viola da gamba and bc.

Herwich (or Herwig) was another gambist. At a young age he sang as a treble at the court in Weimar. In 1635 he participated in a journey to Persia on behalf of Duke Friedrich III of Schleswig-Holstein. He worked at the court in Weimar under Drese, and after the dissolution of the court he entered the service of Landgrave Wilhelm IV of Hesse-Kassel. In 1663 he died. The three dances included here are for viola da gamba solo, and require a scordatura tuning. In Ruggiero Herwich added a basso continuo part; it is a piece upon a ground.

This disc is a most interesting survey of music for strings written by composers from Thuringia. That does not mean that all the pieces have been written there; some may have been composed at the time the composer worked elsewhere. Even so, the programme documents the rich musical life in this part of Germany. Obviously we only get a small part of the large repertoire that was produced, and one can only hope that the performers will continue their exploration of the Thuringian music scene of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The selected pieces are all of excellent quality, and different scorings guarantee variety in the programme. The pieces with violin attest to the high level of playing in Germany, and the pieces and parts for viola da gamba bear witness of the importance of this instrument at the time, something that is not really well-known and should be given more attention.

The members of the Capella Jenensis do a great job here. To my surprise there are hardly any recordings of Kühnel's variations; Gertrud Ohse delivers an excellent performance. The violinists play with panachee; the articulation and dynamic differentiation are in truly 'German style'. This is how such music should be performed. This disc deserves a strong recommendation.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

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