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Georg VON BERTOUCH (1668 - 1743): "Trio Sonatas"

Bergen Barokk

rec: Sept 2001 & June 2003, Bergen, Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation
Toccata Classics - TOCC 0006 (© 2005) (65'50")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/N
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Bertouch
Jacob Mestmacher Notebok

anon [1]: Allegro et trio (166)aeg; Aria (248)aeg; Gavotte alternativement (53)eg; March (106)aeg; Menuetto (13)aeg; Paspie de la Compertanje (75)g; Georg VON BERTOUCH [2]: Sonata No. 8 in Gcdfg; Sonata No. 11 in Facfg; Sonata No. 12 in d minorcdfg; Sonata No. 14 in g minorabeg; Sonata No. 15 in f minorcdfg; Sonata No. 17 in E flatg; Sonata No. 21 in b flat minorag

[1] Jacob Mestmacher Notebok, [n.d. (c1730)]; [2] Georg von Bertouch, XXIV sonates composées par le canons, fugues ..., c1738

Frode Thorsen, recordera; Kjersti Sellevåg, transverse flute; Peter Spisskyc, Bjarte Eiked, violin; Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, viola da gambae, cellof; Hans Knut Sveen, harpsichordg

For most people the music history of Norway seems to begin in the second half of the 19th century, with Edvard Grieg. Even the emergence of interest in the music of the pre-romantic era hasn't shed any new light on Norway's musical past. But it is difficult to assume no music was played and sung before the 19th century. This disc brings forward music which has been neglected for a long time.

In the 18th century Norway was part of the kingdom of Denmark-Norway, and Bergen was its second-largest city. It was a member of the Hanseatic League, which gave the city some independence, and also meant it had strong ties with Germany. In the central harbour area of the city the language was German until the middle of the 18th century. There was no court or opera and music-making mainly took place in private homes by both professional and amateur musicians. The music on this disc reflects this practice, as it brings trio sonatas by Georg von Bertouch and pieces from a manuscript collected by the Mestmacher family which was of German origin and came to Norway in the late 17th century.

Georg von Bertouch was also German, although with French roots: Georg's father had left France for religious reasons. In 1668 Georg was born in Helmershausen, near Kassel. He studied the violin with Daniel Eberlin - father-in-law of Telemann - and law in Jena, where he became acquainted with Johann Sebastian Bach's cousin Johann Nicolaus, who was organist there. Once he went on a journey to Italy with Johann Nicolaus Bach and there he met Danish officers who offered him a position, which he took and which brought him into the Danish army. He was also active in the music scene: as a composer and performer he had an international reputation, and he is mentioned by Johann Mattheson in some of his books and by Johann Gottfried Walther in his Musicalisches Lexikon of 1732.

The trio sonatas on this disc are from the collection of 24, the manuscript of which has been preserved in Copenhagen. It is quite likely that he aimed at composing in all 24 keys, perhaps inspired by the Wohltemperirte Clavier by Bach, to whom he wrote in 1738. The trio sonatas are firmly rooted in the polyphonic tradition of the baroque era and avoid the galant style which came into fashion in Bertouch's day. The structure of some of the sonatas is rather unconventional, like the Sonata No. 12, which opens with an andante, is followed by an adagio and ends with two allegros, or the Sonata No. 11 which begins with two fast movements (vivace and allegro). And in two sonatas the trio structure is temporarily abandoned: the Sonatas No. 11 and No. 14 both contain a movement for one instrument and basso continuo. Some movements are very expressive, in particular the adagio from the Sonata No. 8 and both slow movements (largo and adagio) of the Sonata No. 14. In the latter we also find some spicy harmonies. And in several sonatas the thematic material is quite original.

The pieces from the Music Book of Jacob Mestmacher are mostly anonymous. Although they are set for keyboard, they can easily be performed with an instrumental ensemble, and that is how most of them are played here. These are mainly dances, and of a somewhat lighter character than the trio sonatas by Von Bertouch.

I have enjoyed this recording a lot, not only because of the music, which is anything but dull, but also because of the performance. Bergen Barokk plays this repertoire with great imagination, as is demonstrated by the varied scoring of the keyboard pieces and the addition of variations to the Aria from the Mestmacher collection. There is some excellent ensemble playing here, for instance the dialogue of recorder and transverse flute in the Sonata No. 14. The swinging rhythm of the basso continuo part in the allegro from the Sonata No. 11 is brilliantly realised by Markku Luolajan-Mikkola and Hans Knut Sveen.

I wholeheartedly recommend this disc, as it is musically highly entertaining and historically very interesting. And to those who are getting interested in Norwegian baroque music I would like to recommend a disc with music by another composer working in Norway, of a later generation, but equally interesting: Johan Henrik Freithoff. His chamber music has been recorded by the Norwegian Baroque Orchestra Soloists (Simax PSC 1220).

Johan van Veen (© 2006)

Relevant links:

Bergen Barokk

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