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"Musica Imperiale"

Capella Caesarea

rec: Sept 2008, Ochsenwerder, St. Pankratius
ambitus - 96 960 [2010] (68'22")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669): Sonata 3; Sonata 3; Sonata 4; Giovanni Battista BUONAMENTE (?-1642): Canzon II 2; Canzon IV; Sonata II 2; Tanto tempo hormai; Marco Antonio FERRO (?-1662): Sonata I 2; Sonata V; Sonata VIII; Sonata XI; Giovanni VALENTINI (1582-1649): Canzon 2; Sonata 4

Rachel Harris, Ulla Bundies, violin; Hans-Jakob Bollinger, cornett; Peter Stelzl, sackbut; Jennifer Harris, dulcian; Andrea C. Baur, chitarrone; Evelyn Laib, harpsichord, organ

Music in the renaissance and the baroque had various purposes. Religious music was written in honour of God, secular music for the entertainment of royalty and aristocracy. But that is only part of the story. Music had another important role to play: it had to reflect the splendour of a court or a city. Kings and queens, counts and bishops and city councils tried to attract the best musicians and composers of the time to show the status of their employers. Both sacred and secular music were also to do honour to an empire, a kingdom or a city.

That was also the case in Vienna, where the Habsburg emperors were residing. Until the early 17th century the position of Kapellmeister was always taken by a representative of the Franco-Flemish school, and the music was written in the stile antico. But the newest trends in Italian music soon disseminated across Europe, and if a court wanted to count it had to attract Italian musicians who were educated in the new concertante style of composing. In 1626 Giovanni Valentini, born in Venice, was the first Italian to take the post of Kapellmeister at the Viennese court, and in his wake other musicians from Italy came to Vienna. That doesn't mean that the music performed at court changed overnight. Valentini was a modern composer who introduced Italian virtuosic violin writing north of the Alps. But in the mid-17th century the lutenist Marco Antonio Ferro was also working at the court, and the collection of sonatas from which the pieces on this disc are taken, includes some more conservative sonatas. The Sonata VIII which opens the programme is a typical ensemble piece. The Sonata I 2 is a more modern work with two treble parts and bc. Notable is that one of these parts is for the chitarrone; Ferro was one of the few composers who gave this instrument solo parts in ensemble pieces.

In 1624 the violinist Antonio Bertali, born in Verona, entered the service of the court in Vienna. In 1649 he was appointed Kapellmeister, as successor to Valentini. He composed polyphonic sonatas as well as modern concertante works with virtuosic parts for the individual instruments. Giovanni Battista Buonamente was from Mantua, and worked in Vienna in the 1620s. He was another representative of the new concertante style, but also wrote instrumental music in larger scorings, up to six parts. He had a strong preference for three-part writing, with two treble parts and a basso continuo. Three of the four pieces on this disc are in this texture. Buonamente also composed sonatas in the form of variations. Tanto tempo hormai is an example; the melody is very close to that of La Monica which inspired many composers to arrangements.

The fact that music of a contrapuntal character were performed alongside modern pieces in the concertante style has everything to do with the various purposes of music. It is documented that the Habsburg emperors were rather conservative in their musical taste. Until the end of the 17th century music for viol consort was composed for and performed at the Viennese court, whereas in most parts of Europe it had fallen out of grace. The modern music was very much used to show that the court was in rapport with its time. And let us not forget that the main composers working at the court were expected to write vocal music, including large-scale pieces, both sacred and secular. As splendid as the instrumental music was, vocal music was still the pinnacle of the musical art.

The present disc is poorly documented. The track-list omits the sources from which the pieces are taken. The original scoring as indicated by the composer or the instruments which are involved in the performances are also not mentioned. Therefore it is impossible to say whether the scoring on this disc reflects the wishes of the composer or are based on the decisions of the performers. The instruments are used in various combinations, from two violins to violin, cornett, sackbut and dulcian. All these instruments were used as solo instruments at the time. In the end on which instrument a part is played depends on how idiomatic the writing for a specific instrument is, and that regards in particular the violin.

That said the ensemble has put together a very interesting programme with pieces of a different character and in different scorings. That guarantees the maximum of variety. The quality of the music and the high standard of playing does the rest. I only would have wished the dynamic contrasts a little stronger, especially from the violins. But on balance that doesn't matter that much. The splendour of instrumental practice at the imperial court in Vienna is well documented by the Capella Caesarea.

Johan van Veen ( 2012)

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