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CD reviews

Music for scordatura violins

[I] "Violino - Austrian violin music around 1680"
Veronika Skuplik, violin; Evangelina Mascardi, lutea
rec: March 16, 2014 (live), Kartause Mauerbach (A) (kleiner Kaisersaal)
fra bernardo - fb 1405799 ( 2014) (68'43")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

anon: Ciaconna in B flata; Sonata I in d minora; Sonata in a minora; Suite in d minor [a d' a' d"]; Suite in d minor [g d' a' e"]; Suite in g minor; Suite in A [a e' a' e"]; Suite in A [a e' a' e"]

[II] " 2 Violin. Verstimbt - Music for 2 Scordatura Violins and Basso continuo"
Der musikalische Garten
rec: Jan 9 - 12, 2014, Nuglar-St. Pantaleon (CH), St. Pantaleon
Ars Produktion - ARS 38 152 ( 2016) (71'37")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Balletti 2 violini discordati [2]; Sonata 2 violini [3]; Sonata 2 violini. verstimbt [1]; Johann Erasmus KINDERMANN (1616-1655): Canzon VII [4]; Canzon VIII [4]; David POHLE (1624-1695): Sonata 2 violin. verstimbt [1]; Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (c1620/23-1680): Ballettae discordatae 2 violini e basso [3]; Sonata a 2 violini verstimbt [3]; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Concerto in A (TWV Anh 42,A1); Sonata in d minor (TWV 42,d6); Jan Ignz Frantisek VOJTA (c1660-c1725): Partia amabilis [1]; 'W.V.S.': Sonata 2 violinis discordatis [3]

Sources: [1] Codex Rost [Paris]; [2] Klagenfurt ms 73; [3] Kromeriz archive; [4] Johann Erasmus Kindermann, Canzoni Sonatae, 1653

Germn Echeverri Chamorro, Karoline Echeverri Klemm, violin; Annekatrin Beller, cello; Josep Maria Mart Duran, theorbo; Daniela Niedhammer, harpsichord, organ

One of the features of the music for string instruments written in the German-speaking world in the late 17th century, is the use of the technique of scordatura. New Grove gives this description: "A term applied largely to lutes, guitars, viols and the violin family to designate a tuning other than the normal, established one. Scordatura was first introduced early in the 16th century and enjoyed a particular vogue between 1600 and 1750. It offered novel colours, timbres and sonorities, alternative harmonic possibilities and, in some cases, extension of an instrument's range. It could also assist in imitating other instruments, and facilitate the execution of whole compositions or make possible various passages involving wide intervals, intricate string crossing or unconventional double stopping."

It is not exactly known where and when this technique was first developed. It seems that it was first applied in the 16th century, probably by French lutenists. The technique was first used for violin playing in the early 17th century by the Italian Biagio Marini in his sonatas op. 8. Other Italian composers followed in his footsteps. It was used for instruments without a standard tuning, such as the viola d'amore and the lyra viol as well as some folk instruments. But in violin music the scordatura technique was most popular in Austria, Bohemia and southern Germany. The two main exponents of composing for the violin in this area were Johann Heinrich Schmelzer and Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. The latter applied this technique in most of his Mystery Sonatas. The two discs reviewed here are especially interesting in that they include music which is little known. No fewer than seven of the pieces which Der musikalische Garten recorded are world premier recordings. Veronika Skuplik even plays a whole programme of pieces which have been recorded never before.

All of them are taken from a manuscript known as Klagenfurt Ms 73 which is preserved in the Krtner Landesmuseum in the Austrian town after which it is named. It was probably put together in the Benedictine monastery in St. Georgen am Lngsee. Most of the pieces are anonymous and are scored for violin without accompaniment. Some pieces in the manuscript are also present in other manuscripts, which are preserved in London and Kromeriz. In these sources they have an additional basso continuo part. It is unlikely that these are authentic; Veronika Skuplik plays most of her programme without accompaniment. So does Der musikalische Garten in a piece for two violins from the same manuscript, the anonymous Balletti 2 Violini Discordati, which is also included in the Kromeriz archive with an additional basso continuo part.

Skuplik plays five suites of different length, which mostly open with a praeludium, which has a strongly improvisatory character. This is followed by a sequence of dances, as we know them from suites of the late 17th and early 18th centuries: allemande, courante, sarabande, gigue, sometimes with an additional aria. Several dances are followed by a variatio or a double. Every piece requires the scordatura technique, although that is not always explicitly indicated. Stylistically these pieces are pretty close to the compositions by Schmelzer and Biber. "I wouldn't even be surprised if one or another suite or aria had been written by one of those leading lights of the violin world", Veronika Skuplik writes in her liner-notes. For her this music is connected to "stillness": "These suites were written to be performed in small, intimate spaces rather than concert halls, churches, opera houses or stages with large, enthusiastic audiences."

That is how she plays these pieces: refined, subtle, with small dynamic inflections. In previous performances - either live or on disc - I sometimes found her a bit too much restrained, but here her approach is exactly right. The rather dry acoustic is very appropriate for this repertoire: one has the feeling that she is alone with her violin. In a couple of pieces she is supported by Evangelina Mascardi on the lute; in this repertoire that is the most suitable instrument for the performance of the basso continuo.

The music Der musikalische Garten selected is a little different. That comes to the fore in the scoring for two violins and basso continuo. The programme includes two balletti, which were certainly intended for public performances, for instance the theatre or celebrations during the Carnival season. One of them is from the pen of Schmelzer, who in 1649 was appointed violinist in the orchestra of the imperial court in Vienna and in 1665 succeeded Wolfgang Ebner as imperial ballet composer. The fact that composers applied the scordatura technique even in such pieces shows how common and popular it was.

However, such ballet music was not as virtuosic as some of the sonatas included in the programme, including Schmelzer's Sonata a 2 Violini Verstimbt. This piece is also notable for the fact that the two violins are tuned differently. "The tuning of the first violin is very high and consequently reminiscent of the tuning of a violino piccolo; the second violin, on the other hand, is tuned considerably lower. This gives the impression that the compasses of the two violins are expanded and/or supplement each other", Karoline Echeverri Klemm writes in her liner-notes. Virtuosic are also the two sonatas from the Kromeriz archive. One of them is from the pen of a certain W.V.S. who apparently cannot be identified; its virtuosity especially regards its rhythm. The Sonata in A is demanding in terms of playing in positions and double stops.

The latter is another important feature of this repertoire. It frequently appears in the pieces Veronika Skuplik recorded and also in the compositions performed by Der musikalische Garten. We hear this in the Sonata 2 Violin. Verstimbt by David Pohle, his only piece with scordatura. The Partia amabilis by Jan Ignz Frantisek Vojta shows that the scordatura technique and the use of double stopping are connected. "[Double] stops that would be hardly playable, or only with great difficulty, in the normal tuning are made possible by the scordatura. With that, sounds can be realized on the string instruments that would not be achievable in the normal tuning." It is interesting that two pieces by Erasmus Kindermann are included. They are taken from a collection printed in 1653, which includes the first indications of the use of the scordatura technique for the violin in Germany. Technically they are less complicated than later pieces; double stopping is absent in the two canzoni.

Whereas Kindermann represents early examples of the scordatura technique in Germany, Telemann represents the latest and probably also the very last. The two sonatas which open and close the programme presumably date from before 1710. We meet here a different Telemann than the man we know from his later chamber music, which was mostly written for amateurs. It seems unlikely that these two pieces were intended for them. There is also more counterpoint here than in later pieces.

The players of Der musikalische Garten not only present a programme which is highly important and revealing in regard to repertoire, but their performances are also outstanding. They are more extroverted than Veronika Skuplik, but that is entirely due to the different character of the music they have recorded. In every piece they hit the nail on the head.

These two discs are great additions to the discography and are both compelling and musically completely convincing in their very own way.

Johan van Veen ( 2017)

Relevant links:

Veronika Skuplik
Evangelina Mascardi
Der musikalische Garten

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