musica Dei donum

CD reviews

anon: "Göttweig Partitas"

Lydia Maria Blank, harpsichord

rec: Sept 1 - 4, 2008, Krems/Donau
stellamaris - SM201401 (© 2014) (74'14")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

anon: Partita I in A; Partita II in e minor; Partita III in d minor; Partita IV in G (aria con variazioni); Partita VII in D; Partita XII in e minor; Partita XIII in b minor

Every year a large number of new discs with early music are released. Some of them contain music which is little known, but there are also many which offer more of the same. That includes music for keyboard. Only the last two years at least four recordings of the complete harpsichord works of Rameau appeared and four recent recordings of Bach's English Suites wait to be reviewed. One wonders why harpsichordists don't look beyond the obvious. There is still a large repertoire to be discovered. One doesn't necessarily have to go into the archives and to transcribe hard to read manuscripts. The present disc proves that even music which is available in a modern edition is sometimes ignored.

The suites which Lydia Maria Blank has recorded are part of a collection of fourteen partitas which are included in a manuscript which is preserved in the library of the monastery Göttweig, about 80 km from Vienna. The manuscript mainly includes keyboard works by Johann Caspar Kerll, who worked as an organist in Munich and at the imperial court in Vienna. However, these partitas are anonymous; one of them was given to Emperor Leopold I by Franz Matthias Techelmann (c1649-1714). He was an Austrian composer of Moravian birth who was active in Vienna by 1678; from 1685 until his death he was organist of the Hofkirche. The fact that he gave this partita to the Emperor suggests that he may also be the composer of the other partitas. However, that is impossible to prove. In her liner-notes Lydia Maria Blank mentions several other composers - Kerll, Pachelbel, Ferdinand Tobias Richter (first organist of the imperial chapel from 1690 until his death in 1711), Poglietti - but for different reasons they all seem unlikely candidates. She points out that these suites are important as music of this type from the south-German and Austrian regions is unknown for the period between the death of Froberger (1667) and the flowering of composers such as Johann Joseph Fux and Gottlieb Muffat.

The partitas vary in the number of movements: among the six recorded here four have five movements, one has six and one comprises seven. The movements come without a title, and the titles used here are given by Herwig Knaus who edited the partitas as long ago as 1966. These refer to the dance rhythms, such as alamanda (allemande), courant, saraband and gigue. These four are the heart of the keyboard suite as it had been developed by Froberger. These partitas are modern in that they include a menuet and sometimes also a gavotte (Partita XIII in b minor). In some cases Ms Blank gave movements a different title, for instance the opening movement from Partita XII in e minor. Unlike most other partitas it doesn't open with an alamanda; Knaus calls it an intrada but Ms Blank prefers aria & variatio. It is one of the movements which is followed by a variation. That is also the case with every sarabanda, except that in Partita I in A; the sarabanda in Partita VII in D comes with two varations. This results in these sarabandes being the longest pieces in every suite.

In this recording the partitas are given a number according to their place in the manuscript rather than in Knaus' edition. Ms Blank makes an interesting observation in regard to the Partita XIII with the remarkable key of b minor. It is a rather dark piece, and that has been the reason for adding the description Lamento to the opening alamanda. She suggests that this may be connected to the number of 13: "According to the symbolism of numbers the number 13 is the traditional number of bad luck and death. Not only does the Allemande have a pretty lamentable character with some harmonic adventures, the Courante and Gigue also reveal a sober expression. So I suspect that the order of this piece is not a coincidence". The number of 14 may refer to the stations of the Cross. However, she admits that this is impossible to prove; it is even not certain that the number of partitas may not have been larger than 14. This is an example of the scrupulousness with which Lydia Maria Blank treats the musical material and its historical context.

I have reviewed her two previous recordings on this site which were also devoted to repertoire which doesn't belong to the mainstream. With this recording she continues her policy of turning our attention to repertoire which is unjustly neglected. These partitas are recorded here for the first time, and that is important from a historical angle as has been explained above. However, they are also of musical value. This is very good music with a character of its own. I have heard many nice things, and without suggesting that the other partitas are mediocre the Partita XIII is definitely the most intriguing. It seems to belong to a tradition of music of a mournful character as we know them, for instance, from the oeuvre of Froberger, who composed a lament on the death of Emperor Ferdinand III.

Ms Blank plays an Italian harpsichord which comes most close to the type of harpsichords used in southern Germany and Austria. It turns out to be a most suitable medium for this repertoire which receives here a very fine performance. This is no spectacular music, but has a rather intimate character, and that is exactly what comes off perfectly here. Every lover of baroque keyboard music with a curious mind who likes to broaden his horizon should consider this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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Lydia Maria Blank

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