> Music in Rudolphinian Prague [WH]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Aurelio BONELLI (1569?-16??)

Canzoni e toccate
Bastian CHILESE (15??-16??)

Canzon a 8
Philippe DE MONTE (1521-1603)

Canzon a 4
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)

Canzon a 8
Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1613)

Canzon Quarta a 4
Canzon noni toni a 8
Cesario GUSSAGO (16??-16??)

Two Canzones
Hans Leo HASSLER (1564-1612)

Canzon duo decimi toni
Ricercar a 4
Valentin HAUSSMANN (15??-16??)

Two Dance-Musics
Alessandro OROLOGIO (1555?-1629?)

Valerius OTTO (1579?-1613?)

Four Dance-Musics (1611)
Salomone ROSSI (1570?-1629?)

Sinfonia grave – Gilliarda Massara
Symposium Musicum directed by Miloslav Klement
Recorded in 1995 at the martinek Studio, Prague
PANTON 81 1402-2 131 [59.20]


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The names of most of the composers on this disc were new to me, and of those that weren’t I had to dredge deep in the memory bank to come up with any knowledge of them. I was impressed to find a brief reference to Philippe de Monte in a set of university notes from long, long ago, but it has to be said that what I had written about him didn’t help me at all in preparing this review!

The expression Rudolphinian Prague refers to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II (1552-1612). His reign was a turbulent one, with considerable unrest in Bohemia and elsewhere. In 1583 he decided to move his court to Prague where he remained until his death. He would appear to have been very encouraging towards all kind of musical activity – he didn’t show the same tolerance towards religious freedom – and the Court Orchestra, under the direction of Philippe de Monte, was only one of a large number of groups, vocal and instrumental, which flourished in Prague during the period.

This disc is one of two devoted to the music to be heard in Prague in the time of Rudolph II. A mass and a requiem by de Monte feature on the other disc, but the present one contains only instrumental music. The ensemble is made up of viols and wind instruments including crumhorns and recorders. There is no percussion. The disc opens in stirring style with the Canzon duodecimi toni by Hassler, an antiphonal piece where the piercing crumhorns alternate with the altogether sweeter string sonorities. There is considerable melodic freshness as well as the expected rhythmic vitality and variety are the primary feature of four short dances by Valerius Otto, one of the many composers whose names were new to me. The principal sonority here is that of the recorder. Of the other works the piece by Cilese is particularly sonorous, imitative in style at the outset, and quite varied. The final piece in the series by Bonelli has a certain grandeur about it which is really quite impressive; one might easily think it a later work than it actually is. The short piece by Salomone Rossi could almost be another movement from Warlock’s Capriol Suite.

This is primarily dance music or arrangements of vocal pieces. There is little variety of mood from one piece to the next, and after a while one is happy when the crumhorns or the early trombones are playing because they bring to the music a certain colour when the musical material itself is sometimes rather pale. There is no drama in this music, nothing which tends toward the spectacular, and though this is simply how it is and isn’t meant as a criticism it doesn’t always make for very compelling listening.

The music is very well played, however, with excellent intonation and as far as one can tell, the musicians, who are set in a natural and pleasing acoustic, are totally at one with the style. I found myself wishing for more sparkle and fire, but in the end sparkle and fire are far from the most important ingredients here.

This is a disc to listen to in short bursts, then, rather from beginning to end. Careful attention to a particular piece, perhaps repeated listening, does bring rewards. The second of Gussago’s pieces is a good example of this: like all the music on this disc it’s an undemanding listen, but with its gentle string sonorities it has a charm which becomes very appealing once one is tuned into it. Of course, of these composers, everyone has heard of Giovanni Gabrieli, and it’s interesting to note that his pieces are head and shoulders above the rest in terms of musical interest and content.

William Hedley

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