of this release refers to the idea it is organised around:
a listening tour of the influence Italy had on the earlier
years of violin music in Germany. Deutschland was a battleground
of sorts in the early days of string music. Both French and
Italian styles of playing and composing alternated in their
command of the Teutonic ear in the 1600s. This wasn’t lost
on Italian artists who came to seek positions in the larger
German cities. Not all of the artists presented here are
native Italians; the discs are arranged showing a legacy
of sorts, with later artists picking up on earlier innovations.
Many of these artists made their names as performers, and
the first grouping of works, subtitled “The Dresden School” indicates
where they went. Of those Italian artists for violin to make
their names in Germany, the liner notes mention Carlos Farina
as the first. Farina wasn’t insensitive to public opinion
and, from his arrival in Germany, many of his works show
quite a leaning to the French style then in vogue. One such
example is the Suite in G minor on disc one, comprising dances
from the volumes of works he published while in Dresden.
Other works of Farina, who claims the lion’s share of disc
one, show the Italian style he made popular, such as is found
in his sprightly Pavana Tertia.
are organised into several groupings, “The Dresden School” being
the first. This features, aside from Farina, two sonatas
by David Pohle, two of the many Synfonias that Johann Jacob
Löwen composed, and an extremely pleasant sonata by Johann
Wilhelm Furchheim, who was a Dresdener by birth.
innovations in timbre abound in the collection of dances
that is the Capriccio Stravagante. Here, by turns
joyous and droll, he uses the strings to imitate other instruments
such as guitars, organs, and fifes, and, beating Saint-Saëns
to the punch, a procession of animals, cats, dogs and fowl.
Farina shows himself at his most versatile, and the Ricercar
Consort performs this delight perfectly.
for comparison are two pieces illustrating German use of
violin and viola da gamba in trio sonatas. The works represented
as examples are by August Kühnel and Clamor Heinrich Abel.
Abel’s sphere of influence was in Hannover. Kühnel was more
famous as a performer of the viola da gamba and appears to
have travelled more widely. Both of these pieces are beautifully
played by the ensemble; the cuckoo calls of the Abel piece
repeating as the viol and continuo wrap a filigree of forest
greenery around them.
grouping spotlights another hotbed of influential writing
for violin: that of Vienna. Again the legacy of Italy shows
its footprint. Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, who was a student
of Vienna capellmeister and Italian native Antonio Bertoli,
is represented here with two sonatas. The third work is that
of Schmelzer’s student Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, whose
sixth sonata - a standout in this collection - dates from
1681. These works incorporate various techniques and innovations
derived from Italy, from the distinctive use of ornamentation
to the retuning of the violin’s E string down a note. Biber,
in his sonata, hearkens to Bach. One of the great things
of this collection is not only the illustration of how German
music benefited from cross-pollination, but also that it
shows, from beginning to end the bridge, the arc of progression,
between early string music to the sound-world of Bach.
disc two is devoted to Walther, who lived in Florence during
his early twenties, earning his keep as a chapel violinist
for Cosimo de Medici III before returning to Dresden. There
are extensively double-stopped passages and many innovations
of which he may have been the earliest of champions, if not
the inventor, as the liner notes hint.
Consort and Fernandez, in all of these performances, play
with a great sense of ease and control. The recording is
wonderfully balanced and, over the course of these three
recording sessions spaced over three years, are very consistent
in aesthetic. The liner notes on which I have relied are
an extremely interesting read and show how well-thought-out
this program is, if one’s ears alone couldn’t tell. Recommended
for any devotee of early music.