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Count Unico Willem van WASSENAER (1692 - 1766)
Concerti Armonici (6)
Genevieve Gilardeau, Krista Buckland Reisner, Julia Wedman, violins
Aradia Ensemble, Kevin Mallon, leader
Recorded Grace Church, Toronto, October 2000 [DDD]
NAXOS 8.555384


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There are many composers known for only a single work but very few who published only a single work; Julius Reubke and Wassenaer are the ones who come to mind. While composers’ works were often ascribed wrongly due to carelessness or greed on the part of the publisher, Unico Wassenaer is unique in that he deliberately deceived people to avoid the credit for his creation. His standards were so high that he thought his works unworthy - but he was wrong, his works rank with the very best.

Prompted by the notes to Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, many years ago I searched out these marvellous works first on an EMI monophonic set where they were confidently ascribed to Pergolesi. A stereo LP version ascribed them to Riccotti, then finally on a Decca stereo CD with Neville Marriner and the ASMF the name Wassenaer first appears as composer, albeit cautiously ("attr. Pergolesi").

The first recording was with string orchestra and presented the works with a rich romantic emotionalism. The ASMF was, as always, luscious and playful. This new recording is original-instrument/original-performance-practice-informed (The press should soon start calling that "OI/OPPI") but exhibits none of the scrappiness, pertness, exaggerated accents or absurdly fast tempi that this sometimes implies. Continuo parts are distributed among harpsichord, organ, guitar and lute.

All of these varied performances presented valid facets of these exceptional works which are reminiscent of Corelli, but much more conventionally melodic, more graceful, and more adventuresome in tone colour. The works are in three and four movement concerto grosso form, with slow openings in the manner of sonate di chiesa. This is beautiful music skilfully and affectingly played and as with all the recordings makes one wonder what else he could have written, but, apparently, nothing. Wassenaer was an "amateur" in the best tradition, he put his life and his talent into this music, and this is all there is.

Every collector who loves baroque music will want this disc.

Paul Shoemaker

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