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Das Partiturbuch
Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669)
Sonata a 4 in D minor for 2 violins, viola da gamba and bassoon [9.29]
Ciaconna in C major for solo violin [8.45]
Sonata a 3 in G major for 2 violins and bassoon [3.18]
Johann Michael NICOLAI (1629-1685)
Sonata a 2 in A minor for violin and bassoon [3.36]
Sonata a 2 in C major for violin and bassoon [5.40]
Ciaconna a 3 in C major for 2 violins and viola da gamba [2.17]
Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (c.1623-1680)
Sonata variata in D minor for violin and viola da gamba [6.38]
Adam DRESE (c.1620-1701)
Sonata a 3 in A minor for 2 violins and viola da gamba [4.32]
Sonata a 2 in A minor for 2 violins and viola da gamba [4.10]
Samuel CAPRICORNUS (1628-1665)
Ciaconna in D major for violin and viola da gamba [4.17]
Nathanael SCHNITTELBACH (1633-1667)
Ciaconna in A major for solo violin [9.36]
Ensemble Echo du Danube/Christian Zincke
rec. Studios of Hessischer Rundfunk, Frankfurt, November 2002
NAXOS 8.557679 [62.28]

The Partiturbuch Ludwig takes its name from its compiler, Jacob Ludwig, a court musician active in Gotha in the mid-years of the seventeenth century. In 1662 he presented his folio of contemporary instrumental compositions to Duke August, a former employer of his from Ludwig’s time in Wolfenbüttel.  There are about one hundred works, mainly though not exclusively cast in sonata form, and all written in Germany though not necessarily by Germans. This disc casts a shrewd eye over the whole corpus of this folio and has selected a representative and really rather impressive selection to reflect its breadth and range.

One of the most obvious highlights is the work of Antonio Bertali, who contributed the most music (eighteen pieces) to the folio. He was the Kapellmeister in Vienna and was a significant figure, composing music for successive Emperors and achieving a position of pan-European eminence. Born in Verona he was originally a violinist and this accounts for his mastery of composition for the instrument.  The Ciaconna in C major is a ceaselessly imaginative work, full of probing musicianship and dextrously laid out.  The Sonata a 3 taps into the nobility of utterance of which he was so adroit an exponent – though it also shows another side to him, with the perky bassoon line adding spice and wit, and the mobility of the writing adding colour and dynamic contrast.

Schmelzer’s Sonata variata is lyrical, elegant and is warmly played here, with charming dynamism of expression and very touching diminuendi.  Capricornus directed church music in Pressburg (now Bratislava) but his gifts were by no means confined to the vocal. He writes a Ciaconna of considerable standing and the performers here do well to explore his supportive theorbo and harpsichord writing  - it’s very rewarding. We finish with yet another Ciaconna, a form at which these Italian and German composers excelled, and that’s the one by Nathanael Schnittelbach. Resident in the Hanseatic city of Lübeck, Schnittelbach arrived via Gdansk in 1655 and carved out a successful career in his newly adopted city. It’s all the more disappointing then to find that this is his only surviving solo violin work especially as it’s so assured and impressive a piece. One has to remember that these composers were writing many years before the Italian virtuoso school took hold; if one thinks of Tartini here or Sammartini one is very much a-historical, though the powerful rhetoric that such as Schnittelbach evokes is certainly a strong indicator of native German solo violin strength in the two generations before the birth of J.S. Bach.

A number of new Naxos discs seem to be derived from German radio studios of late. This one was recorded – for broadcast? – in 2002. It’s excellently engineered and played, as I’ve suggested, with flair, imagination and no little virtuosity by the Ensemble Echo du Danube.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Glyn Pursglove


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