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Sweet Desire: Prothimia suavissime sive sonatarum selectissimarum (1672)
Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (c.1620-1680)
Sonata: Book I No.4 [4:43]
Sonata: Book II No.7 [6:11]
Antonio BERTALI  (1605-1669)
Sonata: Book II No.4 (5:02)
Sonata: Book I No.2 (7:24)
Attrib. to Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669)
Sonata: Book II No.11 (8:31)
Attrib to David POHLE (1624-1695)
Sonata: Book II No.12 (5:23)
Sonata: Book I No.3 (5:50)
Sonata: Book II No.10 (8:48)
Sonata: Book I No.8 (4:15)
Sonata: Book II No.2 (6:08)
Chris Verrette (baroque violin), J. Tracy Mortimore (G violone), Dominic Teresi (dulcian), Greg Ingles (alto trombone, tenor trombone), Webb Wiggins (chamber organ), Chatham Baroque: Julie Andrijeski (baroque violin), Patricia Halverson (viola da gamba), Scott Pauley (theorbo, baroque guitar).
No date or place of recording provided.
DORIAN DSL90706 [62:15]


Experience Classicsonline

In her booklet notes for this CD Julie Andrijeski asserts that the phrase “sonatarum selectissimarum” (choicest/select/best sonatas) in the title of the 1672 publication Prothimia suavissime sive sonatarum selectissimarum (probably published in Frankfurt) should not be understood as “a mere marketing tool”. I would beg to differ; it surely belongs amongst the seventeenth-century forerunners of modern titles such as The Best Classical Album in the World ... Ever, The Very Best of Beethoven or The Best of Maxim Vengerov. Seventeenth century publishers were as eager to sell their wares as their successors amongst twenty-first century publishers and CD companies. ‘Sonatorum selectissimarum’ should surely be understood to mean something like “these sonatas are better than average, amongst the best around”, rather than “these are categorically the best sonatas in existence”. Taken in the first of these senses, one has no problems with the claims of the anonymous publisher: there is much good, interesting music here, of a particular kind. Essentially that ‘kind’ involves a meeting between German and Italian traditions in the middle of the seventeenth century.

There are twenty-four sonatas in the collection; identifying their composers is not easy, since the partbooks carry only the initials “J.S.A.B.”. It was Niels Martin Jensen, in the 1990s, who suggested that these initials might stand for Johan [Heinrich] Schmelzer and Antonio Bertali. Later research has found versions of some of the twenty four sonatas from Prothimia suavissima in other manuscript collections attributed to Schmelzer and Bertali. Others can, with reasonable confidence be attributed to David Pohle. For quite a number of others, no composer has yet been identified with any plausibility.

Much of the music is pleasant and intriguing. The sonata printed as No.2 in Book I of Prothimia suavissima is full of inventive writing, unexpected changes of tempo and mood; Bertali at something like his instrumental best. Schmelzer’s sonata, printed as Book I No.4, is a rather more sedate affair, but satisfying in its interplay of instrumental lines. In two sonatas (I.3 and I.8) – perhaps the work of Bertali? – the trombone shares the limelight with the two violins to interesting effect. In one of the ‘anonymous’ sonatas (II.10) there are some striking harmonies and lots of attractive imitative writing. Indeed the level is generally high. Even if we needn’t regard these as ‘The Best of the Sonata’, the materials here are certainly very ‘select’, in the sense defined in the Oxford English Dictionary: “of special value or excellence”.

Chatham baroque and their guests play with assured idiomatic grasp and considerable flair.  The variety of instrumental combinations makes for constantly changing colours (without any inappropriate gaudiness, I need hardly add) and the continuo work is agile and pleasantly varied. It all makes for attractive and engaging listening. If not quite a candidate for the ‘Best of the Baroque’, this is a CD which will give pleasure to all with an interest in the music of this period. It is only a shame that it we aren’t offered a complete recording of all the twenty four ‘very select’ sonatas.

Glyn Pursglove


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