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The Trio Sonata in 17th-Century Germany
Johann VIERDANCK (1605-1646)
Suite in A [07:51]
Nicolaus A KEMPIS (1600-1676)
Symphonia No 2 'Dolorosa' [04:47]
Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (1623-1680)
Lantery (Sonata a 3) [05:35]
Dietrich BECKER (1623-1697)
Sonata XXVI in A (1674) [04:13]
Johann ROSENMÜLLER (1619-1684)
Sonata in e minor [08:16]
Matthias WECKMANN (1619-1674)
Sonata in G [03:28]
Carolus HACQUART (1640-1701)
Sonata VI in d minor (1686) [10:51]
Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
Trio Sonata in G (BuxWV 271) [09:04]
Johann Caspar KERLL (1627-1693)
Trio Sonata in F [06:03]
Heinrich Ignaz Franz VON BIBER (1644-1704)
Partita VI in D [11:29]
London Baroque (Ingrid Seifert; Richard Gwilt; violin; Charles Medlam; viola da gamba; Terence Charlston; harpsichord; organ)
rec. January 2005, St Martin's Church, East Woodhay, Hampshire, England. DDD
BIS BISCD1545 [73:06]
Experience Classicsonline

The title of this disc should be taken with a grain of salt. As the track-list shows London Baroque has included pieces by composers who are Austrian rather than German. And even when 'German' is interpreted as 'German-speaking' this doesn't explain the inclusion of two pieces by composers from the Southern Netherlands. To say, as does Charles Medlam in the booklet, that the idiom of their music is such that they fit into this programme seems a shade far-fetched.
 
In his programme notes Charles Medlam refers to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) as an event which had a very damaging effect on the state of the arts in Germany. The most famous German composer of the 17th century, Heinrich Schütz, described its effect this way: "Among the other free arts the noble art of music has not only suffered great decline in our beloved fatherland as a result of the ever-present dangers of war; in many places it has been wholly destroyed, lying amid the ruins and chaos for all to behold." The war had taken away most of the financial resources which otherwise would have been spent on art, and musicians had died as a direct or indirect effect of the war. But although much financial effort was required to restore the economy after the Peace of Westfalia in 1648 it is remarkable how quickly the arts rose up "by God's grace to their former dignity and value", as Schütz put it. He and many other composers started to write music again, from sacred music in large scoring to chamber music for small ensembles. It is this kind of music which is presented here.
 
Most music dates from the second half of the 17th century, reflecting the resurrection of music from the ruins of the war. But the programme begins with a suite by Vierdanck, which is the earliest music on the disc. The booklet doesn't give the source, but I assume it comes from Vierdanck's first publication, Erster Theil newer Pavanen, which dates from 1637. In this collection the dances are grouped in suites according to key. Vierdanck was one of the first German composers to follow the Italian model of the trio texture - as this suite shows. Stylistically it is still very much like the dance music of the late renaissance, and Vierdanck was also influenced by the English consort music, which was brought to Northern Germany by, in particular, William Brade.
 
The rest of the programme shows an increasing influence of the Italian style in Germany. That is not surprising: a number of Italian musicians had travelled north to look for employment, like Bertali, Turini, Farina and Buonamente. Some German composers went to Italy to get acquainted with the newest fashion in music, like Kerll. But even when a composer never set a foot in Italy, like Matthias Weckman, it was no problem to learn the Italian style, through the presence of Italian musicians as well as through the many manuscripts and prints which circulated through the continent.
 
In the pieces by Dietrich Becker and Matthias Weckmann, both working in and around Hamburg, we find the influence of the 'stylus phantasticus', which is so characteristic of North-German organ music, and which in itself is influenced by the Italian style. They, like Dietrich Buxtehude, were able to merge the Italian style with the traditional German preference for counterpoint.
 
The most 'Italianate' composer in the programme is probably Johann Rosenmüller, who worked in Leipzig, but escaped to Italy when he was imprisoned for a sexual offence. Here he fully embraced the theatrical style of the Italians, as his Sonata in e minor shows. This sonata, from a collection of 12 sonatas which was printed in 1682, is passionate and expressive, but at the same time pays tribute to the German tradition. The 'gravity' which Heinrich Schütz considered a typical feature of German music, is certainly present in this sonata. The second movement, largo, which is repeated at the end, is in my opinion one of the most beautiful pieces ever written. It is a fugue, whose subject you just won't forget once you have heard it.
 
The composers from the south of Germany and from Austria were often surrounded by Italian musicians, and that had a strong influence on their own compositions, like those of Johann Heinrich Schmelzer who himself never went to Italy. Johann Caspar Kerll, on the other hand, went to Rome to study with Carissimi. Here he also became acquainted with the keyboard music of Girolamo Frescobaldi.
 
The German-speaking regions in Europe were considered a centre of violin virtuosity. When the German composer Nicolaus Adam Strungk travelled to Rome he met Arcangelo Corelli. When the Italian asked him if he played the violin he replied that he did so reasonably well. As he played Corelli was astonished: "Sir, if I am called Arcangelo, you should be called Arcidiavolo". Strungk was just one of the representatives of the 'German' violin school. Biber - who worked in Olmütz (today in the Czech Republic) and Salzburg - is another one, many of whose works reflect his own astonishing virtuosity. In his collection 'Harmonia artificiosa-ariosa' (1696) he included seven partitas in different tunings for the two upper parts. The Partita VI is the only one without 'scordatura'.
 
The odd ones out in this programme are the pieces by two composers from the Southern Netherlands. Nicolaus à Kempis was from Brussels and acted as organist there. He published a series of collections with 'Symphoniae', rather unpretentious pieces aimed at domestic use. This doesn't hold him back, though, from writing a piece with the subtitle 'Dolorosa' whose main features are chromatically falling lines. Hacquart was a gambist by education, born in Brughes, but moving to Amsterdam in the early 1670s. The sonata played here comes from a collection of ten sonatas in three or four parts. It hasn't that much in common with the German music on this disc. It is more Italian in style than the pieces by most German composers, more melodious and lacking the German 'gravity'.
 
Most music played here requires technical virtuosity but also a good feeling for the specific features of German music. Over the years I have heard too many recordings which don't really explore the depth and the strongly rhetorical character of this repertoire. But London Baroque has much experience in this field, in particular its first violinist, Ingrid Seifert. Some people will not immediately appreciate the somewhat sharp and penetrating sound of the violins, especially that of Ingrid Seifert, and I would advise turning down the volume a little, particularly when you listen though headphones.
 
However the interpretations in many ways offer what this repertoire requires. There is a good sense of the gravity in this music, but its brighter side comes through equally well. Sometimes I find the articulation not sharp enough, and I would have liked to hear stronger dynamic differences, for instance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ notes. The largo from Rosenmüller's sonata, which I already have referred to, is a good example. I have to admit that ever since I heard Musica Antiqua Köln in this repertoire - unfortunately disbanded a couple of years ago - I have found it difficult to appreciate any other recording. That ensemble's performances of this repertoire were close to ideal, and they are difficult to match – as Bis have found.
 
Despite a few reservations this disc is admirable. Currently it is one of the best available to represent German chamber music of the 17th century.
 
Johan van Veen
 


 


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