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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS

Nicolaus à KEMPIS (c.1600-1676)
Symphonia Prima a 3 op. 3, XVIII [4:06]
O Iesu Fili David a 5 op. 3, XXVIII [4:36]
Symphonia Secunda a 4 op. 3, XXIII [3:10]
Symphonia Sexta per violino solo op. 1 [2:52]
Symphonia Prima a 4 op. 3, XXII [3:06]
Sicut misit me a 5 op. 3, XXX [5:14]
Symphonia Octava «Den lustelijck en Mey» op. 3, XII [3:34]
Symphonia Quarta per violino & viola op. 1 [2:34]
Ad te suspiro a 5 op. 2 [4:59]
Pavana Dolorosa a 6 op. 4, XXVI [3:57]
Sub tuum præsidium op. 2 [4:23]
Symphonia Undecima per violino solo op. 1 [2:39]
Symphonia Quarta supra Cuc cuc, vel Sol, mi op. 2 [4:13]
Cantate Domino a 5 op. 2 [3:51]
Symphonia Secunda per violino solo op. 2 [3:19]
Symphonia Prima a 3 op. 1 [3:14]
Maria Mater Gratie a 5 op. 3, XXXI [3:36]
Symphonia Septima a 3 supra Ciaconna op. 1 [2:59]
Celine Scheen (soprano); Dirk Snellings (tenor); Stephan Van Dyck (bass)
Ensemble Clematis/Stéphanie de Failly
rec. 7-8 September 2003, l’église Saint-Remy de Franc-Waret, Belgium. DDD
MUSICA FICTA MF8001 [66:02]
Experience Classicsonline

Of Nicolaus à Kempis, who lived from about 1600 until 1676, very little is known. He was a native of Flanders. He had several sons, one of whom was also a musician. He was probably organist at the church of Saint-Gudule in Brussels. If for no other reason than that no other recordings dedicated to his slim output exist this is a welcome CD.
Between 1644 and 1649 in Antwerp à Kempis published three volumes of Symphoniae, which we would call 'sonatas'. In total these comprised almost one hundred short instrumental pieces with eight motets. We know there were two more such volumes - although undated - containing masses and more motets; these are now completely lost. There was also one more of instrumental music, of which only the viol parts have survived. On the evidence of the persuasive account of à Kempis' music given here by these three soloists and the Ensemble Clematis, ably led by Stéphanie de Failly, this is a pity.
Ensemble Clematis is a group from Belgium which specialises in exploring corners of the more obscure repertoire of the Low Countries. This CD contains a dozen and a half of these intriguing pieces from the first set of those publications; it serves as an appetising taste for the part in musical history which à Kempis played.
His music exemplifies the influence that Italy exerted on northern Europe in the later Renaissance. We do not know whether à Kempis ever travelled south of the Alps, or merely absorbed the colour and warmth recreated in Flanders by those immersed in the innovations originating in Rome, Venice and the rest of northern Italy.
But it is very evident from the compelling and nicely extrovert - though finely balanced - small ensemble playing on this CD that à Kempis was strongly influenced by current Italian styles and idioms … the polyphonic use of brass, the open sounds, unabashed counterpoint with fast, ornate passage work, and the outgoing tempi and dynamic rhythms.
Variety of instrumentation throughout the pieces is key: each piece is different - with strings, flute, trombone, theorbo, harpsichord and organ; and variously soprano, tenor and bass in six of the pieces. Ensemble Clematis plays as a unit, but its eight members have no qualms about highlighting individuals' own sounds and strengths. Yet consistently in the service of an impressive whole. One senses that they are not trying to 'prove' anything. But are carefully exposing the way the music achieves its effects just enough for us to marvel - at slightly taut harmonies in some places, for example, and at intricate rhythmic interplay in others. And the logic of the music is always uppermost, allowing the players obviously really to enjoy what they're doing. There is a togetherness in, for example, the eleventh Symphonia for violin solo despite the obbligato parts for trombone. This makes for a solid and stable whole. The lively and jaunty seventh Symphonia twists and springs around as though Monteverdi himself had lent a hand.
Not that à Kempis didn't innovate: it's clear that he was right behind the growing movement to elevate the violin from an accompaniment to the dance into a virtuosic position. These Symphoniae truly make the most of the instrument's sonorities - and indeed of those of the brass, which are such a feature of this playing. De Failly, Tami Troman (violins) and Simen Van Mechelen (trombone) are to be applauded for their invigorating playing based on a mature insight into the life which the pieces exude, given their brevity - none is much longer than five minutes.
The background commentary in the booklet - despite at times rather wooden translation - sets the scene well for this interesting music; there are texts. The acoustic is appropriate and aids our enjoyment. All in all, an hour of Baroque liquid, which - if not necessarily gold throughout - is very valuable, both for its reflection of the historical developments of which à Kempis was a part, and for the warm and fluid music in its own right.
Mark Sealey


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