Nicolaus à KEMPIS (c.1600-1676) Symphoniæ
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]
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.
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
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.
Founding Editor Rob Barnett Editor in Chief
John Quinn Seen & Heard Editor Emeritus Bill Kenny MusicWeb Webmaster
David Barker Postmaster
Jonathan Woolf MusicWeb Founder Len Mullenger
from previous months Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the
discs reviewed. details We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to
which you refer.