One of the features of the seconda prattica
in vogue in the early 17th century was the violin’s rise
to prominence. A whole generation of brilliant players of and
composers for the violin - often these were identical - made
their mark in Italian music. Some of them moved north. In Germany
their virtuosic style was received with enthusiasm. In the second
half of the 17th century Germany - and more generally the German-speaking
world - developed into a centre of violin playing and composing
for the violin. 'A German bouquet' presents some of the finest
compositions written by German and Austrian violinists. The most
famous composer who is not represented is Heinrich Ignaz Franz
Biber. But as his music is frequently recorded it was a wise
decision to leave him out of this programme.
Not that the works recorded by the Trio Settecento are unknown.
I am not sure about the sonata by Schmelzer, but all the other
pieces are already available on disc. I would have preferred
that the artists had chosen pieces which had not yet been recorded,
and I am sure there is plenty to find. But the programme makes
for an interesting survey of what was written in the German-speaking
world in the last decades of the 17th century. It also shows
how the German violin school culminated in the works for violin
by Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporary Johann Georg Pisendel.
The programme starts with Johann Schop, who became the principal
violinist in Hamburg in 1621. He had a high reputation, which
was reflected in his salary. A number of his pieces are found
in a Dutch collection of music for amateurs, like Nobelman
which is played here. Once he was the pupil of the English gambist
William Brade and that is reflected in this work which makes
use of the English division technique.
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer played at the imperial court in Vienna,
and here he was appointed Kapellmeister
in 1679, the only
non-Italian at this post between the early 17th and the early
19th century. He died of the plague the very next year. His Sonata
in d minor
is one of a number of pieces on this disc which
is scored for violin, viola da gamba and bc. The sonata is dominated
by frequent imitation between the two instruments.
The sonatas by Johann Philipp Krieger, Dietrich Buxtehude and
Philipp Heinrich Erlebach have the same scoring. Krieger's sonata
ends with a long aria d'inventione
. Erlebach acted as Kapellmeister
the court of Count Albert Anton von Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt in
Thuringia from 1681 until his death. In his time the court developed
into one of Thuringia's main music centres. The Sonata No.
played here is from a collection of six which were published
in 1694. In some sonatas Erlebach makes use of the scordatura
and that is also the case in the third sonata. It contains a
brilliant ciaconne and ends with an expressive adagio. The whole
collection has been recorded by Rodolfo Richter in 2001 (review
Georg Muffat was one of the most important representatives of
the goûts réunis
, which merged Italian, French
and German elements. He only left one violin sonata in which
adagios and allegros alternate in a way which is quite old-fashioned
for the time. With the sonata by Johann Georg Pisendel we are
in a very different world. He was a pupil of Vivaldi for some
time, but his style is profoundly German, with its use of counterpoint.
But in particular the last movement bears the traces of Vivaldi's
exuberant and brilliant style as towards the end there is a long
and virtuosic passage like an operatic coloratura.
In comparison Bach's compositions for violin and bc are a bit
more modest, but technically challenging nevertheless. He was
well acquainted with Pisendel, but he also was a very good violinist
himself. With his Sonata in e minor
this journey through
the world of German violin playing ends.
When I received this disc the ensemble was an unknown quantity
to me. All pieces of this programme are of the highest quality,
and the players impress with their impeccable technique. In particular
the sonata by Pisendel is given a brilliant performance by Rachel
But it is only here and there that I was really satisfied with
the interpretation. Having heard many recordings of this repertoire
over the years I am not particularly surprised as the flaws are
often the same. There are too many notes without dynamic shades,
and too often all notes get the same treatment. There is little
attention to the hierarchy of the notes, and therefore little
differentiation between the good and the bad notes. That makes
this recording static, and I was often a little bored. This repertoire
is exciting and full of contrasts, but too little of that comes
out in these interpretations. I referred to Rodolfo Richter's
recording of Erlebach's sonatas, and he makes more of what these
sonatas contain. But even he doesn't explore the contrasts and
expression to the full.
As indicated earlier, most pieces on this disc have been recorded
before, and often in better performances. This recording gives
some idea of the quality of German violin music of the late 17th
century but doesn't explore it to the full.
Johan van Veen