The Mystery of Sign. Mouthon
Concerti ŗ 5
Concerto I in B flat [7:16]
Concerto II in F [6:15]
Concerto III in D [5:54]
Concerto IV in G [5:39]
Concerto V in C [7:01]
Concerto VI in a minor [5:17]
Concerto VII in d minor [5:05]
Concerto VIII in A [6:24]
Concerto IX in b minor [5:28]
Concerto X in e minor [5:15]
Ars Antiqua Austria/Gunar Letzbor
rec. 23-26 April 2009, Ivanka pri Dunaji Castle, Slovakia. DDD
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72336 [59:40]

The ten Concerti ŗ 5 recorded by Ars Antiqua Austria are from a manuscript which forms part of the archive of KremsmŁnster Abbey (Upper Austria). It is entitled 'Concerto ŗ 5. Dell Sign. Mouthon'. The concertos are written in the form of Italian ensemble music, and scored for two violins, two violas and bass. The only composer with the name of Mouton - without a "h" in it - is the French lutenist who lived from 1626 to around 1699. But it is very doubtful whether he is the composer of these concertos.

In his programme notes Gunar Letzbor writes: "We invite you to form an opinion whether this work is part of the collection of the lutenist of the 17th century Charles Mouton, whether it concerns another up to now unknown composer with the name Mouthon or whether the writing up is simply faulty."

I am absolutely sure that this music was not composed by the French lutenist Charles Mouton. First of all, there is no indication whatsoever that he had ever written anything other than lute music. Secondly, although he worked for a while in Turin in the 1670s, the style of the concertos is that of the end of the 17th century, and at that time Italian music was only just starting to have some influence on French composers. When they began to accommodate Italian influences they always mixed in French stylistic elements. There is nothing French in these concertos.

In addition, the virtuosity of in particular the upper parts is not something one associates with French composers. Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764) was a violin virtuoso but these concertos are certainly not from his pen. The argument that the scoring, with two viola parts, was "customary only in France and in Austria", as Gunar Letzbor writes in the booklet, doesn't hold water. Italian composers of the late 17th century, for instance Giovanni Legrenzi (1626-1690), also wrote for five-part strings. And even Vivaldi's contemporary Tomaso Albinoni composed instrumental music with two viola parts, for instance in his op. 2, which was printed in 1700.

Nowhere on this disc did I hear anything that reminded me of music I already knew. I can't think of any composer that I know who could have written these concertos. Therefore my guess is that this Mouthon is really someone we havenít previously encountered. And it would be very worthwhile to look for more of him.

That indicates that I assess these concertos positively. Thatís an understatement. I have greatly enjoyed this disc. These concertos are important discoveries, and are a very worthwhile addition to the catalogue of baroque instrumental music. It is a matter of good fortune that they are performed for the first time by such an outstanding ensemble as Ars Antiqua Austria.

The playing is nothing less than brilliant, both technically and in regard to interpretation. There is not a dull moment here. The fast movements are sparkling and often exciting, the slow movements full of pathos and expression. Most movements are pretty short - some take only 10 or 20 seconds - and there are hardly any pauses. That is definitely right as these concertos give the impression of being constructed as a unity with short contrasting sections rather than full-blown movements.

In short, this is a disc to treasure. If you think you know your baroque music, look for this disc and you will hear something you haven't heard before.

Johan van Veen

The identity of the composer is a mystery, but his music is something to treasure.