Romanus (Andreas) WEICHLEIN (1652-1706)
Encaenia Musices, op. 1 (1695)
Capella Vitalis Berlin
rec. details not supplied
Reviewed as 24-bit lossless download
RAUMKLANG RK3401 [68:18]

Let me start this review with two rhetorical questions. Firstly, how can music this good — and its composer — be so little known? Secondly, how can an ensemble this good, based in a major European capital and formed more than ten years ago, require crowdfunding to record this, their first CD?

Romanus Weichlein was born in Linz, and christened Andreas Franz. On entering the monastery in Lambach, he adopted the name Romanus. He came from a family of musicians, his father was an organist in Linz, his oldest brother the organist in the Lambach monastery, his two other brothers also became organists. Romanus broke with family tradition and concentrated on the violin, becoming a highly regarded performer, as well as a composer for string ensembles. He studied for three years in Salzburg, where it is almost certain that he would have met Franz Ignaz Biber.

The term Encaenia Musices means Musical Offering. This set was dedicated to Emperor Leopold I of Austria, though the circumstances that inspired its composition are not clear. By 1695, Weichlein was no longer in Lambach, having taken up the post of curate and music prefect in the Nonnberg Abbey, and also had responsibilities for the musical life of the nunnery in Sben, in the South Tyrol.

This recording offers eight of the sonatas, six for five-part string ensemble: two violins, two violas, and basso continuo; the other two (I and XII) also require two trumpets. Sometimes with a collection such as this, there can be a lack of variety in tempo and/or instrumental colour. That isn’t the case here. There is the obvious extra colour of the trumpets, but within the sonatas you will encounter plenty of diversity, including gigs, chaconnes and a term I had not encountered before – a bassagalia – which doesn’t appear to be a typo, but I can find no information on, and can only assume that it is an alternative spelling for the well-known passacaglia.

Adding to the variety are four other works, three short pieces for two natural trumpets — from a group of 24 in an appendix to the set — and a Canon for four violins, which was a birthday present for the abbot of the Lambach monastery. The reference to the posthorn in the work’s name is due to the abbot’s coat of arms including this instrument.

Capella vitalis berlin – the lower case is their choice – is a group of professional players, flexible in number (eleven here) that formed in 2002. This recording is their first and was crowdfunded: the 3,000 euros required was over-subscribed. Given the quality of playing, I find it extraordinary that it has taken so long to be able to answer “yes” to the question that their audiences regularly asked: “Do you have a CD?”. Intonation and ensemble is absolutely rock-solid, and the interpretations provide plenty of contrast between slow and fast sections. The sound quality is equally exceptional.

One other recording (Pan Classics PC10269) exists of the entire set of sonatas, but its availability is patchy. I think I will wait and hope that capella vitalis berlin are sufficiently successful with this release to justify another with the remaining sonatas. Could I suggest that they extending their repertoire to such names as Schnittelbach and Capricornus, whose works quite dazzled me in the Naxos release Das Partiturbuch (8.557679 – review).

David Barker

Sonata I 8 [6:49]
Sonata III 6 [10:28]
Sonata IV 6 [7:23]
Duet for two trumpets [1:08]
Sonata VI 6 [8:48]
Sonata VII 6 [7:12]
Intrada for two trumpets [0:54]
Canon on the Posthorn for 4 violins [4:49]
Sonata X 6 [7:31]
Sonata XI 6 [6:20]
Duet for two trumpets [1:05]
Sonata XII 8 [5:51]

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