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Schabernack: A Treasure Trove Of Musical Jokes
Johann Joseph FUX (1660-1741)
Les Combattans – Partita a tre, in C major, K323 [9.43]
Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (c.1623-1680)
Sonata Cu Cu [8.23]
Aria con la Mattacina a 4 in D major [7.07]
Spoglia di Pagagi – Balletto a 5 in F major [3.12]
Heinrich Ignaz Franz BIBER (1644-1704)
Partia IV from Harmonia Artificiosa-Ariosa in E flat major [9.07]
Johan Jakob WALTHER (1650-1717)
Scherzo d’Augelli con il Cuccu, in C major [6.38]
Heinrich Ignaz Franz BIBER
Battalia a 10, in D major [9.22]
Johann Joseph FUX
Pour le Coucou in D major [2.57]
Meret Lüthi (violin & direction)
Les Passions De L’Ame
rec. Evangelisch-reformierte Kirche, Trogen, Switzerland, November 2016
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 88985415492 [56.46]

In German, der Schabernack can mean a prank or a jest, or something designed to deceive; but it is also sometimes used to mean an unfunny joke or prank – which covers my doubts about this otherwise fine and interesting – and highly enjoyable - CD.

Sometimes we groan inwardly when some kind soul – perhaps ourselves – tries to retell a joke or an anecdote; labelling something as ‘funny’ is often the way to kill it stone-dead. In the past, a good way to recognise a dud film was to see it advertised – whether on a poster or in the trailer – as ‘rip-roaring’. It seems as if with this disc, describing it as a “treasure trove of musical jokes” and illustrating the cover with a jokey picture of Meret Lüthi (and the booklet showing the performers being given silly things to do), there is a determination to consign the release to mere novelty.

But it is so much better than that. The music is intrinsically valuable, not a novelty to be heard once, and then discarded. It is a rare joke that one wants to hear more than once. The various additional sounds, not I suspect all historically authentic, (nor necessarily detailed in the scores) include riq, tamburello, rope tension drum, khartal, scallop shells, small wooden bowls, knives, jew’s harp, whistle, nose flute and rattle belt. A riq is an Arabic tambourine, a khartal an Indian percussion instrument. Nose flutes are normally associated with Polynesia. They make a pleasant noise, adding variety to the overall concert of material.

The composers, especially Fux and Biber, are significant figures of baroque Austria, (apart from Walther, who was Swiss). Schmelzer, based largely in Vienna, was a superb violinist, considered one of the finest in Europe, and significant influence on Biber. Fux was one of the great theorists of counterpoint – his Gradus ad Parnassum was deeply influential – studied by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, among others. But he was not a dry-as-dust academic: his music is always appealing, and this CD provides an admirable introduction to his admirable music. As with the other composers, there is more to him than a few imitations of cuckoos. (perhaps there are too many cuckoos here for one programme – the first cuckoo may be newsworthy – later ones are not.)

The quality of the music–making is as virtuosic as the music demands. Meret Lüthi is a fine director, with a light touch, and the playing of Les Passions de L’Ame (named after a phrase in Descartes’ writing on the relationship between body and soul) is attentive and colourful. Recording quality is very fine, notes reasonably informative. Some might question the slightly short measure, but not the quality of enjoyment to be gained.

Michael Wilkinson



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