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Romanus WEICHLEIN (1652 - 1706) Opus 1, 1695
Sonata III in a minor [10:19]
Sonata XI in b minor [5:47]
Sonata IX in d minor [5:17]
Sonata VI in F [8:03]
Sonata II in g minor [8:09] Johann KUHNAU (1660-1722)
Sonata VI in B flat: Ciaccona, (arr. for 2 harpsichords) [3:29] Georg BÖHM (1661-1731)
Capriccio in D [5:14] Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706)
Ciaccona in d minor, (arr. for 2 harpsichords) [4:53] Johann Caspar KERLL (1627-1693)
Ciaccona in C, (arr. for 2 harpsichords) [2:51] Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704)
Passacaglia in g minor [6:56]
Ensemble Masques/Olivier Fortin (harpsichord)
Skip Sempé (harpsichord 2)
rec. 5 September 2014, church of Laval en Brie, France DDD ALPHA 212 [61:01]
Strictly speaking this disc has no title. The frontispiece mentions the name of the composer and in much smaller characters "Opus 1, 1695", referring to the single collection of instrumental music from the pen of Romanus Weichlein. However, in fact this disc offers more than the title suggests. As the track-list shows the ciaccona and the passacaglia take a major place in the programme. That is no coincidence: these two bassi ostinati also appear in four of Weichlein's sonatas, three of which are included here.
It is likely that few music lovers are familiar with the name of Romanus Weichlein. He was born as Andreas Franz Weichlein in Linz from parents who were both musicians and who gave him a good musical education. He received his first musical training at the abbey of Lambach and entered the Benedictine Order in 1671. At the profession of his vows he received the monastic name of Romanus. He went to Salzburg to study at the University, where he became a doctor of philosophy in 1673. Here he also got acquainted with Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. He returned to Lambach, and later became chaplain and musical director of the Benedictine convent of Nonnberg in Salzburg.
Only two collections of his music were published. In 1695 his Op. 1 came from the press, under the title Encaenia musices, meaning literally "musical dedication". In this case this has to be interpreted as "musical gift". In his preface the composer dedicates the collection to emperor Leopold I, "in the firm hope that they will be used in his court chapel". He adds that they can be played both in sacred and in secular surroundings. In 1702 he published a collection of seven masses, Parnassus ecclesiastico-musicus, as his Op. 2. In addition works from his pen have been preserved in manuscript.
The sonatas are scored for two violins, two violas and basso continuo. In three sonatas these are joined by two trumpets. The track-list of the present disc omits any mention of movements. In the time these sonatas were written, instrumental sonatas did not have a formal structure yet. The booklets to the two recordings of these sonatas by Ars Antiqua Austria (Symphonia, 1994/95 and 2008 respectively) include the titles of movements or sections. Often they are not strictly separated, but follow each other attacca as was common in sonatas from the first half of the 17th century. Several 'movements' are divided into sections of a contrasting character. The Sonata IX in d minor, for instance, ends with a sequence of adagio - presto - adagio - allegro - grave. As I said, four sonatas include a passacaglia or ciaccona. Three of them are played here; the exception is Sonata I, because it includes parts for two trumpets.
The use of ground basses, such as passacaglia and ciaccona, dates from the 16th century, but was especially popular in the stile nuovo which emerged in Italy around 1600. Part of it was the introduction of the basso continuo, which became the foundation of almost any composition, either vocal or instrumental. Another feature was instrumental virtuosity, especially for cornett and violin. These developments resulted in a large repertoire of pieces, in which one or more treble instruments weave an increasingly virtuosic web over a repeated bass pattern.
The inclusion of such ground basses in three of Weichlein's sonatas induced the performers to add separate pieces with a ground bass by other composers. These pieces were all scored for keyboard; three of them have been transcribed for two keyboards. That is very well done, but I don't see any reason for such transcriptions. The only piece, whose title does not indicate that it is in fact based on a basso ostinato, is the Capriccio in D by Georg Böhm. That can be explained by the fact that the ground bass is only used in one section of this piece, which also includes a fugue.
I already mentioned the recordings of Ars Antiqua Austria. Under the direction of Gunar Letzbor it was the first ensemble to pay attention to the oeuvre of Romanus Weichlein. Some may find it too much to purchase a complete recording of his sonatas; they are served well by this disc which includes five of them. They are given very fine interpretations by the Ensemble Masques; the contrasts between the movements or sections are well realised and the string parts are played in a speech-like manner. The keyboard items are nice additions which receive engaging performances by Olivier Fortin and Skip Sempé.
Weichlein deserves to be better known and this disc does its part.