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Johan Helmich ROMAN (1694-1758)
Golovinmusiken (complete performing version by Dan Laurin)
Höör Barock / Dan Laurin
rec. Tjörnarps kyrka, Höör, Sweden, 2017
SACD/CD Hybrid, Stereo/Surround 5.0, reviewed in surround
BIS BIS2355 SACD [81:53]

This the first complete recording of all 45 pieces written by Roman at the behest of Count Nikolay Fyodorovich Golovin, long time Russian Envoy to the Swedish Court. Golovin needed music and composer Johan Helmich Roman was the director of the only professional orchestra in Stockholm. During this period the usually warring parties, Sweden and Russia, were having a period of detente brought about by the fact that both were in a somewhat transitional state of aristocratic leadership. Sweden had just come under the rule of Frederick 1 who was very far from being an all powerful monarch being limited by a remarkable parliament of four separate legislative bodies. Russia's Empress Catherine 1 had died and power passed to her 12 year old son Peter 1. Thus the Russian celebration in which the Swedish aristocracy felt open to allowing their top musician an important role.

The fascinating notes by Dan Laurin, director of Höör Barock, explains a little of this but sensibly devotes a lot more space to the music itself and its performance. Whilst we know almost nothing about the actual celebration at Golovin's Bååtska Palatset in Stockholm we do possess the full score in Roman's own hand, a score unfortunately lacking details of instrumentation or tempi. Attempts to realise this large set of Grebrauchsmusik rely on a high level of expertise and considerable creativity. It is clear that Laurin and his group lavished attention on every detail. Having no guidance as to instrumentation they took the pragmatic view that they should use the resources already at their disposal. Being a flexible group of Swedish and Danish early music players, Höör Barock chose a variety of recorders, several different oboes, a bassoon, strings and a continuo group of harpsichord, guitar and mandora (a type of lute). The playing sequence of the disc is that in the score but there is no reason for these 45 dance movements to be played in any particular order. There are several each of gigues, gavottes, bourrées, hornpipes and reels. Most are in two or four parts and, as noted, the instrumentation is decided by these performers. Laurin spends some time explaining their decisions. He stresses that these pieces are quite experimental by the standards of the day. Roman was no slouch when it came to adopting forward-looking ideas.

What comes over to the listener is a huge number of elegant tunes beautifully performed by some of the classiest baroque performers we have. One can hear it all or just drop in for a few pieces at a time. It is essentially high quality background music: less varied and a lot shorter than Telemann's Tafelmusik, published just a few years later, and possibly not quite so clever. Like the Telemann it repays careful listening but doesn't require it. Such was never the intention of the composer who expected these pieces to be played all over the many rooms of Golovin's palace celebration by whichever musicians were working in that area. Whilst they were playing, the participants were likely talking and drinking in aristocratic style.

Those, like me, who have already discovered the pleasures of Roman's Drottningsholmsmusiken will welcome more of the same. Those new to this Swedish master should add this superbly recorded SACD to their collections. Talking and drinking whilst listening is optional.

Dave Billinge

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