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Johann THEILE (1646-1724)
Sonata duplex a 3 [05:26]
Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
Sonata in C (BuxWV 266) [08:52]
Philipp Heinrich ERLEBACH (1657-1714)
Sonata V in B flat [10:06]
Sonata in G (BuxWV 271) [09:34]
Johann Adam REINCKEN (1643-1722)
Hortus Musicus IV in d minor [18:03]
Ensemble Stravaganza
rec. 2017, Eglise Notre-Dame de Bon Secours, Paris
MUSO MU-025 [50:59]

The title of this disc refers to the annual concerts that took place in Lübeck during the Advent period. They were founded by the town's organist Franz Tunder in 1646 and continued by his son-in-law Dieterich Buxtehude, who had succeeded him as organist of the Marienkirche after his death in 1667. Whether the pieces included here were indeed played at such concerts is very much an open question. It seems unlikely that the sonata by Philipp Heinrich Erlebach was on the programme, as he, although born and educated in East Frisia, had no ties to northern Germany during his career.

Buxtehude is the main figure in the programme. His oeuvre is made up of a large number of works for organ and harpsichord as well as sacred cantatas. His extant chamber music comprises 22 sonatas; all except one include an obbligato part for the viola da gamba, which is a feature of German instrumental music of the 17th century. In 1694 and 1696 Buxtehude published two sets of seven sonatas each for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo. The two sonatas played by the Ensemble Stravaganza have been preserved in manuscript and are scored for two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo. Buxtehude was one of the last representatives of the north German organ school, which had embraced the stylus phantasticus that had emerged in Italy around 1600. That comes especially to the fore in the genre of the toccata, which consists of a sequence of contrasting sections. The sonatas by Buxtehude are based on the same principle. The Sonata in C comprises three movements, the Sonata in G has five. Each movement is divided into several sections of contrasting character and tempo. Some movements include a section with the indication solo which means that one of the participating instruments has the possibility to shine.

Buxtehude's sonatas may have been played by the members of the Ratsmusik in Lübeck, an ensemble of highly skilled and versatile musicians. They played at official events, but also in the private homes of wealthy citizens. Another possibility is that Buxtehude himself played his sonatas with his colleagues and friends from Hamburg, Johann Theile and Johann Adam Reincken. Their friendship is documented in a painting by Johannes Voorhout of 1674.

Reincken was another representative of the north German organ school. Born in Deventer in the Netherlands, he played a key role in music life in Hamburg. In 1658 he became assistant to Heinrich Scheidemann, organist at the Catharinenkirche, and considered the founder of the north German organ school. When Scheidemann died in 1663, Reincken succeeded him. He held this post until his death in 1722. Only a few compositions from his pen have been preserved, among them a set of six instrumental works for two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo, which he published in 1688 under the title of Hortus musicus. Each piece opens with a sonata, which is followed by a sequence of dances. Here again we find the features of the stylus phantasticus.

The third composer in this circle of friends is the least-known: Johann Theile. At the age of just 12 he was already a law student at Leipzig University. That was mainly a way to improve his social position, since he was of humble birth. He was held in high esteem by student friends and also, according to a poem dedicated to him in the preface of his first publication of 1667, by none other than Heinrich Schütz. From 1673 to 1675 Theile was Kapellmeister at the Gottorp Palace, some 120 kilometers away from Lübeck, and then on Danish territory. Political circumstances in Denmark forced the Duke to leave Gottorp for Hamburg in 1675. Theile followed him, after a failed attempt to succeed Sebastian Knüpfer as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. He later moved to Wolfenbüttel and then to Merseburg. In Hamburg he composed operas for the opera at the Gänsemarkt, of which Reincken was one of the founders. These operas are lost, and so are other parts of his oeuvre. The Sonata duplex a 3 is one of the very few instrumental works that have come down to us. It is part of one of his theoretical works, entitled Musikalisches Kunstbuch. The sonata is divided into six sections, alternately allegro and adagio.

The odd man out in this programme is Philipp Heinrich Erlebach. He was born in East Frisia and received his earliest musical education probably at the East Frisian court. Supported by a recommendation of the court he went to Thuringia, where from 1681 until his death he acted as Kapellmeister at the court of Count Albert Anton von Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt. During these 33 years Rudolstadt developed into one of the main music centres of Thuringia, and Erlebach also made a name for himself as a composer of vocal and instrumental music. After his death the court bought his entire collection of music from his widow - an indication of how much he was appreciated. Unfortunately many of his works were destroyed by fire in 1735. In addition to sacred cantatas and two collections of secular arias, two sets of instrumental works have survived. One of them includes overtures in the French style, the other comprises six sonatas for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo, which shows the influence of the Italian style. The structure is comparable to the pieces in Reincken's Hortus Musicus. The sonatas open with a sequence of sections in contrasting tempo (slow - fast - slow) and continue with a number of dances. These have French titles, but Erlebach apologised for the fact that - due to time pressure during the printing process - "some mistakes contrary to the Italian dialect slipped into the titles (...)".

This is a fine disc with some of the best instrumental music written in the Protestant part of Germany in the second half of the 17th century. However, all the pieces included here, probably with the exception of the sonata by Theile, have been recorded before. From that perspective, it will not be easy to compete with what is already on the market. The short playing time does not help. That said, the Ensemble Stravaganza is an excellent group of players who fully master the idiom of the 17th century. They explore the contrasts within single pieces, and their performance is strongly rhetorical. There is some good dynamic shading and the rhythmic pulse comes off very well. If you are not acquainted with this kind of repertoire, this is a perfect introduction.

Johan van Veen


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