Meister: Il giardino del piacere

Meister: Il giardino del piacere
Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler
St John’s Smith Sq. 8 May 2016

Meister: Il Giardino del piacere: La Musica Nona, Duodecima & Terza; Pachelbel: Partie II (Musicalische Ergötzung) & Partie V; Keller Chaconne; Biber: Partia VI (Harmonia artificioso-ariosa)

For the launch concert of their latest CD (of the music of Johann Friedrich Meister, reviewed here), Ensemble Diderot contrasted three of Meister’s 1695 La Musica  sonatas with music by his near contemporise Pachelbel, Keller and Biber. We know little of Meister. He seems to have come from Hanover or thereabouts, and certainly worked in the Ducal Court there. After a dispute about pay, he moved to the Lübeck area before moving north to Flensburg in Schleswig (then part of Denmark and now the most northerly city in Germany) where he was organist of the Marienkirche and also work for the local Ducal Court.  His collection Il giardino del piacere, overo Raccolta de diversi fiori musicali, come sonate, fughe, imitationi, ciaccone, passagaglie, allemande, correnti &c. was published in Hamburg in 1695, shortly before his death.

His music seems to sum up the varied and exciting music of that period in German musical history, a time still dominated by the stylus phantasticus, or fantasy style of free and often rather anarchic musical structures. The latter is shown in the fact that none of the three pieces played had the same format. Although all open with a Sonata, usually with a central fugal section, the following dances seem to be in almost random order and style, although they all end with a Gigue. The two pieces by Pachelbel were similar in structural style, although they both included a distinctive and lively Treza movement. The Biber Partita VI (that ended the concert) was built around an imaginative central set of 13 variations, with an opening Praeludium and closing Finale. The Pachelbel Musicalische Ergötzung was played with two piccolo violins, with scordatura tuning, making a nice tonal contrast to the sound of normal baroque violins.

Diderot.jpgJohannes Pramsohler and his three fellow musicians of Ensemble Diderot relished the contrast between and within the various pieces, playing with an exquisite combination of consort and individuality. Their intonation was perfect throughout, and they managed to bring exaggeration to the already exciting music without ever pushing things too far. I particularly liked the fact that, despite having a clear group leader, his playing never dominated. These were true Trio Sonatas, where the balance between the three voices is vital – and Roldán Bernabé and Gulrim Choi had important contributions on second violin and cello. Philippe Grisvard’s harpsichord continue was delicate and sensitive, correctly avoiding the temptation to do too much.

Johannes Pramsohler introduced the music in a delightfully informal, but occasionally rather lengthy manner.

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