Ensemble Libro Primo
Sabine Stoffer & Alex McCartney
Veterum Musica VM018. 50’53
G. B. Viviani: Sonata Prima
N. Matteis: Passaggio Rotto
B. Marini: Sonata Quarta ‘Per sonar con due Corde’
G. G. Kapsberger: Preludes, Toccatas, Gagliarda, Corrente, Passacaglia
G. A. Pandolfi Mealli: Sonata Seconda ‘La Cesta’
H. I. F. Biber: Sonata IV ‘Darstellung im Tempel’
This impressive recording by Ensemble Libro Primo (Sabine Stoffer & Alex McCartney) features 17th-century music for violin and theorbo written in the Stylus Phantasticus: a style described by Johann Mattheson as “sometimes agitated, sometimes hesitant, sometimes one- and sometimes many-voiced; often also shortly after the beat: without rhythm; but not without the intention to please, to rush nor to amaze.” This seemingly anarchic compositional style was a major influence on Italian and German composers of the period, its rapid changes of mood, pulse and metre creating an almost operatic sense of drama. As the programme note describes, this style was “a natural conveyance of a highly elaborate improvisatory performance practice“. That sense of improvisatory performance infuses these performances with drama and excitement. One example is the solo violin Passagio Rotto by N. Matteis. Matteis was praised by Roger North for his “eloquent, expressive style“: words that accurately describe Sabine Stoffer’s own delightful playing.
These early composers were also innovative in their technical experiments and demands on the players, one being B. Marini whose Sonata Quarta: Per sonar con due Corde includes in the title mention of the use of double stops on the violin – an innovation for that time in Italy. Biber, the latest composer represented, filled his violin pieces with such techniques, including his Darstellung im Tempel (The Presentation in the Temple), the fourth of his famed Rosenkranzsonaten (Mystery Sonatas). This sonata is in the form of variations over an eight-bar ground bass. Similar ostinato bass lines appear in pieces by Viviani and Pandolfi Mealli.
Also included are two groups of theorbo pieces by Kapsberger, played with exquisite delicacy by Alex McCartney. Notable amongst these harmonically innovative pieces are the Gagliarda from the 1620 Terzo quarto d’intavolatura di chitarrone, and the impressive Passacaglia from Kapsberger’s 1640 Libro quarto.
Although it was recorded in Glasgow Cathedral, the acoustic sounds intimate and suits the music well. Sabine Stoffer plays an anonymous 17th-century German violin. Further details and ordering possibilities can be found here.