JJ Walther: Scherzi da violino

Johann Jakob Walther: Scherzi da violino
Bojan Čičić, Illyria Consort
Delphian DCD34294. 2 CDs. 51’00 + 49’48

Bojan Čičić and his Illyria Consort continue their exploration of the lesser-known corners of the often virtuosic violin repertoire of the 17th and 18th centuries, this time focussing on Johann Jakob Walther (1650-1717). His Scherzi da violino solo con il basso continuo per l’organo ò cimbalo, accompagnabile anche con una viola ò leuto, was published in 1676 and this double CD includes all 12 Scherzi, several in first recordings. This little-known composer is a generation before JS Bach’s cousin, Johann Gottfried Walther, and is not related. However, it is the latter’s 1732 Lexicon that gives us the limited information that survives on Johann Jakob. He spent three years in Florence before becoming leader of the Dresden court orchestra, finally ending up in Mainz. A writer in the 19th-century referred to him as the “Paganini of his age”, and this recording shows why.

Despite the title of the overall volume, most of the 12 scherzos are called Sonatas, with one referred to as a Suite, two as Arias, and one as Imitatione del cuccu. Apart from the opening Suite, with its traditional four dance movements, they are all in the stylus phantasticus genre, with different sections merging into each other. Track numbers of most of the sections are given in the booklet which is a useful guide but doesn’t really reflect the underlying structural flow.

A vast array of violin techniques is demanded in these pieces, including triple and quadruple stopping and virtuosic passage work. Bojan Čičić deals with such complexities with apparent ease. What I particularly liked about his playing is that he avoids the temptation to overdo the emotional nature of the music – something that has become rather the norm over recent years. His restrained interpretations allow the music to speak for itself without the imposition of exaggerated and mannered personal additions.

The music itself is delightfully varied, rather like listening to a sequence of mini-operas. Moods vary from melancholic to ebullient. Bojan Čičić is very ably supported by Susanne Heinrich, viol, David Miller, lute, and Steven Devine, organ and harpsichord.