A Courtly Garland for Baroque Trumpet

A Courtly Garland for Baroque Trumpet
Orpheus Britannicus, Robert Farley, Andrew Arthur
Resonance Classics RES10220. 79’57

The 17th-century was a time of dramatic musical invention, both compositionally, and instrumentally, with several now mainstream instruments going through their birth pangs, or re-birth pangs. One such was the trumpet, hitherto a largely military or ceremonial instrument, with little, if any, music of real significance composed for it. It was the development of the clarino style of playing in the higher registers that freed the trumpet from its lower register, only capable of playing restricted arpeggio-like notes. The more melodic notes in the upper reaches of the harmonic series allowed for more tuneful writing. Girolamo Fantini (1600–1675) was one of the first known trumpet virtuosos, described as “the monarch of the trumpet on earth!” After five years in the service of Cardinal Scipio Borghese in Rome he was appointed principal Court trumpeter to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. In 1634, played in a concert with the famous organist/composer Frescobaldi (1583–1643), organist of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This seems to have been the first known recital of music for trumpet and organ, a popular combination to this day. Fanni is represented on this CD by four short pieces.  Continue reading

Fantasia Incantata

Fantasia Incantata
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. Continue reading

Schabernack

Schabernack: A treasure trove of musical jokes
Les Passions de l’Ame, Meret Lüthi
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi. 88985415492. 56’46

Music by Fux, Schmeltzer, Biber, and Walther

Schabernack - A Treasure Trove of Musical Jokes
Schabernack 
translates as ‘prank, practical joke, hoax or shenanigans’, and the underlying theme of this CD by the impressive group Les Passions de l’Ame emphasises that aspect of the musical world of the Austrian and Hungarian Empires during the Baroque period.  The CD cover promises “Characters from the commedia dell’arte, playful birds, an astonishing virtuosity and a colourful instrumentation – the vivid imagination in late 17th century Austrian-German instrumental music loves to surprise”. But humour is only part of the inspiration for this recording. At the time, these Hapsburg domains were part of the defence of Europe from attacks from the east by the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman influence was spreading into Viennese life and music, with Turkish, or Janissary, music and instruments becoming part of the musical language of the time. Continue reading

Georg Muffat: Missa in Labore Requies

Georg Muffat: Missa in Labore Requies
Church Sonatas by Bertali, Schmelzer, Biber
Cappella Murensis, Les Cornets Noirs, Johannes Strobl
Audite 97.539. 71’36

Muffat: Missa in Labore Requies; Bertali: Sonata a 13, Sonata Sancti Placidi a 14; Biber: Sonata VI a 5, Sonata VIII a 5; Schmelzer: Sonata XII a 7;

Muffat: Missa in labore requiesGeorg Muffat is one of the most interesting composers of the high Baroque period, not least because of his ability to combine musical genres from many different countries. Born in Savoy, he studied with Lully in Paris before becoming organist in Strasbourg Cathedral before moving to Vienna, Prague and then Salzburg, where he worked with Biber in the court of the Prince Archbishop. After further study in Rome he moved to Passau. It was there that we find the first mention of the monumental Missa in Labore Requies, Muffat’s only surviving sacred work. The score came into Haydn’s hands, passing on his death into the Esterházy archives and final to the National Library in Budapest.

Until 1991 it was almost completely ignored, with doubt as whether Muffat was the composer, and the reason for its composition is still in doubt. Continue reading

Spiritato! Guts and Glory

Guts and Glory
Spiritato!
St John’s Smith Square. 15 April 2016

The young period instrument group Spiritato! is one of the most exciting arrivals on the UK early music scene. Their most recent and most ambitious project is Guts and Glory, exploring the relatively little-known repertoire of military and art music for natural trumpets, which they contrasted with more reflective (or, at least, quieter) works by the same composers for strings and continuo. A key feature of this Spritiato 2_crop.jpgperformance was that the trumpets were not only valveless, but also had no finger holes to assist in the tuning of notes.  These finger holes (or ‘venting’ or ‘nodal’ holes) are in any case a relatively recent innovation, and may not have been used in early natural trumpets, at least not for the purpose to which they are now used; to make the tuning of the higher harmonic notes easier. Indeed, it seems that the original holes found in some instruments were actually place at the anti-node, rather than the node, and were therefore intended to silence the tricky notes altogether, rather than to try to bring them into tune.

Not surprisingly, it was the distinctive tuning that results from valveless trumpets was a major feature of the evening. When played in their lower Continue reading

Biber: Rosenkranzsonaten 2 & 3

Biber: Rosenkranzsonaten 2 & 3
Anne Schumann (violin), Sebastian Knebel (organ)
Querstand VKJK 1506/1507. 45’10/63’09

CD 2. Biber: Rosenkranzsonaten VI-X; Pachelbel: Ciacona in d
CD 3. Biber: Rosenkranzsonaten XI-XVI; Buxtehude: Ciacona in e

These two CDs complete the 3-CD series of the Biber Rosenkranzsonaten. Anne Schumann and Sebastian Knebel have divided the work into its three sections (the ‘joyful’, ‘sorrowful’ and ‘glorious’ mysteries) and have chosen a different recording venue for each section, based on the organ in each church. This is a commendable approach; not least because it avoids the ubiquitous little box organs and features full sized church organs. These were far more likely to be used as a continuo instruments at the time, and create a different aural perspective to the music. The first CD was reviewed here.

Biber Pachelbel Rosenkranzsonaten 2 Anne Schumann QuerstandCD 2, the ‘Sorrowful Mysteries’ (Sonatas VI-X), are recorded in Kaltenlengsfeld, next door to Friedelshausen, where CD 1 was recorded, south of the Bach town of Eisenach in Thuringia. The organ dates from 1755 and has, for Thuringian organs, a rather unusual configuration with a Ruckpositive. It is positioned above the altar in what appears to be almost a separate space from the main church volume, beyond a low arch and in a small space – presumably this explains the configuration, which takes up less vertical space. The recording is made fairly close to the organ, but still includes the acoustic bloom from the rest of the space. The violin Continue reading

Toulouse les Orgues: 20th International Festival

Toulouse les Orgues: 20th International Festival
“The organ: fabulous musical machine”
7-18 October 2015

The city of Toulouse has nine historic organs on the national protected listed monuments schedule, together with many other instruments in the surrounding Midi-Pyrénéés region. It is something of a pilgrimage site for organ lovers; an appropriate description, as much of its early importance came from the Basilica of St. Sernin and its key position on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route. The Toulouse les Orgues organisation has a year-round responsibility for the maintenance of most of the organs in the city, as well as a thriving educational and outreach remit. In addition, they organise the annual international festival and the occasional International Xavier Darasse Organ Competition. This year was the 20th anniversary of the festival. It’s motto ‘The organ: fabulous musical machine” was reflected in a vast array of musical events and presentations, featuring not just the organ in its various incarnations, but also an impressive breadth of other musical activity. Continue reading

Rosenkranzsonaten 1

Rosenkranzsonaten 1
Anne Schumann (violin), Sebastian Knebel (organ)
Querstand VKJK 1423. 40’24

B
iber Rosenkranzsonaten I-V; Buxtehude: Passacaglia in d (BuxWV161)

Buxtehude Biber Rosenkranzsonaten I Anne Schumann Sebastian Knebel QuerstandFor this 3-CD series of the Biber Rosenkranzsonaten, Anne Schumann and Sebastian Knebel have divided the work into its three sections (the ‘joyful’, ‘sorrowful’ and ‘glorious’ mysteries) and have chosen a different recording venue for each section, based on the organ in each church – a commendable approach, not least because we hear a full size church organ used as a continuo instrument, rather than the silly little box organs so often heard. Continue reading