1.2 Despite the recognition of the Sonatae
unarum fidium as one of the most influential and innovative collections
of the Austrian Baroque and despite their publication in the renowned
Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich series (vol. 93,
1958) as well as in the easily accessible Wiener Urtextausgaben of Universal Edition (ed. Friedrich Cerha, Vienna, 1958), the works have
hardly ever attracted any playersand consequently no complete recordings
of the set has ever been on the market until now. (Schmelzer's ensemble
sonatas, on the other hand, have been quite popular, particularly in recent
times.) Thus, tracking down recordings even of single sonatas of the Sonatae
unarum fidium, requires considerable time and research: Sonata quarta
appeared in the late 1950s on one of the first (and nowadays very rare)
LPs of Nikolaus Harnoncourt's Concentus musicus, while Sonata terza was
issued in 1983 by the ensemble London Baroque on an LP entitled Von
Venedig nach Wien, which was part of EMI's legendary Reflexe
series. In this light the recent recording by Romanesca is most welcome
as something truly new.
2.2 Romanesca has confronted this problem and solved it admirably. Andrew Manze's violin playing is, in addition to its superb technical mastery, both sensitive and colorful. His stylistic empathy with Schmelzer's works is perhaps best represented in the various toccata-like sections, where we can admire both the composer's inventiveness and the performer's imagination. Only occasionally was I struck by Manze's making use of higher positions on the lower strings, which I would consider anachronistic.
2.3 The excellent continuo group contributes to the liveliness of this recording. John Toll frequently alternates between the organ and the harpsichordeven within the same workand the theorbo is also used as a kind of added register. The alternation of harpsichord and organ within the same piece wasto my knowledgefirst introduced about twenty years ago in a famous recording of early Italian violin music by Musica Antiqua Köln, and in recent times has been used quite frequently. There are many advantages to a varied and colorful continuo group, especially with music composed for a solo instrument or voice and especially on sound recordings, where so much of the attraction of a live performance is per force missing. In the case of Schmelzer's violin sonatas, however, I do see one problem (which bothered me somewhat, at least when repeatedly listening to the CD): the high degree of sectionalization in most of the sonatas is reenforced by a too fanciful use of colors in the continuo, which occasionally threatens to break the works apart as artistic unities.
2.4 These are minor points, however. Romanesca
has achieved a very fine and historically informed recording of an extremely
complex andin more than one respectdifficult repertoire, which
should delight any lover of seventeenth-century violin music. It is to
be hoped that more will follow.
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