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Weichlein: Encaenia Musices (1696) / Letzbor, Ars Antiqua Austria

Release Date: 01/01/2012 
Label:  Pan Classics   Catalog #: 10269  
Composer:  Romanus Weichlein
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WEICHLEIN Encaenia Musices Gunar Letzbor, cond; Ars Antiqua Austria PAN CLASSICS PC10269 (2 CDs: 90:51)

This is a reissue of a remake. Gunar Letzbor and Ars Antiqua Austria originally recorded Encaenia Musices in two volumes that were issued on Symphonia in 1994 and 1995, respectively. They later re-recorded the complete series of Weichlein’s only surviving publication for their 20th anniversary and issued it in 2008, again on Symphonia. There are Read more differences between the two versions. Letzbor used a lower pitch (by close to a half tone) in the newer one, and shaped the phrasing more: heavier accents, plenty of precise marcato attacks, slightly slowed tempos to emphasize dissonances, etc. If this sounds as though the 2008 recording is more mannered, it’s a matter of personal taste. On the one hand, it does reflect the ensemble’s current preference for sharply disciplined, theatrically vivid string performances. Used with the imagination and taste shown here, there is no reason to regret the results.

Weichlein’s publication consists of 12 five-part sonatas for two violins, two violas, and basso continuo. In addition, three of the sonatas (1, 5, and 12) have parts for two trumpets. The early Italian Baroque style of instrumental writing that was the fashion in Austria at the time (imported from the likes of Marco Uccellini, Carlo Farina, and Biagio Marini) had the advantage of a loose structure, and a deliberately improvisatory feeling. This explains why these “sonatas” have anywhere from two to five movements, and why the movements range from relatively simple but beguiling dances to recitative-like structures, to elaborate fantasias in up to four successive sections. Little is known of Weichlein’s musical training at Lambach Abbey, but it must have been solid, given his easy handling of contrapuntal technique in the slyly understated gigue of the Sonata X and elsewhere. Not that he puts his learning on display, but rather that it meets all the considerable requirements he places upon it.

For these works are rhythmically and harmonically complex, as well as extravagantly expressive across a broad emotional spectrum. Weichlein has no compunctions at repeatedly switching the mood of the moment abruptly; and there’s often an air of audacious whimsicality, as though being let in on private musical jokes. Did he really write the A-Major chord that cadences 20 seconds into Sonata VIII’s final movement, and then shift one of the voices down while it was still in progress to turn it into an A-Minor chord that leads off the next phrase? Or consider the final movement of the Sonata XII, a stern recitative that transits suddenly into what sounds like the final phrases, caught in progress, of a vivacious ballo : was Weichlein perhaps winking at us, stating that the evening’s entertainment was over? Although virtually unknown today, he was extremely well thought of in his own lifetime, and reveals a cosmopolitan outlook no doubt fostered at least in part by his acquaintance with the court and chapel favorite, Heinrich von Biber.

Recorded in good sound, my only concern with this disc is the length of its contents. At little over 90 minutes, you’d expect Pan Classics to include more material or perhaps cut back on the price. Neither appears to be the case. Still, even if that puts you off, I’d recommend keeping an eye out for this set, or possibly hinting to someone you know that it would make an ideal holiday gift. Recommended.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Encaenia musices et pluribus instrumentis, Op. 1 by Romanus Weichlein
Conductor:  Gunar Letzbor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ars Antiqua Austria
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1695; Austria 

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