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Schenk: Il Giardino Armonico / La Suave Melodia

Release Date: 10/30/2007 
Label:  Etcetera Records   Catalog #: 1356   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johann Baptist Schenk
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Suave Melodia
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHENCK Il giardino armonico La Suave Melodia; Franc Polman (Baroque vn) (period instruments) ET’CETERA 1356 (79:03)

The cover of this CD is misleading—at first glance one could easily imagine that it is a new recording by the Italian ensemble Il Giardino Armonico playing a work called La Suave Melodia , rather than a recording of Netherland’s ensemble La Suave Melodia playing a work called Il giardino Read more armonico . But don’t worry; the reversal of expectations is part of the adventure that the present CD proposes to the listener.

Instead of the nth recording of Bach’s The Art of Fugue or some chamber music by Vivaldi, it offers us a set of 12 trio sonatas written by gamba virtuoso and composer Johannes Schenck (1660–c. 1720), who achieved considerable success both as a musician and as a court official under Charles VI, in Frankfurt. Strange as it may seem to us now, when very few people have even heard Schenck’s name, he was once respected all over Europe, being the most widely published Dutch composer of the 17th century, and one of the most prolific composers for the viola da gamba ever. His musical writing is not absolutely top-notch, but almost, and it is certainly gratifying enough to engage the listener’s attention for a long time and pique the curiosity, being fresh, exuberant, and imaginative.

La Suave Melodia is obviously at home in this musical realm. I confess that I sometimes wished for a jazzier, more adventurous performance, one that would further explore the less obvious qualities of this music, its deceptively simple phrases, the gorgeous dissonances, the Corellian strain that makes it so exciting. But perhaps the solid, less extravagant interpretation will actually be a better choice on the long run.

Sitting in front of my stereo in the living room, I started to write notes for this review: “the sound produced by the orchestra . . .” And there I stopped, feeling utterly ridiculous! Orchestra? How could I write that, when there are only five musicians playing? Well, my blunder simply reflects one of the virtues of the group: they manage to produce a truly orchestral, lovely sound, with the amplitude, color, and boldness of a large ensemble, but retaining the delicateness and subtlety usually associated with smaller groups.

With such limited instrumental forces, you could also expect to hear much the same sound, track after track. However, the alternating importance given to theorbo, harpsichord, and organ creates variety in timbre and character that prevents the music from sounding repetitive or boring. The performances by all involved are enthusiastic and committed to the cause of bringing Schenck’s name back to the public eye (ear?) once again: it is significant that the works on this disc (considered lost during WW II) were rediscovered a few years ago by one of the members of the ensemble, Pieter Dirksen, who is also responsible for the CD’s excellent liner notes.

A must for anyone who likes the music of the past, and a joyful discovery for anyone who ever thought that the Baroque well had dried up.

FANFARE: Laura Rónai
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Works on This Recording

Il giardino armonico, Op. 3 by Johann Baptist Schenk
Orchestra/Ensemble:  La Suave Melodia
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1691 

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