Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sonate a 2, 3, 4, è 5 stromenti, da arco e altri
Olivier Fortin, cond; Ens Masques
ATMA 2660 (70:49)
There seems to be a veritable fountain of recordings recently of the last set of instrumental pieces published in 1682 by Johann Rosenmüller, the notorious pedophile and acknowledged gifted composer in both Italy and Germany during the central timespan of the 17th century. Perhaps “veritable fountain” may reflect a rather overstated hyperbole, but given that my colleague Barry
Brenesal just reviewed another recording of this set in the last
(36:5) by a different group, the appearance of this by the French-Canadian Ensemble Masques on top of recordings by the Ensemble Chelycus on Ramée last year and Mensa Sonora on Pierre Vernay awhile back means that his rather eclectic music has struck a chord (pun intended) among Baroque chamber-music performers.
This is not entirely surprising, for these works are the culmination of Rosenmüller’s career. After serving in Venice at the Ospedale della Pietà, he was brought back to Germany by Duke Anton Ulrich of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel to serve as his Kapellmeister of a recently revived Kapelle. Unfortunately, time had taken its toll and his tenure lasted only about two years, during which time he was hardly anyone’s favorite person to be around, given his obnoxious and melancholic manner. He did, however, manage to crystalize his compositional skills into these 12 works. When they were written is not known—one presumes that they come from his last years in Venice, largely due to the use of some rather intricate counterpoint. They are, however, completely unlike a set of chamber sonatas published in 1667, most of which are successions of dances along with more conventional binary movements. These works are all integrated sections (as many as 14) in different tempos, almost like brief musical quips. In the oft-performed 12th sonata in D Minor, the hymn-like
sequences into a deliberate fugue that wanders through harmonies, before merely becoming imitative. The counterpoint, that begins so traditionally, evolves subtly. The previous work begins pretty much with a solemn slow cadence that leaps virtually into a lively dance-like corrente, before throttling back again. Rosenmüller has a fine sense of piquant harmony, and his counterpoint, often reduced to gnarly short fugues and canon, appears often without much preparation. Brenesal noted that these are probably closer to fantasias than true sonatas, and the caveat here is that the composer is using the principles of contrast in a more unique manner than one might expect in a fantasia. And yet, these are not, save for the exception of the D-Minor Third Sonata, conventional works that one might find with, say Corelli or even Legrenzi.
The playing by the Ensemble Masques is precise and accurate. There are no tentative runs in or out of tune moments, but rather everything is performed with conscious attention to making the often tortuous lines appear seamless. Although Rosenmüller left it open as to the actual setting of some of the parts, their decision to perform these with a string ensemble gives it a nice tonal clarity. The continuo, varying between harpsichord (using softer stops) and organ, never overwhelms the often interweaving violin lines, while the string continuo, which lacks the usual plucked theorbo, gives the performance a nicely integrated texture. From a personal standpoint, this is the rendition that I would choose, for I love the continuity of sound of the ensemble. That is not to say that there is no competition out there, but for my money, one cannot go wrong in obtaining this excellent disc.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
Works on This Recording
Sonate (12) ŕ 2-5 stromenti by Johann Rosenmüller
Olivier Fortin (Harpsichord)
Written: by 1682
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