Schmelzer, Bertali, Anon

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Anon,Bertali,Schmelzer
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Sonatae unarum fidium
PERFORMER: John Holloway (violin), Aloysia Assenbaum (organ), Lars Ulrik Mortensen (harpsichord, organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 465 066-2
Schmelzer was the man who broke the Italian monopoly on violin music in the 17th century. Born in Lower Austria c1620, he was the first non-Italian to publish a set of solo violin sonatas and the first non-Italian to be appointed Kapellmeister at the Viennese court. His six sonatas Unarum fidium (for one violin) were published in 1664 and bear the hallmarks of a virtuoso improviser: four of the set are built on bass ostinatos, which traditionally served as a basis for improvisation. Yet Schmelzer’s music differs markedly from the flamboyant stylus phantasticus practised by the Italian masters. As John Holloway notes, these sonatas are ‘elegiac, meditative, serene’.

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Holloway’s smooth, flowing performances perhaps overstate these qualities and slip towards blandness. I was also unconvinced by his unusual choice of continuo – both harpsichord and organ are used throughout, a combination he claims sounds ‘extraordinarily rich’ but which I found somewhat cloying. Romanesca recorded these sonatas for Harmonia Mundi in 1995 and Andrew Manze’s playing is, for me, the more searching and emotionally engaging. Romanesca share a greater sense of rapport too, creating a lilting rhythmic buoyancy (listen to Sonata No. 4) that confirms theirs as the more vivid, eloquent recording. Graham Lock