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’.
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