Ensemble Masques / Olivier Fortin

Johan Rosenmüller: Sonate a 2, 3, 4 è 5 stromenti, da arco & altri

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Johann Rosenmüller was a German composer who fled to Venice after escaping arrest. He ended up at the Ospedale della Pietà, which later employed Vivaldi, and his later music is an attractive mixture of German fugues and shorter Italianate sonata movements. Even as progressive a composer as Telemann cited him as an influence, and these string sonatas, published in 1682, lie right at the point where the multi-sectional mid-Baroque sonata coalesced into the High Baroque sonata with three or four movements. His music would seem to merit more attention than it has gotten, and this recording from the Montreal group Ensemble Masques, with harpsichord and chamber organ accompaniment from their leader Olivier Fortin, is welcome. The sonatas are for groups of two to five stringed instruments with a harpsichord or organ continuo, in anywhere from three to seven movements. Even at the larger end of that range the music is compact and focused on a single affect, with dissonant homophonic passages making a nice strong contrast with the fugal or otherwise polyphonic fast passages. Ensemble Masques, despite the syrupy sound generated by the suburban Montreal church favored by ATMA's engineers, has the right dimensions and feel for the music. The textures created by the different-sized forces are nicely brought out by the players; with assistance from Fortin's switches between harpsichord and organ, the result is that the set of 12 sonatas turns out quite variegated and lively. The risk of tedium with complete sets that were never meant to be performed together is avoided, and the result is worth having for fans of the Baroque instrumental sonata.

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