In the latter half of the decade of the '00s, Gunar Letzbor and Ars Antiqua Austria came into the spotlight, particularly through its outstanding performances of music by obscure Viennese lutenist Radolt for Challenge Classics. This group, however, had been around a long time already and this recording, Benedikt Anton Aufschnaiter: Dulcis Fidium Harmonia, represents a project Ars Antiqua Austria undertook in 2002 for WDR in Cologne as part of an ongoing effort to recover lost Viennese musicians from distant times. Benedikt Anton Aufschnaiter is about as obscure a figure in Viennese music as one can imagine; born in 1665, Aufschnaiter was of the generation that followed Biber and was likely influenced by that composer. Although Aufschnaiter outlived Antonio Vivaldi by a year, his last known music appeared in the late 1720s and the bulk of his work dates from the first two decades of the 1700s. The Dulcis Fidium Harmonia, Aufschnaiter's Op. 4, is a collection of eight church sonatas named after four of the early church fathers and the four evangelists. They don't have a very "churchy" feel and sound like much other instrumental music of that time, bearing a vague resemblance to the partitas in Johann Pachelbel's Musicalische Ergötzung (1695). There are, however, two important differences; firstly, that Aufschnaiter was Catholic and therefore dealing with a different audience than Pachelbel, and secondly, Aufschnaiter does not have the genius and variety shown in Pachelbel's music. Aufschnaiter's sonatas are very good and go easily on the ear, but there's little that is memorable about them and they tend to go in one ear and out the other.
Nevertheless, Ars Antiqua Austria's realization of Aufschnaiter's music is dedicated, even loving; this would be a great disc for background music in a restaurant or at a gathering where it would not be desirable for the music to take center stage. WDR's recording is right on the money, capturing the ensemble in a pleasant and not over-reverberant ambience.