German Chamber Music from the 17th Century

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These "musical fruits of spring" are North German sonatas (and one keyboard chaconne) for small ensemble, from the generation before Dietrich Buxtehude, with a few pieces by that North German master included. The other composers involved -- Kaspar Förster, Dietrich Becker, Nicolaus Adam Strungk, Johann Adam Reincken, and others -- are known mostly as names looming in Bach's prehistory, and there has been a need for the state-of-the-art historical-instrument performance here of the sort delivered by Cologne's CordArte ensemble. This is an exciting group of young German players, offering rhythmically supple continuo playing from harpsichordist Markus Märkl and chitarronist Andreas Arend, along with rich Baroque strings. It's a vigorous sound altogether, and the only problem is that despite the later designation of this rather freeform music as examples of the stylus phantasticus by theorists, it doesn't have a strong degree of fantasy to today's ears. The forces for many of the sonatas, namely two violins, viola da gamba, and continuo, are something of a neither-fish-nor-fowl beast (albeit one in the distant past of the branch of chamber music that eventually developed into the string quartet), with the gamba often shifting roles between melody and accompaniment. The music often seems to be shifting gears, and though CordArte carries off its quasi-improvisatory mood, the listener can still see why the well-ordered Italian mix of virtuosity and clear formal outlines spread quickly through Germany in the years after this music was written. Even Biber's sonatas are a good deal more "fantastic" than these very proper North German works, which will be useful principally for specialists and for those simply desiring an hour of pleasant Baroque chamber music.

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