Ensemble la Fenice / Siebe Henstra

Matthias Weckman: Kammermusik; Klaviermusik

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Matthias Weckmann was a composer active in central and north Germany in the middle of the seventeenth century. The letter "n" at the end of his surname is usually doubled; the variant used here is acceptable, but the fluctuating usage in the booklet is not. In broad terms he was one of Bach's ancestors; his orientation and apprenticeship encompassed both Italian (via Froberger, an acquaintance and strong influence) and French elements. Each of these is treated somewhat idiosyncratically, and two discs' worth of unfamiliar seventeenth century music are never dull here. This release assembles two separate recordings, often a dubious idea but very useful here in giving an idea of the range of Weckmann's work. The first album covers ensemble sonatas for groups of various sizes, consisting mostly of brass and winds. The instrumentation of cornettino, trombone, bassoon, violin, and continuo used here is specified in the scores. Modeled on early Italian instrumental sonatas, these works have a rhythmic variety and an unpredictable quality that make the entirely distinctive. Even more unusual are the eight short lieder included here, sung by a soprano and a small string group with continuo. The texts for these are provided in the original German, French, and English, but the translations are not parallel to the original texts. That's a minor annoyance, but these little ceremonial songs, several of them intimately humorous, offer a delightful little window into the court life of the period. The second disc consists of suites, canzonas, toccatas, and other short pieces for keyboard, played mostly on harpsichord here, but with six clavichord performances included. These nicely illustrate the chamber qualities of the repertoire as a whole, written for the enjoyment of small noble audiences. All the music is beautifully recorded, and there is no sonic lurch between the two separate programs. Another fine outing from the coterie of Belgian musicians that has brought so much of the early Baroque repertoire to life once again.

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