Brisk Recorder Quartet

Schein & Scheidt: German Consort Music of the 17th Century

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The Brisk Recorder Quartet of Amsterdam takes its name from the tempo indication of "Brisk" found in certain old pieces of English recorder music. The playing is indeed spirited, and recorder players who have formed their own little consorts ought to check this one out just to experience what's possible. Here they take a program that by all rights could have been tedious and make it quite attractive -- not for everyone, certainly, but at least for anyone interested in early instrumental music. Johann Hermann Schein and Samuel Scheidt were German contemporaries of the early seventeenth century (and were contemporaries of Schütz as well). They combined the contrapuntal art inherited from the Renaissance with new stylistic flavorings -- dances like the allemande, the courante, and the stately pavane, and the forward motion supplied by the basso continuo, which was just coming into use in Germany during the period when these works were written. Their collections of instrumental music can be realized on various instruments. The unusual and delightful step taken by the Brisk Recorder Quartet here is to unearth the connections between recorder music and organ music -- as heard here, a group of recorders sounds quite a bit like a small organ, and organ music was apparently sometimes arranged for recorders at this time. Thus the group performs pieces from Scheidt's Tabulatura Nova, a major organ collection that featured many contrapuntal elaborations on simple songs. Hear track 5, the Allemande "Also gehts, also stehts" (So It Goes, So It Stays), where the group alternates between organ and recorders, producing an unusual sound but one that seems wholly idiomatic. In pieces with a specified continuo, the group uses either an organ or a harpsichord, amplified by viola da gamba. In general, the group infuses the music with variety. They catch the mixture of simple, enthusiastic material, contrapuntal skill, and a certain underlying soberness that was still characteristic of German music a century later when Bach took over Schein's post of cantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. The music is beautifully recorded, and the only complaint one can make about the presentation is that it might have been nice to know something about the small organ employed in these performances.

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