Stylus phantasticus -- "fantastic style" -- was first described by Athanasius Kircher in his 1650 musical encyclopedia Musurgia Universalis. Kircher defined it as a style unique to instrumental music that was "bound to nothing, neither to any words nor to a melodic subject; it was instituted to display genius and to teach the hidden design of harmony." One would think such an ephemeral musical form, practiced in age when recording did not exist, would have vanished along with the fumes of Kircher's alchemical mixtures. Ultimately its time did pass when it transformed, around 1700, into the form of the fantasia, but not before manifesting itself in a wide range of works running from late 16th-century works of Claudio Merulo through about 1680. On their Berlin Classics release Stylus phantasticus, Annegret Siedel and Bell'Arte Salzburg plow forward with yet more revelatory material relating to this practice within its special context, a ball set in motion on CD through the efforts of Romanesca and Siedel herself in an earlier Musicaphon release, Johann Schop and his contemporaries. This disc focuses far less on Schop -- represented here only by his Sine titulo in D minor, which was also included on the earlier album -- but widens its scope to composers who worked throughout the 17th century, including Dietrich Buxtehude and Johann Adam Reincken, musicians two generations forward of Johann Schop. There are a couple of lovely ground bass pieces included, such as Dietrich Becker's Sonata in D major and Buxtehude's Sonata in B flat; moreover, there is a stunning solo violin Prelude by Thomas Baltazar and an equally striking Sonata in D minor for two violins by Johann Verdanck played ably by Siedel and her Bell'Arte Salzburg cohort Ulrike Titze. One drawback is that Deutschlandradio Kultur's recording is a little thin and under-dynamic in the low range and this tends to flatten out the overall sound of the music, leading to a sort of uniformity to the program even though both composers and instrumentation are changing throughout. Johann Schop and his contemporaries presented a better difference between composers and a sense of responsiveness to their individual styles. While this seems not as successful in that regard, any release of Siedel in stylus phantasticus repertoire should be regarded as welcome. Despite the shortcomings of the recording, Berlin Classics' Stylus phantasticus still contains many moments of appealing music-making and dazzling technical craftsmanship.
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AllMusic Review by Uncle Dave Lewis
|Partita in A minor from "Hortus musicus", for two violins, viola da gamba and harpsichord|