Barocks Welttheater is an odd title, perhaps, for an album. But it speaks both to the variety of styles in Johann Schmelzer’s music for small string ensemble, and also the theatrical nature, which the Freiburg Barockorchester Consort have decided to make all the more dramatic with percussion.
These pieces are best described as miniatures, in a Phantastic style, with short alternating sections which today we might call “mini movements.” Some are named, i.e., Sonata Amabilis, or Balletto di Zeffiri. Others don’t take on such colorful names, e.g. Sonata a Due.
Some of them have been on record before. Letzbor and Goebel, are two well-known examples.
I will confess that an earlier release by the Freiburg group on Deustche Harmonia Mundi is a real favorite of mine; they released two CDs of this style of music: one with Biber and Muffat, the other with Biber and Schmelzer. The violin playing (which tends to dominate the upper line in each case) by Petra Mullijans was absolutely superb.
Despite the age between discs, Mullijans still doesn’t disappoint, rising above the rest of the string texture.
I’m less enthusiastic about the percussion; it does not dominate on the recording by appearing in every track. At first, I liked it for the dramatic effect; on repeated listens, I would have preferred to have a version that was pure strings and continuo.
This genre of music for Schmelzer, I think, was his forte, even more so than his music for violin and continuo. And Freiburg are well-suited to the task, although in a few spots they may have squeezed even more drama out of the ancient lines… virtuosity sometimes has a hard time finding a place on recordings.
For now, it’s a great collection of Schmelzers diverse “sonate and balletti.” In the future, it’s ripe for even more from the more adventuresome ensemble. And for us, that’s good. Because the music is the type that has chameleon-like effects, depending upon the performers.