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Johann Schmelzer Sonatas, unarum fidium

Schmelzer, centered in Austria, published in 1664 six solo sonatas for violin—the first non-Italian to do so. Schmelzer had assumed the post as Hofkappelmeister in Austria, beginning a new trend of native musicians replacing the Italian imports which had previously been preferred at the Austrian court. Having already written works for string ensemble, these solo sonatas probably served the composer for his own use before publication. By 1650, the violin had replaced the cornetto, another instrument Schmelzer played, as the most popular musical instrument. By the 18th century, it would be said that the violin (and not the cornetto) could imitate the sounds, nuances, etc. of the human voice. Some would go further and say it could out-do the voice in terms of technical display and beauty of sound. Schmelzer's solo sonatas are examples of the type of works that elevated the status of the violin. Holloway The sonatas are not unlike the stylus-phantasticus type sonatas by the Italians. Different episodes, some fast, some slow, alternate in each sonata with 'songs' emphasising melody, to variation, and even festive dance forms. Not overly complex in terms of virtuosic display, they emphasize clarity of line, rhythmic interest, and a focus on the performer to act as poet. Schmelzer shares a musical language with fellow-Austrian HIF Biber, although speculation arises regarding their interaction in life. It has been suggested, and is interesting if true, that Schmelzer served as Biber's teacher. No doubt, the publication of these sonatas in 1664 gives us an idea of the musical culture in which Biber developed his talents. **JH Schmelzer: Sonatas unarum fidium John Holloway, violin, Mortensen, Assenbaum (p) 1999 ECM New Series** I was first suprised to see this release. Holloway on ECM? Another release by Schmelzer is found on another label, but this one is made reference to in the later release. Holloway, a British baroque violinist performs here (as always) on his copy of an Amati violin by Michel de Hoog and is joined by two continuo players on keyboard: Lars Ulrik Mortensen and A. Assenbaum on organ. Holloway makes special note that much practice and agreement had to be worked out for the two keyboardists to realize the continuo effectively. He made note that we don't often hear organ and harpsichord together, yet it was no doubt a common baroque practice. Holloway also presents to us his own view of the sonatas in words: expressive, meditative, introspective, perhaps. A very clear and well-done, up close recording (with ample reverb, no doubt the plus of recording in a room with a semi-dome) reveals Holloway's viewpoint precisely. These sonatas never sound too fussy, too ornamental, or overly virtuosic in Holloway's hand. And the combination of organ/harpsichord is indeed a refreshing combination. Combined on this disc are two additioinal sonatas. One by Bertali and an anonymous sonata for scordatura violin and continuo, that Holloway conjecturizes is by Biber. The Bertali is especially nice, a chiconna for violin over a festive repeating bass. Perhaps more inventive than Schmelzer's own works, these two bookends on the CD are worthwhile sonatas without the Schmelzer collection. In all, a clean recording. Attention to musical details. Careful, thoughtful performance. As a point of comparison between different recordings, I chose the 3rd sonata. Holloway takes 7 minutes (exactly) to traverse the sonata. At times, amid all the positive comments offered above, I might hope for a little more involvement with ornamentation and maybe even a little show-off. Intonation is excellent. **Schmelzer: Violin Sonatas Romanesca (Manze, Toll, North) / (p) 1996 Harmonia Mundi** 2 years after their successful Biber release, Romanesca presents Schmelzer's 6 sonatas on Harmonia Mundi with 2 bonsues: a slight arrangement of a Biber sonata attributed to Schmelzer's son, and another solo sonata "the Cucu." These odd-ball sonatas frame the center of the CD, the six unarum sonatas acting as bookends. This is perhaps fitting. The Biber/Schmelzer sonata is quite a "piece of work." Retitled "The Victory of the Christians over the Turks" from Biber's Mystery Sonata "The Crucifiction," this is a really a show piece of the ensemble. It might be even reason enough to own the CD. Manze does a terrific job with the solo. It's full of all kinds of exciting nuances, not overly done, but enough to make a very flashy statement. The whole time, he's accompanied by the organ, harpsichord, and lutes of his continuo team. Their contributions too are exciting, flamboyant, and add an interesting flavor to the continuo. I am not sure what's going on, but at one point we hear harpsichord and organ together. Is this some sort of recording trickery where John Toll doubles himself? Or has Nigel North dropped his lute and gone for one of the keyboards? No matter these details, Manze, like Holloway, takes a somewhat leisurely approach to several of the sonatas. By leisure, he spends time in the line, careful traversing to highlight both melody and harmony. The texture of three different kinds of continuo adds value to the continuo's role. When Sonata III was compared with Holloway (above) and Lamon (below), Manze came out the longest, 7:28. Even so, this is by far the best of the three compared. Manze is perhaps closer to Holloway, but the excitement quotient has been raised. There's a rather curious section to this sonata towards the end: the violin changes keys quickly with a rising chromatic line. It is the climax in Manze's version. Dynamic variety (in volume, nuance, continuo richness, etc.) are hallmarks of this excellent recording which is more extrovert than Holloway's and Lamon's. Tafelmusik **JH Schmelzer: Sonatas, Balletti francesi, Ciaconna Tafelmusik / Jeanne Lamon (p) 1993 Sony Classical** The Toronto-based ensemble Tafelmusik presents a CD of Schmelzer's works, including string sonatas, a sonata for strings and bassoon based on gas from a meal of beans, and Sonata III from his solo sonatas unarum fidium. Only one sonata from the set, but an intersting contribution to the myriad works of Schmelzer. Lamon is joined on CD by organ continuo. She plays a great sounding Italian violin from the early 17th century and clocks in at 6:39. First, the speed. There's a lot to be said when you go slow. It could bore the listener, but Schmelzer's music can really sing when it's "milked" with a little time. Lamon does a very poor job at realizing the "phantasticus style" borrowed from Italian models by trying to maintain the same tempo throughout the sonata. At times it sounds rushed and hurried. Lamon ornaments cadences, but strangely so. Several times she attempts an Italian-style trill, which seems well suited to early Italian violin music, and once changes this into a more eighteenth-century trill with very poor results. While intonation and technique are very well done, stylistically this sonata suffers. The fast tempo and uneven treatment of trills is a problem. Likewise, the ensemble, across the CD, could be injected, perhaps, with a little excitement, drive, and style. This recording reminds me of early recordings by the Academy of Ancient Music which have been described as "dry" or "academic." I wouldn't highly recommend this CD, unfortunately. While it's not "bad," there are other performances that outshine these, present company (Holloway, Manze) among them.

Telemann Wind Concerti

Leclair: Sonatas, op. 13