I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Rosenmüller: Sonate a 2-5 Stromenti da arco et altri

Ensemble Masques of Canada record the 1682 sonatas by Johann Rosenmüller on stringed instruments. Rosenmüller's music sometimes appears as piecemeal in collections on record; here we get a more complete appraisal of 12 sonatas for a variety of configurations. Ensemble Masques has chosen to record these with all stringed instruments and continuo. The sonatas, however, could be performed with alternatives from the wind family. I purchased this electronically without a booklet; I am therefore ignorant of all the music's details, but it seems from a first listen that these pieces would have been welcome in open spaces (say, like a basilica or cathedral). Indeed, Masques records with a healthy dose of reverb to the recorded sound, but not so much that we lose detail. I think it's a very well-engineered recording. These pieces for me aren't too foreign from the sonatas written by Schmelzer for string ensemble; contrasting sections are presented, one after the other, with some contrapuntal themes being tossed about among the various voices. As a point of comparison, what I have on record of Schmelzer (or Biber and Muffat, too) is better-composed music, but this is not far behind. Masques has a nice sound and technically is not challenged by this music. What's missing, however, is style. I hate to generalize about nationality of performers, but over time, the British ensembles have a reputation for playing conservatively. These musician's I would say are conservative, too, but not severely so, but this music in spots is just screaming for some creative input from the players. They have the technical chops, but the music could have been more with some of their original input, in the form of improvised lines around cadences, or simply a more severe approach to the entrance with some of the (especially) minor movements. In a sonata for 2 treble instruments and bass (as we have in the first sonata on track 4), it's just two protagonists… I would have preferred for them to lay it all on more thickly. That said, the violinists play here sometimes as if they are one — they are very well matched. Fortin varies the ensemble sound with organ in some movements instead of harpsichord, which I'm usually a fan of. Here it helps guide us from one sound world to another, helping to differentiate the parade of sonatas. This is a good appraisal of Rosenmüller's surviving art for instruments. As a point of criticism, however, I'd encourage the performers to amplify their communication of the music's affect and try less to sound quite so "perfect." Whether Rosenmüller's music was ever played this way remains to be seen, and for that answer, we'll likely never know.


Biondi plays Tartini

Devil's Trill (and other sonatas)