This is, hands down, my favorite album of 2015. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t see it coming. Matthias Mauté and Co. impressed me before, but not to this level.
This is a modern concept album. Mauté marries a text by Angelus Silesius from 1657, using his own pen as composer to set the text with three female voices, against instrumental arrangements for recorders, violin, percussion, and continuo.
The opening text, entitled “Chaconne I” by Mauté, sets the mood and gives the album its title:
Man, when you lift your mind above place and time you can, at every moment, be in eternity.
Caprice alternated the Brandenburg Concertos by Bach with arrangements of Shostakovich which I found bizarre. This intermingling of musical time works far more successfully, and while I may not always want to hear the vocal interjections (titled Chaconne I-VII), they pull the album together, heightening it’s extra especial flavor and range of emotion.
Composers represented include Monteverdi, Falconieri, Vivaldi, and Bach. Playing may not quite be up to the extra-special standard of L’Arpeggiata (their last release featuring music by Purcell was 6-star outstanding), but this group is headed in that direction, using percussion to add a flair to the music.
I’ve probably now listened to this album more than 45 times in the 5 weeks that I’ve owned it. It’s that addicting and satisfying. Mauté and friends play sensitively, with passion, and there’s plenty of virtuosity to make you go “wow!” more than once. The program sort of works too, with several short Czech folk tunes serving as the center of the album’s music.
The Czech tunes, I will admit, aren’t of the same stature, say, of Vivaldi and Bach, but they work well as part of the album’s concept, giving another musical perspective, and adding a little opportunity for Caprice to inject some real human passion into the album’s story.
I was what I was, and I am what I have become. And I shall ever be so, if body and soul do heal.
The sentiment may be vanilla; but the music here gives context and weight to the sentiment. Caprice provides a lot of very substantial feeling into their playing, the fourth track, Chi vol m’innamori is a great example. This is first rate recorder playing and it’s done with great depth of feeling.
There is a definite folk element that comes out, especially in the middle of the album, the percussion adds to this effect. I’d almost frame it like this: the music starts in the clouds; it descends down to earth, with the lead flute/recorder taking stage, expressing an impressive range of emotions. Then the album then heads upwards, ending in the kingdom of heaven.
This is be far the ensemble’s strongest album thus far. I first heard Mauté live in Richmond, VA, and have been following him since, picking up a several albums. This one is so tastefully done and the style and verve he and his colleagues express here is done to such a high standard. It all ends with one of the most important works from the Baroque period, Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin, BWV 1004, here arranged for two recorders and basso continuo. Sounds iffy, at best. But here’s the rub: these guys add something to it, in their arrangement. This one 11 minute track, alone, is worth the price of the album, it’s that sublime.
These musicians play in tandem so well, it’s as if they are a single person who has octopus arms, commanding the sound in various flavors in ultimate harmony. The Bach is so well-conceived it has rendered goosebumps and shivers to me as emotional responses each and every time I listen. The solo violin version is of course good. But this version is so well conceived it deserves special mention. There’s something to be said of the flavor of this ensemble and what precedes the Bach. It’s almost unexpected. But then there it is. And it gives special perspective to the text the precedes it:
The death out of which no new life springs is the death, among all deaths, from which my soul does flee.
Say what you will about what inspired Bach’s Chaconne, but this is powerful music, and these guys hit it out of the park.
I can’t say enough positive things about these guys or their release on Analekta. 5 stars. 3 diamonds. Full house. They’re performing in the US in February in California. I hope I can attend.