It was with special glee that I discovered the “last” recording by Musica Antiqua Köln, seemingly not long ago, left over as a “lost” recording that the ensemble’s director, Reinhard Goebel, saw fit to get pressed from a concert recording. The repertoire, turn-of-the-century chamber sonatas, were not a surprise for the ensemble, nor was the presentation of a “new” composer, one Johann Friedrich Meister. The opening track arrested my attention. And although the music was before unknown to me, the repertoire was almost a fitting end to their discography, some of the earliest recordings being chamber music from Germany, too. Great bookends they made.
Johannes Pramsohler leads his Ensemble Diderot in another recording of Meister’s collection, Il giardino del piacere, thus completing the project begun by Goebel, by recording the remaining sonatas not recorded by MAK. Only more fitting, perhaps, would have been for ED to make this repertoire their first recording, for a type of Janus effect, tying Goebel’s work with his own.
The partnership between the two musicians is apparent by the placement of notes by Goebel alongside the recording. Goebel’s notes are rarely dry or simply historic, and in this presentation, they are, as ever, thought provoking. He makes great strides here to present us Meister’s style as something borrowed from the French, just as the French borrowed from the Italians. But Meister is no photocopier, per se, he has begun the transformation borrowed ideas into something its own, establishing an new German style.
The collection comes from 1695, so certainly music from Bach’s time, but earlier in style, contemporaneous with Buxtehude’s ensemble pieces, those of late Schmelzer, or even Biber.
This music is simple enough in some regards; it might come across as bland in the care of amateurs. And with one that’s well matched in sound and aesthetic, the two violins and basso continuo of ED somehow elevate the music. Luckily, ED do nothing to disappoint in their interpretation, nor do they sound any less convincing with this repertoire than the late MAK. In fact, I’d say this newer recording is clearer, and more cleanly recorded. The bass is less muddy, coming from a better balance over all.
I have not formally reviewed all of ED’s recordings yet, but I think this is their strongest release yet. My favorite sonata on this new disc is inevitably the one in G minor, my favorite key. I like how it’s followed by the “first” sonata in the series, in G major. Meister uses multiple movements for each sonata, from six or seven each. Slow and fast dances alternate, including some movements that focus on contrapuntal technique. Above all else, Meister’s music sounds “fresh,” non-nonsense in a regard, but all with excellent taste. He's a long way from Corelli, but as Goebel points out, he's also a long ways away from the style of Bach's trio sonata from the Musical Offering.
ED performs this music in excellent taste. There is plenty of expressive playing, with subtle and sometimes extreme dynamic contrasts that fit the music well. In a movement like the 38th track, a Passacaglia in E-flat, the music, coupled with this interpretation, can’t do much else but make you smile. To contrast that movement with the stark, intensity of the second sonata presented first on the MAK disc, is to see the range in Meister’s ability as a composer. Now that the entire collection of the “Fisherman’s Garden” is complete, we have an even better appreciation, I believe, of Mr. Johann F. Meister.
Warmly recommended, impeccable musicanmanship.