Imitatio: Programme Music and Stylus Phantasticus
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Johann Kaspar Kerll. Imitatio (string pieces). Ricercar Consort, dir. Philippe Pierlot. Mirare, (p) 2016; Time: 80:00; Rating: (4.5/5).
I can still remember my sojourn to Planet Music in the Virginia Beach, Virginia area some many years ago when I was visiting a lover while still in college. There, among the copious CDs for sale was Scherzi Musicale by Musica Antiqua Köln, an album that’s still noteworthy and has stood the test of time. This album reminds ms of that one, not only because some of the pieces are the same, but because it’s not just music by one composer. Biber gets top billing on the cover, but the flavor of these pieces has a lot in common, coming from the concept of stylus fantasticus.
I write a lot about this concept. At it’s heart it was a desire to show a lot of contrast. Think variety, shifting moods, something almost akin to the musicians being distracted by new ideas, often very virtuosic ones, at that. Such a poster child for that description is the Sonata Representativa by Biber (mis-labeled in the liner notes as being by Schemelzer). It’s certainly the reason they chose to put two birds on the booklet/CD cover. Biber presents to us the various sounds of multiple things, from a frog, a cat, a hen, and even a musketeer’s march. The effect works in the right hands. Sophie Gent is the lead violinist and does an admirable job.
In Biber’s collection from 1681, the ensemble arranges the sixth sonata (for violin with continuo) for viola d’gamba. Having multiple versions of this piece already, I liked having an arrangement for its obvious tonal color change. Biber’s other big show piece, at least when it comes to program music, is the Battalia, which closes this disc. One of the most interesting things about this piece is the depiction of drunkenness by the simultaneous quotations of different popular songs. It still remains for me a very interesting solution toward portraying a party that gets out of hand!
The sixth track was new to me, performed on solo harpsichord: a toccatina for keyboard from a composer named Poglietti, known for his ability at representing the sounds of nature on the keyboard. While I am not always a fan of programming a recording or concert from ensemble pieces to a solo, say, for keyboard, auditioning this (new) and creative piece was welcome. Julien Wolfs makes a very convincing interpretation on a crunchy-sounding instrument. He also uses a chamber organ in the recording as well.
The sound quality of this recording is excellent, capturing richness of the timbre of the instruments. There is something lost in the transparency of sound in a large piece such as the Battalia, but the smaller pieces leave very little to be desired in the way they were miked. While I still in many ways prefer the sound and interpretation of Goebel’s Biber recordings (including the Mensa Sonora CD that includes the Sonata representativa), if you like this music, this recording is very much worth having in your collection. Warmly recommended.