Here's a wonderful collection of German consort music from the first half of the seventeenth century expertly played by the Brisk Recorder Quartet, Marjan Banis, Bert Honig, Alide Verheij and Saskia Coolen (who also plays viola da gamba), with Susanne Braumann (viola da gamba, lirone), Bernard Winsemius (organ, harpsichord) and Erik Beijer (viola da gamba).
While all three of the holy trinity of C17th German 'S's, Schein, Scheidt and Schütz, were born within a couple of years of one another, the first two have the distinction of also composing purely instrumental music. This CD presents a selection from Schein's Venuskränslein and Banchetto Musicale and Scheidt's Ludi Musici and Tabulatura Nova. These have been chosen not only for their innate musicality and musical interest, but also because they are collections which allow musical arrangements by many instruments – including the recorder, whose timbre is closely related to that of the organ, for which some of these pieces were certainly originally written.
Setting aside the bitter overlay of the Thirty Years War, this is music written at a crucial juncture in music history: the polyphonic richness of the Renaissance, the prima prattica, was about to give way to the more expressive and direct seconda prattica, in which the basso continuo played such an important part; here we hear the organ and lirone for harmonic support, and the viola da gamba for bass line reinforcement. So you'd expect to hear a mixture of caution and experimentation. And you do. The pieces have been well chosen so as to provide variety and stimulus while at the same time being nicely illustrative not only of the huge musical talents of Schein and Scheidt, but also of the virtuosity which this sometimes rather somber music supports: no fewer than eight of Schein's nine children died in infancy, while eight million did in the Thirty Years War.
If not uniformly dour, it's then sedate and downbeat with passages of energy – for example in the Allemande from Schein's Suite 15; it's heavily influenced by the presence of British musicians who made their way to mainland Europe to avoid religious persecution at a time when each German composer was at the height of his powers. But few of the pieces we hear in this selection could be described as anything more than animated, vibrant and bright. Rarely quick. The kind of effervescence we associate with dance music in particular has been attenuated to conform to the elegance and dignity of the simple and uncluttered melodic phrases. This is not a negative aspect. Quite the contrary: the measured, unadorned and wholly grounded feel to this music is enhanced by closely focused and reflective delivery which these enthusiastic musicians afford it… playing as though they don't have to make a point, needn't prove anything.
As well as redolent of the dance, as understood by Praetorius, there are moments of subtle beauty, such as the start of the delicate and delicious Canzon from Venuskränslein; it contains a world of regret and mischief into a daintiness and sinuousness that are never allowed to overflow. Marvelous. To describe the combination of instruments as "atmospheric" would be to throw undue light on the melodies and textures. At the same time, there is definitely an enchanting quality to the sound from fruity to liquid with even as few as two or three playing in support of one another. Perhaps it's that they're able to acutely to hint at a greater, almost symphonic, sound… the influence of the broken English consort again? Whatever the underlying intention, these performers do Schein and Scheidt proud. They make the music so compelling that one simply wants to go back to the CD at the end and listen to the variety, the subtlety and the sheer underplayed beauty from the start. Very warmly recommended.
The recording is very forward, perhaps lacking in a solid sense of depth, though there is a clear stereo image; the liner notes are adequate, though insufficiently closely proof read. Don't feel that this is too specialized or even claustrophobic an experience: the musicianship and commitment of the Brisk Recorder Quartet brings a poised, convincing and thoroughly enjoyable 72 minutes of music.
Copyright © 2007, Mark Sealey