ciaccona glossa

Le Centifolia/Leila Schayegh
rec. 2022, Landgasthof Riehen, Switzerland
Glossa GCD924207 [67]

The disc I reviewed immediately before this was of French dance music of the late 19th century. To move from there to 17th century baroque chamber music would seem a huge jump, but in the same way that the French disc featured very similar rhythms and styles, the same might be thought of a disc comprising simply of chaconnes. However, because the chaconne is defined by the repeated rhythm of the bass line, while the melody line can go where it likes, there is no sense of sameness in the seventeen works in this programme.

More than a decade ago, I encountered a Naxos recording Das Partiturbuch (review) that completely overturned reservations I had about early baroque instrumental music being a little dry. It featured selections from a collection of music put together by a court musician in the 1660s as a present for his employer. The recording was a delightful assortment of lively and uplifting music. I’ve spent the years since trying to find a disc of similar quality. Until now, that search had been unsuccessful; even a disc of other selections from the same collection (Accent ACC24274) fell well short of the Naxos disc. Now with this new Glossa release, the search turns up its first success.

One of the standout works on the Naxos disc – the Capricornus – is also included in this new release, so I was delighted to hear a second version of it. Let me begin my comments with it, as it is the work that I know best. Two things are apparent immediately. The first is what I would describe as the pitch, though this may be the wrong term, perhaps it’s the key (I don’t have music theory training). The Naxos booklet indicates that the work is in D major; the Glossa doesn’t say. Whatever the reason, the Glossa version is quite definitely higher than the Naxos, most obviously the harpsichord. The other is the tempo: La Centifolia is significantly quicker than Ensemble Echo du Danube on Naxos (3:37 versus 4:17). Such differences between the two versions throw up quite a challenge in drawing any conclusions. In making a comparison, I have to consider that the Naxos version is what I’ve known for more than a decade, so its sound is imprinted into my consciousness. That always makes it difficult for new versions of any work to make an impact. The darker and slower Naxos version feels stately, whereas the Glossa is more rustic. Is one better than the other? No, let’s just say that they are both very good, and the piece, whichever way it is played, is marvellous, and I am amazed that this appears to be only its third recording (the other from 2009 is on an obscure label, Cornetto, and doesn’t seem readily available).

The other two works on both discs are both by Antonio Bertali, and the differences are again considerable, but the reasons are clearer. In the Ciaccona a tre, La Centifolia uses a viola da gamba whereas Ensemble Echo du Danube employs a bassoon. In the Chiacona that follows the Capricornus, La Centifolia have used a different source, the Kroměříž collection. I like the different colour that the bassoon provides in the former, but there is no doubt that the Kroměříž version is superior, as is the performance (this time a little slower than the Naxos version).

Some other highlights in a disc of them include the works by Merula and that well-known Renaissance and baroque composer, Anonymous. There is one piece for solo violin – the alia Fantasia by Nicola Matteis Jnr – which is not a genre that generally appeals to me, but even here I am almost won over. The disc finishes with Pachabel’s Canon and Gigue. The first movement has, of course, been ruined by over-syrupy romanticised “elevator music” renditions, so hearing such a crisp, clean and delightful rendition reminds one of what a good piece of music it really is.

Leila Schayegh is a Swiss violinist, specialising in the baroque; her playing throughout is stylish and dazzling. She achieves what in my experience is a very rare feat: playing fast in the high registers on the violin, baroque or otherwise, and maintaining a rounded sound, never straying into harshness or shrillness. Her five colleagues in La Centifolia – Eva Saladin (violin), Sonoko Asabuki (violin, viola), Daniele Caminiti (theorbo, guitar), Jonathan Pesek (cello, viola da gamba) and Johannes Keller (harpsichord) – are equally good. Schayegh also contributes the very fine booklet notes. To round it off, the sound quality is second to none. Closing my eyes in the Capricornus, I felt as though I could point out where each of the six performers was positioned, while still maintaining a well-blended balance.

My long wait for a disc to match Das Partiturbuch is over; everything here is exceptional. My only challenge is deciding which one to play next. What is certain is that I have my first entrant for my Recordings of the Year list.

David Barker

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Henry Purcell (c.1659-1695)
Fantazia – Three Parts upon a Ground Z.731 (c.1678)
Antonio Bertali (c.1605-1669)
Ciaccona a tre
Tarquinio Merula (1595-1665)
Ciaccona from “Canzoni overo sonate concertate per chiesa e camera, op.12” (Venezia 1637)
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (c.1620-1680)
Ciaccona (Wien 1669)
Samuel Capricornus (1628-1665)
Ciaccona a 2 per Violino è Gamba, from “Partiturbuch Ludwig”, no.37 (Wolfenbüttel 1662)
Antonio Bertali
Chiacona (Kroměříž Manuscript)
Henry Purcell
Sonata in three parts op.12 no.6 (London 1683)
Nicola Matteis (1650-1703/13)
Ricercata in C solfaut
Diverse bizzarrie Sopra la Vecchia Sarabanda ò pur Ciaccona, from “Ayres for the violin”, book I (London 1676)
Henry Purcell
Chacone from “The Gordion Knot Unty’d” Z 597 (London 1691)
Giovanni Battista Vitali (1632-1692)
Ciaccona a tre op.7 no.3 (Modena 1682)
Nicola Matteis Jr. (c.1670-1737)
alia Fantasia (from “Schrank No II ”, Landesbibliothek Dresden)
Chaconne (from “Schrank No II ”, Landesbibliothek Dresden)
Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Sonata a tre op.2 no.12, Ciacona (Roma 1685)
Tomaso Vitali (Vitalino) (1663-1745)
Senza titolo – Adagio, Parte del Tomaso Vitalino (from “Schrank No II ”, Landesbibliothek Dresden)
Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)
Canon e Gigue a tre violini con basso continuo (1694)