L’arte del virtuoso: Solo Concertos Volume 4
Elke Fabri (viola d’amore), Rainer Johannsen (bassoon), Michael Goede (organ), Caterva Musica/Elke and Wolfgang Fabri
rec. 2022/2023, Konzerthaus Abtei Marienmünster, Germany
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download from MDG
MDG 9262318-6 SACD [71]

It is always nice to get to know an ensemble that one has not heard before. This is the fourth recording by Caterva Musica for MDG, but the first that has crossed my path. It is not a new ensemble; it was founded in 1998. According to the information in the booklet, it has performed more than 120 concert programmes during its existence, but I have never heard any concert, even though I frequently listen to live and recorded concerts on German classical channels. Anyway, better late than never.

Like the previous discs – which are mentioned in the booklet – this recording is devoted to solo concertos. At least, that is what the frontispiece says. In fact, only three of the six pieces on the programme are real solo concertos. The first is by Johann Gottfried Walther – that is to say, it is a concerto by ‘Sigr. Meck’, transcribed for organ solo by Walther. It is one of a collection of such transcriptions which were probably the result of a suggestion of Johann Ernst, Prince of Saxe-Weimar, who was Walther’s pupil. Meck has left a small number of vocal and instrumental works. The concertos which he published as his Op. 1 found a wide dissemination, which indicates that they were appreciated. The concerto that Walther transcribed is not part of it and has been lost. Several attempts to reconstruct it have been made, and here we hear such a reconstruction from the pen of J.F. Doppelbauer from 1983. He turned it into a concerto for organ and strings; in New Grove, it is suggested that it was originally a violin concerto, and given that he at first worked as a violinist, this seems the most likely option. Even so, it is a nice piece as it comes here.

The second concerto is one for viola d’amore by Antonio Vivaldi, who played the instrument himself. Someone who attended one of his performances in Cento in 1717, wrote. “On this day, a remarkable opportunity presented itself: one of the foremost violinists of Venice, a certain Dr Antonio Vivaldi – a famous composer who in addition to the violin also plays a kind of viola with twelve strings, known as the viola d’amore – happened to be passing through here, and was intending to play the latter instrument at Vespers in the above-mentioned church, which was so packed that people were practically coming to blows in their efforts to gain entrance and the crowd spilled out halfway across the street. He played (…) in such an exquisite manner that I have never heard its like since”. One may be surprised to learn that Vivaldi played the viola d’amore which was generally appreciated because of its sweet sound, and often associated with night – in short, an instrument most suitable to play music of a rather intimate and introspective kind – and that is not what one immediately associates with Vivaldi, in particular with the often very virtuoso violin concertos in mind. However, his œuvre includes no fewer than eight concertos with a solo part for the viola d’amore.

The third concerto is scored for the bassoon and was written by Johann Christian Bach. He was an important figure in the London music scene in the second half of the 18th century. He organized the Bach-Abel concerts, where virtuosos from across Europe played the latest music. Johann Christian has written two bassoon concertos. The Concerto in B flat played here has survived in two different sources, one with and one without horn parts; the latter is the version played here, as the hornists of the ensemble only participate in Pergolesi’s overture. Edward Warburton, the JC Bach specialist, assumes that this concerto has been written in the mid-1770s, but for whom is unknown. Whereas the other bassoon concerto was originally conceived for another instrument, this concerto seems to be intended for the bassoon. It points in the direction of the classical style, and it is different from the ‘light’ galant idiom that is usually associated with Johann Christian. All three movements close with a cadenza.

The Sinfonia in G by Georg Philipp Telemann, nicknamed Grillensinfonie, is originally called Concert à neuf parties. It is scored for piccolo flute, transverse flute, oboe, chalumeau, two double basses, strings and basso continuo. The chalumeau was invented at the end of the 17th century and enjoyed a relatively short bloom, until it was overshadowed by the clarinet. That does not make it a precursor of the clarinet, as Joachim Gresch states in the liner-notes: for some time they co-existed. Like Graupner, Telemann was one of the main promoters of this instrument. It attests to Telemann’s willingness to break fresh ground, and so is his inclusion of parts for two double basses. They have extended solo episodes in the opening movement. Equally unusual is the role of the piccolo. In the closing movement the influence of folk music from Poland and Moravia manifests itself.

The programme closes with the Ouverture à la Pastorelle in F by Telemann. It is scored for strings and basso continuo. It gives food for different interpretations of what its meaning is. Joachim Gresch writes, “Georg Philipp Telemann’s Ouverture à la Pastorelle is the musical realization of a “Pastorelle”, a type of medieval poem dealing with the courtship of a shepherdess by a knight, which developed into the pastoral plays of the Baroque and Rococo periods”. The work is also part of a recording with Christmas Cantatas, directed by Pál Németh (Hungaroton, 2008), where it is interpreted as a Christmas piece. It is pointed out that the opening ouverture has a ternary structure, as usual, but without the dotted rhythms that are typical of French overtures. Instead, “we hear gentle Christmas music of a clearly pastoral character in Section A, where the accompaniment imitates the bagpipes (…). The dances that follow the overture all contain simple, mainly chordal music and are frequently rustic in character”. Gresch rather sees these dances as expressions of Telemann’s sense of humour. Who is right? That is impossible to say. It results in different interpretations. To my surprise, it seems not to have been recorded that frequently; only a few recordings are available.

As I mentioned above, the announcement of ‘solo concertos’ is not entirely correct. It does not really matter, as long as we get an interesting programme, and that is certainly the case here. It is nice that the programme includes some pieces that are not very familiar, and that goes especially for Johann Christian Bach’s bassoon concerto and the two Telemann pieces. The reconstruction of the concerto by Meck is also interesting, but I would like to hear an attempted reconstruction as a violin concerto. This production is also a nice acquaintance with the ensemble Caterva Musica, of which I hope to hear more. The ensemble is excellent, and the performances of the solo parts are outstanding. This disc is a valuable addition to every collection of baroque instrumental music.

Johan van Veen

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Presto Music

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)
Sinfonia to L’Olimpiade
Joseph Meck (1690-1758)
Concerto for organ, strings and bc (after Johan Gottfried Walther, 1684-1748), Concerto del Signr. Meck, appropriato all’Organo) (rec. J.F. Doppelbauer)
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concerto for viola d’amore, strings and bc in D (RV 392)
Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)
Concerto for bassoon and orchestra in B flat (Warb C 83)
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Sinfonia in G ‘Grillensinfonie’ (TWV 50,1)
Ouverture à la Pastorelle in F (TWV 55,F7)