L’Achéron, François Joubert-Caillet
Scheidt published these dances in two volumes in 1621, and in the title to one of the volumes recommends that they be played with viols and continuo. They are in four and five parts, resembling the collection from about the same time of J. H. Schein, also in four or five parts, and also suitable for viols, published a few years earlier. Polyphonic textures, dance rhythms, the opening Canzon super Cantionem Gallicam Italianate in style, reminiscent of the expatriate Englishman William Brade, whose volume of dances was also published in Germany at this time.
The playing is sonorous and articulate, expressive, the texture enriched by the continuo team of harp, theorbo (who also doubles on lute and cittern) and two keyboard players who play organ, virginals and ottavino. The viols, copies of Jaye, are beautifully matched. Their consort bass imparts a richness and depth to the sound. I think it has a bottom GG string, which would imply quite a big instrument.
Scheidt’s music is brilliantly inventive, the four-part pavan which follows the opening canzon treats its themes sequentially, building to an impressive climactic dotted rhythm in the final section. They vary the instrumental texture from time to time, introducing the Courant just for treble viol and lute, repeated by the full four-part consort. Each dance type is characterised in the music, and supported by the playing, particularly in the a minor pavan, in the second ‘suite’, a gorgeous piece with lovely melodies, some sections in triple time, sequential with dialogue-like interchanges between tenor and treble. The Galliard of this suite is particularly attractive, brief but quite dense in its ideas. Contrasting sections call for very smooth, lineal playing followed by vigorous dotted figures, beautifully expressed by the consort. The suite concludes with a Canzon ad imitationem Bergamasca Anglica à 5, virtuoso exchanges between equal instruments, contrasting sections, an enchanting piece, brilliantly played. I’m mystified by the title – I found it more Italian than English.
I would have liked a bit more information about the instruments – particularly about the ‘consort bass’, its string length and tuning, maybe pictures would have been enough. The booklet notes however are excellent, and the illustrations from Praetorius give an appropriate context, being exactly contemporaneous with the music. This is a minor point, the recording is very enjoyable, the music continuously gripping, often moving, and the playing is terrific. Highly recommended.