Schmierer: Zodiaci Musici (1698)

Ensemble Tourbillon, Petr Wagner
71:57
Accent ACC 24294

Before I move on to be critical, I would just like to say that the music on this CD deserved to be recorded and that when I wasn’t “ah, but…”-ing in my head, my toes were tapping along with the lively performances. Enjoyable as those are, though, they are unlikely to be quite what the composer had in mind for his music. Having told us that Schmierer (about whom biographical information is scant) was one of those German composers referred to as “Lulliste”, the booklet notes quote selected passages from the preface to the publication (readily available online) to justify changing the instrumental line-up. They do not, however, mention that a four-part texture is not traditional for Lully (who preferred a strong treble line, three violas and a strong bass); Charpentier did write in four parts quite often, but not for two violins – his top line (like Lully’s) split for trio sections. Reading the entire preface reveals that fact that Schmierer’s part names are Violin, Violetta, Viola and Basso; he suggests that the Violin be doubled, and the Basso… Just as one would expect from a Lulliste, in fact. So Ensemble Tourbillon’s decision to double all parts except the Viola in Suite 5 is slightly perverse – in fact, it would have been more in keeping with Schmierer’s instruction either to put both oboes on the Violin part, or to have double reeds play all four lines; since Suite 6 is performed by double reeds with plucker, the decision not to include the taille in Suite 5 is even stranger. Similarly replacing “Violin 1” of Suite 3 with a flute might have worked better if the Violetta part had been played on a soprano viola rather than a violin – the slightly darker timbre would allow the flute to ring out over the others more clearly. And why does the gamba play Bass in three sonatas and Viola in another? I am sure that in certain circumstances, musical ensembles in court and civic situations would have had to make do with whichever instruments were available at the time, but such line-ups were surely not what the composer hoped for, and surely we owe it to him to present these pieces in their very best light. If the overtures are Lulliste (though lacking any of the gravitas), the short dance movements that complete the suites (only six of the projected 12 survive – or perhaps were ever printed?) reminded me of Schmelzer’s balletti for insertion into Viennese opera productions with short phrases and often abrupt or oddly extended cadences. Beautifully played and as professionally recorded as these performances are, I would like to hear Schmierer’s music played by a larger ensemble.

Brian Clark