The Berlin Gamba Book – Chorale Variations

Dietmar Berger viola da gamba
114:50 (2 CDs)
Naxos 8.573392-93

The second recording of the ‘Berlin Gamba Book’ in the same month! I wasn’t quite so keen to hear this one, remembering my feelings about this player’s recording of the ‘Manchester Gamba Book’.

The repertoire is very interesting, and I learn from the booklet notes that some is published by Edition Walhall, so I have immediately ordered a copy.

I’m afraid I feel the same about this recording as I did about his previous one. The playing is technically adequate to the demands, but the articulation so little varied, with so little inflection, that one suspects that the player needs to spend more time with the music. Furthermore, he is not well-served by Naxos engineers. The recording is close-miked, in a dry acoustic, emphasising the overly astringent quality of his top string.

Some of the pieces he plays on a treble, which is a nice variation of tone, but again, the recorded sound emphasises the edginess and brightness.

It is claimed to be a world premiere recording of the music. In fact the recording by the Ensemble Art d’Echo, of music from this manuscript that I reviewed a month ago, and which I enjoyed far more, seems to have been made earlier. However, the Naxos selection is of only the chorale variations, without the additional suites and supporting material that Art d’Echo also includes. There are two discs, which does mean that more, perhaps all, of the chorale variations are included.

The booklet notes are disappointingly brief for such a significant repertoire. There is very little information about the manuscript, and none about the instruments he plays. The only instrument pictured is a carving of a 13th-century vielle – played da gamba, which is indeed interesting for anyone interested in medieval music, because most depictions of bowed string instruments from that period show them played on the shoulder. But its relevance to this repertoire is limited, particularly when more relevant information is lacking.

A disappointing recording of an important repertoire.

Robert Oliver