Wunderkammer

Acronym
66:44
Olde Focus Recordings FCR906

The qualifications for admission to Acronym’s cabinet of curiosities seems at first a bit vague – all the music here seems to share is obscurity and a degree of eccentricity, the latter very much in the ear of the listener. However, the cabinet turns out to be a wonderful conceit to permit the performance of a delightful range of neglected music for strings from 17th-century Germany. Beautifully and expressively played by the small period string ensemble, it is revealed as indeed a box of unsuspected treasures. When the programme notes for a CD include the phrase ‘of the ten composers on this recording, probably the best-known is the violinist Antonio Bertali’, you know you are in for a cruise through genuine musical backwaters. Music by Bertali rubs shoulders with works by Samuel Capricornus, Adam Drese, Johann Philipp Krieger, Andreas Oswald, Daniel Eberlin, Philipp Jakob Rittler, Georg Piscator, Alessandro Poglietti and Clemens Thieme, a catalogue of names some of which lurk in the shadows at the edge of my experience but by none of whom could I name a single work.

This plethora of unfamiliar composers reflects the political fragmentation of 17th-century Germany which at this time was a patchwork of semi-independent states. Fortunately, many of these were wealthy enough to employ the services of musicians, and the presence of many small ensembles and the competition between these statelets proved fertile ground for an explosion in composition. Furthermore, competition rather than collaboration led to what we would now regard as musical eccentricity and the cultivation of the individual and distinctive. This very informative trawl through 17th-century German repertoire helps to put composers such as the Austrian Heinrich Biber in a more comprehensible context, but most of this music is also extremely enjoyable in its own right, and Acronym are to be congratulated for their intrepid trawl through voluminous archives to find it, and to perform it so convincingly.

D. James Ross