Schabernack: a treasure trove of musical jokes

Les passions de l’ame, Meret Lüthi
deutsche harmonia mundi 88985415492
Music by Biber, Fux, Schmelzer & Walther

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n the back cover of this recording we read: “Characters from the commedia dell’arte, playful birds, an astonishing virtuosity and a colourful instrumentation – the vivid imagination in late 17th century Austrian-German instrumental music loves to surprise”. Whilst this is true, and the lively performances certainly do the astonishing virtuosity proud, the colourful instrumentation might surprise you a little more than you expect: alongside the strings there are keyboards, guitar or theorbo, dulcimer and a wide selection of percussion. While I am sure the effect of this show live must be extremely entertaining, and I could imagine all sorts of “scene changes” as the scoring changed from trio sonata to ever larger ensemble, as a purely listening experience I think the atmospheric glissando scales on dulcimer, or rat-a-tat of some sort of drum might soon become a little tedious. That said, the playing is full of verve and vitality, with Fux’s reputation for being something of a dry peddler of strict counterpoint shot down in flames by this spirited rendition of his partita a tre, “Les Combattans”. The other three composers’ contributions are similarly exuberant, in a beautifully clear recording. The original approach to presenting the trilingual notes in the richly illustrated booklet also reflects the group’s attempts to shake up our expectations of the music they play; on balance, they are persuasive, even if I must stick to my opening gambit – I’d rather see the production live!

Brian Clark

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