Viola! d’amore, da braccio, da spalla

Anne Schumann viola d’amore, viola da braccio, Klaus Voigt viola da spalla, Sebastian Knebel harpsichord
Cornetto COR10047

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]lways the bridesmaid, never the bride – only rarely does the viola emerge from the orchestra to take centre stage in the 18th century. This CD tries to rectify that situation by presenting obscure repertoire (even by my standards!) and performing it in remarkable spaces on an array of precious instruments. Anne Schumann opens the disc with two lengthy anonymous suites of dances and arias with a mixture of French and Italian titles for viola d’amore on an original Bohemian instrument, then switches to a copy of a Wenger from 1718. She then switches to the most enormous viola I think I have ever seen; made by the Amati brothers, it is thought that this very instrument may have come to Dresden as part of an order made by Schütz on one of his Venetian trips for a consort of instruments from Cremona. As Anne Schumann points out, the instrument surely was not designed for virtuoso display (it is better suited to playing the tenor parts in string band music), yet she makes a gallant effort to overcome the technical problems set by the chosen repertoire (including a rather taxing test piece for violists wishing to join the royal band in Lisbon!) The bass line (and in the Trio by Johann Daniel Grimm the added obbligato voice!) is provided by Klaus Voigt on the increasingly popular viola da spalla; the notes draw attention to the fact that it is shorter in length than the Amati viola, yet what deep tones it produces – occasionally it buzzed a little like the growl in my childhood teddy, but that rather endeared it to me. Sebastian Knebel accompanies nicely on a Gräbner harpsichord; his instruments were known from Hasse’s time to Mozart’s – in fact, he directed the opening night of Don Giovanni from one. The viola and the harpsichord belong to the Museum of Decorative Arts section of the Dresden State Art Collection, so it is a real privilege to have the opportunity to hear them played.

Brian Clark

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