Concert at the Hapsburg Court
Another bright new Baroque group takes the stage, this time from France and offering a programme of five violin sonatas and a harpsichord solo (hey, the group was founded by the violinist and the harpsichordist!), mostly from 17th-century Austria. Biber is the dominant presence in terms of quantity and personality; here we have two sonatas from his brilliant 1681 collection and one of the magical Rosaries, all played with clean-lined virtuosity and keen tone by Domitile Gilon. The Schmelzer and Walther sonatas are less characterful but still good representatives of a time and place when the force in violin music was strong.
Gilon is an authoritative performer and is well supported by continuo musicians who offer plenty of variety of texture and attack, but I do feel there is just a touch more atmosphere and passion to be drawn from some of this music: others make either a bleaker or a more searing drama of the beginning of Biber’s ‘Crucifixion’ Sonata, for instance. Likewise, Thomas Soltani is stylish and correct in Froberger’s superb Lamentation but could have created a deeper sense of darkness and rhetorical inevitability.
These are small things, however, for Ensemble Stravaganza are clearly talented musicians. I must question the disc’s title, though, since only Schmelzer and Froberger worked at the Habsburg (ie Viennese) court; Walther was German and the Bohemian Biber was based in Salzburg. It has the look of the sort of loosely connected programme idea you might have got away with in a concert or competition but which should have been dumped as a concept for a CD. And why are three guitar pieces hiding uncredited at the end of the last track? It couldn’t be because their composer, Nicola Matteis, was the father of the Matteis who worked in Vienna rather the man himself, could it?