Fantasticus_Baroque Chamber Works
Fantasticus are an Amsterdam-based trio consisting of a Japanese violinist, an English gambist/cellist and an Argentinian harpsichordist, and this disc is named, rather like rock bands’ first albums used to be in the 1970s, after themselves. Except, of course, that they have taken their own name from the stylus fantasticus, the mode of instrumental composition in vogue during the 17th century. From Castello through Biber to Buxtehude, its free-form sonatas with short contrasting sections have become increasingly popular with today’s audiences and a trawl round the early music competitions would show that it has attractions for young ensembles as well. And why not? It is dashing, virtuoso, exciting, changeable, and offers opportunities all round for free expression and improvisation.
Fantasticus make an impressive job of it, treading a canny line between characterising the individual sections of each piece and maintaining its wholeness and unity. The Stradella Sonata which opens the programme sets the tone with a bold, striding dialogue between violin and cello, a Bertali Sonata breathes deeply and widely, and Pandolfi Mealli’s La castella finds something a little bit quirkier. Elsewhere, the more formal structures of Schmelzer or Muffat are respected, while in two sonatas by Buxtehude – who can be seen here as a culminating figure of fantasticus – his springy rhythmic energy and surefooted momentum shine out. This is music-making of maturity, its evident free spirit and exuberance of line allied to control and expressed in impeccable ensemble-playing.
The sound is clear, with just the right amount of churchy bloom to prevent the rather pleasing astringency of Rie Kimura’s violin from passing into edginess. The harpsichord is fruity and twangy, with Guillermo Brachetta’s abundant invention stopping short of obtrusive fussiness, and Robert Smith’s gamba and cello sing out heartily. A striking and enjoyable debut.