SCHENCK Le Nymphe di Rheno
In about 1696 the Dutch expert viol player Johannes Schenk (c1660-c1712) was employed at the Düsseldorf court of the viol-playing Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm II, so the collection of 12 sonatas for two viols (without basso continuo) entitled Le nymphe di Rheno (published by Amsterdam’s leading music seller Estienne Roger in 1702) probably reflects the kind of music-making that the composer and patron played together (moreover, one imagines the Elector Palatine knew something of ‘nymphs of the Rhine’). The sonatas achieved some measure of popularity because they were republished some years later in London.
There are expert recordings of all 12 sonatas by Les Voix Humaines spread across two volumes (Naxos), whereas Wieland Kuijken and François Joubert-Caillet cherry-pick their favourite half-dozen. They play together intuitively in the evocative contrasting movements in Sonata VII in B minor, whether the music is softly melancholy (the Adagio opening) or seductive (the concluding ‘Aria amoroso’). The refracted influence of the French school of viol masters can be glimpsed in numerous dance movements during Sonata VIII in C minor (a thoughtful Allemanda, touching Sarabande, gently swaying Giga and exquisite Rondeau) and the spellbinding Ciacona that concludes Sonata XI in G major, while there is arguably a whiff of the Corellian sonata da chiesa tradition in the Adagio-Allegro alternations of short movements in Sonata III in D major. Everything about this recording conveys thoughtfulness: Ricercar’s informative essay, illustrations (including Roger’s 1702 title-page) and choice of artwork (Rubens’s Three Muses) perfectly complement Kuijken and Joubert-Caillet’s enrapturing performances.