The collection features canzonas—instrumental works in the style of popular song, here often based on well-known melodies like “Est-ce Mars?”—and dances, some of which have complexity and programmatic content enough to set them apart from the more work-a-day variety.
The venerable French cornett and trombone ensemble, Les Sacqueboutiers, offer in this recording a well-chosen selection from the collection, and they do so with an eye to variety. The pieces themselves, though in a language that is somewhat generic, are sparked with elaborate variations and compelling metrical shifts. And additionally, some pieces represent more developed versions of themes put forth in other pieces. To this intrinsic variety Les Sacqueboutiers adds the spice of percussion, plucked strings and organ, and frequent reduction of textures—one dance, for instance becomes an elegant solo for trombone—all towards nurturing this aesthetic of variety.
The performances are highly accomplished with stunningly pure intonation, beautifully contoured phrases and shapely individual notes, and in the cornetts a particularly liquid articulation. In the sense of shaping, the recording recalls and compares well with the earlier performances of Jordi Savall and Hesperion XX (EMI Reflex 1C 065 30 943 Q ; CD re-release EMI CDM 7 63067 2 ), a recording that set the standard high for this repertory and a recording on which Jean-Pierre Canihac, one of the founding directors of Les Sacqueboutiers, took part. The pedigree is gratifyingly apparent.
In some of the pieces Scheidt aims at a high degree of dynamism. The Paduan VI, for instance, begins with high elegance—a quality that the ensemble renders with an irresistible sense of swoon—that eventually gives was to spirited figuration. The players handle the figuration here and in other intricate examples with flair and seeming ease, but more impressive is the sensitivity to the dynamism itself, the notion that things grow and blossom forth.
Some will wish for a more diverse ensemble, missing the juxtaposition of strings and winds that is so much a part of the Savall recording and also the recent recording by Roland Wilson and Musica fiata (cpo 777 013-2). And occasionally here the percussion may seem a tad too exotic in its patterns. But, in the end, Les Sacqueboutiers offers an engaging reading of a repertory that is foundational to their core instrumentation. The early baroque wind band repertory is graced with these pieces, and we are similarly graced by the excellent performance here.