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14 Jan 2006
SCHEIDT: Ludi musici I, II, III & IV
I suspect that when we survey the musical landscape of the early seventeenth century, it is opera, monody, and madrigal that come most quickly and lastingly into view, and given the contemporaneous attention given to the relationship between music and word, it is unsurprising that this would be the case.
However, a significant aspect of the early seventeenth century concerns the flourishing of instrumental music, much of which is vocally inspired, much of which is in continuity with sixteenth-century forms, but at the same time a repertory that is increasingly moving towards independence, sophistication, and idiomatic style.
One of the major composers of early seventeenth-century instrumental music is Samuel Scheidt, a pupil of Sweelinck, and a court musician at Halle in the service of the Margrave Christian Wilhelm of Brandenburg. Scheidt’s four volumes of Ludi musici appeared between 1621 and 1627—collections of dances, intradas, and canzonas—and it is the music of these collections that Musica Fiata, under the direction of the virtuoso cornettist, Roland Wilson, performs with stunning flair and sense of style. Bringing this music to life in this case involved more than the performing of the pieces, for a substantial portion survives only in parts; Wilson has thus had to be adept at reconstruction, and has handled that task with convincing results.
As the majority of this music has no specified instrumentation, Wilson has taken the liberty to put together the recording with an ear towards timbral variety: cornetts, trumpets, dulzians and trombones are joined by violins, viols, lutes, and organs, with diversity of configurations the order of the day. Particularly striking and memorable are the several pieces performed by four dulzians or four trombones, all in close, low-register voicings. And if the timbres are diverse, so too are the nature of the pieces themselves. Some are explicitly dolorous, some are extended variations on popular melodies, some are animated dances. To the seasoned ear, it is a satisfying program; however, the language and musical idiom at first blush may seem rather uniform, and some may find the recording more a collection to sample than a “concert program” to hear at one sitting.
In any event, the performances are stellar. All the works show a characteristic close attention to style, especially in the gracefully suave shaping of phrases and the command of fluidly “verbal” articulation. The playing is often wonderfully spirited—the opening intrada is the epitome of buoyancy—and impressively virtuosic. Never more so, perhaps, than in Scheidt’s famous “Galliard Battaglia." Here “dueling” violins and cornets display a vigor in the exchange of figuration that transforms a genre piece that sometimes lapses into predictability into a thrilling tour de force. Scheidt dedicated this piece to the court cornettist, who hopefully enjoyed the workout as much as Wilson and his colleagues seem to do!