Friday, December 4, 2015

ERLEBACH Sonatas, laments & airs

Philipp Heinrich Erlebach was one of the most prolific and highly regarded composers in central Germany in the generation immediately preceding Bach. Unfortunately, little of his extensive and diverse output (several hundred cantatas, 24 masses, and numerous other vocal and instrumental works) remains, due to a devastating fire in 1735 that ravaged the library at Rudolstadt, Thurungia where Erlebach spent 33 years as Kapellmeister. This is a pity, especially if the lovely, inspired works on this program are representative of Erlebach's abilities, which are well served here by the consistently expert, impassioned performances by the European period-instrument ensemble Stylus Phantasticus and bass Victor Torres.

While adhering to the Da capo aria tradition prevalent at the time, Erlebach amply demonstrates his versatility and creativity throughout the six secular arias that comprise the bulk of the program. Torres' sonorous voice beautifully complements Erlebach's skillful settings, with a tone and timbre appropriately suited to the ever-present darkness of the subject matter. Torres' legato is a marvel, and his deft negotiation of some of the more explicitly harrowing lines of "Meine Seufzer" (My Sighs) and in the subsequent passages of "Meine Sinnen" (My Senses) is particularly impressive.

Erlebach's three trio sonatas are equally well crafted and stylish, at times featuring obscure instrumentation and progressive elements utilized by some of his better-known contemporaries. For instance, in the first movement and the Chaconne of the third sonata, Erlebach employs scordatura violin--a deliberate "mis-tuning" for special effects. The fourth sonata also features a rarely heard violino piccolo--a distant violin relative now typically used for teaching children. Stylus Phantasticus' accompaniment in Torres' aria "Schwaches Herz" (Feeble Heart) also includes a double harp strung with twice the usual number of strings for greater chromatic displays. Alpha's sonics are stunning, with realistic in-the-room presence and excellent detail. Warmly recommended. --John Greene,

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