EMA reviews Bach and Before

Early Music America Magazine
March 21, 2014
Tom Moore

"On the evidence of this disc, the group is in a highly rewarding phase."

Bach and Before: Stylus Fantasticus Sonatas of Bach, Buxtehude, Biber, Schmelzer & Bertali
Chatham Baroque: Andrew Fouts,violin; Patricia Halverson, viola da gamba, violone; Scott Pauley, theorbo, archlute; Adam Pearl, chamber organ
Chatham Baroque CB-02

Chatham Baroque, founded in 1990 and based in Pittsburgh, PA, is now coming up on a quarter-century of activity, having recorded a laudably wide variety of repertoire. Interestingly, this seems to be the first time the group has explored a repertoire that seems tailor-made for its present line-up (violin, obbligato viola da gamba, and continuo), the middle-European works in the stylus fantasticus: Schmelzer and Biber from the Catholic side of the fence, Buxtehude and Bach from the Lutheran side, and the elder Bertali representing the Italian fons et origo. Bertali, a violinist, was a prolific composer for stage and church as well, though much of his production is lost. His sonatas are mostly transmitted in manuscript (as is this one,
from Uppsala), so they have been rarely recorded. This one clearly draws both on the flexibility of the vocal monodies of the early 17th century and on the improvised dances of the same time. Biber’s Sonata III in F (from the 1681 set) dances and takes wing in the obsessive passage of repeated notes that closes the work. The sonata by Buxtehude (BuxWV 272) does not belong to the published sets, but is rather from a group transmitted only in manuscript. Finally, fans of the ground bass will revel in the D major sonata by Schmelzer that closes the recital, with its perfectly chosen tempo. (The disc also includes another sonata by Schmelzer and Bach’s BWV 1021.) Throughout, the interaction between the distinct voices of the solo strings, the plucked continuo, and the chamber organ is energizing, with the music flowing in a completely natural way and the whole texture rendered in an acoustic that is highly flattering to all parties.

This is the second release on Chatham Baroque’s own label, and also the second with Fouts: Halverson is a founding member, and Pauley has been with the ensemble since the mid-90s. On the evidence of this disc, the group is in a highly rewarding phase. I hope that they (and their Kickstarter supporters) can quicken the pace.

—Tom Moore

Text copied from the Spring 2014 Publication of Early Music America Magazine

Listen to Buxtehude's Sonata in A Minor and purchase the album here.