Schenk / Herwich / Hacquart – The Spirit of Gambo
Freek Borstlap / Ivanka Neeleman / Haru Kitamika
SACD ISO (2.0/MCH): 3,46 GB | 24B/88,2kHz Stereo FLAC: 1,10 GB | Full Artwork: 151 MB
Label/Cat#: Stockfisch Rec. # SFR 357.4042.2 | Country/Year: Germany 2006 | 3% Recovery Info
Genre: Classical | Style: Chamber Music, Viola da Gamba

Members of the viol family, with their 6 (or 7) strings and fretted necks were the string instruments of choice during the Renaissance and early Baroque, slowly being replaced by the 5-string and fret-less violin family. The bass viol, the ‘viola da gamba’ (so named as it was held between the knees), was a particular favourite of royal and aristocratic domestic music making over a long period.

During the first half of the 17th Century, the increasingly rich merchant class in the Netherlands were anxious to partake of this elite entertainment, but their aristocratic masters resolutely held on to their expert gambists and refused to allow them to give outside lessons. However, in the second half of the century, the English Civil War and Oliver’s Cromwell’s puritanism resulted in the expulsion of many Catholic musicians, as aristocratic institutions were broken up. The gambists fled to The Netherlands, and were greedily snapped up by the aspiring middle-classes. The refugee musicians passed on their art, which became the ‘Spirit of Gambo’.

This disc contains music published for the viola da gamba in The Netherlands by such musicians as Johan Schenk, Christaen Herwich and Phillipe Hacquart. Schenk’s suites of dances, sometimes called Sonatas (there was little distinction at this time) are for 1 or 2 gambas with harpsichord. They are interpolated with shorter pieces for gamba and violin by Herwich, which varies the tone colour in the programme nicely, and the Hacquart Suite in D for solo gamba brings the recital to a conclusion.

If you want a reference for this music, then the better-known cello suites and gamba sonatas of J.S. Bach will give you a good idea of its style. By nature, the gamba’s resiny, deep, sonorous tone is not suited to bright and fast music, so the fashionable dances of the time became slower, more contemplative and were vehicles for intimate musical conversations between the players. The first two works by Schenk are duets for two gambas. Freek Borstlap and Ivanka Neeleman are leading players of beautiful modern copies of gambas, and their playing is simply superb. Their eloquent conversations pirouette around each other in the stately dances: the ultimate in refinement. An accompanying reconstruction of a Flemish harpsichord adds treble sparkle and tang. There are no rustic influences here, but the players do manage sometimes to gambol about in a touchingly elephantine way! The two gambas are clearly distinguished in tonal character, one six-stringed, one seven-stringed, and one feels privileged to eavesdrop on the players’ private communing.

In contrast, the improvisatory duos by Herwich, featuring a violin from 1680 paired with a gamba, are full of running and soaring flights of fantasy, sometimes of great emotional intensity (for the time). Haquart’s concluding suite of dances, I venture to say, approaches the quality of some of J.S. Bach’s cello suites, often duetting with itself and exploring all the registers of the gamba.

Stockfish are only just moving into the Classical sphere with their audiophile discs, and they have taken enormous care with this recording. They used the world’s only fully isolated concert and recording suite at the Galaxy Studios at Mol in Belgium. The complex is suspended on gigantic steel springs which damp ground-borne frequencies down to 3 Hz, and extraneous external noise is attenuated by more than 100dB. This produces a basic ‘black’ acoustic environment for the recording, which took place in a warmly resonant studio. A minimum of high-quality microphones were used, together with short silver cables, state-of the-art preamps and DSD convertors – the recording is described as “direct cut super audio cd” whch means it is pure 1-bit conversion to hard-disk. Separate feeds and converters were used for the stereo SACD and redbook CD, giving the highest quality for both. The CD layer itself is one of the best I have heard in chamber music.

As a result of all this, the stereo SACD track is simply breathtaking in its fidelity; the players are simply present just behind the speakers, with tiny seat movements, breathing and some finger-squeaks on the strings. In MC the perspective becomes three-dimensional, and the rich hall acoustic signature adds an extra layer of sonority to the gambas. The bellies of these instruments can be heard resonating for many seconds after the music stops.

An exceptional demonstration-quality recording and performance. Buy it and step into another age, courtesy of today’s high technology.

Copyright © 2008 John Miller and SA-CD.net

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