Sperger Trio New CD
Our good friend Frank Wittich sent us the new CD of his “Sperger Trio”. We met Frank at the 2012 Kopenhagen BassEurope Convention and we hit it off right away. Frank is one of those crazy bass players who plays in Viennese Tuning, on a real old Viennese Bass, and of course with gut strings and frets.
The Sperger Trio consists of Frank Wittich (Viennese Bass), Johanna Weighart (Viola and… Viola d’Amore), and Verena (what a lovely name) Kronseder (Viola da Gamba). The CD contains music by Joseph Haydn (three Divertimenti), Andreas Lidl and of course Johann Matthias Sperger.
When the recording arrived, the first thing we wanted to hear was the Sperger Duetto that i recorded a few years ago with Haruko (probably the first recording ever of the piece in Viennese Tuning, with gut strings, frets, and period bow, played from the manuscript – and especially the first time it had been played and recorded in a combination of Viennese Bass and Viola d’Amore). We were just too curious to hear how Frank and Johanna had interpreted the work, with the same instruments.
The next day i took the time to listen to the entire CD.
Let me say it right away: i was blown away. This is one of those all too rare recordings where the playing is so engaging, the choice of repertoire so clever, the sound quality so alive, that you want to listen to it again from the start as soon as the CD is finished.
The combination of Viennese Violone and Viola d’Amore is really very special, as we’ve known for a few years now. We’re glad and honoured that others have followed our example in this respect. But what makes this CD even more special is the inclusion of the Viola da Gamba: what a splendid richness of timbre! All three instruments share that silvery sound quality. Whatever the original instrumentations required by the composers, this combination sounds so “right” that i’m sure Haydn, Lidl and Sperger would have been very happy indeed to hear it.
The playing of all three musicians is of the highest standard. Sensitive, passionate when the music calls for it, wonderful ensemble playing, soloistic qualities of timbre and narration when each of the instruments in turn has to step forward, and this unexplainable feel of a whole that is so much more than the sum of its parts.
The gamut of colours, articulations and dynamics is much wider than what one could reasonably expect from an “ancient music”-trio. All players are clearly experienced musicians, as they change effortlessly from accompaniment to solo passages. The bass sings beautifully with that inimitable gut-string “zing”, and i was particularly impressed with the way Frank digs in when he has the “real” bass parts. The very last selection on the CD, the Finale of a Haydn Divertimento, packs more punch than the collected recordings of AC/DC. (I’m not really surprised, because i know that Frank has recently gone back to playing rock on an electric bass – as every serious musician should). Papa Haydn rocks like the best.
I rarely get excited about bass records anymore (must be old age), but about this CD i can only say: BUY IT!
NEW CD “Mo iikai”
MO II KAI
“THE MAKING OF“
Last night i took the Metro (i haven’t owned a car in years. Cars are so passé) to the recording venue. It’s a sort of community centre in Woluwe, near the last stop of the underground. It’s used by a number of local groups and associations such as the scouts, or for mother-and-baby afternoons.
I dropped off the bass, the music stands and some more stuff we will or might need. Included are two bass clamps, in case the seams open. This happened to me, a few years ago, during a morning rehearsal before a lunch concert with the Brussels Bass Quartet. I had to race back home to get another bass and arrived back just in time for the concert. Very unsettling.
So i got myself two giant clamps for emergencies. If a seam becomes unglued, i can at least keep it from rattling.
On monday morning we arrive around nine, while Geert, the sound engineer of AV-Inspire (and one of the Sound Engineers at the Opera) who recorded our first album “ALIVE”, is setting up his equipment. This gives us some time for a much-needed warm-up.
(By the way, Geert is so nice as to give us a substantial discount on the recording costs. It’s his way of contributing to a good cause).
Today we want to record the 1st movement of the Luigi Borghi Sonata. It’s a beautiful piece, and it’s become our favorite opening number for concerts.
Frantisek Posta, the late Czech bass soloist, was probably the first bass player to record it, and his LP “The Grancino Double Bass of Frantisek Posta” is one of my very few prized bass records. I used to own a few hundred solo bass recordings, both on LP and on CD, but i only kept a handful and donated the rest to the Brussels Conservatory.
Incidentally, when Frantisek Posta was invited to the 1982 Isle of Man Bass Convention, he wasn’t allowed to take “his” Grancino double bass out of the (then communist) Czech Republic. So he gave his master classes on the students’ basses, and he borrowed an instrument for his recital. One of the basses having a rather pronounced “wolf”-tone, he showed us how to get around the problem by pressing his knee against the back of the instrument.
His recital (on an unfamiliar bass) was one of the most beautiful and warm musical experiences i’ve had the privilege to witness. Posta was one of those rare artists who could be a great virtuoso without drawing any attention to his technique. The only thing i heard was the music and its emotion.
The only written source of the Borghi Sonata seems to be a manuscript found in the collection of the Italian bassist Isaia Billè, but we have no idea where he got it from.
The liner notes of a more recent CD recording of the piece (“Nachtmusique with Viola d’Amore”, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77469 2) mention that the work is actually a concoction, an amalgamation of three movements from different violin sonatas by LUIGI Borghi, not Giovanni Battista Borghi, as our Doblinger Edition (Malaric) would have it.
Be that as it may, i have a very strong suspicion that this arrangement originated in the entourage of Henri-Gustave Casadesus and his “Société des Instruments Anciens”. Indeed, the musicians of this early 20th century precursor ensemble of the Ancient Music movement were very adept at making up pieces which they attributed to several baroque and classical composers. “Borghi” is one of the names they borrowed for their own compositions “in the style of”, next to Handel, J.C.Bach, and other composers. Their tongue-in cheek “forgeries” were so well crafted that they fooled some of the great soloists, such as Menuhin or Primrose, into believing they were the real deal.
The fact that this work is scored for the Viola d’Amore and the Double Bass is, to my mind at least, the real give-away: two of the founding members of the Société were Casadesus himself, who was famous as a Viola d’Amore player, and Edouard Nanny, the most outstanding French bass virtuoso of that time. They often performed as a Duo, and Casadesus wrote his “Symphonie Concertante” for this special formation.
(By the way, we’re playing the Symphonie Concertante next January. Although it was written for a three-stringed double bass – which was Nanny’s idea of a “historical” bass – i play it in Viennese Tuning):
The fact that the Borghi sonata’s bass part is scored for a double bass raises the Andrew Gold question:
The Italian baroque bass was not used for virtuoso playing, and surely not in the highest register, but this bass part is quite elaborate. It seems certain that, if indeed there was ever a historical source for the piece, the accompanying bass part must have been for an 8ft continuo instrument playing in its normal range, and not for a 16ft double bass playing very high.
A couple of years ago we discovered with delight that this sonata lends itself extremely well to the range and the technique of the Viennese Violone. So much so, that one might be forgiven for (almost) thinking that it was actually expressly composed for the Viennese instrument.
Our interpretation is probably very incorrect from a musicological viewpoint. For once we don’t really care. The music is so powerful, so emotional, beautiful and gripping that we couldn’t leave it alone. Musicology can wait.
We also changed the printed Viola d’Amore part: in the modern edition it’s written very high, and we didn’t like the thin sound. If the original is really for violin, the tessitura may be right. But on the Viola d’Amore it sounds too forced and unnatural, so we took it down an octave. With the Viola d’Amore capable of reaching down to double bass territory, and a Viennese Bass that can go as high as a violin, the overlapping range and the blend of sound colours can be very rich and warm.
So there it is: a personal re-interpretation of a work that may or may not be by Borghi. Or by Casadesus. For violin and cello. Or for Viola d’Amore and gamba. Or for something else altogether. Sometimes one finds works such as this one, where nothing is really clear, and where it doesn’t really matter. This is a musician’s piece, it’s music that wants to be played. We leave the musicological analysis to those who feel they are qualified. We only have the inner conviction that we have to play it as well as we can, for our own pleasure and for our listeners’ happiness.
Back to the recording itself then: first we warmed up with a few complete takes. Then we broke it down into its two halves (the first one with a repeat). We always prefer to record long takes. I personally can’t stand recordings where a piece is dissected into its tiniest units and where the notes are then pasted together again like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.
Using longer, unedited takes has the disadvantage of leaving small mistakes, parasite noises, breathing sounds etc. Actually, to me these are the details that make the recording come to life, so i don’t regard them as a disadvantage at all. I don’t want to edit out all extraneous noises and all the imperfections. Perfection is boring. Our recordings are pretty much “live studio” recordings, with only minimal editing done. They’re “rough”, that’s why our recording label is called “Rough Records”. They’re fragile, and that reminds me of the fragility of us, human beings: “… how fragile we are”, said Sting, and he was right.
We finished recording within an hour or two, went out for a cup of coffee, and then pasted the best of the long takes together. We also made quick one-take test recordings of Kreisler’s “Schön Rosmarin” and of the Sperger Sonata that will both be on the finished CD. Making these preliminary recordings gives us a good idea of what the pieces will sound like, and they serve as guidelines for our homework: they enable us to fine-tune our preparations, so that we waste less time in the Studio. Recording is very exhausting. The concentration has to be at an optimum at all times. Easier said than done.
After five, we stayed in the Studio and rehearsed the Sperger for another hour or two. Tomorrow we’ll record it, and we hope it will sound as good as Borghi.
Instruments: Krattenmacher Viennese Violone, Patigny bow. Viola d’Amore by Pierre van Engeland. I left my bow case with 5 different bows at home this morning. The Patigny is a great all-round bow. The hall being rather cold and damp, the gut strings had some difficulties in “speaking” properly, which is one of their most endearing qualities. Again, what others might find a problem or a detriment, i see as an extra quality. Gut strings react in an organic way, almost like human beings. This is the reason they sound so close to our human emotions.
Tomorrow i will need my Gastaldo baroque bow. I want to use a different bow for each piece on the CD. Will see how that works out.
Tuesday 11 november
Today Haruko brought two candles to the studio. They were made in Japan by people in the devastated areas, where we played a few concerts earlier this year. We decide to light them so that we’re reminded of the reason why we’re making this CD. Hopefully they’ll inspire us.
Today is Sperger’s turn. We’ll record the final Rondo from one of his sonatas for Viola and Double Bass. It’s a very joyful piece which will go well with the rest of the programme. The CD is meant for all kinds of listeners, including children and their parents. There’s no reason for “serious” music to be serious.
Got up early, i need to warm up there. The bass stays at the studio, it’s too difficult to travel back and forth every morning and evening by metro during rush-hour.
I took my hat today, the one i wear when we play “Fu Ten” in our Japanese concerts. The main character in the “Fu Ten” TV series, Tora-san, wears a hat just like that and when i put it on, and Haruko plays the first few notes of the Introduction, the audiences are invariably delighted at the prospect of what’s coming.
I have found that the sound i hear from the bass when wearing my hat is very different from what i usually hear: the soundwaves reflect off its brim, straight into my ears. The first time this happened i was quite disoriented. The difference is substantial. It’s almost like sitting right in front of the sound holes.
On the one hand, it’s really nice to be able to hear yourself so directly. It makes it easier to control your sound. On the other hand, it changes the perception of your own instrument and of the blend with the other musician(s) so much, it can feel like you actually have less control over the total picture instead of more.
I’ll try a few takes to see if it makes sense to wear it for the recording.
This Sperger sonata is one of our favorite pieces. There are many subtleties in articulation, as is often the case in his music. Here and there both instrument parts have different articulations for similar passages, which makes for fascinating sound possibilities and for different choices every time we play the piece.
We’re recording too many takes: we’re afraid to have too few. This happened once before, when we though we had all we needed but we didn’t. Bloody amateurs…
Now we’re confronted with an “embarras du choix”. We have to choose. Some takes are clearly lacking in expression. Sometimes you really hear a dip in concentration, or a too careful way of playing. I find it sounds better when i imagine an audience, it really helps. We’re so used to playing concerts, the idea of an audience makes us perform better. Or at least we think so.
The editing is done right away. There’s a risk in not taking a step back, in not taking distance before choosing. The advantage is that you have a finished product by the end of the day. No more stress and worries. Anyway, it’s not the end of the world if it’s not as good as we wished. Our time and budget are limited.
I’m using both the Patigny and Gastaldo bows. None of my bows seems to be able to “get a grip” today. Rosin is important: too little, too much, and you’re screwed. I keep the Pop’s on top of one of the lukewarm radiators.
The heating system produces a constant backdrop of ticks, clicks and hissing noises, and we have the choice of freezing to death or accepting some “incidental music”.
This piece is very tiring for Haruko: the Viola d’Amore is a top-heavy instrument, with its 13 tuning pegs and the sculpted girl’s head. In fact, she asked Pierre van Engeland, the builder of the instrument, to empty the poor creature’s head so it would be lighter (which he did without batting an eyelid). But even with the empty-headed angel perched on top of the peg-box the instrument gets heavy when you have to play it for hours on end, so we had to stop the recording session. That’s not so bad in a way, because it helps to avoid overdoing it. You often think “let’s do another take, maybe this one will be great”. Which leaves you with a whole lot of listening afterwards.
The first “trial” takes usually have a certain “je ne sais quoi” that is hard to obtain in subsequent attempts. But sometimes it’s the opposite, and it does become better: sound, drive, direction. Never mind mistakes and noise.
Recording is always an adventure.
(By the way, i discarded the hat. It makes the perceived sound too different for comfort).
After a short break we rehearsed Rosmarin and Hamabe no Uta for tomorrow.
Today is a holiday, the underground is nearly empty. All day we’ve been looking forward to have”ramen” noodles at our favorite noodle place, but it’s closed today…
Wednesday 12 November
Today Hamabe no Uta, Schön Rosmarin.
Got there early to warm up: Rosmarin is quite a challenge on the bass.
As i arrive and pick up the instrument, i see that half of the 7th fret is broken. Luckily, since they’re double frets, there’s always the chance that the one half of it stays in place. I fix the remaining single wire with a piece of adhesive tape. I’ve got plenty of spare strings with me, but the fretwire that i was sure was there as well is conspicuously absent. Strange…
Studio is cold today, hard on the fingers.
First Hamabe no Uta, a Japanese song that everybody in Japan knows and can sing along. The title means “Seaside Song”, and it has great meaning to us and to the audiences we play for, especially when we play in the Fukushima and tsunami regions. All of a sudden the simple”Seaside Song” becomes a poignant reminder of the disaster and its aftermath.
From time to time we have to stop recording. Airplanes flying over, the occasional police or ambulance siren, or the local scouts who come and take their stuff from one of the adjoining rooms.
Both parts of the process, the recording and the editing, are time-consuming, or “chronophage”, to use a beautiful French word: it means exactly the same: “time-eating”. The “learned” English equivalent would be something like “chronophageous” , a word that doesn’t really exist. But as with so many things, the moment you can think it, write it down, or play it, it does exist. Never mind what the rules or the books say. The books are always behind events.
The recording is demanding, both physically and mentally. But the editing part is hard work as well. You have to listen very carefully to all the tracks, including those that you thought were not good enough: your ears and mind play tricks on you, and sometimes the impression you get while playing is very different from what you hear afterwards in the actual recording. This works both ways. What seemed like a great take can be pretty disappointing and vice versa.
That also means that you can’t let a small mistake influence your playing while recording. As a novice, you tend to stop playing as soon as something goes wrong, but if you have enough strength of concentration, a minor mistake doesn’t need to result in a take that is completely bad.
Editing demands as much concentration as playing. It’s very interesting how takes can be dramatically different in emotional content, and how even a tiny dip in concentration while playing will be clearly audible afterwards.
I always listen for the general shape of a phrase, for its emotional charge, its “meaning”, rather than trying to detect mistakes, parasites or minute fluctuations in tempo, dynamics or intonation. Those things are secondary to me, and if a certain take has the right “feel” i’m more than willing to accept a few “grains de beauté” here and there.
We have three sets of headphones, one for each of us. There’s one set that has a very special meaning to us: at the end of last opera season we played Gluck’s “Orphée”. This was a very moving opera production in which a patient suffering from “locked-in” syndrome was filmed in real-time, in her hospital bed, listening to the live music from the opera. The actual headphones that she had used were here now, in the control room, and it felt very special to listen to our recordings through them.
After finishing Hamabe, Geert and Haruko go out to get some snacks while i polish the tricky bits of Schön Rosmarin. Well, the whole piece is tricky on a 5-string giant double bass with a 110 cm string stop and with gut strings. I must be crazy. But playing it in Viennese Tuning releases a lot of harmonic richness and resonance, and anyway there’s a place in this world for a tongue-in-cheek rendition of this charming little piece.
We do plenty of takes, which we don’t use in the end… Like i mentioned, very often a first take will have a beautiful energy that is hard to beat in subsequent trials.
The shorter the recorded excerpts are, the less chance of getting anything worthwile, musically speaking. So we always go for the longest possible takes. Again, the price we have to pay for a longer bit that has some musical meaning doesn’t bother us: noises of inhaling, of a bow touching the instrument, small impurities in the attacks, or intonation that is slightly off.
I guess it must be possible to have it all: near perfect playing AND musical content. But it’s not worth the effort and the expense. Life isn’t perfect. Concerts aren’t perfect. Why should recordings be?
This reminds me of something Barthold Kuijken (for whom i have tremendous respect) said about recording. If memory serves me right, he believes that a recording should be “neutral”, meaning that one should take care not to overdo expressive intentions or mannerisms. Otherwise, these will stick out like sore thumbs when one listens to the recording repeatedly. I’m not sure i agree with that view. But i’ll let you, the reader, think it over so that you can come up with your own personal”recording philosophy”.
Thursday, day 4
We want to record our “Mo iikai” Suite of Japanese children’s songs today, and if possible our little“Cho-Cho”– Suite.
The idea of the “Mo iikai”- Suite is to describe, in music, an ordinary school-day, with the songs and the games the children play in the schoolyard and the school bell tolling at the end of the day.
“Mo ii kai” is a hide-and-seek game. The child that covers his or her eyes, while the others hide, will call out “mo ii kai”, meaning “can i turn around yet?” and the other kids will answer “mada da yo”, “not yet”. Or when they’ve found a safe hiding place “mo ii yo”, “ok, you can start looking for us”.
When we play in Japanese schools, we include all kinds of children’s songs in the Suite, or tunes from TV programmes and series. The “mo iikai” motif serves to separate and connect the songs. For the recording we had to make sure all the songs we’re using in the Suite are free of copyright, so it’s slightly different from the suites we play in concert. And much shorter.
The songs we use in our Suites are “warabe uta” or “playing songs” that are sung to accompany a playground game, and “singing songs” that have no connection to any game. The difference is interesting, because very often the “warabe uta” will use modal scales that sound slightly exotic to Western ears whereas the other songs will usually be in major or minor tonalities.
What we usually do is to mix different songs, so that we get different layers. Haruko might play one song, and i’ll play another one at the same time (taking care that everything matches – we’re not trying to make it sound like contemporary music) or we’ll use fragments of western music that add a dimension to the original. In this way we mixed the Japanese song “Zoo-san” (Zoo means “elephant”) with “L’éléphant” by Saint-Saëns. But we also use jingles from TV commercials or music from Anime movies to strengthen a certain phrase in the text of the original song. Subtleties that are lost on Western audiences, but that are highly appreciated in Japan.
In this particular Suite we play:
Hanaichi Monme, a song that accompanies a game in which two lines of children are holding hands. As one line advances, the other one withdraws.
Bunbunbun is a song about a bee, Zuizui Zukkorobashi is another playground song. It’s a kind of counting rhyme that says “who broke the rice bowl?”
Antagata dokosa is a song that is sung while the kids bounce a ball, faster and faster. The title means something like “where are you guys from?” and develops into a story about hunting a raccoon, cooking and eating it. Pretty cruel, i find. In live concerts we play the song three times, each time faster than the last one. On the CD we play it only twice. To imitate the bouncing ball we use col legno playing: the wood of the bow-stick on the strings makes for an excitingly “springy” sound.
The last song is just a song with no playing involved. Shabondama is about blowing bubbles. A nice ending of a charming little suite.
Recording turned out to be more difficult than expected. The studio is always slightly damp and rather cold, so the gut strings, rosin and hair don’t react as well as they could. In loud passages that’s not a big problem, but the softer bits become problematic. There’s a treshold under which the notes don’t speak clearly, and sound production becomes very unpredictable. I have to fight the tendency to play louder, and i must try and cherish the hoarseness that creeps into the sound even more than it normally does. Once you get used to it, you can’t help loving this fragile, throaty gut string voice. It’s, well… “guttural”. It has a frailty that makes it utterly human. But here it’s really hard to have any control over it.
It’s a time-consuming process, first trying to make it “work” for yourself by changing bows (i brought half of my collection of ancient and modern baroque bows, in all shapes and weights), by bringing the rosin’s temperature up, by tightening or loosening the bow hair, by applying less or more pressure to the string, by trying under-and overhanded bowgrips, and by changing bowings and fingerings. Sometimes nothing seems to work.
In the end you just do what you knew from the start: adapt to the material instead of trying to force it to do what you want it to do. It won’t. So i simply abandon myself to the character of these natural materials, and little by little i am rewarded with the rediscovery of that enchanting imperfection that is so close to the unschooled human voice.
After recording we take a long break, go out for fresh fries and french air (no, that should be the other way round) before we start the long hours of sifting through the recorded material.
In the editing room, we listen to the many different takes, and here it becomes even more evident that it’s no use fighting the instrument. The more we relax, the less we care about “perfect” sound and intonation, the more the expression sounds honest and true. This will be a recording with more than one “grain de sable” in its voice, with this noble roughness we’ve come to embrace.
No time for Cho-Cho today. I had hoped to finish everything tonight, because next week we have a concert with a totally different program. I’ll play viola da gamba, violone and modern bass. Including this week’s viennese bass, that makes four different tunings. I need to practice… But well, that’s life.
Friday. Last day.
In the morning i have to go to conservatory to sign my yearly contract before i go to the studio. We have an early breakfast at the underground station, then i go practice while Haruko does some shopping for our lunch break.
Today we record our last little Suite, variations on the children’s song “Cho-Cho”, which means Butterfly. In Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” the main role’s name is “Cio-Cio-San”.
I don’t know the origin of the song, but in Belgium we have a children’s song on the exact same melody, except that the Japanese version ends on the chord’s Major Third, whereas “ours” has a more traditional root ending. The Japanese “open” ending gives a different, eery flavour to the song.
We wrote a few variations in different styles: fiddle music, jazzy, glass harmonica, classical. All just a minute long, a kind of musical Haiku, in a way.
As almost always, the first and the complete takes are the best. Then we edit the rest of Mo iikai that we didn’t finish yesterday.
In the middle of our editing session, Geert’s kids visit us. They’ve just finished school (which is around the corner). Geert’s wife is Japanese too, and the children remind us of the many schoolconcerts we play on our Japan tours.
We finish at 7pm, clean up the studio, help Geert to move his recording material.
As i take my stuff, i discover the missing fret-wire underneath a heap of spare gut strings…
We take the underground for the last time, with the instruments, bows, music stands and all the other things. Dead tired. As the train makes a sudden stop, the caddy with the bow case smashes to the floor, just missing a girl that’s standing there. She’s nice and she helps me pick it up – i must look seriously handicapped, holding that giant bass with one hand whilst trying to stoop down. I apologize profusely and am rewarded with a heartfelt smile.
At least our Ramen-shop is open and we treat ourselves to a big bowl of japanese noodles. All we need now is a hot bath. Tomorrow we start rehearsals for our next concert (with three different bass instruments, but exceptionally no Viennese bass):
“- A L I V E -“
The new CD by DUO SWEET 17
(For reviews of this CD see “PRESS” and “QUOTES AND COMMENTS”):
Duo Sweet 17 -ALIVE-
Review by Dr. Igor Pecevski, www.viennesetuning.com )
“Although this listing already contains a number of high quality recordings demonstrating top levels of artistry and virtuosity, I was particularly happy to review this CD, as it brings this rare feel of chamber intimacy through very clean, yet also very musical playing – a feat that is often most difficult to achieve.
This recording is also unique in the sense that all pieces are period, yet rearranged in some way to mimic the period style. The two Ariosti sonatas were most likely not composed for the Viennese bass, and the Sperger sonata (originally intended for Viennese bass) does not feature Viola d’Amore in the original. Yet, the overall effect is very honest, enlightening and pleasing – in the aesthetic way that I envision would have been truly enjoyed in the 18th century.
The venue that produced the CD is called “Rough Records”, implying that the straight recording takes that keep the spirit of the interpretation are preferred to those full of computer edits, that are all too common in modern productions. Yet I believe a better term would be “Nice Records” as the effect is anything but “rough”. Moreover, the overall production and sound quality are so good that I would openly recommend this recording to the general music public in need of relaxed listening – the exact type for which the featured compositions were conceived at the period. This CD is perfectly suitable for all commercial broadcasts, but also for playing in public spaces where some calm may be desired.
To conclude, this is an excellent recording featuring a very transparent sound of both instruments at its best. Viola d’Amore color may on occasion be perceived as even brighter of the regular viola, and the bass in Ariosti appears to have been played often in the 8 foot range that can not overpower the viola d’amore timbre. Korneel and Haruko play superbly here, and not only to satisfy some imaginary “period” standard, but for us today to enjoy. Bravo and Congratulations!”
ATTILIO ARIOSTI (1666 – 1740)
A native from Bologna, Ariosti was actually a monk but he became a court composer at several courts in Italy (the duchy of Mantua, a.o.) and abroad (Berlin, Vienna). He travelled to London where he wrote operas, but his favorite instrument was the Viola d’Amore and he was one of the instrument’s foremost virtuoso players. He even played the instrument in the entr’acte music of Handel’s opera “Almadigi” in London in 1716.
Besides operas, he wrote cantatas and instrumental works, amongst others a series of sonatas for Viola d’Amore and basso continuo. Handwritten copies of these were found in Stockholm, so now they are known as the “Stockholm sonatas”, although Ariosti himself never went there.
The basso continuo is played here on the Viennese bass, which is of course an anachronism. But the instrument seems to fit the music and the Viola d’Amore really well, especially in those pieces that share the D major tuning of their open strings. Indeed, the Viola d’Amore can be used in a great number of different tunings although the D major variant is considered to be a kind of standard tuning.
Still, we chose to record two sonatas in d minor and in b minor in an attempt to get away from the ubiquitous D major tonality that is often associated with both the Viola d’Amore and the Viennese Violone.
JOHANN MATTHIAS SPERGER (1750 – 1812)
Born in the year of Bach’s death, Johann Matthias Sperger was a very important classical bass virtuoso and composer. His early training in organ playing and composition probably helps to explain the extent of his oeuvre, which includes music for horn and trumpet, amongst others.
Most of the double bass concertos of the classical period are actually Sperger’s work, and when we bass players boast of the almost 40 concertos that have survived from the Viennese classical period, we rarely realize that Sperger wrote half of them.
Johann Matthias had a varied career, as did most of the musicians back then. He worked at the courts of Kohfidisch and Ludwigslust, but also travelled as far as Italy.
It’s thanks to his widow, who took care of his music collection, that we now know his works, but also the compositions for double bass of Vanhal, Dittersdorf and Hoffmeister. Without her, these staples of the double bass repertoire would never have been known.
Sperger was a great virtuoso, and he sought to push the limits of the instrument by using the highest positions extensively. Many of his pieces are impossible to play in modern tuning, and more and more players realize that this music not only deserves the effort needed to master the original Viennese tuning in thirds and fourths, but also that a proper set-up with gut strings and frets and an appropriate bow will bring out much more of the unique sound of this very special instrument.
Apart from that, Viennese playing technique differed in many subtle points from modern technique. The articulations are very close to baroque style and phrases that modern players would instinctively try to “sing”, using lots of vibrato and a sustained sound (the “legato-vibrato syndrome”) were probably much closer to a speaking style. It is a style that requires a very different approach, far removed from the overly romantic way of playing that unfortunately still seems to be a sort of internationally accepted standard…
– ALIVE –
These recordings were made at the Fiocco Hall of the Brussels National Opera De Munt / La Monnaie.
We think that “perfection” is an overrated concept. To us spontaneity, poetry and passion are far more valuable when it comes to performing and recording, and the human dimension – real music played by real people – should never be absent.
For this reason we wanted to recreate the feeling of a true live performance. These are essentially live studio recordings in which we have tried to preserve both the fragility and the excitement of the music, its inner logic and drive.
These days, making a CD is within everybody’s reach. Technically, nothing seems to be impossible and very often the process of polishing, editing and correcting the recording robs the music of its meaning and its soul. Sometimes whole passages are pasted together note for note. What we call “high-fidelity” often doesn’t contain much fidelity to the musical experience at all. The more one tries to make the “perfect” record, the more one loses the essence of what making music is all about.
The way we work is different. We don’t edit out parasite noises of creaking floorboards, fingers on gut strings, strings on fingerboards, bow hair on strings, breathing, or the occasional little accident. We don’t try to correct every note that isn’t quite perfect. No plastic surgery here.
It’s no coincidence that we called our label “Rough Records”. We want to make recordings that give you the feeling you are actually there, in the hall, with us. We want to make you, the listener, part of the experience and draw you into our world. We want to share with you these moments of unedited beauty, so that you can really imagine being present at an evening concert somewhere in a palace or a salon, a few hundred years ago.
So sit back, relax, close your eyes and enter the world of real music. Music that is… Alive.