Exceptional Masterpieces (2001)

Merula, Marini, Sammartini, Fux, Biber, Endler

Combattimento Consort Amsterdam

Jan Willem de Vriend

We have been struck by a number of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century compositions which are, for the most part, unpublished and which, in view of their originality and/or musical power, we consider ‘exceptional masterpieces.’ When Maarten van der Valk and Eelco Grimm had the idea of making a CD with the latest, ‘exceptional’ technological possibilities in collaboration with Siltech and Philips, this seemed an appropriate opportunity to make a CD recording of a number of these ‘exceptional masterpieces’ in our repertoire.
The first works, the Ciaconna a 4 and the Ballo detto Pollicio, were written by Tarquinio Merula. He was born in the Italian city of Cremona, home of the great violinmakers. Following employment in Bergamo and Warsaw, he was appointed his last musical position at the cathedral in his native city. His frequent use of dance rhythms and the exceptional virtuosity of his instrumental pieces make these miniature masterworks. They constitute some of the first ‘typically violinistic’ compositions.

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Jan Willem de Vriend

Jan Willem de Vriend is the artistic director of Combattimento Consort Amsterdam and since 2006 the chief conductor and artistic director of the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to having served as concertmaster with various ensembles, De Vriend developed a career as a conductor with several orchestras both in The Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Italy Germany, Sweden, as well as China and Australia. Opera conducting has come to play a significant role. He has led Combattimento Consort Amsterdam in unknown operas by Gassmann, Rameau, Heinchen and Haydn, among others, as well as familiar operas by such composers as Monteverdi, Handel, Rossini and Mozart. For the opera houses of Lucern, Strasbourg, Barcelona and Enschede, he has conducted operas by Handel, Mozart, Verdi, Strauss and others.
He was invited by the Stanislavsky Theatre of Moscow to conduct an opera by Handel.

De Vriend was awarded the Dutch Radio 4 Prize of the year 2012. The Radio 4 Prize is awarded to a musician (or ensemble or institution) who has distinguished himself in bringing classical music to a broad public.

Combattimento Consort Amsterdam

Founded in 1982 by violinist Jan Willem de Vriend, the Combattimento Consort Amsterdam developed into a close-knit ensemble specialising in music from 1600-1800. The musicians' wish not to focus solely on the standard repertoire resulted in many interesting programmes featuring remarkable and little-known works, some of which were only available in manuscript. The performance of these compositions in conjunction with more familiar works proved to be refreshing and inspiring to listeners and performers alike.

Over the years the ensemble gave many memorable concerts and operatic performances including Handel’s Rodelinda, Alcina, also by Handel, and Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, in collaboration with De Nationale Reisopera.
In September 2002 the ensemble made its debut at the Early Music Holland Festival in Utrecht, giving two performances of Rameau's opera Platée in a co-production with Onafhankelijk Toneel and the Nationale Reisopera.

In addition to numerous concerts in the Netherlands, the Combattimento Consort also appeared in various European countries and in venues outside of Europe. Successful tours in the United States, Japan and South America have always been attracting attention in national and international media.
Concerts often had solo performances by members of the ensemble, but the Combattimento Consort also worked with great performers such as Barbara Bonney, Andreas Scholl and Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Thomas Zehetmair and Sabine Meyer as well as joining forces with Collegium Vocale Gent and other groups.

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Exceptional Masterpieces (2001)

Merula, Marini, Sammartini, Fux, Biber, Endler

Combattimento Consort Amsterdam

    HighFidelity

Combattimento Consort Amsterdam – ‘Exceptional Masterpieces’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan, July 5, in DVD Audio, Titles Fame is fickle. But after nearly three hundred years of obscurity, it seems to be coming at last to Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber. Although fairly well known in his day, his music drifted out of favor in the 1700’s as the intelligentsia gravitated towards bright and logical composers of the classical era. To them Biber must have seemed a real crank, moody and prone to unpredictable outbursts of passion. But in recent years, his star has once again risen. Biber first hit the radar of many classical listeners in 1965 when Nikolaus Harnoncourt recorded the now famous ‘Battalia in D’, a programmatic romp that includes pages that wouldn’t sound out of place in Ives or Bartok. On the other hand, Biber still wouldn’t have flown if his music didn’t strike a resonance in listeners. After all, if the late twentieth century saw a great swelling of interest in the music of Gustav Mahler, then it seems only natural that it would be accompanied by a rise in interest in the composer who could best be described as the Baroque Mahler. Biber is indeed the most commandingly interesting composer on this fine hybrid CD/SACD from Bona Nova entitled ‘Exceptional Masterpieces’, but the other works performed here by the Combattimento Consort Amsterdam don’t lag far behind. The stated intent of the disc is to present some lesser known but amazing pieces from the ensemble’s repertory, and they deliver on that promise. The disc starts off with a pair of jaunty pieces by Tarquinio Merula, one of the first composers to write in an advanced, virtuoso manner for violin. Merula seems to combine the strong rythmicality of late Renaissance music with the virtuosity and adventurousness of the early Baroque. Next up is a doleful “Passacaglia” by Biagio Marini, a comtemporary of Merula. The piece is expressive, even agonized in places, with several harmonic surprises along the way, not least of which is the unexpected sigh of relief that lands in a major key during the closing moments. The next piece on the recording is a ‘Concerto in C’ for violoncello piccolo and strings by Giovanni Battista Sammartini. This is one of the very few pieces written for the violoncello piccolo, which is basically a miniature cello. Sammartini stood astride the indefinite border between the Baroque style and the newer Classical style, and this piece makes it clear that he functioned as a bridge between Vivaldi and Haydn. The solos are sparklingly played by Wouter Mijnders.   Another rare “miniature” instrument is the violino piccolo, featured here in the delightful ‘Rondeau in C’ by Johann Joseph Fux. Prior to this disc, I had heard the music of Fux a few times previously, and never warmed up to it. It seemed to me that Fux wrote in a very learned, contrapuntal manner that also happened to be dry as dust and about as interesting. Well, these performances prove that Fux was much more than an arcane scholar. This Rondeau for violino piccolo, bassoon, and strings starts off with great grace and charm, gradually growing very playful as the solos become more complex and adventurous, even dramatic. De Vriend’s playing of the violino piccolo part is quite delightful, even if he encounters the occasional passing difficulty keeping the miniature violin perfectly in tune. Without doubt, the difficulty in adjusting from regular violin to this smaller instrument had much to do with why it never caught on, except as a starter instrument for children.   Moving along, we come to the core of the program, which is Biber’s ‘Partita VII’ for two viole d’amore and basso continuo. The piece opens with a dark, arresting flourish. This Preludium continues on, though, to become consoling, and ultimately almost bright by the end. Typically enough for Biber, this emotional ground is covered in just over two minutes. The following Allemande is alternately dance-like and diabolical, setting the stage for the obsessive Sarabande that succeeds it. The central Gigue movement starts with a very haughty introduction before embarking on a rhythmical ostinato repeated over and over, hardly ceasing until the end. The fifth movement Aria promises relief by starting warmly and graciously, but it has a distressing tendency to slip into minor keys when you least expect it. Penultimately comes the short, lively Trezza movement, which does release some of the built up tension before we venture off into the Arietta with variations. Over its nearly seven-minute span, Biber charts a more gradual, if no more predictable course. The solemn theme slowly flowers throughout the variations until the tempo picks up and the piece rushes toward the end with great energy, only to suddenly pull back in its final moments into an otherworldly calm. Ingenious and wayward, this Biber piece alone would be worth the price of this disc.   But wait, there’s more! The longest piece here is the charming ‘Sinfonia No. 15’ by the obscure Darmstadt composer Johann Samuel Endler. It is notable for including a timpani part that requires the player to use five drums. So, unlike the usual restricted timpani writing used in the early 1800’s, Endler has his timpani going almost continuously, even in the slow movements. This is a very early symphony, and one can make out the structures of the nascent classical symphony. Indeed, had Endler stopped after four movements, had would have had a perfect early symphony, but one can hardly begrudge that such pleasant music continues on for two more movements, including a grand processional for the finale. Worth special mention is the trio of the third movement Menuet, where Endler has a pair of flutes dancing delicately over repeated notes on the timpani, accompanied by plucked strings. Truly delicious!   As a built-in encore, Combattimento Consort Amsterdam return to Fux to play his ‘Sinfonia a 3, a symphony in name only. Rather, this chamber piece is a picture postcard of a visit to Turkey, and the players enthusiastically tear into Fux’s Turkish folk-influenced tunes. The ending holds another store in surprise, as the players one by one stop playing, get up and leave the stage, presumably returning “home” from this excursion. The notes don’t say much about this, but it presumably is in Fux’s score, as it would seem more than a trifle eccentric otherwise. The last to leave can be heard closing the stage door behind him. I was a trifle surprised, however, that they didn’t make use of the multi-channel capabilities here to have the sound of the departing musicians leave the stage and walk past the listener to exit somewhere in the vicinity of the rear channel speakers. But, regardless, it is quite easy to imagine the door on stage that they use, as the SACD layer clearly locates it off to the left, twenty or thirty feet behind the playing area.   The CD layer of this hybrid disc is in its own right far better than the average CD recording. Much is made in the program booklet of the use of vintage microphones, tube technology, and pure silver and gold Siltech cables, and these elements presumably contribute to an unusually warm and rounded sound, some more than others. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have kick, because many passages leap right out of the speakers, but the sound is so warmly inviting, that I felt that I could listen to it extensively without experiencing any fatigue of the ears. That warmth and spaciousness is even more pronounced on the SACD layer of the disc, which solidifies the placement and texture of the instruments. The extra ‘air’ of the SACD layer of this DSD recording especially helps the more layered moments in the music. The multi-channel presentation diffuses the sound a little bit, but it is not greatly different from the stereo mix in impact. The rear channels are kept exclusively for ambiance. Very warmly recommended.

Mark Jordan

    Audiophile Audition

Here’s a pair of multichannel hi-res winners in the early music area... This is a single release by and for the Amsterdam consort for early music and just about the best-planned, played and recorded program of early instrumental music I have heard in years. None of the works are potboilers (no Pachelbel canons here) and all qualify for the overall disc title, though to some it may seem a bit lame. I was unfamiliar with both Merula and Endler, and found their works whetted my interest to hear more. The Consort was founded in 1982 and its director Vriend has come across much fine unknown music in his search thru libraries and archives around Europe. Like a number of other modern ensembles specializing in early music, the 23 or so players here display a level of enthusiasm and excitement about what they are doing that a lot of symphony orchestra and studio musicians could take note of. It comes across aurally, especially with the transparent multichannel DSD recording. The group decided against making use of the center channel, so like Opus 3 multichannel SACDs, this is a 4.0 recording as in quad days.

Exceptional Masterpieces (2001)

Merula, Marini, Sammartini, Fux, Biber, Endler

Combattimento Consort Amsterdam

Cables: Siltech
Producer: Maarten van der Valk, Hein Dekker
Recording Engineer:

In producing the recordings on this Super Audio CD, we have made almost exclusive use of audio electronics based on tube technology. We have found that well-designed tube circuitry offers the best means of transferring the rich timbre of the musical instruments and the atmosphere during the recording process to the listening environment. The microphones used are omnidirectional ones from the late 60’s; the remaining electronic equipment was specially developed for Fairytapes by AudioMagic, Rotterdam. This, in combination with the surround sound and high resolution of SACD, produces a sound that is dynamic and accurate, as well as relaxed and inviting. We hope that you enjoy it as much as we did during production!
Eelco Grimm, Fairytapes Utrecht

Recording location: MCO Hilversum Holland
Recording Type & Bit Rate: DSD64

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PCC10011SA: Exceptional Masterpieces
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Tracks.
1.
Ciaconna a 4
Merula
00:03:23   Select quality & channels above
2.
Ballo detto Pollicio
Merula
00:02:36   Select quality & channels above
3.
Passacalio a 4
Marini
00:07:41   Select quality & channels above
4.
Allegro
Sammartini
00:04:29   Select quality & channels above
5.
Andante
Sammartini
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6.
Allegro
Sammartini
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7.
Rondeau a 7
Fux
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8.
Praeludium
Biber
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9.
Allamande
Biber
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10.
Sarabande
Biber
00:02:34   Select quality & channels above
11.
Gigue
Biber
00:02:46   Select quality & channels above
12.
Aria
Biber
00:02:12   Select quality & channels above
13.
Trezza
Biber
00:00:42   Select quality & channels above
14.
Arietta variata
Biber
00:06:38   Select quality & channels above
15.
Allegro
Endler
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16.
Larghetto
Endler
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17.
Menuett I & II
Endler
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18.
Presto
Endler
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19.
Allegro I & II
Endler
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20.
Vivace Moderato
Endler
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21.
Turcaria
Fux
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22.
Passacaglia
Fux
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23.
Janitschara
Fux
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24.
Posta Turcica
Fux
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