The Strad Issue: January 2015
Description: The somewhat frugal fruits of a search for Spanish Baroque viola music
Musicians: Nils Mönkemeyer (viola) Klaus-Dieter Brandt (cello) Thomas Zscherpe (double bass) Sabine Erdmann (harpsichord) Andreas Arend (guitar/theorbo) Anja Hermann (percussion)
Composer: de Murcia, Soler, Boccherini, Brunetti, D. Scarlatti, Sanz, de Nebra

The first thing that struck me about this CD is a statement in the booklet about its contents being the result of a search for Spanish viola music in Madrid’s National Library. If all Nils Mönkemeyer could come up with was one original piece and an hour’s worth of arrangements, he can’t have looked very hard. Nevertheless, the chosen pieces are very agreeable – I could have done without the ubiquitous Boccherini Minuet, though – and the arrangements are idiomatically done. The one original composition – the D major Sonata by Italian expat Gaetano Brunetti (a student of Nardini) – is a real find (well, relatively: it has  been available in print for over 30 years), thoroughly exploring the viola’s range and technical possibilities.

Mönkemeyer exhibits a wide range of tonal colours and nicely varied articulation. His embellishments and cadenzas are witty and stylish, as is the continuo realisation with harpsichord, guitar and cello. Most of the remaining pieces are keyboard or guitar originals, but the viola part has been skilfully designed, and everybody plays most engagingly, happily bringing out this outgoing music’s close relationship with Spanish folklore. The recorded sound is warm and lifelike, except for some contrived acoustic tricks in Boccherini’s La musica notturna. An unlisted ‘bonus track’ had me reaching quite deep into my musical memory until the penny finally dropped – and I’ll leave it at that.