Ensemble Diderot: Sonatas for Three Violins

The Strad Issue: July 2021

Description: Radiant acoustics and pungent 17th-century harmony with an ad-libbed feel

Musicians: Ensemble Diderot/Johannes Pramsohler (violin)

Works: Music by Baltzar, Buonamente, Dornel, Fontana, Fux, G. Gabrieli, Hacquart, Pachelbel, Torelli, Purcell, Schmelzer and Sommer

Catalogue number: AUDAX ADX13729

For this eighth release in Ensemble Diderot’s series of recordings for Audax, the term ‘sonata’ is used in its broadest sense of a generic texture consisting of three upper parts and bass, played here on cello and harpsichord/organ. Beguilingly engineered, the enchanting sounds created by this top period-instrument group are gently cushioned by the radiant acoustics of Cologne’s Klaus von Bismarck Saal. Of the dozen composers represented here, Purcell’s tantalising modal-scalic harmonic inflections, as embraced in the Three Parts upon a Ground, make the most startling impression. Yet there is so much to savour here, including a captivating reading of Pachelbel’s ubiquitous Canon (and Gigue) that combines the velvety sonics of a modern outfit with deft, virtuoso inflections, creating the uncanny impression of being extemporised as the music goes along.

Another standout work is Johann Schmelzer’s Sonata a 3 violini, whose interweaving suspensions and strikingly idiomatic writing rival even his 17th-century Italian colleagues. It is fascinating to compare Schmelzer’s chamber-style restraint with Torelli’s tendency towards Venetian brilliance and splendour and Fux’s ingenious contrapuntal interweaving. Ensemble Diderot responds to every change of mood and style with alacrity, imparting to the slower sections a sense of dreamy introspection that renews one’s sense of wonder at these priceless musical gems.