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GRAMOPHONE (12/2015)
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Reviewer: Fabrice Fitch


University students may still snigger at his name (at least in the UK), but to listen to Samuel Scheidt’s Ludici musici is to hear something very near to a synthesis of European styles at the hands of a German composer, long before Bach did so. Dance pairs and fantasias on assorted famous tunes of different nationalities succeed each other in a show of versatility that combines tunefulness, virtuosity, antiphonal effects and affects of all sorts. The opening track, Scheidt’s take on Guédron’s famous Est-ce Mars, has a little of all of these things.


That the music is worth hearing has never been in doubt, but these performances offer something new. In contrast to Hespèrion XX’s landmark recording for Reflexe in the ’70s (12/80 – nla) or the more recent one from Musica Fiata (CPO), which both combined strings, winds and brass, L’Achéron opt nearly exclusively for strings. This brings Scheidt closer than he’s ever sounded to his English colleagues, the swagger of William Brade in particular. But don’t be fooled by the reduced palette, for the continuo section is far more generously stocked than on the earlier recordings. Its detail and bustle is L’Achéron’s engine-room (try the Alamande No 16), and they in turn are reminiscent of their own English viol consort counterparts. When the mood turns more sombre, however (as in the Paduan dolorosa), the paring-down of the continuo does the bowed string players no harm at all.


From a collector’s standpoint, L’Achéron’s selection overlaps significantly with Hespèrion XX’s and far less with Musica Fiata’s; that said, my firm preference goes to these gifted newcomers. And though I seldom mention such things, the cover illustration (Cornelis de Vos’s painting of his two children) is touchingly appropriate and beautifully reproduced. Without a doubt this is one of the reviewing highlights of my year.

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