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GRAMOPHONE (08/2020)
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Pan Classics

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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

‘The Beauty of 17th Century Violin Music’ is Lina Tur Bonet’s subtitle for this new release with her ensemble Musica Alchemica, and who would argue against that as a thing worth celebrating? And if it also suggests that the mixture of Italian and Austrian repertoire is a purely subjective choice on Bonet’s part, who would want to deny her that, given the degree to which she has poured her personality into her previous releases, not least her forcefully dramatic Biber Mystery Sonatas (Pan Classics, 10/15) and a flamboyant Corelli Op 5?

The disc opens with the shimmering arpeggios of a solo Fantasia by Matteis the Younger; but apart from a short, lute-imitating pizzicato piece by Westhoff, the rest is ensemble music ranging from sonatas for violin and continuo by Cima and Schmelzer to typically rich Austrian five-part music in Weichlein’s Partia III. In between there are trio sonatas by Marini, Falconieri, Biber, Buxtehude, Bertali and Uccellini (the last two with violas d’amore substituting for violins). Underlying much of the music is an apparent fascination with ground basses – eight of them here, in 11 pieces – but the styles and atmospheres are varied too, from the coursing energy of Marini to the calming grace of Cima, and from the restless moods of Bertali’s Ciaconna, slowly gathering and losing speed like a train journey through a varied landscape, to the dark scordatura colourings and weighty bass accumulations of the Biber.

Bonet and her musicians capture it all: the lightness and gravity, the wit and the seriousness, the ardency and the soul. The sounds they make are indeed beautiful and rich in tone, and there are interpretative details at every turn, not one of which seems without genuine expressive purpose. The contributions of the continuo section of lute, harp and keyboards are busy but not overbearing, and a double bass is an inspired addition for the Biber. Bonet’s honest and heartfelt music-making means that new releases from her are becoming things to look forward to.

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