Supraphon’s fantastic series “Music from 18th
Century Prague” has arrived at chamber music with this collection of delights. And delights they are, truly, both because of the quality of the period-instrument players and because of the excellence of these composers, only one of whom you’re sure to know. The Collegium Marianum is visited by a clutch of guest stars, including bassoonist Sergio Azzolini, fresh off an acclaimed Vivaldi concerto CD
: it made Alex Ross’s top ten discs of 2012, New Yorker
Azzolini appears in the first noteworthy work, the Quartet in G minor by Antonín Reichenauer, which features close interplay between the bassoon and cello in a dark key which well suits them both. I enjoyed a previous Reichenauer CD
in this series; it is sad that he died in his mid-thirties and left us with so little. Christian Gottlieb Postel makes an immediate impression with a trio sonata for two violins and continuo: in this case it’s an organ, and the lyrical violin lines are so closely woven that at times I’m reminded of Bach’s double violin concerto. It’s an intimate gem. Johann Georg Orschler’s Trio in F minor, rather dramatic in parts but with a graceful minuet, is the first place I’ve seen the movement title “Intrada”, later used by the likes of Janácek and Lutoslawski. The Orschler work is also notable for a five-minute final fugue and for the fact that Orschler, even in this company, is little-known. His biography, in the superb booklet notes, is like a mystery that hasn’t quite been pieced together, ending with his death “some time between 1767 and 1770”.
Based on his numerous ties to the noblemen of Prague, Antonio Vivaldi makes a seven-minute appearance with a trio which gives the lute a solo role. Then it’s back to the locals, including a flute partita by František Tuma and a concluding double flute concerto by Johann Friedrich Fasch.
The second CD, recorded years before the first, has slightly brighter sound, and the violin’s a bit harsh on it, but this is not a major issue, and the sound is generally pleasing. Flautist Jana Semerádová has an especially lovely tone, expressive in its simplicity, but all the soloists are excellent. It’s worth pointing out that the booklet essay is a model of its kind and a very engaging read. This is a fascinating series and well worth investigating.