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Sonata Norwegica
Johan Henrik FREITHOFF (1713–1767)
Trio Sonata in G major [6:48]
Sonata in G [11:19]
Georg von BERTOUCH (1668–1743)
Trio Sonata No. 8 in G major [6:26]
Trio Sonata No. 14 in G minor [9:19]
Hinrich Philip JOHNSEN (1717–1779)
Sonata in E-flat major [13:11]
Trio Sonata in D major [12:41]
Johan Daniel BERLIN (1714–1787)
Sonatina in D minor [9:48]
Caroline Eidsten Dahl (recorder)
Ensemble Freithoff
rec. 2017, Jar Church, Bærum, Norway

Nice and airy, with an attractive transparency and plenty of rhythmic punch and expressive nuance, I like a good programme of Baroque chamber music, and especially when we’re offered a collection of names that will be entirely new to most of us. My erudite colleague Johan van Veen has outlined the provenance of the composers in this recording in his review, so I’ll attempt to describe the music further.

Johan Henrik Freithoff is a good starting point, with his sunny-sounding and bouncy outer movements. There is a groovy syncopation in the first movement of the Sonata in G which is good fun for the plucked strings of Vegard Lund, and both slow movements have and attractively lyrical quality, that of the Trio Sonata in G major moving with ease between minor and major tonalities and the Adagio of the Sonata in G delivering some intriguing dissonances from the recorder. The ‘mad’ qualities of the Sonata in G are most keenly heard in the final Allegro ma non presto, but if you know some of the rhetorical character in the flute Fantasias of Freithoff’s contemporary Telemann then this won’t prove too shocking, the recorder taking on a bird-like quality in its unexpected leaps to high notes.

Georg von Bertouch has popped up on the Toccata Classics label (review) and his music is also filled with fun, particularly in the canon between violin and recorder in the first movement of the Trio Sonata No. 8 in G major. This technique is taken on into an expressive slow movement which leads into a final Andante with ground bass harmonies over which the instruments fly with considerable virtuosity. This is excellent placement against the mournful opening to the Trio Sonata No. 14 in G minor, Bertouch still relishing his contrapuntal facility while creating something “captivating and inspiring” indeed. There are some strikingly scrunchy harmonic moments in the third movement Andante of this four-movement piece, the final Vivace a romp which carries forward some of these antique but chromatic false-relationships.

Hinrich Philip Johnson’s music is full of character, but as a composer moving towards the more genteel style of Empfindsamkeit there is less excitement and more formality here, though there are some nice stresses in the melody from time to time. The booklet mentions Sturm und Drang though there’s not a great deal of Sturm going on here. The Trio Sonata in D major did however make me sit up and pay attention with its unusual mixture of the pastoral and the quietly dramatic in contrasts between echoes between the instruments and exploration of intriguing harmonic byways. This is followed by a lively Fuge alla breve and topped op by a final Vivace which bubbles like a fountain.

There is some mild shuffling in the recorded perspective between Johnson and the final Sonatine by Johan Daniel Berlin, which is a duo with descant recorder and lute. Vegard Lund’s booklet note sums Berlin up as “neither retrospective nor groundbreakingly modern”, the piece taking the form of a nicely balanced suite in five movements with familiar dances, closing with a lively Giga. This is a good vehicle for Caroline Eidsten Dahl’s superb playing, but isn’t the most musically interesting piece in the collection.

A student of Dan Laurin and others, Caroline Eidsten Dahl is a terrific soloist, and the musicians of Ensemble Freithoff are equally strong. There is a life-enhancing feeling of enjoyment in all of the performances, and the booklet has some nice photos in the spirit of paintings by Vilhelm Hammershøi. Don’t be taken in by all that peaceful atmosphere though; this recording will liven up your day no end.

Dominy Clements
Previous review: Johan van Veen

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