ACRONYM is pleased to present the first recordings here of six sonatas by Antonio Bertali, and the first recordings in their present orchestrations of several more.
|01||Sonata in d a 4 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—76)|
Sonata in d a 4 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—76)
|02||Sonata in g a 6 (CZ-KRa—A 515)|
Sonata in g a 6 (CZ-KRa—A 515)
|03||Sonata in d a 6 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—100)|
Sonata in d a 6 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—100)
|04||Sonata in g a 5 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—90)|
Sonata in g a 5 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—90)
|05||Sonata in d a 2 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—51)|
Sonata in d a 2 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—51)
|06||Sonata in d a 3 (S-Uu—13:7; D-brd-Kl—ms. mus. 60)|
Sonata in d a 3 (S-Uu—13:7; D-brd-Kl—ms. mus. 60)
|07||Sonata in G a 2 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—38)|
Sonata in G a 2 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—38)
|08||Sonata in d a 6 (CZ-KRa—A 561; D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—98)|
Sonata in d a 6 (CZ-KRa—A 561; D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—98)
|09||Sonata in G a 8 (D-brd-Kl—ms. mus. 98)|
Sonata in G a 8 (D-brd-Kl—ms. mus. 98)
|10||Sonata in C a 8 (CZ-KRa—A 584; CZ-KRa—A 502)|
Sonata in C a 8 (CZ-KRa—A 584; CZ-KRa—A 502)
|11||Sonata in e a 6 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—101)|
Sonata in e a 6 (D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—101)
|12||Sonata in a a 8 (CZ-Kra—A 549; D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—107)|
Sonata in a a 8 (CZ-Kra—A 549; D-W Cod. Guelf. 34.7 Aug. 2—107)
|13||Sonata in d a 6 (CZ-KRa—A 515)|
Sonata in d a 6 (CZ-KRa—A 515)
Antonio Bertali was born in 1605 in Verona. In 1624 he moved to Vienna, where he was hired as a violinist and composer at the Habsburg Court and eventually served as Supremus Musices Praefectus of the Imperial orchestra. Following the death of Giovanni Valentini in 1649, King Ferdinand III appointed Bertali Kappellmeister—then the highest musical position in German-speaking lands—a post which he held until his death in 1669. Bertali was a prolific composer of both sacred and secular music, ranging from oratorios and operas to instrumental sonatas, but few of his works were published and almost none survive. Nearly all of Bertali’s extant instrumental compositions (including twelve of the thirteen found in this recording) come from manuscript copies now located in libraries in Kromeriz, Uppsala, or Wolfenbüttel. Several pieces have concordant copies in more than one location, with slightly varying notes, rhythms, and instrumentations (e.g., trombones or bassoons replacing viols).
CD Release: Church of St. Luke in the Fields (West Village): Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, 8pm. (We’ll be playing the entire disc as well as one or two Pezel sonatas.)
Baroque string ensemble ACRONYM is dedicated to giving modern premieres of the wild instrumental music of the seventeenth century. The group formed in 2012 to create the first recording of the "Alphabet Sonatas" of Johann Pezel. ACRONYM's following disc, sonatas by Antonio Bertali, was released in 2014 to critical acclaim; Alex Ross selected it as a CD pick, and Early Music America Magazine wrote "the idiomatic performances and spacious recording by these young musicians are absolutely first rate. This is a disc ... belonging in everyone's collection." In 2015 ACRONYM released a third album—the first recordings of Giovanni Valentini's instrumental works—which was praised in Gramophone for being "played with expertise, enthusiasm, and an almost tactile sense of timbre." In 2016 ACRONYM released its fourth album: Wunderkammer. Upcoming projects include the first recording of Samuel Capricornus's monumental "Jubilus Bernhardi" with the Bach Choir of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.
Antonio Bertali (1605-1669) is one of those 17th-century musical figures who hover just at the edge of visibility, often present in anthologies of music from the period (his “Taussent Gulden” sonata appeared on the very first recording by Musica Antiqua Köln, almost 40 years ago), but who are not frequently the subject of an entire program or disc. Acronym (Albino-squirrel Consort Radiating from Oberlin via New York, Mostly) seems to have an admirably completist bent, since the group was formed in order to record the Opus musicum sonatarum (or “alphabet” sonatas) of Johann Pezel (also issued on Olde Focus). Similarly laudable is the fact that the ensemble seems to be sans director, a good trick for an ensemble numbering a dozen musicians (and they have a sense of humor—visit their webpage and see).
Bertali was born and raised in Verona, but headed northward to Mitteleuropa to make his fortune working for the Hapsburgs at the Imperial court in Vienna, so that most of his surviving works are handed down in manuscript copies held in Czech and German libraries (he had only two collections published, neither in Italy). Six of the 13 sonatas on this well-filled disc are first recordings. The music is rich, indrawing, and deep without being abstruse, and the idiomatic performances and spacious recording by these young musicians are absolutely first-rate. This is a disc that would have been on Archiv, Reflexe, or Oiseau-Lyre back in the day, something belonging in everyone’s collection. Here’s hoping that the ensemble continues with many future projects (they promise Capricornus and Rosenmüller), but in the meantime, be sure to snap this one up.
Anyone who knows me or is regular reader of these pages will be well acquainted with my partiality for music from 17th-century Vienna, so it will come as no surprise that I love this recording. In fact, I had no idea the CD existed, but I had spent many evenings a few months ago watching Acronym’s live performances on youtube. They tackle everything from sonatas for two soloists (either two violins or violin and gamba) to the three works in eight parts. The latter include what is effectively a prototype concerto grosso (and look out for the harmonies when the tutti group join in), a sonatas for two choirs with solo violin and gamba and two ‘filler’ parts (no disrespect to the performers!), and a proper eight-voiced sonata, which is recorded here for the first time. Precise playing and clever positioning of the two treble groups on either side of the bass instruments ensures that all of the lines are clearly audible and the sophistication of Bertali’s fine part-writing comes through, without that ever distracting from the sense of overall shape, of which he was a master. As well as the links below, the album is downloadable (along with a PDF of the booklet note, which details the performers and all the musical sources used) from the recording company’s website; their about page makes for very interesting reading, and musicians with a plan might consider getting involved with them. I’m glad Acronym did and I wholeheartedly recommend this CD to everyone! -Brian Clark
For audiences and performers, baroque music is a kind of infinite bottom drawer. Just when you think that you’ve got to the end of it, a composer who was once a modest footnote is appearing on the scene calling out from some murky music library collection to be resurrected. Lost masterworks keep emerging, and not only do they give scholars material to plum the depths of, but they also provide performers fresh works to explore.
Antonio Bertali (1605-1669) was an Italian composer of both sacred and secular music. Despite being fairly recognised in his day, few of his works were published and almost none survived. This is a real shame as he might have been regarded alongside the likes of Monteverdi, Lully, Bach and Vivaldi if it had.
Bertali’s compositions are a stylistically linked to many other northern Italian composers of the time, and include operas, oratorios, a large number of liturgical works, and some chamber music. He is best known for his “Chaconne” or “Ciaccona,” as well as his contribution to the Italian Opera Seria tradition in Vienna.
Interestingly nearly all of Bertali’s instrumental works exist in more than one location, and are spread amongst dusty archives across Europe. I suppose we can thank the many khaki-clad Indiana Jones types for uncovering these obscure baroque gems, as they are fine examples of the style.
ACRONYM (Albino-squirrel Consort Radiating from Oberlin via New York, Mostly) are a fresh new period ensemble devoted to providing contemporary premieres of ancient works. After realising they were on to something, they wasted little time getting down to business and began recording on the Olde Focus Recordings label in 2012.
On the whole, Bertali’s thirteen Sonatas are in good hands on this disc. They play each sonata with a tangible sense of individualism and thoughtful purpose. Most importantly, one can hear that they are enjoying the works as much as I enjoyed listening to them. I was particularly taken with Sonata in G a 3, which builds slowly into an absolutely ethereal melodic interplay between the strings.
Focusing on the development of three musical lines, this is music of conversation, and it effortlessly portrays a raw tonality illustrated in the baroque sonata form. The music has a restless energy that drives everything before it, and then pauses for exquisite contemplation. The balance within the ensemble is well placed, and the distinct baroque sonority comes through loud and clear.
Born in Verona, composer Antonio Bertali (1605-69) spent most of his life in Vienna at the Habsburg Court first as a musician (1624-1649) and then as Kapellmeister (1649-69, succeeding Valentini). Although Bertali was very prolific and wrote operas, sacred, and secular music, very little was published and almost none survives. These pieces are from manuscript sources in the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Germany.
The sonatas here range from two parts to eight parts, and the program is nicely sequenced so that the "smallest" ones (that is, with the fewest number of parts) are in the center, in tracks 5, 6, and 7. The program opens with a grand D-minor Sonata in passacaglia form. The ground bass is rich and warm, and the melody lines -- sometimes dissonant and astringent against the bass -- create a most expressive beauty. Solemnity gives way to lively momentum in the dance-like rhythms and stomping swagger of the third track (another D-minor sonata). This leads to the delicate and intricate two and three-part sonatas, and the final six sonatas are all for six or eight parts.
This is noble and glorious music. The 11 players of Acronym play with the imaginative variety of touch, flow, volume, tuning, and phrasing that this music demands. In the course of one sonata (for example, the final piece in the program) passages for solo declamatory violin over long gamba notes give way to the full ensemble texture, and then we hear a distant echo effect of violin and organ. Because all the instruments are strings (with organ in a few places) the players can do a lot with temperament that wouldn't work if they had wind players among them. Pure intervals can be particularly sweet, and dissonances particularly sour, enriching the harmonic and melodic vocabulary.
In the very brief liner notes we learn that 6 of the 13 sonatas here are first recordings (though not which six) and that several more sonatas are first recordings "in their present orchestrations". The implication is that Acronym has edited the music, and it's noted that scores and parts are available on their website (though not when I checked in late April 2014). Acronym is a new ensemble, founded in 2012. Many of its members are alumni of the Oberlin College Conservatory, where this recording was made.
These pieces are very strong, and I encourage you to listen to two other Bertali sonata recordings that have been praised by my colleagues so that you can enjoy exploring different interpretations. Steven Ritter liked the Venetian poly-choral approach by Musica Fiata, with brass, winds, strings, and organ (CPO 999545, J/F 1999), and Ardella Crawford liked the one by Freiburg Baroque, using strings and continuo (Carus 83303, M/A 2002). Both writers hope for more Bertali, especially desirous of choral music, but it appears that we'll all have to wait until it's discovered. May fine performers such as Acronym be effective in their quest.
Antonio Bertali was born in Verona, but spent the majority of his professional life in the service of the Habsburg court in Vienna, rising to the rank of Supremus Musices Praefectus and Kapellmeister. Clearly, he was a musician and composer of significant status in the early Baroque, but his light burns dimly these days. His music is not totally forgotten -- Arkiv Music lists over 30 recordings which include at least one of his works -- but it is fair to say that of the plethora of Italian Baroque composers, his name ranks well down the recognition scale.
I first encountered his music, and indeed, first gained an appreciation for early Baroque chamber music, on the outstanding Naxos release Das Partiturbuch. Six of the sonatas presented here are first recordings, which makes this immediately valuable. There isn't a great variation in mood and tempo between the works, but the order seems to have been chosen to provide as much variety as possible. If you like this style of music, these are stylish and interesting examples of the genre.
The eleven-strong ACRONYM ensemble -- the letters do actually spell out something meaningful in relation to the group -- is strings and organ only, and was formed in 2012 by a group of mostly young musicians, a number of whom attended Oberlin College in Ohio, where this was recorded. They play according to historically informed practice and without vibrato.
The only comparison with other recordings I have is the Sonata a 4 in d, which opens this recording and is also on the Naxos release mentioned above. In a work of around 10 minutes, ACRONYM takes more than 30 seconds longer than Echo du Danube on Naxos, and the slower tempo is unfortunately not beneficial. I feel that all the pieces would benefit with more drama and impetus. There are also some unfortunate lapses in intonation, emphasised by the lack of vibrato, and I found myself wincing on occasions.
The booklet notes are minimal; there is almost as much space dedicated to thanking Oberlin College for the donation of the facilities as there is on the composer. Mind you, I'm not sure how much extant information there is on Bertali.
I would have liked to be more complimentary, as this is a valuable release, and I look forward to the recording of works by Samuel Capricornus (one of the real standouts on Das Partiturbuch), mentioned as a future project in the booklet. Hopefully, by then, some of the performance problems may have been sorted out.