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Fantasticus: Extravagant and Virtuosic Music of the German Seventeenth Century (Weckmann, Bertali, Kerll, Buxtehude, Schmelzer, Vierdanck, Oswald, Anon.)

Unlike German and Italian music of the late Baroque, which continues to be a staple of the orchestral and choral repertoire, the music of the 17th century—a terrible time for central Europe and especially Germany—oscillates in and out of fashion in the early-music world. Musica Antiqua Köln (1973-2007) burst onto the scene with two discs of then-unknown German repertoire, especially the disc for EMI in 1977, which contains the Polish Bagpipes of Johann Heinrich Schmelzer that also is included on this second release from Quicksilver. To its credit, the ensemble seems to be focusing exclusively on the 17th century. Robert Mealy and Julie Andrijeski, the leaders, have extensive experience and have made impressive contributions to the scene (most recently leading the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra this past June). Giving the ensemble a distinctly Northern sound on many of the selections are the trombone and dulcian, both essentially holdovers from 16th-century religious music. The composers represented include figures from both Protestant cities (Matthias Weckmann from Hamburg, Dietrich Buxtehude from Lübeck) and Catholic ones (Antonio Bertali from Vienna, Johann Caspar Kerll, active in Vienna and Munich). The well-filled disc (almost eighty minutes) has quite a variety of manners. My only quibble with the programming is that this is a particular dour type of fantasy, with plenty of counterpoint (imagine a wizard burning the midnight oil over his potion book), lots of minor tonalities, and not much in the way of light and airy sprites (the closest thing to a dance is the anonymous chaconne). A good example of the darkness is the quartet sonata that opens the disc, with fugal entries from dulcian, trombone, and violin. The recorded sound also might have been closer to the strings, and is perhaps too dry for this repertoire. As it is, neither strings nor winds really have a full and flattering sound.
—Tom Moore

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