This is the sort of ‘spicy’ that doesn’t interfere with polite dinner conversation. Les Passions de l’Âme, the Swiss early music group comprising members of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and other illustrious ensembles, have put together a charming program of 17th-century Austrian music that was, thematically at least, a little out of the ordinary during its time. The three composers use the violin to tell stories about life and nature, while exploring its mimetic and technical capabilities.
Biber’s Sonata Representativa is the best known here; Meret Lüthi’s sweet-toned solo imitates a clucking hen and a yowling cat with double stopping, tuning and pitch effects. Biber himself was a virtuoso violinist and one really feels the brilliant sense of play and curiosity (which, in this case, didn’t seem to kill the cat).
The violin transforms into a sword for Schmelzer’s balletto Die Fechtschule or The Fencing School, in which stately dance forms are given zest as the agile solo part weaves, lunges and attacks.
Composers cross swords in Schmelzer’s Battle Against the Turks, based on one of Biber’s Mystery Sonatas. It’s the most ‘exotic’ moment on the album: irresistible tambourine and darabuka percussion (especially in the syncopated Posta turcica), oriental scales and trills, rustic-sounding open-string tuning, not to mention delicate ripples of dulcimer that float over the lively battle music.