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Classical - Released June 18, 2009 | Arcana

Not too long ago, musicologists treated the seventeenth century as a period where instrumental music barely existed, as though there wasn't anything really noteworthy in terms of instrumental music before Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi apart from early English keyboard music. The revival of interest in Heinrich von Biber beginning in the 1960s brought about a revolution in that regard, and by the opening of the twenty first century the names of figures such as Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Giovanni Felice Sances, and Johann Kasper Kerll are reasonably familiar ones to those who follow music of the early Baroque. Considerably less well known is that of Antonio Bertali, a musician in the Viennese royal chapel from the 1620s and, from 1649 until his death in 1669, served as kapellmeister in the Viennese court. In Arcana's Antonio Bertali: Prothima Suavissima Parte Seconda, Gunar Letzbor leads the Ars Antiqua Austria -- a group that has notably distinguished itself through recordings such as the superb Challenge Classics issue of Viennese lute concertos by Von Radolt -- though the posthumous 1672 print indicated in the title in its entirety. There is some measure of controversy as to who composed the 12 sonatas in this volume; in 1671, composer Samuel Capricornus printed a collection entitled Continuation der neuen wohl angestimten Taffelmusic, which duplicates six of these sonatas exactly, raising the issue of whether Capricornus -- a student and follower of Bertali -- "borrowed" these six sonatas from his then-departed master for his own publication or that the publisher might have used the Capricornus works to fill out a more commercially viable Bertali print. However, in listening one notes absolute unanimity of style between all 12 sonatas, and it is a solidly persuasive, elegant style as well. Compared to Biber, Bertali is not nearly as weird or experimental, but there are exploratory harmonic devices in use and plenty of the elements of surprise present for those already attuned to the early Baroque. Letzbor and the Ars Antiqua Austria make an excellent case for this mega-obscure music; some of the sonatas have appeared before on a Carus Verlag disc by the Freiburger Barockorchester Consort, but only there. The interpretations are smooth, yet lively, and fall easily on the ear without compromising Bertali's more challenging concepts, and Arcana's recording is pleasantly three-dimensional and present. © TiVo