Johann Heinrich Schmelzer has enjoyed a considerable revival of fortunes since Romanesca's trailblazing recording of his music for Harmonia Mundi in 1996; although at least one critic since has referred to Schmelzer as "pretty ensconced on the list of obscure composers," the extent to which Schmelzer has been recorded and adopted by violinists since 2000 doesn't bear that out. Hélène Schmitt, after a fashion, serves as Alpha Productions' in-house Baroque violinist and, apart from Uccelini, has generally avoided recording the same material that Manze has put his nimble fingers to. In the case of Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Sonatae a violino solo, she does so mostly by virtue of recording new discoveries in Schmelzer's worklist, though it does also include the now familiar sonatas Quarta and Quinta from the Sonatae unarum fidium. Here, Schmitt is joined by a crack continuo group consisting of violone player Jan Krigovsky, theorbist Stephan Rath, and Jorg-Andreas Bötticher, who opts for a Clavierorganum rather than an organetto or harpsichord to fill out the continuo.
The A minor and B flat major sonatas and the Sonatina in G minor are all "new," located in manuscript at the British Library and recorded for the first time here. The Gigue dite Pfefferstossl (Pepper Mill Jig) is found in two manuscripts at Klagenfurt and Vienna, respectively, with the A major Ciaccona in Vienna alone; neither of these appear to have been recorded either. Among many virtues that can be singled out among these previously unknown works, the B flat major sonata includes a striking "Fantaisie sur une basse Obstinée," a movement where the violin spins out an ever increasingly complex set of variations of a ground bass that's constantly rising upward. Along the way we are treated to a theorbo sonata by Giovanni Pittoni and Toccata by Wolfgang Ebner; now there are a couple of names that are "ensconced on the list of obscure composers!" In the context of the ensemble works, the Clavierorganum works well and adds a considerable amount of color to Schmelzer's Sonata Quarta, but it is hard to get used to the sound of it in Ebner's Toccata -- it almost resembles one of those electronic keyboard settings that combines the sound of two instruments.
Comparisons from Schmitt to Manze in this literature are hard to avoid, especially as the choice of continuo is so similar. One aspect of Alpha Productions' Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Sonatae a violino solo that decidedly does not work in Schmitt's favor is that the performance of the Sonata Quinta is paced a bit too broadly, resulting in an effect that comes off as rather routine. The new discoveries are all quite compelling, however, and the Sonata Quarta is at least comparable to that by Romanesca; Bötticher's employment of the Clavierorganum turned out, in the end, to be a good strategy.