Les Witches – Musical Europe at the Court of Christian IV

Alpha’s reissue series continues with this landmark 2008 recording from Les Witches. The recording was built around a program of music that would have been heard by Danish king Christian IV around 1600. Christian IV was a patron of the arts, and his home Konge Af Denmark became a cultural center for Scandinavia.

Les Witches recorded this album with the Esaias Compenius organ of Frederiksborg Castle. Virtually unchanged since it was installed in 1617, the Compenius organ retains its original tuning and voicing. Using the organ brought an additional level of authenticity to Les Witches’ performances, and changed the dynamics of those performances.

As the musicians explain in the liner notes, the organ was so versatile they didn’t have to use a harpsichord to vary the ensemble’s texture. And they found that their own instruments blended quite well with this centuries-old instrument.

The program is music from the court (or at least time) of Christian IV, and the performances hold up quite well. At times one can hear the bellows of the organ creaking in the background, and sometimes in soft passages the action’s audible. But for me, that just adds to the performance. Those noises were most likely there in the 1600s, and audiences ignored them as we do HVAC systems in modern venues.

When this album was first released, the music may have seemed a little exotic. While composers such as Mogens Pederson and Melchior Borchgrevinck remain obscure, others like Tobias Hume and Samuel Scheidt have enjoyed more frequent performances in the early music world.

The playing is enthusiastic, and the ensemble sound has a rough-hewn quality about it. That’s not due to imprecise playing — rather, it’s the sound of early music instruments being pushed to their limits by the enthusiastic players. Konge af Denmark is great fun, and I”m glad it’s available once again.

Konge af Danmark
Musical Europe at the Court of Christian IV
Les Witche
Alpha Classics 323

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