Le Concert Brisé Offer Mellow Performances of Schmelzer Sonatas

There’s something about the sound of a cornett I find very soothing. It’s even mellower than the flugelhorn. And when played by William Dongois, it can sound as smooth as melted caramel. And, in this case, that’s all to the good.

This release features a selection of works by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. Schmelzer (c.1623-1680) was a contemporary of Froberger and enjoyed considerable success during his lifetime. He provides a link between the Venetian style of the 1600s and what would become the Northern German style of Bach.

By some accounts, Schmelzer began his career as a cornettist, then transitioned to the violin. The sonatas on this release could be performed by either instrument in the solo role. Dongois and Le Concert Brisé mostly choose the cornette. It’s a wise choice for the sacred works, such as the Sonata seconda. The combination of cornette and organ is a warm blend that invites spiritual contemplation.

The organ is voiced in the Italian style, with mean-tone temperament. It gives the chords an added richness.

Although Schmelzer wrote for the two interchangeably, there is a definite change in character when the violin takes center stage. Structurally, Sonata No. 5 is similar to the Sonata Seconda. But the violin commands more of the listener’s immediate attention. The heavily ornamented melodies seem to flow like a mountain stream when played by the cornette. With the violin, they seem rather busy.

That’s no fault of the performer. Alice Julien-Laferrière plays with a well-rounded tone, even in the upper register. Her articulation is clean and accurate.

Overall, this is an excellent collection of music by an important — albeit now relatively obscure — composer.

Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Sonatas
Le Concert Brisé; William Dongois, cornett and conductor

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