Olivier Fortin / Ensemble Masques
The Humors of Early Bassoons
The small, picturesque Austrian town of Scheibbs, three carriage hours South-East of Amstetten, was the birthplace of Johann Heinrich Schmelzer—some time around 1621. He worked his way up to become a musician at the Viennese court of Ferdinand III and Vice-Kapellmeister under Leopold I in 1671. He was made a nobleman and eventually the first native, non-Italian Holy Roman Empire’s Kapellmeister in 1679 only to die in Prague of the plague the next spring. His musical legacy includes his students Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber and Johann Joseph Fux, but also various violin sonatas.
And those—in particular the 1662 collection of Sacro-profanus concentus musicus recorded here—are very worthy (fire-) works, perhaps suitable to the “pious veneration of the saints”, but certainly highly entertaining and serving “the honest pleasure of mankind” as Schmelzer suggested. The “occasional works” that dot the recital include the animated “Fencing School Baletto” which has—appropriately enough and thanks to the Ensemble Masques—wallop enough to make most Vivaldi pale. Julien Debordes’ bassoon, in its appearance in the “Sonata on the day of the Bean Feast” adds wonderful color and humor and a hilarious whiff of insouciance (preempting Blazing Saddles by 300 years).