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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Album review: Ensemble Masques' Schmelzer-fuelled ride through the sacred and profane

By John Terauds on January 14, 2014

masques

We post-postmoderns are so concerned with categories and classifications that it’s hard to figure out what to do when all the lines are blurred — no more so than in music. So what do you do with art music that includes fart jokes?

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

The third track on the latest album by Montreal-based period-instrument Ensemble Masques, founded and led by keyboardist Olivier Fortin, is not just an aural delight from beginning to end, the music of Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (c1620-1680) provides rich rewards for the analytical listener as well.

schmelzerAnd then there are the bursts of belly-rocking laughter, such as in Al giorno delle Corregie, a musical depiction of the day when people were meant to feast on beans — with predictable results.

On my first listen, as I laughed at the bassoon outbursts in the middle of all the lovely string work,  I noticed that even my dog, used to any and all kinds of music happening live or recorded around him, was staring quizzically at the speakers every time the deep double-reed instrument added a pungent blast.

Schmelzer, who spent his adult life in the Austrian court (and felled by the plague soon after being named Emperor Leopold I’s top musician), represents one of the early authentically German voices in early Baroque music. He was a brilliant violinist, so much of what he wrote features exhilarating passages for that instrument.

Ensemble Masques has pulled together a compelling survey of Schmelzer’s writing for small ensembles, including a ballet score, the farty feast, a depiction of Polish bagpipes (with a marked drone), a touching instrumental lament on the death of Leopold’s predecessor, Emperor Ferdinand III and, the centrepiece of the album, a collection of sonatas suitable for performance both inside and outside a sacred setting.

It’s interesting how it has taken us 300 years to get back to the place where people feel comfortable mixing sacred and profane, just as it seems to have been the case in the dying embers of the vestigial Holy Roman Empire.

Fortin, working from either the portatif organ or harpsichord, leads beautifully shaped, colourfully engaging interpretations that remind us how the dancefloor was never far away from people’s consciousness, even when sitting inside a church.

The quality of the pieces and their interpretations make this a must-have album for anyone who loves or would like an introduction to early baroque music — fart jokes and all.

You’ll find more details about this album here.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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