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GRAMOPHONE (07/2017)
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Reviewer: Charlotte Gardner

Given how rare it is to find a centuries-old instrumental work to be really, genuinely funny, it’s tempting to take Schabernack’s cover promise of ‘a treasure trove of musical jokes’ with a pinch of salt. However, Meret Lüthi is remarkably gifted at delivering what she’s outlined on the tin, as her ensemble’s ‘exotic violin music’ debut disc revealed so enjoyably (12/13). So, while the schabernacks or ‘pranks’ here won’t quite have you guffawing, it’s certainly all delivered with a merry wink I’m finding impossible to tire of, whether the music is referencing stock commedia dell’arte characters, imitating birdcalls or simply providing a backdrop to madcap festivities.

As a result, while sheer rarity value is undeniably one of this disc’s draws given that much of its music exists only in manuscript form, the more-recorded repertoire is equally rewarding thanks to Lüthi’s playful teasings-out of jokes missed by other fine baroque bands. Take her delicious upwardsscooping portamento tickles in the Presto of Biber’s Battalia a 10, for instance. This particular battalia also serves to illustrate the degree of clever storytelling happening across the programme; note how robust martial thwack is eschewed in the ‘Der Mars’ movement in favour of something far more reined-in and elegant, meaning that when the stops are pulled out for ‘Die Schlacht’ we’re being offered something new. Likewise, Fux’s sweet little Pour le coucou (with nose flute in the title-role) opens not with all hands on deck but with the delicate pluckings of dulcimer and theorbo, so when the rest of the band do swing in they bring an instant lift.

Indeed, nose flutes, rattle belts, knives, bowls and other crazy percussion notwithstanding, ‘Schabernack’ is as much about beauty and delicacy as it is about humour and surprise, and those two sides join together perhaps most wonderfully in Schmelzer’s Sonata Cu Cu, when Lüthi’s exquisite cuckoo-call bariolage sounds over a gentle wash of percussion colour. All in all, great stuff.


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