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GRAMOPHONE (04/2024)
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Challenge Classics

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Reviewer :
Mark Seow

For someone who had never even heard of Johann Schenck, two discs totalling almost two hours of his music is an unexpected surprise. Little is known of the Amsterdamborn composer. His Op 2, 15 fiddly sonatas for the viola da gamba, was printed by Estienne Roger in 1688 as Tyd en konstoeffeningen (‘Time and Art-Offering’). Hot on the heels of Marin Marais’s Pièces de viole (Book 1) of 1686, then, Schenck was composing in the golden age of the gamba. Here with his Op 9 we’re gifted with a similarly poetic title. L’écho du Danube originates from 1703-04, and the collection was posthumously reprinted in Paris in 1745 – a sure sign of its quality.


There is much to admire in these performances. Gambist Sofia Diniz presents these sonatas with grace and generosity of sound. There’s an enticing liveliness to her articulation. What I find most attractive is the unprecious way Diniz manoeuvres extremely complex figuration, rarely resorting to rubato: sure, there might be a duff note here and there, but in the large sway of things, it is entirely compelling. In the Sonata No 5, a solo for viola da gamba, she’s left exquisitely exposed. Diniz garners this solo texture into something more: it’s loneliness and, perhaps, regret. There’s nostalgia, too, but Diniz conveys an extraordinary sense of the present: she’s mixing lilac-hued memories with pain in the here and now, and it’s captivating. In the Aria Largo, her poetry is infused with the subtle pulse of dance, and the discreet ornamentation provides enjoyable tactility to repeated sections.


Diniz’s colleagues provide almost always excellent support. The tutti sound conjured in, for example, the final Allegro of Sonata No 1 is surprisingly rich. It’s a sonority not only generated by the fact of two violas da gamba and harpsichord playing together, but also in the way the instrumentalists give each other time to breathe and resonate.

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