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Founded a decade ago, Passamezzo Moderno is a group that specialises in virtuoso instrumental music of the 17th century. Two violins, dulcian, harpsichord or organ comprise its nucleus but for this recording a viola da gamba and theorbo are incorporated.

The focal point of the programme consists of music by Johann Michael Nicolai. Like the Bachs, Nicolai was a Thuringian but in the mid-1650s he moved south to Stuttgart where he was employed as an instrumentalist in the court orchestra until his death in 1685. His first collection of instrumental pieces was issued in Augsburg in 1675 and consists of 12 sonatas for two violins, a solo bass instrument and basso continuo. Seven of them feature here, interspersed with similarly scored pieces by his contemporaries Antonio Bertali, Matthias Weckmann, Biagio Marini and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer.

Apart from the virtuosic element in the writing perhaps the striking feature of Nicolai’s Sonatas is the manner in which the bass instrument hops about between providing a genuine third voice partnership with the two violins and functioning within the stricter discipline of continuo bass. Of the chosen sonatas from the collection, two call for viola da gamba in the bass the other four for dulcian (early one-piece bassoon). Passamezzo Moderno invigorates Nicolai’s music with incisive and idiomatic period instrument playing. There is plenty of formal variety and expressive charm in the writing and the inclusion of pieces by other composers provide further pleasing diversity.

Nicholas Anderson Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing