Antonio Bertali (1605-1669) was an extremely talented and inventive pioneer of baroque instrumental music. Helped by his position as kapellmeister at the Viennese Imperial court, his work exerted a considerable influence on the development of European instrumental music well beyond his native Italy - an influence seen in the works of Biber, Schmelzer, Muffat and other distinguished composers of the central European school that developed around that time.
There have been a number of fine CD collections of Bertali's works, but this present one from the excellent period-instrument ensemble Le Concert Brisé is one of the loveliest I have heard. Most of the works here are multi-section sonatas scored for a small group of instruments, but there's also a beautiful Ciaconna which I'll return to in a moment. The ensemble's instruments here consist of violin, sackbut, dulcian, harpsichord, organ, archlute - and, very importantly, the cornetto of their director William Dongois. Fielding varying combinations for the different pieces, they produce an attractive variety of instrumental sonorities - all the more so since all these musicians perform superbly, both individually and in concert. Bertali's music brings many delights, including that splendid Ciaconna (track 3), a lovely example of the genre which has often featured in other collections on CD. Here it's scored for violin and harpsichord, quite beautifully, delicately and stylishly played, and altogether this is an absolute delight.
Among other very lovely works are the Sonata a due violini e gamba (4), and another Sonata a due violini (6), the two upper parts here taken as an enthralling dialogue between violin and cornetto - this is music of real feeling, and performed as such. The following Sonata (7) brings another catchy melody, and the next (8), for cornett and organ, allows William Dongois to demonstrate his well-known virtuosity on the cornetto to thrilling effect. The final work, Sonata a quattro in D minor (9), is characterised by imagination, energy, variety and melodic grace, ending in a lovely Passacaglia.
It all adds up to a fascinating and delightful programme, greatly enhanced by the group's spirited and spontaneous approach to music-making and by Dongois' stylish, imaginative direction as well as wizardry on his own instrument. Anne Schumann's fabulous violin playing, in the Ciaconna and elsewhere, also deserves special mention. Recorded sound is excellent, beautifully capturing the subtleties of the period instruments. The director's own CD booklet notes are extremely helpful and benefit from an excellent English translation. Le Concert Brisé have already brought us a number of very fine baroque recordings, such as Cantatas & Sonatas,Pandolfi,Venetian Art 1600, and in all of these they are singularly successful in conveying the emotional content as well as the sound and style of the music. I hope we'll be hearing plenty more from them.