Review by Colin Clarke
JOHANN KRIEGER Sechs musicalische Partien. Fantasia è Partita in C, Preludio in d. Menuets: in G; in a. Bourée: in G; in a. Gavotte in G. Anmuthige Clavier-Übung: Fantasia in d; Praeludium in g; Praeludium in e; Passacaglia in d • Tatjana Vorobjova (hpd) • MDG 921 2204 (SACD: 77:06)
Let’s get the bit out of the way which usually comes up around composers with similar names. This is Johann Krieger (1652–1735), not his brother Johann Philipp Krieger (1649–1725). Johann’s keyboard works are known to have been respected by Handel.
The record label Brilliant Classics brought out Johann Krieger’s complete keyboard output over two discs recently, performed by Alejandro Casal (review in Fanfare 44:4). Here’s another offering, but a one-disc selection mainly taken from the Sechs musicalische Partien (1697, also the album title) and the Anmuthige Clavier-Übung (1698). The instrument used on this Dabringhaus release is a double manual harpsichord after a Rückers ravalement by Titus Crijnen, 2004, including a lute stop. The setup of the stops, tuning, and intonation is by Rainer Sprung after Werckmeister. He has done a tremendous job; this is clearly a very fine instrument caught in a beautiful SACD recording at the Konzertsaal Abtei Marienmünster.
The writing is frequently in two or three parts, which leaves plenty of space for ornamentation, an aspect positively reveled in by Vorobjova. The Dabringhaus release opts not to number the partitas (the Casel did) and so, after a Praeludium in D Minor that owes much to Froberger’s extravagant and fluent style, we begin with the D-Minor Partita. The Partitas all begin with an Allemande, with Vorobjova offering a more variegated, ornamented surface than Casal. Both harpsichordists are closely recorded, but there is just a bit more space around Vorobjova. Perhaps Casal is a trifle more gallant than Vorobjova in the Corrente. I like Vorobjova’s use of stops in the Sarabande, muting the repetitions; plus, Casal plods more here: His dance is decidedly more stilted. Casal does offer just a touch more life to the final Gigue, though it is a close-run thing, and my preference overall is with Vorobjova.
The Fantasia of the Fantasia è Partita in C is gloriously active in Vorobjova’s hands (she also demonstrates a wonderfully even left-hand trill); her awareness of gesture, too, is superb and enlivens the surface no end. And fine though Casal might sound on his own terms, he appears even rather pedestrian in comparison with Vorobjova, who makes the music leap off the page. It’s fascinating how Vorobjova relates the gestures of the Fantasia to the lines of the ensuing Allemande as well. This is music-making of insight, as is the fact that, in the Partita in F Major, she incorporates the figuration of the Double into the repeats as a variant. The Sarabande from this Fantasia è Partita is magnificent in Vorobjova’s reading, leading to a positively sparkling Gigue. Casal again feels pedestrian in the Sarabande in comparison, although in fairness his Gigue offers an influx of welcome energy.
Both Vorobjova and Casal separate the partitas with series of smaller, stand-alone works. The G-Major Menuet is a case in point, less than a minute long, a perfectly formed bonbon in Vorobjova’s hands. Differences again sway towards Vorobjova in the Menuet in G Major, the Bourée in G Major and the Gavotte in G Major. Both are loud and generally fast, but where Casal is relentless, Vorobjova is joyous. Despite the Casal offering full two discs of music by Krieger, it is to Vorobjova I would head for a finer musical experience; her recording is fuller and more involving also, while her playing is consistently more enlightening and imaginative.
The Partita in F follows the general pattern of a suite’s dance movements but adds a Menuet after the Gigue (the latter is normally the last movement). In Vorobjova’s interpretation this comes off as an inspired compositional feint: she presents the Gigue as a blaze of celebrational white light, with the Menuet as a sort of musical equivalent of the glow one gets post-prandially after a good meal. Casal’s Gigue is almost dour in comparison, and while I like the stop she uses for the Menuet, it loses its structural force here.
The open-air key of G Major finds Vorobjova in fine form in that partita, the Corrente a thing of irrepressible joy, with ornaments as fresh as can be. While Casal finds some life here, listening to Vorobjova is like looking at a newly restored painting. Vorobjova is able to add an extra layer of pathos to the touching Sarabande of this partita. Again in this partita a movement is found after the Gigue, and again it is a Menuet. Vorobjova makes perfect interpretative sense of it, the busy carillon of the Gigue a perfect foil for the simple nobility of the Menuet. I wish Casal’s Gigue danced more; it is just a little leaden, and again a more jaunty approach would have heightened the effectiveness of that final Menuet (here rather literal in its delivery).
While A Major might seem like an open, happy key, Vorobjova’s Allemande to the A-Major Partita is anything but; splendidly pensive, she invites us to reflection. Casal is rhythmically less even, so the musical surface sounds rather unsure of itself. The Gigue of this partita is actually marked Presto, and we get a real sense of velocity with Vorobjova (in fairness, Casal has a fair amount of vim here too, lest it be thought I am too unrelentingly harsh on him). Fascinating, too, is how much pathos there is the minor-key pieces. They may only last a minute (or less), but they certainly make a mark.
By this time it is no secret where my allegiances lie, and that preference for Vorobjova is confirmed by the final partita, which contains a Sarabande with two Doubles followed by Variatio I–III. There is an increased complexity here that Vorobjova seems particularly to enjoy. The Doubles seem self-propelled by their own inquisitive nature; the set of variations arrives on the scene in a blaze of white light, ready for anything. My only regret is that there are not more variations; instead, a robust Gigue swagers in prior to a final Rondeau of some sophistication. Finally, there is a Passacaglia in D Minor to balance out the very first piece we heard (which had also been in D Minor), grand and dignified.
Just one final comparison is in order, this time with Markus Märkl, harpsichordist with CordArte on the Pan Classics release Mein Herz ist Bereit (the disc itself is a showcase for bass Peter Kooij; the Krieger comes in the manner of an interlude). This is a fine performance, of equivalent joy to Vorobjova’s of the Fantasia from the Fantasia è Partita in C Major; sadly for Märkl, however, Vorobjova’s recording is superior, with Märkl’s instrument sounding rather anemic in comparison.
Latvian harpsichordist Tatjana Vorobjova seems the perfect interpreter for this music. She has studied in Latvia, in Oslo, Cologne, and Brussels, and is currently based in Cologne. She has previously recorded concertos by J. C. Bach and Mozart, plus a solo disc, Cembalo Cantabile; neither has been reviewed by Fanfare, unfortunately. But her sense of imagination, her mission to invigorate the harpsichord and its repertory, seems both entirely laudable in thought and completely successful in deed. It feels early to be thinking about next year’s Want List, having just submitted mine for the past year, but….
The fine booklet notes are by Matthias Schneider (although a stray German word, “oder,” ends up in the middle of a sentence in the first paragraph in the English notes—surely the proofreader’s issue, not the author’s). A full 77 minutes of music is here, and I could have listened to another 77 happily. This is a glorious release, and all credit to Vorobjova and her unending enthusiasm. Colin Clarke