Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Early Instruments at Resonanzen In Wien

For those of you who aren't in the know (as I wasn't until recently), there is an early music festival in January of each year entitled Resonanzen, which is held in the Wiener Konzerthaus, which is (obviously) in Vienna, Austria. Now in its twentieth year, this year's festival boasts an impressive lineup, including such celebrated ensembles as Europa Galante, Concerto Italiano, and my personal favourite, Le Concert des Nations. Not to mention the many renowned soloists, and various associated films; the complete program for the festival can be found here (at least for the next couple of weeks).

But I digress. As much as I would have liked to be, I was not there to listen to the festival's marvelous offerings on the occasion, but rather to attend the historical instruments exhibition that has become a regular feature of its opening weekend. I myself was looking particularly for an early baroque alto recorder and a high baroque soprano recorder, but I made sure to try out various wares from all the makers represented (excepting the big brands such as Mollenhauer and Moeck), and to take lots of photos for your viewing pleasure. So, in the spirit of musical inquiry, here are my findings!

The maker with whom I spent the most time was the only Frenchman represented, Monsieur Philippe Bolton, a lovely gentleman who was very generous with his time, and very forthcoming with his thoughts on recorder styles and building techniques. The recorders you can see at the front of his collection were of particular interest; the sopranos are modelled from a mid-seventeenth-century extant instrument in Edinburgh, made by an Englishman-turned-Dutchman, Richard Haka. The altos behind them are an enlarged version of the same basic design. Philippe believes Haka created this instrument to match the visual style of older instruments he discovered after moving to Holland, as it does appear closer to many late-renaissance instruments, though the sound, in my opinion, has the brilliance and sweetness typical of early baroque recorders. I spent substantial time testing the alto, and found it to be very capable in all registers, with greater evenness of volume and tone than the more typical Ganassi instruments. The only small issue on the alto model is the greater stretch required of the little finger, because the instrument is slightly narrower and therefore longer than most. However, for my larger hand size this actually proved to be an added incentive. I will certainly be ordering one of these for myself when I am able.

For those interested in more 'alternative' recorder playing (requiring amplification and so forth), you may be interested to know that Philippe has also developed in many of his recorder models a system for adding an internal mic to the recorder, allowing you to perform without being stuck behind a mic stand! You can find details of Philippe's recorders on his website, here. He will also be taking classes on recorder building in the 2ème Academie de Musique et de Danse Ancienne, part of the Festival du Baroque du Pays du Mont Blanc, in July. The courses there are typically only in French, but Philippe has told me that he is more than happy to accommodate English-speakers! Details of the festival are available on his website.

As a side note, the CDs displayed on the left are albums featuring his daughter, Florence Bolton, and accomplished viola da gamba player, and her group, La Rêveuse. I purchased one of these, and was highly impressed. A review will hopefully follow in the next few days!

The next maker that I feel deserves a mention is Ralf Netsch, a German maker from Schleiz, a small town south of Leipzig. On the surface, Ralf's recorders simply look amazing. The carving on one of his baroque alto models (see the inset) is absolutely beautiful, and his wood combinations create fantastic colour contrasts. But after playing all of his models, I can say that he is quite simply a wonderful maker. His recorders consistently have a full, open tone, and all have a very accessible high register without sacrificing the low, something I personally take as the mark of a real perfectionist, an important characteristic in an instrument maker! I was most impressed with his use of ebony in Ganassi alto construction; these recorders typically use a lighter wood, but his variation creates a very bold, very present instrument that sounds absolutely superb, more than making up for its extra weight in pure resonance. His 'Van Eyck' model is also among the best of this type that I have come across, with the perfect light but brilliant tone for early baroque solo soprano repertoire. Both of these are now on my 'to buy' list!

Netsch does not have a website, unfortunately, but if you would like to see his price list (including colour pictures of all models) you can email him.

Now we come to Doris Kulossa, another German, this time from Bochum, west of Dortmund. Apart simply being a lovely lady, and a very, very good recorder builder, Doris makes one particular model that caught my eye (and my ear): an early baroque soprano instrument by an anonymous Italian maker of the late seventeenth century. This instrument has a much greater clarity in the high register than I am used to in instruments of this period, at least without splitting an eardrum, with the added bonus of a low end that's nearly as flexible as a good Ganassi, and much more in keeping with the tone of the rest of the instrument.  It also has greater volume flexibility that most recorders, without sacrificing pitch accuracy. Her own Ganassi's were also among the best on offer, and her high baroque altos modelled after Steerbergen, not one of the best known styles, provide a very deep and complex tone, and once again a good balance of accessibility in the high register versus volume and roundness of tone in the bottom end.

Doris has a website which is currently available in German, French, and Italian, but it appears to be in the process of being translated into English and Spanish as well.

These were the three makers who impressed me most as makers, and I must say, they were also the three that simply seemed happiest to be makers! I suppose there's nothing like loving your job to get you working at your best. But there were a couple of other makers that I think also deserve honourable mentions for particular instruments.

Luca de Paolis, a maker from Italy, makes absolutely wonderful, deep, resonant voiceflutes after both Bressan and Denner, and his tenor, though a little on the heavy side, displays similar qualities. His real skill, however, seems to be in his early 'Praetorius', cylindrical, and transitional recorders, all of which had beautifully open tone and were very easy to play. Luca also makes a number of rare models, including the evasive 'fourth flute' (in both B-flat and A, between soprano and alto recorders), and the cylindrical 'bassetto', available in both G and F. You can find Luca's website here.

Francesco Li Vighi (who unfortunately kept wandering around, so I never managed to get a photo of him) makes one of the best Stanesby altos around in my opinion, nice and open without requiring too much air, and with just a slight hint of huskiness that is more typical of the narrower Denner models. He also makes a fine voiceflute after Bressan. But most impressive were his sopranos, which had the most accessible high register of any of the instruments I tried, and which were generally very sweet sounding. His sopraninos also deserve a mention; apart from simply being good instruments, these slightly longer, narrower sopraninos are some of the few useable by someone with abnormally large hands, such as myself! Francesco can be contacted by email.

Finally, I would like to mention the Köllner-Dives instruments. I had the pleasure of meeting Heinrich and Maria when they came to Salzburg a couple of months ago, so this was my second chance to try out their instruments. Personally, I feel that their baroque instruments, early and late, while often very good, are quite inconsistent in both tone quality and precision of tuning. However, if you are interested in early renaissance and medieval instruments, theirs are absolutely fabulous. In particular their early tenor instruments create some simply breathtaking sounds. You can find information about their instruments and workshop on their website.

There were of course a number of other makers at the festival, and not only of recorders. There were several harpsichord makers, a cornetto maker, makers of all kinds of early string instruments, guitars and lutes, organs, even early percussion was represented. Not to mention the vast array of sheet music on offer, including a lot of music and treatises than can be difficult to find, several volumes of which ended up coming home with me. There is no doubt that many (though certainly not all) of the makers here are not yet so well known and trying to make their mark. Famous makers have no need of events such as these; they already have waiting lists several years long.

But that's exactly why I found this event so appealing. I was learning about makers I didn't already know about, making the choice for myself as to what I liked and disliked about the instruments of particular makers, rather than relying on the word of my teacher or the recommendations of others. I feel that I discovered some truly great makers at this festival. And you know what? I would rather buy an instrument from someone who takes the time to come to an event of this type, who I can talk to about the instrument, try it out in front of them, give them direct feedback, than put myself on a waiting list with someone I've never met, no matter how good their instruments are supposed to be.

Well, unless it's a Schwob or something. I don't think I could pass that up.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting read and hopefully useful resource!