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CD Feature/ Dorothee Oberlinger: "Italian Sonatas"

img  Tobias

Just five years ago, there wasn’t even a single album by Dorothee Oberlinger available in record stores. Now, this one included, there are nine. Oberlinger had found a perfect partner in Cologne-based label Marc Aurel, which combined old music with abstract designs and supported her efforts of bringing classical and contemporary works together on the majestic “Peripheries”, which no longer fit the easy drawer of a recorder-album and instead presented a timeless vision of electronic and organic material. In the record’s repertoire, the “progressive” nature of mediaeval tunes came to the fore, while state-of-the art technology resulted in highly familar sensations. The popular notion that an album for a major record company must always result in a watered-down approach might well be exagerated. And yet, as she embarks on a new chapter in her career with “Italian Sonatas”, the question remains whether she’s had to compromise on her unique vision in some way or other on her first CD for Sony BMG

In the matter of repertoire and presentation, the album is certainly one of the more traditional of her discography. Strictly reduced to early 18th century pieces and without the abstractions of previous covers, “Italian Sonatas” may appear like a regular classical CD on face value. On the other hand, the extensive booklet, whose intimate black and white photography reveals a lot of the love which has gone into its creation, easily equals the care of the Marc Aurel editions. And then, the contemporary aspect of  Oberlinger’s work, as fascinating as it may be, should not be exagerated: With the exception of “Peripheries”, her live performances as well as appearances on her friend Dorothee Hahne’s releases, she has always preferred digging up treasures from the past and revealing their ongoing relevance to predicting the future. With its tight thematic focus, the record is actually a typical example of her both historically founded and personally motivated quest for creating unique, coherent moods.

From this perspective, it is an exciting analysis of Arcangelo Corelli’s seminal influence on the recorder literature of his time on the one hand and the discovery of Giuseppe Sammartini as a commercially less succesful but artistically equally intruiging contemporary. The three Corellis contained on the disc provide a frame for tracks by Geminiani , Vivaldi and Detry and they leave no question marks as to why this man was revered by professionals and dedicated amateurs alike. His sonatas are full of emotional contrasts and sudden tempo shifts, virtuoso passages and moments of simple beauty. Their melodic appeal and high technical standard all but guarantee a stimulating reception by different audiences and imply that listeners can “grow” through repeated and concentrated listening and performing.

Corelli’s “La Follia” variations are a veritable roller-coaster ride between breakneck-speed and measured melancholy, while his ten-minute “Sonata in E minor op. 5” makes time stand still with its, in this context, almost epic proportions. The two Sammartini originals, meanwhile, are even more immediate, offering catchy themes and a seemless play between tradition and unforseable transitions. In the fast movements, he takes his motives to extremes, spinning them around in an ecstatic frenzy, while the slow movements are characterised by a sweet, pastoral feel. A worthy spotlight for sure.

As Dorothee Oberlinger points out, these works were initially intended for domestic music-making. As soon as she and her musical partners touch them, they are naturally morphed into a both more artistic and sophisticated form. One could consider these interpretations as “ideal renditions”, as a sort of optimum to which the score aspires, and as proof that behind the aspect of finger exercises, which is undoubtedly inherent to them to a certain extent, there are multifacetted compositions full of surprises and finesse. Most importantly, the instrumentation changes continually throughout the record, providing an eclectic rhythm of fully fledged tutti, whispered dialogues and smaller settings.

With each arrangement simultaneously contributing to the needs of the piece as well as to the flow of the album, this approach is positioned right between the worlds of tradition and the here and now. “Italian Sonatas” is therefore anything but a compromise, but – again – a subtle statement on the openness of this so-called old music.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Dorothee Oberlinger
Homepage: Sony BMG Masterworks

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