Sackbutt – Trombone in the 17th and 18th century – Jörgen van Rijen/Combatimento Consort Amsterdam /Jan Willem de Vriend – Channel Classics

by | Sep 26, 2008 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Sackbutt – Trombone in the 17th and 18th century – Jörgen van Rijen/ Combatimento Consort Amsterdam /Jan Willem de Vriend – Channel Classics multichannel SACD CCS SA 26708, 59:35; Performance ***** Sound ****½ (Release date: Oct. 1, 2008) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:

This multichannel SACD was recorded in Waalsekerk, Amsterdam, Holland in September 2007 utilizing Bruel & Kjaer (DPA) 4006 and various other Schoeps microphones as well as Van den Hul cables all around. The sackbutt soloist is Jörgen van Rijen – Principal Trombonist with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – who shows us that it is possible to execute rapid running passages and delicate ornaments typical of Baroque concertos with very intricate figurations or curlicues with a slide trumpet – which in fact is what the sackbutt is. The sackbut’s wide vocal/tonal register capabilities allow for variations, trills and runs much like a classical Bel Canto soprano, if we compare it to the human voice. These trills and runs are widely considered to be unperformable by modern trombone players on their instruments and for the most part they find the sackbutt to be incompatible with modern trombone playing techniques. The two instruments van Rijen uses are a  tenor sackbutt replica by Franz Meinl and Johann Lauber made in 1977, and an alto sackbutt replica by Ewald Meinl made in 1991.

In any event, the sackbutt – which no matter how one may pronounce it never fails to bring some kind of sneer in peoples faces – is a fascinating brass instrument whose antiquity goes back to at least the 1200s but by 1800 had been superseded by the modern trombone. We know for certain that Giovanni Gabrielli’s antiphonal canzonas were performed by massed brasses and organ, and that Claudio Monteverdi scored for five of these particular instruments in his opera L’Orfeo (1607). The sackbutt is generally quieter than the trombone as we know it today; it has a very mellow center which allows for very fast loud to soft transitions as shown by van Rijen in Tracks 4 and 13 – two different Sonata à 3 by Antonio Bartali.

It has as well a tender tone with a broader palette of articulations (chromatics) available and this can be heard just as well in the beautifully performed Adagio by Leopold Mozart (Track 7) for example. Also the sackbutts’ pitch  are at least a semitone lower than extant trombones; in Track 10, a Sonata à 4 by Biagio Marini, we have a good example of this extended range. The two sackbutts (tenor and alto) used by van Rijen respond well to his soft and supple playing, being more docile than modern trombones. He fully exploits a vocal style of playing that facilitates very characterful phrasing which is inherent to the (chromatic) sackbutt and adds flexibility to the articulation and modulation of tonal colors and the execution of very subtle delicate vocal timbres. This Baroque instrument through its many iterations obviously did assimilate well the sweetness of the human voice with its soft tones and van Rijen makes his instruments sing with grace and lightness that is very pleasing to the ear. Highly recommended!

— John Nemaric


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