American Record Guide

Mattheson published these 12 suites in 1714, when he was 32. There is not much other extant keyboard music by him. He is better known as a writer, historian, operatic lead tenor, and composer of choral music. He even­tually went deaf, but kept writing about music.

The suites are mostly of medium difficulty and moderate inventiveness. I’ve played through all of these suites, and I find them more interesting than Reincken’s, but less than Graupner’s or Fischer’s. When Mattheson ran short of musical ideas, he filled up the space with long passages in simple parallel sixths or tenths. Rowland does well to embellish the music where it’s thin, taking it far beyond the notation. There is opportunity to make it sound more French using graces and swinging the rhythm, but Rowland constrains the style to sound stolidly German.

I like his performance here better than the one he gave in the third volume of his Handel series (S/O 2015), where he used the same harpsichord. He conveys a better sense of the big picture in the movements. Some of the same problems are still in place, though. As I wrote in that review: “He sometimes slows down for technical difficulties and then speeds up again when the music becomes easier. I noticed some questionably-chromatic sliding ornaments. He uses a crude-sounding but unidentified temperament that doesn’t handle sharps very well. He could have used a lighter touch in courantes and sarabandes to bring out the hemiolas and to give a stronger sense of dance.” Part of that heavy-footed manner comes from his tendency to play the left-hand parts with incessant legato. His extended trills sound clattery and automated, detracting from the melodic lines. They have a consistent speed regardless of the music’s character. The suites in A major and D major have sour A-sharps and E-sharps in them. Fortunately, most of the other suites are in flat keys.

The Suite 12 in F minor includes three movements (Allemande, Courante, Sarabande) attributed to Georg Bohm in the Moller manuscript 40644. None of this is brought up in Rowland’s booklet, which otherwise has a cogent analysis of each suite. Mattheson’s ver­sion of this suite includes three doubles (varia­tions) of Bohm’s Sarabande, a Gigue, two Min­uets, and an opening Overture. The other suites have a similar length of 5 to 10 move­ments, lasting 11 to 17 minutes.

—Bradley Lehmann