The viola d’amore was demanding. It has the complication of resonating strings, is crafted as if it were a viol but is played like a violin, and is the size of the already-existing viola. And yet it survived throughout the Baroque and has even inspired modern composers.
Hélène Plouffe’s selection shows how sensuous this instrument is, notably in von Biber’s Partia VII, with its soothing praeludium, allamande and aria. The skill it requires is demonstrated in the concluding arietta variata.
If the viola d’amore is rare in North America, try finding a bass chalumeau - the link between recorder and clarinet. Hélène Plouffe did so and Graupner’s Trio in F major is the result, the allegro and vivace above all expressing both instruments’ qualities.
Bach’s St. John Passion allows us to see the viola d’amore supporting the human voice but those wishing to hear the instrument at its plainest will enjoy Ah que l’amour, an extract from Milandre’s Méthode facile pour la viole d’amour. This exercise proves that the instrument does indeed have an individual sound.
And so to Petzold’s Partita in F major, a collection of early baroque dances. As with the Milandre piece, the music for solo viola d’amore played here best shows off what the instrument can bring to its audience, particularly with Hélène Plouffe’s interpretations.