CD: Hebenstreit's BACH
“This recording is a delightful re-imagining of a number of Bach sonatas and movements for solo violin or violoncello … I rather enjoy these performances: they make you listen with new ears ...”
(David Stancliffe, Early Music Review, 21.1.2023)
"Incidentally, the contrast between the breathing tones of the organ and the percussive ones of the mallets is not as sharp as one would expect when the hammered dulcimer in the experienced hands of Margit Übellacker unfolds such a variety of effects, from dazzling to subdued. Among the magical alliances is the Dolce BWV 1015. A first-rate interpretation of this recital, in which Bach's work appears in unexpected garments and in perfect measure, like a new garment found in a dressing room in the attic."
(Christophe Steyne, Crescendo Magazine, 3/12/2022)
“So it seems almost uncanny that Bach and Hebenstreit didn't run into each other at some point. Of course, there is no dulcimer music by Bach. Margit Übellacker and Jürgen Banholzer understandably regret this, and so the hammered dulcimer specialist and her duo partner on the organ have helped their luck. As the ensemble la Gioia Armonica they are sworn to each other, they can both bring considerable virtuosity to bear and are known to enjoy sound experiments. But equally they have a high sensorium for where the limits of such arrangements lie. Thus, piece by piece, movement by movement, one may engage with profit in the pleasurable transcriptions of four sonatas that are actually set for violin and basso continuo.“
(Reinhard Kriechbaum, Concerto, Juli-September 2022)
"Bach's brilliant music stands the test of any transcription, and this is one of the most sucessful ones."
(38 Arts Libre, 8.6.2022)
"Magical. ... a decidedly delightful production: ... Contrary to expectations, the effect does not wear out, for that the interpreters are too smartly disposed, cleverly fathom out the possibilities beyond virtuoso stupefaction and achieve an at times beguiling effect over and over again."
(Georg Henkel, www.musikansich.de, June 2022)
"At first glance, the album seems to be another project from the series of "a cabinet of baroque curiosities". … The weirdness, however, is so charming and electrifying that it is pleasant to listen to. … The sound of the instrument is truly magical and will enchant you. It is somewhere between the harp and the harpsichord. However, unlike the harpsichord, it can differentiate the dynamics. … Margit Übellacker and Jürgen Banholzer have created an album that is not limited to gimmickry. They are very inventive musicians. Their virtuosity is astounding, and the idea for the album is so seductive that the interest in the recording does not end with the last sound. You want to come back to it.“
(Robert Maijewski, Recenzje Płyt I Książek. Felietony. Blog O Kulturze 2022)
CD: Per il Salterio
“Margit Übellacker and Jürgen Banholzer have produced a captivating recording ... Moreover, this CD is a picture of the time when the galant style was predominant. That this style should not be equated with superficiality becomes quite clear here. Those who are skeptical about the Salterio should let these CDs wash their heads.”
(Johan van Veen, Toccata 04/2022)
"One may fear that a whole disc with music for salterio is a bit too much of a good thing. There is no reason for that: this is a highly entertaining affair, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. Previously, I welcomed the salterio's restoration to its rightful place in performance practice, but if you had asked me if I would like to hear an hour of music for this instrument, I would probably have said: no, not really. This disc has changed my attitude to the salterio. There is no dull moment here, and that is due to the music, which is really good, but also to the salterio andt the engaging manner in which it is played by Margit Übellacker. This disc is an excellent demonstration of the qualities of this instrument. Jürgen Banholzer is the perfect partner at the keyboard, and he also delivers outstanding performances of the keyboard pieces."
(Jan van Veen, MusicWeb International 2022)
„In … works written specifically for the instrument, such as the sonatas here, its versatility and expressiveness are allowed full rein, and some of the textures achieved in combination with the organ and harpsichord are intriguing –… La Gioia Armonica have done a fine job in spotlighting this neglected repertoire, and they play it with assurance and sensitivity and with a constant ear for interesting sonorities.“
(D. James Ross, Early Music Review, 25.6.2021)
„Actually, I habitually avoid combinations of different string instruments in chamber music works, the sound usually mixes poorly and the intonation is often debatable. But here the instruments complement each other. I was also captured by the delicacy and sophistication with which the two of them play together as well as with the mist of sound that rises up from the undamped strings."
(Dagmar Munck, SWR2 - Alte Musik - Neue CDs, 27.5.2021)
"The ensemble of Übellacker and Banholzer works very well together. They have a fine sense of tempo and phrasing, and the often complex music of the psaltery blends well with the harpsichord ... . If you want something unusual for your collection, this might serve."
(Bertil van Boer, Fanfare, 17.2.2022)
"The works that the ensemble La Gioia Armonica - made up of two great, passionate and sensitive virtuosi, the inspired Margit Übellacker on the psaltery and the mystical and conscientious Jürgen Banholzer on harpsichord and organ - presents on this original and, in many ways, surprising CD illustrate the galant style that delighted the courts of northern Italy in the second half of the 18th century. Largely unpublished and never before recorded compositions in which the delicate sound of the instrument ... is framed, supported, accompanied by that of the harpsichord or a charming small wooden organ."
(Ferruccio Nuzzo, Ideas, 1.8.2021)
"cette publication aussi élégante que confidentielle est de celle que la musicalité transcende au-delà de la simple curiosité. ... L’apport de l’exotique tintement du tympanon est particulièrement réussi et quoique les œuvres d’Angelo Conti ne dénotent pas une inspiration tellurique, l’on se laissera facilement prendre à tant de gracieuseté. Margit Übellacker fait montre d’un toucher très articulé, d’une modération souriante et les tempi généreux voire souvent languissant de La Gioia Harmonica plongent l’auditeur dans une oisiveté ouatée et doré, parfois un peu dansante."
(Viet-Linh Nguyen, MUSE BAROQUE, 9.1.2022)
CD: Conserva me Domine (with Terry Wey, Countertenor)
„This is exactly what lends this recording its unity: the salterio, a highly poplular instrument in 18th century Italy. ... The salterio is played by Margit Übellacker soulfully and with an assured sense of style. ... The harmonious interaction of the ensemble playing and the sage colourfulness of the musical expression are a joy to listen to! ... All in all a musically very delectable new release on the classic market which widens our knowledge of 18th century Italian music.“
(Prof. Dr. Michael Bordt, classic.com, 19.10.2017)
„Absolutely enthralling is the mixture of instrumental colours which springs from exquisite musicality but also from the expertise of the performers (especially in the variety of instrumental accompaniments) and from a profound knowledge of the style and the repertoire.“
(Lorenzo Tozzi, Musica. Rivista di cultura musicale e discografica, 10/2017)
„This is a very good introduction to unusual sacred repertoire from 18th Century Italy. It demonstrates that there is still much interesting music to discover.“
(Charles Brewer, American Record Guide, 11/2017)
„With Margit Übellacker we have a subtle soloist at hand, ideally able to reveal the delightful tonal qualities of the salterio. Terry Wey shows himself on this CD to be a champion of his Fach as well as of the late baroque repertoire. The two soloists are most happily accompanied by the Ensemble La Gioia Armonica, founded by Margit Übellacker and Jürgen Banholzer. ... There is also a motet by Giambattista Martini (1707-1784), the Abbé from Bologna known to the reader of Mozart biographies as that master of counterpoint whose severe judgement could be pleased by the child prodigy: his music has often been reproached of beeing shallow and uninspired, but nothing of the kind is to be perceived here – in this motet of a thoroughly dignified inflection he makes effective use of the salterio, otherwise rather an instrument of the entertaining sphere.“
(Detmar Huchting, 10.05.2017, Klassik Heute)
„the splendid Conserva me Domine with its obligato violoncello part stands out as the perl of this anthology, alongside with a lamentazione by Sacchini"
(Luca Dupont-Spirio, DIAPASON # 661, 10/2017)
„ ... this is a most intriguing and captivating disc. Marcello’s Psalms are really different from what was generally written at the time. ... It is music which still has much appeal, but requires a non-operatic approach. And
that is exactly what we get here ... Margit Übellacker is a specialist in music for the salterio, and over the years she has played a major part in bringing the important role of this instrument in the 18th century to our attention. She delivers fine performances in both the vocal and the instrumental
items. ... This is a musically satisfying disc which opens new horizons."
(Johan van Veen, 9.8.2017, MusicWeb International)
„All this results in a very fine disc for curious ears.“
(Olivier Eterradossi, may 2017, www.clicmusique.com)
„Terry Wey convinces with interpretations which are at the same time very solemn and emotional, as well as with an excellent vocal technique using his supple voice to striking effect.“
(Remy Franck, june 2017, www.pizzicato.lu)
CD: Johann Georg Reutter, Portus felicitatis
"19th century historians claimed he [Reutter] was 'without spirit', 'of little artistic value', representing a nadir between the peaks of Baroque and Classical eras. Judging from this wonderfully revelatory disc, nothing could be further from the truth. ... The singers here - soprano Monika Mauch and mezzo-soprano Stanislava Jirků - are beautifully matched, fresh-toned and virtually vibrato-less. ... Four arias, five motets and two instrumental movements are intimately recorded. Breathtakingly lovely ... ."
(George Pratt, BBC Music Magazine, April 2014)
"Most astonishing are numerous solos and obbligato arias spotlighting the dulcimer, which (under the name salterio or pantaleon) enjoyed a brief vogue in Reutter’s day. Its hammered strings provide a shimmering, ethereal sound, elegantly rendered by Margit Übellacker. The two vocal soloists are top-notch; soprano Monika Mauch displays pure-voiced limpidity, mezzo-soprano Stanislava Jirků lends a beefier but still well-centered tone, and the two work seamlessly together in several duets. Jürgen Banholzer leads La Gioia Armonica, a small period-instrument band, in loving performances that give a forgotten musical notable his due."
(James M. Keller, Santa Fe New Mexican - The New Mexican's Weekly Magazine of Arts, Entertainment & Culture, 7.4.2014)
"Both the instrument and the composer on this fascinating CD are little-known … . The sacred and secular songs are being interpreted with intimacy and noble simplicity by Monika Mauch with her flawless soprano and by her equally accomplished colleague, the Czech contralto Stanislava Jirku. ... The album which at last rehabilitates Reutter with doubled rarities has a title that is brilliantly chosen: Portus Felicitatis is really a haven of bliss for all lovers of classical music off the beaten track of mainstream."(Dirk Kruse, Bavarian Radio, 7.2.2014)
"A new CD of the ensemble La Gioia Armonica combines arias and sacred motets by Reutter, which prove him to be a superior and sensitive composer between the Baroque and the Classical idiom. Margit Übellacker ... plays ... with manifold nuances and great expression. The arias are sung by Monika Mauch with good diction and a fine sense of phrasing. In the motets another voice is to be heard, that of contralto Stanislava Jirku, the two singers blending well with each other ... . The small orchestra of La Gioia Armonica plays with great commitment and thus gives Johann Georg Reutter a worthy recommendation."
(Bernhard Schrammek, kulturradio RBB, 10.12.2013)
"The music I have heard on this monograph by Banholzer is very pleasing … . Soprano Monika Mauch has once more given proof of being an extraordinary singer, whose true merits have not yet sufficiently been grasped neither by the critics nor by the general public. Mezzosoprano Stanislava Jirků … shines on the same fine scale and confirms that she is a voice with a future closely to be followed. Übellacker and the dulcimer: at once arresting and appealing."
(Eduardo Torrico, el arte dela fuga, 23.12.2013)
"The recording highlights particularly the extraordinary sound of the dulcimer …, a close relative of the cimbalom, in vogue in Central Europe during the Baroque era. Margit Übellacker is its indisputable specialist."
(Yvan Beuvard, forumopera, 20.12.2013)
On various concerts:
"Margit Übellacker on the dulcimer and Jürgen Banholzer on the organ enchanted their audience in the Catholic church with the programme "Hebenstreit's Bach"... The good tonal balance between the
two instruments was simply striking; the special sound of the dulcimer always stood out clearly from the organ, so that the complexity in Bach's compositions always remained audible. ... The ...
Sarabande from Bach's Violoncello Suite in C major was played by Margit Übellacker as a soloist and brought out the most diverse colour nuances of her instrument. It was quite astonishing how the
reverberation of the struck strings contributed to the understanding of the harmonic architecture of the movement. ... The opening Adagio [of BWV 1021]was performed by Margit Übellacker and
Jürgen Banholzer with unparalleled tenderness and intimacy ...
The dynamic range [in BWV 1019] was simply breathtaking, even the softest gradations in the piano remained sonically tangible in the large church space. A great moment! The audience in the Catholic church was highly enthusiastic about the performance and gave long and hearty applause. The duo thanked them for this with an encore, the first movement from Bach's A major violin sonata BWV 1015, played with great sensitivity and perfectly coordinated phrasing."
"Richness of sound and virtuosity thrilled the audience."
"The baroque ensemble La Gioia Armonica dug up rare musical treasures, real gems for the concert celebrating the 300th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of Bruchsal Castle. ... Particularly memorable were Marcello's two psalm compositions, which the mezzo-sporanist Luciana Mancini, accompanied by La Gioia Armonica so captivatingly shaped ... tender, distinctive sounds... interpreted subtly and with great presence... very appealing tonally... enchanting...."
(Brigitta Schmid, Badische Neueste Nachrichten, 30.5.2022)
"Exactly on the 300th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of Bruchsal Castle by Prince-Bishop of Speyer Damian Hugo von Schönborn-Buchheim (1676-1743), the Kulturring Bruchsal invited to a Castle Concert: ... The program, which the guests enjoyed in the baroque music room of the castle, was correspondingly exclusive, ... and captivates above all through its distinctive sound mixtures... [The works] are a rare treat in the jonining and blending of the singing voice and the instruments. While the mezzo-soprano [Luciana Mancini] - with slender tone, with soft high notes and powerful low ones – rises to praise, the atmosphere is subtly illustrated by the four instrumentalists: fluted, earthy, silvery. A great contribution to the castle's anniversary."
(Christine Gehringer, www.pamina-magazin.de 31.5.2022)
“The virtuoso on the salterio, Margit Übellacker… [and] the harpsichordist Jürgen Banholzer… played … with great delicacy and sophistication, which repeatedly beguiled the attentive audience."
(Andrea Fadani, Südwestpresse 7/26/2021)
"In the Suonata á Saltero e Basso Reinhild Waldek, a specialist in the field of historical harps, joined with the sound of her instrument. The audience witnessed the interesting contrast between the two stringed instruments, one struck, the other plucked, and could enjoy the absolutely homogeneous playing of the trio. While harp and chest organ were accompanying, Margit Übellacker unleashed fireworks on the psaltery. ... The enthusiastic audience was completely satisfied.”
(Brigitte Gaiser, Taunus Zeitung, 18.9.2012)
"Margit Übellacker on the dulcimer convinced ... with manifold tone colours, fragile or undulating, vigorous or penetrating. ... The Trio La Gioia Armonica
offered ... extremely sensitive ensemble playing. Irene Klein explored all the sonorous resources of the viol and Jürgen Banholzer bound together ... the sounds of the expressived instruments. ...
The opening concert of this year’s Pentecost Music Festival ended with enthusiastic applause and two encores (one a transcription by Bach of a movement from a violin concerto by
(Fuldaer Zeitung, 2.6.2009)
"Today’s musicians were also virtuosos, but they were convincing above all through their perceptive understanding of baroque style."
(Liane Bornholdt, Mageburger Volksstimme, 2.2.2009)
"The public in the palace chapel was spell-bound by the ensemble “La Gioia Armonica” on Saturday. ... a virtuosic and hushed concert. The public was very enthusiastic."
(Badische Zeitung, 17.6.2008)
"Margit Übellacker let the hammers sway so skilfully over the strings of the fortepiano’s forerunner that she achieved unexpected emotional depth – not least through the suggestion of polyphony. The original performing style of the ensemble “La Gioia Armonica” was very much to the taste of the public. With his well-rounded countertenor voice Jürgen Banholzer sang top notes, coloraturas and ornaments in high registers, as if this was for a singer the most natural thing in the world. Felix Knecht launched fireworks from allegro movements and offered an enthralling leggiero on the gut strings of his baroque cello."
(Ute van der Sanden, Mitteldeutsche Zeitung Halle, 29.9.2007)
CD: Antonio Caldara, Sonate ed Arie
"... magnificently sung by the fine countertenor Jurgen Banholzer, whose voice is ideally suited to them ... La Gioia Armonica use a tenor dulcimer to produce a delightful range of charming colours and intriguing textural effects ..."
(Early Music, May 2007)
"The excellent, recently-started Ramée label ... issues here an exhilaratingly-hypnotic reading of a trio of cantatas plus other vocal pieces and instrumental works by Antonio Caldara, written between 1700 and 1732. What attracts especial and additional attention is the alluring presence of the pantaleon (a double dulcimer) as a solo instrument as well as the warmly-passionate voice of countertenor Jürgen Banholzer who, moreover, directs the terrific ensemble La Gioia Armonica ."
(Diverdi, Madrid, Spain)
"The male alto solo (Jürgen Banholzer) is as good in this repertoire as any I’ve heard, and the accompanying group ... are stylish and their interpretations of two cantatas, two cello sonatas and two arias from Viennese oratorios, are thoroughly enjoyable. ... Übellacker is a true virtuoso“
(Early Music Review, June 2006)
"The aesthetic result is really amazing. This rather extraordinary performance is given an even greater interest by the brilliant interpretation of a young ensemble, that could not have started its career in any better way."
(Maricarmen Gómez, Goldberg nº 39, April 2006)
"... a special discovery: music for the Pantaleon. …
Perfectly blending with the silvery sound of the dulcimer ist the alto of Jürgen Banholzer, who brings late baroque expressions of the soul to an intimate life."
"… with truly exuberant energy … Jürgen Banholzer interprets the arias and cantatas with an exceptional emotional honesty, without ever seeking any cheap or superfluous effect. His timbre is very pleasing and fits wonderfully with this repertoire which he masters brilliantly."
(pizzicato, Luxemburg, February 2006)
"Ramée Records have just released a magnificent CD titeled 'Antonio Caldara – Cantate, Sonate ed Arie'. It features superb compositions by the master that are interpreted with what one may call 'heavenly perfection'. ... The sublime voice of German couter-tenor Jürgen Banholzer brings a dream-like touch to the CD. One of the most gifted singers of his generation Banholzer is in complete mastery of his art. ... – this is the sound of classical music as pure as it can get."
(The Jordan Times, 5.2.2006)
„As suas possibilidades polifónicas e virtuosisticas fazem dele um complemento adequado à exuberância do repertório barroco, sobretudo nos andamentos mais rápidos ou de carácter dançante. Mais que uma curiosidade, é um complemento musical de pleno direito.
O interesse deste disco não reside apenas no „pantaleon“ (tocado com destreza e brilhantismo por Margit Übellacker), mas também no restante programa … No plano vocal, Jürgen Banholzer mostra-nos um timbre homogéneo de tons luminosos e uma sensível inteligência musical. Muito menos mediático que tantos outros contratenores do actual panorama musical, é um intérprete que merece ser seguido com atenção.“
(Cristina Fernandes, in: Público, 2006)
"The instrument which comes closest to [the Pantaleon] is the Salzburg tenor dulcimer which the lively and energetic Margit Übellacker plays with a radiating finesse. ... The gravity of Emilia Gliozzi’s violoncello and the full and shining alto of Jürgen Banholzer emphasize the nuances and the vivid exoticism of this music."
(Ramifications, Isabelle Françaix, Brussels, 14.11.2005)
"Margit Übellacker emerges as a true virtuoso ... .
Aside from the interest of an exotic instrument, the main focus of attention is alto Jürgen Banholzer, a young singer of rare musical intelligence and a truly sensitive approach to what he is singing. The voice itself is intrinsically appealing and fluently produced without straining after effect, making him an ideal interpreter of a composer whose great gift was an ability to write melodic lines of distinction that fall graciously for the singer.
... a splendid singer ... . In sum, then, this is a highly enjoyable recording, offering as it does excellent performances of rare and thoroughly rewarding repertoire."
(Brian Robins, Fanfare)