In 2018 a collection of music by Carl Friederich Abel was discovered in Poland. In 1787 Count Maltzan purchased the manuscripts at Abel’s estate sale in London. He later returned to his native Poland, the collection soon forgotten.

The Maltzan Collection has 29 works — 22 of them previously unknown. Six receive their recording world premiere with this release.

Abel was one of the greatest viola da gamba players of his age. And like other Baroque-era performers, he wrote music primarily for himself to perform in concert. He once wrote, “I do not choose to be always struggling with difficulties, and playing with all my might. I make my pieces difficult whenever I please, according to my disposition and that of my audience.”

That assessment sums up the six viola da gamba concerti in this release. Each has three short movements, fast-slow-fast. Melodies are elegantly simple, phrasing regular and balanced. In these areas, the player’s musicianship is challenged.

Then there are patches where Abel was pleased to add difficulty. Here the soloist must rise to Abel’s technical prowess.

Kryzysztof Firlus succeeds with both. His playing is expressive and sure. Abel’s “difficulties” are handled without breaking a sweat. Double stops, harmonics, rapid passagework — Firlus plays it all with a clean, clear tone.

Tomasz Pokrzwinski (baroque cello) and Anna Firlus (harpsichord, fortepiano) compliment Firlus’ interpretations nicely. But it’s clear who’s the star. Both the cello and the keyboards are pushed way into the background of the recording. I suspect that’s the balance Carl Abel had in mind.

I hope we’ll hear more of the Maltzan Collection. The six sonatas are beautiful examples of the Galant style.

Carl Friedrich Abel: Sonatas from the Maltzan Collection
Krzysztof Firlus, viola da gamba; Anna Firlus, harpsichord, fortepiano; Tomasz Pokrzwinski, baroque cello
DUX 1564