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Dario CASTELLO & Carlo FARINA: Sonatas & Canzonas

[I] Dario CASTELLO (fl 1620 - 1630): Sonate concertate in stil moderno, Libro primo
Academy of Ancient Music
Dir: Richard Egarr
rec: Jan 25 - 28, 2016, Cambridge, St George's Church
AAM Records - AAM005 (© 2016) (68'39")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata I à due soprani; Sonata II à due soprani; Sonata III à due soprani; Sonata IV à due. Sopran e trombone overo violeta; Sonata V à due. Sopran e trombone overo violeta; Sonata VI à due. Sopran e trombone overo violeta; Sonata VII à due. Fagotto e violin; Sonata VIII à due. Fagotto e violin; Sonata IX à tre. 2 violini e fagotto; Sonata X à tre. 2 violini e fagotto; Sonata XI à tre. 2 violini e fagotto; Sonata XII à tre. 2 violini e trombone overo violetta

Josué Meléndez, cornett; Pavlo Beznosiuk, Bojan Cicic, violin; Joseph Crouch, violetta; Benny Aghassi, dulcian; Susan Addison, sackbut; William Carter, theorbo; Richard Egarr, harpsichord, organ

[II] Carlo FARINA (c1604 - 1639): "Sonate e Canzoni"
Leila Schayegh, violin; Jonathan Pesek, viola da gamba, cello; Daniele Caminiti, theorbo; Jörg Halubek, harpsichord, organ
rec: June 28 - 30, 2016, Achern (D), Alte Kirche Fautenbach
Pan Classics - PC 10368 (© 2017) (64'32")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Viel trawren in meinen hertzen; Carlo FARINA: Canzon detta la Bolognesa [3]; Canzon detta la Marina [2]; Sonata detta la Desperata [4]; Sonata detta la Farina [2]; Sonata detta la Fiama [3]; Sonata detta la Franzosina [2]; ?FRANTZ (fl c1600): Fantasia Frantz; Pietro Paolo MELLI (1579-1623): Il Ciarlino Capricio Chromatico [1]; Steffan (Stephen) NAU (1596-1647): Fantasia Stephen Nau der Princessin zu Heidelberg hatte componirt; Michelangelo ROSSI (1601-1656): Toccata IV [5]; Toccata VII [5]

[1] Pietro Paolo Melli, Intavolatura di liuto attiorbato, libro secondo, 1614; Carlo Farina, [2] Libro delle pavane, gagliarde, brand: mascharata, aria franzesa, volte, balletti, sonate, canzone, 1626; [3] Il quarto libro delle pavane, gagliarde, balletti, volte, passamezi, sonate, canzon, 1628; [4] Fünffter Theil newer Pavanen, Brand: Mascharaden, Balletten, Sonaten, 1628; [5] Michelangelo Rossi, Toccate e corenti d’intavolatura d’organo e cimbalo, 1657

It makes much sense to review recordings of music by Dario Castello and Carlo Farina in one article. They were contemporaries and both representatives of the stile nuovo which emerged in Italy around 1600. Among its features are the composition of independent - and often virtuosic - instrumental music, which is rooted in the rhetorical principles of vocal music. Both made use of the form of the sonata, which has little to do with the sonatas from the time of Bach and Handel, let alone those from the classical period. It is rather a piece which consists of not formally separated sections which differ in tempo and metre. Such sonatas were preferably written for the violin or the cornett, but less common instruments, such as the sackbut and the dulcian, were also often given demanding parts to play.

There are also some differences between them. We are pretty well informed about the career of Farina, but we know next to nothing about Castello's activities, except that he was leader of the wind ensemble of San Marco in Venice, as is mentioned at the title page of his two extant collections of music. There are no records of him in the San Marco archives nor is he mentioned by any of his colleagues. It has led to the suggestion that there may never have existed a composer with the name of Dario Castello, and that it may have been used as a pseudonym by a more famous composer. We will probably never know, although Roland Wilson, in the liner-notes to his recording of the second volume, has come up with an interesting suggestion about the composer's identity.

Another difference is more meaningful. As mentioned, Castello was a wind player, whereas Farina was a violinist by profession. This has left its mark in their compositional output. Castello's 29 sonatas, printed in two volumes in 1621 and 1629 respectively, are for two to four instruments; the parts are given to four different instruments: violin, cornett, sackbut and dulcian. Whereas Farina makes use of double stopping in his sonatas, Castello avoids it altogether. Because of that the parts which are indicated as being written for violin(s) can also be played on other instruments. However, Richard Egarr decided to follow the composer's indications in regard to the scoring in his recording of the first volume.

As one can see in the track-list, the first eight sonatas are for two instruments and bc. In two of them the second part is played on an instrument, called violetta. In the course of history this term has been used for various instruments, and it is not always clear which instrument is meant. In Venice it seems to have been used for a small bass violin; in the booklet Egarr describes it as "a curious edgy-toned small cello-gamba hybrid, tuned a fifth higher than the 'normal' cello". The remaining sonatas are for three instruments; here the dulcian plays a particularly prominent role.

That has had a positive effect on the quality of the performances. It seems that Benny Aghassi's engaging and dynamic playing had a positive influence on his colleagues. These sonatas are by far the best parts of this disc. Here the violinists create stronger dynamic differences than in the previous sonatas. I am not that enthusiastic about the first five sonatas. The first two are played on two violins and are pretty dull. The playing is too phlegmatic and lacks passion. The violins also don't have enough presence; in the Sonata III the violin is overshadowed by the cornett. The same goes for the violin part in the Sonata IX. It is the latter half of this disc which more or less saves this recording. All in all I am rather disappointed about these performances.

Farina was born in Mantua and it seems likely that he took lessons from Salomone Rossi, one of the violinists at the court of the Gonzagas, where Claudio Monteverdi had written and performed, among others, his first opera L'Orfeo. In 1625 Farina became violinist at the court in Dresden. Probably as a result of the Thirty Years War he returned to Italy three years later, went to Danzig and after only a couple of years to Vienna, where he died in 1639.

Although Farina's engagement in Dresden didn't last long, it was a very meaningful stage in his career. Here his complete oeuvre was published between 1626 and 1628. It comprises five books of instrumental works in two to four parts. The title pages show that they include mostly dances; these can be played on various instruments. However, we also find six pieces for violin and bc: four sonatas and two canzonas; they are included in the books I, IV and V. They undoubtedly reflect Farina's own skills as a violinist, and through his playing and his compositions for the violin he had a strong and lasting influence on the development of violin playing in Germany. One can consider him the founder of what has become known as the German violin school. Among its last representatives were the likes of Johann Georg Pisendel and the Benda brothers, working in the 18th century in Dresden and Berlin respectively.

These sonatas and canzonas - the latter are not fundamentally different from the former - are idiomatically written for the violin and cannot be transposed to any other instrument. That certainly is the case with the sonatas in which Farina makes use of double stopping, the Sonata detta la Franzosina and the Sonata detta la Desperata. Considering its title it doesn't surprise that the latter includes chromaticism. Here he also makes use of ornaments like groppi and written-out trills. In his famous Capriccio stravagante he went even further in the exploration of violin techniques.

Leila Schayegh recorded the complete music for violin and bc by Farina and put it in its historical context. She plays two interesting pieces for violin solo, without accompaniment. Surprisingly they seem to be connected to France, which is remarkable, considering that in the 17th century the violin was not taken seriously there and only considered useful for dance music. The disc opens with a Fantasia by Steffan (or Stephen) Nau, who was from Orléans and worked for most of his life in England; he died in London. The Fantasia has the addition that it was written for the Princess at Heidelberg, in whose service he was for some time as a dancing master. It is a virtuosic piece and includes passages which are reminiscent of Monteverdi's stile concitato. The other solo piece is Fantasia Frantz; it is not clear whether Frantz refers to the composer or to its French origin. In its technical requirements it is close to Nau's Fantasia.

The programme is extended by pieces for other scorings, but stylistically close to Farina's violin pieces. That certainly goes for the two sonatas by Michelangelo Rossi. The famous Sonata VII is an example of the harmonic experiments which are another feature of the stile nuovo. Obviously these only come off to the full if the keyboard is in meantone temperament. The anonymous Viel trawren in meinen hertzen can be considered a demonstration of the important role of the viola da gamba in 17th-century Germany, especially in music of a doleful nature, such as lamentos. It includes episodes with double stopping. Pietro Paolo Melli was a theorbo virtuoso from Italy who worked in Austria, one of the many Italians who contributed to the dissemination of the stile nuovo across Europe.

I have greatly enjoyed this disc, not only because of the selection of pieces, everyone of which is of superior quality, but also because of the interpretation. Leila Schayegh exactly demonstrates what I missed in most of the violin playing on the Castello disc. Her playing is more speech-like, also in regard to articulation, shows a wider range of colours and stronger dynamic differentiation. Both the technical brilliance and the expressive power of the pieces selected for this recording are fully explored. This is a superb disc which no lover of baroque violin music should miss.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Jörg Halubek
Leila Schayegh
Academy of Ancient Music

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