musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"The Italian Job - Baroque instrumental music from the Italian states"

La Serenissima
Dir: Adrian Chandler

rec: August 23 - 26, 2016, London, St John's Smith Square
AVIE - AV2371 (© 2017) (76'23")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751): Concerto for 2 oboes, strings and bc in F, op. 9,3; Antonio CALDARA (c1671-1736): Sinfonia in C; Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Sinfonia to Santa Beatrice d'Este in d minor; Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in E (D 51); Giuseppe TORELLI (1658-1709): Sinfonia in C (G 33); Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto in G 'alla Rustica' (RV 151); Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in C (RV 467)

[soli] Gail Hennessy, Rachel Chaplin, oboe; Adrian Chandler, violin; Peter Whelan, bassoon

The present disc's title doesn't give much away about what we can expect here. The subtitle brings some clarity: the programme is a survey of the musical landscape in Italy in the department of instrumental music for a larger scoring. One notable feature is the important role of wind instruments.

It is no exaggeration to state that Italian music conquered Europe during the 17th century. It was mostly music for strings which was produced, especially in the second half of the 17th century, when the main wind instrument, the cornett, was gradually pushed into the sidelines. However, the Italian landscape was varied: in some cities specific instruments were particularly favoured, such as the cello and the trumpet in Bologna. The composers included in the programme represent the main musical centres. Vivaldi and Albinoni worked in Venice, Tartini in Padua, Torelli in Bologna and Corelli in Rome. Antonio Caldara was for most of his life in the service of the imperial court in Vienna and represents the Italian influence north of the Alps.

The only woodwind instrument which played a major role in Italian instrumental music was the recorder. The transverse flute made its appearance after the turn of the century, whereas the oboe was introduced in the last decade of the 17th century. In the orchestra of St Mark's in Venice it replaced the last cornett. The two most prominent composers in the city, Vivaldi and Albinoni, both embraced the instrument and composed a number of works for oboe or with one or several parts for oboes. Albinoni's contributions to the repertoire for the oboe are fairly well known. Both in his Op. 7 and his Op. 9 he included concertos for one or two oboes. However, the oboe parts are not of the virtuosic nature as those in Vivaldi's solo concertos. He had the advantage of being able to rely on the skills of the girls in the Ospedale della Pietà. Virtuosity is also the name of the game in the bassoon concertos. These were not written for the Ospedale; there are no records of this instrument being played there nor of the presence of a bassoon teacher. It is therefore assumed that these concertos were mostly written for virtuosos in orchestras of aristocrats for whom Vivaldi regularly composed instrumental music. One of them was the Bohemian Count Václav Morzin, to whom Vivaldi had also dedicated his Four Seasons. The Count had a virtuosic bassoonist in his service: Anton Reichenauer. At least three concertos were written for him, and it seems likely that others were composed for him too.

Returning to the oboe, Vivaldi composed a number of concertos and sinfonias for strings and basso continuo, without any solo part, except some short solo episodes here and there. However, this section in the work-list includes several concertos with parts for either oboes or transverse flutes. In most cases these are not authentic, but the two oboe parts in the closing allegro from the Concerto in G (RV 151) are from Vivaldi's pen. They are mostly omitted in performances and recordings, and it is nice that Adrian Chandler decided to include them here.

This sheds light on an aspect of performance practice which is not that well known and is paid little attention to in modern performances and recordings: the use of (wood)wind instruments playing colla parte with the violins. This practice is documented in regard to the performance of Corelli's concerti grossi. The composer himself seems to have had little interest in writing independent parts for wind instruments. Apart from one sonata for trumpet and two violins his complete oeuvre is confined to strings. Rather than playing one of Corelli's well-known pieces Chandler turned to the sinfonia, which Corelli composed for the oratorio Santa Beatrice d'Este from the pen of Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier. It is documented that a trombonist participated in the performance of the oratorio; in his liner-notes Chandler suggests that he may also have doubled the bass line in the sinfonia, which served as its overture. It would have been nice, if he had decided to use a trombone here as well.

Giuseppe Tartini was one of the most famous violinists of his time. When he heard Veracini play this caused a kind of artistic crisis. His withdrew from public life and worked very hard to improve his bowing technique. However, technical virtuosity was not the aim of his playing and composing. The most pronounced feature of Tartini's music is the influence of literature, and in particular poetry. He usually read from the writings of Metastasio, Petrarch or Tasso before starting to compose. He included quotations from these writings in his manuscripts in a code of his own. The Concerto in E (D 51) is an example: the grave has the addition "Tortorella bacie..." (Dove's kisses); it is the highlight of this concerto and includes various passages with chromaticism. For today's scholars and interpreters these mottos almost impossible to identify. However, as these movements are not intended to be illustrations of the mottos but only inspired Tartini to write in a certain way, it doesn't really matter what they are about or where they come from.

I already referred to the importance of the trumpet in the music scene in Bologna. Here several composers wrote music with important parts for one or more trumpets. One of them was Giuseppe Torelli. The Sinfonia in C is scored for four trumpets, trombone, timpani, two oboes, two bassoons, two violins, two cellos, strings and bc. It is in three movements, but the second is little more than a transition between the two fast movements. Especially in the first movements several instruments - oboes, violins, cello - have some solo episodes to play. Antonio Caldara's Sinfonia in C is not very different as far as the scoring is concerned: two oboes, two bassoons, two trumpets, timpani, violin, strings and bc. Chandler compares this piece with Vivaldi's concertos for multiple instruments. The manuscript of this piece has been found in Dresden, and one wonders whether it is possible that there some wind parts were added.

Chandler rightly states that Caldara is a composer who deserves more attention. I second that, and the sinfonia played here suggests that includes his instrumental works. It also goes for Torelli who is well-known, but not that well represented on disc. From that angle this disc offers food for thought as far as the repertoire is concerned, but also from the perspective of performance practice, for instance in regard to the role of wind instruments playing colla parte. Overall I have enjoyed these performances. Peter Whelan is impressive in Vivaldi's bassoon concerto and Gail Hennessy and Rachel Chaplin do a nice job in Albinoni's concerto. Adrian Chandler delivers a good performance of the concerto by Tartini, especially in the slow movement. Sometimes I found the playing of the solo and the tutti a little lacking in differentiation, both in colour and in dynamics, as so often in British recordings of Italian music.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

La Serenissima

CD Reviews