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Michele MASCITTI (1664 - 1760): Sonate a violino solo & a due violini op. 1

Ensemble Baroques-Graffin

rec: August & Sept 2006, Marseille, Sacré-Coeur (crypt)
Acte Préalable - AP0156 (vol. 1), AP0157 (vol. 2) (© 2008) (51'01", 55'48")

[Vol. 1] Sonata II for violin and bc; Sonata IV da camera for violin and bc; Sonata V da camera for violin and bc; Sonata VII a 3 for 2 violins, cello and bc; Sonata IX a 3 for 2 violins, cello and bc; Sonata XII da camera for 2 violins and bc

[Vol. 2] Sonata I for violin and bc; Sonata III for violin and bc; Sonata VI da camera for violin and bc; Sonata VIII a 3 for 2 violins, cello and bc; Sonata X for 2 violins and bc; Sonata XI da camera for 2 violins and bc

Jaroslaw Adamus, Sharman Plesner, violin; Frédéric Audibert, cello; Agustina Meroño, viola da gamba; Jean-Christophe Deleforge, violone; Jean-Paul Serra, harpsichord

The frontpages of the booklets of these discs refer to one of the remarkable aspects of this music: "1704: a Neapolitan in Paris". The opus 1 recorded here was the very first collection of Italian music ever published in France. For a long time the French resisted the influence of Italian music which had become so dominant elsewhere in Europe. But around 1700 more and more composers began to take over elements of the Italian style, and the fact that an Italian like Mascitti was not only accepted but even highly praised tells much about the change in the cultural climate at the time.

Mascitti was born in Chieti, near Naples, and began his career in the royal chapel, where his uncle - who also was his first teacher in music - acted as violinist. After travelling through Europe he settled in Paris, where he came under the patronage of the Duke of Orléans. The duke was an ardent lover of Italian music and Mascitti was just one of the Italian musicians he took under his wing. This connection with the duke allowed Mascitti to play at the royal court in Paris. He made such an impression that in 1714 he was granted a king's privilege to print for 15 years "collections of sonatas and other musical pieces, vocal as well as instrumental". This privilege was twice extended, in 1731 and 1740, and - as a sign of the appreciation of Mascitti - he was given French citizenship in 1739. It seems he was also generally liked as a person, because of his friendly character and his generosity. Mascitti died in Paris at high age in 1760.

Mascitti's music was appreciated although he didn't make any real concessions to the French taste. These sonatas opus 1 are predominantly Italian in character, and it is no wonder that they were compared with the sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli. Like Corelli Mascitti uses both then common forms of the sonata, the sonata da camera and the sonata da chiesa. But there are also some sonatas in this collection which are a mixture of both forms, like the Sonata II which contains five movements: adagio, allegro, largo (sonata da chiesa), allemande and giga (sonata da camera). The 12 sonatas are divided into two groups: six for violin and bc and six for two violins with basso continuo. In three of the trio sonatas the cello is given some independence which has led the ensemble to use a viola da gamba joining the harpsichord in these sonatas.

These discs offer more than 100 minutes of music and it was no problem at all to listen to them in one session as there is no dull moment here. I was struck by the quality of this music, and in particular by the variety and originality of the thematic material. These sonatas have enough to offer to keep the listener's attention, like the expression in the slow movements. A striking example is the first movement of the Sonata V, whose character is indicated with 'largo et affectuoso'. In particular in the trio sonatas there are a number of movements which contain strong harmonic tension. In the grave of the Sonata VII there is some chromaticism as well. The solo sonatas are not overly virtuosic, although several movements contain double stopping. Mascitti's opus 1 is definitely more than easy-listening stuff.

It is also the merit of the Ensemble Baroques-Graffiti that this set of discs has become quite captivating and enjoyable. The fast movements are performed with panache and great rhythmic flexibility. The expressive moments in the slower movements are also fully explored. Sometimes the playing is a bit less polished than we are used to hear from the best ensembles in the business - especially in some of the solo sonatas - but that hasn't spoilt by enjoyment and appreciation at all. The basso continuo section isn't only giving harmonic but also strong rhythmic support. Interestingly the basso continuo of the Sonata X is played with cello only - a perfectly legitimate option, but seldom practiced in recordings.

The music has been very well recorded, and the booklets - identical for both discs - contain an informative essay on Mascitti and information about the players who are of very different backgrounds, but have grown into a very fine group. I am happy to recommend these discs and hope to hear more from this remarkable composer.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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