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Pietro GNOCCHI (1689 - 1775): "Six Concertos, Sonata a tre"

Main-Barockorchester Frankfurt
Dir: Martin Jopp

rec: Jan 2015, Gieen (D), Petruskirche
Aeolus - AE-10077 ( 2016) (62'55")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Concerto I 4 in G; Concerto II 4 in e minor; Concerto III 4 in D; Concerto IV 4 in F; Concerto V 4 in g minor; Concerto VI 4 in B flat; Sonata II tre in C

Martin Jopp, Marie Verweyen, Konstanze Winkelmann, Adam Lord, Katerina Ozaki, violin; Friederike Kremers, Ursula Plagge-Zimmermann, viola; Katie Stephens, cello; Christian Zincke, violone; Henrike Seitz, harpsichord, organ

By all accounts Pietro Gnocchi was a remarkable man. He was born in Brescia and spent most of his life there, after having studied in Venice and having travelled extensively through Europe. This was all pretty common. Far less common were his interests besides music. He spent much time writing learned books about epigraphy, geography and ancient history. Among his works in the latter department - which were never published - was a 25-volume history of Greek colonies in the East. He also wrote a treatise on Brescian memorial tablets.

This didn't prevent him from being active as a musician. In 1723 he became maestro di cappella of Brescia Cathedral. His attempt to become also the cathedral's organist was unsuccessful. He tried again in 1762, and from that year until his death he held both positions. His oeuvre consists mainly of sacred vocal music and includes many masses and Requiems, various sets of Vesper music for the entire church year, and much else. None of this was ever published in his lifetime. Apparently the publication of a series of twelve volumes was planned, but only a title page and dedication are known. His interest in geography left its mark in the names of some of his works, like a Missa Europa or Missa Africa, and a Magnificat Il capo di buona speranza (Cape of Good Hope).

In addition to his sacred music he composed a small number of canzonettas as well as a few instrumental works. The number of the latter is rather small: six concertos in four and six concertos in six parts, plus fifteen trio sonatas. The present disc includes the six four-part concertos and one of the trio sonatas. The concertos have the texture of concerti grossi; the concertino group consists of two violins, one viola and occasionally an obbligato cello. In addition there are two violin parts which have the role of ripieno instruments. One could think that the instrumental works in some way reflect the scientific mind of their composer. All these concertos follow strictly the model of Corelli's sonata da chiesa. They are in four movements in the same order: slow - fast - slow - fast. Martin Mezger, in his liner-notes, states that "the entire collection is marked by an almost rigid homogeneity: Gnocchi limits himself to time signatures of three or four crotchets, as well as alla breve metres; with the exception of the third concerto, all the movements of each concerto stay in the tonic key (...); the fast movements are mainly polyphonic (...). In contrast to most composers of concertos of his time, Gnocchi is not concerned with the categories of variety, diversity and transformation." He adds that this doesn't indicate that these concertos are "dry musical templates" which speaks for the composer's "genius".

That may be true and I don't question the quality of these concertos. In fact, they have been able to correct my rather negative assessment of his oeuvre after having listened to a disc with some of his sacred works. In my review I already took into consideration that this was partly due to the performance. I am much more positive about these concertos. Even so, their similarity make me recommend not to listen to this entire disc at a stretch. I did, and I found it not always easy to keep my concentration. There is little which spurs the imagination. However, it is all very well written and excellently played by the Main-Barockorchester Frankfurt. These concertos should certainly be included in programmes of 18th-century instrumental music, but for a complete disc they probably have just too little variety.

That said, I am certainly happy with this disc and I hope that some time a really good recording of vocal works will be released. After all, the composition of sacred music was the heart of Gnocchi's musical activities.

Johan van Veen ( 2017)

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