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Domenico GABRIELLI (1659 - 1690): "La Nascita del Violoncello"

Les Basses Réunis
Dir: Bruno Cocset

rec: June 14 - 17, 2008 & July 12, 2009, Pampigny
Agogique - AGO001 (© 2011) (74'00")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Giovanni Battista DEGLI ANTONII (1636-after 1696): Ricercara VIII [1]; Domenico GABRIELLI: Canon in D; Ricercar I in G; Ricercar II in A; Ricercar III in D; Ricercar IV in E flat; Ricercar V in C; Ricercar VI in G; Ricercar VII in D; Ricercar VII in D a 2 (arr. Bruno Cocset); Sonata in G (1st version); Sonata in G (2nd version); Sonata in A; Giuseppe Maria JACCHINI (1667-1727): Sonata in C [3]; Sonata in G [3]; Sonata in A [2]; Sonata in B flat [2]; Giovanni Battista VITALI (1632-1692): Passacaglia in D; Ruggiero

Sources: [1] Giovanni Battista Degli Antonii, Ricercate, op. 1, 1687; [2] Giuseppe Maria Jacchini, Sonate ... per camera, op. 1, n.d.; [3] Giuseppe Maria Jacchini, Concerti per camera, op. 3, 1697

Bruno Cocset, cello, tenor violin, bass violin; Emmanuel Jacques, Mathurin Matharel, cello; Richard Myron, double bass; Bertrand Cuiller, harpsichord, organ

Organology can be a very complicated business. Especially the lack of standardization of instruments and the names which they were given are making a description of the history of instruments very difficult. The cello is a good example - that is to say, the instrument which we are now used to call 'cello'. This word was used for the first time in 1665 by Giulio Cesare Arresti, an organist and composer from Bologna. That doesn't mean that the instrument he referred to did not exist before; it was probably just a new name given to an already existing instrument. In the first half of the 17th century no less than 24 different words were used for a string bass instrument. These don't always refer to different instruments; several words may have been used for one and the same. But it is very hard to establish which kind of instruments are meant, and things become even more complicated when the terms in other languages are included.

In his production 'La Nascita del Violoncello' Bruno Cocset touches another subject which make things even more complicated: the question whether a string bass was played da spalla (on the shoulder) or da gamba (between the legs). This seems to be a relatively new matter of debate. When preparing this review I read the notes by Hidemi Suzuki to his complete recording of Domenico Gabrielli's complete works for cello (Arte dell'Arco, 2004), and he doesn't even mention the possibility of bass string instruments being played da spalla. It is probably the attention which Sigiswald Kuijken has given to the violoncello da spalla which has inspired Bruno Cocset to his treatment of this subject. I am not in the position to assess his verdicts, but in general it is advisable to read the statements of cellists on this subject very critically. It is not unthinkable that they emphasize that part of historical evidence which supports their way of playing. You can hardly blame them for not liking violinist entering their realm.

Considering the composers represented in the programme it is a bit odd that this disc is presented with only the name of Domenico Gabrielli on the frontispiece. Strictly speaking the title on the reverse of the case is more correct: "Bologna, 1689 ... La Nascita del Violoncello". Even that is dubious, considering that the cello existed before 1689. That sais, Gabrielli is the central figure as he was famous as a player of the cello and his complete works form the backbone of the programme. He had the nickname Minghino dal violoncello, 'minghino' being the diminutive of Domenico. He was born in Bologna and studied the cello with Petronio Franceschini, whom he succeeded as cellist in the basilica San Petronio after his teacher's death in 1680. He also studied composition with Giovanni Legrenzi. He composed vocal music - operas, oratorios and liturgical music - as well as instrumental music. His main importance from a historical point of view is his contribution to the development of the cello as a common instrument. His oeuvre of pieces for the instrument is small, but he also gave the cello obbligato parts in some sacred compositions as well as in his sonatas for trumpets and strings.

The main part of his oeuvre for cello solo are the seven Ricercari. They were never printed, but one of the scribes of the manuscript added a date to the name of the composer: "16 January 1689". This has led to the assumption that it was Giovanni Battista degli Antonii who was responsible for the first solo pieces for the cello. He was also from Bologna, and like Gabrielli a member of the Accademia Filarmonica. He published a set of Ricercate for cello and bc as his op. 1 in 1687. But not long ago a set of violin parts which match these Ricercate have been found, and that casts some doubts about the original scoring. If they were indeed written for violin, then Gabrielli's Ricercari could be the first pieces for solo cello in history after all.

Also represented in the programme is Giuseppe Maria Jacchini, who was Gabrielli's pupil and became a cellist in San Petronio in 1689 and was accepted as a member of the Accademia Filarmonica the year before. As a composer he only wrote instrumental works for various scorings, but often with obbligato parts for the cello. He was adept at accompanying singers and that could well be reflected in his sonatas which have a remarkable cantabile character. Lastly, Giovanni Battista Vitali was also from Bologna, and the oldest composer in the programme. He was known as a player of the violoncino. That is not necessarily the same instrument as Gabrielli and Jacchini played. His pieces which were selected for this recording are per Violone "which in all likelihood means that they were intended for the bass violin (basse de violon), since the fast passages do not lend themselves very well to the use of an instrument played at 16' pitch (...)", Bruno Cocset writes in the liner-notes.

Cocset uses a whole array of different instruments, all made by one luthier, Charles Riché in Fours. These are built after historical models, but to what extent they can be called real copies is another matter. Cocset doesn't only play cellos, but also a basse de violon, a ténor de violon and an alto a la bastarda. His playing is technically brilliant and quite imaginative. I just wonder whether he is now and then a bit carried away by his imagination. Whether all his moves remain within the boundaries of what is historically justifiable is a matter of debate, I suppose. His colleagues of Les Basses Réunis give fine support. The lavish booklet includes detailed information about the instruments and the scoring of the various pieces, with beautiful pictures of the instruments.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Les Basses Réunis

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