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Domenico GABRIELLI & Alessandro SCARLATTI: "Complete Cello Works"

Guadelupe López Íńiguez, cello; Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, cello [bc]; Olli Hyyrynen, archlute, guitar; Lauri Honkavirta, harpsichord

rec: Nov 7 - 8, 2016 & June 5 - 7, 2017, Vantaa, Pyhän Laurin kappeli
Alba - ABCD412 (© 2017) (74'53")
Liner-notes: E/ES/FI
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Gabrielli

Domenico GABRIELLI (c1659-1690): Canon in D; Ricercar I in g minor; Ricercar II in a minor; Ricercar III in D; Ricercar IV in E flat; Ricercar V in C; Ricercar VI in G; Ricercar VII in d minor; Sonata in G (1st version); Sonata in G (2nd version); Sonata in A; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Sonata in C; Sonata in c minor; Sonata in d minor

The disc under review here brings together two Italian composers who were contemporaries, but otherwise have little in common. Domenico Gabrielli composed vocal and instrumental music, but has become almost exclusively known for his pieces for cello, which are part of the standard repertoire of any cellist. Alessandro Scarlatti, on the other hand, is best known for his vocal music: liturgical pieces, oratorios, operas and many chamber cantatas. Instrumental music takes a very small place in his oeuvre, and his three sonatas for cello and basso continuo are the only three he has ever written.

The cello probably has the most complicated history of any instrument. The problems start with the confusion about the many different words used in 17th-century Italy to describe string bass instruments. The word (violon)cello, which is commonly used today, appears for the first time in a collection of sonatas with a part for cello obbligato, that Giulio Cesare Arresti published in 1665 as his Op. 4. However, that does not mean that he referred to the same instrument known today as cello - or, more precise, what today is called the 'baroque cello'. In the 17th century the main string bass was the 'bass violin', often called violone and known in France as the basse de violon.

With Gabrielli we are at the beginning of the history of the cello. It was the time that the cello started to replace the bass violin. It was to become the main string bass instrument in the 18th century, although for some time the two instruments coexisted. Gabrielli 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. 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, which were probably written for pedagogical purposes. They were never printed, but one of the scribes of the manuscript added a date to the name of the composer: "16 January 1689". These may be the first pieces for solo cello in history. Gabrielli's cello pieces have been preserved in two manuscripts. One piece appears in both, but in slightly different versions; both are included here. The Ricercari are scored for cello without accompaniment, whereas the sonatas are for cello and basso continuo, and the Canon is for two cellos.

Ricercares have strongly improvisatory traits, and Guadalupe López Íńiguez decided to treat the tempo with some freedom, slowing down and speeding up when she thought it apt. She opted for a pitch of a'=464Hz, which is also the pitch of the organs in the basilica San Petronio in Bologna. In contrast, the Scarlatti sonatas are played at modern pitch a'=440 Hz. This is not in accordance with the pitch presumably common in Naples, where these sonatas were written. "Because of the limitations of our French and English cellos from the early eighteenth century with dimensions similar to those made in the Cremonese School in the north of Italy, and our desire to maintain the brilliance of the sound, we decided to record Scarlatti’s music in 440Hz, which was used in Venice at the time when they were lowering the organs (the corista veneto pitch level at A+0). Also, transposing the music would have omitted the natural resonance of open strings sconceived by the composer."

Guadalupe López Íńiguez writes at length about aspects of performance practice, which is quite interesting. Unfortunately there is little factual information about the music. One may have different opinions with regard to some decisions taken by her and her colleagues, but there can be little doubt about the level of playing of all participants. I have greatly enjoyed this disc, and it has to be considered a very fine debut of Ms Íńiguez in the field of early music, as in the past she largely confined herself to music of the 19th and 20th centuries. I hope to hear more from here in baroque repertoire, as she shows here to have grasped its character very well. In Scarlatti's sonatas Nos. 1 and 3 I found the opening allegros a bit too slow, especially in comparison to the ensuing movements with the same tempo indication. In some movements the guitar is used as a kind of percussion instrument, which I don't like very much. However, overall I consider this disc one of the best as far as the pieces by Gabrielli are concerned, and Scarlatti's sonatas are not often recorded anyway, and if so, mostly not as a set.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Guadelupe López Íńiguez
Markku Luolajan-Mikkola

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