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"Passaggio - Eine barocke Alpenüberquerung" (A Baroque Alpine Crossing)

Ombra e Luce

rec: July 11 - 13, 2016, Polditz (D)
Alpha - 540 (© 2016) (66'44")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Musicalisch Uhrwerckac; Angelo Michele BARTOLOTTI (c1615-1682): Prelude - Allemande - Courante - Sarabande - Passacagliad; Biagio MARINI (c1587-1663): Sonata IV per il violino per sonar con due corde, op. 8,4ab; Giovanni Antonio PANDOLFI MEALLI (1624-c1687): Sonata IV in d minor, op. 4,4 'La Biancuccia'ab; Georg MUFFAT (c1645-1704): Sonata in Dab; Alessandro PICCININI (1566-1638): Corrente detto Nasazzo fatto sopra il Mercatelloc; Tenore detto il Mercatelloc; Toccata Xc; Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (c1620-1680): Sonata IV in Dab; Johann Joseph VILSMAYR (1663-1722): Preludio - Harpeggio - Aria (allegro) - Saraband (adagio) - Gavotte (allegro)a

Sources: Biagio Marini, Sonate, symphonie ... e retornelli, op. 8, 1629; Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli, Sonate ą violino solo per chiesa e camera, op. 4, 1660; Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Sonatae unarum fidium, 1664; Johann Joseph Vilsma˙r, Artificiosus Concentus pro Camera, 1715

Georg Kallweit, violina; Björn Colell, theorbob, chitarronec, guitard

The stile nuovo which emerged in Italy in the early 17th century, found a wide appeal across Europe, in particular in the German-speaking world. One of its features was instrumental virtuosity, especially in music written for the violin. The present disc includes some specimens of the Italian influence in music written above the Alps.

It is fitting that the programme opens with a piece by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. He can be considered one of the founders of the German-Austrian violin school which mixed the new Italian style with the German contrapuntal tradition. He probably was a pupil of Antonio Bertali, who for more than 40 years was in the service of the imperial court in Vienna, where Schmelzer also worked most of his life. A popular composition device in Italy was the use of a basso ostinato, the repetition of the same pattern in the bass over which the treble instrument weaves an increasingly virtuosic web. That is also the case in Schmelzer's Sonata IV from his collection Sonatae unarum fidium of 1664. For three quarters of this piece the bass pattern is a descending sequence of four notes. This episode is divided into various sections. The last section - from 6'00" - the bass leaves the previous pattern and becomes more free; the violin plays in an improvisatory manner. The brilliant closing points in the direction of Biber.

Biagio Marini was one of the first in Italy to compose and publish virtuosic music for a solo instrument. Although most of his published collections are not specifically intended for violin, some clearly point in that direction, for instance the Sonata IV from the Op. 8 of 1629, as here he makes use of double stopping. Marini is notable for this technique; most Italian composers of later generations seem to have avoided it. That was very different in the German-speaking world where it became a fixed part of composing for the violin. Another feature which had its origin in Italy and found more imitators above the Alps than in Italy itself is descriptive music: the illustration of characters or natural phenomena in instrumental music. The best-known Italian piece of this kind is Carlo Farina's Capriccio stravagante. The programme on this disc includes an anonymous specimen: the Musicalisch Uhrwerck (the musical clock) from a large collection of music for violin, known as Manuscript XIV 726 from the Minorite Convent in Vienna. This piece again includes several passages with a basso ostinato.

In Austria Italian musicians played a key role in music life, not only at the court in Vienna, but also elsewhere. Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli was from Montepulciano in Tuscany. In the 1650s he entered the service of the Princess de' Medici in Innsbruck. Later he worked in Sicily and in Madrid. Only three collections of music from his pen are known. The most famous are the twelve sonatas which were published as his opp. 3 and 4 respectively, both comprising six sonatas. All sonatas of both collections bear names which mostly refer to musicians from his time, some of whom were Mealli's colleagues in Innsbruck. Whether these are intended as a kind of musical portraits is impossible to say. It could well be that by giving his sonatas a title which is derived from their names Pandolfi Mealli wanted to pay respect to his colleagues. One of these is the castrato Giovanni Giacomo Biancucci to whom the Sonata IV from the Op. 4 La Biancuccia refers.

Little is known about Johann Joseph Vilsma˙r who hasn't even an entry in New Grove. It is likely that he was a pupil of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. For most of his life he worked at the court in Salzburg as violinist and as chamberlain to Francisco Antonio, the Archbishop of Salzburg. To him Vilsma˙r dedicated his six partitas which were printed in Salzburg in 1715. This is the only collection of music from his pen which has come down to us, alongside a sonata for violin and bc. The title page includes the words "con basso bellč imitante" which has been interpreted as referring to a (lost) basso continuo part. However, this merely indicates that a bass line is suggested, through the use of counterpoint and the quick succession of high and low notes. Unfortunately the track-list is not very specific about the pieces included here. The collection comprises six suites, called Partia, but here we don't get a key which makes it impossible to tell which of the suites is played. The second movement is called Harpeggio but in the recording by Vaughan Jones (First Hand Records, 2015) none of the movements bears this title. In any case we don't hear a complete suite: the number of movements of these suites varies from eight to eleven.

The last piece in the programme is from the pen of Georg Muffat, a promotor of the 'mixed taste', who had first hand experience in both the French and the Italian style. The Sonata in D is his only piece for this scoring and is preserved in the archive of the Bishop of Olomouc in Kromeriz. It was written in 1677, as the manuscript shows, which means that it predates the sonatas of Corelli. As the sonata by Marini it is an example of the stylus phantasticus: it comprises five movements of contrasting tempo and character - adagio, allegro, adagio, allegro, adagio - but these are not formally divided and follow each other attacca. It is notable that Muffat completely avoids double stopping.

In between we hear some lute and guitar pieces. To some extent they don't fit well into the programme, in that lute music in the German-speaking world was under the influence of French rather than Italian lute music. However, the pieces for plucked instruments by Piccinini and Bartolotti can be considered further demonstrations of the Italian style. The chitarrone was one of the most revered plucked instruments in Italy. Piccinini was a true virtuoso, at the same level as his younger colleague Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger. The three pieces represent several genres of music for solo instruments. The Toccata X has a strongly improvisatory character, not unlike toccatas for keyboard by, for instance, Frescobaldi. Angelo Michele Bartolotti was from Bologna and was a theorbo player. However, he also played the guitar - chitarra spagnola - which had come to Italy mainly through Naples, which was under Spanish rule. Björn Colell has selected several pieces from two collections and ordered them in the form of a suite. That is a bit odd as the suite was a French invention and did not appear in Italy.

Georg Kallweit is one of the leaders of the world-class Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, known for its engaging and colourful performances. That is what we get here as well. Kallweit plays with technical assurance and great intensity, differentiating in colours and dynamics. The result is a compelling programme which makes one long for more. What we get here is just a very tiny selection from the incredibly rich repertoire of music for violin from Italy and the German-speaking world. Colell is Kallweit's congenial partner and delivers fine performances of the solo pieces for chitarrone and for guitar.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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