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"Specchio Veneziano - Reali, Vivaldi"

Le Consort

rec: March 2021, Paris, Banque de France (Galerie Dorée)
Alpha - 771 (© 2021) (68'00")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Reali

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Concerto for harpsichord in D (BWV 972) (larghetto); [improvisation]: Preludea; Giovanni Battista REALI (1681-1751): Sinfonia I (Sonata) for two violins and bc in d minor; Sinfonia II (Capriccio) for two violins and bc in d minor; Sinfonia IV (Capriccio) for two violins and bc in Da; Sinfonia IX (Sonata) for two violins and bc in d minor; Sinfonia X (Capriccio) for two violins and bc in Aa; Sinfonia XII for two violins and bc in d minor 'Folia'a; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Sonata for cello and bc in E minor (RV 40) (largo)a; Sonata for two violins and bc in g minor, op. 1,1 (RV 73); Sonata for two violins and bc in d minor, op. 1,12 'La Follia' (RV 63); Sonata III for two violins and bc ad libitum in F (RV 68) (andante)

Sources: Antonio Vivaldi, Suonate da camera a 3, op. 1, 1705; Giovanni Battista Reali, Suonate e capricci a due violini, e basso, con una Folia a due, violini, e violoncello con violone obligatti, X Suonate a tre; duo violini e violoncello col basso continuo, op. 1, 1709

Théotime Langlois de Swarte, Sophie de Bardonnèche, violin; Hanna Salzenstein, cello; Justin Taylor, harpsichord, organ
with: Victor Julien-Laferrière, celloa

The title of this disc may raise questions: What does it mean and why has it been chosen for a disc with trio sonatas? The Italian title means "Venetian mirror" and the liner-notes explain that it reflects the purpose of the programme: "This album holds up a 'Venetian mirror' to these two composers, whose works provide richly-tinted, highly-coloured reflections of the Venetian trio sonata". The authors - the members of the ensemble collectively - then continue with giving an impression of music life in Venice. The two composers who have been chosen for the programme were almost exact contemporaries, and also published the trio sonatas which are the subject of this disc at about the same time. Both were printed with the opus number 1: Vivaldi's sonatas in 1705, those by Reali in 1709.

In 1681 Arcangelo Corelli published his first collection of trio sonatas which were to be followed by three further sets of twelve sonatas each. These came from the press in 1685, 1689 and 1694 respectively. They were enthusiastically embraced by the music lovers and amateur performers at the time. It is telling that the Venetian music printer Giuseppe Sala reprinted all of these collections some years after their first appearance. The influence of Corelli's sonatas was such that almost any composer of later generations felt obliged to show his skills in trio sonatas of his own. A set of trio sonatas was often a composer's first publication of music from his pen. Examples are the trio sonatas by Albinoni, Bonporti, Caldara and the two collections by Vivaldi and Reali.

It is no coincidence that the opus 1 was often a set of trio sonatas. It was a very popular genre, but it was also a genre that was aimed at amateurs, and was especially suited to be played in domestic surroundings, with family and friends. Moreover, trio sonatas could also be part of the liturgy. Because of that trio sonatas sold well, and their dissemination contributed to the reputation of a budding composer. A set of trio sonatas could be used as a showpiece and could open doors to meaningful positions. The Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot has suggested that the 1705 edition of Vivaldi's opus 1 was in fact a reprint, and that the first edition may have been published in 1703. That was shortly before Vivaldi was appointed at the Ospedale della Pietà, which then may have been the direct result of that publication.

Corelli's trio sonatas can be divided into two genres: the sonata da chiesa, comprising four movements with tempo indications like adagio, andante and allegro, and the sonata da camera which opened with a preludio and continued with three dances. Most composers started with a set of sonate da chiesa, probably because these were dominated by counterpoint - the second movement was always a fugue - and allowed them to show their skills in this department. In the early decades of the 18th century the mastery of counterpoint was still a bench-mark for any up-and-coming composer. It is probably Vivaldi's wilfulness which made him decide to start with a set of sonate da camera. Le Consort selected the first of these for the programme, and close with the last piece in the collection, a series of variations on La Folia, one of the most popular subjects at the time. That was also pretty conventional, and again something that was initiated by Corelli: his sonatas for violin and basso continuo Op. 5 close with such variations.

And then there is Reali whose set of trio sonatas Op. 1 also comes to a close with variations on this same subject. He is the surprise of this disc. All but one of his pieces recorded here appear on disc for the first time. He has no entry in New Grove. There is probably not much to tell. The liner-notes mention that "his life has remained shrouded in mystery". It is known that he worked as a violinist in the Teatro San Fantin in Venice and in 1727 as maestro di cappella of the Duke of Guastalla in Emilia-Romagna. Only two collections of music from his pen have come down to us: the trio sonatas Op. 1 and a set of sonatas for violin and basso continuo, printed in 1712. Apparently his trio sonatas found a good reception as they were reprinted in 1710 by Estienne Roger in Amsterdam.

The Op. 1 comprises twelve pieces, as was customary at the time. The pieces are either called sonata or capriccio. They consist of four movements in the conventional order slow - fast - slow - fast. Several features are notable. In the Sonata X Reali explores the high positions of the violin, going up to an F sharp. This is rather unusual in the genre of the trio sonata and something one would rather expect in solo sonatas, which were intended for professional players. In the Folia variations Reali adds an obbligato cello part, and in the last two variations he changes metre: from triple to duple time.

These pieces are an example of how cruel music history can be. They are in no way inferior to those by Vivaldi, but whereas the latter are available in several recordings, Reali is largely new to the catalogue. It cannot be appreciated enough that Le Consort decided to put him on the musical map. Reali could not have wished for better advocates of his forgotten sonatas. They are given excellent performances, which convincingly demonstrate their qualities. Vivaldi's two sonatas receive equally outstanding and incisive performances.

Le Consort is not afraid to explore unknown territory as they have already demonstrated by their recording of trio sonatas by Jean-François Dandrieu. Let us hope that they will dig up more unknown repertoire.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

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