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"Mandolin on Stage - The Greatest Mandolin Concertos"

Raffaele La Ragione, mandolina
Il Pomo d'Oro
Dir: Francesco Corti

rec: Feb 27 - March 2, 2021, Lonigo (Vicenza), Villa San Fermo
Arcana - A524 (© 2022) (66'56")
Liner-notes: E/F/IT
Cover, track-list & booklet

Baldassare GALUPPI (1706-1785): Il mondo alla roversa o sia Le donne che comandano o sia Il regno delle Donne (Sinfonia in G); Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Le Pescatrici (H XXVIII,4) (Sinfonia in D); Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837): Concerto in Ga; Francesco LECCE (fl 1750-1806): Concerto in Ga; Giovanni PAISIELLO (1749-1816) (attr); Concerto in E flata; Giovanni PAISIELLO: La serva padrona (R 1.63) (Sinfonia in B flat); Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto in C (RV 425)a

Marcello Gatti, Francesca Torri, transverse flute; Shai Kribus, Georg Fritz, oboe; Alessandri Orlando, Giovanni Catania, horn; Andrea Bressan, Matteo Scavazza, bassoon; Zefira Valova, Stefano Rossi, Dmitri Smirnov, Dimitri Lephekov, Daniele Nuzzoli, Valerio Losito, Giacomo Catana, Mauro Spinazzčviolin; Archimede De Martini, violin, viola; Stefano Marcocchi, viola; Ludovico Minasi, Cristina Vidoni, cello; Jonathan Alvarez, double bass; Miguel Rincon, theorbo, guitar; Francesco Corti, Deniel Perer, harpsichord

The mandolin has played an important role in Western music since the Renaissance. One would not guess on the basis of modern performance practice, as today - even in our time of historical performance practice - its role is marginal, both in ensemble and as a solo instrument. Over many years of attending concerts I have never seen it being played. The number of discs devoted to music for the mandolin is also rather limited, although in recent years several productions have landed on my desk. The ensemble Artemandoline is one of the ensembles that has contributed to the growing number of recordings that document the instrument's role in music of the 18th century.

The first time the instrument makes its appearance is the late 16th century. It was called mandola; about half a century later its diminutive mandolino turns up. These two terms were used simultaneously until well into the 18th century. The instrument was also known under names such as liutino or liuto soprano. This indicates that the mandolin is derived from the lute.

In the 18th century it was especially connected to Naples, where it was very popular. Here an instrument was played which has become known as the mandolino napoletano, which in the second half of the century was the most common kind of mandolin. Around 1800 the mandolin was very much part of music life in Vienna. Some of the main composers of the time wrote music for it, such as Johann Nepomuk Hummel, whose Concerto in G closes the present disc.

In the first half of the 18th century, the mandolin was given obbligato parts in arias in operas and oratorios, such as Vivaldi's Juditha triumphans. It was often violinists who played such a part, as they "could easily transfer their left-hand technique to the new instrument" (Guido Olivieri in the liner-notes). Vivaldi's Concerto in C, which opens the programme, may have been written for one of the girls of the Ospedale della Pietŕ in Venice, known as Anna Maria, who was a virtuosic player of the violin. This concerto by Vivaldi has become one of the best-known and most popular pieces for the mandolin, even before the emergence of historical performance practice.

The mandolin continued to be used frequently in the second half of the 18th century. Mozart included it in his opera Don Giovanni and among other composers who used it in their music for the stage were Grétry and Paisiello. The latter is also mentioned as the composer of two solo concertos, among them the Concerto in E flat included here. These may have been written for the French mandolin virtuoso Dominique Della Maria (1769-1800), who around 1789 went to Naples to study composition with Paisiello. However, Guido Olivieri suggests that these two concertos may have been written by a composer who was a virtuoso mandolin player himself, because of certain features that betray an intimate knowledge of the instrument. Moreover, the connection between solo and tutti is different from that in Paisiello's keyboard concertos.

The least-known name in the programme is that of Francesco Lecce, although his Concerto in G became part of the mandolin repertoire during the second half of the 20th century, according to Raffaele La Ragione. That makes it a bit surprising that Lecce has no entry in New Grove. There is not much to tell about him. He was one of the violinists at the Musical Chapel of the Treasury of San Gennaro in Naples in the second half of the 18th century. In 1806 he was a member of the Royal Chapel. This concerto is included in a collection that also includes a number of mandolin sonatas from his pen and the two concertos that are attributed to Paisiello. That raises the question whether the latter may also be written by Lecce. This concerto is a specimen of the galant idiom.

It is performed here on period instruments for the first time, and that also goes for the Concerto in G by Johann Nepomuk Hummel. He was a child prodigy on the keyboard and was a pupil of Mozart. With his father he travelled through Europe to show his talents, just like his teacher had done in the 1760s. He developed into one of the main keyboard virtuosos of his time. As indicated on the title-page, the mandolin concerto was written for Bartolomeo Bortolazzi (1772-1820), maestro di mandolino, who was also the author of the first mandolin method written in German (1805). Olivieri suggests it may have been intended as a show piece for Bortolazzi. It is a full-blooded classical solo concerto, that Hummel later transcribed for pianoforte, to be played by himself. The second movement is a set of variations and the third a rondo. In both movements, the mandolin opens the proceedings by presenting the respective themes.

Bortolazzi was probably also responsible for the dissemination of the Brescian mandolin. This brings us to a specific aspect of performance practice: which kind of mandolin should be used? As the history of the mandolin spans a few centuries, it is not more than logical that it underwent changes. Raffaele La Ragione, in his personal notes in the booklet, writes that in the first half of the 19th century, mandolinists "gradually adopted the 'Neapolitan' mandolin with metal strings tuned in fifths (i.e. the instrument that eventually became of almost universal use) (...). Gradually, though inexorably, we witness the disappearance of mandolins with 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 strings, which today organologists often identify by their respective local or regional adjectives: 'Cremonese or Brescian', 'Venetian', 'Genoese', 'Lombard' and 'Milanese'." This shows the variety of types that existed in the previous centuries. That has consequences for a performance according to the principles of historical performance practice. La Ragione plays three different mandolins in this recording. Vivaldi's concerto is played on a copy of a six-course 'Lombard' mandolin of 1792, the concerto attributed to Paisiello and the Lecce concerto on an original four-course 'Neapolitan' mandolin of c1770, and Hummel's concerto on a copy of a four-string 'Brescian' mandolin of the late 18th-century. The dates of the original instruments show that the various types largely co-existed.

The importance of this disc cannot be overrated. Although several discs with music for the mandolin, played on historical instruments, have been released in recent years, those mostly focused on chamber music. Here we get four solo concertos, of which only the one by Vivaldi is really well-known. It also sheds light on the great variety of instruments that were in use during the 18th century. Raffaele La Ragione is an outstanding player, who delivers stylish and differentiated performances, based on a thorough knowledge of the various instruments and their features as well as the way they were played in the 18th century. As one may expect, the accompaniment is mostly confined to strings and basso continuo, and in order to make the solo part clearly audible, it was decided to play the concertos by Vivaldi, Paisiello and Lecce with one instrument per part. Only in the case of the three works without a solo for the mandolin and in Hummel's concerto, the line-up is larger. In the latter case, that is also due to the fact that Hummel included parts for two flutes and two horns. Il Pomo d'Oro is La Ragione's perfect partner.

The mandolin may play a marginal role in modern concert life and some music lovers may find it not easy to take it seriously, but this disc should convince every sceptic, that it is an instrument which fully deserves a place on the stage.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Raffaele La Ragione
Il Pomo d'Oro

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