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Ermenegildo DEL CINQUE (1701 - 1773): "Sonatas for three cellos"

Ludovico Minasi, Cristina Vidoni, Teodoro Bała, cello; Simone Vallerotonda, archlute, guitar; Andrea Buccarella, harpsichord

rec: March 22 - 25, 2021, Rome, Palazzo Altemps (Teatro Goldoni)
Arcana - A528 (© 2022) (63'08")
Liner-notes: E/F/IT
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata for two cellos in d minor; Sonata for two cellos in e minor; Sonata for three cellos No. 5 in Da; Sonata for three cellos No. 6 in d minora; Sonata for three cellos No. 9 in b minora; Sonata for three cellos No. 11 in E flata; Sonata for three cellos No. 15 in Ca; Sonata for three cellos No. 17 in g minora

If a single page of unknown music by the likes of Bach or Handel would be found, it would be covered by all the newspapers around the world, maybe even on the frontpage. The discovery of a large number of pieces for one to three cellos by a composer who was previously not even known, has not attracted that much attention. Cellists will be very thankful to Ermenegildo Del Cinque for having provided them with such a rich repertoire for their instrument.

Dominicus Ermengildus Felix Del Cinque, born in Trastavere, a neighbourhood in Rome, was a poet, cellist and composer of noble descent. The latter explains that he was not - and could not be, in the social environment of his days - a professional musician, but rather a dilettante. It may also explain why he has remained unknown: his name does not appear in the payment lists of professionally employed musicians, as he did not need to be employed. Del Cinque was a Cavaliere in the order of the Santo Spirito, but was also called abate, which suggests that he had some position in the church. That could be basically anything; such a title could even be given to simple priest.

There can be little doubt about the appreciation of his skills, as in 1721 he became a member of the Accademia dell'Arcadia. He was especially famous as a virtuosic player of the cello, but was also respected as a composer. The painter and caricaturist Pier Leone Ghezzi, to whom we owe the only image of Del Cinque, mentions that his skill was "equal to that of a professional composer".

Marc Vanscheeuwijck, in his liner-notes, lists what Del Cinque is known to have written: sixteen operas, six oratorios, 87 cantatas, some sacred works, 313 trios and 17 pieces for four instruments with obbligato cello. To this list have to be added a volume of 50 cello sonatas preserved at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome and another collection of 50 sonatas which is part of the library of the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. Del Cinque's inventory also includes 158 sonatas for two cellos and 19 sonatas for three cellos. Van Scheeuwijck concludes that this makes him the single most prolific composer of cello music in history. A large part of Del Cinque's oeuvre is either lost or has not been found yet. What has come down to us are two sacred works, some sonatas for cello and basso continuo, one hundred sonatas for two cellos and eighteen for three cellos. These pieces have been found in libraries and archives across Europe, including Wiesentheid, Berlin and Moscow. This attests to the appreciation of these works.

The sonatas are written in the style of the late Baroque, and follow the model of Corelli's sonate da chiesa. They comprise four movements in the usual order slow-fast-slow-fast. However, Del Cinque often prescribes a moderate tempo where one would expect a movement in fast tempo, for instance an andante as the last movement of a sonata. Many titles have additions indicating the character of a movement, such as vivace con brio, largo affettuoso, largo cantabile. The addition of words as affettuoso and cantabile suggests some similarity with the violin sonatas by his contemporary Giuseppe Tartini. Del Cinque was one of only a few composers who wrote pieces for three cellos. It is notable that Del Cinque's sonatas - in contrast to pieces for this scoring by other composers - are real trios, and the cellos are treated on equal footing. However, in some cases the third cello has an accompanying role. Van Scheeuwijck mentions that they are written without a basso continuo part. However, in some sonatas Simone Vallerotonda and Andrea Buccarella are participating, but their role is not discussed in the booklet.

As relatively little is known about Del Cinque, and there are no pictures except Ghezzi's caricature, which shows him from behind, it is impossible to be sure what kind of cello he played and how he held the bow. However, Van Scheeuwijck believes that we can gather some information from what is available. He must have played a cello with four strings, which was the kind of instrument that was to become common in his time. In the 17th century, the bow was held underhand. The overhand bow hold was introduced in Paris in the 1730s, and from then on gradually disseminated across Europe. At Del Cinque's time in Rome, both ways were practised, and that is the reason the performers do the same in this recording.

Del Cinque's sonatas are technically pretty demanding, for instance in that he explores the high registers, including chords and double stops. One of his sonatas for cello and basso continuo includes five flats and the highest pitch goes to e-flat". On a four-string cello this means that the thumb position needs to be used, which was developed in the 1720s and described for the first time by Michel Corrette in 1741. This suggest that Del Cinque was among the earliest who adopted this technique.

One may have gathered by now that this is a highly interesting release. It provides us with additional information about the development of the cello and its playing technique, and the repertoire for two and three cellos is strongly extended with the discovery of Del Cinque's sonatas. What is most important for the listener, though, is that these sonatas are very enjoyable. This is excellent music, and one can only hope that more of Del Cinque's oeuvre will be recorded in the near future, and that more of his oeuvre may be rediscovered. Ludovico Minasi, Cristina Vidoni and Theodoro Bał deliver outstanding performances, technically impeccable and musically captivating.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Ludovico Minasi

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