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"Virtuoso Music of the 16th & 17th Century for Cornetto"

Richard Seda, cornett
Capella Ornamentata

rec: June 19, 2021, Prague, St. Salvator Church; June 25 - 27, 2021, Slavonice, Church of the Holy Ghost
Arta - F10266 (© 2021) (57'40")
Liner-notes: E/D/CZ
Cover, track-list & liner-notes

Giovanni BASSANO (1560/61-1617): Tota pulchra es (Palestrina); Giovanni Battista BOVICELLI (fl 1592-1594): Ave verum corpus (Palestrina); Antonio BRUNELLI (1577-1630): O quam suavis es; Dario CASTELLO (1602-1631): Sonata II ŕ sopran solo; Giovanni Martino CESARE (c1590-1667): La Giorgina ŕ 1; Giovanni Battista FONTANA (1589-1630): Sonata II; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Canzona II detta La Bernardinia; Biagio MARINI (1587-1663): Sonata per l'organo e violino o cornetto; Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665): Sonata I ŕ 2; Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (c1525-1594): Pulchra es amica mea (dimintutions: Richard Seda); Giovanni Antonio PANDOLFI MEALLI (1624-c1687): Sonata VI in d minor, op. 4,6 'La Vinciolina'; Liberale ZANCHI (c1570-c1621): Canzona II (diminutions: Richard Seda)

Sources: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Motettorum liber quartus ex Canticis canticorum, 1584; Giovanni Bassano, Motetti, madrigali et canzone francese di diversi eccellenti autori, 1591; Giovanni Battista Bovicelli, Regole, passaggi di musica, madrigali et motetti passeggiati, 1594; Giovanni Martino Cesare, Musicali melodie per voci et instrumenti, 1621; Tarquinio Merula, Il primo libro de motetti e sonate concertati, 1624; Antonio Brunelli, Parte prima delli fioretti spirituali, 16262; Girolamo Frescobaldi, il primo libro delle canzoni per sonare con ogni sorte di stromenti, 1628; Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno, libro secondo, 1629; Biagio Marini, Sonate, symphonie ... e retornelli, 1629; Giovanni Battista Fontana, Sonate a 1. 2. 3. per il violino, o cornetto, fagotto, chitarone, violoncino o simile altro istromento, 1641; Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli, Sonate a violino solo per chiesa e camera, op. 4, 1660

Jakub Michl, viola da gamba; Marek Kubát, theorbo, guitar; Marek Cermák, organ; Jirina Dvoráková Maresová, organ, regal

The cornett can probably be considered one of the most marked exponents of the revival of early music in the 20th century. It was used for the performance of music of the 16th and 17th centuries that was largely forgotten. And so was the cornett. It has its origins in the Middle Ages, but was especially popular during the 16th and 17th centuries. At first it was mainly used in ensemble, especially together with sackbuts. An ensemble of cornett(s) and sackbuts played instrumental and vocal music, but also often played colla voce in sacred music. They also could be used as substitutes for singers, for instance in pieces that were written for more voices than were available. They were still used this way during the 17th century, but around 1600 a new style emerged, which resulted in a large repertoire of instrumental music, in which the cornett often participated.

The cornett played in sonatas for instrumental ensemble, for instance together with violin, sackbut and dulcian, but also in pieces for a solo instrument with basso continuo. Some sonatas were especially intended for the cornett, but more often the instrument was mentioned as an alternative to in particular the violin. Often composers left it to the performers to select the instrument on which their music should be performed. The cornett was highly revered, in particular because it was considered the best instrument able to imitate the human voice. Stylistically there is little difference between the sonatas and other pieces for solo instrument and motets or sacred concertos for voice. Both aim at communicating the affetti to the audience.

The present disc is a nice survey of the kind of music that was written in Italy in the early 17th century. It opens with one of the best-known pieces from that period, the Sonata II by Dario Castello, who was the leader of the wind ensemble at St Mark's in Venice. In his music he incorporates the stile concitato that we know from Monteverdi, but also includes passages with echo effects - a technique very popular at the time. Another well-known piece is the Sonata II by Giovanni Battista Fontana, who published only one collection of sonatas for one to three instruments and basso continuo. He himself was a violinist, and the violin may be the first choice for the first six sonatas, which are scored for a solo instrument. Today they are often performed on the recorder as well, but Fontana mentions the cornett as an alternative to the violin in the first sonata. That does not exclude the possibility to play the other solo sonatas on the cornett, as this performance of the second sonata demonstrates. Because of its dynamic possibilities it is closer to the violin than the recorder. This is probably the reason that the last item in the programme, the Sonata VI from the Op. 4 of Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli, does come off rather well, despite the fact that these sonatas are very much violin music. I have heard performances of some sonatas by Pandolfi Mealli on the recorder, which I found rather unconvincing.

I already mentioned the connection between instrumental and vocal music. This is underlined by the inclusion of several vocal pieces in the programme. In most cases we have to do here with specimens of an important genre from the decades around 1600: diminutions on vocal music. Often the subject of such diminutions were polyphonic works written in the stile antico: a performer took one line - mostly the upper voice - of a motet, a madrigal or a chanson and adds his own ornamentations. Several treatises were published with instructions on how to make one's own diminutions. They include some examples, which are often played by performers of our time. We get two such pieces here, from the pen of Giovanni Battista Bovicelli (after Palestrina's motet Ave verum corpus) and Giovanni Bassano (after motet Tota pulchra es by the same composer). An interesting development of recent years is that performers of our time take the treatises for what they are, and make their own diminutions. I have encountered several of such attempts recently and I find this an exciting development which cannot be appreciated enough. I am happy that Richard Seda follows this tendency and plays his own diminutions on the Canzona II by Liberale Zanchi and Palestrina's motet Pulchra es amica mea respectively. He does so very well. He also includes an instrumental performance of a motet - without diminutions - by Antonio Brunelli. In order to do justice to the vocal nature of this piece he uses a muted cornett and a modest accompaniment of just one theorbo. His marked vocal style of playing emphasizes its character.

It just shows that this programme is well thought-out and the performances are carefully considered. The programme is a nice mixture of familiar and lesser-known stuff. The main genres of instrumental music are represented. In addition to the diminutions, we hear sonatas that have to be ornamented by the performer, and Seda does so admirably and in stylistically convincing manner. There and in his own diminutions he shows his skills in improvisation. His impeccable technique is an impressive testimony of the development in the playing of one of the most complicated instruments since the revival of early music started.

To me the cornett is one of the most exciting instruments of the 17th century, and that is perfectly demonstrated here. I strongly recommend this disc, which I have greatly enjoyed. I should not forget to mention with honour the contributions of the Capella Ornamentata, which I had not heard before, but which makes an excellent impression here. The booklet includes informative liner-notes by Richard Seda, a specification of the instruments used and a list of the sources from which the musical items are taken. Bravo!

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

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