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Antonio Maria MONTANARI (1676 - 1737): "Violin Concertos"

Johannes Pramsohler, violin
Ensemble Diderot

rec: Jan 12 - 14, 2015, Toblach, Gustav-Mahler-Saal
Audax - ADX 13704 (© 2015) (60'02")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto in C 'Dresden'; Concerto in A, op. 1,1; Concerto in C, op. 1,5; Concerto in E flat, op. 1,6; Concerto in E, op. 1,7; Concerto in A, op. 1,8

8 Concerti, op. 1, c1730

Johannes Pramsohler, David Wish, Roldán Bernabé, Johannes Heim, violin; Samuel Hengebaert, violin, viola; Gulrim Choi, cello; Youen Cadiou, violone; Jadran Duncumb, theorbo, guitar; Philippe Grisvard, harpsichord

"I don't see why I should record works that have already been examined from all imaginable sides and that boast an excellent discography. Perhaps my way of thinking will change at some point, but right now I find it more important to bring unknown music to light". Thus Johannes Pramsohler in an interview in the booklet to his Ensemble Diderot's recording of violin concertos by Antonio Maria Montanari. I can only say: hear, hear! I wish many of his colleagues would share his view. That would spare me the need to review recordings of the same repertoire time and again, such as Bach's Brandenburg Concertos or his motets or some pieces by Vivaldi, Rameau and Handel. There is still much to discover as Pramsohler and his colleagues have shown through previous recordings several of which have been reviewed here.

More evidence that there are still white spots on the musical map of the baroque era comes with the present disc. In my collection I have just one piece from Montanari's pen: a single movement from a violin sonata. It is from a disc called "Corelli's legacy" and that is exactly what this disc is all about. The entry on Montanari in New Grove is very short; in the liner-notes to the present disc Michael Talbot, the renowned specialist of Italian baroque music, gives us some interesting information about the composer and his connection to Corelli. He tells us, for instance, that he spent some of his formative years in Bologna which explains the presence of some compositions in an anthology of works by local composers from around 1690. Not much later he was in Rome where he acted as a violinist in several orchestras. Talbot refers to a contemporary author claiming that he was one of Corelli's pupils, but there is no documentary evidence for that.

Montanari had close ties to Cardinal Ottoboni; between 1700 and 1715 he was a salaried member of his household but also performed at special functions organized by the Cardinal throughout his career. From 1705 to 1708 he was also at the service of Cardinal Pamphili. In 1708 he was co-leader of the orchestra which gave the first performance of Handel's oratorio La Resurrezione. After the death of Corelli in 1713 Montanari succeeded him as leader of the body of strings which was responsible for the main orchestral performances in Rome. This tells us much about his reputation. So does the fact that the renowned German violinist Johann Georg Pisendel took lessons from Montanari; some of his compositions were in Pisendel's baggage when he returned to Dresden. The Concerto in C recorded here has come down to us in the copy by Johann Joachim Quantz who met Montanari in Rome in 1724.

Little of his music was published and as a result the number of extant works is small. Around 1730 the Amsterdam publisher Le Cène printed a collection of eight concertos as the op. 1, but the composer had nothing to do with it. The publisher apparently collected the concertos from what was circulating in manuscript. This could well explain the rather uncommon number of eight, as most collections of concertos or sonatas comprised six or twelve pieces. In addition there are two violin concertos and some sonatas for different scorings which have survived in manuscript in various archives. New Grove also mentions another op. 1, comprising six sonatas for violin and bc. It mentions Francesco Montanari as the composer, and the article's author, Albert Dunning, states that he "must be taken to be the same person as Antonio Montanari". However, Michael Talbot emphatically denies this.

He refers to recent studies which have concluded that Montanari's works are of excellent quality and this disc's purpose is to initiate their revival. That should be no problem as Johannes Pramsohler and his colleagues establish themselves here as eloquent advocates of his violin concertos. These were all published in seven partbooks: two solo violins, cello, and ripieno parts for two violins, viola and basso continuo. Talbot states that this doesn't tell that much about how a piece was performed: "[The] designation of an individual part could vary from work to work within the same collection". And these designations could be treated in different ways. That is relevant here because in several concertos the part of the second concertino violin plays the same notes as the second ripieno violin which means that the number of parts is in fact reduced. "As a result of this doubling up (or of a 'tacet' direction, which appears in the fourth part for concertos 6 and 7), concertos 1 and 6-8 of Le Cène's collection effectively become orthodox concertos for a solo violin (the solo part being renamed appropriately Violino principale)". The viola is only employed in the last three concertos. In some concertos the role of the cello is confined to the basso continuo whereas in others the cello part has the description obbligato.

The number of movements varies. The two Concertos in C are in three movements: fast-slow-fast, but the others follow the model of the Corellian sonata da chiesa in its four-movement sequence. The violin parts are more virtuosic than in Corelli's oeuvre, but Montanari goes not as far in exploring the violin's possibilities as, for instance, Vivaldi or Locatelli. The closing allegro from the Concerto in A, op. 1,1 includes some high positions for the solo violin, but not as extreme as we find them in Locatelli's op. 3 or some of his sonatas op. 6. Other technical challenges are the use of multiple-stopping, rapid arpeggiation and wide leaps. However, if in Locatelli's music we may find some pieces in which the demonstration of the composer's - and performer's - technical prowess seems a goal in itself that is certainly not the case here. In fact, this is a most enjoyable set of concertos from a musical point of view.

This is emphasized by the performers. Johannes Pramsohler once again proves to be an outstanding violinist with an excellent technique. But - more importantly - he is also a real interpreter who knows what it takes to bring music to life. That is especially important if one wants to convince a probably sceptical audience that forgotten repertoire is really worth being explored. That is his mission and he succeeds with flying colours. The collaboration of his colleagues is essential; they act on the same wavelength and as a result the ensemble is just as good as the performance of the solo parts.

Every lover of baroque violin music should investigate this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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