musica Dei donum
"The Trio Sonata in 18th-Century Italy"
rec: April & May 2012, East Woodhay (Hampshire), St Martin's Church
BIS - 2015 (© 2012) (77'14")
Cover & track-list
Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1750):
Balletto in G, op. 3,3 ;
Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747):
Sonata II ;
Francesco Antonio BONPORTI (1672-1749):
Sonata in g minor, op. 6,7 ;
Domenico GALLO (c1730-?):
Sonata No. 1 in G ;
Pietro Antonio LOCATELLI (1695-1764):
Sonata in D, op. 8,8 ;
Nicola Antonio PORPORA (1686-1768):
Sonata op. 2,3 ;
Giuseppe SAMMARTINI (1695-1750):
Sonata V in g minor, op. 3,5 ;
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770):
Suonata a 3 in d minor (Brainard d2);
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741):
Sonata in d minor, op. 1,12 'La Follia' (RV 63) 
 Tomaso Albinoni, Balletti a tre, op. 3, 1701;
 Francesco Antonio Bonporti, Sonate da camera a tre, op. 6, 1705;
 Antonio Vivaldi, Suonate da camera a 3, op. 1, 1705;
 Giovanni Bononcini, XII Sonatas for the Chamber,, 1732;
 Nicola Antonio Porpora, Sinfonie da camera, a 3, op. 2, 1736;
 Giuseppe Sammartini, XII Sonate a due Violini, e Violoncello, e Cembalo, se piace, op. 3, 1743;
 Pietro Antonio Locatelli, X Sonate, VI a Violino Solo e Basso e IV a tre, op. 8, 1744;
 Robert Bremner, ed, Twelve Sonatas for Two Violins and a Bass, 1780
Ingrid Seifert, Richard Gwilt, violin;
Charles Medlam, cello;
Steven Devine, harpsichord
The trio sonata emerged in the mid-17th century and became absolete around the middle of the 18th century. For about a century it was the main form of chamber music and many composers contributed to the genre. It was therefore a splendid idea of London Baroque to devote a series of recordings to this genre. After having released four discs with triosonatas from the 17th century as they were written in Italy, Germany, France and England they have now turned their attention to the 18th century. So far two discs have appeared, with pieces from France and England respectively. This third disc is devoted to Italy, or rather to Italian composers. Some of them settled elsewhere, such as Giuseppe Sammartini who made a career in England and Locatelli who spent the largest part of his life in Amsterdam.
The programme begins with a Balletto by Albinoni, which has the form of a trio sonata and shows the influence of Corelli. A prelude is followed by three dance movements in fast tempi: two allegros and a presto. Thanks to the playing of London Baroque and the transparent recording the counterpoint in this sonata is perfectly displayed.
One of the nice things about this series of recordings is the inclusion of music by lesser-known composers. That is the case, for instance, with Francesco Antonio Bonporti, whose name one doesn't often see on concert programmes. He was first and foremost a clergyman who had studied at the Collegio Germanico in Rome. As a composer he wasn't a professional; the suggestion that he was a pupil of Corelli cannot be substantiated. Unfortunately for him he didn't make much of a career, neither as a clergyman nor as a composer. It seems that his compositional output didn't attract much attention in his own time, nor does it in ours. Only his Invenzioni op. 10 for solo violin and bc have been recorded several times. His music deserves better, and the inclusion of his Sonata in g minor is a nice tribute. Those who want to hear more should look at the site of the Italian label Dynamic which has produced a complete recording of his works in a Bonporti Edition.
From the little-known we move to the famous: Vivaldi's variations on the Folia rank among the most popular chamber music works of the baroque era. It is a brillliant piece in which virtuosity is mixed with counterpoint. The piece has also a considerable amount of contrast, and the climaxes within the single variations and the piece as a whole are perfectly realised by London Baroque.
Giovanni Bononcini was one of Europe's most celebrated composers around 1700. He travelled quite a lot and was especially prominent as a writer of oratorios and operas at the imperial court in Vienna. In his liner-notes Richard Gwilt repeatedly quotes Charles Burney, who had some uncomplimentary things to say about Bononcini, for instance that "his wealth did not consist in rich and deep mines of science". His view was shared by Francesco Geminiani who rated Giovanni's younger brother Antonio Maria higher, because he was "much beyond his brother in point of depth and knowledge". The Sonata II shows the first signs of the stylistic change in the genre of the trio sonata as in some movements the violins play in parallels, whereas they play in unison in the closing menuets.
Burney's judgements are partly due to different aesthetic ideals, as his comments on Porpora's instrumental works show. He was a celebrated composer of operas and cantatas and a famous singing teacher. No wonder that his instrumental works bear the traces of vocal music. Burney assessed that negatively, but there was a time that this was considered a virtue. The sonata which is played here contains some contrasts of an operatic nature, and that makes it a nice piece to listen to. In the last movement the violins largely play in parallel, with some episodes in which they are more independent.
Giuseppe Sammartini was educated as an oboist and settled in England in 1729 where he earned much praise for his playing. The Sonata V is in three movements; the last has a da capo structure, in which a lively allegro is embraced by an elegant sarabande, with the reference allegro ma non tanto e grazioso.
Another emigrant from Italy was Pietro Antonio Locatelli, who spent some part of his life as a travelling virtuoso, whose playing wasn't unanimously appreciated. As he composed mainly for his own use sonatas for solo violin dominate in his oeuvre. The Sonata in D is one of the four trio sonatas he included in his op. 8. It is in five movements, with a particular strong contrast between the vivace, ending in a somewhat unexpected way, and the ensuing cantabile. From Gwilt's liner-notes one could get the idea that these four are Locatelli's only contributions to the genre of the trio sonata, but that is not the case. In 1736 a set of six trio sonatas was printed as op. 5; complete recordings are available with Musica ad Rhenum (Vanguard Classics, 1995) and with Modo Antiquo (Tactus, 1996).
In a way we are going backwards in time with the Sonata in G by Domenico Gallo. It is from a set of twelve which was published under the name of Pergolesi in 1780. Burney doubted the latter's authorship, and rightly so, as modern scholarship has discovered that some of them are from Gallo's pen. It is quite likely that the whole set was written by him. The sonata played here is largely dominated by counterpoint. The most modern element is that it is in three movements: moderato, andantino and presto.
The last piece is by Tartini, another violin virtuoso who mostly composed for his own use. According to Gwilt his two sets of published trio sonatas are not very interesting. Instead we hear a sonata which has been preserved in manuscript. "[The] rather repetitive circular harmonic motion and the persistent avoidance of the perfect cadence (V-I) lend particularly the first movement of this trio an unusually ambiguous feeling". Tartini was strongly influenced by literature, in particular poetry. He usually read from the writings of Metastasio, Petrarch or Tasso before starting to compose. Quotations from these writings are often included in his manuscripts. It is quite possible that the character of this sonata can also be explained from this. The second movement includes frequent chromaticism.
With this sonata an interesting and musically entertaining journey through the history of the Italian trio sonata of the 18th century comes to an end. London Baroque is an outstanding guide, who explores the idiosyncracies of the pieces passing by. The energetic playing and the eloquent dialogue between Ingrid Seifert and Richard Gwilt is a joy to listen to. Charles Medlam and Steven Devine deliver engaging support. Those who are acquainted with the previous volumes of this series will not hesitate to add this disc to their collection. Others are advised to give it a try. I can't imagine that they don't want to hear more from this series. I am eagerly awaiting the next - and probably the last - disc in this important project.
Johan van Veen (© 2013)