musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Giovanni Battista BASSANI (1647 - 1716): Sinfonie Op. 5

Ensemble StilModerno

rec: Oct 29 - Nov 1, 2011, Cremona, Palazzo Pignano (Pieve Protoromanica)
Brilliant Classics - 94259 (2 CDs) ( 2012) (1.19'50")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Sonata I in a minor, op. 5,1; Sonata II in d minor, op. 5,2; Sonata III in G, op. 5,3; Sonata IV in D, op. 5,4; Sonata V in a minor, op. 5,5; Sonata VI in F, op. 5,6; Sonata VII in A, op. 5,7; Sonata VIII in g minor, op. 5,8; Sonata IX in C, op. op. 5,9; Sonata X in c minor, op. 5,10; Sonata XI in D, op. 5,11; Sonata XII in A, op. 5,12

Giorgio Tosi, Micol Vitali, violin; Nicola Brovelli, cello; Flora Papadopoulos, harp; Grasiela Setra Dantas, harpsichord; Carlo Centemeri, organ

The dates of birth and death of Giovanni Battista Bassani show that he was a contemporary of Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713). He has also been connected to Corelli as it was suggested that Bassani was the latter's teacher, but there is no evidence to support this claim. Today he is largely overshadowed by his more illustrious fellow composer and violinist. However, in his own time he was held in high esteem. His compositions circulated in manuscript across Europe. An anonymous poet called him and Corelli in one breath in an ode for Henry Purcell: "In thy performance we with wonder find Bassani's genius to Corelli Joyn'd". The reprints of Bassani's collection op. 5 bears also witness to the appreciation of his music; they appeared in Bologna in 1688, in Antwerp in 1691 and in Amsterdam in 1708.

The first edition dates from 1683 and was only the second collection of instrumental music from his pen. The first was published as his op. 1 in Bologna in 1677 (*). In that year Bassani, who was a pupil of, among others, Giovanni Legrenzi, became a member of the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna. As he was also educated as an organist he worked in this capacity in various cities, like Ferrara and Modena. In the former city he was appointed as maestro di cappella at the Accademia della Morte and at the Cathedral. In that year he also was proclaimed principe of the Accademia Filarmonica. During the last four years of his life Bassani acted as maestro di cappella at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore and as teacher in Bergamo.

The largest part of Bassani's oeuvre consists of vocal works. He composed a considerable number of operas and oratorios and a large amount of other sacred and secular pieces. A large part was printed; the latest was published as op. 32 in 1710. The two collections of instrumental works - to which a number of pieces in anthologies can be added - are rather different in character and structure. The op. 1 comprises sonate da camera as the title suggests, although the titles of the various movements don't indicate dances but rather tempi, such as largo, allegro, vivace and presto. Whereas these all contain four movements, the number of movements in the op. 5 collection varies from four to six. These have rather the character of the sonata da chiesa. The scoring is for two or three instruments. The latter refers to the role of the string bass which sometimes takes an obbligato role, for instance in the vivace from the Sonata XI in D. The fact that the individual pieces are called 'sonata' whereas the title of the collection refers to 'sinfonie' bears witness to the fact that at this time the various genres were not clearly defined.

These sonatas demonstrate that Bassani was a creative and original composer. The slow movements - mostly called 'grave', sometimes 'largo' or 'adagio' - show a great deal of expression, for instance due to daring harmonies. The two slow movements from the Sonata II in d minor which opens the first disc, are good examples. There are also movements of a quite dramatic character, such as the third movement from the Sonata VIII in g minor, whereas the largo from the Sonata X in c minor is characterised by a strong amount of pathos. There are movements with a pronounced rhythm, such as the allegro which opens the Sonata V in a minor. This sonata ends with a sparkling presto.

Notable are the passages with a walking bass in the first presto from the Sonata X in c minor. The adagio - largo from the Sonata XII in A is founded on a basso ostinato; fragments from this return in the closing presto. A regularly returning feature is the repetition of motifs, for instance in the closing presto from the Sonata II in d minor where motifs in the upper parts are echoed in the bass. This is a typical baroque topos which is used to emphasize a particular statement.

This set of discs has to be welcomed as these sonatas by Bassani are in no way inferior to the much better-known works by Corelli. The importance of this production is enhanced by the engaged and technically impressive performances of the Ensemble StilModerno. The features of the sonatas as mentioned above are fully explored by the players of the ensemble. The inclusion of a harp in the basso continuo adds some colour to the ensemble, although I wonder whether the harpist is doing a little too much in the presto which ends the Sonata V in a minor.

The booklet includes programme notes which are not always correct in their references to the sonatas. The Sonata IV is ranked among the sonatas with four movements, although it actually has five. The 'adagio' from the Sonata II is called dramatic, but this particular sonata has no adagio. This kind of errors should have been corrected.

Even so, this production can be unequivocally be recommended. It has whetted my curiosity about Bassani's vocal music.

(*) The Balletti, correnti, gighe e sarabande, op. 1 were recorded by the Ensemble Armonico Cimento (Tactus TC 642701; 2005).

Johan van Veen ( 2013)

Relevant links:

Ensemble StilModerno

CD Reviews