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Francesco MANCINI (1672 - 1737): "12 Recorder Concertos"

Corina Marti, recorder
Capella Tiberina
Dir: Alexandra Nigito

rec: April & May 2011, Rome, Chiesa di Sant'Isidoro a Capo le Case
Brilliant Classics - 94324 (2 CDs) ( 2012) (1.55'40")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

Concerto No. 1 in c minor; Concerto No. 5 in G; Concerto No. 6 in d minor; Concerto No. 8 in c minor; Concerto No. 10 in B flat; Concerto No. 13 in g minor; Concerto No. 14 in g minor; Concerto No. 16 in F; Concerto No. 17 in a minor; Concerto No. 18 in F; Concerto No. 19 in e minor; Concerto No. 20 in c minor

Paolo Perrone, Christoph Rudolf, Massimo Merone, Gabriele Politi, Giancarlo Ceccacci, Alberto Caponi, violin; Lorenzo Rundo, viola; Daniel Rosin, Viola Mattioni, cello; Roberto Stilo, double bass; Francesco Tomasi, Mirko Arnone, Daniele Caminiti, theobo, guitar; Massimo Carrano, percussion; Alexandra Nigito, harpsichord, organ

At a time when the recorder was losing ground in most countries in Europe it was still a popular instrument in Naples. One of the most prolific composers of music for the recorder was Francesco Mancini. Although he was mainly known for his operas in his own time it is mostly his works for the recorder which are performed nowadays.

Mancini was born and died in Naples, and hardly ever left the city, except for an occasional trip to Rome. He was educated as an organist and it is in this capacity that he worked from 1704 to 1708 in the royal chapel. In the latter year he became a deputy of the maestro di cappella, Alessandro Scarlatti. When Scarlatti died in 1725 Mancini succeeded him. In 1720 he had already been appointed director of the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto. He composed many operas and oratorios, and also contributed to the various genres of sacred music. His compositions of the latter kind found a wide dissemination across Europe. Very little of it has been documented on disc. An exception is a disc with his Missa Septimus.

His sacred music shows that Mancini was a master of counterpoint, and that comes to the fore in his instrumental works as well. His output in this genre is small: two harpsichord toccatas, 12 sonatas for recorder and bc (recorded by Ensemble Tripla Concordia) and the 12 sonatas for recorder, strings and bc which are the subject of this set. These sonatas were never printed and have been preserved in a manuscript which is known as the Manoscritto di Napoli 1725. It comprises 24 compositions of this kind by various composers: Alessandro Scarlatti, Francesco Barbella, Roberto Valentino - born as Robert Valentine in London -, Domenico Sarri (or Sarro) and Giovanni Battista Mele. The numbers of the concertos follow the order in the manuscript.

The title page of the manuscript refers to concertos, but the individual pieces are called sonatas. Apparently there was no fundamental difference between the two genres. These 'concertos' are in no way comparable to the solo concerto which we know from the oeuvre of Vivaldi. These are ensemble pieces in which the recorder is primus inter pares. The sonatas are in four or five movements and follow largely the pattern of the Corellian sonata da chiesa.

The concertos by Mancini not only show his skills in the realm of counterpoint, they also include dramatic elements which reflect his capabilities as a composer of music for the theatre. In some sonatas the opening movement turns into the next without interruption, causing a strong and sudden contrast. Some movements have a marked theatrical character, such as the larghetto from the Concerto No. 19 and the lento from his Concerto No. 20 with its sequence of staccato chords. The Concerto No. 1 begins with a moderato of great lyricism, which is followed by a highly expressive and dramatic grave. Another striking example of expression is the Concerto No. 13. These concertos are not easy-listening stuff; it is telling that no fewer than eight of the 12 are in minor keys.

The scoring is for recorder, two violins and basso continuo. Only two concertos include a part for viola. Most of the pieces are played with one instrument per part; in the concertos 8, 10 and 14 the number of violins is extended to six. I can't see any reason for that, and it has a negative effect on the balance between the recorder and the strings. In some movements the guitar is used as a percussion instrument, and in the last movement of the Concerto No. 17 - which concludes the second disc - percussion is added. That is very odd: I cannot see any musical justification for that, and it seems very unlikely that in music like this - which is basically chamber music - percussion was used at that time.

However, these are minor blots on an otherwise very fine production. Thanks to Brilliant Classics we now have all of Mancini's music for the recorder on disc. This is music of excellent quality, and the performances are enjoyable. Most important of all, the expression and the dramatic traits in these sonatas are well explored.

Johan van Veen ( 2013)

Relevant links:

Capella Tiberina

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