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Alessandro STRADELLA (1639 - 1682): "Complete String Sinfonias"

Ensemble Arte Musica

rec: May 30 - June 2, 2015, Lustra Cilento (Sa), Convento San Francesco
Brilliant Classics - 95142 ( 2015) (73'18")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Sinfonia for violin, cello and bc No. 1 in d minor; Sinfonia for violin, cello and bc No. 2 in B flat; Sinfonia for two violins and bc No. 1 in C; Sinfonia for two violins and bc No. 2 in D; Sinfonia for two violins and bc No. 3 in D; Sinfonia for two violins and bc No. 4 in D; Sinfonia for two violins and bc No. 5 in F; Sinfonia for two violins and bc No. 6 in F; Sinfonia for two violins and bc No. 7 in G; Sinfonia for two violins and bc No. 8 in a minor; Sinfonia for two violins and bc No. 9 in a minor

Marco Piantoni, Nunzia Sorrentino, violin; Rebeca Ferri, cello; Francesco Cera, harpsichord, organ

Alessandro Stradella was one of the leading composers in Italy in the second half of the 17th century. He was also famous as a tenor. In both capacities he showed that he was a man of the theatre by nature. He was a versatile composer of secular and sacred music and in particular of cantatas. Today his fame is largely based on his oratorios, especially San Giovanni Battista.

Instrumental music takes a very minor place in his oeuvre. The present disc purports to include the "complete string sinfonias". This raises some questions if we look at the work-list in New Grove. It mentions twelve sinfonias for violin and bc, two for violin and lute or cello and bc as well as nine sinfonias for two violins and bc. The programme which the Ensemble Arte Musica has recorded comprises nine sinfonias: seven of them are for two violins and two for violin and cello. I assume that the term "string sinfonias" excludes the pieces for solo violin, but why do we get here only seven of the nine for two violins?

Some of the sinfonias were originally written as overtures for vocal compositions. The programme opens with the Sinfonia No. 1 in C, the only piece whose movements have tempo indications. It was intended as the overture to another of Stradella's oratorios, La Susanna (1681). The first two movements from the Sinfonia No. 2 in D were composed as the overture to the cantata Esule dalle sfere, whereas another cantata opens with a piece which is played here as the first movement of the Sinfonia No. 3 in D. As one may expect these pieces have the traces of theatrical music; the latter piece shows the influence of the stile concitato which we know from Monteverdi's Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. However, in fact nearly all of Stradella's instrumental music is theatrical in character. The Sinfonia No. 8 in a minor opens with an allegro which Francesco Cera in his liner-notes rightly characterises as "turbulent"; the opening allegro from the Sinfonia No. 5 in F is "agitated". However, there are also different movements, for instance fugues, or pieces with daring harmonic progressions which lend them a very expressive character. That goes, for instance, for the opening movement from the above-mentioned Sinfonia No. 3 which includes a number of descending chromatic figures, and for the allegro which closes the Sinfonia No. 8 in a minor. The fact that many sinfonias consist of movements of a strongly contrasting character reminds us once again of Stradella's theatrical credentials.

The two sinfonias for violin and cello are not formally divided into movements. The Sinfonia No. 2 in B flat has the texture of a toccata in the style of someone like Girolamo Frescobaldi. With its quick succession of sections in different tempi it refers to the stylus phantasticus of the early 17th century. Oddly enough it reminds me of the sonatas by the Dieterich Buxtehude.

I have noted a strong interest in Stradella's music in recent years. As far as I know all his oratorios are now available on CD and Brilliant Classics released some discs with arias and duets. The sinfonias are another little-known part of his oeuvre and Brilliant Classics and the Ensemble Arte Musica have done the music lover a great favour by adding this disc to the discography. This is a minor part of the composer's oeuvre but certainly not inferior in quality to what we already know. On the contrary, they confirm his reputation as one of the most original and dramatic composers of his time. The players do ample justice to these pieces. Their theatrical character is explored to the full and the harmonic experiments get the attention they deserve, albeit in a not demonstrative way.

In short, this is a compelling disc that stands up to repeated listening.

Johan van Veen ( 2016)

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