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Daniel Pio DAL BARBA (1715 - 1801): Sacred music & Violin sonatas

[I] "Requiem and Other Sacred Music"
Coro Istituzione Armonica; Ensemble Il Narvalo
Dir: Alberto Turco
rec: July 2020 & Oct 2021, Verona, Chiesa di San Lorenzo
Brilliant Classics - 96189 ( 2022) (68'35")
Liner-notes: E; no lyrics
Cover & track-list
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Gloria in Fa; Messa da Morto breveb; Te Deum in Gc

[CIA] Cecilia Rizzetto*, Nicoletta Marani, Sara Ricci, soprano I; Nina Cuk*, Virginia Del Bianco, Silvia Manfrini, soprano II; Angelo Goffredi*, Diego Buratto, Emiliano Martinelli, Lars M.H. Pujol, tenor; Raffaele Zaninelli*, Diego Castello, Piero Facci, bass (* soli)
[EIN] Valerio Losito, Lorenzo Gugoleac, Paolo Perroneb, violin; Anna Camporiniac, Andrea Lattarulob, cello; Carlo Calegari, double bass; Federico Del Sordo, organ

[II] "Violin Sonatas"
Valerio Losito, violin; Andrea Lattarulo, cello; Carlo Calegari, double bass; Cecilia Medi, bassoon; Diego Leveric, archlute; Federico Del Sordo, harpsichord
rec: Sept 2021, Rome, Pontoficio Istituto di Musica Sacra
Brilliant Classics - 96190 (2 CDs) ( 2023) (1.52'27")
Liner-notes: E/IT
Cover, track-list & booklet
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Sonata No. 1 in D; Sonata No. 2 in B flat; Sonata No. 3 in G; Sonata No. 4 in E; Sonata No. 5 in F; Sonata No. 6 in A

Music by Italian composers from the second half of the 18th century don't figure prominently in live performances or in the lists of releases. If music from this period in Italian history is performed, it is mostly in the field of opera. Daniel Pio Dal Barba also acted as a composer of operas, but not a single opera from his pen has been preserved. Likewise, his only oratorio has been lost. His extant oeuvre comprises liturgical music, a handful of (secular) cantatas and some instrumental music.

Dal Barba's career took place in Verona, where he was born and died. He was educated as a singer, and he established himself as a singer and composer of operas. As he is described as a soprano, we have to conclude that he was a castrato. He sang in opera productions in Venice and Trent, and operas from his pen were performed in Verona, the first in 1744. In 1749 he was appointed successor to Domenico Zanata as maestro di cappella of the Filarmonica and Filotima academies in Verona. At the former institution he met the Mozarts in 1770. From 1740 onwards Dal Barba composed music for the liturgy in the cathedral, where he succeeded Girolamo Zanata as maestro di cappella in 1762. He held this post until his retirement in 1779, but he continued to compose.

The two discs under review offer a survey of Dal Barba's extant oeuvre. The first is devoted to his sacred music, and the main work is his Messa da Morto breve, which dates from 1779. The title refers to the fact that some of the fixed parts of the Requiem are omitted, such as the Gradual, the Tractus, the Sanctus and Benedictus and the Agnus Dei. With 41 minutes it is not exactly short in duration. The Dies irae takes more than 19 minutes. Most parts are divided into several sections, scored for either one or two solo voices or choir. The solo parts are for soprano, tenor and bass; there is no alto part: the four choral parts are for two sopranos, tenor and bass. Likewise violas are omitted in the instrumental ensemble.

The two other items are of a different nature. The Gloria, whose year of composition is not known, is a separate setting (not part of a complete mass). It is scored for three solo voices and a three-part choir. The text is divided into nine different sections, in which soloists and choir alternate. It ends with a rare specimen of counterpoint, as the closing section is fugal. The Te Deum dates from 1775, and its central section, 'Te ergo quaesumus', is a solo episode for the second soprano. In the closing section, 'In te Domine speravi', Dal Barba makes use of some harmonic and melodic elements of the opening section.

In my reviews of music written in the galant idiom I have often argued that this style does not exclude expression. Pergolesi's Stabat mater is a good example. However, in general it is probably fair to say that this idiom is not a perfect match of texts of a serious nature. Dal Barba's Requiem Mass attests to that. It is a friendly work that is nice to listen to, but has little impact. The seriousness of the text of the Dies irae hardly comes off. That is largely due to the relative simple harmonic progressions; there is not that much that catches the ear. In comparison, the Gloria and the Te Deum make a better impression. It seems to me that the galant idiom suits those texts much better.

It is not due to the performers that Dal Barba's vocal works don't leave a lasting impression. The singing and playing is very good, and I liked especially the contributions of the soloists, who also participate in the choral sections. All said and done, it is good that a disc like his one has been released, as it contributes to our knowledge of a part of (Italian) music history, that is not that well-known.

Dal Barba's extant oeuvre comprises only a few instrumental works. The set of twelve sonatas that has been preserved in manuscript, and is undated, is his main contribution to this genre. It consists of six sonatas for violin and basso continuo and six sonatas for two violins without accompaniment. The former six are the subject of the second disc. These sonatas may have been written in the middle of the 18th century. Stylistically they bear the traces of that time, for instance in that they are in three movements in the order slow - fast - fast. Four of the six sonatas end with a set of variations, three of them are a minuet. All the sonatas are in the major, another hallmark of the galant style. Harmonically they are not adventurous; often the bass just repeats the same chords.

That does not sound very promising, but it would be a mistake to dismiss these sonatas because of the unadventurous treatment of the basso continuo. This is excellent stuff, and it seems that Dal Barba shows a different side of himself here. The slow movements are quite expressive, and the variations in four of the six sonatas are very nice to listen to. These sonatas have a marked rythmic pulse, and that comes off to full extent in the outstanding performances by Valerio Losito. This recording makes me curious about the sonatas for two violins. I hope that they are going to be recorded in the near future.

There is just one issue: I wonder why a whole battery of instruments was used for the basso continuo. As this is most likely chamber music for performance in domestic surroundings, I doubt whether so many (different) instruments should be used. The bassoon is a bit too prominent in some sonatas.

A more serious issue of a different kind is the booklet of in particular the second disc. The English translation is pretty bad and sometimes not intelligible; it seems the product of Google Translate. Apparently nobody at Brilliant Classics' ever reads the liner-notes before the booklet is printed. They really should hire someone who is able to produce a good translation of Italian liner-notes.

Johan van Veen ( 2023)

Relevant links:

Valerio Losito


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