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Tomaso ALBINONI: "The Late Violin Sonatas"

Federico Guglielmo, violin
L'Arte dell'Arco

rec: Feb 17 - 21, 2019, Este (Padua), Oratorio dei Ricoverati
Brilliant Classics - 96402 (2 CDs) (© 2022) (1.41'30")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Tomaso ALBINONI: Sonata in D (TalM So44); Sonata in d minor (TalM So35) [1]; Sonata in d minor (TalM So40) [2]; Sonata in d minor (TalM So43) [2]; Sonata in e minor (TalM So39) [1]; Sonata in g minor (TalM So36) [1]; Sonata in A (TalM So37) [1]; Sonata in A (TalM So38) [1]; Sonata in A (TalM So45) [2]; Sonata in a minor (TalM So41); Johann Christoph (John Christopher) PEPUSCH (1667-1752): Sonata in e minor (TalM So42) [2]; Giovanni Battista TEBALDI (1660-1750): Suario o Capriccio di otto battute a l'imitatione del Corelli in d minor [1]

Sources: [1] Sonate a violino solo, 1712; [2] Six Sonates da camera, 1742

Francesco Galligioni, cello; Diego Cantalupi, theorbo, guitar; Roberto Loreggian, harpsichord, organ

In 2021 it was 350 years ago that Tomaso Albinoni was born. As far as I have been able to observe, little attention has been given to this fact. Some composers don't need a commemoration year, but Albinoni does. He is very well-known, but his music is not often performed and not that well represented on disc. He has become best-known for his Concertos Op. 7 and Op. 9, which include obbligato parts for one and two oboes. His vocal music and his chamber music - the latter category is confined to pieces for one and two violins - is far lesser known.

Albinoni was born and died in Venice. Just like the Marcello brothers, he presented himself as a dilettante, meaning that he wasn't a professional composer and didn't compose for a living. His father was a stationer and manufacturer of playing cards who owned several shops in Venice. Tomaso, being the eldest son, was supposed to take part in his father's business, and so he did. But he also was able to study music; with whom is not known. When in 1709 his father died Tomaso left the business to his two younger brothers in order to spend all his time to music. From then on he called himself musico di violino. Since in 1721 one of his father's creditors took over the shop he must have earned a living from his musical activities.

Albinoni's chamber music comprises nine collections of sonatas. Four for of them include sonatas for violin and basso continuo. However, this part of his oeuvre is problematic with regard to authenticity. Only one collection was authorised by Albinoni: the Trattenimenti armonici per camera which was published as his Opus 6 by Estienne Roger in Amsterdam. Michael Talbot, in his liner-notes, writes that "[so] great was the demand for violin sonatas in northern Europe that publishers often plundered the circulating manuscript repertoire independently to obtain them. But whereas published works were customarily issued in neat sets of six or twelve, manuscript works tended to come in smaller groups. This exposed Roger and his confrères to the temptation of making up the dozen or half-dozen by adding works of different provenance and even authorship." The first collection of sonatas, also published by Roger, included one sonata and at least one movement from another sonata that are not from Albinoni's pen. The disc under review here comprises sonatas from two later collections. The first was printed by Roger in around 1717 under the title of Sonate a violino solo, the second by Louis Hue in Paris in 1742, entitled Six Sonates da camera. The title of this production is a bit misleading: the dates of publication don't necessarily indicate the time of composition.

In both cases, not all the sonatas included in the collections are from Albinoni's pen. The former includes a piece by his contemporary Giovanni Battista Tibaldi (1660-1750). He was from Modena, but worked for most of his life in Rome in the service of Cardinal Ottoboni and for some years also Cardinal Pamphili. The ensemble Parnassi musici devoted a disc to trio sonatas from his Opp. 1 and 2 (CPO, 1999). Here we get a rather curious piece: the Suario o Capriccio di otto battute a l'imitatione del Corelli is an adagio with 68 variations, modelled after Corelli's variations on La Folia, which closes his set of violin sonatas Op. 5. The 1742 set also comprises six sonatas, but three of them are of doubtful authenticity, whereas the Sonata No. 3 is from the pen of John Christopher Pepusch, an English composer of German descent. The performers decided to record all of them, despite doubts about authenticity.

The first disc includes the sonatas from around 1717. These are of the da chiesa type, which means that they are in four movements with tempo indications, in the order slow-fast-slow-fast. Corelli set the standard for this genre, and in his sonatas the second movement is usually a fugue. In this set several second movements also have the form of a fugue. In the second movement of the Sonata No. 1 in d minor Albinoni uses a theme that he had already used twice before. The Sonata No. 2 in g minor ends with a movement which has the character of a perpetuum mobile. The Sonata No. 4 in A opens with a movement in five sections, alternating adagio and presto. The Sonata No. 5 in e minor is notable for its opening movement, called patetico, and its last, which - unusual for a sonata da chiesa - has the form of a dance (courante).

The 1742 set also comprises six sonatas, but these are of the da camera type, which means that they include dances. The Sonata No. 1 in d minor, for instance, opens with an adagio, which is followed by an allemanda, a largo and a giga. It is the only sonata which has a fifth movement, a minuetto. It is played here pizzicato; whether that is indicated by the composer or the choice of Federico Guglielmo is not mentioned. Talbot does not discuss it in his analysis of the sonatas. It is notable that the title page of this collection indicates that the third and fifth sonatas can also be played on the transverse flute. In the first and fifth sonatas Talbot observes some French traces. This may well support the suggestion that these sonatas are not from Albinoni's pen, but rather written by a French composer, mixing French and Italian elements.

There may be considerable doubts about the authenticity of some sonatas, all of them are very fine works. "In the past, the undemonstrative nature of Albinoni's musical personality has puzzled some commentators. (...) Today, the subtle elegance and lack of exaggeration in Albinoni's music comes across, rather, as a positive feature essential to his musical personality", according to Talbot in his liner-notes to an earlier recording of sonatas by Albinoni. The present recording attests to these features. That does not mean that there is a lack of technical virtuosity. In several sonatas Albinoni makes use of double and triple stopping. Federico Guglielmo is an excellent violinist, who has recorded quite a lot, especially music by Antonio Vivaldi and by Giuseppe Tartini. He shows his credentials here once again. He delivers lively and differentiated performances, with effective contrasts in tempo and dynamics. He receives apt support from the basso continuo group.

It is a shame that the production is a bit below par. That concerns especially the booklet. There are several differences between the liner-notes and the track-list. Talbot states that the first collection performed here was printed in 1718, and the second 1742. The track-list has "1717ca" and "1740ca" respectively. The sonatas Nos. 1 and 6 from the 1742 set are given the same number in Talbot's catalogue. According to Talbot, the Sonata No. 1 from the 1742 set is in D minor, whereas the track-list has F major. He also mentions that the third sonata of this set, written by Pepusch, was omitted in this recording. However, in fact it closes the second disc. (The fact that he mostly focuses on Vivaldi may well explain that he refers to the "non-Vivaldian authorship" of this sonata.)

That does not take anything away from my appreciation of this set. Albinoni was a very good composer, and deserves much more attention. This production is an important contribution to the knowledge of his oeuvre. I hope for more recordings of his instrumental music but also his vocal works.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

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