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CD reviews

Venice and Dresden

[I] Francesco Maria VERACINI: "Overtures & Concerti Vol. 3"
L'Arte dell'Arco
Dir: Federico Guglielmo
rec: Feb 21 - 23, 2018, Este (Pd), Gabinetto di Lettura
CPO - 555 241-2 (© 2021) (57'43")
Liner-notes: E/D/IT
Cover, track-list & booklet

Overture IV in Fc; Overture V in B flatc; Sonata III in d minorab [1]; Sonata in e minor, op. 1,6ab [2]

Sources: [1] Sonate a Violino, o Flauto solo, e Basso, 1716; [2] Sonate a Violino solo, e Basso, op. 1, 1721

Andrea Mion, Michele Antonello, oboe; Paola Frezzato, bassoon; Federico Guglielmo (soloa), Giacomo Catana, Francesca Bonomo, Gianpiero Zanocco, Mauro Spinazzè, violin; Gianni Maraldi, Simone Laghi, viola; Cristina Vidonib, Francesco Galligionic, cello; Alessandro Pivelli, violone; Diego Cantalupi, theorbo, guitar; Roberto Loreggian, harpsichord

[II] "Grand Tour a Venezia"
Dir: Alfredo Bernardini
rec: May 19 - 22, 2021, Mantua, Teatro scientifico del Bibiena
Arcana - A534 (© 2022) (66'21")
Liner-notes: E/F/IT
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann David HEINICHEN (1683-1729): Concerto for 2 oboes, strings and bc in e minor (S 222); Antonio LOTTI I1667-1740): Ascanio, opera (1718) (sinfonia); Johann Georg PISENDEL (1687-1755): Concerto for violin and orchestra in D (JunP I.7)a; Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768): Overture VI in g minor; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto in g minor 'per l'orchestra di Dresda' (RV 577); Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1745): Ouverture a 7 concertanti in F (ZWV 188)

Lorenzo Cavasanti, Emiliano Rodolfi, recorder; Alfredo Bernardini, Paolo Grazzi, oboe; Alberto Grazzi, bassoon; Cecilia Bernardini (soloa), Claudia Combs, Ayako Matsunaga, Mónika Tóth, Rossella Croce, Ulrike Fischer, Isotta Grazzi, Matilde Tosetti, violin; Stefano Marcocchi, Teresa Ceccato, viola; Gaetano Nasillo, Sara Bennici, cello; Riccardo Coelati Rama, violone; Evangelina Mascardi, lute; Francesco Corti, harpsichord, organ

For young men from royal and aristocratic circles in the 18th century it was custom to make a grand tour during their formative years. This tour usually brought them to Italy, and Venice was one of the places they did not want to miss. They may have visited St Mark's, and very likely also listened to the brilliant girls of the four Ospedali. In most cases we don't known those young men, but that is different if it was a man of some fame or importance. That certainly goes for Frederick Augustus II (1696-1763), Prince Elector of Saxony, who stayed for six months in Venice in 1716. In his retinue were some of the most prominent members of the Dresden court orchestra, such as the first violinist Johann Georg Pisendel, the oboist Johann Christian Richter and the double bass player Jan Dismas Zelenka. They came into contact with some of the most prominent composers in Venice, and Frederick Augustus met a German who had settled there. The two discs under review here include music by composers, who had some connection to Dresden and its court orchestra.

One of the people the German company met was Francesco Maria Veracini. He was from Florence and was born into a family whose members were all involved in music. At that time he already had made a name for himself. He had played in several cities in Italy, in particular Venice and Florence, and travelled abroad, performing during the intervals of operas at the King's Theatre in London in 1714 and spending some time at the court of the Elector Palatine of the Rhine, Johann Wilhelm, in Düsseldorf. He made his appearance in Venice at the time Frederick Augustus visited the city. During this time Veracini composed his six Overtures. The title clearly refers to the genre that was so popular in France, and was imitated by German composers. The French style was also revered in Dresden; the orchestra had several French players in its ranks, among them the violinist Jean-Baptiste Volumier. However, Veracini did not imitate the French model slavishly. In some of the Overtures he made use of the traditional form of the opening ouverture, starting with a section in slow tempo, with dotted rhythms, followed by a fugal section in a fast tempo. In others he omitted the model entirely, such as in the Ouverture No. 6 in g minor. In some of the Overtures, the ensuing movements have the title of dances, mostly in French (gavotte, gigue, menuet), but in the Overture No. 6 two have the common Italian tempo indications: largo, allegro. This piece closes with a menuet, which in the Overture No. 5 in B flat is in second position and is omitted altogether in the Overture No. 4 in F.

In July 1716 Veracini dedicated a set of sonatas for violin and basso continuo to Frederick Augustus; that does not mean that he did compose them specifically for the Prince, but rather that he assembled sonatas that he had written before. Whether he did so in the hope of being engaged by the Prince is impossible to say, but the fact is that exactly that did happen. In 1717, after a performance of his oratorio L'incoronazione di Davidde in Florence, Veracini moved to Dresden, where he was to stay until 1723. In 1721 he published a further set of sonatas as his Op. 1. Federico Guglielmo included one sonata from each set, which are placed between the two Overtures. In the Sonata in e minor, op. 1,6, the opening movement has again the form of a French overture. The sonata follows the sonata da camera model, as two of the next three movements are dances: allemanda and giga. In between is a pastorale in a slow tempo. Notable are the echo effects in the closing giga. The Sonata No. 3 in d minor from the 1716 set is a sonata da chiesa: it consists of two largos and two allegros.

Another Italian composer who came to Dresden in 1717 was Antonio Lotti. He was one of the greatest composers of his time; at the time he was first organist at St Mark's, where he was appointed maestro di cappella in 1736. During the Venetian visit of Frederick Augustus Zelenka took lessons from him. That is no coincidence: Zelenka was a strong advocate of counterpoint, and so was Lotti; his several settings of the Crucifixus, which are still frequently performed today, attest to that. He was active in Dresden from 1717 to 1719, where he composed four operas. One of them was Ascanio (1718), from which Zefiro plays the overture, called sinfonia. It is written in the French style; the second and third movements are a sarabande and a passepied respectively.

Pisendel was especially interested in meeting two of the main violinists of the time: Antonio Vivaldi and Tomaso Albinoni. Both offered him some of their sonatas. Pisendel wanted to take lessons from Vivaldi, but the latter considered him a colleague rather than a pupil. Pisendel became a strong admirer of Vivaldi's music and collected many of the composer's works for the Dresden orchestra. As a result the library of the former Dresden court orchestra includes the second largest collection of Vivaldi manuscripts in the world. Vivaldi also composed music specifically for the Dresden orchestra, such as the Concerto in g minor (RV 577), which has the addition per l'orchestra di Dresda. It ranks among the concerti per molti instrumenti: it is scored for two recorders, two oboes, bassoon, two violins, strings and basso continuo. As so often in Vivaldi's concertos, the scoring is strongly reduced in the slow movement.

The Germans also met their countryman Johann David Heinichen. He was born in Krössuln near Weissenfels. Like his father he entered the Thomasschule in Leipzig where he received lessons at the keyboard from the then Thomaskantor, Johann Kuhnau. Heinichen didn't plan a musical career: he studied law at Leipzig University and moved to Weissenfels to start a practice as lawyer. But Johann Philipp Krieger, then Kapellmeister at the court of Duke Johann Georg, encouraged him to compose music for festive occasions at the court. It was the beginning of a career in music: in 1709 he returned to Leipzig, composed several operas and played in the Collegium Musicum which was directed by Telemann. In 1710 Heinichen travelled to Venice, where he came into contact with several famous masters, among them Gasparini, Lotti and Vivaldi. Frederick Augustus was impressed by Heinichen's achievements, and took him back to Dresden, where he was appointed Kapellmeister in 1717, a position he held until his death. The Concerto in e minor is a piece in purely Italian style, in three movements, with solo parts for two oboes.

In order to complete the connection between Venice and Dresden, Alfredo Bernardini also included two pieces by members of the Prince's company. Pisendel was a brilliant violinist, as the treatment by Vivaldi shows, but as a composer he has not really made a name for himself. His extant oeuvre is rather small. Either composing was not one of his main interests, or - what seems more in line with his character - he was extremely self-critical and may have destroyed much of what he has written. It has also been suggested that a number of pieces in the Dresden archive which have been preserved without the name of the composer, may in fact be from his pen. The Concerto in D is an impressive example of his art. It has a demanding solo part for the violin; the brilliant fast movements embrace an expressive andante.

Zelenka's oeuvre comprises a large number of sacred works; the composition of sacred music was his main task in Dresden. However, he has also left some instrumental music of high quality, such as six sonatas for three instruments - mostly two oboes and bassoon - and basso contiuo. His concerti have also become pretty well-known, especially because of their particular style, which is so different from that of his contemporaries. Zelenka's music - either vocal or instrumental - has a character of its own and with time was considered increasingly old-fashioned. His treatment of the various instruments is unique, as is his use of harmony. The Ouverture a 7 concertanti in F is a telling example of his style.

The CPO disc rounds off a complete recording of Veracini's six Overtures, to which Federico Guglielmo has added the violin concertos and some violin sonatas. He is an outstanding player, who with his ensemble has made a large number of recordings of Italian baroque music, for instance for Brilliant Classics. I have heard many, and always rated them positively. I am doing that here again: together with the two previous volumes, this project offers a perfect survey of Veracini's style of composing and his brilliance as a violinist. The miking is a bit too close for comfort, but that is also a matter of taste.

Zefiro recorded a nice and interesting programme which demonstrates in sound how things were going in the musical world of those days: how powerful people came into contact with composers, how the latter recommended themselves to the former, how composers connected with colleagues and how all these connections influenced their style of composing. Zefiro is a top-class ensemble, which under the direction of Alfredo Bernardini delivers engaging performances of the selected items. Cecilia Bernadini excels in the solo part of Pisendel's concerto.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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