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Michele MASCITTI (1664 - 1760): "Un Napolitain à Paris - Sonates en trio"

Ensemble Quentin le jeune

rec: Jan 15 - 18, 2022, Meudon, Espace culturel Robert Doisneau
Calliope - CAL22102 (© 2022) (56'01")
Liner-notes: F
Cover & track-list

Sonata op. 1,7; Sonata op. 1,9; Sonata op. 4,9; Sonata op. 4,11; Sonata op. 4,13; Sonata op. 4,14

Sources: [1] Sonate A Violino Solo Col Violone o Cimbalo e Sonate A due Violini, Violoncello, e Basso Continuo, op. 1, 1704; [2] Sonate a Violino e Basso, e Sonate a due violini, e basso, op. 4, 1711

Jean-Christophe Lamaque, Agnès Lamaque, violin; Carole Carrive, cello; Françoise Depersin, harpsichord

The title of this disc is very appropriate. "A Neapolitan in Paris" - that is how one may call Michele Mascitti, one of those composers who has had the bad fortune of being overshadowed by more famous and probably more flashy contemporaries, such as Vivaldi, Locatelli, Veracini and Tartini. He was one of many from Italy who looked for employment elsewhere. Some settled in London, where Italian music was very popular since the publication of the chamber music of Arcangelo Corelli. Others went to Paris, as France had finally embraced the Italian style shortly after the turn of the century. It turned out to be fertile ground for Mascitti's compositions.

Mascitti was born in Chieti, near Naples, and began his career in the royal chapel, where his uncle - who also was his first teacher in music - acted as violinist. After travelling through Europe he settled in Paris, where he came under the patronage of the Duke of Orléans. The Duke was an ardent lover of Italian music and Mascitti was just one of the Italian musicians he took under his wing. This connection with the Duke allowed Mascitti to play at the court in Paris. He made such an impression that in 1714 he was granted a King's privilege to print for 15 years "collections of sonatas and other musical pieces, vocal as well as instrumental". This privilege was twice extended, in 1731 and 1740, and, as a sign of the appreciation of Mascitti, he was given French citizenship in 1739. It seems he was also generally liked as a person, because of his friendly character and his generosity. Mascitti died in Paris, at a ripe old age, in 1760.

Whereas most Italian composers, and certainly those from Naples, had a vivid interest in vocal music, and in particular in opera, Mascitti confined himself to instrumental music. His oeuvre is not very large: nine collections of sonatas for one or two violins and basso continuo were published between 1704 and 1738. Several of these were dedicated to members of the Crozat family, one of the richest and most powerful in France, which took him under their wing and granted him a pension during the last decades of his life. The way the various collections have been put together is noticeable. It was common use to print sets of six or twelve sonatas, but Mascitti derived from this habit. The Opp. 2 and 6 both include fifteen solo sonatas, whereas the Op. 4 comprises 14 sonatas: eight solo sonatas and six trio sonatas. The Op. 1 is conventional in that it comprises twelve sonatas, but six are solo sonatas and six trio sonatas. The Op. 7 consists of eight solo sonatas and four Concerti a 6. The latter represent the only 'orchestral' works in his oeuvre. In addition to the printed music, eight keyboard sonatas have been preserved in manuscript. New Grove also refers to the 19th-century musicologist Fétis, who mentions some trios for two bass viols and basso continuo; apparently their whereabouts are not known.

These trios would be a token of Mascitti's embracing the tradition of the country that he had made his home. In his chamber music he follows in the footsteps of Arcangelo Corelli, although not slavishly. His music has its own identity, also due to the progress in time - with the appearance and growing popularity of the galant idiom - as well as the French taste for music of a 'conversational' character. In that sense, his music fits in with the ideal of goûts réunis. Guido Olivieri, in his liner-notes to a previous disc, sums up the nature of his style: "The idiomatic writing of the violin (...) does not go beyond a manageable virtuosity, never excessive, but rather always tempered by a refined elegance." This explains why his music was so much appreciated that he did not need to compose a lot: apart from being generously supported by the Crozat family, he could live from the sale of his music, including reprints.

The present disc includes selections from two of Mascitti's collections of solo and trio sonatas, and the Ensemble Quentin le jeune decided to focus on the trio sonatas. Both the sonata da camera and the sonata da chiesa are represented. Mascitti often mixes them: the last sonata from Op. 14 has four movements; the first three are dances, the last is an allegro. The Sonata No. 7 from the Opus 1 is a sonata da chiesa, and has four movements, but opens with a fast movement; only the third movement is in a slow tempo (grave). It confirms Mascitti's independence in the treatment of Corelli's models.

In recent years several discs with Mascitti's music have landed on my desk. I have come under the impression of the quality of his oeuvre, and it made me hope for more recordings exploring his oeuvre. Therefore I was looking forward to the disc by the Ensemble Quentin le jeune, which I did not know. However, I find it hard to embrace this disc. The playing is technically alright, but stylistically there is little to celebrate. The performances are rather uninteresting, I'm afraid. That is due to several factors. First, dynamically the playing is rather flat; there is little dynamic shading on long notes. Second, the performers seem to have missed that interpreters should tell a story. That is not the case here: the performances are anything but speechlike. Most notes get the same weight and nearly always their full length. The difference between good and bad notes is hardly discernable here. As a result the performances just drag on. There is nothing which catches the attention.

In short, I am rather disappointed about this disc and I can't really recommend it.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Quentin le jeune

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