musica Dei donum
"Early Italian Cello Music"
Richard Tunnicliffe, cello, bass violinb;
Sebastian Comberti, cello;
Paula Chateauneuf, theorbo;
James Johnstone, harpsichord, organ
rec: May 2 - 4, 2007, East Woodhay, Berkshire, St Martin's Church
Cello Classics - CC1016 (© 2007) (75'15")
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643):
Canzona V detta La Tromboncinab ;
Canzona VII detta La Superba ;
Canzona VIII detta L'Ambitiosab ;
Domenico GABRIELLI (1651-1690):
Canon for 2 cellos
Ricercar No 1 in g minor;
Ricercar No 2 in a minor;
Ricercar No 3 in D;
Ricercar No 4 in E flat;
Ricercar No 5 in C;
Ricercar No 6 in G;
Ricercar No 7 in d minor;
Sonata in G (2 versions);
Sonata in A;
Francesco ROGNONI (?-before 1626):
Divisions on Susanne ung jourb ;
Bartolome DE SELMA Y SALAVERDE (fl1613-1638):
Fantasia No 9b 
 Francesco Rognoni, Selva de Varii Pasaggi, 1620;
 Girolamo Frescobaldi, Il primo libro delle canzoni, 1628;
 Bartolome de Selma y Salaverde, Primo libro de Canzoni, Fantasie e Correnti, 1638
The history of the cello - and in general of bass string instruments - is rather complicated. One of the difficulties is a confusion of the terms used to describe the various low string instruments. The word cello only appears in the 1660s. Before that the term violoncino was used, but it isn't quite clear which instrument it refers to. In the programme notes of his recording of Domenico Gabrielli's works for cello solo (Arte dell'Arco TDK-AD009, 2003) Hidemi Suzuki refers to research by the musicologist Stephen Bonta, who found at least 24 terms referring to a 'bass string instrument'. "However, at the very least, in northern Italy 'violone' was the name of an instrument either identical or very similar to the violoncello". This explains why in the late 17th and early 18th century the term violone often appears on the title pages of chamber music to describe the scoring of the basso continuo.
Domenico Gabrielli has played a key role in the development of the cello, even though he isn't more than a name - often confused with (Giovanni) Gabrieli - to many music lovers of today. Gabrielli not only composed the first pieces for cello solo in history, but he also was the first real virtuoso on his instrument which contributed to the cello developing into the main low string instrument in Italy. Here it replaced the viola da gamba in the second half of the 17th century, something which happened in Germany and France only in the middle of the 18th century.
Gabrielli was born in Bologna and worked there the largest part of his rather short life. He studied in Venice with Legrenzi, but returned to Bologna in 1680 to become the cellist of the San Petronio basilica, one of Italy's largest churches. In 1676 he was elected a member of the prestigious Accademia Filarmonica and became its president in 1683. He first gained a reputation as composer of vocal works: he wrote 12 operas which were performed in several cities, including Bologna and Venice. His oeuvre for cello is remarkably limited in size and none of his cello compositions were printed during his lifetime.
The ricercari are especially interesting as they have the character of etudes. They were probably composed for Gabrielli's own use, and therefore give us some insight into his skills as a performer. These must have been considerable as these ricercari are technically very demanding. They not only contain florid passages but also double, triple and quadruple chords. The sonatas - scored for cello and bc - are somewhat easier; there are only two of them, one in two different versions.
Richard Tunnicliffe has decided to put Gabrielli's works in a kind of historical perspective by including pieces for a bass string instrument (with basso continuo) by composers of the early 17th century: Francesco Rognoni - especially renowned for his passaggi on chansons and motets of the late 16th century -, Girolamo Frescobaldi and Bartolome de Selma y Salaverde, himself a player of the dulcian who in some pieces leaves the choice of the bass instrument to the performer. Tunnicliffe uses the cello in two different tunings as well as the bass violin, a cello which is slightly larger than the 'normal' cello.
The result is an interesting programme with really excellent music. Frescobaldi is still mostly known for his keyboard works, so it is good to hear another side of his oeuvre which is certainly not unknown, but still largely unexplored. Unfortunately the performances are not up to what one may expect. As comparison I turned to the recording by the Japanese cellist Hidemi Suzuki. Listening to the Ricercar No 1 in g minor by Gabrielli which opens this disc and then to Suzuki playing the same piece caused quite a shock. It was like they were playing different pieces. Not only takes Suzuki a much faster tempo - very appropriate, in my view -, he also articulates much better. His performance also contains much larger dynamic shades and the rhythm is stronger expounded. Although some pieces in Richard Tunnicliffe's programme are rather well done, in general the performances by Suzuki are richer in contrast, more speech-like and overall much more dramatic. Listening to his interpretations one can understand why he was a succesful composer of operas. In comparison Richard Tunnicliffe's performances are blander and less differentiated. The Ricercar No 2 in a minor is the longest and the contrasts between the different sections are much better exposed by Suzuki than by Tunnicliffe.
Richard Tunnicliffe's recording gives only a hint of what Domenico Gabrielli's art may have been. Even though Suzuki's recording is rather short - just 47 minutes, as he doesn't add any other music - it is a much better deal.
Johan van Veen (© 2009)