musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Music for cello from the Italian baroque

[I] "Partite e Sonate - Early Violoncello Music from Modena and Bologna"
Bassorum vox
Dir: Seung-Yeon Lee
rec: May 31 - June 2, 2012, Bombach, St. Sebastian
Coviello Classics - COV 21309 (© 2013) (64'37")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Giuseppe COLOMBI (1635-1694): Partite sopra il basso di Ciacconabcg; Tromba a Basso solobcdhij; Domenico GABRIELLI (1651-1690): Sonata in Gacdhj; Sonata in Aae; Domenico GALLI (1649-1697): Sonata X in Bb [2]; Giuseppe Maria JACCHINI (1667-1727): Sonata in B flat, op. 1,7acdj [3]; Sonata in a minor, op. 1,8agi [3]; Sonata in C, op. 3,10adh [4]; Giuseppe TORELLI (1651-1709): Sonata in Gadi; Giovanni Battista VITALI (1632-1692): Bergamascabcfhi [1]; Capritio sopra otto figurebi [1]; Chiaconaacfhi [1]; Passa Gallibcegj [1]; Ruggierobj [1]; Toccatabcdhj [1]

Sources: [1] Giovanni Battista Vitali, Partite sopra diverse Sonate per il Violone, [ms]; [2] Domenico Galli, Trattenimento musicale sopra il violoncello à solo, 1691; Giuseppe Maria Jacchini, [3] Sonate … per camera, op. 1, [n.d.]; [4] Concerti per camera, op. 3, 1697

Seung-Yeon Lee, celloa, violoneb; Sophie Se-Hee Lee, viola da gambac; Yoshio Takayanagi, theorbod, archlutee, guitarf; Maria Ferré, theorbog, guitarh; Mami Kurumada, harpsichordi, organj

[II] "La Voce del Violoncello - Solo Works of the first Italian cellist-composers"
Elinor Frey, cello; Susie Napper, celloa; Esteban La Rotta, theorbob, guitarc
rec: Summer 2012, Montréal, McGill University (Pollack Hall)
Passacaille - 993 (© 2013) (61'05")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

anon: [Sonata in a minor]; Giuseppe Maria (Joseph Marie Clement) DALL'ABACO (1710-1805): Capriccio I in c minor; Capriccio IV in d minor; Capriccio V in B flat; Capriccio VI in e minor; Capriccio X in A; Giuseppe COLOMBI (1635-1694): Ciaccona a basso solo; Tromba a Basso solob; Domenico GABRIELLI (1651-1690): Ricercar I in G; Ricercar VI in G; Domenico GALLI: Sonata I [2]; Sonata V [2]; Giulio RUVO (fl c1703-1707): Romanella - Tarantella No. 1; Romanella - Tarantella No. 2; Francesco Paolo SUPRIANI (SCIPRIANI) (1678-1753): Toccata VI [3]; Toccata VI (version with bc)ab; Toccata X [3]; Toccata X (version with bc)ab; Giovanni Battista VITALI (1632-1692): Capritio sopra otto figureb [1]; Bergamascac [1]; Passa Gallib [1]

Sources: [1] Giovanni Battista Vitali, Partite sopra diverse Sonate per il Violone, [ms]; [2] Domenico Galli, Trattenimento musicale sopra il violoncello à solo, 1691; [3] Francesco Paolo Supriani, Principij da imparare a suonare il violoncello e con 12 toccate a solo, 1720

[III] Evaristo Felice & Giuseppe Maria DALL'ABACO: "Padre e figlio"
Les Basses Réunis
Dir: Bruno Cocset
rec: June 14 - 17, 2009, Pampogny (CH)
Agogique - AGO011 (© 2013) (62'20")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover & track-list

Evaristo Felice DALL'ABACO (1675-1742): Sonata I in C, op. 1,1 (largo); Sonata II in d minor, op. 1,2 (largo e cantabile); Sonata IV in a minor, op. 1,4 (largo); Sonata V in g minor, op. 1,5 (adagio; allegro); Sonata VI in D, op. 1,6 (adagio); Sonata XI in B flat, op. 1,11 (largo); Sonata XII in E, op. 1,12 (presto assai); Sonata I à 3 in C, op. 3,1 (largo); Sonata II à 3 in F, op. 3,2 (adagio); Sonata IV à 3 in G, op. 3,4 (largo); Giuseppe Maria (Joseph Marie Clement) DALL'ABACO (1710-1805): Capriccio I in c minor; Capriccio II in g minor; Capriccio III in E flat; Capriccio IV in d minor; Capriccio V in B flat; Capriccio VI in e minor; Capriccio VII in B flat; Capriccio VIII in G; Capriccio IX in C; Capriccio X in A; Capriccio XI in F

Sources: Evaristo Felice dall'Abaco, [1] XII sonate da camera, op. 1, c1708; [2] XII sonate da chiesa e da camera a tre, op. 3, 1712

Bruno Cocset, cello, alto alla bastarda, tenor violin; Emmanuel Jacques, tenor violin; Esmé de Vries, cello; Bertrand Cuiller, harpsichord

It is a quite complicated matter to describe the early history of the cello. The term violoncello is mentioned for the first time in the sonatas op. 4 (1665) by Giulio Cesare Arresti (1619-1701). However, it is not clear whether he referred to the instrument we know under that name. At his time various string instruments in the bass range were used under different names. Elinor Frey, in her liner-notes, sums it up as follows: "Local variations in Italian terminology and construction meant that bass violin family instruments varied in size, tuning, number of strings, playing techniques, underhand or overhand bow grips, pitch standards, string materials, and musical roles". A part of the repertoire written for a bass instrument was probably played at the violone. To some extent the cello and the violone were exchangeable: some pieces are played at the cello by Elinor Frey and at the violone by Bassorum vox.

It seems that the rise of the cello to its prominence in the 18th century is largely due to the introduction of metal-wound lower strings on the larger bass-violin. As a result the instrument could be made smaller, easier to play and more responsive. Composers started to include obbligato parts for the cello in vocal and instrumental works. At the same time we see the emergence of solo repertoire, either for the cello alone or with basso continuo. The three discs to be reviewed here offer a wide survey of the music written in about a century, from the mid-17th to the mid-18th century. Bassorum vox focuses on the earliest repertoire, largely written before 1700. That is also the starting point of Elinor Frey who mainly plays music for cello without accompaniment. The latest music in her programme is from the pen of Giuseppe Maria dall'Abaco who is at the centre of the disc of Les Basses Réunis.

Bassorum vox starts off with one of the sonatas by Domenico Gabrielli. He always appears in discourses about the history of the cello as he seems to be the first composer to write down music for his instrument. One of his teachers was Petronio Franceschini, who was a cellist in San Petronio; no compositions by him are known. It was due to Gabrielli that Bologna was to become a centre of cello playing. He was also prominent member of the Accademia Filarmonica. He composed in various genres, but his output for his own instrument is small: seven ricercares for cello solo, two sonatas for cello and bc and a canon for two cellos. Bassorum vox plays the two sonatas, Elinor Frey two of the ricercares.

Gabrielli was succeeded in San Petronio by his pupil Giuseppe Maria Jacchini. As a composer he was especially famous for his music with parts for the trumpet. However, he also gave an increasingly important role to the cello. Bassorum vox plays three sonatas from his op. 1 and op. 3 respectively in which the cello acts as a solo instrument. The liner-notes to this disc mention the fact that Jacchini composed the first cello concertos. That should not be exaggerated: the concerti op. 4 include solo passages for the cello, but these are rather short and can in no way be compared to the extended solos in concertos of the next century.

A contemporary of Gabrielli and Jacchini was Giovanni Battista Vitali who was also from Bologna. He was a cellist in San Petronio, but it is not sure whether the instrument he was associated with, sometimes called a violoncino, is the same as Gabrielli and Jacchini played. Some of his publications refer to the violone da brazzo and it seems likely that he played what we now call the violone. Seung-Yeon Lee plays some of his pieces on the violone which is also the instrument mentioned in the title of the collection from which they are taken. Some of these are played by Elinor Frey at the cello.

In 1674 Vitali moved to the court of the Estes in Modena where he became vicemaestro di cappella. He was one of the two composers with that position; his colleague was Giuseppe Colombi who was a violinist and a cellist by profession. Two collections in manuscript include pieces from his pen, called toccate, for either violin or violone; the latter suggests that the description of him being a cellist probably meant that he played the violone. These two collections could be originally written as educational material. Seung-Yeon Lee again plays the latter instrument in two specimen: Tromba a Basso solo belongs to a quite popular category of the 17th century, the imitation of various phenomena, for instance instruments like - as in this case - the trumpet. Another popular form was the basso ostinato such as the ciaconna which we meet in Colombi's second piece. Another musician who worked at the court in Modena was Domenico Galli about whom little else is known. It seems likely that he played the cello as the title of his only extant collection indicates. It is interesting that it was published shortly after his meeting with Domenico Gabrielli who visited the Este court in 1689. For reasons which are not explained in the booklet Bassorum vox uses a violone in Galli's Sonata X in B flat. Elinor Frey plays two other sonatas on the cello. Once again this suggests that these two instruments were largely interchangeable.

The best-known composer at the programme of Bassorum vox is Giuseppe Torelli, mainly known for his many sinfonias with parts for one or more trumpets. With him we return to Bologna, as he worked there for most of his life. The Sonata in G seems his only composition for the cello and has been preserved in the library of Prince Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn-Wiesentheid (1677-1754) who was an avid collector of music for the cello and inspired various composers to write for his instrument. It is one of the latest pieces on this disc and has the form of a sonata da chiesa as it was modelled by Arcangelo Corelli.

Elinor Frey moves beyond the turn of the century with Giulio de Ruvo who probably was from Naples as his use of the tarantella suggests. His writing for the cello indicates that he must have been familiar with the instrument and probably was even a professional cellist as these pieces are technically demanding. Francesco Paolo Supriani was certainly a professional cellist as he wrote one of the first treatises for the instrument; like De Ruvo he was from Naples. The treatise includes 12 toccate for cello solo. Ten of these are also found in a manuscript in embellished versions with an additional basso continuo part. Ms Frey plays two of them, first in the original and then in the embellished version. This is quite interesting in regard to the art of ornamentation and 'arrangement'.

The latest composer who is represented in her programme is Giuseppe Maria (or Joseph-Marie-Clément) dall'Abaco. He was the son of the better-known Evaristo Felice. In New Grove he is called "a Flemish composer and cellist of Italian descent", as he was born in Brussels where his father worked at the time. The latter sent his son to Venice for his musical education. After his return he was a member of the electoral chapel in Bonn from 1729. Apparently he was allowed to travel across Europe as a cello virtuoso; he made appearances in this capacity in London and Vienna. He composed sonatas for his own instrument, but Ms Frey selected five of his 11 Capricci. In her liner-notes she writes: "I was continually captivated by Dall'Abaco's ability, like Bach's, to generate rhythmic interest through changes of register, the intriguing perception of multiple voices, and a great and often noble, intimate, and tragic elegance". That seems a quite correct description: listening to the capricci one could easily imagine them as preludes to one of Bach's suites for cello solo.

Bruno Cocset has chosen this Dall'Abaco as the central figure of his recording. He has also included compositions by the father, from his op. 1 and op. 3. However, these are all played in arrangements for the ensemble's line-up, and we only get single movements from sonatas. That is rather unsatisfying. This disc's significance is the performance of the complete set of 11 Capricci by Giuseppe Maria which must be a token of his own skills as a cellist. The features which Elinor Frey observed are fully exposed here. "They are amazingly free and varied in style, sometimes bold, sometimes melancholy, alternating dances with melodies or narrative prose, and with a natural, unpretentious virtuosity showing technical prowess and innovation", thus Bruno Cocset. Like Ms Frey he sees a connection with Bach's cello suites. These Capricci have been preserved in a manuscript from the 19th century; their date of composition can't be established. However, considering the year of Giuseppe Maria's birth one has to conclude that they are rather conservative for their time. The last Capricco is unfinished; Cocset stops playing where it breaks off; he didn't attempt to complete it and rightly so.

Although there are some duplications on these three discs I don't see them as competitive but rather as complementary. Therefore a comparison of the interpretations is not very useful. I have enjoyed all three: the playing is generally very good and together they offer a great survey of the music written for an instrument which was to become quite popular in the course of the 18th century and would remain so until the present time. In the performances of Bassorum vox I was especially struck by the strong exposure of rhythm. It is a little unfortunate that some of Vitali's pieces are not played as they were written down. Ornamentation is required, but here they try to do a little too much. The basso continuo is sometimes a bit too largely scored. In the case of Cocset's recording the addition of pieces by Evaristo Felice is rather disappointing, not only because of the arrangement for a different scoring, but in particular for the fact that only single movements are played. Moreover, the choice of movements is rather one-sided as nine out of eleven are slow movements. One of the fast pieces, the presto assai from the Sonata XII from op. 1, is played so fast at the harpsichord that it is almost caricatural.

When all is said and done, these three discs can wholeheartedly be recommended to everyone who is interested in early music for the cello.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Bassorum vox
Elinor Frey
Les Basses Réunis

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