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"A Suo Amico - Music from the Repertoire of Domenico Dragonetti and Robert Lindley"

Querelle des Bouffons
Daniel Stepner, violina; Sarah Freiberg, celloc

rec: April 2010, Boston, Mass., WGBH (Fraser Recording Studio)
Centaur - CRC 3233 (© 2012) (59'36")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Sonata for violin and bc in F, op. 5,4 (adagio)bd [2]; Sonata for violin and bc in A, op. 5,9bd [2]; Sonata for two violins and bc in C, op. 4,1bcd [1]; Sonata for two violins and bc in d minor, op. 4,8bcd [1]; Domenico DRAGONETTI (1763-1846): Duetto for cello and double bass in B flatbd; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Sonata for violin and bc in F, Walsh op. 1,12 (HWV 370)bd; Giacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868): Duetto for cello and double bass in Dbd; Giovanni Battista VIOTTI (1755-1824): Duetto for two violins in D, op. 6,1 (WIV,37) (allegro scherzando e vivo)ad [3]

Sources: Arcangelo Corelli, [1] Sonate a tre, op. 4, 1694; [2] Sonate a violino e violone o cimbalo, op. 5, 1700; [3] Giovanni Battista Viotti, 6 duets concertanti, op. 6, c1798-99

Guy Fishman, cellob; Robert Nairn, double bassd

A player of the double bass with the status of a star - that is hardly imaginable these days. However, that is exactly what the Italian Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889) was in his time. He was just as famous as the best opera singers. He was not the first with that status, though. In the last quarter of the 18th and the first half of the 19th century another Italian, Domenico Dragonetti, achieved the same kind of stardom. Whereas Bottesini's art is well documented on disc Dragonetti has been given little exposure as yet. Therefore this disc which focuses on Dragonetti as a composer and performer is most welcome, even though only one of his own compositions is included.

Dragonetti was born in Venice and received his first lessons on the double bass probably from Michele Berini, who played the instrument in theatre orchestras and in San Marco. In 1787 he himself was accepted in St Mark's and within a couple of months rose to the status of principal which is a token of his great skills. In 1794 he left Venice and settled in London where he would remain until his death. Here he developed into a celebrity and one of the best-paid musicians in Britain. One critic remarked that Dragonetti "by powers almost magical, invests an instrument, which seems to wage eternal war with melody, 'rough as the storm, and as the thunder loud', with all the charms of soft harmonious sounds".

This disc approaches his career from a special angle: his friendship and cooperation with the English cellist Robert Lindley (1776-1855) which lasted more than fifty years. Lindley was born in Rotherham and received lessons at the violin and the cello from his father. He made quick progress and James Cervetto, who was cellist in the orchestra of Lord Abingdon, took him as his pupil free of charge. Soon he started to play in theatre orchestras, and in 1794 he became principal cello at the Italian Opera in London. It is here that he met Dragonetti who joined the Opera that same year. In opera performances they usually played the bass in recitatives together, as at that time keyboard instruments usually did not participate in the basso continuo.

This disc includes repertoire they played or might have played in chamber music concerts. The music of Arcangelo Corelli had become very popular in the early decades of the 18th century, and was still greatly appreciated a century later. Lindley and Dragonetti played Corelli's sonatas which were originally scored for violin. This practice of playing music at a lower pitch wasn't far away from that of a century earlier. In his liner-notes Guy Fishman refers to Michel Corrette (1707-1795) who already indicated this practice. He could also have mentioned a collection of Corelli's sonatas op. 5 which is preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in which they are arranged for viola da gamba. The performance of the basso continuo with only one string bass - without the participation of a keyboard or plucked instrument - was also a legitimate option in the baroque era, although it is seldom practiced today. Lindley added his own ornamentation, but apparently nothing of that was written down. That is probably the reason Fishman makes use of the embellishments of Francesco Geminiani in the Sonata in A, op. 5,9. In the last movement Robert Nairn plays Dragonetti's additions to the bass line. He also turns to his embellishments in the repeats of the sarabanda from the Sonata in d minor, op. 4,8. The cellists do not attempt ornaments in early 19th-century style, but instead "played what came to mind and what we found to be tasteful".

Whereas the sonatas by Corelli were definitely played by the two virtuosos, it is not documented whether they played Handel's Sonata in F. Fishman and Nairn play it as their predecessors may have performed it. It is also not established whether Dragonetti played the Duetto in D, op. 6,1 by Viotti. The latter was one of the greatest violin virtuosos of his time and had fled revolutionary France in 1792. There is written that he met Dragonetti and that they played together, with Dragonetti performing the second violin part in Viotti's duets. It is a little disappointing that only the first movement is played here: there was enough space on the disc to perform the whole piece. That is the more regrettable as Viotti's music has been largely ignored by representatives of historical performance practice. It is time that is going to change.

In 1823 Gioacchino Rossini stayed in London for several months, where he was feted by the aristocracy. Although he was already one of Europe's most successful opera composers, his operas didn't go down all that well with English audiences. During his stay he composed his duet for cello and double bass, intended for a performance by Dragonetti with David Salomons. Salomons, an amateur cellist, was a prominent member of British society and of the British Jewish community. Only one work by Dragonetti himself has been included: the Duetto in B flat. The article on Dragonetti in New Grove omits a worklist, but it is mentioned that his compositions have been preserved in 18 volumes. Fishman indicates that a next disc is planned, so let us hope that will include some more pieces by Dragonetti himself.

Fishman and Nairn present themselves as an ensemble under the name of Querelle des Bouffons. They play period instruments, and so do the two other participants: Sarah Freiberg and Daniel Stepner. Together they have produced a most interesting disc in regard to repertoire and performance practice. The sonatas by Corelli work remarkably well when played on the cello. The two main artists deliver committed performances. Daniel Stepner and Sarah Freiberg are their equal partners. This disc will be most attractive to lovers of the cello or the double bass, but should have a much wider appeal. There is every reason to look forward to the next recording.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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