musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Salterio italiano"

Romina Basso, mezzo-sopranoa
Il Dolce Conforto
Dir: Franziska Fleischanderl

rec: Nov 30 - Dec 2, 2017, Rosazzo (Friuli-Venezia Giulia), Abbazia
Christophorus - CHR 77426 (ę 2018) (62'16")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Giovanni Battista MARTINI (1706-1784): Motetto per Salterio e Clavicembalo obbligati per alto solo (Ex tractatu Sancti Augustini)ab; Fulgenzio PEROTTI (fl 1739-1773): Sonata per Salterio; Girolamo ROSSI (fl 1733-1768): Lezione Quarta (Ex tractatu Sancti Augustini)a; Florido UBALDI (fl 1711-c1740): Sinfonia da Salterio col Basso; Vito UGOLINI (fl 1753-1790): Sonata per Salterio con Basso

Franziska Fleischanderl, salterio; Nicola Paoli, cello; Daniel Perer, harpsichord, organ; Manuel Tomadin, organb

During many years of reviewing early music discs I seldom encountered recordings in which the salterio participated. It is only in the last ten years or so that this instrument manifests itself on disc, either as part of an ensemble, in which it participates in the realisation of the basso continuo, or as one of the obbligato instruments. Among the promoters of the salterio in our time are Margit ▄bellacker, Elisabeth Seitz and Franziska Fleischanderl, the founder and director of the ensemble Il Dolce Conforto.

A few years ago I reviewed the first disc of the ensemble, "Sacred Salterio - Lamentations of the Holy Week", which documents the use of the salterio in sacred music by Italian composers. The disc under review here can be considered a kind of sequel, as it again includes two pieces for Holy Week (albeit on different texts). In addition, we hear three sonatas for salterio and basso continuo, which is a nice addition to what was included on "Per il Salterio" by La Gioia Armonica.

Franziska Fleischanderl has done extensive research on the history and the construction of the salterio and its playing techniques, which resulted in her graduation as a doctor at Leiden University. In the liner-notes to the present disc she offers some of her insights, which is most helpful to understand the role of the salterio in 18th-century Italian music and the various ways it was played. These playing techniques are then demonstrated in the programme.

One aspect concerns the two ways the salterio was played, known as pizzicato and battuto respectively. The former means that the strings are plucked (like the lute and the theorbo) and the latter that the salterio is struck with two mallets. The problem for a salterio player of our time is that the scores don't include any indication as to which of the two playing techniques should be used. "To answer the question of pizzicato or battuto execution, I am therefore dependent on the study of written sources about salterio playing and on practical experience with the instrument", Franziska Fleischanderl writes in her liner-notes. It seems that the two techniques were practised simultaneously and disseminated across Italy in the first half of the 18th century.

Playing pizzicato or battuto is not just a matter of playing technique, it also results in different sounds. "The acoustic result of both techniques is so different that one could almost speak of two different instruments: the pizzicato salterio and the battuto salterio." Where the former technique is used, the plucking angle, speed and positions are responsible for the sound of the instrument. In the latter technique, the mallets and their letheriness produce different nuances. In this recording, Franziska Fleischanderl plays two different kinds of mallets, either from boxwood or from snakewood, which creates a difference in sound. In the Brussels Musical Instrument Museum she found original mallets, and these have been reconstructed for this recording. An additional change of sounds is produced, if the heads of the mallets are covered with leather, in accordance with the Brussels model: "[A] dark, fortepiano-like sound is created which can also be altered by using different types of leather and leather thickness (...)".

Many instruments have survived, which attest to the importance of the salterio. However, a large part of its repertoire has been lost. It is telling that only a few pieces by the least-known composers on this disc have been preserved. The programme opens with a sonata by Fulgenzio Perotti, an Augustinian priest who was a teacher at the Ospedale della PietÓ in Venice from 1759 onwards. He has left only a small oeuvre with parts for the salterio. He has no entry in New Grove, and that also goes for Florido Ubaldi from CittÓ di Castello, who was a salterio virtuoso. The sinfonia included here is one of the very few pieces from his pen that has come down to us. The basso continuo part is missing, and has been reconstructed for this recording. The disc closes with a sonata by Vito Ugolino, another composer unknown to the editors of New Grove. It is taken from a collection of sheet music (which also included a historical salterio), that has been discovered recently. With 28 pieces by Neapolitan composers from the second half of the 18th century, it is a substantial contribution to the repertoire for the salterio. Ugolino was in the service of the Royal Chapel from 1753 to 1790. This sonata is one of the very few pieces by him that has been preserved.

The two remaining works are by Giovanni Battista Martini, better known as 'Padre Martini' and Girolamo Rossi respectively. Padre Martini was an important man. A website gives this good description: "A typical eighteenth-century man of culture, Padre Giovanni Battista Martini (1706 - 1784) was a musical theoretician, teacher, composer, scholar of phisical and mathematical sciences, an encyclopedic mind in the noblest and most complete sense of the word. He almost never traveled away from Bologna, the city of his birth and death. Martini was a tireless collector of manuscripts and printed works, of documents and sources of music history. the library of the convent of San Francesco (now transferred to the conservatory), with its 17,000 volumes, stands as an enduring monument to his science and his knowledge." Unfortunately, he is almost exclusively known as a theorist; his compositions are seldom performed and recorded. The motet included here, a setting of a text by St Augustine, attests to his compositional skills. It starts with an instrumental introduction, which is followed by a sequence of recitatives (two secco, one accompanied) and arias. Interesting here is that the harpsichord is given an obbligato role, alongside the salterio, which is particularly notable because of the similarity in sound between the two instruments.

Girolamo Rossi, another composer who is omitted from New Grove, worked in Naples as maestro di cappella of the Oratorio del Santissima Crocifisso di San Paolo. The Lezione Quarta was probably performed in the monastery of Santa Maria Donnaromita during Holy Week after 1760. Again, the harpsichord has to take a role here, but then in the basso continuo. This piece is quite operatic: it includes just one accompanied recitative, whereas the other sections are arias, which have written-out cadenzas. They attest to the technical requirements of this piece. The text of this work is the same as that of Martini's work, which allows for an interesting and revealing comparison.

This is all quite fascinating stuff. One can easily understand how much research was needed before this music could be performed. That is certainly a good subject for a dissertation, and - although I haven't read it - I am sure that Franziska Fleischanderl's research will be a standard work for the next decades. It is nice that she is not only an excellent scholar, but also a an excellent player of the salterio, as she demonstrates here. She has brought together a fine group of performers who are able to bring the selected repertoire to life. Romina Basso is best-known for her participation in (baroque) operas, but here she does well in other repertoire too. In Martini she uses a little more vibrato than I would have liked, but in Rossi she delivers a fully satisfying performance. Both pieces are nice works that deserve their place in the repertoire for Passiontide.

However, it is the salterio that is the main item here. This disc bears witness to the importance of the instrument in 18th-century Italian music. I hope that Franziska Fleischanderl (and her colleagues mentioned above) will dig up more forgotten repertoire for the salterio, which fully deserves its place at the music scene of our time.

Johan van Veen (ę 2022)

Relevant links:

Il Dolce Conforto

CD Reviews