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Pietro Antonio FIOCCO (1654 - 1714): "Le retour du printemps - Cantata, aria e sonate"

Julie Hasslerb, Raphaëlle Kennedyb, Françoise Massetae, Caroline Pelonb, soprano; Gilles Guénardb, alto; Jean-Michel Fumasb, Philippe Noncleb, haute-contre; Patrick Aubailly, tenorb; Vincent Bouchot, baritoneb; Renaud Delaigue, bassb; Hugo Reyne, recordercd
La simphonie du Marais
Dir: Hugo Reyne

rec: Oct 20, 1999 (live), Brussels, Théatre royal de la Monnayeb; Oct 21, 1999, Truiden, Academiezaalacde
Cypres - CYP 3616 (© 2000) (64'11")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/NL; lyrics - translations: E/D/NL
Cover & track-list

Dimmi, Amora; Le retour du printempsb; Sonata for recorder and bc in Cc; Sonata for recorder and bc in g minord; Tutto acceso d'amore, cantata a voce solae

Héloïse Gaillard, Benoît Richard, recorder, oboe; Emmanuel Vigneron, bassoon; Gilone Gaubert-Jacques, Françoise Duffaud, Alain Petit, Vassilis Tsotsolis, Judith Depoutot, Alain Pégeot, violin; Géraldine Roux, Marie-Liesse Barau, Diane Chmela, viola; Jérôme Hantaï, viola da gamba; Emmanuel Jacques, cello; Jean-Luc Tamby, theorbo, guitar; Violaine Cochard, harpsichord

Many Italian composers of the 17th century went abroad to look for a job. Most of them travelled to Austria or Germany, but some took another direction. The best-known of them was Giovanni Battista Lulli, who as Jean-Baptiste Lully dominated musical life in France in the second half of the 17th century. Another one was Pietro Antonio Fiocco, who stayed the largest part of his life in the Southern Netherlands.

Fiocco was born in Venice, where he probably received his first music lessons from his father Giaconto, a surgeon-barber, who played in the marine corps of the city. The first traces of his musical activities have been found in Amsterdam, where his Helena rapita da Parida was performed in the recently founded opera in May 1681. Because of financial problems the Amsterdam opera had to close, and it seems Fiocco went to Hanover, where his opera was performed in June of that same year.

The next - and final - stage in his career was Brussels, the capital of the Southern Netherlands. There he married for the second time in 1682 (his first wife and newly-born daughter had died in Amsterdam). He got three children, one of whom became a composer: Jean-Joseph Fiocco. After his second wife had died, he married a third time in 1692, and from this marriage he got 11 children, among them another son who was to become a composer: Joseph Hector Fiocco. Pietro Antonio remained in the Southern Netherlands until his death in 1714.

In Brussels he played a crucial role in the foundation of an opera. Since 1681 attempts had been made to establish a permanent opera house, but due to financial problems and obstruction from the authorities these attempts had failed. Thanks to an Italian financier and the support of the new governor, who was a great lover of music, from 1694 on Fiocco performed a number of works for the theatre, in particular by Lully, such as Amadis (1695), Phaéton (1696), Armide and Thésée (1697). In 1700 the opera was formally established, which received the name of Théâtre sur la Monnaie and which still exists today.

The compositions on this disc reflect the two styles Fiocco made use of in his compositions. It starts with Le retour du printemps, a pastorale which is modelled after the operas of Lully. In several sections Lully's operas are imitated, sometimes even quoted. Whereas Lully made use of the recitative, Fiocco preferred arias or ariettas. The vocal items are interspersed by instrumental movements, just like the French ballet operas, and towards to end, before the concluding duet and chorus, we hear a long chaconne.

The pastorale was recorded live during a performance in the very same theatre where it was first performed in 1699. The acoustics of the theatre are very appropriate, much more than a studio. And I am happy to say that on the whole the performance is rather good, in particular by the sopranos and the baritone. Gilles Guénard's voice is not very strong, and as a result the balance between him (in the role of a shepherd) and Julie Hassler (as shepherdess) in the duet 'Aimez, jeunes amants' is less than ideal. I also wondered about Philippe Noncle, who is mentioned in the booklet as an haute-contre, but doesn't sound like one to me, as his upper register isn't very strong and he has some problems in hitting the top notes of his part. Disappointing is also the modern pronunciation of French.

The other items on the disc were recorded in the studio. The two vocal pieces are examples of music in Italian style: a solo cantata, consisting of two arias, connected by a recitative (Tutto acceso d'amore), and an aria (Dimmi, Amor), which originally was part of Fiocco's burletta per musica - a kind of comic opera - Coridone scultore, which was staged in Brussels in 1697, the score of which has been lost. Fiocco also composed chamber music: the Sonata in g minor comes from a collection of sonatas by Fiocco, Pez, Pepusch and Croft, which was published in 1706 by Estienne Roger in Amsterdam, whereas the Sonata in C was discovered by Hugo Reyne in a copy by the French bassoonist Charles Babel. He is performing these sonatas here, and although his playing is generally good, I don't quite like his slight wobble. The same is true for the soprano Françoise Masset, who performs the cantata and the aria, which are nice to hear, but too short to make a lasting impression. This is perhaps the best way to assess Fiocco's music and therefore this disc: it is nice to listen to - and interesting from a historical perspective - but probably not something one shall return to regularly.

Johan van Veen (© 2005)

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