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"Del sonar pitoresco - Musical pleasures in the Venetian countryside at the time of Tiepolo"

Ensemble Barocco Sans Souci

rec: August 5 - 7, 2008, Padua, Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Battista
Dynamic - CDS 637 (© 2009) (64'47")

Giovanni Antonio BRESCIANELLO (1685-1757): Concerto for oboe, bassoon and bc; Antonio LOTTI (c1667-1740): Echo Sonata a 4 for oboe, bassoon and bc in c minor; Sonata a 4 for 2 oboes, bassoon and bc; Antonio MONTANARI (1676-1737): Sonata for 2 oboes and bc in C; Giovanni Benedetto PLATTI (1697-1763): Sonata for oboe, bassoon and bc in G; Agostino STEFFANI (1654-1728): Chomigioia for 2 oboes and bc; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Sonata for 2 oboes and bc in g minor (RV 81)

Giuseppe Nalin, Marco del Cittadino, oboe; Paolo Tognon, bassoon; Pierluigi Polato, archlute; Lorenzo Feder, harpsichord

The oboe is one of the main instruments of the baroque period. Numerous sonatas, suites and concertos featuring this double-reed instrument have been written, and it also figured prominently in vocal works. It is easy to overlook the fact that it was not until the early 18th century that the oboe was becoming a common instrument in Italy. In the previous century it was France which was the centre of oboe making and playing, and German composers who were under the spell of the French style - in particular the work of Jean-Baptiste Lully - introduced the oboe in Germany. Only sporadically the oboe was used in Italian music before 1700. It was not earlier than 1698 that the chapel of San Marco in Venice dismissed its last cornett player. His place was taken by Onofrio Penati, who was a virtuoso on the oboe, and he was paid the highest salary of the entire orchestra.

Venice wasn't only the place where the oboe was first introduced, it also played a key role in the development and diffusion of the oboe in Italy. Antonio Vivaldi wrote a number of concertos for one or two oboes, partly for the girls of the Ospedale della Pietà. One of the girls developed into a celebrity, a certain Pellegrina, nicknamed 'dall'Oboe'. But the Italians were still heavily depending on influences from the other side of the Alps. The first oboe teacher at the Ospedale, for instance, was Ignazio Rion, who was probably of French origin.

The other double-reed instrument featured on this disc is the bassoon, and this is an entirely different story. This instrument had played an important role in Italian music since the 16th century. The bassoon of around 1600 is today mostly referred to as a dulcian, but originally it was just called fagotto, like its early 18th-century counterpart. This instrument is quite different from the earlier model, though, as it had three or four keys and required a different finger technique.

This disc presents sonatas for one or two oboes and basso continuo, some of which with an obbligato part for the bassoon. The first item is a sonata by Antonio Lotti, who was born in Hanover, where his father was acting as Kapellmeister. In Venice he studied with Legrenzi, sang as alto in San Marco and was acting as first organist from 1704 to 1736, when he was appointed first maestro di cappella. The second movement of his Sonata a 4 contains a virtuosic solo for the bassoon, whereas in the last movement the bassoon mostly plays with the basso continuo. The third movement's oboe parts are melodically quite unconventional; here the bassoon plays almost exclusively in its lowest register.

Whereas Lotti was born in Germany - and here he must have become acquainted with the oboe - Giovanni Benedetto Platti who was born either in Padua or in Venice, spent the largest part of his life in Würzburg. He was described as an "incomparable oboist". He stayed at the court of Wiesentheid for some time, and it is very likely the court had a virtuosic bassoonist in its ranks as several of Platti's sonatas contain obbligato bassoon parts. In his Sonata in G the oboe and the bassoon mostly play in parallel motion or imitate each other. The Sonata in c minor is more technically demanding as, for instance, the first allegro contains brilliant solo passages for both oboe and bassoon, and in the following mesto the bassoon part contains large leaps.

The most famous composer of this programme is, of course, Antonio Vivaldi. He has written quite a number of concertos for oboe as well as for bassoon, but very little chamber music, although both instruments take part in a number of concerti da camera. The Sonata in g minor is a nice work without being remarkable in its technical requirements. The next piece, the Concerto for oboe, basson and bc by Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, is very different in this respect. The composer was born in Venice, but in 1715 he became violinist at the court of the Elector of Bavaria in Munich. Only a year later he moved to the court of Württemberg in Stuttgart, where he was appointed chief Kapellmeister in 1717. He stayed here, with interruptions, until his death. Being a violinist most of his compositions were written for his own instrument. I therefore wonder whether the Concerto played here was originally scored for oboe and bassoon. It could well have been conceived for violin and cello, but unfortunately the programme notes don't give much information about the individual pieces on this disc. The second movement contains virtuosic passages in which oboe and bassoon play in parallel motion. The third movement is melodically rather unusual, and the last movement has a virtuosic solo for the bassoon.

The programme notes also tell nothing about the short piece by Agostino Steffani, born near Venice and also making a career in Germany. It is called an aria in the tracklist, and I was thinking it could be one of the many vocal duets Steffani was famous for, but in the worklist in New Grove I couldn't find this title. This aria is followed by the Echo Sonata in c minor by Lotti, which is most remarkable for being composed in the style of an 'echo', as the title indicates: phrases of the first oboe are answered by the second oboe, which in this recording is placed in the background. In the echo passages the basso continuo keeps silent, and only now and then the bassoon intervenes with some notes as a kind of replacement of the basso continuo. Although only the first of the three movements is called 'echo' all of them contain echo passages. The sonata's ending is quite original: after the last echo the basso continuo plays a short phrase, and then the sonata ends with a phrase of the bassoon, without accompaniment.

The last work on this disc is the Sonata in C by Francesco Montanari, who was also known under the Christian names Antonio Maria. He was a highly skilled violinist, who was a member of the orchestra of Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome and participated in the performance of Handel's oratorio La Resurrezione. He is the only composer on this disc who had no connections to Venice or Germany. This sonata is the only piece in his oeuvre for wind instruments. Most noticeable is the brilliant middle movement with its many sharp accents.

As this disc contains no less than five pieces which have never been recorded before it is to be recommended to anyone interested in baroque chamber music, and in particular music for wind instruments. The performances are technically immaculate, and the players leave no particularities in these sonatas pass by unnoticed. The sound of the oboes is somewhat different from what one is used to hear from German or English players. Giuseppe Nalin and Marco del Cittadino produce a little more strident and open sound, a little less polished. One could perhaps also have some trouble with the contributions of the archlute which sometimes shows a bit too much presence. But the basso continuo does what it is supposed to do: not only providing the harmonic foundation but also driving the ensemble on. In short, this is a well-executed and well-recorded programme of music which fully deserves our attention. The booklet contains an informative overview of the development of the oboe and the bassoon in Italy, but more information about the composers and the compositions had been welcome.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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