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Francesco BARSANTI (1690 - 1772): "Concerti Grossi"

Banchetto Musicale - Il Piacere

rec: March 25 - 28, 1997, Vienna, Salvatorsaal
Dynamic - DM8023 (R) (© 2011) (72'53")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Concerto I in G; Concerto II in A; Concerto III in E; Concerto IV in G; Concerto V in A; Concerto VI in E

Maria Paola Cavallini*, Katherina Bergman*, Silvia Rocha, Elisabeth Eichmeyer, violin; Robert Rottensteiner*, viola; Elisabeth Taschner*, cello; Francisco JosŤ Montero, violone; Carlo Andrea Giorgetti, chitarrone; Daniele Boccaccio, harpsichord [* concertino]

Francesco Barsanti is not a household name. Now and then he turns up in concert programmes and on disc, mostly with some Scottish tunes. This can be explained from his biography. He was one of the many Italian performing musicians and composers who moved to London to look for employment. He arrived there in 1714, together with his friend Francesco Geminiani; both were from Lucca. For a number of years he played the flute and the oboe in the orchestra of the Italian opera. In 1735 he married a woman from Scotland. He developed a special liking for Scottish tunes which he arranged or incorporated into his compositions. He found aristocratic patrons in Scotland and composed some of his best music, his Concerti grossi op. 3 and his Overtures op. 4. In 1743 he returned to London where he started to work as a viola player. From that time he gave up writing any original compositions. When he died in 1772 he was poor and almost completely forgotten.

The concerti grossi which are the subject of this disc belong to a genre to which various composers contributed. Italian music was very popular among the musical societies of mostly amateurs which were active in many English towns. They played not only original music such as the concerti grossi by Corelli but also arrangements, for instance of violin sonatas. Francesco Geminiani took profit from the demand for Italian music by arranging Corelli's violin sonatas opus 5 as concerti grossi. His own violin sonatas were arranged as concerti grossi by his English admirer Charles Avison, who also made arrangements of keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. Barsanti followed their example with his six Concerti grossi after Giovanni Battista Sammartini which were printed in 1757.

These were arrangements of Sammartini's Sonate Notturne op. 6, scored for two violins and basso continuo. He was one of the most celebrated Italian composers of his time and a representative of the modern galant idiom. For this reason his compositions found wide appreciation. He also made quite an impression with his symphonies which paved the way for the classical style and inspired Haydn in his early symphonies. Sammartini's music was also known in England, and therefore an arrangement of the sonatas opus 6 for a larger body of strings was a good move by Barsanti.

Although they were printed as concerti grossi and contain a concertino of two violins, viola and cello, they have little in common with the traditional concerti grossi as written by the likes of Corelli and Handel. There are no dotted rhythms, there is little counterpoint and the conventional fugal movements are absent. These concerti grossi are in the same galant idiom as the original sonatas by Sammartini. Even so this is by no means all just easy-listening stuff. Some slow movements, like the largo from the Concerto II in A and the opening movements of the Concertos IV in G and V in A, both with the indication 'affettuoso', are quite expressive. Another particularly fine movement is the pastorale which opens the Concerto VI in E. All that said, the difference between these concerti grossi and the earlier specimens in the genre is evident.

The performances which were originally recorded in 1997 are lively and spirited, albeit technically not always to the highest standard. In particular the intonation is less than perfect now and then. I also would have liked a warmer and more intimate acoustic. Yet this disc offers good entertainment and is well worth listening to, because of the quality of the music and the performances. That makes this reissue welcome. The liner-notes give good background information and the booklet includes a list of the instruments used.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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