musica Dei donum
Dir: Stephen Stubbs
rec: Feb 2004, Propstei St Gerold
ECM New Series 1893 - 476 3101 (© 2006) (74'22")
anon/Johann Caspar HORN (c1630-c1685):
anon/Lucas Ruiz DE RIBAYAZ (1626-after 1677): Folia variations ;
Giulio CACCINI (c1550-1618)/arr anon:
Amarilli, mia bella, arr for violin and bc;
Maurizio CAZZATI (c1620-1677):
Balletto IV: adaggio ;
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713):
Sonata in F, op. 5,10: sarabanda ;
Sonata in d minor, op. 5,12 'Folia': adagio ;
Carlo FARINA (c1600-c1640):
Sonata II detta La desperata ;
Giovanni Paolo FOSCARINI (fl 1621-1649):
Aria della Fulia variata (con parti variate) ;
Giovanni Battista GRANATA (c1620-c1687):
Sonata di chitarra, e violino, con il suo basso continuo ;
Arpeggiata a moi modo;
Improvisation I on the Folia bass;
Improvisation II on the Folia bass
 Carlo Farina, Fünffter Theil newer Pavanen ..., 1628;
 Giovanni Paolo Foscarini, Li cinque libri della chitarra alla spagnola, 1640;
 Giovanni Battista Granata, Soavi concenti di sonate musicali ..., op. 4, 1659;
 Maurizio Cazzati, Partitura di correnti e balletti per sonare ..., 1669;
 anon, Pestry zborník, after 1676;
 Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz, Luz y norte musical ..., 1677;
 Arcangelo Corelli, Sonate a Violino e Violone o Cimbalo, op. 5, 1700)
Milos Valent, violin;
Erin Headley, viola da gamba, lirone;
Maxine Eilander, harp;
Stephen Stubbs, chitarrone, guitar
Strangely enough this disc has no title. The cover only contains the name of the ensemble and its director. But the subject of this disc is twofold: on the one hand the Folia, on the other the practice of improvisation which is an important element in the music of the baroque era.
New Grove describes the Folia as "a musical framework used during the Baroque period for songs, dances and sets of variations". It was frequently used during the 17th century and the first half of the 18th century, in particular in Spain, Italy and France. In the last named country it was usually called 'folies d'Espagne', referring to the country where the Folia was assumed to have its origin. But historically speaking that is anything but certain: it seems the Folia had its origin rather in Portugal at the end of the 15th century. As the earliest pieces with this name haven't survived there is no certainty as to whether they were anything like the Folia which inspired so many composers of later centuries.
This disc contains an excerpt from the famous variations for violin and basso continuo by Corelli, variations for harp by Spanish composers, variations for guitar by the Italian composer Giovanni Paolo Foscarini and two improvisations by the ensemble. I don't doubt that these are the result of real improvisations during concerts and rehearsals, but I find it hard to believe really nothing was written down when the musicians started their recording sessions for this disc. Even so the improvisations are very nice and suit the programme of this disc well.
Improvisation was an important element of musicianship in the baroque era. Many players of plucked and keyboard instruments were well-known for their improvisations and quite a number of compositions are written-out improvisations. In addition, interpreters were expected to add ornaments to written-out music, and these were supposed to be improvised rather than written down beforehand. It is therefore an important element in the interpretation of baroque music to be able to improvise, and the members of Teatro Lirico are certainly able to do that.
This disc contains some very intriguing pieces. One of the most captivating is the Sonata II detta La desperata by Farina. This Mantua-born composer worked at the court in Dresden from 1725 until his death. In particular with his sonatas for violin and bc he had a strong and lasting influence on the style of violin playing in Germany. For instance, composers like Johann Jakob Walther, Von Westhoff and Biber are clearly influenced by his style, which included double-stopping, sequences of contrasting sections and broken chords. His Sonata La desperata is a perfect example of this, and Stephen Stubbs describes it as "an operatic scene for the solo violin". It suits the ensemble, whose approach of music - as its name suggests - is theatrical.
Another interesting piece is the Sonata di chitarra, e violino, con il suo basso continuo by Giovanni Battista Granata, as it is written for the rather unusual combination of guitar and violin. The title mentions the instruments in this order, and that is reflected by the music in which the guitar has the lead. Granata was one of the most virtuosic players of the guitar and composed quite a lot of music, some of it technically very demanding.
As this disc seems to be a kind of portrait of this ensemble it is appropriate that music from a Slovakian source has been included. The ensemble's leader, Milos Valent, is from Slovakia, and was trained as a classical as well as folk violinist. The pieces by Horn and anonymous composers which are grouped here as a suite, come from a manuscript dating from around 1676 which is one of the most important sources of Slovak music of the 17th century. It contains a large number of pieces from a collection of music by Johann Caspar Horn. He was born in Lower Austria - which is now part of the Czech Republic - and worked in Dresden. There is an inevitable change in style during this suite, as the first four dances are by Horn and written in French style, whereas the remaining three pieces are played here as folk music.
A little out of step with the programme is Giulio Caccini's famous aria Amarilli, mia bella: the music is Italian, of course, but here a version for violin and bc is heard, which comes from an English manuscript, kept in the British Library. I had liked to know whether in the manuscript it is scored for violin and whether the ornamentation played here is written down in the manuscript or added by Milos Valent. But the booklet doesn't give any information about this item.
The programme on this disc is pretty unusual, but consists of first-rate and mostly captivating music. It gives a fairly good impression of the character and approach of Teatro Lirico. And like on previous discs the players give very fine performances. Their technical skills are impressive, but this disc is first and foremost a testimony of their fine musicianship which puts the music in the centre. I have very much enjoyed this recording, and I recommend it to anyone with a curious mind.
Johan van Veen (© 2009)