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CD reviews

"Harmonie Veneziane – 1660-1690: String Music of the Venetian Republic"

Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca
rec: Sept 2001, Col S. Martino (It), Chiesa di S. Vigilio
Erato 0927-49143-2 (69'15")

F Cavalli: Sinfonia a 5 from 'Eliogabalo'; C Fedeli 'Saggion': Sonata a 4 'in eco' [1]; G Legrenzi: Corrente IX a 5 [4]; Sonata a 5 'La Cremona' [2]; Sonata I a 4 violini [3]; Sonata V a 4 viole da gamba [3]; J Rosenmüller: Sonata I a 5 [5]; Sonata II a 5 [5]; Sonata III a 3 [6]; Sonata VIII a 4 [6]; PA Ziani: Sonata VIII a 4 [7]; Sonata XV a 5 [7]

(Sources: [1] Fedeli 'Saggion', Sonate a 2,3,4 op. 1, 1685; [2] Legrenzi, Sonate a 2,3,5,6 libro III op. 8, 1663; [3] La Cetra, op. 10 (11), 1673; [4] Balletti e Correnti a 5, op. 16, 1691; [5] Rosenmüller, Sonate da camera a 5, 1667; [6] Sonate a 2,3,4,5, 1682; [7] Ziani, Sonate a 2,3,5,6, op. 7, 1667/68)

Giorgio Fava, Roberto Falcone, Luca Ronconi, violin; Balasz Bozzai, violin, viola; Judit Földes, viola; Walter Vestidello, cello; Giancarlo Pavan, violone; Giancarlo Rado, archlute, guitar; Gianpietro Rosato, harpsichord, organ

The music in Venice between Monteverdi and Vivaldi doesn’t get much attention. When I looked into a book on 500 years of Venetian music the chapter on the 17th century contained just one page regarding this period. Only two composers were mentioned: Cavalli and Barbara Strozzi. Even in The New Grove the article on Venice devotes very little space to the second half of the 17th century, and then mainly concentrates on the opera. This was certainly an important genre, apart from the religious music composed for the many churches in the city, among them the San Marco. But there were quite a number of composers who wrote chamber music as well. Among the most important are those whose works are recorded by the Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca, an ensemble which regularly points at music which is often neglected.

One of the features of music life in Venice at this time is the differences in style between composers, and even within the oeuvre of composers. There were influences from outside Italy. Just like Italian operas had been performed in Paris earlier in the century – for instance operas by Cavalli – French music was performed in Venice. Giovanni Legrenzi, for example, directed performances of music by Lully. Another cause of the influence from abroad was the economic and political decline of Venice. As a result instrumental music was mostly commissioned by foreign patrons. And in order to please them composers adapted their compositional styles to what these patrons liked.
The troublesome economic situation also encouraged composers to travel abroad to look for employment. Giovanni Legrenzi held posts in Bergamo and Ferrara and tried to become Kapellmeister at the imperial court in Vienna.
Ziani went to Austria and travelled as far as Dresden to perform some of his theatre and church music.
And then there were foreigners coming to Venice. The city may have deteriorated economically, it was still a place of huge cultural reputation. In the case of Johann Rosenmüller, it wasn’t only artistic reasons which drove him to Venice. Once a promising performer and composer he had a good prospect of becoming cantor of the Thomasschule in Leipzig. But in 1655 he was jailed on suspicion of paedophelia. He was able to escape and went to Venice, where he became a respected musician and composer.
The least well known of the composers represented on this disc is Carlo Antonio Fedeli, called ‘Saggion’. He developed from violone player to maestro de’ concerti at San Marco.

The CD opens with a Sinfonia to an opera by Francesco Cavalli, Monteverdi’s pupil and his successor as Venice’s main opera composer. But this opera was never performed, since it was considered too old-fashioned.
Nevertheless, some of the instrumental music recorded here contains old-fashioned traces as well. The only work by Fedeli on this disc combines two techniques which are rooted in the 16th century: the polychoral style and the use of echo-effects. The four violins are divided into two ‘choirs’ of two violins each: one in the forefront and one acting as ‘echo’. In the consecutive sections the violins dialogize with each other, and then with their respective echoes.
The two works by Ziani are strongly contrasting. The Sonata XV is characterised by counterpoint, with fugal sections at the start and the end and a very expressive slow section in the middle. His Sonata VIII is much lighter and theatrical in character.
Most of Legrenzi’s works concentrate on the upper parts; two of the four pieces recorded here don’t have parts for the viola. In his works we find connections with the past too: the Corrente IX, which closes this disc, is based upon the bass line from the 16th century aria del Gran Duca.
A peculiar piece is the Sonata V a 4 viole da gamba which was commissioned in Vienna. The addition o come piace justifies a performance in a more ‘conventional’ scoring of 2 violins, viola and cello, but the character of this sonata clearly reflects the intention to be played on four viole da gamba, and I would love to hear it that way.
Rosenmüller may have been influenced by the music of other Italian composers, his music still reflects his German musical education. In particular the Sinfonias from the Sonate da camera of 1667 are written in the stylus phantasticus characteristic of the North-German style of composition.

The performance does this music full justice. The ensemble has a fine sense for the phrasing of the individual pieces and is realising the contrasts within the compositions quite nicely. They also understand the German origin of Rosenmüller; his music is more clearly articulated, with a good sense of the hierarchy of the notes within the phrases.
The fast movements or sections are played with great rhythmic flair, with strong support from the basso continuo. The more austere pieces, for example Ziani’s Sonata XI, are played with a lot of expression. And there is a beautiful clarity of the lines where the music has a polyphonic character.
In short, this is an excellent recording. The argument for this forgotten music couldn’t be more eloquent and convincing.

Johan van Veen (© 2003)

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