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Italian violin music of the 17th century

[I] "Mille consigli - 17th-century Italian violin sonatas"
Ensemble Aurora
rec: Oct 24 - 26, 2011, Terni, Collescipoli (Collegiata di S. Nicolò)
Glossa - GCD 921208 (© 2013) (78'54")
Liner-notes: E/F/D
Cover & track-list

Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669): Chiacona a violino soloacd; Giovanni Antonio BERTOLI (1598-after 1645): Sonata IIbd [6]; Dario CASTELLO (fl 1620-1630): Sonata VIII à due, sopran e fagotto [3]; Giovanni Battista FONTANA (1571-1630): Sonata II a violino soloacd [5]; Sonata XII a due, fagotto e violino [5]; Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626-1690): Sonata La Foscari a due, violino e faghotto [9]; Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665): Canzona La Cappellina [8]; Alessandro PICCININI (1566-1638): Toccata Xc [2]; Francesco ROGNONI Taeggio (c1585-c1624): Pulchra es amica mea passeggiata (Palestrina)abd [1]; Michelangelo ROSSI (1601/02-1656): Toccata VIId [4]; Marco UCCELLINI (c1603-1680): Sonata III à violino soloacd [10]; Sonata XI à violino soloacd [7]; Aurelio VIRGILIANO (c1540-c1600) / Enrico GATTI: Vestiva i colli passeggiato (Palestrina)ad

[1] Francesco Rognoni Taeggio, Selva de' vari passaggi, 1620; [2] Alessandro Piccinini, Intavolatura di liuto, e di chitarrone, libro primo, 1623; [3] Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno, libro secondo, 1629; [4] Michelangelo Rossi, Toccate e correnti d'organo e cimbalo, c1640; [5] Giovanni Battista Fontana, Sonate a 1,2,3, per il violino, o cornetto, fagotto, chitarrone, 1641; [6] Giovanni Antonio Bertoli, Compositioni musicali ... fatte per sonare con fagotto solo, 1645; [7] Marco Uccellini, Sonate, over canzoni, op. 5, 1649; [8] Tarquinio Merula, Il quarto libro delle canzoni da suonare, op. 17, 1651; [9] Giovanni Legrenzi, Sonate a 2,3 ... libro primo, 1655; [10] Marco Uccellini, Ozio regio: compositioni armoniche sopra il violino e diversi altri strumenti, libro VII, 1660

Enrico Gatti, violina; Elena Bianchi, dulcianb; Gabriele Palomba, theorboc; Fabio Ciofini, organd

[II] "Perla barocca - Early Italian masterpieces"
Rachel Podger, violin; Daniele Caminiti, theorbo; Marcin Swiatkiewicz, harpsichord, organ
rec: Oct 2013, Schiedam, Westvest
Channel Classics - CCS SA 36014 (© 2014) (69'45")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669): Chiacona a violino solo; Dario CASTELLO (fl 1620-1630): Sonata II [5]; Giovanni Paolo CIMA (c1570-c1622): Sonata a 2 [2] ; Giovanni Battista FONTANA (1571-1630): Sonata II [7]; Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): Toccata per Spinettina e Violino [4]; Toccata I [3]; Andrea GABRIELI (1532/33-1585): Ricercar del 1° tono [1]; Isabella LEONARDA (1620-1704): Sonata XII [10]; Biagio MARINI (1594-1663): Sonata IV per sonar con due corde [6]; Giovanni Antonio PANDOLFI MEALLI (1630-1670): Sonata VI in d minor, op. 4,6 'La Vinciolina' [9]; Marco UCCELLINI (c1603-1680): Sonata overo Toccata V detta la Laura dilucente à violino solo [8]

[1] Andrea Gabrieli, Ricercari ... composti et tabulati per ogni sorte di stromenti da tasti, libro secondo, 1595; [2] Giovanni Paolo Cima, Concerti ecclesiastici, 1610; Girolamo Frescobaldi, [3] Toccate e partite d'intavolatura di cimbalo, libro primo, 1615; [4] Il primo libro delle canzoni per sonare con ogni sorte di stromenti, 1628; [5] Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno, libro secondo, 1629; [6] Biagio Marini, Sonate, symphonie ... e retornelli, op. 8, 1629; [7] Giovanni Battista Fontana, Sonate a 1,2,3, per il violino, o cornetto, fagotto, chitarrone, 1641; [8] Marco Uccellini, Sonate, correnti et arie, op. 4, 1645; [9] Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli, Sonate ... per chiesa e camera, 1660; [10] Isabella Leonarda, Sonate op. 16, 1693

Many things changed in European music around 1600. One of them was the emergence of purely instrumental music, independent from vocal models. This went hand in hand with an increase in virtuosity, both in the composition and the performance of sonatas, canzonas and pieces based on a basso ostinato. The stile nuovo was born in Italy and the first virtuosos on instruments such as the cornett and the violin were Italians. Most composers wrote music for their own instrument and therefore it doesn't surprise that those who are represented on these discs with music for violin were mostly violinists themselves.

Giovanni Battista Fontana was from Brescia and died in Padua. Only one collection of his compositions has come down to us, comprising six solo sonatas and twelve ensemble sonatas. The Sonata II is one of the best-known from the former category. A specimen of the latter is the Sonata XII a 2. Biagio Marini was from Brescia and died in Venice. He worked in many places in and outside Italy, such as Venice (when Monteverdi was maestro di cappella at San Marco), Brussels and Milan. His oeuvre is quite large and includes large-scale concertato madrigals. In his instrumental music he seems to have been the first to ask specifically for the tremolo; he also included triple-stopping in his oeuvre. Although Marco Uccellini worked for most of his life as a maestro di cappella the violin takes an important place in his oeuvre. His sonatas "greatly expand violin technique", as Mark Seow states in his liner-notes to Rachel Podger's disc. The Ensemble Aurora plays a sonata from the op. 7 (more correctly the libro VII) which was first published as music for violin or other instruments, but reprinted eight years later as sonatas for the violin.

Very little is known about Giovanni Antonio Pandolfo Mealli and that includes the years and places of his birth and death. He worked for Archduke Ferdinand of Austria at Innsbruck, very likely as a violinist. The main parts of his oeuvre are two sets of sonatas for violin and bc op. 3 and op. 4 respectively which are notable for mentioning specifically the organ as basso continuo instrument. Whether this has to be taken literally is probably a matter of debate; Rachel Podger is accompanied by a harpsichord here. All the sonatas bear names, probably referring to colleagues and other people from his environment. Another Italian musician and composer who worked in Austria is Antonio Bertali, born in Verona. He seems to have entered the service of Emperor Ferdinand II in Vienna in 1624. In 1649 he was appointed Kapellmeister. His Chiacona à violino solo is one of his most famous works, an almost endless repetition of the same bass pattern over which the violin develops increasingly brilliant variations.

The exceptions to the rule are Dario Castello and Giovanni Paolo Cima. Castello was a wind player by profession and worked as such at San Marco in Venice. This explains that his sonatas are less idiomatic for the violin and can be played on other instruments, such as the recorder. The pieces from his pen included in recordings are mostly very familiar. Like in the case of Fontana there is not much to choose from: only two collections of sonatas from his pen are known, comprising 29 sonatas in total. Cima was born and died in Milan where he worked as organist and maestro di cappella. In his vocal work counterpoint still plays an important role, but his Concerti ecclesiastici of 1610 include various pieces in the modern monodic idiom. In his instrumental music he also moves on the brink of the old forms, such as the contrapuntal ricercare, and the modern sonata for a melody instrument and bc.

The violin and the cornett were not the only instruments for which virtuosic music was written. The same goes for the dulcian, usually called fagotto, and the sackbut; often these two instruments were interchangeable. Fontana's Sonata XII a due is for dulcian and violin. The Ensemble Aurora also included the Sonata II by Antonio Bertoli, from a collection of pieces fatto per sonare col fagotto solo. He was a professional bassoonist himself and fellow student of Bertali; he seems to have been in contact with him and with the Habsburg court. His collection is the first devoted exclusively to music for the bassoon as well as the first comprising only solo sonatas.

It is impressive to hear such a piece which tells us much about the development of playing technique at the time. That said, I felt that in this sonata we just get a little too much of the same. That is probably also due to the performance: I had the impression that sometimes Elena Bianchi was out of breath after a long series of virtuosic escapades up and down the scale. Maybe a little more differentiation in the way these many notes are played would make this piece sounding more interesting. She does a better job in Fontana's sonata. I have heard Enrico Gatti various times, both on disc and in concert and he seems a more introverted character than most of his Italian colleagues. His performances attest to that, but I don't find that a problem: they are subtle, yet full of expression, and the virtuosity of the music he plays here is not underexposed. His recording is especially interesting for the use of a large organ in the basso continuo. In fact, this seems to be more or less the raison d'être of this recording project, because the liner-notes are exclusively devoted to it and give no information about the music or the composers. Daniele Torelli argues that the small organs often used in this music have little to do with what was common in Italy at the time. Here Fabio Ciofini plays the organ of San Nicolò in Collescipoli which dates from 1647. It allows to change the registration considerably between the various sections of a piece.

Because of that this disc is not just a specimen of fine music making, it is also interesting from the perspective of performance practice. However, musicians who have discovered a practice which they think to be unjustly ignored tend to be too indiscriminate in applying it. Here that goes for the Chiacona by Bertali. As he worked most of his life in Vienna, and this piece has been found in the archive of Kremsier where Biber worked for various years, it seems very unlikely that it has ever been performed with an Italian-style organ. Another instrument would probably be more appropriate, for instance the harpsichord, which Marcin Swiatkiewicz plays in Rachel Podger's recording. As far as the performance is concerned, Gatti and Ciofi are more convincing here than Podger, Swatkiewicz and Caminiti. The latter do far too much: changing from harpsichord to organ and again to the harpsichord within a single piece damages its coherence which is especially important in a piece based on a basso ostinato. In addition Caminiti uses his theorbo several times as a percussion instrument, and that is not called for. There is just too much noise; the performance of the Ensemble Aurora has more coherence.

This piece is the only disappointing part of Rachel Podger's recording. It is a good mixture of familiar and lesser-known pieces, just like the first disc. The pieces by Fontana, Castello and Pandolfo Mealli are pretty well-known and so is the Chiacona by Bertali. Among the less common items are the Toccata per spinettina e violino by Frescobaldi, the Ricercar del 1° tono by Andrea Gabrieli and also the Sonata XII by Isabella Leonarda who is almost exclusively known for her sacred concertos. Rachel Podger and her colleagues show a good understanding for the stylistic idiosyncracies of this repertoire. Considering that they deliver engaging performances they are forgiven for going a little overboard in Bertali.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Aurora
Rachel Podger
Marcin Swiatkiewicz

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