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CD reviews

"Neapolitan Concertos for various instruments"

La Ritirata
Dir: Josetxu Obregón

rec: Sept 2017, Cercedilla, Iglesia de San Sebastián
Glossa - GCD 923106 (© 2018) (71'28")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/S
Cover, track-list & booklet

Nicola FIORENZA (c1700-1764): Concerto for cello, two violins and bc in Dc; Concerto for violin and strings in Db; Francesco MANCINI (1672-1737): Concerto (Sonata XIII) for recorder, two violins and bc in g minora; Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736) (attr): Concerto for two harpsichords and strings in Cde; Nicola Antonio PORPORA (1686-1768): Sinfonia for cello, two violins and bc in Cc; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Concerto (Sonata XXIII) for recorder, two violins and bc in Ca

Tamar Lalo, recordera; Hiro Kurosaki (solob), Pablo Prieto, Daniel Pinteño, violin; Daniel Lorenzo, viola; Josetxu Obregón (soloc), Paz Alonso, cello; Ismael Campanero, violone; Daniel Zapico, theorbo; Daniel Oyarzabal (solod), Ignacio Prego (soloe), harpsichord

Naples was one of the main musical centres of Italy and even of Europe in the first half of the 18th century. But only a small part of what was written there is known today. Especially the research and recordings of Antonio Florio have brought some interesting compositions to light. Opera took a particularly important place in Naples. There were only a few composers who never wrote an opera. One of them was Francesco Mancini, who figures on this disc of instrumental music from Naples.

It is notable that a relatively large number of concertos and sonatas for recorder were composed in Naples in the first half of the 18th century. Most of them are part of the so-called 'Naples Manuscript' of 1725 (Manoscritto di Napoli). The 24 compositions in the manuscript are scored for recorder, two violins and bc, with three of them containing a part for a viola. The omission of a viola part in most of the concertos could well indicate that they belong among the genre of the concerto da camera. However, it also could be a feature of Neapolitan instrumental music in general, as the two cello concertos on this disc also come without a viola part.

The pieces for recorder by Mancini and Alessandro Scarlatti are called 'concerto' in the track-list of the present disc. This is in line with the title of the manuscript, which reads Concerti di Flauto, Violini, Violetta e Basso, di Diversi Autori. However, the individual pieces are called 'sonata'. It shows that these terms are interchangeable, and that also goes for the term 'sinfonia': Porpora's Sinfonia in C is nothing less than a concerto for cello, strings and basso continuo; in this case the strings are confined to two violins.

Another notable feature of many Neapolitan concertos is that they are in four movements. They are rooted in the Corellian sonata da chiesa rather than in the three-movement model which had become popular through the oeuvre of Vivaldi. In the sonata da chiesa the second movement was always a fugue. That is also the case in the two recorder concertos. That is hardly surprising, as both Scarlatti and Mancini were known for their command of, and preference for, counterpoint. The two cello concertos by Porpora and Fiorenza are different: both omit the form of the fugue, and in both concertos the cello opens the proceedings in the second movement.

Neither composer was a cellist, and that could explain why these concertos are modest with regard to the technical demands of the solo parts. That is entirely different in the Concerto in D for violin and strings by Fiorenza. He was a violinist by profession and for many years a teacher at the Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto. Whether he composed this concerto for his own use or for someone else is impossible to say, but the solo part undoubtedly reflects his own skills and shows his intimate knowledge of violin technique. It is a highly demanding part, including trills, brilliant scales and double stopping. This concerto is comparable with the most technically advanced violin concertos by the likes of Vivaldi and Tartini.

The best-known name in the programme is undoubtedly Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. His name is inextricably connected to his Stabat mater and his intermezzo La Serva padrona. During his short life - he died of tuberculosis at the age of 26 - he composed a large body of music for the stage as well as liturgical works. By comparison, his instrumental output was very small, and several of the pieces attributed to him were probably written by someone else. The number of doubtful or spurious pieces in the work-list in New Grove is a good indication of his reputation in his time. The Concerto in C for two harpsichords and strings is not ranked in either of these categories, but Stefano Russomanno, in his liner-notes, suggests that its authenticity is not beyond doubt. That is understandable as next to nothing in the field of keyboard music seems to be known from Pergolesi. Whoever composed it, it is a nice work and well worthy of being performed and recorded. I am not aware of any previous recording; I have only heard it once before in a radio recording of a live concert. The two harpsichords mostly play in alternation; the only kind of dialogue takes place in the slow movement, in which the role of the strings is strongly reduced.

Most pieces in this programme are little-known (the exceptions are the two recorder concertos); because of that this disc contributes substantially to our knowledge of the musical landscape in Naples in the first half of the 18th century. Moreover, it shows that the qualities which come to the fore in the vocal music of the time, also manifest themselves in the instrumental music. That is emphasized by the performers. A few years ago Josetxu Obregón delighted us with his disc The Cello in Spain, and this disc is another winner. He himself delivers outstanding performances of the two cello concertos, playing with panache in the fast movements, and displaying lovely lyricism in the slow movements. Tamar Lalo produces a smooth sound in the recorder concertos; the balance between the recorder and the strings is perfect. Daniel Oyarzabal and Ignacio Prego are responsible for a sparkling performance of the solo parts in Pergolesi's concerto. Hiro Kurosaki deserves the highest praise for his interpretation of the solo part in Fiorenza's violin concerto. He adds cadenzas which reflect the virtuosic character of the solo part, but does not make them overly long. It is all well thought out and brilliantly executed.

This disc will give you much pleasure and I am sure you will return to it regularly.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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