musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Cello sonatas from the 18th century

[I] Giovanni Battista COSTANZI (1704 - 1778): "Sonate per violoncello"
Giovanni Sollima, Monika Leskovara, cello
Arianna Art Ensembleb
rec: Oct 2015, Treviso, Teatro delle Voci Studios
Glossa - GCD 923801 (© 2016) (72'59")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

Giovanni Battistia COSTANZI: Sonata for cello and bc in c minorb; Sonata for cello and bc in Fb; Sonata for cello and bc in Gb; Sonata for cello and bc in g minorb; Sonata for cello and bc in B flatb; Sonata for 2 cellos in Ca; Sonata for 2 cellos in Fa; Giovanni SOLLIMA (*1962): Il mandataro for cello and bcb

Andrea Rigano, cello; Paolo Rigano, archlute, guitar; Cinzia Guarino, harpsichord

[II] "Mannheim Cellists"
Marco Testori, cello; Davide Pozzi, fortepiano
rec: Oct 13 - 16, 2014, Eupilio (Como), Chiesa di S. Vincenzo, Galliano
Passacaille - 1018 (© 2016) (78'23")
Liner-notes: E/D/I
Cover & track-list

Anton FILZ (1733-1760): Sonata in D, op. 5,1; Sonata in c minor, op. 5,3; Peter RITTER (1763-1846): Sonata No. 2 in G; Johann Georg Christoph SCHETKY (1737-1824): Sonata in C, op. 4,3; Jean Balthasar TRIKLIR (1750-1813): Sonata No. 6 in G

Sources: Anton Filz, Sonates pour le violoncelle et basse continue ou le violon seul & basse, op. 5, 1763; Johann Georg Christoph Schetky, Six Solos, op. 4, 1776; Jean Baptiste Triklir, Six Sonates pour le Violoncel, c1783; Peter Ritter, Sei Sonate per il Violoncello con Accompagnamento d'un Basso, ms c1790

One of the most welcome developments in the field of early music is the increasing interest in repertoire from the time between the baroque period and the classical era. Today it is not considered only a transitional stage between the two major eras but a stylistic period in its own right, even though musicologists find it hard to put a label on it. The growing number of recordings of music written in - roughly speaking - the third quarter of the 18th century bears witness to this development. It is more and more recognized that several features of the classical period and even of later stages in music history find their origin in that era. It was the time that the fortepiano made a breakthrough which marked a fundamental change in musical aesthetics. The modern symphony orchestra was in fact born in Mannheim and several instruments saw an evolution in playing techniques which had a lasting effect on the composition of music for them. That certainly goes for the cello.

The largest part of instrumental music - and certainly 'chamber music' - was intended for the growing market of amateurs, which were called 'Liebhaber' in Germany. In the course of the century there were an increasing number of professional players who were not active as composers themselves. Those are the 'Kenner' for whom Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach composed a part of his keyboard music. Whereas in the first half of the 18th century technically demanding music was relatively seldom published that was different in the second half of the century. The pieces which Marco Testori and Davide Pozzi have recorded are all available in printed editions.

That is different in the case of the sonatas by Giovanni Battista Costanzi which Giovanni Sollima has recorded. Costanzi is an almost completely unknown quantity; the information about him in New Grove is rather scanty. He was born in Rome and worked there all his life as a cellist. He may have been a pupil of Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier (c1662-1700), also a professional cellist with the nickname of Giovannino del Violone. In 1721 Costanzi entered the service of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, one of the most important patrons of the arts in Rome in the first half of the 18th century. The Cardinal was also responsible for his being appointed maestro di cappella of several churches in Rome. He was also active as a teacher; one of his pupils was Luigi Boccherini.

Only a part of his oeuvre has been preserved. He was known for his operas in the first half of his career; later on he concentrated on the composition of sacred music. Apparently the work-list in New Grove is incomplete in regard to the instrumental works. It mentions one concerto for cello and orchestra and five sinfonias in the same scoring. However, the liner-notes to the Glossa disc refer to these sinfonias without mentioning an orchestra; were they in fact intended for cello and bc? As far as the latter scoring is concerned: New Grove lists just two sonatas for cello and bc and one sonata for two cellos. The present disc shows that the number of extant sonatas is larger: five sonatas for cello and bc and two sonatas for two cellos. There can be little doubt that these pieces which were not published, were intended for Costanzi's own use. A French author, Jean-Benjamin de La Borde (not Jean-Baptiste, as the liner-notes say), recognized Costanzi "as being both a great composer and an excellent player of the cello". Another contemporary noted that "he possessed a surprising mastery of the instrument" despite his advanced age. His reputation is also reflected by his nickname: Giovannino del Violoncello.

Five sonatas are in three movements; the sonatas in G and in c minor follow the Corellian four-movement model. Four of the other five open with a (relatively) slow movement, such as adagio, grazioso or andante. The Sonata in g minor is one of the most striking pieces in the programme. It opens with a gorgeous cantabile which bears witness to the fashion of the time which we also find in Tartini's sonatas and concertos. The ensuing allegro includes arpeggios which were common in music for the violin and which are to be played rapidly. The sonata ends with a presto of a quite dramatic character. Technically the Sonata in F for cello and bc is the most remarkable; it testifies to one of the innovations in the playing of and the composition for the cello: the exploration of the entire range of the instrument. Costanzi is also the first to make use of the technique known as capo, here meaning "the stopping of general strings at once by one finger" (New Grove).

This disc is highly important from a historical angle as it fills a gap in the sounding documentation of the development of cello technique in the 18th century. Boccherini is known for exploring the highest positions on his instrument; this disc shows where he got his inspiration from. Giovanni Sollima equally deserves the nickname Giovannino del Violoncello. He delivers very impressive performances, technically and musically. This recording is much more than a demonstration of an advanced cello technique; this is music you want to hear again. His partners - Monika Leskovar on the second cello in the two duet sonatas and the members of the Arianna Art Ensemble - deserve praise for their contributions as well.

The disc ends with a piece of Sollima's own pen. The title, Il mandataro, refers to "a kind of courier charged with advising the instrumentalists as to the date and the hours of the rehearsals". This was one of the people Costanzi had to work with as his duties at the court of Cardinal Ottoboni were more wide-ranging than just performing at the cello and writing compositions. Sollima used some themes from pieces by Costanzi but created a work in modern style. It lasts more than 12 minutes which considerably reduces the playing time of this disc for those who are not interested in this kind of stuff. If you are one of them it shouldn't withhold you from purchasing this disc. Costanzi's music is too good to ignore.

Few music lovers will have heard the name of Costanzi before, but the second disc also includes some names which only specialists may know, probably with the exception of Anton Filtz. The programme spans a period of about 50 years, from the mid-18th century to the classical period. As the disc's title indicates the composers all have some connection to Mannheim. Here we find further documentation of the developments in cello technique in the course of the 18th century.

Mannheim is mostly associated with orchestral music; under the direction of Johann Stamitz it had developed into one of Europe's best orchestras, which Charles Burney called an "army of generals". But chamber music was also frequently performed at the court, especially music for the transverse flute and the cello, two instruments Karl Theodor, the Elector, played himself. Anton Filtz was the first who played the cello professionally. He was the son of a cellist who was at the service of the court in Eichstätt. He was appointed cellist in Mannheim in 1754 but died only six years later. Despite his early death he has left a considerable number of compositions: sacred music, symphonies, concertos and chamber music. The three sonatas op. 5 were published posthumously in Paris in 1763; they are scored for cello or violin and this is an indication that at the time the cello was played at about the same level of virtuosity as the violin, something which is also notable in Costanzi's sonatas. The sonatas include some wide leaps.

Johann Georg Christoph Schetky was from Darmstadt and was a pupil of Filtz. For about ten years, from 1758 to 1768, he was a member of the Darmstadt court orchestra, but was allowed to travel and to give concerts at other courts. In 1772 he travelled to London and then became principal cellist of the Edinburgh Musical Society. He remained in Edinburgh until his death. Marina Riboni, in her liner-notes, writes that Schetky had the habit of using his bow with underhand grip as on the viola da gamba. His 6 Solos op. 4 were published in London in 1776 and were probably intended as teaching material for amateurs considering the limited technical demands. The bass part is in the form of a figured bass.

Jean Balthasar Triklir was from Dijon; his family was of German descent. He received violin and cello lessons as part of his ecclesiastical training. But as he decided to devote himself to music he went to Mannheim in 1765 where he continued his studies until 1768. He visited Italy and gave concerts in the Concert Spirituel in France; in 1783 he entered the service of the Elector of Saxony in Dresden where he remained until his death. The Six Sonates pour le Violoncel were printed in Paris around 1783 and reprinted around 1785 (London) and in 1787 (Berlin/Amsterdam). It is a set in the tradition of CPE Bach's keyboard works for Kenner und Liebhaber: the edition indicates that the first four sonatas are "within the reach of the amateur". The Sonata No. 6 in G is clearly intended for professional players, for instance in its exploration of the entire range of the cello.

The latest composer in the programme is Peter Ritter who was born and died in Mannheim. Here he studied the cello with Innocenz Danzi (father of Franz), who in 1754 joined the Mannheim orchestra and was one of the highest-paid musicians. Ritter himself also became a member of the orchestra and when the court moved to Munich in 1778 he became a member of the Mannheim opera orchestra; in 1784 he became its principal cellist. In the next decades he became strongly involved in opera, both as a composer and as a director of the orchestra. It is notable that he composed music with parts for viola d'amore and the old-fashioned viola da gamba; the slow movements of his concertos he played with the cello muted. The Sei Sonate per il Violoncello con Accompagnamento d'un Basso were probably written around 1790. This is music in the classical style and the Sonata No. 2 in G is a technically demanding piece which is intended for professional players. The reference to a 'bass' doesn't indicate a basso continuo part: it is not figured and can be played by a second cello. Here this part is played at the fortepiano.

The performers opted for the copy of a Dulcken fortepiano of 1795. That seems a good choice as far as the sonata by Ritter is concerned. For the other pieces different instruments would have been preferable. In the case of Filtz's sonatas a Silbermann seems the most obvious choice, but here a harpsichord is certainly a valid option as well. Schetky's sonata would fare better with a fortepiano with English action. But let us not be too petty; this disc is most welcome as it sheds light on composers who are hardly known, if at all. The music is great; I have listened with admiration, both for the composers and for the interpreters. This disc is an impressive testimony to the developments in cello playing and composing. In the course of the second half of the 18th century it reached complete parity with the violin. Marco Testori and Davide Pozzi have done cello aficionados a great favour.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Monika Leskovar
Giovanni Sollima
Arianna Art Ensemble

CD Reviews