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Italian sonatas & sinfonias for cello

[I] Giovanni Battista COSTANZI (1704 - 1778): "Sinfonie per violoncello"
Giovanni Sollima, Monika Leskovara, cello; Gianluca Ubaldi, timpani, tamburellob
Arianna Art Ensemble
rec: April 2016, Gratteri, Chiesa di Santa Maria di Gesł & Jan 2017, Verona, Accademia Filarmonica (Sala Maffeina)
Glossa - GCD 923802 (© 2017) (65'08")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Giovanni Battista COSTANZI: Sinfonia for cello and bc in C; Sinfonia for cello and bc in D; Sinfonia for cello and bc in E flat; Sinfonia for cello and bc in G; Sinfonia for cello and bc in B flat; Sonata da camera for two cellos 'ad uso di corni da caccia'ab; Giovanni SOLLIMA (*1962): The Hunting Sonata for two cellosab

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

[II] Pasquale PERICOLI (2nd half 18th C): "Cello Sonatas"
Federico Bracalente, cello; Nicola Procaccini, harpsichord
rec: Sept 2015, Falerone, Chiesa di San Sebastiano
Brilliant Classics - 95358 (© 2017) (57'53")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata No. 1 in B flat; Sonata No. 2 in C; Sonata No. 3 in E flat; Sonata No. 4 in f minor; Sonata No. 5 in g minor; Sonata No. 6 in A

Lovers of the cello have every reason to be happy. In recent years a remarkable number of discs with music for this instrument have been released, and - what is especially interesting - many of them were devoted to little-known music. Most of these have been reviewed here, and recently some new discs have landed on my desk which deserve the interest of everyone who likes to look beyond the obvious. The two composers whose music is the subject of the discs to be reviewed here, won't ring a bell to most music lovers, even not those who have a special interest in the cello.

Some of them may know Giovanni Battista Costanzi, at least those, who purchased a previous recording of his music by the same artists, who now present five sinfonias for cello and basso continuo. In 2016 Glossa released a disc with five sonatas for the same scoring as well as two sonatas for two cellos. In my review I concluded that the work-list in New Grove is rather inaccurate. It mentions a cello concerto, five sinfonias for cello and orchestra, two sonatas with basso continuo and two sonatas for two cellos. The first disc included five sonatas for cello and bc and two sonatas for two cellos. The present disc includes a third sonata for the latter scoring as well as the five sinfonias mentioned in New Grove. However, as I suspected in my review, these are not for cello and orchestra, but with basso continuo. It seems safe to conclude that with the release of the present disc, Constanzi's complete chamber music for the cello is available on disc.

That is of great importance, considering his status as a cellist and composer for the cello in his time, even though he has become better-known for his large oeuvre in the field of sacred music. His production of vocal music dates from the later stages in his career, when he acted as maestro di cappella in several churches in Rome. His appointments in these positions were partly due to the influence of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, who became his patron in 1721. Before that he had earned himself a reputation as a brilliant cellist, which brought him the nickname 'Giovannino del Violoncello'. Costanzi spent his entire life in Rome; his teacher may have been Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier, a professional cellist, known as 'Giovannino del Violone'.

The title of sinfonia for the five pieces for cello and basso continuo included on this disc does not mean that much. These sinfonias are not fundamentally different from the sonatas. They comprise either three or four movements, and largely follow the model laid down by Arcangelo Corelli. However, they have clear individual traits. The Sinfonia in D opens with an adagio, whose second half has the character of a cadenza. The second movement is an allegro, which includes strong contrasts. In the third movement, called amoroso, Costanzi explores the high register of the cello. The concluding minuetto is rather unusual, and so is the menuet that concludes the Sinfonia in B flat. The latter is preceded by a sarabanda which includes chromaticism. The second movement is called spiritoso; its closing section is brilliant and exuberant. The Sinfonia in G is a more 'classical' piece, opening with a grave which is dominated by broad gestures, and closes with a menuet of a more 'traditional' character. The disc ends with the most virtuosic piece, the Sinfonia in C, which explores the polyphonic capabilities of the cello. It ends with a series of variations.

The Sonata da camera for two cellos is very short, but is special for its character. It has the addition ad uso di corni da caccia. This means that the players have to imitate the sound of horns. Throughout the baroque era composers liked to challenge the players to imitate all kind of things with their own instrument. Giovanni Sollima has made things too easy for himself by adding percussion. This is not what the composer had in mind; moreover, percussion creates effects which have nothing to do with the imitation of horns. I find this rather disappointing. Fortunately it is the only minus of this disc, as Sollima is an excellent player, whose performances here are as impressive as on his previous disc. Like in that recording, he has included again a piece of his own, largely in a rather modern idiom. For those who are not interested in this kind of stuff, I mention that it takes a little less than 11 minutes. It certainly should not withhold anyone from adding this disc to his collection.

Pasquale Pericoli is a really unknown quantity. He has no entry in New Grove and we know next to nothing about his life and career. Apparently he was associated with a theatre company, as his presence in Stockholm between 1752 and 1757 is documented, when this company produced operas in the theatres there. His only extant compositions are the six sonatas for cello and basso continuo, which were published in 1769 under the title Sonate sei a violoncello e basso o sia cembalo. They have been preserved in two editions which are different with regard to frontispiece and dedication. In one of them Pericoli states that he is a "Neapolitan from Lecce", and the other has a dedication to Karl Johann von Dietrichstein-Proskau-Leslie, who was in Italy in 1769 in the retinue of Emperor Joseph II. From these facts we may conclude that Pericoli was rooted in the Neapolitan tradition. Among other Neapolitan composers who wrote music for the cello are Leonardo Leo, Francesco Paolo Supriani and Nicola Fiorenza.

Pericoli's sonatas comprise three movements in the order fast - slow - fast. Every sonata, except No. 6, includes a movement with the title cantabile. It is mostly the slow movement, but in the Sonata No. 3 it is the first. The keys seem deliberately chosen as they constitute an ascending scale from B flat to A major. Despite the similarity in structure, there is quite some difference between the various sonatas, as is explained in the liner-notes. Here and there Pericoli moves into the high register, most prominently in the allegretto that opens the Sonata No. 5. In several movements Pericoli explores the polyphonic capabilities of the cello, for instance in the first movement of the Sonata No. 1 and the last of the Sonata No. 4. The largo from the Sonata No. 3 seems to refer to opera as it looks like a recitative and aria.

This set is a real discovery and a fine addition to the repertoire. The printed edition is available at IMSLP, as one can see in the header, and therefore there is no reason to overlook it. These sonatas should be part of the repertoire of cellists, who focus on the 18th century. The fact that two of the sonatas have also been attributed to Boccherini - unjustly, for stylistic and chronological reasons - is also an indication of their quality. The sonatas are served very well by the two artists in the Brilliant Classics recording. Federico Bracalente produces a warm tone and plays with much panache and imagination, and he receives excellent support from Nicola Procaccini.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Federico Bracalente
Monika Leskovar
Flores Rosarum

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