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Music in Venice from Bassano to Galuppi

[I] "Recordare Venezia"
Ingeborg Christophersen, recordera
rec: May 27 - 30, 2016, Bærum, Jar kirke
Lawo - LWC1114 (© 2016) (64'39")
Liner-notes: E/Nor
Cover, track-list & booklet

Giovanni BASSANO (1560/61-1617): Pulchra es amica mea; Dario CASTELLO (fl 1620-1630): Sonata IX à 3. 2 soprani e fagotto; Baldassare GALUPPI (1706-1785): Concerto I in G; Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626-1690): Sonata II a 4, op. 10,2; Biagio MARINI (1594-1663): Passacaglio; Marco UCCELLINI (1603-1680): Aria V sopra la Bergamasca; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto in C (RV 444)a; Concerto in D, op. 10,3 'Il Gardellino' (RV 428)a; Sonata for recorder, bassoon and bc in a minor (RV 86)a

Sources: [1] Giovanni Bassano, Motetti, madrigali et canzone francese di diversi eccellenti autori, 1691; [2] Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno per sonar nel organo overo spineta con diversi instrumenti, libro II, 1629; [3] Marco Uccellini, Sonate, Arie e Correnti a due e a tre, libro III, 1642; [4] Biagio Marini, Per ogni sorte di strumento musicale diversi generi di sonate, da chiesa, e da camera, op. 22, 1655; [5] Giovanni Legrenzi, La Cetra. Libro quarto di sonate a due, tre e quattro stromenti, op. 10, 1673; [6] Antonio Vivaldi, VI concerti, op. 10, 1729

Huw Daniel, Jesenka Balic Zunic, violin; Mari Giske, viola; Gunnar Hauge, cello; Adrian Rovatkay, bassoon; Jadran Duncumb, theorbo, guitar; Christian Kjos, harpsichord, organ

[II] Antonio VIVALDI: Concertos for recorder
Stefan Temmingh, recordera
Capricornus Consort Basel
rec: May 10 - 13, 2017, Seewen (CH), Kirche St. German
Accent - ACC 24332 (© 2017) 68'40")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Alle Menschen müssen sterben (BWV 643); Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 639); Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter (BWV 650); Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (BWV 731); Partite diverse sopra Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen (BWV 770) (exc); Prelude in F (BWV 854); Antonio VIVALDI: Concerto in C (RV 444)a; Concerto in c minor (RV 441)a; Concerto in e minor (RV 445)a; Concerto in F (RV 442)a; Concerto in G (RV 312)a; Concerto in G (RV 443)a

Péter Barczi, Éva Borhi, violin; Sonoko Asabuki, viola; Daniel Rosin, cello; Michael Bürgin, violone; Karin Gemeinhardt, bassoon; Johanna Seitz, harp; Elisabeth Seitz, psaltery; Julian Behr, theorbo, guitar; Wiebke Weidanz, harpsichord, organ; Sebastian Wienand, organ

Although Venice was politically and economically by far not as powerful as in previous centuries, it was still the place to be for musicians and music lovers during the 17th and 18th centuries. The music scene was impressive and the contributions of composers from Venice to all genres was substantial. The Norwegian ensemble Barokkanerne has put together a programme of music from the early 17th to the first half of the 18th century which demonstrates the brilliance of the music written by Venetian composers in the field of instrumental music.

Biagio Marini, Marco Uccellini and Dario Castello are among the main representatives of the stile nuovo. One of its characteristics was instrumental virtuosity, and that comes particularly to the fore in the Sonata IX in G by Castello. Composers liked to write music over a basso ostinato, such as the passacaglia. Another popular subject for musical variations was the bergamasca, probably based on a folksong or folkdance from Bergamo. Although the very name stile nuovo suggests a break with the past, that is a little exaggerated. Counterpoint was still an important feature in the music of the 17th century, and the music of the previous century was not forgotten. The genre of divisions (passaggi) - variations over a given subject, originally improvised - is an important link between the stile antico and the stile nuovo. Giovanni Bassano's passaggi over the superius of Palestrina's motet Pulchra es amica mea is a telling example, as it turns one part from an 'old-fashioned' motet into a monodic part in a virtuosic style. This piece was originally intended to be sung, but can be played on an instrument without any problem.

Giovanni Legrenzi was one of the main figures in Venetian music life at the end of the 17th century. He was a crucial figure in the shift from the style of the 17th century to that of the next, of which Vivaldi was one of the main representatives. His best-known collection of instrumental sonatas is the Op. 10, which was published unde the title of La Cetra. The sonatas are still dominated by counterpoint; the Sonata II comes in four sections, which are not formally separated. Legrenzi was an early exponent of the 'new' trio sonata, whose standard form was to be laid down by Corelli. Vivaldi's Sonata in a minor (RV 86) is an example of the trio sonata which was to become one of the main forms of instrumental music, in particular intended for amateurs. However, it seems unlikely that this piece was also meant for amateurs: the bassoon was probably mostly played by professionals, and especially the bassoon part in this piece is technically demanding.

Vivaldi did not compose many trio sonatas; he has become best-known for his solo concertos. Most of them were scored for his own instrument, the violin, and probably also for his own use. In addition his oeuvre includes many concertos for the oboe - an instrument which made its appearance in Italy only in the last decade of the 17th century - and the bassoon. Only a handful of concertos is intended for a recorder. One of them is the Concerto in C (RV 444), which ends the programme. It opens with another concerto, one of Vivaldi's descriptive pieces, called Il Gardellino. It is taken from the set of six, which he published as his Op. 10 in the fashionable scoring of transverse flute, strings and bc. It is an arrangement of a chamber concerto, in which the flute part was intended for the recorder. That is the reason it is played here on this instrument. However, if the recorder is used, the original concerto is the more satisfying version.

Baldassare Galuppi represents the post-Vivaldi generation. He was one of the most fashionable composers of his time, whose oeuvre is dominated by the galant idiom. That does not mean that the role of counterpoint was finished. The Concerto in G is from a set of pieces for four-part strings, which have been preserved in manuscript. The counterpoint manifests itself in particular in the opening movement, whereas the closing allegro is a specimen of the galant idiom.

Barokkanerne is a fine ensemble, which plays this programme with panache and a perfect sense of style. Ingeborg Christophersen plays the recorder parts very well, and in Vivaldi's solo concertos she resists the temptation to do too much and as a result go overboard, as happens in some Italian performances. This is a most entertaining and engaging disc.

Vivaldi's recorder concertos belong to the best-known and most popular part of his oeuvre. They are available in many recordings. What can a new recording add? That is hard to say, if one does not know every single interpretation. Stefan Temmingh is one of the most brilliant recorder players of our time, and I have heard many good things from him. When considering recording Vivaldi's concertos he has also asked himself how to approach them. He tried to figure out the character of every single concerto. He takes every piece "as a unit in itsellf - like a 'miniature opera' in three sets". Obviously that is partly subjective, but he also took into account things like the affetti, the character of the key, harmony, the shaping and lenght of the phrases and how a piece compares with other works by Vivaldi. In his view, the Concerto in F (RV 442) is of a pastoral nature, and in the Concerto in c minor (RV 441) he notices something sacred. The third movement of the Concerto in e minor (RV 445) he considers a 'danse macabre'. It is a little odd, then, that he speeds up the tempo towards the end.

In order to emphasize the difference between the concertos, they are separated by short pieces, mostly chorales, by Johann Sebastian Bach. This way Temmingh also wants to underline that there is no watershed between the sacred and the secular; in Vivaldi's time there certainly wasn't. In some cases one could even see a connection between a chorale and the ensuing concerto. The Concerto in e minor (RV 445) is preceded by a variation from Bach's partita Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen (BWV 770). Temmingh writes that the key of e minor "indicates desperation". The opening of the Concerto in C (RV 444) "could be described as a sunrise". It is preceded by Bach's chorale Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter, a hymn for Advent. There is an obvious connection between the sunrise in nature and the coming of Christ. The Concerto in c minor (RV 441) is also an interesting case in this regard. "Alone the key signature of C minor indicates a serious, sad mood, and the last movement features a seven-bar theme - possibly a reference to the seven Sacraments or the Seven Deadly Sins", Temmingh writes. It then seems appropriate that it is preceded here by the chorale Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ.

One may wonder why the Concerto in G (RV 312R) is included here, as this is scored for violin. Temmingh explains: "Although Vivaldi indicates "Flautino" at the beginning, he replaces it already in the first movement with "Violino", and changes certain passages. Both of the final movements are composed exclusively for the violin, but it is still possible to play the entire work on sopranino recorder without having to make any major changes."

Two aspects in regard to performance practice are notable. The first is the scoring of the basso continuo parts. Temmingh decided to use a wide variety of instruments as must have been available to Vivaldi. However, he doesn't use all of them together: the scoring depends on Temmingh's interpretation of the character of a particular concerto. To give an example: "For the F major Concerto RV 442, I decided to do without keyboard instruments altogether and to emphasise the pastoral nature of the work by using harp, lute and psaltery." The second issue is the ornamentation. Temmingh refers to Benedetto Marcello, who was quite critical about the 'excessive' ornamentation in Vivaldi's performances. From that one may conclude, as Temmingh does, that "the modern saying "less is more" certainly does not apply to his music."

This explains his abundant ornamentation in this recording. Even so, I don't feel it is exaggerated. Overall, I am quite impressed by these performances. It is true, Temmingh's playing is virtuosic and sometimes the tempo is very high. But he never goes overboard and has not fallen into the trap of doing too much. These performances are free of the excesses I have noticed in some Italian performances of Vivaldi's concertos, especially the 'Four Seasons'. I would rate this recording among the very best interpretations of Vivaldi's recorder concertos, and it is certainly not just another voice in the crowd. The playing of the Capricornus Consort Basel is also first-class. The instrumental versions of Bach's chorales are very nice.

Even if you have several recordings of these concertos in your collection, you should consider adding this one.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Ingeborg Christophersen
Stefan Temmingh
Capricornus Consort Basel

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