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CAROLO (?-?): X Sonates à deux Violes de Gambe

Space Time Continuo
Dir: Amanda Keesmaat

rec: [n.d., n.p.]
Leaf Music - LM259 (© 2021) (51'50")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata I in B flat; Sonata II in F; Sonata III in g minor; Sonata IV in D; Sonata V in G; Sonata VI in B flat; Sonata VII in d minor; Sonata VIII in a minor; Sonata IX in C; Sonata X in G

Amanda Keesmaat, cello, basse de violon; Andrea Stewart, cello, viola da gamba; Elinor Frey, Margaret Little, viola da gamba; Matthieu Lussier, Karim Nasr, François Viault, bassoon; Antoine Malette-Chénier, triple harp; Sylvain Bergeron, archlute; Christophe Gauthier, Dorothéa Ventura, harpsichord, organ

Those who see the cover of this disc or see an announcement of this recording may say: 'Carolo Who'? Assuming Carolo is the composer's Christian name, scholars have tried to identify the composer of a set of ten trio sonatas for two low instruments and basso continuo. They were published by Estienne Roger in Amsterdam; the year of publication is not mentioned.

One suggestion with regard to the composer's identity has been Carolus Hacquart, a Flemish-born viola da gamba virtuoso who had settled in Amsterdam. Roger had also published two other collections of music from his pen, but they mentioned the full name of the composer. Moreover, Jacques-André Houle, in his liner-notes, observes a difference in style between the music of Hacquart and these trio sonatas. Another suggestion has been that the composer was a certain Mr. Charles; two copies of the set of sonatas have been preserved in English libaries. However, there are also two copies in Germany and France. It seems unlikely that the music of a otherwise unknown English composer would land there. Therefore Houle concludes: "Mr Carolo's identity remains unsolved".

The year of publication is almost certainly 1702. In 1701 the publication was announced and in a catalogue of Roger of 1702, the publication is mentioned with a price. The year of publication could be established thanks to the work of the musicologist Rudolf Rasch (not Rudolph Rausch, as the liner-notes have it), who compiled Estienne Roger's catalogues.

The title page says: X Sonates à deux Violes de Gambe & 1 Basse Continue. Below it is added that they can also be played on two bassoons or two bass violins (basses de violon). Such indications don't need to be taken too literally. A combination of two bass instruments - viola da gamba/bass violin, viola da gamba/bassoon - seems perfectly legitimate. The performers have taken those liberties, but have gone some steps further. In addition to viola a gamba, bass violin and bassoon, in some sonatas a cello is used, which is debatable, as these sonatas were published at a time that the cello had not fully established itself outside Italy. Some sonatas are performed with a large ensemble, by up to six players. This is a kind of 'orchestration' which seems to me questionable, given the character of these pieces.

The entire recording takes less than 52 minutes, which indicates that the pieces are rather short. The number of movements varies from four to six. The longest movement takes 2'40", but there are also movements which are shorter than 45 seconds. The performers decided to play the movements attacca, and that prevents them from becoming too short-winded. These sonatas are written in the Italian style, and whoever the composer may have been, they are of fine quality: from that perspective there was no reason for the composer to hide his identity. It is the fate of such pieces that they are mostly overlooked by performers. It is nice that the original edition is available in the Petrucci Music Library, but these pieces deserve a modern edition. They are a good addition to the repertoire for players of low instruments.

Depite my critical remarks about some of the liberties the performers have taken, I am impressed by the general quality of these performances. We have here an ensemble of specialists on their different instruments, who have captured the nature of these pieces very well and play them with zest and a great feeling of rhythm. It is also nice to hear a variety of instruments. The combinations may be unusual, but work very well.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

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