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"Corelli's Band - Violin Sonatas"

Augusta McKay Lodge, violin; Ezra Seltzer, cello; Doug Balliett, violone; Adam Cockerham, theorbo, guitar; Elliot Figg, harpsichord

rec: Jan 25 - 26, 2019, New York, Samurai Hotel recording Studio
Naxos - 8.574239 ( 2020) (65'21")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Carbonelli
Score Corelli
Scores Mossi

Giovanni Stefano CARBONELLI (1694-1773): Sonata No. 9 in e minor; Sonata No. 10 in g minor; Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Sonata in C, op. 5,3; Giovanni MOSSI (c1680-1742): Sonata in d minor, op. 1,1; Sonata in G, op. 1,3; Sonata in e minor, op. 6,9

Sources: Arcangelo Corelli, Sonate a Violino e Violone o Cimbalo op. V, 1700; Giovanni Mossi, Sonate a Violino e Violone, o Cimbalo, op. 1, 1716; Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli, XII Sonate da Camera a Violino, e Violone o Cembalo, 1729; Giovanni Mossi, Sonate da camera per violino e viololoncello o cembalo, op. 6, 1733

Few composers had such an influence in their own time and on future generations of composers as Arcangelo Corelli. In Rome, he was the leading figure in the field of instrumental music in the last decades of the 17th century. With his trio sonatas he laid down their basic form and contributed to the popularity of the genre, which lasted until the mid-18th century. His concerti grossi inspired other composers to write comparable works, among them such eminent masters as Geminiani and Handel. And then there were his violin sonatas Op. 5, generally considered the pinnacle of his art. They quickly disseminated across Europe and were arranged for other instruments, such as the recorder and the viola da gamba, and Geminiani even turned them into concerti grossi. The very form of the sonata for violin and basso continuo was also an inspiration for many composers. Even those who never had been formally his pupil, were strongly influenced by the Roman master. The disc under review here brings Corelli together with two of them: Giovanni Mossi and Stefano Carbonelli.

Mossi was born in or around 1680. He added romano to his name, suggesting he was from Rome, but there is no firm evidence of this. Leila Schayegh, in the programme notes to her recording of six sonatas from his Op. 1 (PanClassics, 2009), suggests it could also be "a declaration of his hard fought acceptance into this hallowed sphere of musical life". Around 1700 Rome was the place to be, not only because of the presence of famous masters of music, such as Arcangelo Corelli, but in particular of patrons, among them the Cardinals Pamphili and Ottoboni and the Marchese Ruspoli. Apparently Mossi was a child prodigy as he played the violin in public concerts, together with his father, at the age of just 14. In Rome he met Corelli, and as his own compositions show his influence it has been assumed he was Corelli's pupil, but again this is not confirmed.

During his life other composers of fame were also for some time active in Rome, for instance Handel, Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, Bernardo Pasquini and Locatelli. Mossi soon became part of the musical establishment, which manifested itself in his membership of the Congregazione di Santa Cecilia. Within this organisation he soon took on leading positions. In 1716 his first collection of music was printed by Estienne and Jeanne Roger in Amsterdam. His other five opuses were printed by the same publisher, and this only emphasises his growing reputation as a composer. He composed three sets of twelve sonatas each for violin and basso continuo, and also 26 concertos in three opuses. The Sonate a Violino, e Violone o Cimbalo Opera Prima made great impression and were mentioned by the German composer and theorist Johann Mattheson in one of his books.

Mattheson also refers to Mossi as a "follower of Corelli", and the sonatas Opus 1 unmistakably bear the traits of Corelli's works. The set is divided into two halves: the first six sonatas are sonate da chiesa, the sonatas 7 to 12 sonate da camera, just like Corelli's Op. 5. The construction of the individual sonatas also leans towards the models of Corelli. The second movements of the sonate da chiesa are usually fugues. The first sonata includes even two fugues, and the second movement of the Sonata No. 3 is a double fugue. The former has a remarkable beginning: the first movement - adagio - is a kind of toccata, and sometimes has the shape of a recitative. It sounds very much like an improvisation, and this character is enhanced by the ornamentation which has been written out by Mossi. Its wide tessitura, which manifests itself right at the start, is also notable. It is a very exuberant piece which reflects the character of these sonatas. The technically demanding nature of Mossi's sonatas comes to the fore in the frequent double stopping. The last movement of the Sonata No. 1 includes a long episode where the violin has to play two parts. In the course of time the sonata da chiesa fell out of fashion, and this explains why Mossi's last collection of sonatas comprises only sonate da camera. The Opus 6 omits fugues, and the Sonata No. 9 included here ends with a fashionable minuet. Technically the sonata is no less demanding than those from the Opus 1.

Carbonelli was born in Livorno, which is some distance away from Rome, and for that reason it is not likely that he was a pupil of Corelli. His first documented appearances as a violin virtuoso date from 1711 and 1712, when he participated in the annual festival of the Church of the Holy Cross in Lucca. Nothing is known about his whereabouts in the next seven years, until 1719, when the London Daily Courant advertised a performance of a sonata and a concerto by Carbonelli, together with the cellist Filippo Amadei. It seems that in that same year he became the leader of the orchestra of the Drury Lane Theatre, a position he held until 1728. In 1729 he published a set of sonatas for violin and basso continuo, which he dedicated to John Manners, 3rd Duke of Rutland, who was his patron. It is his only extant music, which can largely be explained by the fact that in the 1730s he changed his main profession to that of a wine merchant. He was very successful in that department, and as a result gained in social status and in income.

The set of twelve violin sonatas is divided into two halves. The first comprises six sonatas of the sonata da chiesa type, in four movements (except the sixth), with a fugue as the second movement. The sonatas in the other half are in the manner of the sonata da camera; here fugues are omitted. One of the most notable features of these sonatas is their technical complexity. In most movements, and in all of the fugues, Carbonelli makes use of double stopping. Undoubtedly these sonatas attest to Carbonelli's own skills on his instrument.

In Mossi's sonate da camera the opening movement is followed by dances, such as sarabanda and corrente. In contrast, only four of Carbonelli's sonate da camera have a movement which has the title of a dance, either a giga (sonatas 7, 10 and 11) or siciliana (No. 9). All the other movements have common tempo descriptions, such as andante, adagio and allegro. However, many of these movements are 'hidden' dances. For instance, the second movement of the Sonata No. 9 is called allegro, but is in fact a corrente, and the largo from the Sonata No. 10 is a sarabanda. The opening movement of the former is notable for the juxtaposition of two themes, the one diatonic and the other chromatic, in the violin and the bass respectively. Later their positions are reversed. The third movement, adagio, is very short, and little more than a transition between the previous and the next movement. Chromaticism is a feature of the opening movement of the Sonata No. 10, whereas the largo includes pauses, which strongly contributes to its expressiveness.

Given the subject of this disc, it is understandable that Augusta McKay Lodge included one of Corelli's Op. 5 sonatas. However, these are very well known, and available in many recordings. Most lovers of this kind of music may have one or several of them in their collection. From that angle I would have preferred a further sonata by Mossi, especially as little of his oeuvre is available on disc. As far as Carbonelli is concerned, I would like to mention here the complete recording of his sonatas on two separate discs, released by Delphian Records, where they are given excellent performances by Bojan Cicic and The Illyria Consort.

Not that there is anything wrong with what we get here. I like the aplomb and the fantasy with which McKay Lodge approaches these sonatas: undoubtedly, the composers expected a substantial contribution from the interpreter. He or she should not only play what the composer has written down. McKay Lodge does not exaggerate, for instance in the ornamentation, which is always a danger in this kind of repertoire. These are stylish performances, in which the connection between Corelli and his followers comes clearly off. I also like the committed and colourful accompaniments of the basso continuo group.

Lovers of the baroque violin should not hesitate to purchase this disc, whch is a substantial and musically compelling addition to the discography.

Johan van Veen ( 2021)

Relevant links:

Augusta McKay Lodge
Doug Balliett
Adam Cockerham
Elliot Figg

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