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"Veracini - Geminiani: Violin Sonatas"

rec: April 5 - 7/22, 2004, Munich, Studio of Bavarian Radio
Oehms - OC 356 (© 2004) (68'54")

Francesco Saverio Geminiani (1687-1762): Sonata in D, op. 4,1; Sonata in d minor, op. 4,8; Sonata in c minor, op. 4,9; Sonata in A, op. 4,10; Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768): Sonata in A, op. 1,7; Sonata in B flat, op. 1,8

Rüdiger Lotter, violin; Olga Watts, harpsichord

This disc offers a confrontation between two of Italy's most virtuosic violinists of the 18th century, Francesco Gemiani and Francesco Maria Veracini. Both were pupils of the great Arcangelo Corelli, and both had a successful career both in Italy and abroad. But they had very different personalities, and there is quite a strong difference in their compositions. And although they were both pupils of Corelli they dealt with his heritage in very different ways.
Geminiani kept rather close to the example set by his teacher. He arranged Corelli's Sonatas for violin and basso continuo op. 5 as concerti grossi, which can be interpreted as the ultimate tribute to the master. Veracini, on the other hand, pretended to be able to 'improve' Corelli's sonatas, which can be used as further evidence - if needed - of his proverbial arrogance. He also believed that only his own music was able to show his brilliant technical skills.

Virtuosity is indeed one of the main features of Veracini's compositions, even though in later publications, like the Sonate Accademiche, he went further than in his opus 1, which could be played either on violin or on recorder. Even so, there are many eccentricities and unexpected things in the two sonatas from his opus 1, which are played here. There are frequent modulations in some movements as well as sharp dissonances and chromaticism. The 'grave' from the Sonata in B flat, op. 1,8 is a good example. Other composers also make use of those features for the sake of expressivity, but in Veracini's case I am not so sure about that. The more I hear from his works the more I get the impression the composer didn't really care about writing expressive music. It seems to me all the twists and turns in his music don't make much sense apart from giving the player - Veracini himself - the opportunity to show off.

In comparison Geminiani was a much more modest character who went along with almost everyone. His sonatas are much more 'regular' and don't contain too many unexpected turns, but they also show much more thematic coherence, and are much more rooted in the rhetorical tradition of the baroque era. One could perhaps argue that whereas Geminiani was one of the last representatives of the 'baroque' style, Veracini was paving the way for a new style of composing, characterised by sudden changes of mood.

The performance by Lyriarte is very impressive. Rüdiger Lotter is very much aware of the difference between Geminiani and Veracini and is able to demonstrate that in his interpretation. His virtuosity in Veracini's sonatas is quite impressive, and his performance of Geminiani's sonatas is just as good. I particularly liked his playing of the slower movements in Geminiani's sonatas, some of which contain fine lyricism, like the first 'andante' of the Sonata in c minor, op. 4,9.

The decision to realise the basso continuo part with a harpsichord only deserves praise. There is little evidence that the use of a string instrument (cello or viola da gamba) to support the keyboard was common practice in the 17th and 18th centuries as it is today. Olga Watts gives excellent support, not only harmonically but also in regard to rhythm and dynamics. Her realisation sometimes sounds like a full-blooded concertato part.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

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