musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Giovanni Benedetto PLATTI (1697 - 1763): "Sonatas for Violoncello, Violin and Basso continuo"

Rüdiger Lotter, violina; Sebastian Hess, cellob; Florian Birsak, fortepianoc

rec: August 26 - 28, 2010, Wiesentheid, Pfarrkirche St. Mauritius
Oehms - OC836 (© 2012) (73'00")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Ricercata I for violin and cello in D (D-WD 670)ab; Ricercata II for violin and cello in A (D-WD 671)ab; Sonata à 3 for violin, cello and bc (D-WD 678)abc; Sonata à 3 for violin, cello and bc (D-WD 683)abc; Sonata à 3 for violin, cello and bc (D-WD 689)abc; Sonata for violin, cello and bc in g minorabc; Sonata XII for keyboard in C, op. 4,6c

"The good oboist from Würzburg, Platti, has stayed with me for three days and I want to recommend this truly good fellow for the Emperor's Court Chapel with his art, all of which is quite commendable". Thus wrote Prince Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn-Wiesentheid to one of his brothers who at the time held a high position at the court in Vienna. Whether he really wanted Platti to go to Vienna is rather questionable as the "good fellow" provided him with fine music which he could play on his beloved cello. The music on this disc was very likely written to be played by the two of them together. Platti was educated as an oboist but could play several instruments, including the violin.

Platti was born in Venice and came to Würzburg, where he was appointed oboist in the orchestra of the Prince-Archbishop Lothar Franz von Schönborn. Only two years after his appointment, in 1724, his employer died, and he was succeeded by one of his brothers. He didn't care much for music, and therefore it was a matter of good fortune for Platti and for Rudolf Franz Erwein, also a brother of Lothar Franz, that he could spend some years at the latter's court in Wiesentheid. The Prince was an avid cellist and collected large amounts of music. His library has survived and includes around 150 prints and about 500 manuscripts of music. A large part of this library comprises music for cello or compositions in which the cello plays a major part. He also asked composers to write for his instrument. It is likely that Antonio Caldara composed his 16 cello sonatas for the Prince, who also may have commissioned some cello sonatas by Vivaldi.

In the three trio sonatas the violin and the cello are treated on strictly equal terms. They are all in four movements, combining elements of the Corellian sonata da chiesa and sonata da camera. This also means that they are dominated by counterpoint. The slow movements are often quite expressive, for instance the sicilianas from the Sonatas D-WD 683 and 689. The latter ends with a beautiful fugue, the former with a sparkling gavotta. The Sonata D-WD 678 opens with an adagio in which both instruments have a somewhat longer solo episode. Otherwise there is much imitation and exchange of mostly quite original thematic material in these sonatas. The latter sonata comes to a close with a swinging giga. The Sonata in g minor includes an expressive largho (sic) and ends with an exuberant presto.
By the way, I don't quite understand why the keys of all but one piece are omitted in the track-list.

The scoring of these sonatas is not quite common for the time they were written, although the combination of a treble and a bass instrument was often practised in Germany, in particular in pieces for violin, viola da gamba and bc. The scoring of the four Ricercate is even less common. Originally they were part of a set of six. As the Ricercata IV was originally the sixth, we may conclude that two have been lost. The name is derived from ricercare, a term which was often used in the 16th and 17th century for pieces with an imitative character. That is quite appropriate for these pieces as well: the two instruments are again of equal standing, and regularly imitate each other. They exchange leadership roles. They are in four movements of different character. The Ricercata II, for instance, begins with a subtle adagio, which is followed by a brilliant allegro. In the next adagio the violin has some double stopping which is rather rare in Platti's music.

In the middle of the disc we find one of Platti's keyboard sonatas. In his keyboard works he points in the direction of the new fashions of the 18th century. It is because of this part of his oeuvre that he is sometimes considered one of the pioneers of the early classical style. This sonata is in four movements; the second an expressive larghetto which Florian Birsak plays in an improvisatory manner.

He uses a fortepiano, both in this sonata and in the basso continuo of the trio sonatas. It is an interesting aspect of these performances. Considering the rather early date of composition one may wonder whether this is a plausible choice. It is interesting to note that Platti, before he went to Germany, played a Cristofori fortepiano in Siena. It is suggested he could have taken such an instrument with him when he went north. That is certainly possible, but remains a matter of speculation. Whether Prince Rudolf Franz Erwein also possessed such a keyboard is impossible to prove. Even so, it is an interesting experience, and I found its use in the basso continuo more satisfying than on other occasions. Birsak plays a copy of a Cristofori of 1726. Platti's keyboard sonatas have been recorded complete on the harpsichord, and I found it very interesting to hear one of these on the fortepiano.

Florian Birsak's playing is outstanding, and so are the performances of Rüdiger Lotter and Sebastian Hess. They fully explore the qualities of Platti's music, and both the virtuosic and the more expressive aspects of these pieces are convincingly conveyed. The tempi are well-chosen: the fast movements come off really fast, and in the slow movements they take their time in order to expose the expression. The ensemble is immaculate and results in a eloquent dialogue between the three instruments.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

CD Reviews