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Francesco GASPARINI (1661 - 1727): "Sonate e Cantate"

Fons Musicae
Dir: Yasunori Imamura
rec: [n.d.], Grimisuat (Switzerland), Studio Tibor Varga
Pan Classics- 10189 (© 2006) (78'41")

Chi non sa che sia morireb, cantata a voce sola e basso [1]; Dori e Daliso (Dimmi gentil Daliso)abcd, cantata a due; Dori e Fileno (Sapessi almen perché)abcd, cantata a due; La Lontananzaacd, cantata per canto, 2 violini e basso; Sinfonia (Sonata a 3 per due violini e bc)cd

Monique Zanettia, soprano; Pascal Bertinb, alto; François Fernandezc, Stéphanie Pfisterd, violin; Roberto Gini, cello; Yasunori Imamura, theorbo; Laurent Stewart, harpsichord

Francesco Gasparini is one of many Italian composers of the late 17th and early 18th century which is almost forgotten in modern times, but who was a well-known and respected master in his own days. He was born in Camaiore, near Lucca, and in 1682 he was active as organist in Rome. There he probably studied with Arcangelo Corelli and Bernardo Pasquini. In the mid-80's he worked as a singer and composer at Bologna, but in 1686 he returned to Rome. He took part in the accademie of Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, as violinist and as composer of arias and cantatas, some of which on texts by the Cardinal himself. He composed some operas and published a set of cantatas.
The next stage of his career was that of maestro di coro at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, which he held from 1701 to 1713. During this time he appointed Antonio Vivaldi as violin master and the Ospedale developed into one of the best conservatories of Italy. In 1713 he returned to Rome, where he composed operas and in 1716 succeeded Antonio Caldara as maestro di cappella of Prince Ruspoli. In 1718 he was admitted to the Arcadian Academy and in 1719 he entered the service of the Borghese family.
He was much sought after as a teacher. Alessandro Scarlatti, whom he probably met when in Rome, sent his son Domenico to Gasparini for music lessons, and other pupils were Johann Joachim Quantz, Benedetto Marcello and Giovanni Benedetto Platti. He also wrote a treatise on basso continuo, L'armonico pratico al cimbalo, which was first published in 1708, and often reprinted, the last time in 1802.

The English musical journalist Charles Burney described Gasparini's cantatas as "graceful, elegant, natural, and often pathetic". It should be noted that the word "pathetic" doesn't have the negative connotation that it often has today. It is a reference to the dramatic and emotional character of these cantatas. And the programme on this disc offers fine examples of this.

The disc starts with the cantata Dori e Fileno, in which Fileno casts his doubts about the faithfulness of his lover Dori, which is reflected by the dissonances in the opening sinfonia. During the cantata Dori is able to convince Fileno that she is faithful, and that her talking and having fun with other shepherds is totally harmless. The closing duet expresses the confirmation of their true love.

The first aria of the next cantata, La Lontananza, for solo voice, two violins and bc, also contains strong dissonances in the instrumental accompaniment, which is an expression of the feelings of the protagonist, complaining about being far away from her loved one, as the title - which means 'distance' - indicates. Words like "sospiro" and "piango" are given special attention to, something no baroque composer would fail to do. Long notes and melismas are used to underline the keyword in this cantata: "lontananza". In the second aria, 'Voi del Lazio onde correnti', the violins depict the flowing of the river Latium: "You flowing waves of Latium (...) no, never will you be the cause of my torments". The next recitative ends in an arioso, a phenomenon we also meet in some of Alessandro Scarlatti's cantatas. And the cantata also ends with an arioso, which closes the cantata on the word "lontananza" again.

The third cantata is again set for solo voice, this time accompanied by the basso continuo only. It is again about what it means to be away from the lover. In the first aria the proganist compares the pain of departing from someone's lover with dying, which Gasparini has set very expressively. The cantata ends with a kind of heroic aria in which the protagonist takes courage from the fact that he and his lover will remain faithful to each other: "separation shall not to triumph in quenching the love of two hearts that have the glory of remaining true".

With the last cantata we return to the subject of unfaithfulness. Dori asks Daliso if he has "turned thy boyish thoughts to the delights of love". When he denies, she admits she doesn't know what love is either, but - in contrast to Daliso - she doesn't avoid it. Daliso says he wants to avoid it as he sees "how all lovers are either sad or desperate for the sake of faithless nymphs." In the aria 'No che non volgio amar' he says that he doesn't want to love so that he doesn't need to suffer. The unfaithfulness he complains about is expressed here by the violins going their own way - unfaithful to each other, so to speak - and the partly absence of the basso continuo, symbolising a lack of constancy. But Dori turns the table as she sings ('È cosa da tiranno'): "It is the tyrant's way to be untrue and then blame another for his wrong. In loving, this deceit thou shalt come to know, and then thou thyself shalt become inconstant and deceptive." She is able to convince him that he should not stay away from love. The cantata ends with a duet in which Daliso expresses his wish that his hope for love will be rewarded and Dori assures him that troth and constancy shall be rewarded.

In the sonata for two violins and bc, which is played in between the second and third cantata, we meet the pathetic aspect of Gasparini's oeuvre as well, in particular in the very expressive third movement, adagio assai.

I have heard recordings by the ensemble Fons Musicae before, and in most cases I wasn't really satisfied with its performances. The main problem is that the singers don't blend very well and are too different in temperament. Monique Zanetti is a rather dramatic singer who uses a sometimes large vibrato most of the time, whereas Pascal Bertin is a more introverted artist, whose voice is much 'cleaner' and who hardly uses any vibrato at all. As a result the balance between them is less than ideal, which is especially problematic in the duets. Both singers are most convincing in the solo cantatas. In addition, I think the recitatives could be sung with more rhythmic freedom. Apart from these criticisms I am mainly positive about this recording, as there is no lack of expression from the singers nor from the instrumental ensemble. I am also greatful that the ensemble has explored the oeuvre of Gasparini. The cantatas are excellent, and I hope we shall hear more of these in the future. On the basis of these cantatas I am also curious to get to know his operas.

Johan van Veen (© 2006)

Relevant links:

Francesco Gasparini

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