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Giovanni MOSSI (1680 - 1742): Sonate a Violino, e Violone o Cimbalo Opera Prima

Leyla Schayegh, violin; Ilze Grudele, cello; Jörg Halubek, harpsichord

rec: March 2009, Klosterkirche Beinwil (Switz)
PanClassics - PC 10212 (© 2009) (77'01")

Sonata I in d minor, op. 1,1; Sonata II in A, op. 1,2; Sonata V in b minor, op. 1,5; Sonata IX in B flat, op. 1,9; Sonata X in c minor, op. 1,10; Sonata XII in D, op. 1,12

In recent years I have reviewed quite a number of discs with music by Italian composers which are hardly known. This time another 'minor master' has been paid attention to with a recording of chamber music. Listening to this disc Giovanni Mossi turns out to be not quite a 'minor master'. His music is far too good to justify a position in the margin.

Mossi was born in or - as New Grove has it - around 1680. He added romano to his name, suggesting he was from Rome, but there is no firm evidence of this. Leila Schayegh in her programme notes 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, like Arcangelo Corelli, but in particular of patrons like 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, like 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 12 sonatas each for violin and bc, 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 opuses are structured. Also the construction of the individual sonatas leans towards the models of Corelli. At the same time Mossi finds a personal touch in his sonatas which is clearly demonstrated in the six sonatas on this disc. It contains three sonatas of both genres from the opus 1.

The Sonata I in d minor 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. It is a very exuberant piece which reflects the character of these sonatas, although the other sonatas on this disc are a bit more moderate. The fast movements are often quite theatrical, and certainly more so than Corelli's sonatas. The slow movements often have a strong amount of emotion, and here Mossi again goes some steps further than Corelli. A number of movements are quite virtuosic, for instance the second allegro from the Sonata II in A, and sometimes not only in the upper part, but also in the basso continuo, like in the first allegro from the Sonata V in b minor. This sonata was especially mentioned by Mattheson as something which was well worth playing.

The personal touch also comes to the fore in the construction of some sonatas. Four of the six sonatas on this disc are in five movements. Notable is the Sonata XII in D which begins with a movement called 'alla Francese', which is in fact a French overture - a rarity in Italian music. The Sonata X in c minor is also remarkable as it ends with a 'tempo di minuet', a dance Corelli never used in his sonatas. According to the tracklist this sonata's third movement is a giga (allegro), followed by a sarabanda (largo). But in the performance these movements are swapped. I wonder what has happened here. Is this an error in the tracklist or have the musicians changed Mossi's order?

It is hard to imagine a better performance than Leila Schayegh, Ilze Grudele and Jörg Halubek are delivering. The playing is technically highly impressive, but also very lively and expressive. In her programme notes Leila Schayegh pays special attention to the issue of ornamentation, a subject she is particularly interested in. She states: "The most important criteria for all ornamentation was that it should be organic to the musical text, following and deepening the character of the pieces, without appearing to be an end in itself (...)". I think this recording is a good illustration of what she has written. I have thoroughly enjoyed and admired her application of ornamentation in these sonatas which greatly contribute to the captivating character of this recording.

As music, interpretation, recording and booklet are of a high standard I strongly recommend this disc. May we have the other six sonatas from Mossi's opus 1, please?

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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Leyla Schayegh

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