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Violin versus viola da gamba

[I] "Marais meets Corelli"
Lina Tur Bonet, violina; Jakob Rattinger, viola da gambab
ensemble musica narrans
rec: Oct 14 - 16, 2015, Schrobenhausen (D), Pfarrsaal St. Jakob
Pan Classics - PC 10395 (© 2019) (64'56")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Heinrich Ignaz Franz BIBER (1644-1704): Sonata No. 5 in e minorabcde [2]; Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Sonata in g minor, op. 5,5abce [3]; Antoine FORQUERAY (1672-1745): 2e Suite in G (Chaconne La Buisson)be [8]; Tobias HUME (c1579-1645): A Soldier's Galiardb [1]; Hark, harkb [1]; Marin MARAIS (1656-1728): Chaconne en rondeau in Gbcde [4]; La Sonnerie de Ste. Geneviève du Mont de Parisabe [7]; Suite in Dbce [6]; Marin MARAIS, Arcangelo CORELLI: Variations on La Folia (with improvisations)abe [3,4]; Jacques MOREL (c1690-1740): Chaconne en trio in Gabcde [5]

Sources: [1] Tobias Hume, The First Part of Ayres, French, Pollish and others together ... with Pavines, Galliards, and Almaines, 1605; [2] Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Sonatae, Violino solo, 1681; [3] Arcangelo Corelli, Sonate a Violino e Violone o Cimbalo op. V, 1700; [4] Marin Marais, Pièces de Viole, Livre II, 1701; [5] Jacques Morel, Premier Livre de Pieces de Violle, 1709; Marin Marais, [6] Pièces de viole, Livre III, 1711; [7] La gamme et autres morceaux de symphonie, 1723; [8] Jean-Baptiste Forqueray, ed., Pieces de viole avec la basse continuë composées par Mr Forqueray le père, 1747

Axel Wolf, theorboc; Hans Brüderl, guitard; Ralf Waldner, harpsichorde

[II] Arcangelo CORELLI (1653 - 1713): "Sonatas for viola da gamba & continuo"
Teodoro Baù, viola da gamba; Andrea Buccarella, harpsichord
rec: March 2022, Padua, Scuola della Carità
Ricercar - RIC 440 (© 2022) (72'57")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata in B flat (after Sonata in B flat, op. 5,2); Sonata in g minor (after Sonata in g minor, op. 5,5); Sonata in G (after Sonata in A, op. 5,6); Sonata in F (after Sonata in A, op. 5,9); Sonata in D (after Sonata in E, op. 5,11); Sonata in d minor (after Sonata in d minor, op. 5,12 'La Follia')

In the second half of the 17th century the French and the Italian styles competed for dominance in Europe. In many ways they were each other's opposites, also with regard to what was the main instrument in each style. The Italian style was represented by the violin, whereas the viola da gamba was the symbol of the French style. In Italy hardly any music for the viola da gamba was written, in France the violin only played a role in dance music and in the opera orchestra, but it did not play a significant role as a solo instrument. From that perspective it makes much sense to shed light on the antagonism between the two instruments as representatives of the respective musical styles. The two discs under review here approach this theme in very different ways.

The first disc's title, "Marais meets Corelli", reflects the programme. The viola da gamba and the violin are represented here by two of its most prominent composer-players: Marin Marais and Arcangelo Corelli respectively. In the first half of the programme we hear pieces for viola da gamba and basso continuo from the second and third books by Marais, as well as a piece by Marais's colleague and counterpart, Antoine Forqueray. Interestingly, whereas Marais remained true to the French style, partly under the influence of Jean-Baptiste Lully, Forqueray was open to the Italian style and tried to imitate Italian violin music on his viola da gamba. Corelli is represented with one of the sonatas for violin and basso continuo from his Op. 5, which was published in 1700 and had a strong influence on the development of music in Europe. Just like François Couperin aimed at a reconciliation of the two styles, the performers bring them together in the second half of the programme, with Marais' La Sonnerie de Ste Geneviève du Mont de Paris, and the Chaconne en trio in G by Jacques Morel. In these pieces both violin and viola da gamba play an obbligato part.

The concept of this disc is quite interesting, but both the way it has been worked out and the performances are less than satisfying. First, the construction of the programme raises questions. Why were two pieces by Tobias Hume included? Yes, he was one of the first who wrote music for viola da gamba solo, but he has nothing to do at all with the violin versus viola da gamba subject of this disc. The inclusion of the Sonata in e minor by Heinrich Franz Ignaz Biber is also questionable. It is from a collection published in 1681, well before Corelli's Op. 5 sonatas. He obviously was not influenced in any way by Corelli. Martin Bail, in his liner-notes, states that this is a sonata for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo, which would make it an example of the 'cooperation', as it were, of the two instruments, like in the pieces by Marais and Morel. However, that is a mistake: the viola da gamba does not play an obbligato part in this piece. It was also not such a good idea to merge the variations on the Folia by the two main composers in the programme. Stylistically the result is unsatisfying.

As far as the performances are concerned, the main artists are fine representatives of their art. However, their performances are not really convincing. Jakob Rattinger does well in the two pieces by Hume, but Forqueray and Marais don't come off that well. In Forqueray's Chaconne he opts for a very fast tempo; I don't know whether the composer or the piece ask for it, but there should at least be some breathing spaces. However, Rattinger goes on and on, and the whole piece sounds just rushed. The same goes for the first movements of Marais' Suite in D. There is even hardly a breathing space between single movements. I also finds Rattinger's playing not very subtle at times. Likewise, Lina Tur Bonet goes a little over the top now and then, in particular in Biber. I have heard better performances of this sonata. From a historical point of view, it is rather odd to include the viola da gamba in the basso continuo in Corelli's sonata. On balance, Marais Sonnerie and Morel's Chaconne are the best parts of this disc.

The fact that hardly any music for viola da gamba was written in Italy, suggests that there were hardly any people who played the instrument. However, Jérôme Lejeune ends his liner-notes to the Ricercar Recording of 'viola da gamba sonatas' by Corelli with an interesting fact. A bass viol by Barak Norman, a maker of string instruments in London, that is now kept in Montréal, has a small label inside bearing the words "Achangelus Corellius de Fusignano dictus Bononiensis". He writes: "Could it have belonged to Corelli, and may we assume from this that he too played the viol?" It would be interesting to know more about this. Is this just pure speculation or is there something in it, which may indeed reveal a practice of viol playing in Italy?

Not that Teodoro Baù needs such a fact for his versions of Corelli's violin sonatas. The practice of transcription was very common in the baroque era, and Corelli's sonatas were the subject of many such transcriptions. Among the most famous of them are a version for recorder and Francesco Geminiani's arrangements for an ensemble of strings. A particularly interesting version is included in a manuscript preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. It comprises transcriptions of the complete Op. 5 for viola da gamba and basso continuo. Research indicates that these arrangements may have been made in Germany rather than in France. Even so, the fact that they have landed in France suggests that performers there were interested in playing Corelli's sonatas on that very French instrument, the viola da gamba. That would further attest to the growing appreciation of Italian music in France after 1700.

Baù did not opt for a performance of sonatas from this collection but rather decided to play his own transcriptions. "For the transpositions, our criterion was that the instrumental idiom of each work should be respected as far as possible: if certain works were clearly violinistic in character, my intention was to perform them as faithfully as possible on the viola da gamba, performing the sonata either in the original key or a tone lower (Sonatas VI and XI), or even a third lower (Sonata IX)." He added his own ornaments, which are inspired by versions from the 18th century, for instance by the likes of Tartini and Geminiani, and from the editions by John Walsh.

This is Baù's very first recording, which is the result of his winning first prize in the MA Competition Bruges in 2021. That prize seems well deserved, as this is a very good and enjoyable recording. These transcriptions are excellent: to my ears they sound as if they were intended for the viola da gamba. I am quite impressed by Baù's playing, both technically and stylistically. The tempi are well-chosen and the ornamentation is completely convincing. The very fact that Baù decided to play his own transcriptions of sonatas by Corelli rather than some familiar stuff which is and has been recorded many times, suggests that he is willing to find his own way in the music scene. That cannot be appreciated enough. I am very much looking forward to his next projects. With Andrea Buccarella he has the perfect partner at the harpsichord.

Those who love the viola da gamba - and/or Corelli - should not miss this very fine disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Lina Tur Bonet
Andrea Buccarella
Jakob Rattinger

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