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Pietro TORRI (1650 - 1737): "Trastulli & Arias - Entertainment for the Bavaria Court"

Cristina Grifone, sopranoa; José Coca Loza, bassb
Musica Fiorita
Dir: Daniela Dolci

rec: Sept 25 - 29, 2019, Basel, Adullamkapelle
Pan Classics - PC 10417 (© 2021) (77'16")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Adelaide (overture; A turbar l'ondoso regnob); Ah, languido il mio seno, ariaa; Amadis (overture; Su spirti veniteb); Aurette flebili, ariaa; Con insoliti fregi - Non si scorge più dipinto, rec & ariaa; Figli de monti (entrée); Già dall' Isser ameno (Ho pregi anch'io - Nelle stragi più funeste, rec & ariaa); Lascino li il mio desio, ariab; Le nymphe più vezzose - Con placido incanto, rec & ariab; Lucio Vero (Vincitore che vinto ti rendia); Non v'è nube - Di vulcan nelle prigioni, rec & ariab; Per dar sfogo, ariab; Quanto dura ormai, ariab; Se un guardo, ariab; Si, si vendicare, ariaa; Sonno amico, ariaa; Trafitto ho il seno, ariab; V'amo, si, ariaa; Volano d'ogni intorno - I molli Zeffiretti, rec & ariaa

Priska Comploi, Katharina Andres, recorder, oboe; Andrew Burn, bassoon; Germán Echeverri, Karoline Echeverri Klemm, violin; Sara Bagnati, viola; Paolo Pandolfo, viola da gamba; Amélie Chemin, viola da gamba, cello; Marco Lo Cicero, violone; Juan Sebastián Lima, theorbo, guitar; Daniela Dolci, harpsichord, organ

Pietro Torri is one of those composers, whom musicologists like to call a 'minor master'. Often that label turns out to be hardly justified, if one listens to a good performance of their music. In some cases their position in their own time also suggests otherwise. Torri is a case in point.

He led quite an eventful life, which was largely the result of his connection to Max Emanuel II, Elector of Bavaria, in Munich, who had to deal with the effects of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). Torri was born around 1650 in Peschiera, at the south-coast of Lake Garda. His first documented position was that of organist at the court of the Margrave of Bayreuth in 1684. In 1689 he entered the service of Max Emanuel. In the next years he composed several operas and serenatas. In 1692 his employer became governor of the Spanish Netherlands, and moved to Brussels. Torri was given the position of maître de chapelle.

The Elector's son Joseph Ferdinand Leopold, born that same year, was considered the inheritant of the Spanish throne (more about that here), but this came to an end with the young Prince's death in 1699. Max Emanuel returned to Bavaria; in 1701 Torri was appointed director of chamber music, as the position of Kapellmeister was firmly in the hands of Giuseppe Antonio Bernabei.

The Elector had taken the side of France in the War of the Spanish Succession, and when he was defeated by the English at Höchstädt in 1704, he had to go into exile, and moved again to Brussels. When the English seized the city in 1706, he had to leave and spend the next years in several places, until he returned to Munich in 1715. All that time Torri had followed him; in Munich he was appointed Hofkapell-Director, and Hofkapellmeister in 1732, after the death of Bernabei.

Torri's extant oeuvre is not that large. It comprises operas, oratorios, secular cantatas and serenatas, occasional works and some instrumental music. Some of his large-scale vocal works are available on disc. The probably best-known work is the oratorio La Vanità del mondo. Because of his moving forth and back between Munich, where the music was basically Italian in style, and Brussels, where the influence of France was felt, and a period in France, during his employer's exile, in Torri's music the two styles are represented. His oeuvre also includes some works on French texts, such as the oratorio Le martyre des Maccabées and the dramatic cantata Le triomphe de la Paix.

The disc under review offers a survey of Torri's oeuvre. Three categories are represented: opera, torneo and trastulli. Torri composed his first opera in Brussels in 1695. However, most of his operas date from his last period in Munich, from 1715 until his death; the last was performed in 1736. Several of his operas were written at the occasion of festive events at the court. Lucio Vero dates from 1720 and was written in celebration of Max Emanuel's name day. The aria 'Vincitore che vinto ti rendi' closes the programme. It opens with an aria from Adelaide, which was written in 1722 for the festivities which marked the marriage of Crown Prince Karl Albrecht to Maria Amalia, daughter of the deceased Austrian emperor Joseph I. "The opera performance was a great spectacle for which no financial and material efforts were spared; the ultimate objective was to present the bridegroom as the potential Emperor of Austria" (booklet). In 1724 Max Emanuel's first granddaugher was born, and this was the occasion at which Amadis was performed. The arias from the operas are the most dramatic items in the programme.

A recitative and aria and an instrumental piece are taken from works in the genre of the torneo. You won't find this genre explained in New Grove. It may well have been a speciality of the Bavarian court. "[Not] only operas, but also festive cantatas were performed as part of representational events at court, including so-called torneos, i.e. tournament cantatas. These works formed the introductory element of genuine tournament plays in which riders on horseback depicted scenes from battles and conflicts". Già dall'Isser ameno depicts an allegorical dispute between the Bavarian virtues. It includes a reference to the battle with the Turks which had taken place in the 1680s, in which Max Emanuel had participated at the side of the Austrian emperor. This work dates from 1718, whereas Figli de monti, from which the Entrée is played, was written in 1702.

The third category is known as trastulli, and again, this is not a universal genre, but a speciality of Torri. The word trastullo means 'pastime' or 'plaything'. The pieces called trastulli are vocal pieces in the form of arias, mostly with dacapo, and sometimes preceded by a recitative, which were written as musical entertainment, to be performed during meals or as evening pastime. They may have been sung by Max Emanuel himself, who was musically educated - he played keyboard, viola da gamba and transverse flute - and seems to have been a good singer. Thematically these arias are not any different from the chamber cantatas written in Italy at the time, which often refer to the imaginary world of Arcadia, the ideal of the higher echelons of society. Torri's trastulli show the influence of Alessandro Scarlatti and Agostino Steffani. The latter had also been in the service of the Bavarian court.

Daniela Dolci became acquainted with Torri's music, and in particular his trastulli, as early as 2009. She studied the music, and decided to put the selected pieces together in the form of a pasticcio. The describes the 'plot' in the booklet. At several moments Paolo Pandolfo plays improvisations, connecting the various stages of the story. I personally could do without them. It would have been preferable, if they would have been allocated to separate tracks. What is interesting, however, is that the viola da gamba - mostly two of them - is given an obbligato part in some trastulli. Apparently the instrument was still common in Bavaria, and that may well be due to the fact that Max Emanuel played it himself. Other obbligato parts are for two 'German flutes', which means transverse flutes. For reasons not explained in the booklet, these parts are played on recorders.

On the basis of this disc and on what I have heard before, Torri does not deserve the label of 'minor master'. The arias included here are of fine quality, and I am quite impressed by the way he connects text and music. The selection of arias is differentiated, which guarantees a maximum variety. Some arias are dramatic, others more lyrical, some are extroverted, others more intimate. Several have an infectious rhythm, which comes perfectly to the fore in the performances by Musica Fiorita. Cristina Grifone and José Coca Loza are the ideal advocates of Torri's arias. They show the dramatic flair needed for some of the arias; they would do very well in a performance of Torri's operas. The more lyrical items are also given excellent performances. Stylistically they also leave nothing to be desired.

This is a very fine disc, and should be able to convince sceptics, that Torri is more than just a footnote in music history. Let's hope for a revival of his oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Cristina Grifone
José Coca Loza

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