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Neapolitan music for recorder

[I] "Dolce Napoli - Sonate & Concerti per Flauto"
La Cicala
Dir: InÍs d'Avena
rec: August 12 - 14, 2013, Delft, Lutherse Kerk
Passacaille - 1007 (© 2014) (55'46")
Liner-notes: E/F/D
Cover & track-list

Nicola FIORENZA (c1700-1764): Concerto in a minor; Sonata in a minor; Leonardo LEO (1694-1744): Sonata in g minor; Francesco MANCINI (1672-1737): Sonata VII in C [1]; Sonata XIX in e minor; Pietro PULLJ (PULLI) (c1710-1759 or later): Sonata in G; Filippo ROSA (?-?): Sinfonia in F; Domenico SARRI (SARRO) (1679-1744): Sonata XI in a minor

InÍs d'Avena, recorder; Můnica Waisman, Even Few, violin; Sara Decorso, violin, viola; Rebecca Rosen, cello; Hen Goldsobel, double bass; Claudio Barduco Ribeiro, harpsichord

Sources: [1] Francesco Mancini, XII Solos, 17272

[II] "Naples 1759"
La Cicala
Dir: InÍs d'Avena
rec: May 27 - 29, 2015, Delft, Oud-Katholieke Kerk
Passacaille - 1013 (© 2015) (56'15")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

anon: Sonata in C; Sonata in d minor; Sonata in F; Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755): Le quattro stagioni del anno, Sonata per cembaloa; Francesco MANCINI (1672-1737): Sonata in c minor; Pietro PULLJ (PULLI) (c1710-1759 or later): Sonata in F; Sonata in g minor; Sonata in B flat

InÍs d'Avena, recorder; Rebecca Rosen, cello; Claudio Barduco Ribeiro, harpsichord (soloa)

Recordings of baroque music for recorder often include arrangements of pieces which were originally conceived for other instruments, such as the transverse flute or the violin. There is no fundamental objection to this practice: composers often suggested alternative scorings for their compositions. One of the reasons is the lack of original repertoire. However, that seems not the most convincing argument. There is probably more to choose from than many performers think. The repertoire written in Naples is a good example. InÍs d'Avena specializes in Neapolitan recorder music and in July 2015 was awarded her PhD in Music by Leiden University for her research on the recorder in Naples during the baroque period. Up until now she has been able to find over 90 concertos, sonatas and sinfonias which were composed in Naples between c1695 and c1760.

Some of that repertoire is well-known. That goes especially for the contributions of Francesco Mancini. A set of twelve sonatas for recorder and basso continuo was published in 1727 in London and a famous collection of recorder music, known as the 'Naples Manuscript', includes twelve sonatas or concertos for recorder and strings. The latter has been well-known since quite some time and many pieces - maybe even all of them - have been recorded. More recently another important source has started to be explored; it was put together by the Austrian Aloys Thomas Raimund von Harrach (1669-1742) who from 1728 to 1733 was Viceroy of the kingdom of Naples (since 1707 Naples was occupied by Austria) and was a great lover of music and sponsor of the arts. Today the greater part of the collection is preserved in the New York Public Library; other parts have remained in the Harrach Family Archive in the Austrian State Archives.

More than two-third of the pieces Ms d'Avena has found dates from between 1715 and c1730. That is remarkable as this was the time the recorder was gradually overshadowed by the transverse flute (except in England). Moreover, the Neapolitan music scene was dominated by opera and most of the composers of recorder music were opera composers. It is also notable that - as Ms d'Avena points out in her liner-notes - "[no] detailed accounts of purchases of recorders have been found so far in the archives of the conservatoires or the Royal Chapel in Naples (...)". It seems that wind instruments in general did not play a major role in Naples. Carlo Ipata has recorded two discs with concertos for transverse flute (CDA67784; CDA67884), and in the liner-notes it is stated that Naples produced some virtuosic string players, but that flautists of any fame are not known. It is also useful to note that the main Neapolitan composer in the first quarter of the 18th century, Alessandro Scarlatti, didn't like wind instruments which he said were unbearably out of tune. On the other hand, in the liner-notes to his recording of recorder sonatas by Leonardo Leo - among them the Sonata in g minor also played here - Tommaso Rossi states that the archives of the Neapolitan conservatories "testify to the presence of the recorder as early as 1704 among the wind instruments taught". He adds: "One infers an important role for the recorder also from examining the scores [of] operas and serenades of the period 1710-1730, where its use is linked to the evocation of pastoral and bucolic scenes, with an evident descriptive role". I am curious to know how InÍs d'Avena treats this subject in her dissertation (which I haven't read).

When I received the first disc I expected the programme to comprise various concertos or sonatas from the above-mentioned manuscript of 1725 in the programme. In fact, only two of the pieces are from this collection: the Sonata XI by Sarri and the Sonata XIX by Mancini. I was pleasantly surprised that this disc includes several pieces which are rather unknown, such as those by Leonardo Leo and Nicola Fiorenza, although these have been recorded before. Two pieces I had never heard, as far as I can remember: the Sinfonia by Filippo Rosa and the Sonata in G by Pietro Pullj (or Pulli). Little is known about the latter; in some works he is called maestro di cappella but it is not known of which church or institution. He worked until at least 1734 in Naples but as a part of his operatic output was performed in northern Italy it seems likely that he left Naples at some time, probably in 1739 at the latest. The manuscript of the sonata recorded here is dated 1759 which is probably the year it was copied, not the year of composition. Melodically and harmonically it is different from, for instance, the pieces by Mancini. That is not surprising considering that Pullj is of a later generation. The latter's sonata is also the only one in three movements. About Rosa nothing is known at all; he has no entry in New Grove. It is even possible that he was not from Naples. Ms d'Avena suggests he could be from Venice, but "I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt". Rightly so; this piece is too good to be missed.

The collection of 1759 from which the above-mentioned Sonata in G by Pullj is taken includes three further sonatas by him and two anonymous sonatas. These are the focus of the second disc which can be considered a sequel to the first. InÍs d'Avena came across these works on the last day of her doctoral research period at the Biblioteca di San Pietro a Majella. How lucky one can be? This source is not only musically rewarding, but also interesting from a musicological point of view.

Firstly, the date of the manuscript is remarkable: around the middle of the 18th century the recorder was largely overshadowed by the transverse flute. The fact that these sonatas bear the date 1759 is an indication that the recorder was still played in Naples - and probably also elsewhere in Italy. Secondly, Ms d'Avena was able to identify one of the anonymous sonatas as a piece from the pen of Francesco Mancini. "Although the sonata is not ascribed to Mancini in the 'anonymous' manuscript, the work recorded here is actually a version of his Sonata III from the London collection. Although the variants between the 1724 print and 1759 manuscript versions are few - indeed, mostly a matter of ornamentation or diminution - they are significant, for the manuscript version has a wider range than the London printed score". The London version avoids the use of high E whereas in his concertos which are part of the 'Naples Manuscript' Mancini regularly includes high E and E flat. This is especially interesting as it sheds light on the reasons why Mancini published his sonatas in London. That was probably partly because London was one of Europe's centres of music printing, but also because of the popularity of the recorder in England. It seems likely that the adaptation was inspired by the performance practice of English amateurs. Could this also shed some light on other collections of recorder music printed in England?
The identification of this sonata as a piece by Mancini also indicates that the sonatas in this collection were not composed in 1759 or shortly before but that 1759 is the year that they were copied.

Mancini's sonata is in four movements, in the Corellian tradition. The same goes for the anonymous Sonata in d minor. It is taken from the Harrach collection which also includes the anonymous Sonata in C which has three movements. The third anonymous piece is the Sonata in F which is part of the 1759 collection. InÍs d'Avena suggests that it may have been originally written for the violin and later adapted to the recorder. The three sonatas by Pullj are remarkable pieces and confirm the impression of his Sonata in G included on the first disc. They are all in three movements; the slow movements include some daring harmonic progressions. The largo from the Sonata in B flat which opens this disc is a telling example. The programme also closes with another piece from his pen, the Sonata in g minor which ends with a virtuosic and quite dramatic allegro.

InÍs d'Avena is a happy combination of a musicologist and a performer. These two discs are the musical illustrations of what she has discovered as part of her research in preparation of her PhD thesis. The liner-notes are very informative and well written, and reflect Ms d'Avena's academic credentials. But there is nothing academic about her playing: she delivers vivid and engaging performances. I greatly like her relaxed manner of playing; even when she plays forte there is no hint of stress. She belies Alessandro Scarlatti's view that wind instruments are unbearably out of tune. In the interpretation the differences between the various pieces come clearly off and the theatrical traits in some of the sonatas are well realized. I should not forget to mention the contributions of the other members of the ensemble. The strings do a good job in the concertos included on the first disc and Rebecca Rosen and Claudio Barduco Ribeiro deserve credit for their excellent harmonic and rhythmic support. On the second disc the latter plays a nice piece by Durante who is best-known for his Concerti a quartetto but whose large oeuvre is otherwise hardly explored as yet. He composed quite a number of keyboard pieces. When Le quattro stagioni del anno, called a sonata per cembalo, is anything to go by, this part of his oeuvre deserves to be performed and recorded.

There is every reason to enthusiastically welcome these discs. For historical and musical reasons they are important additions to the catalogue and the playing is of the highest order. I am looking forward to further recordings by this fine ensemble.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

La Cicala

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