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Angelo Maria FIORČ (1660 - 1723): "Complete Cello Sonatas"

Elinor Frey, cello; Suzie LeBlanca, soprano; Esteban La Rotta, theorbo; Lorenzo Ghielmi, harpsichord (solob)

rec: June 2016, Brenta, Santuario della Beata Vergine delle Grazie
Passacaille - 1026 (© 2017) (74'38")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

anon: Elvira regnante, 1696 (Amo il regno et amo il figlio)a; Francesco BALLAROTTI (1660-1712): Ottaviano in Sicilia, 1692 & 1695 (Stelle avverse in cielo armatevi)a; Angelo Maria FIORČ: Sinfonia in C (ms Milan, 1701); Sinfonia in B flat (ms Modena); Sonata in G (ms Milan); Sonata in G (mss Milan & Como); Sonata in A (ms Como) (attr); Trattenimento No. 11 in g minor; Trattenimento No. 12 in d minor; Trattenimento No. 13 in C; Trattenimento No. 14 in c minor; Paolo MAGNI (c1650-1737): Il Radamisto, 1694 (Č caro il tormento soave il dolor)a; Carlo Ignazio MONZA (1680-1739): Allemande in Db; Allemande & Double in c minorb; Carlo Francesco POLLAROLO (1653-1723): La forza della virtů, 1693 (Per godervi ň labra amate)a; Bernardo SABADINI (16??-1718): Hierone tiranno di Siracusa, 1688 (Amar e non mirar)a; Marc'antonio ZIANI (c1653-1715) Il gran Tamerlano, 1689 (Chi serve al dio d'amor)a

In the last couple of years, I have come across a remarkable number of discs which present music for cello from the late 17th and the 18th centuries by composers who are hardly known. They include many pieces which have never been recorded before. Apparently the cellists of our time are a particularly curious breed, keen to broaden their horizon and their repertoire. This cannot be appreciated enough. Therefore the present disc with music by Angelo Maria Fiorč deserves a wholehearted welcome.

Fiorč is one of many composers of his time about whom we know very little. The year of his birth is given as 1660, but New Grove is more cautious, and adds 'circa' to that date. It is not known where he was born and we also don't know anything about his musical education. The first sign of his activities is his presence at the Farnese court in Parma, where he served from 1688 to 1695. In 1696 he participated in the performance of an opera in Milan. From 1697 until his death he worked as a cellist at the ducal court in Turin. He earned himself the reputation as one of the greatest cello virtuosos of his time. The English music historian John Hawkins mentions him in one breath with the likes of Giovanni Bononcini and Giuseppe Maria Jacchini.

Until recently very few of his compositions were known. The work list in New Grove mentions a collection of duets for cello and basso continuo and for violin and cello respectively, plus four sinfonias for cello and basso continuo. This recording includes three sonatas which have been preserved in manuscript. Two of the sonatas are from a collection found in Como. One of the sonatas also appears in a manuscript from Milan, and the other is anonymous, but can probably be attributed to Fiorč. The same Como collection also comprises a number of arias from operas which have an obbligato part for the cello.

In her liner-notes Elinor Frey notices some remarkable similarities between the works of Fiorč and compositions by Giovanni Gabrielli, who worked in Modena, 60 km southeast of Parma. She suggests that they must have been in close contact. The similarities concern, for instance, the Sonata in G (mss Milan & Como) by Fiorč and Gabrielli's sonata in the same key: "[Both] begin with a long sustained pedal note in the bass followed by brief slow-fast-slow sections, an opening approach found in some other Bolognese music but not in many other violoncello sonatas". Bologna was the main centre of cello playing at the time. Most of the sinfonias and sonatas consist of a sequence of four movements in the order slow - fast - slow - fast, in accordance with the structure of the Corellian sonata da chiesa. The Sonata in G which opens the programme (ms Milan), has three movements: adagio, allegro, presto. The sinfonias are not fundamentally different from the sonatas. The trattenimenti show more variety in their structure. No. 11 in g minor comes in three movements: largo, allegro, allegro, whereas No. 14 in c minor has just one movement, a menuet. These pieces for cello and basso continuo include various episodes with virtuosic passagework, but some movements are of a more lyrical character.

The role of the cello in the opera arias is different. In some arias, it opens the proceedings, presenting the melodic material which then returns in the vocal part, such as in 'Č caro il tormento soave il dolor' from Paolo Magni's opera Il Radamisto. In 'Chi serve al dio d'amor' from Il gran Tamerlano by Marc'antonio Ziani the soprano and the cello imitate each other. In 'Stelle avverse in cielo armatevi' from the opera Ottaviano in Sicilia by Francesco Ballarotti, soprano and cello move forwards in sequences in tenths.

The names of the composers are hardly known. That is another reason why this disc is of great importance. We get acquainted with composers whose operas have been completely forgotten. One would wish that ensembles and opera houses be a little more creative in their programming. There are many operas which are well worth a revival in our time. The quality of the arias recorded here suggest that the works from which they are taken deserve to be investigated.

That is certainly also the case with the cello pieces by Fiorč. Elinor Frey is a creative musician who likes to break new ground as she has shown with previous recordings, such as the 'Berlin Sonatas' (Passacaille, 2015). In addition she is an outstanding musician; in her hands the music really comes to life. The cooperation with her colleagues, and especially with Suzie LeBlanc, is immaculate. LeBlanc once was a rising star in the early music scene, but then moved to later repertoire and to traditional music. I was very happy to hear her again in such fine form. Not often does one hear such excellent and stylish performances of opera arias from the baroque period.

If you have a special liking for the cello, do not hesitate to add this disc to your collection. Others definitely should also investigate it; I am sure you will enjoy both the cello pieces and the arias just as much as I did.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Elinor Frey
Suzie LeBlanc

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