musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Giovanni Benedetto PLATTI (1697 - 1763): Chamber Music & Concertos

[I] "Chamber music"
Ensemble Cordia

rec: Nov 2 - 5, 2005, St Georgen (A), Verein Haus
Brilliant Classics - 94007 (© 2010) (65'38")

[II] "Ricercate & Sonate - Chamber Music with Violoncello"
Neumeyer Consort

rec: Jan 4 - 5 & July 15, 2008, Frankfurt/Main, Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst (Kleiner Saal)
Christophorus - CHR 77310 (© 2009) (63'57")

[III] "Concerti grossi"
Xenia Löffler, oboea; Sebastian Hess, cellob
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
Dir: Georg Kallweit

rec: Nov 2007, Berlin, Teldex Studio
Harmonia mundi - HMC 901996 (© 2008) (53'22")

[I] Sonata I for cello and bc in g minor (D-WD 698/1); Sonata II for cello and bc in d minor (D-WD 698/2); Sonata for oboe and bc in c minor; Sonata for oboe, cello and bc in g minor (D-WD 692); Sonata a 3 for violin/oboe, cello and bc in G (D-WD 676); Trio for oboe, bassoon and bc in c minor (D-WD 695)
[II] Ricercata I for violin and cello in D (D-WD 670); Ricercata II for violin and cello in A (D-WD 671); Ricercata III for violin and cello in e minor (D-WD 672); Ricercata IV for violin and cello in G (D-WD 673); Sonata III for cello and bc in C (D-WD 698/3); Sonata IV for cello and bc in c minor (D-WD 697/4)
[III] Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in g minor (D-WD 644)a; Concerto VIII con violoncello obligato in Db; Concerto grosso in F after Corelli's Sonata op. 5,4 (D-WD 540); Concerto grosso in g minor after Corelli's Sonata op. 5,5 (D-WD 541); Concerto grosso in F after Corelli's Sonata op. 5,10 (D-WD 544)

[I] Alfredo Bernardini, oboe; Alberto Grazzi, bassoon; Stefano Veggetti, cello; Franziska Romaner, cello [bc]; Anna Fontana, harpsichord
[II] Barbara Mauch-Heinke, violin; Felix Koch, cello; Harald Hoeren, harpsichord; Markus Stein, organ

During the last about five years various recordings with music by Giovanni Benedetto Platti have been released. His oeuvre isn't that large, and therefore most recordings contain more or less the same repertoire. That is also the case with the first disc: with one exception all sonatas have been recorded before.

As Platti is still a largely unknown quantity it is useful to give some background information. He was born in Venice in a time when many famous masters of music were active. These included Vivaldi, the Marcello brothers, Gasparini and Albinoni. It was perhaps because he felt that under these circumstances his chances to make a career were rather slim that he moved to Germany. Here he became the principal oboist at the court of Prince-Archbishop Lothar Franz von Schönborn in Würzburg. He was held in high esteem by his new employer, who in a letter called him an "incomparable oboist". He not only played the oboe, but also the violin, the cello, the flute and the harpsichord and was active as composer and as teacher. He was the best-paid musician at the court, earning more than twice of what the Kapellmeister received. In 1764 an Italian musician reported Platti's death in a letter to Padre Martini, mentioning him in the same breath as Geminiani and Locatelli.

Things weren't always bright and wonderful in Platti's career, though: in 1724, just two years after his appointment, his employer died, and his successor disbanded the court orchestra. Platti had the good fortune to have built a good relationship with the former prince-archbishop's brother, Rudolf Franz Erwein. He was an avid player of the cello, and this inspired Platti to write cello sonatas and compositions with obbligato cello parts, some of which can be heard on this disc. It was thanks to this connection that he was able to spend the next years at Rudolf's court in Wiesentheid. Here he problably also composed the Trio for oboe, bassoon and bc in c minor. The Wiesentheid library contains another piece with a virtuoso bassoon part by the Italian composer Brescianelli. This could well be an indication of the presence of a highly skilled bassoonist at the court.

In 1729 the new prince-archbishop of Würzburg re-established the court orchestra, which now contained no fewer than 49 members. Platti returned to Würzburg, and in 1732 he was appointed second violinist and Kammertenor. The appreciation of his employers through the years, his excellent salary and his marriage to Maria Theresia Lambrucker, first soprano in the court chapel, were all good reasons to stay the rest of his life in Würzburg.

The Ensemble Cordia's programme includes two sonatas for the somewhat unusual combination of oboe and cello. There can be little doubt that these were written to be played by Platti and Rudolf Franz Erwein together. The latter must have been a very skilled player as the two parts are technically of the same level and are treated on an equal footing. The players and the sound engineer have made sure that the cello isn't overshadowed by the penetrating sound of the oboe. The second movement of the Sonata in g minor is quite theatrical and is followed by an adagio of great expression. Equally expressive are the slow movements of the Sonata a 3 in G, adagio and largo respectively, with notable broad gestures in the former. The two allegros are brilliant and sparkling. The upper part can be played by either violin or oboe; here we hear the latter.

The Sonata for oboe and bc in c minor reflects no doubt the virtuosity of Platti as a performer. It is a technically brilliant work full of rhetorical gestures, and some telling rallentandi in the second movement, an allegro assai. In the Sonata for oboe, bassoon and bc in c minor the bassoon part is also technically demanding; almost the whole tessitura of the instrument is explored. The two sonatas for cello and bc are part of a series of twelve sonatas which Platti composed for Rudolf Franz Erwein. They have been preserved in two books of brown leather, each containing six sonatas. The care with which the score was written down suggests that they were presenyed to Rudolf Franz Erwein as a special gift from the composer. The second movements of both sonatas are especially brilliant. The latter, called 'non presto', is dominated by a fast descending figure which is repeated a number of times. This Sonata in g minor is recorded here for the first time.

As I have already mentioned, several recordings with Platti's sonatas are on the market. But the performance by the Ensemble Cordia surpasses them all. The recording took place in 2005, but the release dates from 2010. I don't understand why it has been on the shelf for five years. The booklets tells us that more recordings of the Ensemble Cordia are to be released at this label. We can look forward to those, because Platti here receives authoritative interpretations of some of the greatest players in the business. Right now Alfredo Bernardini is one of the world's best players of the baroque oboe. His performances are technically immaculate, and he fully explores the expression in Platti's sonatas. He was one of the founders of the famous ensemble Zefiro. Another founding member was Alberto Grazzi, who is of the same calibre on his instrument, the bassoon. I didn't know Stefano Veggetti yet; he turns out to be a cellist with impressive technical and interpretational skills. The three soloists are given excellent support by Franziska Romaner and Anna Fontana, who play with great rhythmic drive.

The booklet is more informative than we are used to from Brilliant Classics. This disc is one of the best from this label which I have heard recently. If you want to get acquainted with Platti's music - and there is every reason to - this disc is the best possible way to start.

Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn had a major influence on Platti's activities as a composer. The disc with Ricercate & Sonate bears witness to that. It contains only pieces in which the cello plays a leading role. The Neumeyer Consort plays two sonatas for cello and basso continuo from the same collection as the Ensemble Cordia - fortunately different ones.

Less common in texture are the four Ricercate for violin and cello. Platti composed six of them: the Ricercata IV was originally designated as No. 6, therefore one has to conclude that two have been lost. That is a shame as these are remarkable pieces: the use of the term ricercata points into the direction of the ricercare which usually referred to a piece with an imitative character. That is appropriate here, as the violin and the cello imitate each other. The two instruments are treated on strictly equal terms. The fast movements are split into two halves in which the instruments alternatively take the lead. The four ricercate and the two sonatas are modelled after the Corellian sonata da chiesa, with its sequence of four movements. The Ricercata III in e minor is the exception as it has only three movements: fast-slow-fast.

As Platti wasn't only an oboist, but also a violinist one may assume he has played the ricercate together with Franz Rudolf Erwein. The six pieces on this disc are additional evidence that this aristocratic dilettante was a gifted cellist: the cello parts are technically demanding and are in no means inferior to the violin parts. Felix Koch gives very fine performances of the cello parts, whereas Barbara Mauch-Heinke deals convincingly with the violin parts. There are only two points of criticism. Firstly, in the ricercate the violin is a bit too dominant, mainly due to the rather penetrating tone Ms Mauch produces. The second is the use of both harpsichord and organ in the basso continuo in some movements of the sonatas. I can't see any reason for that, and the use of an organ in chamber music is questionable.

But that doesn't change my view that this disc deserves an unequivocal welcome as it greatly enhances our knowledge of Platti's oeuvre and should convince any music lover that he was a composer of considerable standard.

The last disc also reflects the concerted music-making of Platti and Rudolf Franz Erwein. The programme contains two pieces with solo parts for the oboe and the cello respectively. So far only one concerto for oboe by Platti is known. It was first edited by Helmut Winschermann in 1964, but at that time he had no access to the manuscript, and therefore he wasn't completely sure of its authenticity. The five compositions on this disc are all present in the library of the counts of Schönborn-Wiesentheid, and this concerto is part of the collection. The Concerto con violoncello obligato in D is one of 28 such pieces Platti has composed. Although Rudolf Franz Erwein was a dilettante, he must have been a very skilful player as the solo parts are quite demanding. Although the Concerto con violoncello obligato isn't called a 'cello concerto', the role of the solo instrument isn't fundamentally different from that of the oboe in the Concerto in g minor. Both pieces show a considerable virtuosity in the fast movements and great expression in the slow movements. Xenia Löffler and Sebastian Hess give excellent accounts of their respective solo parts.

The remaining three concerti grossi are arrangements of sonatas from the 12 Sonatas for violin and bc op. 5 by Arcangelo Corelli. Soon after their publication they were considered the pinnacle of writing for solo violin. They had a strong influence on composers over the whole of Europe, and in particular Italian composers were deeply indebted to them. Platti was one of the composers who arranged these sonatas as concerti grossi. Whether Platti has arranged all twelve sonatas is impossible to tell: only eight have been preserved. This disc brings three of them. They are scored for strings and basso continuo, but in the Concerto grosso No 4 we hear additional wind instruments: two oboes, two horns and two bassoons. From a historical perspective this is a rather strange decision: all comparable arrangements - as far as I know - are for strings only. In practice the addition of wind instruments doesn't work, even though I realize that others may have a different experience. It can't be denied, though, that the use of additional wind reduces the ensemble's transparency.

Even so, I am not aware of any other disc which is devoted to concertos of this kind by Platti, and therefore it should be welcomed as a substantial addition to our knowledge of the compositional output of Giovanni Benedetto Platti.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Cordia
Neumeyer Consort
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

CD Reviews