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"Per il Salterio"

La Gioia Armonica

rec: August 19 - 21, 2019, Florstadt, Evangelische Kirche
Ramée - RAM 1906 (© 2021) (78'41")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

anon: Sonata for salterio and bc in G; Pietro BERETTI (fl 18th C): Sonata for salterio and bc in G; Angelo CONTI (fl 18th C): Sonata for salterio and bc in G; Sonata for salterio and bc in G; Baldassare GALUPPI (1706-1785): Sonata for harpsichord in D; Carlo MONZA (c1735-1801): Sonata for organ in G; Sonata for salterio and bc in C; Sonata for salterio and bc in G

Margit Übellacker, salterio; Jürgen Banholzer, harpsichord, organ

During the last ten to fifteen years the salterio is making frequent appearances in recordings of music from in particular the 18th century, the period this instrument was very popular, especially in Italy. In some recordings it participates in the performance of the basso continuo, but there is also a growing number of discs with repertoire in which it is playing an obbligato part. So far I only have heard the salterio in an ensemble, but not pieces for salterio solo with basso continuo alone. That makes the disc under review here especially interesting.

Given that the salterio is still not a very common instrument, it seems useful to quote here the description in the booklet. "Most salterii have a small, trapezoidal soundbox, multi-chord brass or iron stringing and dividing bars on a spruce soundboard. The strings in the playing area to the left of the instrument run over bridges that cause the strings to produce different tones to the left and the right of the bridges. In the right-hand playing area, however, the strings can only be made to sound on the left-hand side of the bridge; these strings can be described as free-swinging. (...) The salterii were either plucked with the fingertips, fingernails or picks, or were struck with hammers." Descriptions of the instrument go back as far as the 16th century, but it seems to have become especially popular during the 18th century, in particular among members of the aristocracy. The latter explains why extant instruments are often richly decorated.

The salterio was used in large-scale vocal works, such as operas and oratorios. An example is Antonio Vivaldi's opera Il Giustino (1724). It also played a major role in music for Holy Week. A disc with this kind of repertoire was recorded by the ensemble Il Dolce Conforto. The present disc focuses on the salterio as a solo instrument. The composers included in the programme are largely unknown quantities. Two sonatas are from the pen of Carlo Monza, who may have been a pupil of Giovanni Battista Sammartini. When the latter became maestro di cappella of the ducal court in Milan in 1768, Monza succeeded him as organist, and in 1775, when Sammartini died, as maestro di cappella. A token of his stature is the fact that he was elected a member of the prestigious Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna. Monza was an important composer of operas and sacred music. His output in the field of instrumental music is not that large, and if New Grove has got it right, he wrote two sonatas for salterio and basso continuo, both included here. He also composed keyboard music; that part of his oeuvre is represented here with the Sonata in G, which comprises just one movement, called flautino.

New Grove has entries on several composers with the name of Conti, but Angelo is not one of them. He was also from Milan, but otherwise nothing seems to be known about him. Likewise Pietro Beretta is not mentioned in New Grove. The Sonata in G bears the name of Sigr. Pietro Beretti, but he is notated as Pietro Beretta in the catalogue of the Genoa library. The liner-notes mention several composers with names like Beretti, Baretti or Beretta, but whether one of them is responsible for the sonata included here is not known. The anonymous Sonata in G may be from the pen of a Neapolitan composer, as it is preserved in the library of the Conservatorio San Pietro a Majella there.

The programme also includes two keyboard pieces. Monza's Sonata in G was already mentioned. The other work is from the pen of Baldassare Galuppi, who was one of the main representatives of the galant style in Italy. He was the most important composer in Venice after the death of Vivaldi, and his music was performed across Europe. He wrote a large number of keyboard works, which are typical exponents of the galant style. That does not imply that they are easy-listening stuff. The Sonata in D includes two expressive adagios and closes with an sparkling giga.

One may fear that a whole disc with music for salterio is a bit too much of a good thing. There is no reason for that: this is a highly entertaining affair, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. Previously, I welcomed the salterio's restoration to its rightful place in performance practice, but if you had asked me if I would like to hear an hour of music for this instrument, I would probably have said: no, not really. This disc has changed my attitude to the salterio. There is no dull moment here, and that is due to the music, which is really good, but also to the salterio and the engaging manner in which it is played by Margit Übellacker. This disc is an excellent demonstration of the qualities of this instrument. Jürgen Banholzer is the perfect partner at the keyboard, and he also delivers outstanding performances of the keyboard pieces.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

La Gioia Armonica

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