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Carlo GRAZIANI (? - 1787): "Six Sonatas for Violoncello & Continuo Op. 3"

Stefano Cerrato, cello

rec: May 15 - 18, 2017, Asti (I), RedDress Recording Studio
Rubicon - RCD1018 (2 CDs) (© 2017) (88'30")
Liner-notes: E/D/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata in G, op. 3,1; Sonata in A, op. 3,2; Sonata in B flat, op. 3,3; Sonata in F, op. 3,4; Sonata in D, op. 3,5; Sonata in E flat, op. 3,6

Marco Demaria, cello; Michele Barchi, harpsichord

In recent years a remarkable number of discs with music for cello by relatively little-known composers have landed on my desk. It attests to the curiosity of some cellists of our time, who don't want to confine themselves to playing the standard repertoire, such as the cello suites by Bach, and the cello sonatas by the likes of Vivaldi, Geminiani or Barričre. Carlo Graziani is one of those composers whose oeuvre shows the development of cello technique in the course of the 18th century. That is not surprising, considering that Graziani was a cellist by profession and ended his career as the cello teacher of Friedrich Wilhelm II, Crown Prince of Prussia, who in 1786 succeeded his father, Frederick the Great, as King of Prussia. At that time Graziani had already retired, but he remained close to his former pupil.

Graziani was born in Asti, southeast of Turin, but we know nothing about his activities in Italy. At some time he moved to Paris. According to New Grove he should have performed at the Concert Spirituel, the main concert series at the time, but others have cast doubt on that assumption. However, the documented participation of several cellists in that concert series attests to the popularity of the cello in France. Geminiani took advantage of that by publishing his sonatas op. 5 in Paris. Graziani did the same: in 1758 his six sonatas op. 1 were printed, a couple of years later followed by his op. 2, another set of six cello sonatas. He joined the orchestra of the tax-farmer Alexandre-Jean-Joseph Le Riche de La Poupliničre, who is best known as patron of Jean-Philippe Rameau. This was a prestigious position because the orchestra was considered the best in Paris. After La Poupliničre's death in 1762 he entered the service of Baron de Bagge, and several years later he moved to London where he became the principal cellist in the orchestra of the Haymarket Theatre. In 1770 he moved to Germany, where he gave several concerts. Here he came into contact with the Crown Prince of Prussia.

The two first sets of sonatas were clearly intended for amateurs. The third set is considerably more demanding; here Graziani explores various playing techniques, especially in the closing movements, some of which have the form of a theme with variations. "The sonatas employ the full compass of the cello, and call for advanced rhythmic and bowing techniques. They make widespread use of arpeggios and phrases in the upper octave, in the treble clef, at and beyond the limit of the fingerboard - bravura passages designed to impress an audience", we read in the booklet. However, we should not underestimate the skills of the amateurs of those days. In the Op. 2 we also find some movements entirely made up of double stopping or including slurred staccato bowings. Moreover, despite the technical difficulties the Op. 3 seems to be intended for amateurs. On the first page of Sonata No. 1 we read that the composer has confined himself to the use of the violin and the tenor clef, in order "to save them from the problem of having to deal with clefs they were not used to".

In this set the closing presto from Sonata No. 1 includes various modulations. Double stopping is used for the first time in the second movement and especially in the third movement of Sonata No. 2. Sonata No. 3 is an example of a sonata which ends with a set of variations, in this case on a menuet. The third variation includes staccato passages, with wide leaps. The fourth has the indication arpegiato, referring to the need to play arpeggios. Sonata No. 4 opens with an allegretto which includes several passages with the indication tutto sopra una corda, meaning that the whole passage has to be played on one string. We find this indication also in various of Haydn's string quartets. Sonata No. 5 also opens with an allegretto which includes wide leaps and explores the highest positions used in this set. Sonata No. 6 is the most virtuosic of the collection. The first and second movements have remarkably busy bass lines. Although some notes are figured, the line shows that here a cello should be involved. The performers have decided to omit the harpsichord here, and as a result these movements are close to duets for two cellos. This seems a right decision as it gives free space to the second cello to manifest itself. The closing movement is called aria amoroso, which is followed by three variations, the last with the indication arpegiato. The movement ends with a section called minore un poco piů andantino; it has to be repeated al magiore.

This is not the first disc devoted to cello sonatas by Carlo Graziani. Gaetano Nasillo recorded three sonatas from the Op. 3, one from the Op. 2 and several sonatas which have been preserved in manuscript. His colleague Marco Testori also recorded some sonatas in manuscript. According to ArkivMusic the sonatas Op. 3 have already been recorded; I have never heard that recording, and it seems not to have received much attention, probably because it was released on a minor label. The timing of that recording is 88 minutes, notdifferent from the present recording. It is not always easy to interpret dacapo indications correctly, but having followed the performances in the scores I have the impression that Stefano Cerrato does not play all the repeats.

That is probably the only minus of this production, although not everyone will probably care about that. Otherwise I have nothing but praise for these performances. These sonatas by Graziani are excellent pieces of music, which will give much joy to all lovers of the cello, and certainly not only to them. Cerrato's performances are technically impressive, but his interpretations are not merely demonstrations of his technique or of the requirements of these sonatas. This is music making of the highest level and this set is something you will return to. I should not forget to mention Cerratos outstanding partners Marco Demaria and Michele Barchi.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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Stefano Cerrato

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