musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Masters of the Italian and German Baroque

[I] "The Godfather - Masters of the German & Italian Baroque"
La Serenissima
Dir: Adrian Chandler
rec: Feb 11 - 14, 2019, Wells, Wells Cathedral School (Cedars Hall)
Signum Classics - SIGCD602 (© 2019) (66'09")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Concerto movement for violin and orchestra in D (BWV 1045); Giuseppe Antonio BRESCIANELLO (c1690-1758): Concerto for violin, bassoon, strings and bc in B flat; Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758): Concerto for violin and orchestra in D (FWV L,D3); Johann Georg PISENDEL (1687-1755): Concerto movement for 2 oboes, bassoon, strings and bc in E flat (Jung II,1); Concerto movement for violin, strings and bc in a minor (Jung deest); Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Concerto for 3 trumpets, timpani, strings, 2 oboes and bc in D (TWV 54,D3); Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto for strings and bc in A (RV 158); Concerto movement for violin, strings and bc in B flat (RV 745)

Simon Munday, Matthew Wells, Paul Sharp, trumpet; Tommy Foster, timpani; Rachel Chaplin, Mark Baigent, oboe; Peter Whelan (soloa), Andrew Watts, Inga Maria Klaucke, bassoon; Adrian Chandler (solo), Oliver Cave, Agata Daraskaite, Guy Button, Camilla Scarlett, Simon Kodurand, Claudia Norz, Ellen Bundy, violin; Elitsa Bogdanova, James O'Toole, Thomas Kirby, viola; Vladimir Waltham, Carina Drury, cello; Carina Cosgrave, double bass; Lynda Sayce, theorbo, guitar; Giulia Nuti, harpsichord

[II] JS Bach & Vivaldi: "Sonar in Ottava - Double Concertos for violin and violoncello piccolo"
Giuliano Carmignola, violin; Mario Brunello, cello piccolo
Accademia dell'Annunciata
Dir: Riccardo Doni
rec: June 26 - 30, 2018, Abbiategrasso (MI), Convento dell'Annunciata (church)
Arcana - A472 (© 2020) (69'58")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Concerto for 2 harpsichords, strings and bc in c minor (BWV 1060) (transposed to d minor); Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in d minor (BWV 1043); Johann Gottlieb GOLDBERG (1727-1756): Sonata for strings and bc in c minor (DürG 14); Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in C (RV 508); Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in E flat (RV 515); Sinfonia for strings and bc in D (RV 125)

Carlo Lazzaroni, Victoria Melik, Carmen Munoz, Archimede De Martini, Angelo Calvo, Pierfrancesco Pelà, Cristiana Franco, Reginana Yugovic, violin; Maria Bocelli, Domenico Scicchitano, viola; Marcello Scandelli, Maria Calvo, Emanuele Rigamonti, Anna Grendene, cello; Paolo Bogno, violone; Elisa La Marca, theorbo; Riccardo Doni, harpsichord

The two discs under review here include compositions by German and Italian masters. That makes much sense, as the Italian style, and especially the oeuvre of Antonio Vivaldi, made a strong impression on German composers, who adopted key elements of it, which they often mixed with French influences, both embedded in their own tradition. However, the focus of the two discs is somewhat different, as we shall see.

Networking is not a modern invention. Composers and performers of the baroque period were quite busy establishing and keeping alive contacts with colleagues at home and abroad. The disc of La Serenissima is a good example of such a network. Johann Georg Pisendel, the leader of the famous Dresden court chapel, was the spider in a web of composers and performers. He knew all the composers included in the programme, probably with the exception of Brescianelli, but he knew the latter's music, as it was played in Dresden.

Pisendel met Telemann in Leipzig, where they both studied, and this resulted in a lifelong friendship. On his way to Leipzig, Pisendel met Bach in Weimar. They may have met again later in Dresden, which Bach regularly visited. It seems posssible that Bach composed his violin music, especially the sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin, with Pisendel in mind. Bach became also acquainted with Telemann; the two presumably met in Eisenach, where Bach's brother Johann Bernhard worked as town organist and court harpsichordist. Telemann became godfather to Bach's second son Carl Philipp Emanuel, and Bach regularly performed cantatas by Telemann in Leipzig. He was also one of the subscriber's to some of Telemann's collections of music.

Johann Friedrich Fasch is today a little overshadowed by his two great contemporaries Bach and Telemann. However, he was quite an important force at the music scene of his time. He knew Telemann and Pisendel, as he studied in Leipzig at the same time. He was strongly influenced by Telemann, whose music he took as a model. He worked for most of his life at the court of Anhalt-Zerbst, but regularly sent compositions to Pisendel in Dresden. Some of his works may have been specifically written for the Dresden court chapel.

All four composers came into contact with the Italian style, but in different ways. Pisendel was the only one who visited Italy. In 1712 he became a member of the court chapel and soon started to travel across Europe, mostly in the retinue of Crown Prince Friedrich August II during his grand tour. In Venice he became acquainted with both Albinoni and Vivaldi. They gave him some of their violin sonatas as presents. Officially he studied with Vivaldi, but the Italian master considered him his friend and musically his match rather than his pupil. However, the Concerto in a minor in one movement includes some corrections in Vivaldi's hand, which indicates that the Italian master educated him in composition.

Bach and Telemann became acquainted with the Italian style and with Vivaldi's compositions through printed editions and manuscripts. The former was given concertos of Italian masters by Prince Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar, who had studied in the Netherlands and took printed editions, published in Amsterdam, with him at his return home. He asked Bach, who at the time was court organist, to arrange them for keyboard. This resulted in a series of concertos for harpsichord and for organ. This also had a considerable influence on Bach's development as a composer.

Telemann was rather lacklustre in adopting the Italian style; he was much more impressed by what came from France. He was an enthusiastic composer of orchestral suites or overtures. However, he incorporated elements of the Italian style in them, for instance by giving solo parts to particular instruments (such as the recorder and the viola da gamba). His chamber music and his concertos for one or several instruments also mix elements of both styles. Like Bach, he was a representative of the vermischter Geschmack or goût réuni.

So was Fasch, who - like Telemann - composed a considerable number of orchestral suites, but also adopted elements of the Italian style. He came into close contact with Vivaldi's concertos when he stayed in Prague to act as composer to Count Wenzel von Morzin, a patron of Vivaldi, who dedicated his Op. 8 concertos, including the Four Seasons, to the count.

In a way, Brescianello is the odd man out in this programme. He seems not to have been in personal contact with any of the German composers included in this programme, but is represented here as he was one of the Italian composers who went to Germany to look for employment, and this way contributed to the dissemination of the Italian style. At the same time, he was influenced by what was going on in Germany, as Adrian Chandler points out in his liner-notes. That manifests itself in the fact that he made use of the typically French form of the suite.

Vivaldi could not be omitted in this programme, considering his influence on the German composers included here, as is expressed in this disc's title. He indeed was the godfather of German music, even though he had to compete with Lully and a long and respectable German tradition. There can be no doubt that the German musical landscape would have been entirely different without his influence.

One of the nice things about this disc is that nearly all the concertos and concerto movements are little known. Even Bach's Concerto in D (BWV 1045) in one movement is not that often performed. Fasch is one of his contemporaries who has to be rediscovered yet, and Pisendel's small oeuvre is also anything but familiar stuff. The combination of violin and bassoon in Brescianello's concerto is particularly nice. This is a most interesting programme, which is given pretty good performances by La Serenissima. However, these are also very British performances. I am sure that top-class German ensembles, such as the Freiburger Barockorchester, would play this music differently. And Italians would play Vivaldi with more passion than is the case here, as we shall see. Even so, I urge anyone to investigate this disc which will give you as much pleasure as it gave me.

The second disc also brings together concertos by Italian and German composers, but here it is just two: Vivaldi and Bach. However, it is not so much the former's influence on the latter which is the subject of this recording. It rather focuses on one particular genre of baroque orchestral music: concertos for two instruments, strings and basso continuo. Most of such concertos are for identical instruments, such as two violins; concertos for two different instruments, and in particular instruments of different families, are in the minority. Even so, I am surprised that Cesare Fertonani, in his liner-notes, states: "The custom of combining two different concertante instruments was therefore not very common in the 18th century, whether we are dealing with instruments of the same pitch but of different families or instruments differing by both family and compass (...). This is confirmed by a glance at the catalogues of Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Friedrich Handel or Georg Philipp Telemann, from none of whom there survives, at least in original form, a concerto for two different instruments (...)". In the case of Telemann, this is simply wrong: his oeuvre includes double concertos for such pairings as recorder and bassoon, recorder and viola da gamba, oboe and violin as well as transverse flute and violin. His most popular double concerto is scored for recorder and transverse flute.

Rather than presenting some double concertos as they are intended by the respective composers, the performers opted for arrangements. The two concertos by Vivaldi and the Concerto in d minor (BWV 1043) by Bach are originally scored for two violins. The latter's Concerto in d minor (BWV 1060 is known in a transcription for two harpsichords, but is also often played in a reconstruction for violin and oboe, either in the same key or in C minor. Whether that was indeed its original scoring is impossible to prove. Here the second solo part is played one octave lower than written down, which is only possible if a violoncello piccolo is used.

Fertonani states: "It is highly plausible that in a double concerto a part for violin or oboe can be replaced at the lower octave by a cello or, even better, by a violoncello piccolo." This seems rather questionable. It is true that composers often offered alternatives to the scoring for which they had written some of their music. However, that mostly regarded chamber music, which was intended for amateurs, who not always had the preferred instruments at hand. Alternative scorings may also boost the sale of their music. Because of that they usually avoided techniques which were impossible to translate to a different instrument, such as double stopping in violin parts. Solo concertos seem to have been a different matter. Such works may well have been first and foremost intended for advanced amateurs or professional players, as the solo parts were often technically much more demanding than (trio) sonatas. That certainly goes for Vivaldi's concertos for two violins, some of which he may have performed himself with his father.

The actual performances of the concertos selected for this disc suggests that the transposition of the second solo part was not such a good idea. The main problem is that the balance between the two instruments changes considerably. In his explanation of the lack of double concertos for instruments of different pitch, Fertonani points out what is the problem for such a combination. "Using as soloists a pair of identical instruments permits the fashioning of a concertante play based on a kind of dialogue and interaction dependent upon homogeneity of register and sonority, whereas the coupling of two instruments differing in pitch, timbre, volume and idiomatic expression can create problems of balance and relationship between the two soloists which cannot easily be resolved, though these problems can be more easily resolved using a combination of three or more solo instruments." This very disc proves his point. Composers who aimed at combining instruments of two different pitches, obviously kept that in mind, and composed the solo parts in such a way that both instruments were able to flourish.

In comparison, a specific feature of concertos for two violins is the very fact that they have the same range, which allows for an interplay of a special nature and for a dialogue of two stars which are each other's equals. That is definitely the case with Vivaldi's concertos as well as Bach's concerto BWV 1043. And exactly that feature is lost here. In the dialogue between the two protagonists, the role of the second is reduced in favour of the first. Musically I find the line-up here rather disappointing. I can't see any reason for a change of scoring of these four double concertos.

In addition to the concertos we get two pieces for ripieno strings by Vivaldi and Johann Gottlieb Goldberg respectively. These receive fine performances; the ensemble is also in good form in the concertos. This disc confirms what I stated in my review of La Serenissima's disc: Italian ensembles treat Italian music with more passion than, for instance, their British counterparts. The two soloists leave nothing to be desired as far as their accounts of the solo parts are concerned. They are both highly skilled players. I just wish that they had used their qualities for a better cause.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Accademia dell'Annunciata
La Serenissima

CD Reviews