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"Settecento - Baroque Instrumental Music from the Italian States"

La Serenissima
Dir: Adrian Chandler

rec: Feb 16 - 18, 2020, Wells (Somerset), Cedars Hall
Signum Classics - SIGCD663 (© 2020) (70'48")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Evaristo Felice DALL'ABACO (1675-1742): Sonata for violin and bc in g minor, op. 4,12; seppe Antonio BRESCIANELLO (c1690-1758): Sonata for two violins and bc in b minor; Francesco MANCINI (1672-1737): Sonata for recorder, two violins and bc in g minor; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Sonata for recorder, two violins and bc in c minor; Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770): Sonata for violin and bc in e minor, op. 1,5 (B,e6); Antonio VANDINI (c1690-1778): Sonata for cello and bc in a minor; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto for recorder, two violins and bc in a minor (RV 108)

Tabea Debus, recorder; Adrian Chandler, Camilla Scarlett, violin; Vladimir Waltham, Carina Drury, cello; Lynda Sayce, theorbo, guitar; Robert Howarth, harpsichord

The musical repertoire written in Italy during the 18th century, is very large. Music was part of everyday life, and there were many occasions for which music was needed. Music was also part of the education of any nobleman, and in the course of the century also increasingly of many people from the higher bourgeoisie. It seems quite ambitious to record a programme with 18th-century Italian music without a specific subject. What to choose? Adrian Chandler decided to offer a picture of what was written for solo instruments, and confined himself to chamber music. One of the pieces may bear the title of concerto, but its scoring indicates that it is intended for domestic performance.

Italy is first and foremost associated with string instruments, especially the violin and the cello. The former was one of the instruments for which composers of the early 17th century started to write virtuosic music, in which they explored the specific possibilities of the instrument, such as the technique of double stopping. Towards the end of the century, the cello came into existence, gradually replacing the bass violin in the basso continuo group and developing into a solo instrument at the same time. The programme offers some fine specimens of the writing for these two instruments.

Most composers for the violin and the cello played the respective instruments themselves, and were often true virtuosos on them. That goes for Giuseppe Tartini, who was considered the most brilliant violinist of his time. He wrote around 135 violin concertos, and about 200 sonatas for violin and basso continuo. The most famous of them is the one generally known by its nickname Il trillo del Diavolo. It is available in many recordings, and Chandler rightly preferred to select a different sonata, one from the Op. 1, which was published by Le Cène in Amsterdam in 1734. The first six from this set are modelled after Corelli's sonate da chiesa, and one of them is the fifth in E minor, whose two fast movements are particularly virtuosic. In the first of them, Tartini makes use of double, triple and quadruple stopping.

Both Evaristo Felice dall'Abaco and Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello worked for most of their life elsewhere. The former was from Verona and worked for some time in Modena. It is a bit of a mystery why his Sonata in g minor is placed in the track-list under the header "Republic of Venice", as it seems that he has never been there. He was not only educated at the violin, but also at the cello, and in 1704 he entered the service of the court in Munich as a cellist. Due to the defeat of his employer in the War of the Spanish Succession, the court moved to Brussels. The sonata included here avoids technical virtuosity, and is largely lyrical in character. Chandler sees similarities with the style of Albinoni. The third movement is a passacaglia.

Brescianello was either from Bologna or from Venice - here he is ranked among the Bolognese - and entered the service of Duke Eberhard Ludwig IV of Württemberg, who had his court in Stuttgart. As his employer was very fond of French music - the result of a stay in Paris around 1700 - he was expected to compose music in the French style. Only one collection of music from his pen was published. The Sonata in b minor, which has been preserved in a copy by the Dresden concertmaster Johann Georg Pisendel, is notable for its second movement. "[The] repeats in the second movement are most unusual in that they are written out in full but with the two violin parts swapped around; it is most odd that the second violin is given the first bite of the cherry", Chandler writes in his liner-notes.

The cello is represented here by Antonio Vandini, who was from Bologna, but worked for a short while in Venice, where Vivaldi may have written some of his cello concertos for him. His inclusion here does not only make sense because he was one of the most brilliant cellists of his time, but also because he was a close friend of Tartini. For many years they played both in the cathedral orchestra in Padua, and when Tartini's wife died, Vandini moved in and took care of him. He was notable for his underhand bowing technique. His extant oeuvre is very small: one solo concerto and six sonatas. The Sonata in a minor is a fine specimen of his art. It is in three movements, the first of which is a lyrical largo, with broad gestures, followed by a brilliant allegro.

The three remaining pieces are all for recorder. Vivaldi composed a handful of recorder concertos, but also included it in chamber concertos. They belong to the best-known part of his oeuvre. The recorder was especially popular among amateurs, and that explains why it was mostly chamber music which featured the recorder. That is also the case with the repertoire found in Naples, which seems to have been a centre of recorder playing. The best-known source of music for recorder is a collection of 24 concertos or sonatas for recorder and strings, known as Manoscritto di Napoli 1725. Among the composers represented in the manuscript are Francesco Mancini and Alessandro Scarlatti. The presence of the former is no surprise: he also published a set of twelve recorder sonatas in London, probably in 1724. Scarlatti's contributions are more remarkable, given that instrumental music takes a rather small place in his oeuvre, and he is said to have had a rather negative attitude towards wind instruments. Among recorder players this collection is quite famous, and rightly so, as all these sonatas are very fine pieces. Scarlatti's Sonata in a minor is one of the best-known, but Tabea Debus fortunately decided to play the Sonata in c minor instead.

I have heard her in several previous recordings, which I very much appreciated, and in which she impressed me by her creative approach to the material. She produces a nice tone, and her agility allows her to make the most of the coloratura in the solo parts. Her creativity shines in the ornamentation. Vladimir Waltham is the soloist in Vandini's sonata, convinvingly realising the lyricism of the first movement, and then energetically attacking the allegro. Adrian Chandler has to deal with Tartini's virtuosity, and does so with flying colours. Fortunately this is not a demonstration of brilliant technique; Chandler makes music, and the expression of the slower movements is not lost on him. Brescianello's sonata, in which he is joined by Camilla Scarlett, is quite exciting.

This is a very fine disc which shows the brilliance and the variety of Italian instrumental music of the 18th century. Even if you have some of the pieces on the programme in your collection, there is every reason to add this disc to it. I am sure it will give you as much pleasure as it gave me.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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