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Giuseppe Antonio BRESCIANELLO (c1690 - 1758): "Behind Closed Doors - Opus 1: Primo Libro, Ouverture-Suite in B flat"

La Serenissima
Dir: Adrian Chandler

rec: Oct 26 - 29, 2020, Street (Somerset), Milfield School (Johnson Hall)
Signum Classics - SIGCD693 (© 2021) (69'37")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto I for violin, strings and bc in F, op. 1,1a; Concerto II for violin, strings and bc in a minor, op. 1,3a; Concerto III for violin, strings and bc in B flat, op. 1,5a; Overture for strings and bc in B flat; Sinphonia I for strings and bc in D, op. 1,2; Sinphonia II for strings and bc in G, op. 1,4; Sinphonia III for strings and bc in C, op. 1,6

Adrian Chandler (soloa), Oliver Cave, Agata Daraskaite, Simone Pirri, Camilla Scarlett, Simon Kodurand, Claudia Norz, Magdalena Loth-Hill, violin; Thomas Kirby, James O'Toole, Thomas Kettle, viola; Vladimir Waltham, Sarah McMahon, Carina Drury, cello; Peter McCarthy, double bass; Lynda Sayce, theorbo, guitar; Robin Bigwood, harpsichord

"The title for this recording was inspired by the situation in which many ensembles and musicians found themselves after the arrival of the devastating Coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Countries were locked down; concerts and recordings were cancelled; musicians everywhere were out of work." Thus Adrian Chandler opens his liner-notes to the recording which is the subject of this review. This title could probably also be applied to the figure of Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, whose name seldom appears on the programmes of concerts. He is not that badly represented on disc: in my collection I have several discs with instrumental music and one with suites for colascione. His only opera, Tisbe, has been released by CPO. However, despite these recordings he is certainly not a household name, and another recording of his oeuvre is well deserved.

Brescianello was born around 1690, apparently in Bologna (but Florence has also been mentioned). Unfortunately we know nothing about his musical education and his early years in Italy. The first documented evidence of his existence dates from 1714, when he was working in Venice as a valet for Therese Kunegunde Sobieska, the music-loving exiled electress of Bavaria. That year the War of the Spanish Succession came to an end, and the electress returned to Bavaria with Brescianello in her retinue. In Munich he entered the service of her husband, Elector Maximilian II Emanuel, as a violinist. He was there to stay only a year, as in 1716 Johann Christoph Pez, Oberkapellmeister at the court of Württemberg, died. Brescianello applied for the post of director musices, undoubtedly with the aim of becoming Oberkapellmeister himself. In 1718 he composed his opera Tisbe, which he dedicated to his employer, Duke Eberhard Ludwig. In 1721 he was given the post he had been looking for, and he remained in the service of the Württemberg court until his pension, either in 1751 or 1755. He was succeeded by Ignaz Holzbauer.

His time in Stuttgart was not without problems. From 1719 to 1721 he was in conflict with Reinhard Keiser, who wanted to take his position. In 1737 the finances of the court collapsed, and Brescianello lost his position. He spent the next years composing, and in 1744 he was reinstated as Oberkapellmeister by the new Duke, Carl Eugen.

The instrumental oeuvre of Brescianello has two faces. Eberhard Ludwig had stayed in Paris around 1700, and he was one of many aristocrats, who were deeply impressed by music life in France, at and around the court of Louis XIV. Many aimed at imitating what they had heard and seen, and asked their chapel to play and their Kapellmeister to compose in the French style. The latter were called Lullistes, and to some extent Brescianello was one of them. The present disc includes one of the fruits of his employer's preference for the French style. The Ouverture in B flat for strings and basso continuo is one of five; Brescianello also wrote two separate chaconnes.

The rest of Brescianelli's output is written in the Italian style. As we know nothing about his formative years, it is impossible to say whether he has been in close contact to Antonio Vivaldi during his time in Venice. He must have heard the latter's concertos and other instrumental music, as the symphonies and concertos performed here show strong similarity with those by Vivaldi. The Opus 1 is the only collection of music by Brescianello that has been printed. It was published by Le Cène in Amsterdam around 1727, and dedicated to Eberhard Ludwig. The edition comprises six symphonies for strings and basso continuo and six concertos for violin, strings and basso continuo. They are played here in the same order as they are printed: first a concerto, then a symphony, and so on.

Like Vivaldi, Brescianello expects the solo parts to be played by a virtuosic violinist, as they include techniques that may have been beyond the grasp of amateurs. Moreover, in general solo concertos were intended for performance by court chapels and other institutions of - at least partly - professional players. The symphonies are less complicated. They also consist of three movements in the conventional order fast - slow - fast. The slow movement usually follows the opening movement attacca; it is seldom more than a bridge between the two fast movements. On the present disc the exception is the largo of the Sinphonia III in C, which takes as much time as the preceding allegro. These symphonies are not unique: there are similarities with the concertos and sinfonias for strings by Vivaldi, but also the Introduttioni teatrali by Locatelli.

This disc is the first of a project devoted to Brescianelli. I assume that the remaining works from this Op. 1 is going to be recorded in the near future. Whether more is in the planning is not mentioned in the liner-notes. Although the complete Op. 1 has been recorded before, by Banchetto Musicale (Dynamic, 2000), that recording may not be available anymore, and that makes this project an important contribution to our knowledge of Brescianelli. The performances are very good; Adrian Chandler is a fine violinist, who does full justice to the solo parts. Overall, the sound he and his ensemble produce are probably a bit on the cool side; I would prefer a more 'Italian' sound, but that is also a matter of taste.

Any lover of Italian baroque music should investigate this disc. Let's hope it will make Brescianelli and his music better known.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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