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"An Englishman abroad - Nicola Matteis the Younger and the English style in 18th Century Europe"

La Serenissima
Dir: Adrian Chandler

rec: Oct 24 - 27, 2022, Wells (Somerset), Cathedral School (Cedars Hall)
Signum Classics - SIGCD751 (© 2023) (88'06"
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Giuseppe Antonio BRESCIANELLO (c1690-1758): Chaconne in A; Overture in C; Antonio CALDARA (1670-1736) & Nicola MATTEIS the Younger (c1677-1737): La Verità nell'inganno (overture; L'ultimo balletto); Nicola MATTEIS the Younger: Concerto for violin, strings and bc in B flata; Henry PURCELL (1659-1695): Chacony in g minor (Z 730); Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Overture in g minor (TWV 55,g5); Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in e minor, op. 11,2 'Il Favorito' (RV 277)a

Adrian Chandler (soloa), Oliver Cave, Abel Balazs, Rodrigo Checa, Samuel Staples, Henrietta Haynes, James O'Toole, Ellen Bundy, violin; Oliver Wilson, Thomas Kettle, Thomas Kirby, viola; Vladimir Waltham, Carina Drury, cello; Cecelia Bruggemeyer, double bass; Linda Sayce, theorbo, guitar, colascione; Robin Bigwood, harpsichord

In the 1670s the violinist Nicola Matteis from Naples settled in England. He made a name for himself as a brilliant player, whose style was something nobody in England had ever heard before. In recent years quite a number of recordings have been devoted to his oeuvre. In comparison, little attention has been given to his son Nicola (the younger) who was also a brilliant player of the violin. Adrian Chandler, in his liner-notes to the present disc, suggests his technique may have been even more advanced than that of his father. "Although the diarist John Evelyn wrote in 1674 that 'nothing approach's [sic] the violin in Nicholas' hand', the technical accomplishment of the father could not have coped with the level of virtuosity required by the two Fantasias for solo violin by his son that survive in Dresden."

It is on the continent that Matteis the younger made a career. In 1700 he left England for Vienna, where he entered the service of Emperor Leopold I. It seems that his reputation as a highly skilled player had disseminated across Europe, as his initial salary was considerably higher than that of other violinists at the court. After some time Matteis became leader of the court orchestra and in 1712 was given the title of direttore della musica instrumentalis. This required the composition of ballet music for operas and for court balls. His ballet music is the main part of his extant oeuvre. He contributed to operas by the main composers in Vienna, such as a Antonio Caldara, Johann Joseph Fux and Francesco Bartolomeo Conti. Ballet music was mostly played at the conclusion of an act, but could sometimes have a dramatic function as well. As an example we get here the ballet music for Caldara's opera Il Tiridate, overo La verità nell'inganno of 1717: the overture is from Caldara pen; it is followed by four movements by Matteis. As was common practice, the inner parts were omitted, and needed to be filled in by someone else; for this recording Chandler reconstructed the viola part.

Apart from the ballet music only a few other pieces from Matteis' pen have come down to us. Chandler refers to two Fantasias for violin solo, and New Grove mentions two sonatas foe violin and basso continuo, one trio sonata and a violin concerto. The latter is included here, but it is not what one would expect. It is a mixture of concerto and suite. It opens with a sinfonia with the tempo indication allegro, which is followed by an adagio, an air, a sarabanda and an allegro. This piece has been preserved in Dresden, and the original copy bears the names of two violinists from the court orchestra who were among the performers.

The programme also includes music by some of Matteis' contemporaries. The presence of Vivaldi should not surprise: the Venetian composer made several attempts to find employment at the Viennese court, the last in 1741, which resulted in his death in Vienna. Earlier, in 1727, he had dedicated his Op. 9, with the title La Cetra, to Charles VI. A year later Vivaldi presented him with a manuscript set of parts for twelve concertos under the same title (with one duplication). It has been preserved in the Austrian National Library, but the solo part is missing. Chandler assumes that the solo was performed by Matteis "and that he was also the one responsible for the missing part; musicians to this day remain highly skilled in making their parts 'disappear'." Here we get the Concerto No. 11 from this set, which is also part of the six concertos Op. 11 of 1729. The main difference is that in this version the last movement includes an extension of 37 bars.

The most remarkable part of this disc may be the Overture in g minor by Georg Philipp Telemann. Chandler quotes the latter's colleague Johann Mattheson, who knew Matteis' ballet music. "[If] Mattheson had encountered Matteis' work, why not Telemann? After all, Telemann and Mattheson knew each other, and Telemann was also best friends with Pisendel who, as we have already seen, knew a handful of Matteis' works." Interestingly, Chandler makes here a connection with Purcell: Telemann's overture is preceded by Purcell's Chacony in g minor. Chandler believes that Matteis was influenced by Purcell, which explains the title of this disc. He also points out that the slow section which opens Telemann's overture is riminiscent of Purcell's music. The work closes with an air angloise, which suggests that the connection may be deliberate.

That leaves another contemporary, like Matteis with Italian roots: Giuseppe Antonio Brescianelli. Chandler has already made two recordings with his music. Brescianello worked at the court in Stuttgart, where he composed music in the Italian style, but also some overtures in the French manner, such as the Overture in C included here. It is not known whether he knew Matteis' music, but the decision to perform this work here seems to be that Brescianello was a representative of the 'mixed taste', like Telemann. Moreover, this particular overture includes an English dance: the hornpipe.

The programme ends as it started, with a chaconne, this time by Brescianello.

It brings to a close a recording which is quite interesting, but also a little speculative. The subtitle says: "A celebration of the music of Nicola Matteis the Younger and the English style in Europe during the early 18th Century." I am not entirely convinced of the latter; I would like to hear more of Matteis' ballet music, and in a way it is regrettable that not more of that part of his oeuvre is included here. It is to be hoped that more of that is going to be recorded, by La Serenissima or by another ensemble. Overall I am happy with this recording, though, as it includes really good music. Matteis' concerto is unconventional, but nice to listen to, and Brescianello's overture is a really good piece, and confirms by impression of what I have heard so far, that he was a fine composer, who fully deserves the attention he has been given lately. I suspect that the Telemann overture would be performed a little differently by a German ensemble, with a sharper articulation and stronger differentiation between good and bad notes. However, the performance is alright, and the Brescianello is excellent.

This is a disc which deserves its place in any collection of baroque instrumental music.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

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