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Giuseppe Antonio BRESCIANELLO (c1690 - 1758): "Vol. 2: Unlocked - Opus 1: Libro Secondo, Orchestral Suite in A"

Adrian Chandler, violin
La Serenissima
Dir: Adrian Chandler

rec: Feb 13 - 16, 2022, Wells (Somerset), Wells Cathedral School
Signum Classics - SIGCD767 (© 2023) (72'15")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Concerto IV for violin, strings and bc in e minor; Concerto V for violin, strings and bc in v minor; Concerto VI for violin, strings and bc in A; Overture for strings and bc in A; Sinphonia IV for strings and bc in B flat; Sinphonia V for strings and bc in F; Sinphonia for strings and bc in E flat; Antonio VIVALDI (1768-1741), arr Johann Georg PISENDEL (1687-1755): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in B flat (RV 366) (adagio [alternative slow movement for Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, Concerto IV in e minor])

Adrian Chandler, Oliver Cave, Guy Button, Andrej Karpor, Agata Daraskaite, Henrietta Haynes, James O'Toole, Ellen Bundy, violin; Elitsa Bogdanova, Thomas Kirby, Thomas Kettle, viola; Vladimir Waltham, Carina Drury, cello; Carina Cosgrave, 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 first instalment of his Brescianello project, with the title "Behind Closed Doors". The second instalment, to be reviewed here, has been recorded under different circumstances. The lockdown had come to an end, and the guidelines of social distancing had been relieved. That explains the title of the present disc: "Unlocked".

Both titles could 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 has remained behind closed doors for many music lovers, and this project is meant to unlock his oeuvre.

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 Overture in A for strings and basso continuo is one of five; Brescianello also wrote two separate chaconnes. It would be interesting to know the scoring: did Brescianello model his overtures after the common French scoring, with three different strings between treble (violin) and bass? Probably not, as it seems very unlikely that a German court orchestra had access to such instruments. But as I have not seen the scores, I can't answer this question.

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 sinfonias and concertos performed here show strong similarity with those by Vivaldi. The Opus 1, divided into two parts, 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 sinfonias 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 sinfonia, 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. It is notable that the closing movement of last concerto includes a written-out cadenza, one of the earliest to appear in print, according to Adrian Chandler.

The sinfonias 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. The exception is the adagio of the Sinphonia V, in fact one of the most beautiful pieces on this disc. The adagio of the Sinphonia VI is a separate movement, which is also notable because of its scoring with a solo part for the violin. These sinfonias are not unique: there are similarities with the concertos and sinfonias for strings by Vivaldi, but also the Introduttioni teatrali by Pietro Antonio Locatelli.

The disc ends with a piece by Vivaldi. That is to say: it is the slow movement of a violin concerto by Vivaldi, which was arranged by Johann Georg Pisendel, concertmaster of the Dresden court orchestra, who inserted it in his copy of Brescianello's Concerto IV. It sheds light on the widespread arrangement practice in the baroque period.

The complete Op. 1 has been recorded before, by Banchetto Musicale (Dynamic, 2000), but as that recording may not be available anymore, this project is 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, is probably a bit on the cool side; I would prefer a more 'Italian' sound, but that is also a matter of taste.

This second disc with music by Brescianello is almost certainly not the last: there are three overtures to be recorded, and if it is Chandler's aim to record his complete oeuvre, we also can expect some chamber music, such as the Concerti à 3. "If it was only around 100 years ago that Vivaldi's music was dredged from obscurity, is it possible that Brescianello's music can become an accepted part of the classical canon?", Chandler asks in his liner-notes. I certainly hope so. The Op. 1 is an impressive testimony of Brescianello's art, and the chamber music I have heard confirms his qualities. I am looking forward to the next volumes.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

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