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Georg MUFFAT (1653 - 1704): "Propitia Sydera - Concerti grossi"

La Concordanza
Dir: Irene De Ruvo

rec: Dec 20 - 21, 2010 & Feb 3, 2011, Triuggio (MB), Villa Sacro Cuore
Stradivarius - Str 33897 (© 2011) (56'36")
Liner-notes: E/F/I
Cover & track-list

Concerto VIII in F 'Coronatio Augusta'ab [1]; Concerto IX in c minor 'Victoria Maesta' [1]; Concerto XI in e minor 'Delirium Amoris'ab [1]; Concerto XII in G 'Propitia Sydera'ab [1]; Sonata for violin and bc in Dc

Source: [1] Ausserlesene Instrumental-Music, 1711

Aviad Gershoni, Emiliano Rodolfi, oboea; Elena Bianchi, bassoonb; Stefano Rossi (solo c), Roberto Pietropaolo, Elisa Imbalzano, Elisa Belstetti, violin; Livia Baldi, Maurizio Schiavo, viola; Marlise Goidanich, cello; Guiselle Massa, violone; Chiara Granata, harp; Gabriele Palomba, theorbo; Irene De Ruvo, harpsichord

Since the late 17th century some composers in various regions of Europe were influenced by either the French or the Italian style, or both. Shortly after the turn of the century two fashions which seemed to be incompatible started to find each other. The result was a mixture of the two styles - often incorporated into the tradition of a country - which was known as goûts réunis. It developed into the musical mainstream across Europe, with the exception of Italy. Whereas French composers adopted features of the Italian style, the French style had little impact in Italy. One of the first and most outspoken advocated of the 'mixed taste' was Georg Muffat.

Despite his German-sounding name he was of Scottish origin; his family had settled in Savoy in the early 17th century. He considered himself German, but studied with Lully in Paris, went to Rome to become acquainted with Corelli and the Italian music, and spent a number of years in various towns in the German-speaking part of the continent: Vienna, Prague, Salzburg and Passau. He seems to have written three operas, but these are lost. The only piece of vocal music which has come down to us is his Missa In labore requies. Otherwise his extant oeuvre consists of instrumental music and a collection of music for keyboard.

Although five collections with instrumental music have been printed, large parts of it contain reworkings of existing material. The collection from which the concertos on this disc are taken is an example. The Concerto XI 'Delirium amoris' and the Concerto XII 'Propitia Sydera' are extended versions of concertos (or sonatas) from his first publication, Armonico tributo, which was printed in 1682. The other two concertos were written between 1683 and 1689. These four concertos include Italian and French elements. The Italian features are the sonate which open every concerto, and the movements with the indication grave which are in third or fourth position. The indications of these movements refer to the sonata da chiesa as well as the sonata da camera. The French influence is in the dance movements and also in the fundamentally five-part scoring, whereas Corelli - whose concerti grossi made such a huge impression on Muffat - were in four parts. The concertino consists of three instruments, two violins and cello, to which Muffat added a part for basso continuo. This is one of the changes in comparison to the sonatas of 1682.

The prefaces of his publications offer important information about the performance practice. Apart from instructions in regard to bowing technique and precision of ensemble he underlines the flexibility in regard to the scoring. Basically performers are allowed to play his music with whatever instruments are at hand. The size of the ensemble can also be flexible, and that is reflected by the recordings of Muffat's music which are on the market. This recording is rather modest in size: four violins, two violas, cello, violone, harp and harpsichord. Moreover two oboes and one bassoon join the strings in three of the four concertos. This option is specifically mentioned by Muffat. From the quotation given in the liner-notes one may conclude that Muffat suggests to give them the role of the concertino instead of the violins "in some of these concertos or the airs selected for them (...)". This practice is followed here, and in addition they also play colla parte with the violins. Whether this is also something Muffat had in mind is not clear from the quotation in the booklet. It reflects normal practice in Lully's opera orchestra, though, where the oboes didn't have an independent role but rather gave additional colour to the violin parts. Considering Muffat's ideal of mixing French and Italian elements this seems to be an appropriate decision.

It certainly adds some nice colours to these performances. Not that they wouldn't be good enough without them; the strings give very fine performances, and their phrasing and articulation are excellent. Moreover, the tempi are well chosen, with good contrasts between the slower and faster movements. The slower pieces have a certain amount of solemnity which suits the kind of occasions where Muffat advised his music to be played: court and state ceremonies or entertainments and at musical gatherings.

The inclusion of Muffat's only chamber music piece is a bit odd, but it gives the opportunity to enjoy this very fine sonata which is written in purely Italian style. Stefano Rossi delivers a brilliant and colourful performance, with great intensity and much expression.

In short, this is a fine disc which puts Muffat's music in the best possible light.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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