musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Viaggio a Napoli"

Marcello Scandelli, cellobc
Orchestra Milano Classica
Dir: Marcello Scandelli

rec: March 16 - 18, 2010, Villongo San Filastro, Chiesa Romanica
Stradivarius - Str 33930 (© 2012) (66'12")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755): Concerto per quartetto No. 8 in A 'La pazzia'a [1]; Nicola FIORENZA (c1700-1764): Concerto for violins, viola, cello obbligato and bc in Db; Leonardo LEO (1694-1744): Concerto for cello, strings and bc in d minorc

[1] Francesco Durante, Concerti per quartetto, [n.d.]

Liana Mosca, Roberto Zara, Benedicta Manfredi, Steven Slade, Alessandro Vescovi, Silvana Pomarico, violin; Laura Cavazzuti, violin, violaa; Alice Bisanti, viola; Marcello Scandelli, Antonio Papetti, cello; Alessio Depaoli, double bass; Michele Pasotti, theorbo; Davide Pozzi, harpsichord

Naples can be considered the musical capital of Italy in the second and third quarters of the 18th century. It was especially the genre of opera which flourished, and Neapolitan vocal music in general had a strong influence across Italy and even beyond its borders. That shouldn't overshadow the standard of instrumental performing and composing, though. In fact, one of Naples's main composers was Francesco Durante, who didn't compose a single opera. This disc brings together three of the main composers of the time; the least well-known of them is Nicola Fiorenza, who is in the process of being discovered. So far only two discs have been entirely devoted to his oeuvre which, admittedly, is rather small: by the ensemble Festa Rustica (Gaudeamus, 2003) and by Dolce & Tempesta, directed by Stefano Demicheli (Fuga Libera, 2008).

Fiorenza received his musical education at the conservatory of S. Maria del Loreto in Naples under Giancarlo Cailò and Francesco Barbella, who ranked among the most famous violinists of their time. Otherwise very little is known about his early years as a musician. A number of his concertos are dated between 1726 and 1728, and it is assumed his preserved compositions are all from the period 1727 to 1738. He seems to have composed nothing since. From 1743 to 1762 he taught the violin, cello and double bass at the conservatory of S. Maria del Loreto in Naples. In 1762 he was dismissed from his position, because he maltreated his students.

The disc by Dolce & Tempesta included the Concerto con due violini, viola, violoncello obbligato e basso in D which also appears on the present disc. The term violoncello obbligato doesn't refer to just a concertante role of the cello, as in sonatas which include an obbligato part for the cello. This piece is nothing less than a full-blood cello concerto; in the third movement the cello is almost completely on its own, and the strings have only a very minor role. The first movement gives an opportunity to play a cadenza. Marcello Scandelli terribly overdoes it: his cadenza is extremely long and includes several glissandi. In fact his playing is often quite romantic, and not only here. That also comes out in the mostly rather slow tempi. A comparison of the timings of the two recordings is telling: 8'42" vs 5'39", 4'21" vs 2'08", 4'20" vs 3'03" and 4'28" vs 3'34". Marco Testori and Dolce & Tempesta are far more convincing here.

The tempi in Scandelli's recording are generally on the slow side; in fact, there are hardly pieces which are really fast. That also goes for the Concerto per quartetto No. 8 in A 'La pazzia' by Francesco Durante. He was born in Frattamaggiore, not far from Naples. His father was a woolcomber, but also performed as a singer in church. Most of his early musical training he probably received from his uncle, Don Angelo Durante, who took care of him when his father died in 1699. In 1728 Francesco became primo maestro of the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo. Very little is known about his life and activities before that. However, the fact that he was elected to this post proves that he was held in high esteem. Among his pupils was Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. In 1739 he resigned from his post, only to take up the same position at the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto in 1742, which he held until his death. Here he had again some famous pupils, like Tommaso Traetta and Antonio Sacchini. In 1745 he was also appointed primo maestro at the Conservatorio di S. Onofrio, as the successor of Leonardo Leo.

As a composer Durante concentrated on sacred music. He was particularly admired for his mastery of counterpoint, and that comes to the fore in his Concerti per quartetto as well. These are scored for two violins, viola, cello and bc. They show great variety in texture, and the number of movements varies from three to six. The last from the set, called La pazzia, has three. The title means 'the mad, the insane'. It applies particularly to the first movement, taking more than half the time of the whole concerto. This movement, allegro affettuoso, is like a little opera, as there are various recitative-like passages and some episodes which are reminiscent of a rage aria. It is a pretty eccentric piece, but in this performance it is even made more eccentric. It is rather counterproductive; the recording by Concerto Köln is more modest, but far more effective. For inexplicable reasons the last movement begins with a harpsichord solo which is not required by the composer. The tempo is hardly an allegro.

The programme closes with the Concerto in d minor for cello, strings and bc by Leonardo Leo. He was a pupil of the famous Conservatorio S Maria della Pietà dei Turchini, which he entered in 1709. Probably his first composition, a sacred drama, was performed in the conservatory in 1712 and again at the palace of the viceroy which suggests it was a great success. It was an early indication of Leo's stature as a composer of operas and sacred music. He wasn't only composing operas for Naples, as he received commissions from other cities as well, like Venice, Rome, Florence and Milan. In Naples he had to take a backseat for a while when he was overshadowed by Vinci and Hasse. But when the former died and the latter departed he became the main composer in Naples.

Ironically Leo has become best-known for his cello concertos, although instrumental music in general takes a small part of his oeuvre. These concertos are of high quality, though, and it is understandable that cellists like to play them. A complete recording has been made by Anner Bijlsma and Tafelmusik (ATMA, 1998). As in Fiorenza's concerto the tempi are slow here, and even when the tempo is reasonably fast the proceedings almost come to a standstill when the cello enters. Despite the virtuosity of the solo parts, concertos of this kind are still in many ways ensemble pieces, in which the solo instrument is primus inter pares. Here the cello is too much in the centre.

The playing of the orchestra is reasonably good, but lacks warmth; it produces a rather thin sound. The acoustic, which is too reverberant, doesn't make things any better. As interesting as this programme is, I am pretty disappointed about the performances.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Milano Classica

CD Reviews