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Marco UCCELLINI (1610 - 1680): Sonate over Canzoni op. 5


rec: July 17 - 20, 2013, Albugnano/Vezzolano (Asti), Canonica Regolare di Santa Maria di Vezzolano
Stradivarius - Str 37023 (© 2015) (78'53")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list
Scores Sonatas III - V

Sonata I; Sonata II; Sonata III; Sonata IV; Sonata V; Sonata VI; Sonata VII; Sonata VIII; Sonata IX; Sonata X; Sonata XI; Sonata XII; Sonata XIII a dłoi violiniab; Trombetta sordina per sonare con violino solobcd

Davide Monti, violin; Maria Christina Cleary, arpa doppia
with: Ulrike Engel, violina; Alberto Rasi, viola da gambab; Massimo Marchese, guitarc; Marco Muzzati, percussiond

One of the features of the stile nuovo which emerged in the early 17th century in Italy was instrumental virtuosity. That came especially to the fore in music for the violin. Many collections of sonatas, canzonas and pieces based on a basso ostinato were written during the first half of the 17th century. Among the best-known composers of such music are Giovanni Battista Fontana, Carlo Farina and Biagio Marini. They were violinists themselves, and their sonatas reflect their own skills. The same goes for Marco Uccellini whose sonatas op. 5 are the subject of the present disc.

According to New Grove the year of his birth is not known; the booklet says it was 1610. Uccellini studied in Assisi and then settled in Modena where he became head of instrumental music at the Este court and in 1647 maestro di cappella at the Cathedral. From 1665 until his death he held the same position at the Farnese court in Parma. It is known that he composed operas and ballet music but that part of his oeuvre has been lost.

His extant music comprises one book with sacred music and seven collections of instrumental music for one to six instruments and basso continuo. Most of the instrumental pieces were probably intended for the violin, his own instrument. It is telling that his seventh book of sonatas was first printed in 1660 as a collection of sonatas for violin and other instruments and was reprinted eight years later as sonatas for violin. Uccellini contributed considerably to the development of violin technique, for instance by including tremolo passages, and exploring higher positions; in this op. 5 he goes up to 7th position. His sonatas bear the traces of the stylus phantasticus in its alternation of contrasting episodes. Also notable is the use of slurs and wide leaps. There is also some double stopping, for instance in the Sonata II. The Sonata XI ends with an episode including echo effects, another popular device in vocal and instrumental music of the period.

This is the first complete recording of this collection which dates from 1649. The liner-notes deal at length with the importance of the theory of the affetti which was one of the features of the stile nuovo. On the basis of a book by Cesare Ripa the performers have tried to connect every single sonata with a specific Affekt which is described in the booklet. These are added to the sonatas in the track-list; these titles are not in the printed edition. I don't find those descriptions very helpful, but others may have different experiences. The name of the ensemble refers to its habit of using a harp in the basso continuo. That was a very common instrument at the time, but today it is not often used in chamber music. The benefits are evident: the harp has a strong presence and allows for dynamic differentiation which contributes to the dramatic nature of this ensemble's performances.

There is certainly no lack of that here. Both artists show a good feeling for the theatrical character of Uccellini's sonatas and deliver excellent performances. The Sonata I starts with an introduction by the harp which lasts 40 seconds. As I don't have access to the score I can't tell whether that is from Uccellini's pen or a kind of improvisation by Maria Christina Cleary; I suspect the latter is the case. The Sonata XII is performed here as a harp solo; that seems a decision of the artists, because the upper part is clearly violinistic. Uccellini has added two extras to his collection. The first is the Sonata XIII, scored for two violins and bc. The second piece is a kind of imitation of the trumpet and here Uccellini links with a tradition which seems to have been established by Carlo Farina with his famous Capriccio stravagante. I find it disappointing that here percussion has been added. I am sure that this was not prescribed by Uccellini; it is rather the challenge for the violinist to imitate the trumpet with the military effects going along with it without the involvement of percussion.

That is the only blot on this production which is a major addition to the discography. That is especially the case because Uccellini is often considered the link between early baroque violin music and the Austrian virtuosos Schmelzer and Biber. Everyone interested in 17th-century violin music should investigate this fine disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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