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Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626 - 1690): Sonate a due e tre, libro primo, op. 2

Insieme Strumentale di Roma
Dir: Giorgio Sasso

rec: Oct 16 - 18, 2017, Rome, Chiesa di S. Lorenzo in Panisperna
Stradivarius - Str 37113 ( 2018) (69'50")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

La Col'Alta; La Colloreta; La Cornara; La Donata; La Foscari; La Frangipana; La Manina; La Mont'Albana; La Porcia; La Querini; La Raspona; La Savorgnane; La Spilimberga; La Strasolda; La Torriana; La Valvasona; La Zabarella

Giorgio Sasso, Paolo Perrone, violin; Diego Roncalli, cello; Marco Silvi, harpsichord, organ

If one compares the instrumental music written in Italy in the early decades of the 17th century with the music from the end of that century, one notices considerable differences. These are partly of a formal nature. The early sonatas and canzonas consist of a sequence of short, contrasting sections, which follow each other attacca. In comparison, the sonatas from the late 17th century are usually divided into clearly separated movements. The sonatas by Arcangelo Corelli are the ultimate proof of this development, but before him other composers already moved in this direction. Giovanni Legrenzi is generally considered an important link between the early and the late 17th century.

Legrenzi came from a relatively humble background: his father was violinist at the parish church in Clusone, near Bergamo, and a minor composer. Nothing is known for sure about his formal education. His first post was that of organist at S Maria Maggiore in Bergamo. Throughout his whole career he worked at many places and restless looked for improving his position. He made many attempts to obtain prestigious posts, but often failed; he also rejected positions which were offered to him. However, Stephen Bonta, in the article on Legrenzi in New Grove, concludes his biography thus: "Legrenzi's rise to fame, honour and wealth was remarkable. As a young man from the provinces his resources were so meagre that he required a title of patrimony, granted in 1649, in order to be ordained. But by 1653 he was able to underwrite the costs of educating three boys (one of them his brother Marco) at the Accademia Mariana at Bergamo. At his death he owned property in Clusone." From around 1670 until his death he worked in Venice. He was first maestro di musica of the Ospedale dei Dereletti, then maestro di coro to the Congregazione dei Filippini at S Maria della Fava. In 1681 he was elected vice-maestro di cappella of San Marco and in 1685 he became maestro di cappella.

Legrenzi composed a considerable amount of vocal music: operas, oratorios and liturgical works. However, he has become almost exclusively known for his instrumental music. Between 1655 and probably 1695 six collections of instrumental works were printed. The first of these was published as his Op. 2. It includes 18 sonatas; one of them is from the pen of his father Giovanni Maria, and is omitted in the recording by Insieme Strumentale di Roma. The remaining seventeen sonatas are of a different scoring: six are for two violins, three for violin and violone or bassoon and nine for two violins and violone or bassoon, all with basso continuo.

In the light of what has been written about the formal aspect of chamber music, it is notable that their structure is varied. Seven of the sonatas are in three movements; other sonatas have four or even more, in one case as many as seven (La Mont'Albana). In the latter case the individual movements are very short, sometimes little more than twenty seconds. This particular sonata takes just 4'42" in this recording. Most movements are a closed unity, but some are divided into two sections. Usually two ensuing movements are in different tempi, but sometimes two slow or two fast movements follow each other. In some cases one movement follows the previous one attacca, elsewhere there is a clear gap between two movements. Formally these sonatas move between the style of the early 17th century and those of its last decades.

All the sonatas have titles, which mostly refer to aristocratic personalities in Legrenzi's environment. The reason of those titles remains unclear. However, rather than indicating musical portraits, they could well be meant as a kind of reverence to the wealthy and powerful and perhaps as a way to ask for their patronage.

The relationship between the instruments is varied. In the sonatas for violin and violone or bassoon, the former usually takes the lead, but sometimes the latter opens the proceedings. Legrenzi largely avoids the harmonic experiments of the early decades of the century. However, in several movements he includes chromatic passages.

These sonatas are good stuff, but I would not recommend to play this disc at a stretch. That is also partly due to the performance. Insieme Strumentale di Roma is a good ensemble, but probably not the most sophisticated. A little more differentiation in the performance - articulation, dynamics, tempo - would not have been amiss. I prefer the recording by Parnassi Musici, which is more detailed and dynamically more differentiated. The participation of a bassoon further contributes to the variety in the programme. Parnassi Musici also takes profit from a more intimate acoustic; recording these pieces in a church was not a very good idea.

Johan van Veen ( 2019)

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Insieme Strumentale di Roma

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