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Antonio CALDARA (1670 - 1736): "Suonate da camera op. II - Sonate a Violoncello solo"

L'Aura Soave

rec: July 1999, Parma, Abbazia S. Giovannia; Jan 2000, Cremona, Sala del Podestà Soresinab
Tactus - TC 670390 (2 CDs) (R) (© 2014) (79'19" / 68'34")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

[CD 1]a Suonate da camera, op. 2, 1699
Sonata I, op. 2,1; Sonata II in g minor, op. 2,2; Sonata III in D, op. 2,3; Sonata IV in g minor, op. 2,4; Sonata V, op. 2,5; Sonata VI in A, op. 2,6; Sonata VII, op. 2,7; Sonata VIII in F, op. 2,8; Sonata IX, op. 2,9; Sonata X, op. 2,10; Sonata XI in E, op. 2,11; Chiaccona in B flat, op. 2,12
[N.B. The track-list omits the keys; these are added from other sources as far as possible]

[CD 2]b Sonate a violoncello col basso
Sonata I in A; Sonata II in D; Sonata III in B flat; Sonata IV in d minor; Sonata IX in G; Sonata XII in d minor; Sonata XIII in f minor

Maurizio Cadossi, Andrea Rognoni, violina; Marco Frezzato, cello (solob); Diego Cantalupi, theorbo; Leonardo Morini, harpsichord

When Antonio Caldara died in 1736 the bells of St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna rang as they only did when rulers were born, married or were buried. It was an eloquent token of his status. In 1716 he had taken on the position of vice-Kapellmeister at the imperial court. In the next decades he was responsible for the composition and performance of oratorios and operas. He soon developed into the favourite composer of Emperor Charles VI.

He had exactly the qualities that were highly valued in Vienna. The court was under the spell of the Italian style: since the early 17th century musicians and composers from Italy had dominated the court chapel. Operas, oratorios and cantatas were especially appreciated, and Caldara had shown his credentials in this department early in his career: he composed his first opera at the age of 18. Another of his qualities was his mastery of counterpoint which was mentioned in the decree of his appointment as maestro di cappella in Mantua in 1699, noting his "great virtue (...) in the profession of counterpoint (...)". This was rated very highly by the Habsburg emperors whose musical taste was rather conservative.

The largest part of Caldara's oeuvre comprises vocal music. The present set includes music from the early stages of his career - the trio sonatas - and some of the latest works he wrote: the cello sonatas. In 1693 Caldara published a set of trio sonatas as his op. 1. This was certainly inspired by Corelli who had published three collections (op. 1, 2 and 3) between 1681 and 1689. Caldara had been educated as a cellist and that comes to the fore in these sonatas in which the cello regularly departs from the bass line to follow its own route. Things differ in the second set, which was printed in 1699 as his op. 2. This again shows the influence of Corelli: like the latter's op. 2 it ends with a ciaccona, a series of variations on a basso ostinato. The eleven sonatas which precede it are mostly in four movements, opening with a preludio, except the Sonata IV which opens with an alemanda which usually takes the second place in the sequence of movements. The Sonata III and the Sonata VI are in three movements. All the movements have the titles of dances which indicates that these sonatas are of the da camera type, as the title of the set indicates.

As far as I know this is the only complete recording of this set. Caldara's trio sonatas have been recorded by other ensembles since this disc was first released (2000), but only by way of selections from his two opuses. Among them are the recording by Parnassi Musici (CPO, 2001) and a recent disc with the violinists Amandine Beyer and Leila Schayegh which I haven't heard yet. Because both of them only offer some of the op. 2 sonatas the reissue of the present recording is most welcome, even if the performance is not more than alright. The sound of the ensemble is rather thin and lacks brilliance. It is hard to say to what extent that is due to the playing or the close miking. The qualities of these sonatas don't fully come off here. There is certainly room for a new recording of this set.

Considering that Caldara was educated as a cellist it is notable that he composed next to nothing for his own instrument until very late in his career. However, the cello did play a role in his vocal oeuvre as he gave it sometimes an obbligato part in arias. Its particular role in the op. 1 sonatas has already been mentioned. It seems likely that the sixteen sonatas for cello and basso continuo which he composed in 1735 are the result of a commission by the German count Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn-Wiesentheid. He was an avid music lover and an accomplished cellist. We owe him a number of sonatas and concertos for his instrument which he either commissioned or collected on one of his many journeys. He was particularly close to the Italian composer Giovanni Benedetto Platti (c1697-1763), who was at the service of his brother, the prince-archbishop Lothar Franz von Schönborn. Caldara's sonatas are part of the large music library of the count which has been preserved. In 1734 Rudolf Franz Erwein visited Vienna and at that occasion he could have met Caldara; the sonatas were written from May to July 1735. This may be taken as a strong indication that he composed these sonatas for the Count.

Most of the sonatas are in four movements and follow the model of the Corellian sonata da chiesa. However, sometimes Caldara breaks away from that model: the sonatas II and IV are in three movements: fast - slow - fast. Several sonatas have three fast movements and only one in a slow tempo (IX, XII, XIII). They certainly reflect Caldara's own skills as a cellist as they are technically demanding. If they are the result of a commission from the Count of Schönborn-Wiesentheid they may also be an indication of his capabilities. At the same time Caldara's activities in the realm of vocal music, and especially opera, shine through in the slow movements which are full of expression.

As far as I know the cello sonatas by Caldara have never been recorded complete. There are several discs with selections; the one I know is the fine recording by Gaetano Nasillo. I prefer his performance over the present one, but this recording includes some sonatas which are not part of Nasillo's disc - only the sonatas IV, XI and XII appear on both discs. Fortunately Marco Frezzato delivers pretty good performances and produces a beautiful sound. The dramatic aspects are conveyed rather well and there is certainly no lack of expression in the slow movements. That is also due to the energetic support of the basso continuo group.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the performance of the op. 1 sonatas this set certainly deserves the interest of the lovers of baroque instrumental music. Caldara's instrumental music is not that well-known - neither is his vocal music, for that matter - but is of fine quality. This disc is especially commendable for the cello sonatas and as as long as the trio sonatas are not available in a better recording this reissue will do.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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