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Francesco MANCINI (1672 - 1737): "XII Solos London 1724"

Armonia delle Sfere

rec: Oct 2016, Voghiera (FE), Delizia di Belriguardo
Tactus - TC 671390 (2 CDs) (Š 2020) (1.55'46")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata I in d minora; Sonata II in e minora; Sonata III in c minorc; Sonata IV in a minora; Sonata V in Db; Sonata VI in B flata; Sonata VII in Ca; Sonata VIII in g minora; Sonata IX in f minora; Sonata X in b minorb Sonata XI in g minora; Sonata XII in Ga
[Prima] toccata di cembalo per studio in a minorc; [Seconda] toccata di cembalo per studio in a minorc

Daniele Salvatore, recordera, transverse fluteb; Perikli Pite, cello; Silvia Rambaldi, harpsichord (soloc)
with: Pedro AZlcācer Doria, theorbo, guitar

Francesco Mancini is one of the representatives of the Neapolitan school of the first half of the 18th century, although one of the lesser-known, in comparison to the likes of Pergolesi or Porpora. He studied the organ at the Conservatorio di S Maria della Pietā dei Turchini, and then acted as organist. In 1704 he became organist of the royal chapel, in 1708 vice maestro di cappella under Alessandro Scarlatti, whom he succeeded in 1725. In 1720 he was also appointed director of the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto.

Despite his education as an organist, his main activity was the composition of operas. In addition he wrote a considerable number of oratorios and liturgical works. The latter seem to have been particularly popular as many of his works have been found in libraries all over Europe. Instrumental music makes only a small proportion of his oeuvre, but ironically it is this part of his output which is best-known today.

The reason is that most of it is scored for recorder. And as the repertoire of recorder players is relatively limited, it is understandable that Mancini's compositions meet great interest. In addition his recorder sonatas are very well written. The article on Mancini in New Grove says that he was "a skilful writer of melodies", and the recorder sonatas bear witness to that. Other features of his style are a good command of counterpoint and rich harmonies, and these are reflected in the sonatas on these discs as well.

Mancini's best-known instrumental works are the sonatas or concertos for recorder and strings which are part of a manuscript known as Manoscritto di Napoli 1725, in which we also find comparable pieces by other composers, among them Alessandro Scarlatti. Whereas these pieces - or at least some of them - are available in several recordings, the twelve sonatas which are the subject of the production under review here, have only been recorded complete once, by the Ensemble Tripla Concordia, with Lorenzo Cavasanti on the recorder. From that perspective, a second recording is not superfluous, especially as the two recordings are different in several respects.

The first edition was published in London, probably in 1724. That is no coincidence: London was a centre of music publishing, and England had a lively music scene, both on professional and on amateur level. Moreover, there was a strong interest in Italian music, which enticed quite a number of Italian composers to settle in England. One of them was Francesco Geminiani, whose name was mentioned on the title page of the first reprint of Mancini's sonatas. As they are not any different from those in the original edition, his name was probably added for purely commercial reasons by the publisher. Apparently Mancini's sonatas were well received, as another reprint appeared in 1727.

This edition was different from the previous ones, not musically, but in the way the sonatas were presented. In the first edition, the recorder and the violin were mentioned as alternatives, and in addition it was suggested that the sonatas could also be played as harpsichord solos. This was certainly motivated by the wish to increase sales. The fact that a second reprint was needed, can be interpreted as an indication that such commercial ploys were not needed anymore.

The sonatas are all in four movements (except the fifth), basically following the model of Arcangelo Corelli's sonate da chiesa. As in Corelli's sonatas, the second movement has usually the form of a fugue. The opening movements are the most expressive, and these also often include features which reflect Mancini's credentials as an opera composer. They are often in binary form, and start in a fast tempo, but then turn to a slower tempo without any interruption, which creates quite a dramatic effect. Many last movements have the character of a showstopper. The closing allegro of the Sonata XII is a striking example.

I already mentioned the previous recording on Brilliant Classics. Those who have that one, should not hesitate to add this new recording to their collection. Not only is Daniele Salvatore an excellent recorder player, his performances are also different in several respects from that of Cavasanti. The latter plays all the sonatas on the alto recorder, whereas Salvatore also makes use of a sopranino recorder and a voice flute. Moreover, two sonatas are played on the transverse flute. In addition, two of the sonatas are performed as harpsichord solos, in line with the suggestion at the cover page of the first edition. And to mention another feature of these performances: in some sonatas Salvatore introduces the first movement with a short improvisation. He is also generous in his ornamentation and the addition of cadenzas. As a bonus, we get here two short toccatas for keyboard, apparently meant as pedagogical material. Whereas the Ensemble Tripla Concordia confined itself to cello and harpsichord for the basso continuo, here Perikli Pite plays the cello and the viola da gamba, and Pedro Alcācer Doria the theorbo and the guitar. Silvia Rambaldi plays the harpsichord.

As one may have noted, there are quite some differences between the two recordings, and as this new one is musically just as good as the other, there is no reason to choose. Anyone who likes this kind of music will be happy to have both recordings in his collection.

Johan van Veen (Š 2021)

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