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Giovanni Battista Martini: Sinfonie a 4 da Camera

Il Rossignolo
Dir.: Ottaviano Tenerani

rec: Oct 3 - 6, 2000, Saturnana, Pieve di S. Giovanni
Tactus - TC 701305 (78'38")

4 Sinfonia's in D (1749, 1750, 1751, 1751), 5 Sinfonia's in F (1736, 1751, 1753, 1760, 1764), Sinfonia in B flat

Marica Testi (recorder, flute), Marta Caneva (recorder), Gabriele Alessandro Rodrigi (flute), Martino Noferi (recorder, oboe), Paolo Faggi, Francesco Meucci (corno da caccia), Fabio Cafaro, Diletta Meazza, Laura Scipioni (violin), Fulvio Milone (viola), Raffaele Sorrentino (cello), Carlo Pelliccione (double bass), Ottaviano Tenerani (harpsichord)

Every music lover knows Giovanni Battista Martini, at least under his 'nickname' Padre Martini. He appears in every music encyclopedia and in every music history. On the site of the ensemble Il Rossignolo he is portrayed like this: "A typical eighteenth-century man of culture, Padre Giovanni Battista Martini (1706 - 1784) was a musical theoretician, teacher, composer, scholar of phisical and mathematical sciences, an encyclopedic mind in the noblest and most complete sense of the word. He almost never traveled away from Bologna, the city of his birth and death. Martini was a tireless collector of manuscripts and printed works, of documents and sources of music history. the library of the convent of San Francesco (now transferred to the conservatory), with its 17,000 volumes, stands as an enduring monument to his science and his knowledge."
The question is, though, whether we really know Padre Martini. The fact that he is primarily considered a 'theorist' hasn't done his reputation any good. Often he is considered dull, old-fashioned and the staunch defender of polyphony. If you think to know him, listen to this recording, and think again.
There is hardly any polyphony on this CD. Some Sinfonia's are firmly rooted in the baroque style, but others are very much up to date with the contemporary compositional styles.
The fast movements are mostly very joyful, the movements in between quite expressive - almost never 'slow', as the mostly used characterisation 'andante' indicates. The instrumentation varies: some Sinfonia's are for strings and bc only, others include parts for recorders, flutes, oboes and corni da caccia. But even within the Sinfonia's there are contrasts in instrumentation: sometimes the wind instruments only appear in the fast movements, whereas the middle section is for strings, or even just for violin and cello. These works show that Martini wasn't merely a famous teacher of composers who have got a much bigger reputation than he himself ever had - the likes of Johann Christian Bach, Grétry and Jommelli - but was a good composer in his own right. These Sinfonia's contain many delightful melodies and vivid rhythms. In the earliest piece on this recording, the Sinfonia in F from 1736, the corni da caccia play an important role, like in the first Brandenburg Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The ensemble Il Rossignolo has made a number of CDs with works by Martini. The interpretation here is very enthusiastic, lively and energetic. These players really believe in the music they perform. It is a pity that the acoustics have a negative effect on the recording. The reverberation is such that some details are lost, and when the tempi are fast, everything starts to get a little messy sometimes. Now and then the intonation is less than perfect. But these factors shouldn't put off anyone interested in good and little known music. It would be a shame to ignore this recording, which will change our view on good old Padre Martini.

Johan van Veen (© 2002)

Relevant links:
Il Rossignolo

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