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Emanuele BARBELLA (1718 - 1777): "Sei trii per due violini e violoncello - 'Hamilton Trios'"

Ensemble Le Musiche da Camera

rec: Sept 2002, Naples, Chiesa di S. Maria delle Periclitanti
Tactus - TC 712701 ( 2004) (55'13")

Sonata I in B flat; Sonata II in A; Sonata III in C; Sonata IV in E flat; Sonata V in G; Sonata VI in F

Egidio Mastrominico, Giuseppe Guida, violin; Leonardo Massa, cello; Craig Marchitelli, guitar; Pier Paolo De Martino, harpsichord

Emanuele Barbella is one of the Italian composers who was active in the period between the baroque and classical eras. One of the main composers of this period was Giuseppe Tartini, whose music is well represented on disc. In contrast most of his followers or pupils are ignored. Barbella is one of them. Three of his compositions have been recorded by the Accademia per Musica, directed by Christoph Timpe, as part of a project with music from Naples (released by Capriccio). This Tactus disc offers first recordings of trios for two violins and cello.

Emanuele Barbella was born and died in Naples, and worked there all his life. One of his teachers was Pasqualino Bini, who himself was a pupil of Tartini. He also studied some time with Leonardo Leo, one of Naples' most prominent opera composers. He played in the Teatro Nuovo and in the royal chapel. From 1761 until his death he was a member of the orchestra at San Carlo. Since his Trios opus 1 were published in London it has been assumed that he has visited England. But the programme notes of this recording give another explanation.

This Opus 1 is the collection of six trios which is performed here by the Le Musiche da Camera. The British ambassador at the Bourbon court, William Hamilton, an avid music lover, was Barbella's greatest protector, and it is probably through his intercession that these trios were printed in London in 1772. They are also dedicated to him, which is the reason they are called 'Hamilton Trios' on the front page of the booklet.

The scoring of these trios makes them typical products of the transitional period between baroque and classical. The time of the basso continuo was coming to an end, and more and more music was published with a part for cello rather than basso continuo. That is also the case here. Although a performance with a cello alone is probably not impossible, the score itself suggests the participation of a harpsichord. The cello part contains figures, referring to the basso continuo practice. In addition several times the indication tasto solo appears in the cello part. It is therefore a logical decision of the interpreters to use a harpsichord.

Barbella's music found a wide dissemination throughout Europe; some of his works were not only printed in London, but also in Paris. This is at odds with what is often written: he was appreciated but not considered a really great master. Charles Burney became his personal friend, and although he had many nice things to say about Barbella he also complained about a lack of variety and a "drowsiness of tone". There is no lack of variety in the trios on this disc, though. In fact, these pieces are most entertaining, and some are not without expression either. There are even quite theatrical moments now and then.

All the trios - or 'sonatas', as they are apparently called in the print - are in three movements, usually in the order fast-slow-fast. The exception is the Sonata V in G, which begins with 'larghetto - molto andantino', continues with 'non tanto allegro' and closes with another 'andantino'. The two violins dominate these trios, sometimes imitating each other, then playing in parallel motion. The first violin usually takes the lead. The cello part - here performed with cello, baroque guitar and harpsichord - provides harmonic support. Now and then the bass has a more or less concertante role. The cello part also contains passages with drum basses, in particular in the last movements, which - with the exception of the Sonata V - always take the form of a rondo.

The first movements are by far the longest, except, again, in the fifth sonata. They also contain the most original material, as well as the most expressive passages. Examples are the closing episode of the allegro of Sonata III in C, several passages in the allegretto of Sonata IV in E flat and in the first movement of Sonata VI in F. The performers effectively emphasize them by slowing down the tempo. The second movement of Sonata V is quite theatrical.

These sonatas make pleasant listening, not the least because of their infectuous rhythms. These are very well exposed by the ensemble, for instance through dynamic accents at the good notes within every bar. But it is also due to the drive of the players of the cello, the guitar and the harpsichord. Together they realise often truly swinging performances.

The playing isn't always as polished as we are used to hear from more renowned ensembles and now and then the intonation is less than perfect. But these are only minor blots on a most enjoyable disc which shows that Emanuele Barbella was a very good composer and fully deserving of the attention Le Musiche da Camera have given him.

Johan van Veen ( 2010)

Relevant links:

Le Musiche da Camera

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