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Mauro GIULIANI (1781-1829): "Opere solistiche per voce e chitarra"

Rossana Bertini, sopranoa; Davide Ficco, guitar

rec: July 2013, Conscente (Savona, I), Chiesa di San Alessandro Papa; Toletto (To, I), Chiesa della Beata Vergine Maria del Monte Carmeloa
Tactus - TC 780703 (© 2018) (69'16")
Liner-notes: E/I; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

Cavatine Di Tanti palpiti de l'Opera Tancred variée pour le chant op. 79a; Gran Sonata Eroica per chitarra op. 150; Grande Ouverture op. 61; Romance, à Marie Louise d'Austrie, au Berceau de son Fils, op. 27a; Sei Ariette op. 95 (Le dimore amor non ama; Di due bell'anime; Ombre emene; Ad altro laccio; Fra tutte le pene; Quando sarà quel dì)a; Sei Cavatine op. 39 (Par che di giubilo; Alle mie tante lagrime; Ch'io senta amor; Confuso, smarrito; Ah, non dir che non t'adoro; Già presso al termine)a; Variations sur un thème de G.F. Haendel pour la guitare op. 107

The name of Mauro Guiliani is inextricably connected with the guitar. Educated as a cellist, he soon developed a special liking for the guitar, and made a career as a guitar virtuoso and a composer for this instrument. His career in these capacities started after his settlement in Vienna in 1806, where he became friends with the main figures on the music scene, such as Beethoven. Giuliani played the cello in the premiere of the latter's 7th symphony in 1813. Five years earlier his own guitar concerto op. 30 was premiered; it was probably the very first concerto for guitar with a full orchestra, and it was enthusiastically received. Giuliani's fame was not confined to Vienna: he soon became the most celebrated guitarist in Europe. It is telling that, although he never visited England, a magazine in his honour was published in London, called The Giulianiad, from 1833 to 1835. That was years after his death: after having left Vienna in 1819, heavily in debt, he moved to Naples, where he found patrons and was active as a performer and composer, and there he died in 1829.

The entire oeuvre of Giuliani consists of pieces for guitar or with parts for it: three solo concertos, quintets, duos for guitar with flute or violin as well as pieces for guitar and fortepiano. The largest part of his output is for guitar solo. The present disc also includes pieces for voice and guitar, probably the least-known part of his oeuvre. The title is probably a little misleading, as it suggests that this is the main part of the programme. In fact, it is a mixture of solo pieces and vocal items, which creates a nice variety.

One could probably say that the programme shows a mixture of tradition and renewal. The disc opens with the Grande Ouverture op. 61, which has little to do with what was usually written by composers of the time. Davide Ficco, in his liner-notes, explains that Giuliani - and other Italian composers - did not adhere to the traditions which had been developed in the second half of the 18th century and were predominant in the oeuvre of Viennese composers of his time, such as the sonata form. The use of a theme in a composition was rather free from the rules as followed by the likes of Beethoven and Schubert. The Grande Ouverture is an example of that: "[Instead] of the re-elaboration of the theme presented in the statement section - a distinctive feature of the Viennese sonata style - new, fascinating melodic ideas are presented".

The Gran Sonata Eroica is in just one movement; Ficco suggests that it could be the only extant first movement of a three- or four-movement sonata. Here the composer again derives from the standard, as the re-statement of the theme does not appear in the reprise. The Variations sur un thème de G.F. Haendel op. 107 rank among Giuliani's most famous compositions. It is a series of six variations on the well-known 'Harmonious Blacksmith' tune from one of Handel's harpsichord suites. It is unlikely Giuliani knew Handel's music through his own studies. He may rather have become acquainted with it through his friend Ignaz Moscheles, who composed variations on the same subject for fortepiano.

The use of such a theme is one of the reminders of the past. Another one we find in the Sei Ariette op. 95: these are not songs, but little opera arias in dacapo form on texts from the pen of Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782), the main author of opera libretti in the 18th century. It tells us much about his fame that some of his libretti were still set to music in Giuliani's time, although probably not by the most prominent composers, such as Rossini. The latter's opera Tancredi includes the cavatina Di tanti palpiti, which is the subject of a number of variations for voice and guitar, with the addition alla bolero. It is the only vocal item in the programme which is clearly intended for a professional singer.

The Sei Ariette and the Sei Cavatine are technically far less demanding and are rather intended for amateurs. The latter link up with the modern fashion of including cavatinas in operas. The roots of the cavatina are in the 18th century, where the cavata was a short aria without a dacapo. However, the Italian composers of the 19th century used the term for a rather different kind of piece: it often indicated a particularly virtuosic aria. The Cavatinas Op. 39 do have a dacapo, but are not virtuosic; four have an ABA structure, the other two ABCA. The remaining vocal item is a romance, which Giuliani composed for his patroness, the Empress Marie Louise, to whom he also dedicated his Sei Ariette. She was Napoleon's second wife, and in 1811 her first son was born. That was the reason Giuliani composed this romance, a form which was particularly popular among the bourgeoisie. The interesting thing is that the accompaniment offers the harpsichord as an alternative to the guitar. This is another relic of the past, but could also indicate that the harpsichord was still played among the higher echelons of society.

The other vocal pieces also offer an alternative accompanying instrument, but in those cases it is the fortepiano. That was quite common at the time: the guitar was a relatively new instrument, and it may not have been widespread among the higher echelons of society in Giuliani's time. However, among the lower classes it soon became popular as it was much cheaper than the fortepiano. This explains why a number of songs by Schubert were printed with an alternative accompaniment for the guitar.

This disc is interesting in several ways. It looks at the Viennese music scene from a rather uncommon angle. The role of the guitar is still underexposed, despite some recent discs with chamber music for guitar and other instruments by, for instance, Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Giuliani is a famous name as a composer for the guitar, but I am not sure that his oeuvre is that well-known, and he is certainly not often performed on a period instrument as is the case here: Davide Picco plays a guitar by Louis Panormo of 1837. The vocal part of Giuliani's oeuvre is hardly known at all, and that makes this disc a most welcome addition to the discography.

Davide Ficco is an engaging player who explores the qualities of Giuliani's guitar pieces to the full. He not only excells in the solo pieces, but he is also a sensitive accompanist of Rossana Bertini, best known as the soprano of the Italian madrigal ensemble La Compagnia del Madrigale. She delivers fine performances, and is brilliant in the closing piece, the variations on Rossini's cavatina. The more simple and straightforward songs come off equally well. She uses a little more vibrato than I would like to hear, but it hardly bothered me.

Obviously this disc will appeal particularly to aficionados of the guitar and those who play the instrument themselves. However, I am sure that lovers of Italian opera of the early 19th century (Rossini, Bellini) will also enjoy this disc. It is certainly worth investigating it.

One word of caution: the last track gave technical problems during the last ten seconds or so. Check that out, if you purchase this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Davide Ficco

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