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Giovanni Lorenzo GREGORI & Charles AVISON: Concerti grossi

[I] Giovanni Lorenzo GREGORI: 10 Concerti grossi op. 2 & Alessandro STRADELLA: Sonate & Sinfonie
Capriccio Barockorchester
Dir: Dominik Kiefer
rec: Sept 30 - Oct 4, 2005, Binningen (CH), Kirche Heilig Kreuz
Tudor - 7171 (R) (© 2020) (64'20")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Giovanni Lorenzo GREGORI (1663-1745): Concerto grosso in C, op. 2,1; Concerto grosso in D, op. 2,1; Concerto grosso in B flat, op. 2,3; Concerto grosso in A, op. 2,4; Concerto grosso in b minor, op. 2,5; Concerto grosso in a minor, op. 2,6; Concerto grosso in E, op. 2,7; Concerto grosso in D, op. 2,8; Concerto grosso in g minor, op. 2,9; Concerto grosso in A, op. 2,10; Alessandro STRADELLA (1644-1682): Ah! troppo è ver, cantata (Sinfonia I; Sinfonia II); Qual prodigio, cantata (Sinfonia); Sonata di viole 'Concertino di due violini e leuto, Concerto grosso di viole' Sonata in due cori

Source: Giovanni Lorenzo Gregori, Concerti grossi a più stromenti, due violini concertqti, con i ripieni, se piace alto viola, arcileuto, o violoncello, con il basso per l'organo, op. 2, 1698

Dominik Kiefer, Eva Borhi, Chiharu Abe, Christoph Rudolf, Vitaliy Shestakov, Péter Barczi, Judith Limacher, Mireille Lesslauer, Karin von Gierke, Eva Noth, violin; Matthias Jäggi, Christoph Riedo, Mariann Szomorné Budai, viola; Marion Gast, István Szomor, cello; Michael Bürgin, violone; Nikolaus M. Broda, bassoon; Julian Behr, theorbo; Vincent Flückiger, archlute, guitar; Yves Bilger, harpsichord; Marc Meisel, organ

[II] Charles AVISON (1709 - 1770): "Concerti grossi based on Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti"
Tiento Nuovo
Ignacio Prego, harpsichorda
Dir: Ignacio Prego
rec: Oct 12 - 14, 2020, Guadarrama, Sala Fray Luis de León
Glossa - GCD 923526 (© 2021) (68'11")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/ES
Cover, track-list & booklet

Charles AVISON: Concerto grosso after Domenico Scarlatti No. 5 in d minor; Concerto grosso after Domenico Scarlatti No. 6 in D; Concerto grosso after Domenico Scarlatti No. 9 in C; Concerto grosso after Domenico Scarlatti No. 12 in D; Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757): Sonata in c minor (K 11)a; Sonata in d minor (K 213)a; Sonata in b minor (K 27)a; Sonata in b minor (K 87)a

Source: Charles Avison, Twelve Concerto's in Seven Parts ... Done from Two Books of Lessons for the Harpsicord Composed by Sig. Domenico Scarlatti, 1744

Emmanuel Resche-Caserta*, Víctor Martínez Sordo*, Daniel Pinteño, Marta Mayoral, Marta Fernández, Belén Sancho, Miriam Hontana, violin; Marian Herrero*, Isa Juárez, viola; María Martínez*, Ruth Verona, cello; Ismael Campanero, violone; Ignacio Prego, harpsichord; Alberto Martínez, organ (*concertino)

During the 17th century, two types of orchestra came into existence in Italy. In the North, it comprised usually a four-part string body, to which a solo instrument could be added. The other type is very Roman: there the ensemble was divided into two groups, a concertino of two violins, cello and basso continuo, and a concerto grosso or ripieno, comprising the same instruments, variable in number, and mostly also violas and double bass. The best-known pieces of this kind were written by Arcangelo Corelli. They were published posthumously in 1714, but were written and performed much earlier. Georg Muffat heard them being performed, and he left the city in 1682.

No composer could claim to have 'invented' the genre. Among the earliest who wrote concerti grossi were Giuseppe Torelli and the little-known Giovanni Lorenzo Gregori. The latter was born in Lucca, where he worked all his life, first as violinist and then as maestro di cappella in the Cappella di Palazzo. He composed five oratorios which are all lost, and he made also a name for himself as a theorist. In 1698 he published his Op. 2, a collection of ten Concerti grossi a più stromenti, due violini concertqti, con i ripieni, se piace alto viola, arcileuto, o violoncello, con il basso per l'organo. This is probably the first collection whose title includes the term concerti grossi. However, in form they are rather rudimentary: the solo passages for the concertino are rather short and often merely repeat the preceding phrase of the tutti. The fourth concerto is a special case. "[In] the appendix, Gregori printed a separate part for the Ripieni of the first violin which made clear the way in which the first voice of the Concerto grosso is to perform only a portion of the actual (solistic) part of the Violino primo" (booklet).

These concerti grossi are rather short: in this performance the longest takes just over five minutes. The number of movements varies from three to four, in the order slow, fast, slow, fast. Some character indications have the addition staccato. Here and there we find some harmonic tension, for instance in the adagissimo from the Concerto No. 7 in E. "These concertos are neither accomplished nor original", according to New Grove. They are certainly not pieces one cannot do without, but they are entertaining enough to justify a recording, in addition to their historic importance.

The programme is extended by sonatas for strings by Alessandro Stradella, one of the main composers of operas, oratorios and secular cantatas of his time, whose life came to its end prematurely when he was murdered as the result of one of his many love affairs. He was from a Tuscan noble family, but at a young age he lived for some time in Rome, where he was in the service of Queen Christina of Sweden. In his oeuvre, instrumental music takes a minor place: the work-list in New Grove comprises a few sonatas and a little over twenty sinfonias. On this disc we get only two independent instrumental works, both written for two 'choirs'. The Sonata in due cori includes two parts for cornetts, which are performed here by strings. The two other pieces are instrumental movements taken from vocal works. They are included here, because Stradella makes use of the concerto grosso principle.

They are well-written and useful complements to this recording of Gregori's concerti grossi. The Capriccio Barockorchester delivers lively performances; the choice of tempi is convincing and brings out the contrasts within these pieces. This disc was originally released about fifteen years ago, but never crossed my path. It is not ground-breaking, but I am happy that this recording is available and I was able to listen to them.

Corelli's concerti grossi were not only the best-known works of their kind, they were also hugely influential. They inspired composers across Italy and composers who were influenced by the Italian style, such as George Frideric Handel, to contribute to the genre. Handel's two sets of concerti grossi (Op. 3 and Op. 6) found fertile soil, as English music lovers and musical societies enthusiastically embraced everything Italian, and especially the music of Corelli, including his concerti grossi. In addition to original pieces, composers also arranged chamber music as concerti grossi. Francesco Geminiani was one of them: he turned some of his violin sonatas into concerti grossi. One of his greatest admirers was Charles Avison, who composed original concerti grossi, but also arrangements. Among them are eleven of the twelve sonatas Op. 1 by Geminiani and a number of keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, another composer he greatly admired.

In 1744 he published Twelve Concerto's in Seven Parts ... Done from Two Books of Lessons for the Harpsicord Composed by Sig. Domenico Scarlatti. One year before he had already published one concerto and announced the publication of the complete set if there were at least 100 subscriptions. The fact that there were no fewer than 151 subscribers attests to the popularity of concerti grossi and of Domenico Scarlatti in particular.

Obviously, Avison knew only a relatively small number of Scarlatti's sonatas, basically only those which were available in printed editions. There were two of them: the Essercizi per gravicembalo, published in the late 1730s, and XLII Suites de Pièces pour le Clavecin, edited by Thomas Roseingrave (1739). In a number of cases, the sonatas which Avison transcribed, have not been identified. It seems possible that he had access to sonatas which have not come down to us. However, it has also been suggested that some movements may be from his own pen, in particular slow movements. It is notable that Roseingrave's edition included just two sonatas in a slow tempo. Avison also did more than just transcribe what Scarlatti had written. After all, string instruments differ from the harpsichord. Avison also sometimes omitted passages and reduced the number of repeats.

One may have different feelings about transcriptions as those by Avison. Fact is that this practice was very common at the time, and if done well, such transcriptions are worthy additions to the orchestral repertoire of the baroque era. And these transcriptions are done well: they sound quite natural, and it is just because one may recognize some of the sonatas, that one may feel that this is not 'original'. In fact, these transcriptions are not fundamentally different from Bach's keyboard arrangements of concertos by Vivaldi and other Italian composers. The performances by Tiento Nuovo are lively and energetic, and very much played in Italian style, for instance with regard to dynamics. That may seem obvious: after all, Scarlatti was an Italian composer. However, these concerti grossi are from the pen of an English composer and intended for the English market. I could imagine a more modest approach and a more gentle style of playing, with broader gestures. That said, this is a most entertaining recording, in which the concerti grossi are alternated with some of Scarlatti's sonatas in their original form, among them one of my favourites, the Sonata in b minor (K 87), a superb specimen of the composer's command of counterpoint. They are given excellent performances by Ignacio Prego.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Ignacio Prego
Capriccio Barockorchester
Tiento Nuovo

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