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Bartolomeo BERNARDI (1660 - 1732): Qual di feroce tromba - Cantatas & sonatas

I Solisti Ambrosiani

rec: July 15 - 18, 2019, Milan
Urania Records - LDV 14056 (2 CDs) ( 2020) (1.44'00")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

Belle d'amore nemiche, cantata; Qual di feroce tromba, cantata Sonata in c minor; Sonata in e minor [1]; Sonata I in A, op. 3,1 [2]; Sonata II in D, op. 3,2 [2]; Sonata III in b minor, op. 3,3 [2]; Sonata IV in G, op. 3,4 [2]; Sonata V in c minor, op. 3,5 [2]; Sonata VI in F, op. 3,6 [2]; Sorta era l'alba, cantata

Sources: [1] various, Sonate per camera a Violino e Violoncello di vari autori, c1700; [2] Bartolomeo Bernardi, Sonate a violino solo, op. 3, 1706

Tullia Pedersoli, soprano; Davide Belosio, violin; Claudio Frigerio, cello; Emma Bolamperti, harpsichord; Enrico Barbagli, organ

An Italian in Denmark - that sums up the career of Bartolomeo Bernardi. According to its liner-notes, the disc under review here includes the material that has not been released on disc so far. From that, one has to conclude that his music has been recorded before, but none of these recordings has ever crossed my path. Bernardi was even a completely new name to me (unlike his namesake Stefano Bernardi).

Bartolomeo was born in Bologna and worked at first in his hometown and in Mantua. The title-page of his first printed collection of trio sonatas (Bologna, 1692) mentions that he was a member of the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna, which bears witness to his status. In 1703 he entered the service of the court in Copenhagen as a violinist, but as he was not satisfied with the conditions, he left two years later, only to return in 1710. At that time he was appointed Kapellmeister; he held this post until his death. Although his oeuvre seems not to have been that large to begin with, a considerable part was destroyed during a fire in 1795 (neither 1745, as the liner-notes have it, nor 1794, as is mentioned in New Grove). Michael Talbot refers to a negative assessment of Bernardi's music by Johann Adolph Scheibe, which he states is hard to evaluate because of the loss of a large part of Bernardi's output. However, he adds that this assessment was also "coloured by anti-Italian prejudice".

His music is every inch Italian indeed. This was greatly appreciated in Denmark, since the early 17th century. In his capacity as Kapellmeister, he composed a number of occasional pieces, for instance for birthdays, funerals and coronations, but that part of his oeuvre has been lost. The present disc includes all his secular cantatas. These three pieces are of the chamber cantata type, which had its origin in Italy and had become very popular across Europe. It had been given its fixed form by Alessandro Scarlatti, and that is the form in which Bernardi composed these three cantatas. They are scored for soprano and basso continuo, and comprise two pairs of recitative and aria. Some of the recitatives end with an arioso. The arias have a dacapo, except the second aria of Sorte era l'alba. It is hard to note any text expression, as the booklet omits translations of the lyrics. However, in the opening recitative of Qual di feroce tromba, it is impossible to overlook the figures used to illustrate the sound of the trumpet (tromba). Tullia Perdersoli has a very nice voice, and I greatly appreciate the rhythmic freedom in her interpretation of the recitatives. That is the way to perform them. I also like her ornamentation in the dacapos of the arias, but I regret her vibrato, which is not of the nervous kind (I have heard much worse), but is even so untenable from a historical point of view. The cantatas are rather short, and because of that this issue does not influence my overall assessment of this disc that strongly.

The sonatas are the main part of the programme, and these are of excellent quality. I have greatly enjoyed them, and they have made me curious about the rest of Bernardi's instrumental music, such as the trio sonatas. The liner-notes mention that the solo sonatas are inspired by Corelli. However, Bernardi takes quite some freedom in structuring his sonatas. Take the Sonatas Op. 3. The Sonata I comprises four movements. The first is called Introdutione, and consists of a sequence of five sections of contrasting character: adagio, allegro in arpeggio, largo, allegro and adagio. After an allegro we get another multi-section movement: adagio, allegro, adagio, presto, adagio. The sonata closes with another allegro. The Sonata III has seven movements, and opens with a preludio with the tempo indication adagio. The third movement is called allemanda affettuosa; it is followed by a canzona and a movement in three sections: sarabanda largo, dopiata, tempo di corrente. The last movement is a menuet with one variation. The Sonata IV has again seven movements, but here the opening introdutione consists of no fewer than eighteen sections, alternating allegro and adagio.

There can be no doubt that Bernardi was a true violin virtuoso. He frequently uses double stopping. The allegro canzone from the Sonata VI, for instance, is dominated by double stopping from start to finish. Other techniques used by Bernardi are tremolo, ricochet and tapping. However, these are all embedded in a musical fabric which is musically compelling. These sonatas are anything but mere demonstrations of virtuosity. The many movements create a large amount of contrast in character and tempo.

The production standard is a little dissappointing. I already mentioned the lack of translations of the lyrics of the cantatas. The duration of the two discs is also wrong. And the English translation of the liner-notes leaves something to be desired; a native English speaker should have corrected it.

This is a set of discs lovers of the baroque violin should not miss. Not only is Bernardi's music great to listen to, Davide Belosio and his colleagues deliver outstanding performances. It is a bit of a mystery, why these sonatas have not been recorded before. Fortunately, this first recording does full justice to the character of these pieces. Whatever motivated Scheibe to his negative assessment of Bernardi, if these sonatas are anything to go by, he was most definitely wrong.

Johan van Veen ( 2020)

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I Solisti Ambrosiani

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