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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Cello Sonatas"

Accademia Ottoboni

rec: May 10 - 12, 2013, Cori (LT), Chiesa di San Francesco
ZigZag Territoires - ZZT338 (© 2013) (75'14")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Prelude in d minor (RV 38) (ed. O. Fourés); Sonata in e minor (RV 40); Sonata in E flat (RV 39); Sonata in F (RV 41); Sonata in g minor (RV 42); Sonata in a minor (RV 43); Sonata in B flat (RV 46)

Marco Ceccato, cello; Rebeca Ferri, cello [bc]; Matteo Coticoni, double bass; Francesco Romano, lute, guitar; Anna Fontana, harpsichord, organ

Vivaldi composed music for almost any instrument in vogue in his time. However, he gave special attention to the violin, his own instrument which he taught at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. It is assumed that he was also acquainted with most other string instruments, including the cello. His compositions show that he was well aware of its idiosyncracies. Whereas he composed many solo concertos for the cello the number of sonatas is limited: the catalogue of his works includes just nine authentic pieces for cello and basso continuo. It is very likely that he wrote more and that a part of his output in this department has been lost.

Vivaldi didn't publish his cello sonatas. However, in the late 1730s the French publisher Charles-Nicolas Le Clerc printed six of them, almost certainly without the composer's knowledge. The publisher tried to exploit the popularity of the cello in France which explains that in 1746 Francesco Geminiani published his cello sonatas op. 5 also in Paris. Le Clerc simply put together sonatas which circulated in manuscript. In his liner-notes Olivier Fourés points out that the publisher didn't bother to adapt the sonatas. "[This] edition does not hesitate to betray the original manuscript in several places, by smoothing out a number of augmented or diminished intervals, unprepared dissonances, and bold chromaticisms, sometimes omitting variations of motifs, adding rest signs around the repeats, and equipping the bass with a myriad of figures that have little in common with Vivaldian practice".

It is not known for sure for whom Vivaldi composed these sonatas. Some may have been intended for pupils of the Ospedale della Pietà, others were probably the result of commissions by dilettantes, mostly aristocrats. One of them could have been Count Rudolf Franz Erwein von Schönborn, for whom Giovanni Benedetto Platti also composed a considerable number of pieces. The Sonata in g minor (RV 42) and the Sonata in B flat (RV 46) are included in the library of the Counts of Schönborn-Wiesentheid.

These two sonatas follow largely the model of the Corellian sonata da camera and open with a preludio which is followed by an allemanda. The third movement in both sonatas has the tempo indication largo; in the Sonata in g minor it has the title of sarabanda. The last movement is a giga (RV 42) and a corrente (RV 46) respectively. The other sonatas are of the sonata da chiesa type, but otherwise there is little difference between them. The slow movements have mostly the indication largo, the fast movements allegro. Some sonatas include an andante. It is notable that this indication is sometimes given to a 'slow' movement (RV 39) and sometimes to a movement which is supposed to be fast (RV 42: allemanda). This indicates that this is a type of movement which is something in between.

The interpreters seem to be very aware of this as they make a clear distinction between andante and largo on the one hand and andante and allegro on the other. That is not obvious as I have heard many recordings in which the andantes are played as slow movements. The choice of tempi is generally very good here. The allegros are also treated differently, for instance in the Sonata in e minor (RV 40). Marco Ceccato has a very good sense of the rhythmic pulse; especially the fast movements are played here as true dances and some listeners may find it hard to keep their feet still. The slow movements have a great amount of expression, and Ceccato brings that out with the help of his beautiful tone and a fine dynamic shading. This is playing of the highest order.

There are two issues which raise questions. The first is the line-up of the basso continuo group. It is quite common these days to use a pretty large group for the basso continuo, and in this case Ceccato is supported by a second cello, a double bass, a lute or guitar and a harpsichord or organ. They play in different combinations, but in some movements the bass is pretty strong. This certainly contributes to the dramatic character of some movements. However, chamber music in the baroque era was first and foremost intended for amateurs. How many of them will have had access to such a variety of instruments? In large part they will have confined themselves to just one chordal instrument and probably a string bass. The second issue is the variety of instruments within a single sonata. The line-up of the basso continuo group often changes from one movement to the next. I can understand why it is done from a musical point of view but at the same time it breaks up the unity of a sonata. Moreover, it escapes me why for instance a harpsichord should not be suitable to participate in both slow and fast movements.

However, these are questions of a more general character. In no way do they diminish my admiration for these performances. I rate this recording very highly and consider it one of the best interpretations of Vivaldi's cello sonatas available on disc. It is regrettable that Ceccato didn't record all of them. Let's hope he will have the opportunity to add the remaining sonatas in due course.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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Marco Ceccato

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