musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Concertos & sonatas from Naples

[I] "Il Soffio di Partenope - Works for Woodwind Instruments from 18th Century Naples"
Ensemble Barocco di Napoli; Abchordis Ensemble
Dir: Tommaso Rossi
rec: April 28 - May 1, 2018, Naples
deutsche harmonia mundi - 19439702432 (© 2019) (60'57")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Cherubino CORENO (1713-?): Trio for two recorders and bc in g minor; Nicola FIORENZA (c1700-1764): Concerto for recorder, three violins and bc in g minor; Ferdinando LIZIO (1728-1778): Concerto for bassoon, violins and bc in B flat; Francesco PAPA (c1700-c1750): Sonata for oboe and bc in D; Francesco RICUPERIO (?-after 1803): Sonata II for transverse flute and bc in G; Aniello SANTANGELO (c1710-1771): Concerto for transverse flutes, volins and bc in e minor; Domenico SARRI (1679-1744): Sonata for recorder and bc in F; Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725): Sinfonia di Concerto grosso No. 5 in e minor

Raffaele Di Donna, recorder; Tommaso Rossi, recorder, transverse flute; Fabio D'Onofrio, oboe; Giovanni Battista Graziadio, bassoon; Lathika Vithanage, Katia Viel, Gemma Longoni, Domenico Scicchitano, Marco Piantoni, Raffaele Tiseo, violin; Rosario Di Meglio, viola; Nicola Paoli, cello; Matteo Coticoni, double bass; Ugo Di Giovanni, archlute; Andrea Buccarella, Deniel Perer, Patrizia Varone, harpsichord

[II] "Neapolitan Concertos for various instruments"
Priska Comploi, recorder; Germán Echeverri, violin; Daniel Rosin, cello
Musica Fiorita
Dir: Daniela Dolci
rec: Feb 21 - 25, 2019, Basel, Adullam-Kapelle
Pan Classics - PC 10413 (© 2020) (65'27")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Francesco BARBELLA (1692-1732): Sonata III for recorder, violins and bc in C; Stefano GALEOTTI (1723-1790): Sonata I for cello and bc in C; Sonata II for cello and bc in D; Giovanni Battista MELE (1701-1752): Sonata XV for recorder, violins and bc in F; Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736) (attr): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in B flat; Domenico SARRI (1679-1744): Sonata XI for recorder, violins and bc in a minor; Francesco SUPRIANI (1678-1753): Sinfonia for cello and bc

Germán Echeverri, Karoline Echeverri Klemm, Katia Viel, Yelizaveta Kozlova, Marta Ramírez García-Mina, Sara Bagnati, violin; Salome Janner, Lola Fernandez, viola; Nicola Paoli, cello; Marco Lo Cicero, violone; Rafael Bonavita, Juan Sebastián Lima, theorbo; Margit Übellacker, psalterio; Daniela Dolci, harpsichord, organ

Naples was one of the main musical metropoles of Italy during the baroque period. No wonder that it has received quite some interest, but for a long time that was confined to the oeuvre of only a few composers. Antonio Florio is one of those who have played a key role in the performance and recording of music by unknown masters of the 17th and 18th centuries. He largely focused on vocal music, either sacred or secular, and in the case of the latter especially music for the theatre. That was one of the main genres in Naples in the baroque era. In comparison, little attention has been given to instrumental music by Neapolitan composers. The two discs under review here are important contributions to a broader picture of the music scene in Naples in the late baroque period.

In the programme of the Ensemble Barocco de Napoli and the Abchordis Ensemble, the recorder figures prominently. That cannot surprise, as this instrument seems to have played an important role in Naples. Francesco Mancini, one of the main Neapolitan composers from the first half of the 18th century, published a set of twelve recorder sonatas in London in 1727. A famous collection of recorder music, known as the 'Naples Manuscript', comprises 24 chamber concertos for recorder and strings. Another important source is a collection put together by the Austrian Aloys Thomas Raimund von Harrach (1669-1742) who from 1728 to 1733 was Viceroy of the kingdom of Naples (since 1707 Naples was occupied by Austria) and was a great lover of music and sponsor of the arts. Today the greater part of the collection is preserved in the New York Public Library; other parts have remained in the Harrach Family Archive in the Austrian State Archives. Moreover, recorder player and scholar Ines d'Avena, who specializes in Neapolitan recorder music and in July 2015 was awarded her PhD in Music by Leiden University for her research on the recorder in Naples during the baroque period, has been able to find over 90 concertos, sonatas and sinfonias which were composed in Naples between c1695 and c1760.

Recorder music from Naples, and especially that included in the 'Naples Manuscript', is pretty well represented on disc. Even so, two pieces which are part of the programme on the first disc are first recordings: the Sonata in F by Domenico Sarri and the Trio in g minor for two recorders and basso continuo by Cherubino Coreno. Music for other instruments is much lesser known. Of the remaining six pieces, three appear on disc for the first time, whereas a fourth, the Concerto in B flat by Ferdinando Lizio is recorded here for the first time on period instruments.

The bassoon also dates from the 16th century, and had been introduced from Spain. The first bassoon player to be active in Naples was a Spaniard, who served in the Cappella Reale from 1620 until his death in 1668/69. In the early 17th century, the bassoon (or dulcian) was given often virtuosic solo parts in sonatas and canzonas. In the 18th century, it was Vivaldi who composed a substantial number of solo concertos for it, but no solo sonatas. It does appear in some music for a small ensemble, such as the concerti da camera. It was likely not played often by amateurs; some bassoon parts have the cello as an alternative. In this programme we get just one piece: the Sonata in B flat for bassoon and strings by Ferdinando Lizio, a composer who has no entry in New Grove. He was a teacher at the Conservatorio della Pietŕ dei Turchini.

Wheras the recorder and the bassoon were played in Italy from the renaissance onwards, the the oboe and the transverse flute were much more recent. The oboe had been introduced at the end of the 17th century. In Venice, it replaced the cornett in St Mark's, and Vivaldi was one of the first to compose a substantial number of solo concertos for it; he also gave it prominent parts in other music. Overall, though, the number of concertos and sonatas for oboe by Italian composers seems rather limited. That is largely due to the fact that the oboe was almost exclusively played by professionals, whereas chamber music was mostly intended for amateurs. The most famous Italian oboist was Giuseppe Sammartini, but he worked for most of his life in England. Cherubino Coreno, mentioned above, was a professional on recorder, flute and oboe and was appointed at one of the conservatories to teach 'wind insrtruments'. Other composers/players may also have mastered several wind instruments.

The transverse flute in its baroque shape came from France, as did the oboe. It was played at the court and gradually disseminated across the continent. After 1700 it gained popularity quickly, especially among amateurs, and in the course of time it gradually sidelined the recorder. The first flute concerto in Naples was probably the one in D major by Nicola Antonio Porpora, who has become known as a composer of vocal music, and in particular as a singing teacher. In the 1720s, Neapolitan conservatories started to teach the flute. Francesco Ricupero, again omitted in New Grove, composed at least sixteen sonatas for the transverse flute.

The disc ends with one of the Sinfonie di Concerto grosso by Alessandro Scarlatti, in whose oeuvre instrumental music takes a very small place. He is said to have generally disliked wind instruments. Even so, he composed some chamber music for recorder which is included in the 'Naples Manuscript', and in the Sinfonia di Concerto grosso in e minor, he inserted parts for recorder and oboe.

It brings to a close a most interesting recital of music which is largely unknown. Although most pieces are rather short, they are of fine quality. They are not without virtuosity, for instance Francesco Papa's Sonata in D, in which the recorder moves to the top of its range in the opening movement. There are some challenging harmonies in the largo from Domenico Sarri's Sonata in F. Now and then one can observe some theatrical traits, which is not surprising in music from a city which was dominated by music theatre. It is to be hoped that the pieces performed here, which have been discovered as the result of a research project, will be made available in printed editions. Wind players will certainly be happy with substantial additions to their repertoire.

The concertos and sonatas receive the best possible interpretations from the members of the two ensembles. The wind players deliver some brilliant performances of the solo parts, and the ensemble is impeccable. In short, this disc is a winner in every respect.

The second disc includes three sonatas from the above-mentioned collection of 1725. The numbers refer to their place in that collection, and do not indicate any other concertos by the respective composers. The Sonata III by Francesco Barbella, for instance, is his only work for recorder. It opens with an expressive amoroso, which is followed by an allegro with theatrical traits. The ensuing allegro has an improvisatory character. From the same collection is the Sonata XI by Domenico Sarri (or Sarro), in which cantabile and theatrical elements are mixed. The Sonata XV by Giovanni Battista Mele is probably one of the least-known pieces from the collection. He was from Naples, but moved to Spain in the mid-1730s. The piece is notable for the prominent role of triplets and the use of acciaccaturas in the last movement. The third movement (adagio) includes some harmonic tension.

Whereas the first disc entirely focused on the role of wind instruments in Neapolitan instrumental music, the programme of Musica Fiorita also includes music for solo strings: the violin and the cello. Angela Fiore, in her liner-notes, mentions that the violin appeared in Naples as a solo instrument rather late, in comparison with other parts of Italy. There is no music from the early 17th century as we know it from in particular Venice. The first records of the violin being taught are from 1634. However, in the course of time a Neapolitan violin school came into existence. One of its products was Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. The Concerto in B flat is pretty well-known, but there are some doubta about its authenticity, as it bears some hallmarks of the concertos by Vivaldi. In particular the slow movement reminds me of them. It is a substantial work and this explains why it is available in several recordings.

In comparison, the cello pieces included here are largely unknown. Of the two composers represented here, Francesco Paolo Supriani is the best-known, as he was a real virtuoso on his instrument, which he learned to play after having been taught the violin. He also wrote a treatise, Principij da imparare a suonare il violoncello. It includes 12 toccatas; two of them - with their embellished versions - were included by Elinor Frey in "La Voce del Violoncello". The Sinfonia included here is a mixture of virtuosity and lyricism. Stefano Galeotti is included here because he is considered to be inspired by the Neapolitan cello school. He was not from Naples, and as we know very little about him, it is impossible to say whether he was ever in Naples, for instance as pupil at one of its conservatories. He worked for most of his life in Holland, and his sonatas were in demand as pedagogical material. Copies of these have been preserved in Naples. The two sonatas performed here comprise two movements in the order slow - fast.

The track-list does not indicate which pieces appear here on disc for the first time. That probably goes only for the cello pieces. In the end, it does not really matter, as hardly any of them is really well-known. Moreover, we get very fine performances by the three soloists and the ensemble as a whole. Germán Echeverri is an outstanding violinist, who delivers a creative interpretation of Pergolesi's violin concerto, with a nice cadenza in the slow movement. Priska Comploi's recorder playing is a joy to listen to; her performances are lively and imaginative. Daniel Rosin demonstrates the virtuosic features of the cello sonatas, but their lyrical traces come off equally well.

In short, this is an interesting and musically compelling programme of music which deserves to be better known.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Barocco di Napoli
Musica Fiorita

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