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Cello Sonatas & Concertos from the Wiesentheid library

[I] "Viaggio italiano - Music of the library of the Counts of Schönborn"
Christoph Dangel, cello; Mayumi Hirasaki, violina; Mara Miribung, cello [bc]; David Sinclair, violone; Rosario Conte, theorbo, guitar; Sergio Ciomei, harpsichord
rec: Sept 27 - 29, 2012, Marthalen, Reformierte Kirche
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88765488332 (© 2013) (71'42")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Gerolamo BASSANI (1st half 18th C): Sonata for cello and bc in F (WD 422); Ermengildo Abbate DEL CINQUE (1690?-1773): Sonata for cello and bc in e minor (WD 533); Sonata for cello and bc in c minor (WD 534); Giuseppe Antonio PAGANELLI (1710-1764): Sonata for cello and bc in a minor (WD 897,8); Giovanni Benedetto PLATTI (1697?-1763): Sonata for cello and bc in E (WD 698,6); Sonata for violin, cello and bc in B flat (WD 688)a; Gennaro ROMANELLI (1st half 18th C): Sonata for cello and bc in A (WD 735); Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Sonata for cello and bc in a minor (RV 44) (WD 532)
(WD) refers to the catalogue of the Wiesentheid library

[II] Andrea ZANI (1696 - 1757): "Complete Cello Concertos"
Martin Rummel, cello
Die Kölner Akademie
Dir: Michael Alexander Willens
rec: Nov 14 - 17, 2012, Wuppertal, Immanuelskirche
Capriccio - C5145 (2 CDs) (© 2013) (2.10'37")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Concerto No. 1 in A (WD 793); Concerto No. 2 in a minor (WD 789); Concerto No. 3 in D (WD 792); Concerto No. 4 in d minor (WD 795); Concerto No. 5 in G (WD 790); Concerto No. 6 in g minor (WD 797); Concerto No. 7 in C (WD 788); Concerto No. 8 in c minor (WD 798); Concerto No. 9 in B flat (WD 796); Concerto No. 10 in F (WD 794); Concerto No. 11 in e minor (WD 791); Concerto No. 12 in f (WD 799)
(WD) refers to the catalogue of the Wiesentheid library

Anna Maria Smerd, Riccardo Caraceni, Mayumi Harada, Andreas Hempel, Filippo Zucchiatti, Bettina Ecken, violin; Ann Garlid, viola; Teresa Kaminska, cello; Thomas Falke, double bass; Simon Martyn-Ellis, theorbo, guitar; Willi Kronenberg, harpsichord, organ

It is thanks to the collector's mania of some individuals that many compositions from the past have come down to us which would otherwise probably have been lost for ever. In the 17th century it was Gustav Düben who brought a large number of pieces from across Europe, and in particular from Germany, together in what now is known as the Düben-Sammlung. At the end of the 17th century the French composer Sébastien de Brossard was an avid collector of music from France and Italy. The two recordings to be reviewed here are entirely based on one large source: the library of Rudolf Franz Erwein, Count of Schönborn (1677-1754) who had his residence in Wiesentheid. The castle still exists, and here the library which he created is held.

The count was the fourth of seven brothers who - as was common in aristocratic circles - were all educated in music. The elder brothers took up the violin, Rudolf learned to play the cello. That was quite remarkable as before the turn of the century the cello was hardly known and used above the Alps. In Germany the favourite string bass was still the viola da gamba. However, the brothers regularly visited Italy and it could be that Rudolf became here under the spell of the cello. When they travelled to Italy they hired a servant to carry the cello. In Italy the brothers became acquainted with some of the best music of the time. In a letter from 1716 it is mentioned that they preferred to play Corelli, Albinoni, Mascitti and Vivaldi.

Shortly after the turn of the century Rudolf succeeded to the title of Count Wiesentheid. He settled in his castle, married and started to build up a large collection of music. He purchased the first scores in 1694 and continued to add new pieces to his library until the 1740s. Because of that it reflects the stylistic changes during those about 50 years. The music of Giovanni Benedetto Platti is particularly well represented. That is because Platti had a special connection to the Count. In 1722 he had entered the service of Rudolf's elder brother Lothar Franz, who was archbishop in Würzburg. Here he was appointed as oboist in the court orchestra. However, only two years later his employer died, and his successor disbanded the court orchestra. Since his appointment he had built up a good relationship with Rudolf, and in 1724 he moved to Wiesentheid where he remained until 1729. He especially composed a large number of pieces with a prominent role for the cello. It seems that he was also able to play the violin and therefore it is quite possible that the Sonata in B flat was written for performances of Platti and the Count.

As the Count was active as a diplomat he was not only able to collect music at various places, but also to set up a wide network of people who provided him with the latest music. This resulted in a sizeable library which includes 145 printed editions and nearly 500 manuscripts, many of them unique copies. Among the composers we not only find famous names such as Vivaldi and Caldara, but also little-known masters. No wonder that Christoph Dangel's disc includes six first recordings; only the Sonata in a minor by Vivaldi and Platti's Sonata in E have been recorded before. Likewise Martin Rummel is the first to record the set of twelve cello concertos by Andrea Zani.

Giuseppe Antonio Paganelli is the only unknown composer in Dangel's programme who has an entry in New Grove. A contemporary document describes him as virtuose dilettante; he probably was a violinist as there are reports that he was a pupil of Tartini. He was from Padua and worked at various German courts, including that of Margravin Wilhelmine of Bayreuth. He composed music for the theatre and instrumental music. Gerolamo Bassani was a singer at the court of Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn in Würzburg. Gennaro Romanelli is only known thanks to the presence of compositions in the Wiesentheid library. Abbate del Cinque is also an almost completely unknown quantity. It is interesting to note that one of the compositions attributed to him has been identified as a work by Vivaldi. All the sonatas are all written after the model of the Corellian sonata da chiesa.

Italian instrumental music is basically theatrical in nature, and that comes off perfectly here. Christoph Dangel creates a maximum of contrast through his choice of tempi: the slow movements are played really slow, the fast movements are performed with considerable speed. The slow movements have much expression, such as the adagio which opens Platti's Sonata in E. The first largo from Del Cinque's Sonata in e minor is another impressive piece, especially in this performance with only a (second) cello for the basso continuo. In the fast movements Dangel clearly exposes the rhythmic pulse, which lends them a strong dance-like character. Some listeners may find it hard to keep their feet still. Dangel's colleagues deliver excellent support, and Mayumi Hirasaki gives a good account of the violin part in Platti's Sonata in B flat.

For reasons of repertoire and performance this disc deserves unreserved praise.

The repertoire of the second recording is equally interesting. Andrea Zani also ranks among the little known masters of the Italian baroque, although several of his collections are available on disc. The work-list in New Grove makes to mention of these concertos which were discovered by Dr. Jill Ward who in 2010 wrote a biography of this composer as her Ph.D. thesis. Zani was born and died in Casalmaggiore, near Cremona, and was educated as a violinist. He met Antonio Caldara who invited him to accompany him to Vienna. Here he worked as a violin virtuoso and teacher, without ever having an official position at the imperial court. From these years dates the connection between Zani and Count Rudolf. Although the latter seldom visited Vienna, the family had several palaces there. Zani dedicated his twelve violin sonatas op. 4 to the Count.

The twelve cello concertos have the same basic structure as Vivaldi's solo concertos. They are all in three movements, and in everyone of them we find episodes for cello solo and ritornelli. However, as Jill Ward states in her liner-notes, the treatment of both is different from one concerto to the other. This is all extensively analyzed, and that is very helpful in understanding and appreciating these concertos.

A peculiar feature of this recording is the combination of a modern cello with an ensemble of period strings. It is comparable with the recording of Jean-Guihen Queyras in concertos by Vivaldi. This practice is hard to understand and rather unsatisfying. I have great admiration for Martin Rummel's playing and his performances are as good as it gets on a modern cello. They are certainly much better than Queyras's in Vivaldi. However, especially in fast passagework the limitations of a modern instrument come to the fore. The booklet doesn't indicate whether he uses gut strings, but I assume he does. A specific problem which also manifested itself in Queyras's disc is the balance between the modern cello and the period strings. The former tends to dominate, and that is especially regrettable as these are concerti da camera in which the cello is nothing more than primus inter pares. One could argue that in these concertos the tutti should be played with one instrument per part. Here we hear six violins; if that number had been reduced, the cello might have be even more dominant.

This is not the ideal line-up for these concertos. Having said that, they are of outstanding quality and have to be considered a great addition to the repertoire for the cello. My reservations in regard to the use of a modern cello have not stopped me enjoying these discs.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Martin Rummel
Kölner Akademie

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