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Domenico GALLO (c1730 - c1768): "12 Sonate a quattro"

Concerto Melante

rec: Dec 7 - 13, 2014, Berlin-Wannsee, Andreaskirche
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88875063252 (2 CDs) (© 2015) (1.39'33")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Sonata No. 1 in G; Sonata No. 2 in F; Sonata No. 3 in C; Sonata No. 4 in g minor; Sonata No. 5 in D; Sonata No. 6 in B flat; Sonata No. 7 in C; Sonata No. 8 in E flat; Sonata No. 9 in d minor; Sonata No. 10 in A; Sonata No. 11 in c minor; Sonata No. 12 in g minor 'Follia'

We are inclined to look at music history as a straight line. One period is followed by another which has its own features and differs from the previous. In fact it is not that simple. The style of composition and performance which was presented as entirely new by Giulio Caccini had its predecessors in the previous century. The stile nuovo was not the end of traditional polyphony, and in the time of the Empfindsamkeit and Sturm und Drang many compositions had still traces which were reminiscent of the baroque era. If one listens to the music which Concerto Melante has recorded without knowing the time it was written one would think that the composer lived at the end of the 17th century.

Little is known about Domenico Gallo. According to the 19th-century musicologist François-Joseph Fétis he was born around 1730 in Venice. His German colleague Robert Eitner refers to an oratorio from his pen the libretto of which was published in 1750. Otherwise only some trio sonatas are known. Among them is the set of twelve which was published in 1780 in London and which was attributed to Pergolesi. Igor Stravinsky used some of them for his ballet Pulcinella. However, although it is generally thought that Pergolesi is not the author, the attribution to Gallo is not established.

Nothing is known about the identity of the composer. Reinhard Goebel, in his programme notes, suggests he could have lived in a convent, especially because of the character of these Suonate a quattro which are dominated by counterpoint. Here "his bizarre instrumental style surely drew fewer reproaches from learned friars than from the carnivalized audiences of Venice". Goebel emphasizes the contrast between these concertos and the style which was dominant in Venice since the 1730s. He refers to the German violinist Johann Georg Pisendel, one of the greatest promoters of Vivaldi's music in Germany, who criticized later developments in his compositional style using words like "frivolity" and "impudence". Whatever one thinks about that, Gallo's concertos are certainly very different from the late works of Vivaldi or from his own contemporary Baldassare Galuppi.

All the sonatas are in four movements, in the basic sequence of slow - fast - slow - fast. In that respect they are modelled after the sonate da chiesa by Corelli. Another reminiscence of Corelli is the Sonata No. 12 in g minor which is a set of variations on La Follia; Corelli's set of sonatas op. 5 also ends with such a piece. Only in some sonatas Gallo derives from the Corellian model: the Sonata No. 3 has three fast movements, and opens with an allegretto. Also notable is the fact that in several sonatas the third (slow) movement follows attacca the previous (fast) movement. This creates a strong contrast which in many cases has a quite dramatic effect. Various movements include theatrical elements, for instance the opening adagios from the Sonatas No. 6 and No. 9. Some slow movements are quite expressive, such as the largo which opens the Sonata No. 8 and the third movement (adagio) from the Sonata No. 10. There are no strong dissonances, but here and there Gallo creates notable harmonic tension, for instance in the opening largo e staccato from the Sonata No. 4 and the adagio from the Sonata No. 7.

These sonatas are scored for two violins, viola and basso continuo. As the score includes indications of solo and tutti they are performed here with more than one instrument per part. The solo episodes are for the two violins and the viola, and are mostly rather short. In the concluding sonata two variations are allocated to the cello and the violone respectively, both in the last movement.

The manuscript of these sonatas was in the possession of Reinhard Goebel. He could not perform them as his ensemble Musica antiqua Köln was dissolved, and he handed it over to Concerto Melante with which he is (informally) associated (two members play violins which he once owned). This is a major discovery and one can understand that Goebel wanted these sonatas to be played and that the ensemble's leader Raimar Orlovsky became "impressed, enthusiastic and inspired" while studying them. These sonatas are different from anything we know. They are not spectacular as many concertos from Vivaldi's pen, but are rather characterised by a certain modesty. They are 'old-fashioned' for their time which is often - unjustly - considered a shortcoming. But these sonatas link up with the rich tradition of the late 17th century which speaks rather in their favour than against them.

This is very fine music, and I had no problems whatsoever to listen to these two discs at a stretch. There are no returning patterns; one never has the feeling that a sonata offers more of the same. There are really no dull moments which is not only due to the music but also the playing of Concerto Melante. These are engaging performances; the players produce a beautiful tone with much of the intensity we know from the former Musica antiqua Köln. The tempi are always well chosen, and I noted with satisfaction that the andantes are clearly different from the adagios - this difference is often neglected in recordings. It is also notable that the dramatic moments in various movements are given full weight.

If you are ready to discover new ground, don't miss this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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