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Arcangelo CORELLI & Francesco GEMINIANI: Solo & Trio sonatas

[I] "Corelli Bolognese - Trio Sonatas by Corelli and his Successors"
Musica Antiqua Latina
rec: Nov 24 - 29, 2013, Rome, Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Panisperna
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88875174822 (© 2016) (52'11")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Sonata a 3 in C; Floriano Maria ARRESTI (1667-1727): Ricercare; Giovanni Battista BASSANI (c1647-1716): Sonata a 3 in D; Giovanni Maria BONONCINI (1642-1678): Sonata a 3 in g minor; Maurizio CAZZATI (1616-1678): Ciaccona; Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Sonata a 3 in d minor, op. 3,5; Sonata a 3 in G, op. 2,12; Sonata a 3 in g minor, op. 3,11; Domenico GABRIELLI (1651-1690): Balletto IV, op. 1,4; Giuseppe TORELLI (1658-1709): Sonata in D; Giovanni Battista VITALI (1632-1692): Balletto

Domenico Gabrielli, Balletti, gighe, correnti, alemande, e sarabande, op. 1, 1684; Arcangelo Corelli, Sonate da camera a tre, op. 2, 1685; Arcangelo Corelli, Sonate a tre, op. 3, 1689; Giovanni Battista Vitali, Artificii musicali ne quali se contengono canoni in diverse maniere, contrapunti dopii, invention curiose, capritii, e sonate, op. 13, 1689

Paolo Perrone, Gabriele Politi, violin; Giordano Antonelli, cello; Francesco Tomasi, theorbo, guitar; Andrea Buccarella, harpsichord, organ

[II] Arcangelo CORELLI (1653 - 1713): "Violin Sonatas Opus V vol 2"
Enrico Onofri, violin; Imaginarium Ensemble
rec: Nov 21 - 22 & 24 - 25, 2013, Crema, Cascina Giardino
Passacaille - 1101 (© 2015) (57'35")
Liner-notes: E/F/I
Cover & track-list

Sonata II in B flat, op. 5,2; Sonata IV in F, op. 5,4; Sonata VI in A, op. 5,7; Sonata VIII in e minor, op. 5,8; Sonata XI in E, op. 5,11; Sonata XII in d minor, op. 5,12 'Follia'

Alessandro Palmeri, cello ('violone'); Simone Vallerotonda, archlute; Alessandro Tampieri, guitar; Riccardo Doni, harpsichord, organ

[III] Francesco GEMINIANI (1687 - 1762): "Violin Sonatas Op. 4 vol. 2"
Liana Mosca, violin; Antonio Mosca, cello; Luca Pianca, archlute; Giorgio Paronuzzi, harpsichord
rec: June & August 2012, Nomaglio (TO), Chiesa di S. Bartolomeo
Stradivarius - Str 33937 (© 2015) (73'04")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

Sonata II in e minor, op. 4,2; Sonata IV in d minor, op. 4,4; Sonata V in a minor, op. 4,5; Sonata VIII in d minor, op. 4,8; Sonata IX in c minor, op. 4,9; Sonata XI in b minor, op. 4,11

In the last decades of the 17th century Rome was the place to be for young musicians. In the field of instrumental music it was Arcangelo Corelli who was the most famous name and it was to hear his music and to take lessons from him that musicians from elsewhere visited Rome. One of the best-known examples is Georg Muffat. Corelli had a strong influence on next generations of performers and composers, and one of those who was strongly influenced by him was Francesco Geminiani. Far less known is how Corelli learned his art and in what context he himself developed into one of the main composers of his time.

The first disc to be reviewed here points to the city where Corelli worked in his early years. The subtitle is rather odd: "Trio Sonatas by Corelli and his Successors". Most composers included in the programme were older than Corelli and were contemporaries rather than successors. Musically speaking there is not that much which connects them and most of the pieces recorded here don't show Corelli's influence.

Corelli was born in Fusignano, a small town between Bologna and Ravenna. It is generally assumed that he took his first violin lessons from a priest in the nearby town of Faenza. In 1666 he went to Bologna. There are conflicting reports about his teachers. It seems likely that Giovanni Battista Bassani was one of them; his Sonata a 3 in D opens the disc of Musica Antiqua Latina. Its first movement comprises two sections, allegro and presto, and is followed by an adagio and a short vivace.

Bologna was an important centre of music, and among the composers who were active there we find Maurizio Cazzati, Domenico Gabrielli - an exponent of the cello - and Giuseppe Torelli. The latter had a strong influence on the development of the concerto grosso and the solo concerto. Cazzati, who was maestro di cappella of the Basilica S. Petronio from 1657 to 1671, is represented here with a Ciaccona. This is built up from the bass which is the most prominent part of this piece; it is followed immediately by the Ciaccona which is the only movement of Corelli's Sonata da camera in G, op. 2,12. Here the variations in the string parts over the basso ostinato are more important than the rhythm in the bass.

The liner-notes fail to discuss the connection between Corelli and the other composers on the programme. It is not explained why the Sonata a 3 in g minor by Giovanni Maria Bonincini was included; he was born near Modena, studied there and seems to have worked there all his life. The reason could be that Bononcini was an important link in the development from the sonata of the early 17th century to the type of sonatas written at the end of the century, such as those by Corelli. One of the aspects of this development is a more formal division of sonatas in movements. That is the case here as well, but at the same time this sonata has some traces of the earlier type: some movements include tempo fluctuations as we find them in earlier sonatas and the two slow movements are linked by a presto which can hardly be considered a separate movement as it takes just 15 seconds.

This disc is certainly interesting as far as the repertoire is concerned and there is every reason to pay more attention to instrumental music around Corelli and by composers from an earlier generation than has been the case so far. But presenting it without any elaboration of its historical context is a bit of a missed opportunity. Musica Antiqua Latina's performances are good, although I don't like - and question the plausibility - of the use of a guitar in the basso continuo, and in particular its use as a kind of percussion instrument. It plays a particularly prominent role in Cazzati's Ciaccona; I don't understand why the performers decided to let this piece die down as I assume it has a proper ending.

Not much needs to be said about the sonatas op. 5 by Corelli. They belong to the standard repertoire of violinists and there are plenty of recordings to choose from. They were published in 1700 but Corelli started their composition about twenty years before. The set is divided into two halves, the first comprising six sonate da chiesa, the second six sonate da camera, the last of which is a series of variations on La Follia. These sonatas are technically demanding and include things like double and triple stopping, fast runs and rapid arpeggios.

The concision of this description of the sonatas gives the opportunity to focus on aspects of performance practice which Enrico Onofri discusses in his liner-notes. The first is the addition of ornaments. The edition of 1700 omits any embellishments of the slow movements. In 1710 Estienne Roger published an edition with agréemens which he claimed were from Corelli's own pen. There has always been much doubt about that claim; even so, they are considered 'authentic' in the sense that they seem to reflect the way performers of the time added embellishments to what was written down. Onofri points out that today's performers have to deal with the problem that recording ornamentation - meant to be improvised - is basically unnatural: "[It] anchors the choices of the performer in a defnitive way: improvising the ornaments as we do in a live performance is unthinkable in a recording". He also states that improvised embellishments tend to be exaggerated and "prevent the understanding of the original melodic structure". Following the printed ornamentation slavishly "would make the sonatas too archeological and impersonal, thus entirely missing the point of the act of embellishment itself." He decided to look for a compromise: his ornamentation is a mixture of the material in the 1710 Roger edition, sometimes modified, and "restrained ornaments and cadences of my own".

Another interesting aspect is the pitch: the a=390 Hz "which is very close to that of the Roman organs of that period". He doesn't tell why that is of any importance; there is no reason to believe that these sonatas - not even the sonate da chiesa - were specifically intended for ecclesiastical use. A further feature is the use of a particular kind of cello: "the only large-size Roman cello (called "violone" at the time) that has survived in its original condition, built by Simone Cimapane, luthier and player of "bass instruments" in Corelli's orchestra in Rome".

This is all very interesting and I regret that I haven't heard the first volume of this project. I have greatly enjoyed this second volume: Onofri is an outstanding player and delivers very captivating performances of these six sonatas. The restraint doesn't result in a boring interpretation. On the contrary: as is so often the case less is more - the listener can focus here on Corelli's sonatas and is not distracted by the extravagancies of the interpreter. Even if you have this Op. 5 set in your collection, probably even in more than one recording, you should investigate these performances by Enrico Onofri and his colleagues.

Francesco Geminiani claimed to be a pupil of Corelli but there seems to be no documentary evidence of that. There can be no doubt that he was strongly influenced by Corelli: as a token of his admiration he arranged Corelli's sonatas Op. 5 as concerti grossi. Some of these are quite well-known and so are his six sonatas Op. 5 for cello and bc. Otherwise little of his output is part of the standard repertoire of today's performers.

I was not a little astonished to read in the booklet to the Stradivarius disc that this recording is the first of the complete Op. 4, a set of twelve sonatas for violin and bc. It is only logical to compare them with those by Corelli. The latter's sonatas are in four to six movements; Geminiani's sonatas come in three or four. Some movements are quite long, sometimes over five minutes, something which happens very seldom in Corelli's sonatas. But the main difference is that Corelli's sonatas are clearly structured whereas Geminiani's sonatas seem highly irregular. Enrico Careri, in his liner-notes, considers this the main reason for the lack of interest in them. He refers to critical remarks of Charles Burney and then states that the criticism was "about irregularity in Geminiani's rhythms and melodies, asymmetric musical phrases, and above all, 'a confusion in the effect of the whole, from the too great business and dissimilitude of the several parts'." He studied the music and came to the conclusion "that its irregularities and asymmetries should not be considered negative, but distinctive aspects of a complex way of writing music which is never predictable".

"Their irregularity and asymmetry do not depend on how many bars there are, but the systematic use of elisions, contractions, syncopation and retardation, further complicated by numerous ornaments and diminutions", Careri goes on. If one listens to these sonatas shortly after having heard Corelli's Op. 5, the difference is quite startling. Time and again I felt that I was listening to specimens of the Sturm und Drang in which different ideas follow each other in almost random order. There are indeed many irregularities in rhythm and melodic progress but there are also quite some unexpected pauses. Technically these sonatas are certainly not easy either as they include much double stopping. Geminiani "continually surprises us by avoiding the easy solutions and tedious redundancy typical of much music at the time". The latter part of this quotation is entirely the author's view but he is absolutely right about the surprising effect of Geminiani's sonatas.

I have been completely captivated by these pieces and the brilliant way they are performed by Liana Mosca and her colleagues. Again I have not heard the first volume but this second disc encourages me to look out for that one. I definitely want to hear the rest. That is probably the best compliment I can give the interpreters. This project should encourage other performers to explore Geminiani's oeuvre which is not that large but is definitely worthwhile.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Liana Mosca
Enrico Onofri
Musica Antiqua Latina
Imaginarium Ensemble

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