musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Christmas Concertos"

Cappella Gabetta
Dir: Andrés Gabetta

rec: Jan 24 - 26, 2016, Müllheim (D), Martinskirche
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88985332982 (© 2016) (62'30")
Liner-notes: E/D/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Concerto grosso in g minor, op. 6,8 'fatto per la notte di Natale' [2]; Pietro Antonio LOCATELLI (1695-1764): Concerto grosso in f minor, op. 1,8 [3]; Angelo RAGAZZI (1680-1750): Sonata à 4 in G, op. 1,12 'Pastorale' [5]; Giuseppe VALENTINI (1681-1753): Sinfonia in B flat, op. 1,12 'per il Santissimo Natale' [1]; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Concerto for violin, strings and bc in E 'Il Riposo' (RV 270)a; Lorenzo Gaetano ZAVATERI (1690-1764): Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in D, op. 1,10 'Concerto decimo e pastorale'ab [4]

Sources: [1] Giuseppe Valentini, Sinfonie, op. 1, 1701; [2] Arcangelo Corelli, Concerti grossi, op. 6, 1714; [3] Pietro Antonio Locatelli, 12 Concerti grossi à 4 e à 5, op. 1, 1721; [4] Lorenzo Gaetano Zavateri, Concerti da chiesa e da camera, op. 1, 1735; [5] Antonio Ragazzi, Sonate a quattro, op. 1, 1736

Andrés Gabetta (soloa), Boris Begelman, Phuong-Maï Ngô, Francesco Colletti (solob), Juliana Georgieva, Betina Pasteknik, violin; Ernest Braucher, Ignacio Aranzasti Pardo, viola; Felix Knecht, Alexandre Foster, cello; Ján Krigovsky, double bass; Eduardo Egüez, theorbo; Giorgio Paronuzzi, harpsichord, organ

Since the Middle Ages Christmas was one of the main feasts of the year. This explains the large repertoire for this time of the year. In Italy it became a tradition to compose music for Christmas eve, the night before the first day of Christmas. This could be either instrumental or vocal music; an example of the latter category is Alessandro Scarlatti's O di Betlemme altera, a Cantata pastorale per la nascità di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo. The present disc sheds light on the probably better-known genre of the Christmas concerto.

In his set of twelve Concerti grossi op. 6 Arcangelo Corelli included a concerto explicitly intended per la notte di Natale. It is his most famous work, which is available in numerous recordings, and was already popular long before the emergence of historical performance practice. The most obvious feature of 'Christmas concertos' is the pastoral character of one or several movements. It is notable - but hardly ever mentioned in liner-notes - that in Corelli's concerto the section called 'pastorale', with the tempo indication 'largo' - has the addition ad libitum. This means that this concerto can be played outside the Christmas period by omitting the 'pastorale' section and closing the work with the allegro which opens the last movement. The same is the case with the Concerto grosso in f minor by Locatelli. Here the 'Christmas concerto' is also the eighth work of the set, and, like Corelli's concerto, it ends with a movement, called 'pastorale ad libitum', with the tempo indication 'largo - andante'. If it is omitted the concerto ends with an andante. Considering that this was not meant as a slow movement, but indicated a moderate tempo, that seems completely natural.

Whereas Corelli's concerto refers to Christmas eve in its title, Locatelli's concerto does not. As far as we know Vivaldi never composed a Christmas concerto. The Cappella Gabetta included the Concerto in E (RV 270) for violin, strings and bc, with the nickname Il Riposo. However, there is little Christmassy about it. It is notable that the association with Christmas is not even mentioned in the liner-notes to some recordings. This concerto was not conceived as a Christmas concerto; Vivaldi later used it to this end, probably for a performance in Rome. From this angle we have to take the statement of Giovanni Andrea Sechi in his liner-notes with a grain of salt: "He paints a notably elegant picture of the Nativity: the flawless sonorities of the muted strings (explicitly indicated by the composer) melodiously combining with the dreaming line of the solo violin." This kind of effects are quite common in Vivaldi's descriptive concertos.

Like Vivaldi's concerto the Concerto in D by Lorenzo Gaetano Zavateri also does not take the form of a concerto grosso. It is from a collection of twelve concertos, some of which belong among the genre of the concerto grosso, whereas others have one or two parts for an obbligato violin. The latter is the case with the concerto performed here. Several concertos have additional titles or descriptions. Two have the addition teatrale, one is called Tempesta di mare, a clear reference to Vivaldi. The present concerto is called Concerto decimo e pastorale. It is notable that again there is no specific connection to Christmas eve. The fourth and last movement is called 'pastorale', with the tempo indication 'largo'. This movement is reminiscent of Corelli's concerto.

The Sinfonia in B flat, op. 1,12 by Giuseppe Valentini (not Giovanni, as the track-list has it; the dates of birth and death are also wrong) is explicitly intended per il Santissimo Natale. Valentini was violinist by profession and lived and worked in Rome. The twelve Sinfonie op. 1, published in 1701, are scored for two violins, cello and bc, which suggests that they are rooted in the tradition of the trio sonata rather than the concerto grosso. Here it is performed with the usual string section, which is questionable. The whole piece seems to be written in the spirit of Christmas, as none of the movements refers to it and none of the movements has the indication of 'pastorale'.

The remaining work on the programme is different. Angelo Ragazzi's Sonata à 4 in G has the addition Pastorale, but this is not a Christmas concerto as Corelli's concerto grosso or Valentini's sinfonia. It consists of four movements, which take the form of a kind of Nativity scene. It is about the shepherds, who hear about the birth of baby Jesus, go to Bethelehem to adore him and then return. It is explained by the titles of the movements: in the first the angels appear; this has the additional description recitativo. The next movement describes the shepherds going on their way to the stable, appropriately in the tempo allegro. Then follows the adoration (vivace), and the sonata closes with the shepherds returning to their herds (allegro).

This is given a theatrical performance, which obviously is entirely right. Although overall the playing on this disc is pretty good, I am less enthusiastic about the way the pastoral movements are performed. There are mostly too strong dynamic accents, and too often the typically swaying rhythm of such pieces is underexposed. In Corelli's pastorale the players of the concertino do too much; I can't see why anything should be added to what Corelli has written down. In the andante from Valentini's sinfonia the pastoral character doesn't come off.

This is certainly a disc to investigate, especially because some of the lesser-known items (Ragazzi, Valentini, Zavateri). It is just a shame that in the pastoral movements the performers miss the point.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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