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"Roma - Virtuosity in the Roman Seicento"

Alte Musik Köln

rec: April 28 - May 2, 2008, Honrath, Evangelische Kirche
myrios classics - MYR002 (© 2009) (69'12")

Francesco Antonio BONPORTI (1672-1749): Sonata in d minor, op. 1,5 [3]; Sonata in G, op. 2,10 [4]; Antonio CALDARA (1671?-1736): Concerto da camera in d minor; Lelio COLISTA (1629-1680): Sonata a 3 in c minor (W-K 38); Carlo Ambrogio LONATI (c1645-c1710/15): Sonata VIII; Giovanni Lorenzo LULIER (1662?-1700?): Concerto da camera in F; Carlo MANNELLI (1640-1697): Sonata VI in C, op. 2,6 'La Verdoni' [1]; Sonata IX in g minor, op. 2,9 'La Panuzzi' [1]; John [Giovanni] RAVENSCROFT (1650-1708): Sonata VI in A, op. 1,6 [2]; Alessandro STRADELLA (1639-1682): Sinfonia XXII in d minor

(Sources: [1] Carlo Mannelli, Sonate a tre, op. 2, 1682; [2] John Ravenscroft, Sonate a trč, op. 1, 1695; [3] Francesco Antonio Bonporti, Sonate a tre, op. 1, 1696; [4] Sonate da camera a tre, op. 2, 1698)

Chiharu Abe, Christina Rox, violin; Klaus-Dieter Brandt, cello; Ulrich Wolf, viola da gamba, violone, contraviolon; Yamato Hasumi, theorbo; Léon Berben, harpsichord

The title of this disc is simple, but at the same time telling. Rome around 1700 is definitely a subject worth to devote a disc to, as it was one of the most important musical centres of Italy. This was largely the result of many aristocrats and ecclesiastical dignitaries establishing themselves in the city and creating their own chapels and engaging musicians of high calibre. The names of Marchese Ruspoli and the Cardinals Ottobone and Pamphili spring to mind, and since 1655 the former Swedish Queen Christine lived in Rome and acted as one of the city's main musical patrons.

This disc contains music by a number of composers who for some time lived and worked in Rome. There is no guarantee that these particular pieces were all composed and/or performed in Rome, as some composers made their career mainly elsewhere, like Antonio Caldara and Alessandro Stradella. But it gives a fairly good impression of the kind of repertoire played in Rome and the level of composing and playing in the city.

The trio sonata is one of the main genres of instrumental music of the baroque era. It came into existence in the 17th century and lasted well into the 18th. Today this form is mostly associated with Arcangelo Corelli, and he certainly was a very important representative of this genre and created a structure which was used as a model by composers of the next generations. But he didn't invent the trio sonata. This disc contains one of the earliest trio sonatas written in Rome, the Sonata a 3 in c minor by Lelio Colista. He was a player of the theorbo and the guitar and in high demand as a teacher. He made a considerable fortune and lived in one of the fashionable parts of Rome. Musically he had a strong influence on Corelli. Although the tracklist doesn't give any movements - probably because the manuscript doesn't give any either - this sonata consists of four sections of contrasting tempi.

Colista played with several other musicians of his time, among them Carlo Mannelli, who was a castrato and violinist, nicknamed Carlo del violino. He played in the best ensembles of the city, and was appointed as professore del violino of the Congregazione di Santa Cecilia in 1663. His instrumental music - most of which is probably lost - is technically demanding as the two sonatas from the opus 2 on this disc testify.

Carlo Ambrogio Lonati also wrote trio sonatas but here he is represented by one of his sonatas for violin and bc, which he is most famous for because of their high technical standard. The Sonata VIII contains double stopping and Lonati also makes use of the scordatura technique, which is very rare in Italian music. The first movement is divided into five contrastring sections. This is followed by an allemande, an allegro and a giga.

Lonati was closely associated with Alessandro Stradella who is best known for his amorous escapades which ended in him being murdered in 1682 in Genua. In the process of the investigations Lonati, who was in Stradella's company, was deported from Genua and in the next years worked in several cities. Stradella was highly regarded as a singer and composed a large number of vocal works, in particular cantatas. The number of his instrumental works is rather small, among them some trio sonatas, called sinfonie. The Sinfonia XXII is remarkable in that the second part is for the cello instead of the violin. This makes Stradella one of the earliest composers for this instrument which only started to rise to prominence in Italy in the third quarter of the 17th century.

One of the main representatives of the cello was Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier, whose Concerto da camera in F which ends this disc, is written for solo cello, 2 violins and bc. He was also active as a player of the trombone and was in the service of Cardinal Pamphili and later Cardinal Ottoboni. The worklist in New Grove only contains vocal works, so I assume this concerto has been discovered fairly recently.

Antonio Caldara is the most famous name among the composers represented on this disc, who called himself musico di violoncello. He probably was taught the cello by the cello virtuoso Domenico Gabrielli. His first position was that of cellist at San Marco in Venice. From 1708 to 1716 he worked in Rome, and then left for Vienna where he would develop into one of the most famous and versatile composers of Europe. Whereas Lulier's concerto da camera is in four movements, Caldara's Concerto da camera in d minor, with the same scoring, is in the 'modern' Vivaldian form of three movements: fast - slow - fast.

The odd man out in the programme is John Ravenscroft, who during his stay in Italy called himself Giovanni. He was born in England and probably travelled to Rome as part of a Grand Tour. He presented himself as a dilettante, and as a pupil of Corelli, for which there is no objective confirmation. His music wasn't universally acclaimed as some accused him of imitating Corelli in his sonatas. This didn't prevent them from being widely sold. His Sonata VI in A is from his opus 1, which was printed in 1695 and follows Corelli's model of the sonata da chiesa.

Lastly, Francesco Antonio Bonporti, also a composer who called himself a dilettante. He was from a distinguished family, studied theology at the Collegium Germanicum in Rome and then worked in his birthplace Trent as a priest and composer. He had his music printed on his own expense which he sent to several important people all over Europe. Four of the Inventioni op. 10 were once attributed to Bach. The liner notes tell us they were dedicated to Bach, but I haven't found any mentioning of that in reliable sources. It is also not explained how Bonporti may have known Bach as he never went further north than Innsbruck.

This description of the programme may suffice to show that this is a most interesting and intriguing disc. All music is of a high calibre and it is hard to understand why most of the composers on this disc are largely ignored. The pieces which have been selected for the programme are often technically demanding, but also very expressive and original. The ensemble does give everything to show that this music is worth to perform and to listen to.

Alte Musik Köln is a relatively new ensemble, founded in 2006 by the basso continuo section of the German ensemble Musica antiqua Köln. As this ensemble was disbanded they decided to go on with new players. The result is an ensemble whose style of playing is very reminiscent of Musica antiqua Köln, for instance in its strong rhetorical approach to the music and the large the contrasts in tempi and dynamics. This results in evocative, colourful and technically brilliant performances which make this disc a fascinating document of the art of music making in Rome in the decades around 1700.

Splendid music and exciting performances - what else should we ask for?

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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