Friday, May 19, 2023

The cello in Italy (2)

A few month ago I reviewed several discs with music for the cello by Italian composers from the 18th century. It is quite remarkable how many recordings of this kind of repertoire have been released in recent years. There was too much material for one blog, and therefore I decided to return to it later. In the meantime several more recordings have come my way. Reason enough for a sequel.

Giovanni Battista Sammartini has become best-known for his symphonies, which should have influenced Haydn. However, there is more to him than the symphonies. His oeuvre is large, and includes works in every genre in vogue in his time. The category of chamber music includes six sonatas which were published as his Op. 4, scored for cello and basso continuo. There are some doubts about the authenticity of the sixth sonata of this set, and that also goes for two separate sonatas in G major and G minor respectively. These sonatas share their fate with quite a number of other works attributed to Sammartini, some of which may have been written by his brother Giuseppe. The doubts about the authenticity of three sonatas did not prevent the Ensemble Dolci Accenti [1] from recording them. The disc of the sonatas Op. 4 and the two separate sonatas may well represent all that is or may have been written for the cello by Sammartini, although the booklet does not say so. It also may be the first disc entirely devoted to these sonatas; I only could find a disc of more than twenty years ago on modern instruments, including a piano. It is surprising that they are not more frequently played, because these are fine works, which are written in the galant idiom. That does not mean that they are devoid of expression; the slow movements have plenty of that. Many fast movements have an infectious rhythm, which is perfectly conveyed by the members of the ensemble. This disc is an important addition to the discography of 18th-century music for the cello.

For a long time the viola da gamba was the dominating string bass in England. With time, and largely due to the influx of Italian cellists/composers, this changed, and the cello became an increasingly popular instrument. One of the most prominent lovers of the cello was Frederick, Prince of Wales. He played the instrument himself, and several composers dedicated sonatas for his instrument to him. Among them were Andrea Caporale and John Ernest Galliard, who contributed six sonatas each to a collection, published in 1745. The six by Caporale have been recorded by Renato Criscuolo and the Romabarocca Ensemble [2], who extended their programme with arias from stage works by Handel, which have an obbligato part for the cello, written for Caporale. The latter was not known for his virtuosity, but rather his "full, sweet, and vocal tone", as Charles Burney put it. That comes well off here: these six sonatas are excellent stuff, which largely avoid technical fireworks, but are cantabile in nature. Criscuolo has realized this character perfectly. The idea to include arias by Handel is interesting and praiseworthy, but I am not happy with the choice of Angelo Bonazzoli to sing them. He has a rather small voice, and his singing is marred by an incessant and pretty large vibrato.

Salvatore Lanzetti was from Naples and received his musical education at the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto. In 1727 he entered the service of Vittorio Amedeo II in Turin. He held this post until his death, but had many opportunities to perform elsewhere. In the 1740s he lived in London, until at least 1754, and according to Charles Burney he played an important role in the popularization of the cello. He was a great innovator of cello technique, and his sonatas attest to that. Nine of the twelve sonatas Op. 1 consist of three movements; the other three come in four. There is no fixed order: some open with a slow movement, which is followed by two fast movements, whereas others are in the order fast - slow - fast. In 1991 Claudio Ronco [3] recorded the complete set with a traditional basso continuo line-up: cello, theorbo and harpsichord. He continued to study the music, and came to the conclusion that they ask for a performance on two cellos, without chordal instruments. That has resulted in the recording which was released by Urania Records. It is exciting and compelling music, and that is perfectly conveyed by Ronco and Emanuela Vozza. The choice of tempo and the treatment of dynamics result in often quite dramatic readings, which are hard to surpass. It is easy to understand that he was admired in his time.

The name of Dall'Abaco may ring a bell with lovers of baroque music because of the concertos by Evaristo Felice, who for many years was Kapellmeister at the Bavarian court. However, lovers of the cello rather think of his son, Giuseppe Clemente, who was a brilliant cellist. He contributed to the promotion of the cello during his stay in England in 1736/37, where he caught the attention of Charles Burney. In recent years his eleven Capricci for unaccompanied cello have been recorded several times. In comparison, his sonatas with basso continuo have received less attention. Elinor Frey [4], in the liner-notes to her recording of five sonatas, points out the various technical challenges to the interpreter, such as bariolage bowings, double and triple stop passagework and drones using open strings or the thumb. However, these sonatas are not just demonstrations of Dall'Abaco's brilliant technique, but very good and entertaining music. In some movements he may refer to the viola da gamba music of the past, such as in a modo di Viola da gamba (Sonata ABV 35). There are some beautiful galant slow movements, but also exuberant closing movements with influences of traditional music. The closing allegro, with the title La Zampogna, from the Sonata ABV 18 is a kind of Kehraus. All these pieces are brilliantly played. Elinor Frey not only shows her impressive technical skills, but also het obvious enjoyment of this music. She receives excellent support from her colleagues on the second cello, archlute and harpsichord. This is a disc no lover of the cello should miss.

Tommaso Giordani was a very productive composer, in particular of vocal music. He was born in Naples, settled in England in the 1750s and then moved to Dublin. His oeuvre includes a large amount of operas and songs, but also chamber music for various scorings, including string quartets, and keyboard music. There is no indication that he played the cello, but, according to the liner-notes to the recording of his six duets for two cellos by Charlie Rasmussen and Anton TenWolde [5], these pieces show that he must have had a more than average knowledge of the instrument and the way it is played. These duets may have been intended for the large and growing market of amateurs, and also bear witness to the dissemination of the cello on the British isles. The two cellos are treated on equal footing; often they get involved in a kind of dialogue. We may well see here the influence of Giordani's activities in the field of opera. The two cellists deliver outstanding performances; they treat the music exactly according to its intentions. They don't try to make more of it than it pretends to offer. There are no deep thoughts here: this is pure entertainment, and that comes off perfectly here.

Giovanni Battista Cirri was born in Forlì, between Bologna and Rimini, and was educated at the cello. He developed into a virtuoso on his instrument, and started to compose. In the 1760s he was in Paris, where he played at the Concert Spirituel and met, among others, Jean-Pierre Duport. He then moved to England, where he was active as a performer, for instance at the Bach-Abel concerts. He returned to Italy in 1780. Cirri has left a pretty large oeuvre of mainly chamber music, in which the cello plays an important role. The Breaking Bass Ensemble [6] recorded four of the eight duets that were published in London; the year is unknown. The work-list in New Grove does not mention the twelve sonate da camera, four of which are also included here. These were discovered in 2018 and are scored for cello and basso continuo. They were written after Cirri's return to Italy, which makes the scoring with basso continuo rather remarkable. Like the duets they are in three movements; the slow movement is either the first or the second. In the duets the two cellos are treated on equal footing, but sometimes the second acts as an accompaniment of the first. Cirri is not an entirely unknown quantity; some of his sonatas and concertos have been recorded. However, considering the size of his oeuvre, there is still much to discover, and this disc is a very fine addition to the discography. The Breaking Bass Ensemble, with Carlos Montesinos Defez and Guillermo Turina on cello, delivers outstanding performances.

The last recording to be reviewed here is an 'oldie': Roberto Gini [7] recorded four pieces for cello in different scorings as far back as 1992, but these were never released. With this disc we stay with Cirri, but then in different repertoire: the programme opens and closes with concertos for obbligato cello, two violins and bass, which were printed in London; the year of publication is not known. In New Grove they are ranked among the orchestral music, but that is incorrect: these concertos belong among the genre of the concerto da camera, and were undoubtedly intended for a performance with one instrument per part. That is the way they are played here. Cirri's music is mostly written in the galant idiom, and so are these concertos, which are very nice to listen to. Also on this disc is a sonata for keyboard (here harpsichord) and cello by the German composer Johann Melchior Dreyer, who was a prolific composer. He wrote a large amount of sacred music, which fell out of grace in the course of the 19th century. Today only some of his organ music appears in anthologies. Laurent Benosi is an entirely unknown quantity; New Grove does not mention him and the liner-notes - which are very concise anyway - don't include any biographical information. Here we get one of the six duets for two cellos which were published in London as his Op. 1. The fifth of these, performed here, suggests that they are valuable additions to the repertoire for this scoring. Roberto Gini and his colleagues have found exactly the right approach to this repertoire. The result is a fine and entertaining disc, which will give every lover of the cello much to enjoy.

[1] GB Sammartini: "Sonatas for Cello and B.c."
Ensemble Dolci Accenti
Brilliant Classics 96767 (© 2023) details

[2] Caporale: "Cello Sonatas" - Handel: "Arias"
Renato Criscuolo, cello; Angelo Bonazzoli, alto; Romabarocca Ensemble
Brilliant Classics 95622 (© 2019) details

[3] Lanzetti: "12 Cello Sonatas, Op. 1"
Claudio Ronco, Emanuela Vozza, cello
Urania Records LDV 14051 (2 CDs) (© 2019) details

[4] JMC dall'Abaco: "Cello Sonatas"
Elinor Frey, Mauro Valli, cello; Giangiacomo Pinardi, archlute; Federica Bianchi, harpsichord
Passacaille PAS 1069 (© 2020) details

[5] Giordani: "Six Duos for Two Cellos Op. 18"
Charlie Rasmussen, Anton TenWolde, cello
Centaur CRC 3819 (© 2020) details

[6] Cirri: "Sonatas and Duos for Cello"
Breaking Bass Ensemble/Carlos Montesinos Defez, cello
Brilliant Classics 96416 (© 2022) details

[7] "Il violoncello galante"
Ensemble Concerto/Roberto Gini, cello
Aulicus Classics ALC 0058 (© 2021) details

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