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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sinfonia No.4 in D
Sinfonia No.10 in G
Sinfonia No.12 in G
Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)

Concerto in B flat
Francesco BARBELLA (1692-1732)

Concerto in C
Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755)
Concerto ‘La Pazzia’ in A
Concerto in B flat
Leonardo LEO (1694-1744)

Concerto in D minor (L60)
L’Arte Dell’Arco/Federico Guglielmo (violin)
Rec. Oratorio di San Nicole, Vicenza, Italy, 28-30 January, 2000 DDD
GAUDEAMUS CD GAU 330 [73:27]


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I have several problems with this Gaudeamus release. Firstly, I selected this recording for review on the basis that it was a disc of Domenico Scarlatti’s Sinfonie and concerti and the front cover of the booklet bears that out. This release in fact has three short Domenico Scarlatti scores with two Francesco Durante compositions and a work each from Pergolesi, Barbella and Leo. The music of both Durante and Pergolesi total more than that of Scarlatti’s, so how can the disc be marketed as a Scarlatti release?

Secondly, the booklet notes seem pretty perplexing to me. I had to read up on each composer in my New Grove before I worked out that the common factor of this release is simply that all the five featured composers were contemporaries and formed part of what is now known as the ‘Neapolitan School’ which was active in composition and teaching in Naples during the early part of the eighteenth century. Frustratingly it was not easy to work out, nay impossible, from information in the booklet notes, the various instrumental combinations that are playing on each work.

Thirdly, the music contained on the release is not of particularly high quality and when I think that around that time the ‘prete rosso’ Antonio Vivaldi was working not too far away in Venice, the contrasting quality seems ironic. Overall the selected works display a most sparing use of ornamentation and there is a similar husbandry in melodic ideas. Domenico Scarlatti is widely acknowledged as a fine composer particularly in the genre of keyboard and sacred music yet these three Sinfoniae do not show him at his most memorable and seem pretty run-of-the-mill fare. The other Concerto works on the disc are not the most imaginative and inspiring scores to have come out of Italy in the late-baroque era either and their composers are generally better regarded for their Operas and Sacred music rather than for their brief forays into concertante works.

The substantial Concerto in B flat, from Pergolesi, which is the longest work on the release is the pick of the litter, for its attempted invention and expression. The lyrical and calming second movement largo is particularly impressive. Barbella’s Concerto in C which features a nicely played baroque flute by Stefano Bagliano, has some interesting moments but all too brief. The Durante Concerto in A ’La Pazzia’ is notable for its many striking contrasts within each of its three movements yet when there are fleeting episodes of imagination as in the third movement allegro he tends to over-repeat the idea showing an inability for development. Apart from his many Operas and Sacred works Leonardo Leo wrote a very fine Concerto for four violins and basso continuo which is available on Archiv Produktion 445 612-2 played by Musica Antiqua Köln under Reinhard Goebel. Leo’s Concerto in D minor is attractive yet it doesn’t have the same imagination and authority as his Concerto for four violins and the composer cannot seem to cultivate his ideas sufficiently to maintain the interest.

Fourthly, for me there is nothing finer than when late-baroque orchestral and concertante works are played well on period instruments. The performance from L’Arte Dell’Arco under Federico Guglielmo does use period instruments however the sound quality on this Gaudeamus release does not give the selected works their full justice. The choice of the combination of cello, theorbo and violone in the basso continuo section feels far too thick and heavy. With only sparing use of the harpsichord and no baroque organ the possibilities of adding a wider spectrum of colours was unfortunately missed. Several of the instruments seem far too closely recorded, especially the most resonant sounding violone, so much so I felt I was inside the instrument on occasions. The close recording prevents any real shine and smoothness in the tuttis and there is certainly no beauty of tone to flatter any of the strings. With regard to the direction of Federico Guglielmo it is most noticeable that the phrasing is frequently hesitant.

By way of a comparison there is a recording released last year of Concerti and Sinfonie from Domenico Scarlatti and his father. Using period instruments, under the direction of Fabio Biondi and Europe Galante on Virgin Veritas 7243 545495 2 6 the recording displays how marvellously it is possible to perform Domenico Scarlatti’s Sinfonie.

This disc of Domenico Scarlatti Sinfonie and Concerti that isn’t, was not my most pleasurable listening experience.

Michael Cookson

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