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Alessandro ROLLA (1757-1841)
Three Duos for Violin and Violoncello
Duo in B flat major Bl. 244 (1821) [20:55]
Duo in C major Bl. 242 (1821) [19:24]
Duo in A major Bl.243 (1821) [23:09]
Dora Bratchkova (violin); Alina Kudelevič (cello)

Rec. Saarbrücken, SR, Musikstudio 1, December 2001. DDD
CPO 999 964-2 [63:41]

Alessandro Rolla, respected in his day as a successful composer and brilliant violin and viola player, has been commemorated in this CD for his humbler musical offerings: the his violin and cello duets. Chappell White’s Grove dictionary entry is not ungenerous when it suggest that these duets "still maintain a small but deserved place as student pieces and amateur chamber music."

The three duets on this recording, dedicated to the Italian musician Francesco Bignami, were written for an 1821 performance at the Milan Scala by the composer himself and a young cellist, Vincenzo Merighi. The duets all follow the classical fast-slow-fast three-movement scheme and the internal thematic structures, for all their melodic beauty, are no less conventional. To Rolla’s credit, however, it is amazing that given the sparse instrumentation there is never a moment where the harmony or texture is lacking. Quite the opposite in fact – Rolla manages somehow to create an incredibly rich soundscape that is even orchestral at times without ever sacrificing the surface abundance of frills and virtuosity. It should come as no surprise that Spohr commended the one-time leader of the Parma Ducal court (1782-1802) and La Scala orchestra in Milan (1803) in particular for his immaculate orchestral management and sensitivity when accompanying concerti. Spohr also asserted his preference for Rolla’s compositions over those of his more flashy contemporary, Paganini, that lacked the former’s "inner unity". However, let it be noted that, on the podium, both Rolla and Paganini were a bit of a hit with the swooning ladies!

My first impressions of this recording were not exactly positive. A rather average performance drew too much attention to the compositions themselves - lacking any real depth or ingenuity. The resonant acoustic bore harsh witness to some sharp intonations, a floating, uncommitted tonal production, and worryingly insecure cello playing. Curiously, it is the violin that provides the anchor when, more often than not, the cellist struggles with the high registers and demanding scalic passages. The imbalance between the two musical protagonists is a fundamental problem since this music is constructed out of a dialogue that constantly cites musical ideas in playful alternation.

If you care to give this CD a chance, may I suggest going straight to the third track [the Tempo di Polacca from the Duo in B flat major Bl.244] where at least there is a sense of enjoyment that mitigates the performative discrepancies. If, however, you start with the first, be sure to do something really noisy at approximately 2m30s into the track … the cellist doesn’t enjoy the high registers and nor will you.

Aline Nassif


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