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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger


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Pietro Antonio FIOCCO (1654-1714)
Le retour du printemps, pastorale* [46:53]
Sonata for recorder and bc in C*** [06:04]
Tutto acceso d'amore, Cantata a voce sola** [04:32]
Sonata for recorder and bc in g minor*** [05:01]
Dimmi, Amor, aria for solo voice and bc** [01:39]
Julie Hassler (*), Raphaëlle Kennedy (*), Françoise Masset (*/**), Caroline Pelon (*), soprano; Jean-Michel Fumas, Gilles Guénard, alto (*); Philippe Noncle, haute-contre (*); Vincent Bouchot, baritone (*); Hugo Reyne, recorder (***)
La simphonie du Marais/Hugo Reyne
rec. live 20 October 1999 at the Théâtre royal de la Monnaye, Brussels (*); 21 October 1999 at the Academiezaal in Truiden (**/***), Belgium DDD
CYPRES CYP 3616 [64:11]


Many Italian composers of the 17th century went abroad to look for a job. Most of them travelled to Austria or Germany, but some took another direction. The best-known of them was Giovanni Battista Lulli, who as Jean-Baptiste Lully dominated musical life in France in the second half of the 17th century. Another was Pietro Antonio Fiocco, who stayed the largest part of his life in the Southern Netherlands.

Fiocco was born in Venice, where he probably received his first music lessons from his father Giaconto, a surgeon-barber, who played in the city’s marine corps. The first traces of his musical activities have been found in Amsterdam, where his 'Helena rapita da Parida' was performed in the recently founded opera in May 1681. Because of financial problems the Amsterdam opera had to close, and it seems Fiocco went to Hanover, where his opera was performed in June of that same year.

Brussels, the capital of the Southern Netherlands, saw the next - and final - stage in his career. There he married for the second time in 1682; his first wife and newly-born daughter had died in Amsterdam. He got three children, one of whom became a composer: Jean-Joseph Fiocco. After his second wife had died, he married a third time in 1692, and from this marriage he got 11 children, among them another son who was to become a composer: Joseph Hector Fiocco. Pietro Antonio remained in the Southern Netherlands until his death in 1714.

In Brussels he played a crucial role in the foundation of an opera. Since 1681 attempts had been made to establish a permanent opera house, but due to financial problems and obstruction from the authorities these attempts had failed. Thanks to an Italian financier and the support of the new governor, who was a great lover of music, from 1694 on Fiocco performed a number of works for the theatre. These included operas by Lully: Amadis (1695), Phaéton (1696), Armide and Thésée (1697). In 1700 the opera was formally established, and received the name of 'Théâtre sur la Monnaie' exists to this day.

The compositions featured on this disc reflect Fiocco’s two styles. We start with a pastorale modelled after the operas of Lully. Lully's operas are imitated, sometimes even quoted. While Lully made use of the recitative Fiocco preferred arias or ariettas. The vocal items here are interspersed with instrumental movements, just like the French ballet-operas. Towards the end, before the concluding duet and chorus, we hear a long chaconne.

The pastorale was recorded live during a performance in the very same theatre where it was first performed in 1699. The acoustics are very appropriate, much more so than those of a studio. And I am happy to say that on the whole the performance is rather good, the sopranos and the baritone in particular. Gilles Guenard's voice is not very strong, and as a result the balance between Guenard (as shepherd) and Julie Hassler (as shepherdess) in the duet 'Aimez, jeunes amants' is less than ideal. I also wondered about Philippe Noncle, who is mentioned in the booklet as an haute-contre, but doesn't sound like one to me, as his upper register isn't very strong. He has some problems in hitting the top notes of his part. The adoption of modern style French pronunciation is disappointing.

The other items on the disc were recorded in the studio. The two vocal pieces are examples of music in Italian style: a solo cantata, consisting of two arias, connected by a recitative. There’s also an aria which was originally part of Fiocco's 'burletta per musica' - a kind of comic opera - Coridone scultore, staged in Brussels in 1697, the score of which has been lost. Fiocco also composed chamber music: the sonata in G minor comes from a collection of sonatas by Fiocco, Pez, Pepusch and Croft, which was published in 1706 by Estienne Roger in Amsterdam. The sonata in C was discovered by Hugo Reyne in a copy by the French bassoonist Charles Babel. He performs these sonatas here, and although his playing is generally good, I don't like the slight wobble he seems to favour. The same is true for the soprano Françoise Masset, who performs the cantata and the aria, which are nice to hear, but too short to make a lasting impression. This is perhaps the best way to assess Fiocco's music and therefore this disc: it is nice to listen to - and interesting from a historical perspective - but probably not something I shall return to regularly.

Johan van Veen

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