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Francesco Maria VERACINI (1690-1768)
Sonata No.1 in G minor, from Sonate a violino solo e basso, Op.1 (1721) [17:58]
Sonata No.5 in C major, from Sonate a violino, o flauto solo, e basso, (1716) [10:44]
Sonata No.1 in D major, from Dissertazioni…sopra l’opere quinta del Corelli (?1760) [11:50]
Sonata No.6 in A major, from Sonate accademiche, Op.2 (1744) [20:42]
John Holloway (violin), Jaap ter Linden (cello), Lars Erik Mortensen (harpsichord)
rec. Propstei St. Gerold, Germany, September 2003
ECM NEW SERIES 1889 476 7055 [61:48]

"Francesco Maria Veracini, and Tartini, his contemporary, were regarded as the greatest masters of their instrument that had ever appeared; and their abilities were not merely confined to the excellence of their performance, but extended to composition, in which they both manifested great genius and science. But whatever resemblance there may have been in the professional skill of these two masters, it was impossible for any two men to be more dissimilar in disposition: Tartini was so humble and timid, that he was never happy but in obscurity; while Veracini was so foolishly vain-glorious as frequently to boast that there was but one God, and one Veracini … Many silly stories are handed about Italy concerning the caprice and arrogance of this performer, who was usually qualified with the title of Capo pazzo" – so writes Charles Burney in his General History of Music (Vol.III, 1789).

One of the great travelling virtuosi, Veracini’s career took him from his native Florence to Venice and to many other parts of Europe – notably to London (several times), Dresden, Prague and elsewhere, before his eventual return to Florence, from 1750 onwards.

Tales of Veracini’s arrogance and eccentricity – which seem to have been real enough even if not all the stories about him were literally true – have sometimes distracted attention from the music itself – composed, as Burney says, with "great genius and science". This well-recorded CD from ECM presents four sonatas from different periods of Veracini’s career.

It was during a spell in Venice in 1716 that Veracini wrote out a fair copy of his first collection of sonatas and dedicated it to Crown Prince Frederick Augustus of Saxony, who was in Venice at the time, and at whose court in Dresden Veracini was eager to find employment. These sonatas are so written as to suit either violin or recorder as solo instrument – which means that the writing is less full of violin-specific effects than is usually the case with Veracini. It was only in this early set of sonatas that Veracini employed the four-movement form of the sonata. This sonata in C major is an attractively proportioned piece, its two largos, the first more elegant, the second more lyrical, being nicely complemented by two dancing allegros. It is, in truth, a more or less conventional work – and none the worse for that.

As John Holloway and his colleagues turn to later compositions by Veracini there is more evidence of his famous eccentricity; yet, as Holloway wisely says in his contribution to the booklet notes, it is a dimension of his work (as opposed to his life and character) that can easily be given undue prominence: "As in the case of any innovative composer who happens to have had an eccentric personality, it is tempting to look for the bizarre in Veracini’s music and over-emphasise it. I think this would be to underestimate him".

Op1. No 1 is eclectic, but not eccentric, in its materials. Its five movements begin with a French style overture; its second movement – marked ‘Aria. Affetuoso’ – has some attractive melodies and some striking chromatic writing; the third movement (‘Paesana’) makes effective use of folk materials; following a minuet, the sonata closes with a gigue, which fulfils the marking ‘Postiglione’ by the imitation of some posthorn calls. The interplay between the three instrumentalist is particularly impressive in this Op.1 sonata.

Op.2 No.6, in A major, belongs to the set described as Sonate accademiche when published in 1744.The title probably carries the implication that these were works intended to elicit the admiration of learned connoisseurs, rather than the general public. There is extensive – and complex – use of counterpoint and much technically demanding writing in the Sonate accademiche, and No. 6 is no exception. Formally Veracini is here quite close to the influential model that Corelli’s opus 5 set had provided. In the second movement of No.6 we have one of Veracini’s famous capriccios. Essentially a fugal movement, this movement also incorporates some of what Veracini called ‘bizzarie’, virtuoso passages of display and invention. John Holloway handles these passages perfectly, resisting the temptation to go overboard, allowing them to be contrasting parts of a larger whole, not ends in themselves. The fourth movement is remarkable and memorable – a firm walking bass beneath a spiralling melody.

In his late Dissertazioni … sopra l’opera quinta del Corelli, Veracini returns to that same set of violin sonatas by Corelli which so fascinated so many musicians in the eighteenth century. Veracini’s contrapuntal inventiveness, in terms both of "genius and science", is very evident in the subtle musical commentary within this first sonata of Veracini’s homage to Corelli – a homage which was clearly intended to say something of Veracini’s own claims as a composer!

Holloway, ter Linden and Mortensen are all of them performers with well-established reputations in the baroque field, and this programme of sonatas by Veracini can only enhance their reputations still further. Inevitably, it is Holloway’s playing which one notices – and admires – most on initial hearings. But further listenings bring home to one just how fine and important are the contributions of cellist and harpsichordist. This is very much a ‘team’ performance and is thoroughly recommended.

He may have been called Capo pazzo, but as a composer Veracini had certainly got his head screwed on the right way.

Glyn Pursglove

 

 



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