is the title Vivaldi gave to his Sinfonia in C which opens this
disc. It is the way Vivaldi spelled the Italian word "improvvisata",
which means 'surprise'. Its use as the title for the disc as
a whole may refer to the fact that most compositions in the
programme contain surprising effects which the composers used
to express what the titles of their works indicate.
titles don't indicate "programme music". As Adélaïde
de Place writes in the booklet, there is a difference between
"descriptive music" and "programme music",
but that difference isn't always very clear. One could say that
programme music is a musical account of a series of events,
whereas descriptive music is an imitation of phenomena, like
bird singing, a battle or a storm. From this perspective one
could say that Vivaldi's famous concertos, generally known as
"The Four Seasons", are more descriptive than programmatic.
And that is also the case with the compositions on this disc.
seems that Vivaldi's Sinfonia in C isn't so much descriptive
as merely an exploration of the potential for creating a surprise.
Surprising it certainly is: although the first movement's indication
is 'allegro' it contains several slow sections. One of these
is the very first, which is followed by a fiery fast section
which contains a short solo for the violin. Somewhat later the
oboes join the ensemble. The result is a strongly contrasting
movement, both in tempo and in dynamics.
next work is an Overture or Sinfonia by Giovanni Battista Sammartini.
It doesn't have a title, so one wonders why it was included
in the programme. But its place on the disc suggests it is played
here because Sammartini is the link between the baroque era
of which Vivaldi was a representative, and the next composers
in the programme who belong to the classical period. Sammartini
isn't exactly a household name and his music isn't very often
played in concert or on disc, but he was a very important figure
in the development of music. He spent his whole life in his
native city of Milan, and here famous composers visited him
- Johann Christian Bach, Gluck and Mozart. His music was widely
known in Europe and had great influence on the emergence of
the classical style. Haydn recognised his debt to Sammartini
in his development as a composer of symphonies. The andante
gets a beautiful lyrical performance here, whereas the last
movement is full of strong dynamic accents.
the next three composers only Boccherini is well-known. But
I assume very few will ever have heard the name of Carlo Monza.
He is closely associated with Sammartini in that he was also
from Milan, and succeeded Sammartini twice: first in 1768 as
organist of the ducal court when Sammartini became maestro di
cappella, and again in 1775 when Sammartini died and Monza was
appointed as his successor. He later also became organist and
maestro di cappella of Milan Cathedral. He was successful as
a composer of operas and of sacred music. In his Sinfonia detta
'La tempesta di mare' - a title Vivaldi also used a couple of
times - he depicts a storm at sea, mostly in the first movement.
It begins quietly, but then a crescendo announces the storm,
horns enter, later joined by the oboes. The phenomena of crescendi
and diminuendi are mostly attributed to the Mannheim School,
but it is more likely that Italian composers like Monza influenced
here by Niccolò Jommelli, who could be considered the true "inventor"
of these effects. The first movement is followed without interruption
by a beautiful lyrical andante. The work closes with a lively
is mainly known for his quintets and his cello concertos. As
a composer of symphonies he receives much less attention. Even
period instrument orchestras which regularly perform classical
symphonies hardly ever play one of his. The best-known of these
is the symphony recorded here. In the tracklist it is referred
to as "Symphony No. 6". I don't know where that comes
from: it is the fourth of a series of six, published in 1771
as opus 12. The nickname, "La casa del diavolo", is
not authentic: it has been given to it, because of its last
movement. "Introduced by a recollection of the opening
bars of the first movement, its subtitle tells us that it is
constructed as a 'chaconne representing the Underworld, composed
in imitation of M. Gluck in his Festin de pierre'".
This movement portrays the destruction of Don Juan and his descent
into hell. The other movements, in particular the first - andante
sostenuto, followed by allegro assai - are quite theatrical
too. The theatrical effects are brilliantly realised by Europa
last composer on the programme is again unknown: Giuseppe Demachi
- not to be confused with the 17th century French composer of
music for viola da gamba, Sieur de Demachy - was born in Italy
and spent the first stage of his career there in several capacities.
In 1771 he settled in Geneva, where also some of his compositions
were published. In 1791 he gave concerts in London, where he
also died at an unknown date. Demachi "evokes the bells
of Rome, whose sounds clash and mingle, on violin and flute".
These effects can mainly be heard in the first movement, but
also in the rhythms of the second movement. The frequent passages
in all movements where the strings have to play pizzicato are
certainly meant to depict bells as well.
concept of this disc may not be particularly original but the
choice of music certainly is. The lesser-known composers all
deserve more attention, as their works presented here are interesting
and of good quality. The instrumental music from the Italy of
the second half of the 18th century is rather neglected anyway,
so any recording with this kind of repertoire is most welcome.
I am impressed by the performances by Europa Galante, which
mainly plays music from the late baroque period - roughly from
1690 to 1750. It seems to feel equally at home in music of the
classical period. The playing of the wind section in particular
deserves praise. The only thing which is not very impressive
about this disc is its playing time: less than 54 minutes.
Johan van Veen
see also Reviews
by Brian Wilson and Jonathan