Nicola MATTEIS (c.1650-d. after 1714)
False Consonances of Melancholy - Ayres for the Violin
see end of review for track listing.
Baldomero Barcielo (viola da gamba, theorbo); Ronaldo Lopes (guitar, theorbo); Francesco Romano (theorbo, guitar); Anna Fontana (clavecin)
Gli Incogniti/Amandine Beyer (violin and direction)
rec. Tibaes Monastery, Portugal, 16, 20 March 2009

So, where does the curious title come from and who was Nicola Matteis? There is some confusion over when exactly he was born or died but he probably came from Naples and arrived in London in about 1672. There he made a great reputation as a violinist and composer with several publications. John Evelyn heard him play in November 1674 and so Matteis probably knew and is said to have influenced Henry Purcell. He purchased a property in Norfolk in 1714 and died in obscurity.

Matteis has been recorded before, for example by Nicholas McGegan and the Arcadian Academy on Harmonia Mundi (907067). Of his publications there are various ones entitled ‘Ayres for the Violin’ - at least four. One is called ‘False Consonances’ from 1682 and although these consist of separate movements with individual titles they can be formed as happens here into suites. Some of these suites comprise four movements others six or seven but each is normally headed with an improvisatory Prelude. On this recording the movements follow on quickly but there is a respectful gap between suites. Apparently Matteis when playing in public “simply”, according to Roger North, “selected movements from here and there”. But what about the title?

A False Consonance is really a poetic term for what the medieval church considered to be ‘the Devil’s interval’ - that is the augmented fourth or diminished fifth. What does that mean? It is the distance between say a C to an F sharp-three whole tones higher. It is hence also known as a tri-tone - in other words an awkward, ugly or uncomfortable melodic interval that should, by the laws of Palestrinan harmony be avoided. By the baroque period these laws and rules were often relaxed. In the first of two booklet essays Olivier Fourés reminds us from a contemporary treatise that “Any rule, however necessary it may be, is there to be broken”. It seems that Matteis’s character was a little wild and reckless. “He could not bear ill-timed applause” (please note proms audiences!) and improvised his programme as the mood took him”. He was also “a very prickly character” and this comes through the music often in its titles such as ‘Bizzerie all’Umor scozzese (A pretty hard Ground after the Scotch Humour to make a hand). Then there’s ‘Fuga curta per scarsezza di carta (A fugue, short through lack of paper) and several others. So, initially at least, Matteis is revealed as a curious and quixotic musician with a lively imagination for titles. He was a brilliant improviser and one who could sell himself if not his personality. After all this hype where does all of this leave the music heard on this disc?

Well I must report a little disappointment. I found only sporadic moments of special brilliance and although several melodies are long, arching and beautiful, none were memorable. In the second essay Amandine Beyer makes out a strong case for Matteis’s genius which does seem to be somewhat inflated. She also comments on how, physically, the music should be played. I quote “Many descriptions have been preserved of the violinist’s playing style … where he apparently held his instrument very low (around the level of the lower ribs) as seen in 17th Century paintings and which is surely close to folk practice.” There are she says “no insoluble problems” except that is the “female physiology”. Perhaps this is the reason why, in the only, (slightly revealing) picture of Amandine Beyer on the cardboard casing she is holding the instrument quite normally.

What about musical highlights? Beyer is accompanied by a crack team of continuo players: sometimes a gamba with a baroque guitar or occasionally a theorbo and a harpsichord - or clavecin as the booklet insists on calling it. The players are thoughtful enough to hold back sensitively when the violin is especially busy and imaginative enough to come to the fore in the less interesting passages.

With a disc of forty tracks choosing highlights is not easy. But to give you a good taste you could start with the Sonata which makes up track 1. The continuo is quite active under the slow pulse filling out with scales, arpeggiated chords and passing notes. The next track is a sort of Chaconne with a repeated ground bass launched by the continuo. This is the longest track at just over four minutes. It could be tedious but what with altering dynamics and a variety of articulation plus the gradually increasing virtuosity so brilliantly managed by Beyer this is a great performance. Track 10 is called an Aria but its happy compound time rhythm makes the continuo more into a ‘Giga’ in the shape of two guitars come into their own - here with no contribution from the violin. Track 21 is a ‘Movimento incognita’ in the French style. It has some of that “nervous introspection” Fourés mentions in his notes with its wild divisions on, again, a repeated bass. This is as long and as fascinating as track 2 mentioned above. Track 29 ‘Il Russignolo’ is just the opposite, being confident and dance-like. It moves into an imitative section (with the gamba and guitar) copying the song of the Nightingale. Track 39 ‘Aria for the flute’ is of course for the violin!

The recording is forward and yet natural and there is no ‘ecclesiastical’ sense of the monastic acoustic which if the photos are correct is a beautifully roofed room with artifacts and chairs and tables, - grand yet intimate.

So, although Matteis, whose dates incidentally are not quite correctly given, cannot be made out to be a forgotten genius, one cannot deny the fecundity of his art, his individuality and general influence on the period especially in England.

Gary Higginson 

Track listing
Sonata (Adagio) 2.03
Diverse bizzarie Sopra la Vecchia Sarabanda o pur Ciaccona 4.04
Passaggio rotto. Andamento Veloce 2.14
Fantasia 1.32
Preludio in fantasia 1.16
Allegro 2.01
Aria malinconica (Adagio) 2.25
Giga 0.40
Aria Amorosa 3.16
Aria 1.21
Preludio 1.25
Musica (Grave-Presto) 1.42
Sarabanda 2.37
Aria 1.10
Aria burlesca -Presto 1.56
Fuga 1.07
Giga. Al Genio Turchesco
Adagio 2.11
Allemanda ad imitation d’un tartaglia 1.36
Movimento incognito 4.05
Sarabanda Amorosa 1.33
Gavotta (Presto) 1.38
Preludio-Presto 1.41
Pavana Armoniosa 2.01
Il Russignolo 1.09
Preludio Allegro (Prestissimo) -Malinconico (Adagio)
Aria (Adagio-Presto) 2.19
Vivace. Eco 2.07
Fuga (Presto) 1.39
Preludio (Adagio) 1.30
Prestisimo 0.35
Un poco di maniera Italiano.Aria Ridicol (Presto) 1.25
Aria 1.33
Fantasia 1.26
Preludio in ostinatione. Passagio rotto 1.09
Andamento malinconco .Divisone ad libitum 2.43
Grave. Adagio 2.03
Aria for the flute 1.15
Giga 1.47