The title of this disc refers to the two most celebrated instruments in Italy in the 17th century. The cornett was frequently used in the 16th century, mostly playing colla voce
in sacred music. It was also used as an ensemble instrument, in particular in combination with sackbuts, for instance in the canzonas of Giovanni Gabrieli. Around 1600 it was given a solo role, first in diminutions on vocal items, then in more virtuosic canzonas and sonatas.
The violin was also used by Gabrieli in his instrumental works. But in his time it wasn't used as a solo instrument. It was only in the first decades of the 17th century that composers started to write more virtuosic pieces for solo instruments. The title of this disc sheds light on a widespread practice, that pieces were scored for either cornett or violin. For a long time they were interchangeable, and they were considered to be on equal footing in regard to their expressive capabilities.
The programme on this disc shows that gradually the violin overshadowed the cornett. It is telling that most composers represented on this disc were violinists by profession. With the progression of time more and more pieces were written which were so idiomatic for the violin that it became virtually impossible to perform them on the cornett. Biagio Marini, for instance, made use of double-stopping in his Sonata per sonar con due corde
, and that excludes the use of the cornett.
In some pieces the treble part is predominant, for instance in the canzonas by Frescobaldi. But in others the bass part is of almost equal importance, for instance in the Sonata per violino e basso
by Giovanni Paolo Cima. Not without reason the Sonata à basso e violino ò cornetto
by Biagio Marini mentions the bass first in its title: the string bass - here a bass violin - begins the proceedings, and is joined later by the cornett. In the Sinfonia in d minor
by Alessandro Stradella the violin and the cello are equal partners.
When in 1698 the cornett player of the San Marco in Venice died, he wasn't replaced, but an oboist was appointed instead. That marked the end of an era. But at that time the cornett had already lost its importance. Although in the second half of the 17th century composers still indicated that the treble part in some sonatas could be played on the cornett, its heyday had gone. Stradella's sonatas and certainly the chamber music of Arcangelo Corelli were specifically written for the violin. The cornett was no longer an option.
The repertoire on this disc not only bears witness to the impressive technical skills of violinists and cornettists, they also reflect some fashions of the time. Among them are echo effects - often used in operas and oratorios - and tremolos, for instance in the Sonata II a soprano solo
by Castello. The Sonata I 'La Pellicana'
by Maurizio Cazzati is an interesting piece. The opening section is dominated by wide leaps in the treble part, probably depicting the flapping of the pelican's wings.
Theresa Caudle studied both the cornett and the violin. In her personal notes in the booklet she writes: "I became known as a cornettist who also played the violin, but the emphasis gradually changed and for twenty-five years or so I considered myself a violinist who occasionally played the cornett." Could this change in direction be the explanation for the performances on the violin being generally more satisfying than those on the cornett? Her technical skills at the cornett are notable but she is too cautious and too restrained in the way she performs the cornett pieces. In his programme notes Peter Leech writes about the "fresh, extrovert, emotive characteristics" of Frescobaldi's canzonas. But in Theresa Caudle's performances those features are not fully revealed. Even in the violin pieces Ms Caudle's playing is more convincing in the later works than in the earlier compositions. Stradella and Corelli are beautifully done, but in Cima, Fontana and Castello the tempi are too moderate and the dynamic range too limited.
That said, I don't hesitate to welcome this disc. The programme is an interesting survey of the development in instrumental writing in 17th-century Italy and all the pieces are brilliant and absorbing in their very own way. I am sure that lovers of this kind of repertoire will enjoy this disc, even though a part of the programme is quite well-known and not all performances are totally satisfying.
The booklet includes a list of instruments used by the members of Canzona and the sources from which the various pieces are taken. The dates of the composers should have been given in the tracklist rather than in the liner-notes. The recording would have benefited from a little more space.
Johan van Veen