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Flights of Fantasy - Early Italian Chamber Music
Dario CASTELLO (1st half 17th C)
Sonata XIV à 4, due soprani e due tromboni overo violete [06:37]
Carlo FARINA (c.1604-1639)
Capriccio Stravagante [15:45]
Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676)
Sonata à 6 (1656) [05:30]
Biagio MARINI (1594-1663)
Passacaglio à 4
Heinrich Ignaz Franz VON BIBER (1644-1704)
Partia VI [16:14]
Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626-1671)
Sonata à 5 La Fugazza (1671) [04:51]
Sonata II à sopran solo [05:13]
Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669)
Sonata à 5 [08:16]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Canzona III (1627/37) [04:23]
Sonata XVI à 4 per stromenti d'arco [06:37]
Irish Baroque Orchestra Chamber Soloists (Monica Huggett, Claire
Duff (violin), Emilia Benjamin (alto viola, lirone, viola da gamba),
Alfonso Leal del Ojo (alto viola), Louise Hogan (tenor viola), Sarah
McMahon (bass violin), Thomas Dunford (theorbo), Siobhán Armstrong
(arpa doppia), Malcolm Proud (harpsichord, organ))/Monica Huggett
rec. 19-21 January 2009, St Peter's Church, Drogheda, County Louth,
AVIE AV2202 [78:56]
The title of this disc perfectly expresses
the character of Italian instrumental music of the 17th century.
In the 16th century the scene was dominated by vocal music in
general, and sacred works in particular. This dominance came
to an end towards the end of the century, and composers felt
free to experiment with textures, harmony, scoring and compositional
techniques. The programme on this disc is an amalgam of the
various ways composers used their freedom.
Some pieces are close to the style of the late 16th century.
The Sonata à 6 by Francesco Cavalli, for instance, is
dominated by counterpoint, with all parts treated on equal footing.
Interestingly, it shows the influence of the Venetian polychoral
technique in that it contains several episodes in which high
and low strings are juxtaposed. Like Cavalli Giovanni Legrenzi
worked in Venice, and his Sonata à 5 La Fugazza also
has a polyphonic texture. In fact, this piece is pretty close
to the consort music which was in fashion around 1600. This
kind of music was also held in high esteem in Austria, in particular
at the imperial court. Here Antonio Bertali worked from 1631
until his death, since 1649 as Kapellmeister. His Sonata
à 5 is also rather conservative.
At the other end of the spectrum we find Carlo Farina, who was
a virtuosic violinist, and worked at the court of Dresden for
a number of years. Several volumes of his music were printed
there, and through them he heavily influenced violin playing
in Germany. His Capriccio stravagante is his most famous
work, in which he uses the string instruments - one violin and
two violas - to imitate instruments, like the trumpet and the
guitar, or animals, like the cat and the hen. Several composers
from Germany and Austria, in particular Johann Jacob Walther
and Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, followed in his footsteps
and frequently included this kind of imitations in their compositions.
The latter also experienced with tunings, and in particular
the scordatura. His collection of seven Partias, which
were published under the title of Harmonia artificiosa-ariosa,
show his experiments in this regard. The Partia VI is a brilliant
example. Experiments with harmony are also present in the Passacaglio
à 4 by Biagio Marini, which contains dissonances and chromaticism.
Instrumental effects which were popular in Italy were the echo
and the tremolo. These are included in the Sonata II à sopran
solo by Dario Castello. This is a virtuosic sonata for a
solo instrument and basso continuo. The fact that he was a wind
player himself explains the fact that the scoring is not specified.
It can also be played on, for instance, the cornett. The two
other pieces by Castello are ensemble sonatas. The Sonata
XIV à 4 which opens the programme, is for two treble instruments
and two lower instruments; for the latter Castello specified
either trombones or violete. Here these parts are played
on viola da gamba and bass violin. The disc ends with Castello's
Sonata XVI à 4. This is specifically scored for strings,
and we hear two violins, tenor viola and bass violin.
The inclusion of a keyboard piece by Girolamo Frescobaldi may
seem a little odd, but in fact it makes much sense. The likes
of Castello and Farina expressed their "flights of fantasy"
in instrumental music, Frescobaldi did so in his keyboard oeuvre.
Through this he strongly influenced the style of composing in
the whole of Europe, and this influence reaches as far as Johann
If one listens to this disc it is easy to understand that composers
from above the Alps went southwards to listen and to learn,
and that Italian composers who travelled north found open ears
for their art. Their music was exciting, full of new ideas and
highly experimental, and the way they let their fantasy fly
was greatly inspiring. Monica Huggett and their colleagues have
found the right way to make this understandable to a modern
audience. They let their own fantasy fly, and this results in
bold and engaging interpretations. But their performances are
always disciplined. That is definitely right, considering the
fact that several composers warned for excessive ornamentation.
In particular in Fontana's Capriccio stravagante it is
tempting to do too much, and to add some effects to those written
by the composer. That could easily make a caricature of this
piece. But Ms Huggett is too sincere a musician to do so. She
and her colleagues use their own great skills at the service
of the composers and their skills.
John Cunningham has written excellent programme notes in English,
with translations in German and French. The booklet also contains
a list of the instruments used in this recording.
Johan van Veen