The Floating City - Sonatas, canzonas
and dances by Monteverdi’s contemporaries
Dario CASTELLO (fl.c.1610-1635)
Sonata No. 14 a 4 [6.18]
Sonata No. 10 a 3 [4.58]
Sonata No. 11 a 3 [5.09]
Sonata No. 5 a 2 [5.51]
Sonata No. 8 a 2 [4.48]
Sonata No. 17 in ecco [8.17]
Sonata No. 13 a 4 [7.26]
Giovanni PICCHI (c.1572-1643)
Canzon No. 19 a 8 [4'07]
Canzon No. 15 a 6 [4.18]
Canzon 17 a 8 [4.18]
Toccata (for harpsichord) [3.47]
Ballo Ungaro (harp) 2.53]
Padoana ditta la Ongara [3.08]
Canzon No. 18 a 8 (transcribed for two organs) [3.33]
Canzon No 14 a 6 [4.33]
Timothy Roberts (harpsichord, spinet, virginals, organ); Frances
Kelly (harp); Richard Egarr (organ); His Majesty’s Sagbutts and
rec. 17-19 September 1997, St Silas' Church, Kentish Town, London,
First issued as Hyperion CDA67013
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55320 [75.00]
It so happens that whilst I was listening to this CD - originally
released well over a decade ago - I was reading about the possible
spying activities in Venice of the ill-fated Kit Marlowe. Then
I read, in Andrew Stewart’s excellent and well-informed booklet
notes, that Dario Castello is also a mystery. We do know that
he claimed, in his two publications of 1621 and 1629, to be
a member of the Doge’s team of piffari or wind players, “Dario
of Venice, musician in our aforementioned chapel”.
Clear proof that he lived and worked in the city no archival
activity has yet to come to light. In fact there is no proof
that he even existed although family professional wind-playing
musicians of that name did live in Venice in the 16th
Century. It is even suggested that his name might be a pseudonym
designed to obfuscate other activities he might have needed
to indulge in order to supplement his income, as did other artists
at the time. The name ‘Castello’ is still common in Venice.
I can vouch for that having stayed there only few weeks ago
with a rather grumpy landlady and her family of that very name.
In any event he was a very fine composer as this CD attests.
The same applies to the better known Giovanni Picchi.
When it first came out in 1997 this CD achieved many plaudits.
It’s not just a CD of brass music; there are several works that
include strings and some solo items. The recording is well balanced
as to repertoire and always interesting. In fact David Staff,
Jeremy West and Adrian Woodward are some of the most expressive
and virtuosic cornetto players ever to have set foot in a studio.
There are works called Canzonas and others called Sonatas. Is
there a difference? Quite often a Canzona can be seen as a brief
instrumental item in three or four contrasting sections usually
with differing time signatures and often based on dance rhythms.
These might also be polychoral, as happens in works here, for
example Castello’s wonderful Echo Sonata. Ah, ‘Sonata’
… where does that fit in? To a certain extent there is no difference.
Iindeed for Picchi the terms seem to have been interchangeable.
Again these are in contrasting sections frequently alternating
and often in a more serious, imitative style with homophonic
and contrapuntal sections.
So let’s not get bogged down but look at some of these pieces
all of which are played superbly and with evident musical intelligence.
They are far removed from the cornetto playing of thirty or
so years ago.
Taking Castello first. He was a sophisticated and significant
figure and, as early as the 1620s was using bar-lines in his
instrumental publications (1621 and 1629). Recorded here are
seven pieces of various length and for varying instrumentation.
The opening track, Canzon 19 is for a double choir (as
used at St. Mark’s by Gabrieli before him) one of cornets, a
sackbut and continuo organ and one of four sackbuts. The Sonata
No. 11 a 3 is, by contrast, scored for two violins, sackbut,
harpsichord and organ. Apparently Castello was very keen to
specify the instruments he required. The last track, Sonata
No. 13 is one of the most impressive with its regular tempo
changes and instrumental colours. Chitarrone and harp are used
against cornets and sackbuts. This makes a wonderful kaleidoscope
As Stewart comments in his notes, Castello, if employed at St.
Mark's, must have “known the maestro di cappella Claudio Monteverdi”.
Indeed the cornetto lines, especially at the cadence points
and in the ornamentation, are very vocal and, as has often been
said, the cornetto sounds like a human voice.
Giovanni Picchi was a versatile composer as is demonstrated
here. There are three instrumental Canzons from his 1621 collection.
There’s also a piece for two organs, which is a transcription
of Canzon 18. We hear an earlier keyboard work, a Toccata,
which found its way into the FitzWilliam Virginal Book possibly
as early as 1615. It’s played brilliantly by Timothy Roberts.
There are two Hungarian-inspired pieces. One is a lively and
exotic Padoana ditta la Ongara with its ground bass and
its three passages of falling sequences marked, curiously ‘alio
modo’. It is played on the harpsichord. Then there’s a Ballo
Ungaro played here, and very successfully, on the harp by
Frances Kelly. Incidentally, I have a copy of both these pieces
reprinted from the 1621 ‘Intavolatura de Balli d’arpicordo’
by the London Pro Musica Edition (EK35 -1981) a collection of
seven keyboard pieces. It is fairly easily obtainable. The other
three works by Picchi are instrumental and include the Canzon
17 for a double choir of cornets and sackbutts.
Altogether then, this is a very fine recording. Not only is
the music fascinating but the performances are special. Buy