Per Flauto - Italian Recorder Music of the 17th Century
Giovanni Battista FONTANA (?-1630)
Sonata XV (1641) [3:47]
Bartolomeo DE SELMA Y SALAVERDE (c.1585-after 1638)
Canzon (1638) [4:46]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Canzona XI La Plettenberger (1628) [2:07]
Canzona XII La Todeschina (1628) [2:09]
Canzona III (1628) [3:37]
Aurelio VERGILIANO (c1540-c.1600)
Ricercata [3:34]
Bernardo STORACE (17th C)
Monica (1664) [7:12]
Francesco ROGNONI (?-before 1626)
Vestiva i colli (after Palestrina) (1620) [4:19]
Francesco TURINI (1589-1656)
Sonata I a 3 (1621) [3:25]
Sonata II 2. tuono (1621) [5:45]
Susan ung jour (after Lassus) (1638) [8:32]
Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665)
La Strada (1637) [4:30]
La Cattarina (1637) [3:20]
Ganassi-Consort, Köln (Cordula Breuer, Eberhard Zummach (recorder), Christina Kyprianides (cello), Joachim Vogelsänger (harpsichord))
rec. 1988, Evangelische Kirche, Hohnrath, Germany. DDD

When I received this disc I assumed it was a reissue as the recording date is 1988. In fact there is no indication that it has been reissued. I wonder why after more than twenty years a review copy has landed at my door. Never mind, despite its age it makes great listening.

There can be no doubt that the standard of recorder playing in Italy in the 16th and early 17th century was very high. In the booklet Eberhard Zummach mentions the name of Sylvestro Ganassi who published a tutor (La Fontegara) in 1535 which bears witness to that. We also know about a family of brilliant recorder players from Venice, the Bassanis, who went to England in 1540 and for several decades were at the service of the Court. The recorder would remain popular in Italy until the end of the 17th century when it was gradually overshadowed by the transverse flute.

The programme of this disc contains music from the first half of the 17th century. Although it was a time which saw a more idiomatic writing for various instruments, in particular the violin, many compositions are playable at any treble instrument. Even if composers did mention a specific instrument, the use of other instruments is not excluded. Massimiliano Neri, who was active in the mid-17th century, once wrote: "Even if (...) every Sonata is assigned to instruments, everything remains at the disposition [of the player] to change within the satisfactory confines of correct taste, & taking common practice into account".

And so this disc opens with a sonata by Giovanni Battista Fontana, which was probably written for two violins, considering the fact that he was a violinist himself. But in the title of the collection from which this sonata is taken he specifically mentions the cornett as an alternative. And as the playing technique of cornett and recorder are comparable there is no objection to a performance on the latter. Bartolomeo de Selma y Salaverde, on the other hand, was a wind player himself, more particularly a virtuoso on the bassoon, and his music is very suitable to the recorder. His diminutions on Susan ung jour, the famous chanson by Orlandus Lassus, was very likely written in the first place for his own instrument. Here it is performed with the cello.

Diminutions - melodic and rhythmic ornamentations of a given vocal line - were one of the popular forms of instrumental music in the decades around 1600. They show which music of the 16th century was most famous, and Lassus's chanson belonged to that category. So did Palestrina's madrigal Vestiva i colli which was used by Francesco Rognoni for diminutions, published in a collection of 1620. He was one of the most prolific writers of diminutions at the time. Variations on popular tunes were also written for keyboard, and Bernardo Storace took another popular tune, Monica. Girolamo Frescobaldi used this tune as cantus firmus for a mass. He may be mainly known for his keyboard music but he also composed a number of canzonas which were printed in 1628. He specifically intended them for "all sorts of instruments". Most of them have names whose meaning isn't always detectable. Like his keyboard works they are built from a series of contrasting sections.

Francesco Turini was trained as organist and was for a number of years at the service of Emperor Rudolf, first in Venice, and later in Prague. He was an innovator in that he added violin parts to his madrigals. He was also one of the first to write trio sonatas like the two sonatas on this disc which were printed at the end of a book with madrigals from 1621. They were intended for violins, but are very apt to the recorder. Tarquinio Merula was also trained as an organist, but he also played the violin. He is considered "one of the finest and most progressive Italian composers of his generation" (New Grove). The two pieces on this disc bear witness to that. They are called 'canzoni' but in their texture they mark the evolution from the canzona to the sonata in which the two upper voices are more free from the basso continuo. It is telling that they were published under the title 'canzoni or concertante sonatas'. From these 'canzonas' to the sonata da chiesa is only a small step.

There is one piece which is a bit out of step with the rest of the programme: the Ricercata by Aurelio Virgiliano is a renaissance composition, without a basso continuo. It is technically demanding but stylistically different from the baroque pieces. Its inclusion makes sense as it shows that the level of recorder playing in the 16th century was high. Here we find the roots of the virtuosity of early 17th-century recorder repertoire. In this piece Eberhard Zummach can show his own virtuosity as well. This recording is quite impressive: Cordula Breuer and Eberhard Zummach are fine players who perform this programme with engagement and stylistic understanding. The often elaborate ornaments come off very well and Christina Kyprianides and Joachim Vogelsänger support the recorder players with great rhythmic drive. The former plays the diminutions of De Selma y Salaverde nicely, but I still think they would sound better on the composer's own instrument, the bassoon. Storace's variations are given a fine performance by Joachim Vogelsänger.

I am not sure whether the Ganassi-Consort still exists. I haven't heard anything about them for years. But this disc is a fine testimony to their art. No one who likes Italian music of this period shouldn't miss it; recorder aficionados in particular.

Johan van Veen

Despite having been recorded more than 20 years ago this disc makes for great listening.