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Giovanni Antonio PIANI (1678-1760)
Sonata in b minor, op. 1,8 [13:12]
Sonata in D, op. 1,10 [10:19]
Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762)
Sonata in b minor, op. 1,8 [7:45]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1750)
Sonata in D, op. 1,13 (HWV 371) [11:45]
Sonata in c minor, op. 1,7 [7:02]
Giovanni Antonio PIANI
Sonata in e minor, op. 1,2 [11:02]
Sonata in G, op. 1,4 [13:12]
Emilio Percan (violin), Oriol Aymat Fusté (cello), Luca Quintavalle
rec. 14 - 17 October 2011, St. Nikolaus-Kapelle, Velbert, Germany.
ONYX CLASSICS ONYX 4099 [74:52]
How do you present music by an unknown composer on a market
which already overflows with discs and in particular in a time
of economic decline? You can devote a whole disc to this repertoire,
but there is a good chance that a considerable part of the target
group would remain sceptical. So many interpreters pretend that
the music they have discovered is of world-class quality. Do
we need to believe them? Emilio Percan tries to convince us
that the music of Giovanni Antonio Piani is really worthwhile.
He does so by presenting it together with music by two well-known
masters of his time. That seems the most sensible way: if the
listener is disappointed about Piani, he still has Handel and
Geminiani to enjoy.
It seems that Percan is the first to have recorded any music
by Piani, although the set of sonatas for violin and bc was
published in 1975. It is the only extant music by him. It is
not known whether he composed more. That seems quite likely,
though, considering the fact that he was held in high esteem
and made a brilliant career as a violinist. Piani was born in
Naples, where his father, who was from Bologna, acted as a trumpeter
at the court. Four of his brothers also became professional
musicians. Giovanni Antonio entered the Conservatorio della
Pietà dei Turchini, where he was trained for eight years.
He then moved to Paris where he settled in 1704 and was soon
considered one of the greatest Italian violin virtuosos. In
this capacity he took profit from the increasing fascination
of Italian music for French audiences. By 1712 he was leading
violinist to Louis Alexandre de Bourbon, Count of Toulouse and
Admiral of the French Fleet. At that time he was naturalized
and had adopted the name of Jean-Antoine Desplanes.
In 1721 he joined the imperial chapel in Vienna, where he remained
for the rest of his life. His status is reflected by the fact
that he was the highest-paid instrumentalist of the court chapel.
At the end of his career he had become director of instrumental
music. The sonatas which are the thread of this disc were published
as his opus 1 in 1712 in Paris. Six of the twelve are for violin
and six for either transverse flute or violin, all with basso
continuo. The collection is especially interesting because of
the preface in which Piani gives extensive information about
various aspects of performance practice, like fingering, bowing
and dynamics, and also because of various markings in the music
itself. The latter include symbols which indicate crescendi,
diminuendi and messa di voce. This can be explained by
the fact that few musicians in France were acquainted with the
Italian way of violin playing. It was considerably different
from the French way as the writer Charles de Brosses observed.
The sonatas are a mixture of the sonata da camera and
the sonata da chiesa. They begin with a preludio;
three of the opening movements on this disc have the addition
affettuoso. Next come two or three dances: allemanda,
corrente, sarabanda or giga. The sonatas end with one or two
movements with an indication which refers to the sonata da
chiesa: adagio, andante and allegro. If the four sonatas
on this disc are an indication of the character of the whole
set Percan's enthusiasm is not hard to understand. The thematic
material is always interesting and engaging, and the way Piani
treats it is highly satisfying. There is much to discover and
enjoy here. Listen to the sparkling aria (allegro) from
the Sonata in D, op. 1,10 or the two last movements of
the Sonata in G, op. 1,4: a highly expressive adagio
and a brilliant and virtuosic allegro assai with frequent
double-stopping. The virtuosity of many movements is not lost
on Percan who makes a great impression with his playing technique.
His performance is never at the cost of expression or good taste.
The slow movements are delivered with great sensitivity, his
phrasing and articulation are immaculate, and his ornamentation
decent and tasteful.
His playing is just as superb in the other pieces on this disc.
Francesco Geminiani and George Frideric Handel both spent a
large part of their lives in England, even playing together
at the court. Among the pieces they performed were the sonatas
opus 1 by Geminiani, which show traces of his admiration for
Arcangelo Corelli. He gained by the Italomania - as Vivaldi
scholar Michael Talbot calls it - which had English music-lovers
in its grip. Geminiani's sonatas follow the model of the sonata
da chiesa, with its sequence of four movements, slow-fast-slow-fast.
Handel was so popular as a composer that unscrupulous publishers
printed sonatas in scorings and keys which were not according
to Handel’s intentions. They even published sonatas under
his name which were not from his pen. As a result the corpus
of chamber music is rather complex. The Sonata in D (HWV
371) is one of those whose authenticity is established, and
which was originally intended for the violin. Handel uses thematic
material from earlier compositions from various moments in his
career, and therefore it is considered his latest sonata for
Percan's qualities come to the fore here as well. I must not
forget to mention his partners, Oriol Aymat Fusté at
the cello and Luca Quintavalle at the harpsichord. They greatly
contribute to the splendid delineation of the rhythmic pulse,
which is also emphasized through the dynamic accents in the
violin part. All three are members of the German baroque orchestra
l'arte del mondo, which explains their strong congeniality in
the interpretation of this repertoire.
This is a superb disc, in fact one of the best discs with baroque
violin music I have heard for some time. Making the acquaintance
of the music of Giovanni Antonio Piani was a most pleasant experience.
I hope that his other sonatas will be recorded in the near future,
preferably by these three fine artists.
Johan van Veen