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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Filippo GRAGNANI (1767-1820)
Sonatas for violin and guitar: in D, op.8 no.1 (c.1808) [16:31]; in C op.8 no.2 (c.1808) [11:52]; in A, op.8 no.3 (c.1808) [17:21]
Franco Mezzena (violin)
Massimo Scattolin (guitar)
rec. L'Aquila, Italy, 9-13 April 1990. DDD
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802113 [45:45]

Experience Classicsonline

As the recording date implies, this CD is a re-issue, originally released by Italian label Rivoalto in 1990. Newton has simply provided a fresh cover and notes, although the original is nowadays very hard to come by and this music does deserve to be heard by a new generation. 

Filippo Gragnani was one of a cluster of Italian guitarist-composers who appeared in the generation following Luigi Boccherini at the turn of the 19th century. This included Mauro Giuliani, Francesco Molino, Luigi Legnani and Nicolò Paganini. One of the most important figures was Ferdinando Carulli, who became a good friend to the slightly older Gragnani - not younger, as the notes state - inspiring him to write guitar music. The two met up again in 1810 when Gragnani went to Paris, where he settled for a while and consolidated his reputation as a composer.
Like Paganini, Gragnani was also a violinist, and in these three Sonatas he is likely to bring the former to mind. Paganini wrote around eighty for this combination. That said his major influence was Carulli. Gragnani's Sonatas each have three movements, a lively allegro followed by a lyrical, theme-and-variations andante of a wistful nature, and rounded off with a rondo polacca. The writing is in a fairly conservative Italian style: idiomatic but entertaining, virtuosic at times yet never inelegant for it, but above all bubbling with foot-tapping energy and attractive melody. Confusingly, but as was commonplace in the 19th century, Gragnani has another op.8, a quartet for the unusual combination of clarinet, violin and two guitars - available, as it happens, on MDG Gold (MDG 3011415).
As is usual, Newton inexplicably fails to provide any biographical information about the performers. Be that as it may, Italian soloists Franco Mezzena and Massimo Scattolin are still going strong, as their websites here and here testify. These were recordings from early on in their careers, but very sound of technique and expression. Their approach is as unpretentious and good-natured as Gragnani's music.
One major consideration for the would-be purchaser of this disc must be the timing. Two decades ago it was normal if not satisfactory for CDs to last 45 minutes or less. Today it may seem more niggardly. A more recent release by Alba (ABCD 149), featuring Finnish soloists Ilkka Virta and Erkki Palola, yielded 52 minutes with the same three works. Following Rivoalto's original lead Italian label Fonè gave buyers the three Sonatas op.8 and three Duets for two guitars for their money (93F18CD) - influenced, it may be supposed, by the fact that Marco Annunziati and Marco Fornaciari's high-speed account of the Sonatas was over thirty-six minutes later!
Sound quality is good overall, although both instruments are set well back from the microphones; further back than Mezzena himself appears to be even, to judge by the proximity of his smooth but frequent inhalations! The booklet notes in English, German and French give a decent biography of Gragnani.
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