Venice played a leading role in music in the 16th and 17th centuries.
For this reasons it’s no challenge to put together a programme
with music which in one way or another can be linked to Venice.
Most composers who are included in the programme of this disc
had worked there for some time. The exceptions are Girolamo
Frescobaldi and Giovanni Antonio Bertoli. The latter can only
be linked to Venice because his single collection of instrumental
music was printed there in 1645.
The central figure is Dario Castello who was the director of
the wind ensemble of San Marco, but that is as much as we know
about him. Two collections of instrumental music were printed
in 1621 and 1629 respectively, both in Venice, comprising 29
sonatas in total. They bear witness to two features of instrumental
writing in northern Italy in the early 17th century. Firstly,
the instrumental parts are quite virtuosic and certainly not
suited to amateurs. This is music for professional players of
the kind who worked at San Marco and in the chapels of aristocrats.
Secondly they consist of sequences of passages of a strongly
contrasting character. It was here that the foundations of the
stylus phantasticus were laid which would have such a
lasting influence in northern Germany, in particular in the
organ music of that region.
Castello wasn't the only one who composed virtuosic instrumental
works. Biagio Marini was his colleague at San Marco, working
there as a violinist. He stayed only five years, from 1615 to
1620, and then moved to Brescia. In the next years he led a
gypsy existence and worked at several places, including Parma,
Düsseldorf and Milan. Fifteen collections of his music
have been preserved, with the opus numbers 1 to 22 which means
that a considerable part has been lost. The two sonatas on this
disc are from his op. 8, which was printed in 1626.
Another collegue of Castello was Giuseppe Scarani, who was educated
as a singer and an organist. After acting in the latter capacity
in Mantua he was a singer at San Marco from 1629 to 1641. The
largest part of his relatively small output consists of vocal
music. The Sonata XIII is from his only collection of
instrumental music. It is full of chromatic passages which is
a feature of his instrumental works.
Giovanni Picchi was also educated as an organist; he played
the lute as well. He worked as organist in several Venetian
churches, but his attempt to become second organist of San Marco
in 1624 was to no avail. His main collection of music is for
keyboard, the Intavolatura di balli. A toccata was included
in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. The Sonata à 2
is taken from his only other publication, the Canzoni da
sonar, printed in Venice in 1625.
The probably least-known of the composers on this disc is Giovanni
Antonio Bertoli, who was a player of the dulcian by profession.
He worked for a short while in Verona, but his whereabouts after
that are unclear. He himself declared that he had been in the
service of Emperor Ferdinand III. His Compositioni musicali
of 1645 is the first collection of sonatas for the dulcian,
and also the very first collection in history which comprises
exclusively solo sonatas for a single instrument. As they are
technically demanding one may assume they reflect his own skills.
The track-list mentions the scoring of the sonatas. That is
the scoring in this recording, which is not necessarily the
scoring given by the composers. Castello's Sonata XV,
for instance, is scored for strings in the original printing,
but performed here with violin, cornett, trombone and dulcian.
This is perfectly legitimate: it is likely that the composers
used their indications of the instruments often as mere suggestions.
It is a shame that this whole issue isn't addressed in the liner-notes.
In many cases the composers left it to the performers to choose
the instruments. The Sonata VIII by Castello has the
indication "sopran e fagotto". The treble part is played here
by the trombone. In other cases the composers offered various
options, such as Marini in his two sonatas on this disc, which
are for "doi Fagotti, o Tromboni Grossi". Here they are performed
with trombone and dulcian.
The most virtuosic sonatas are those for one or two solo instruments.
In the latter we find passages with imitation, sometimes in
the form of an echo (Castello, Sonata XII), and episodes
where both instruments play unisono. Castello's Sonata VIII
includes two long and virtuosic solo episodes for either instrument.
The sonatas for three and four instruments are rather ensemble
pieces with only now and then short solo passages.
It isn't just the virtuosic writing for the various instruments
which make this repertoire so exciting, even though it offers
the interpreter opportunities to show his technical prowess.
It is especially the stylus phantasticus which keeps
the listener on his toes. Every single piece is full of contrasts,
thanks to the rather quick alternation of various affects
and tempi. Moreover composers used harmony for expressive reasons.
Caecilia-Concert is a specialist in this repertoire. Originally
consisting of trombone, dulcian and keyboard they usually invite
colleagues to play with them, and with the two violinists and
the cornettist on this disc they have made an excellent choice.
The result is an exciting disc full of surprises. One can only
admire the technical capabilities of the three wind players
whose instruments are among the hardest-to-play.
Johan van Veen
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
Recercar cromaticho post il Credo (1635) [3:17]
Dario CASTELLO (c.1590-c.1658)
Sonata XIII à 4 (1629) [7:50]
Giovanni Antonio BERTOLI
Sonata VIII per fagotto solo [4:49]
Sonata VI à 2 (1621) [4:50]
Sonata XV à 4 (1629) [4:27]
Sonata VIII à 2 (1621) [5:10]
Sonata XII à 3 (1629) [7:33]
Biagio MARINI (1594-1663)
Sonata VIII per 2 Fagotti o Tromboni (1626) [3:06]
Sonata XI à 3 (1621) [7:07]
Giuseppe SCARANI (fl 1628-1641)
Sonata XIII à 3 [5:35]
Sonata IV à 2 (1621) [4:42]
Giovanni PICCHI (c.1571-1643)
Sonata à 2 [4:02]
Sonata IX per 2 Fagotti o Tromboni (1626) [2:44]
Sonata XIV à 4 (1629) [6:08]