The trio sonata emerged in the mid-17th century
and became obsolete around the middle of the 18th century. For about
a century it was the main form of chamber music and many composers contributed
to the genre. It was therefore a splendid idea of London Baroque to
devote a series of recordings to this genre. After having released four
discs with trio sonatas from the 17th century as they were written in
France and England they have now turned their attention to the 18th
century. So far two discs have appeared, with pieces from France
respectively. This third disc is devoted to Italy, or rather to Italian
composers. Some of them settled elsewhere, such as Giuseppe Sammartini
who made a career in England and Locatelli who spent the largest part
of his life in Amsterdam.
The programme begins with a Balletto
by Albinoni, which has the
form of a trio sonata and shows the influence of Corelli. A prelude
is followed by three dance movements in fast tempi: two allegros and
a presto. Thanks to the playing of London Baroque and the transparent
recording the counterpoint in this sonata is perfectly displayed.
One of the nice things about this series of recordings is the inclusion
of music by lesser-known composers. That is the case, for instance,
with Francesco Antonio Bonporti, whose name one doesn't often see on
concert programmes. He was first and foremost a clergyman who had studied
at the Collegio Germanico in Rome. As a composer he wasn't a professional;
the suggestion that he was a pupil of Corelli cannot be substantiated.
Unfortunately for him he didn't make much of a career, neither as a
clergyman nor as a composer. It seems that his compositional output
didn't attract much attention in his own time, nor does it in ours.
Only his Invenzioni op. 10 for solo violin and bc have been recorded
several times. His music deserves better, and the inclusion of his Sonata
in g minor
is a nice tribute. Those who want to hear more should
look at the site of the Italian label Dynamic (http://www.dynamic.it
which has produced a complete recording of his works in a Bonporti Edition.
From the little-known we move to the famous: Vivaldi's variations on
rank among the most popular chamber music works of
the baroque era. It is a brillliant piece in which virtuosity is mixed
with counterpoint. The piece also has a considerable amount of contrast,
and the climaxes within the single variations and the piece as a whole
are perfectly realised by London Baroque.
Giovanni Bononcini was one of Europe's most celebrated composers around
1700. He travelled quite a lot and was especially prominent as a writer
of oratorios and operas at the imperial court in Vienna. In his liner-notes
Richard Gwilt repeatedly quotes Charles Burney, who had some uncomplimentary
things to say about Bononcini, for instance that "his wealth did not
consist in rich and deep mines of science". His view was shared by Francesco
Geminiani who rated Giovanni's younger brother Antonio Maria higher,
because he was "much beyond his brother in point of depth and knowledge".
The Sonata II
shows the first signs of the stylistic change in
the genre of the trio sonata as in some movements the violins play in
parallels, whereas they play in unison in the closing menuets.
Burney's judgements are partly due to different aesthetic ideals, as
his comments on Porpora's instrumental works show. He was a celebrated
composer of operas and cantatas and a famous singing teacher. No wonder
that his instrumental works bear the traces of vocal music. Burney assessed
that negatively, but there was a time that this was considered a virtue.
The sonata which is played here contains some contrasts of an operatic
nature, and that makes it a nice piece to listen to. In the last movement
the violins largely play in parallel, with some episodes in which they
are more independent.
Giuseppe Sammartini was educated as an oboist and settled in England
in 1729 where he earned much praise for his playing. The Sonata V
is in three movements; the last has a da capo
structure, in which
a lively allegro is embraced by an elegant sarabande with the marking
allegro ma non tanto e grazioso
Another emigrant from Italy was Pietro Antonio Locatelli, who spent
some part of his life as a travelling virtuoso, whose playing wasn't
unanimously appreciated. As he composed mainly for his own use sonatas
for solo violin dominate in his oeuvre. The Sonata in D
of the four trio sonatas he included in his op. 8. It is in five movements,
with a particular strong contrast between the vivace, ending in a somewhat
unexpected way, and the ensuing cantabile. From Gwilt's liner-notes
one could get the idea that these four are Locatelli's only contributions
to the genre of the trio sonata, but that is not the case. In 1736 a
set of six trio sonatas was printed as op. 5; complete recordings are
available with Musica ad Rhenum (Vanguard Classics, 1995) and with Modo
Antiquo (Tactus, 1996).
In a way we are going backwards in time with the Sonata in G
by Domenico Gallo. It is from a set of twelve which was published under
the name of Pergolesi in 1780. Burney doubted the latter's authorship,
and rightly so, as modern scholarship has discovered that some of them
are from Gallo’s pen. It is quite likely that the whole set was
written by him. The sonata played here is largely dominated by counterpoint.
The most modern element is that it is in three movements: moderato,
andantino and presto.
The last piece is by Tartini, another violin virtuoso who mostly composed
for his own use. According to Gwilt his two sets of published trio sonatas
are not very interesting. Instead we hear a sonata which has been preserved
in manuscript. "[The] rather repetitive circular harmonic motion and
the persistent avoidance of the perfect cadence (V-I) lend particularly
the first movement of this trio an unusually ambiguous feeling". Tartini
was strongly influenced by literature, in particular poetry. He usually
read from the writings of Metastasio, Petrarch or Tasso before starting
to compose. Quotations from these writings are often included in his
manuscripts. It is quite possible that the character of this sonata
can also be explained by reference to this aspect. The second movement
includes frequent chromaticism.
With this sonata an interesting and musically entertaining journey through
the history of the Italian trio sonata of the 18th century comes to
an end. London Baroque is an outstanding guide, who explores the idiosyncracies
of each of these pieces. The energetic playing and the eloquent dialogue
between Ingrid Seifert and Richard Gwilt is a joy to hear. Charles Medlam
and Steven Devine deliver engaging support. Those who are acquainted
with the previous volumes in this series will not hesitate to add this
disc to their collection. Others are advised to give it a try. I can't
imagine that they will not want to hear more from this series. I eagerly
await the next - and probably last - disc in this important and pleasurable
Johan van Veen